Breaking the Long Silence : Oldest Japanese Internees Never Spoke of the Camps--Until Now

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They and their families were uprooted from their homes, to spend the next three years under armed guard in desolate deserts.

Now, more than four decades later, Sugi Kiriyama and Mamoru Eto are among the first to get a national apology for the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, and, for the first time, they are telling their stories.

Kiriyama, who turns 101 next month, and Eto, 107, were among the nine surviving internees who went to Washington last month to personally receive $20,000 checks and an apology letter signed by President Bush.

The Washington ceremony marked the start of the redress payments, mandated by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, to about 65,000 internees who were alive when the law was passed, or their heirs. The payments will be made over the next three years, in order of age.

Kiriyama, a longtime resident of West Los Angeles, now lives in a Mar Vista convalescent home. Eto, who lived in Pasadena for many years, is now in a nursing home near Boyle Heights.

Neither speaks much English. Kiriyama's son, George, served as translator during her interview. Eto was assisted by his daughter, Helen. During both interviews, it became clear that the redress payments and national apology had stirred up memories and opinions of the incarceration--memories that the two centenarians had purposefully silenced and tried to forget.

They just didn't talk about it--even with their families.

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