Larry Matsuda Remembers the Seattle Nisei Veteran’s Memorial Wall Dedication

On September 5, Larry Matsuda read from his book A Cold Wind from Idaho at the dedication for the Nisei Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Seattle. Below are Larry’s memories from that day.

This was no ordinary memorial wall dedication in Seattle. Approximately 1200 people of all ages were in the audience, mostly Japanese Americans. The event organizers wanted the occasion to be a celebration so they asked me to be last.

The wall is 90 feet of black granite and 12 feet high with names of 2,800 Japanese American veterans and Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. My wife Karen and I have over 16 family names on the wall. My name is next to my father, mother, and brother. Karen’ s father won a Silver Star and Bronze Star for valor. His name resides next to his brother who was killed by snipers in France.

After former Washington State governor Lowry, Congressman McDermott, a taiko group, and Minidoka swing band, I read four poems from my book A Cold Wind from Idaho. The poems focus on the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and the men and women from the concentration camps who volunteered  to fight and die for freedom in Europe and the Pacific.

My poems are uncompromisingly direct and are like black and white photographs that deal with emotions most Japanese never reveal about the concentration camp experience. I read for all remembered in granite and all those connected to the wall. I read because it was time to break the silence about the injustice. Finally, I read as areminder to never let it happen again.

My voice cracked twice when I saw some in the audience weeping. After the reading, I pondered how poetry touches people’ s hearts and heals. Later one woman told me she never cried for Minidoka until that day. The event organizers anticipated these emotional reactions to my work, which is why I was the last presenter.

You can learn more about the event by following these links:

A Cold Wind from Idaho is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

*Photos by Eugene Tagawa