The cherry tree signs
In a deviation from the kind of stories that we usually publish at The Combat Zone, we’ve decided to give you something completely ridiculous, the cold, hard, absolutely factual truth! No, but seriously. All true.
Over the past several weeks, we here at The Trail have noticed a lot of confusion regarding the mysterious appearance of signs bearing Japanese names underneath the cherry trees outside of the S.U.B. Some letters merely question the purpose of the signs while others demand their immediate removal, with reasons ranging from a general aversion to change to anger at why this school celebrates black history month by memorializing people of clearly Japanese descent.
Astoundingly, none of the authors of the quite literally thousands of letters we received seemed aware of the true meaning of the signs. Clearly there has been a breakdown somewhere in the educational chain. So, where others fail The Combat Zone steps in to share the truth behind those mysterious signs.
The signs bear the names of the 30 Japanese American students at the College of Puget Sound that were sent to internment camps in 1942. Those Japanese students hailing from the Seattle or Puyallup areas were the first to be interned. Tacoma locals remained on campus until May of 1942. When it became clear that the remaining students would be forcibly relocated to the Pinedale Assembly Center outside of Fresno, California, they ceremonially planted 20 cherry trees on campus.
On May 15, 1942, before being forced to leave, Shigeo Wakamatsu read an address on behalf of the other Japanese students to the student body. “We hope that each spring you will watch the cherry trees bloom and grow. It is our hope that those cherry trees will remind you of us. It has been our only tangible contribution to the college, and we leave it behind as a token of our appreciation and thanks for all that you have done for us.”
The world they found waiting at the camps was a far cry from their (and our) sheltered North Tacoma home. “I also remember the very first day in camp,” recalled Jack Hata. “Being in line waiting to get into the mess hall in 100 degree heat. I had the strong feeling I would never leave the camp alive. Thoughts of death, I believe, most unusual for someone young.”
In 1989 the surviving trees were replanted in Lawrence Plaza, in front of the S.U.B. Those are the trees we see now, and the names they bear, some of the names of their original planters.
It is a shame that the meaning behind the signs is so easily forgotten, though there is a quiet dignity in their simple placement in front the cherry trees; it is a reminder of the hope and love felt by an alienated segment of the student body as their society turned against them. In the farewell address, Wakamatsu spoke of the incredible friendships they had made at this school. Yet there were likely some CPS students in 1942 who were in favor of the internment program, a program ultimately found to be unconstitutional in Korematsu v. United States.
It’s only been 61 years since the internment began. Is that enough time to permanently change the aspects of society that let internment happen? Is that enough time when links to the past are so easily obscured?