Henry Ebihara, who arrived in America at age two, was denied the right to serve in the armed forces because he was Japan-born and considered a risk for sabotage.
The Ebiharas were among the 100,000 Japanese-Americans wrongly imprisoned by the government during the war. Brothers Henry and Roy ended up in the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah after moving to the U.S. as small children.
In 1943, 22-year-old Ebihara penned a letter to Secretary of War Henry Stimson and President Franklin Roosevelt, pleading for permission to enlist and serve during World War II.
Roy, an Army veteran and Oberlin resident, read the letter Friday during a Veterans Day ceremony in New Russia Township.
“Please give me a chance to serve in your armed forces,” he wrote. “In volunteering for active combat duty, my conscience will be cleared, and I can proudly say to myself that I wasn’t sitting around doing nothing when the fate of the free people is at stake.”
Roy said the letter sat on Roosevelt’s desk until First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt noticed it. “She was very much moved by the content of that letter,” he said. “She asked the president for the opportunity to talk to my brother.”
Henry was sworn into the U.S. Army in late 1943 and began working for the U.S. Army counterintelligence, carrying out secret missions in Japan.
The Oberlin High School orchestra opened the event by playing the National Anthem and other patriotic songs throughout. The Lorain High School Junior ROTC posted colors of the flag, while the veterans in the crowd stood tall, saluting the red, white, and blue.
Cadet Capt. Cheyenne Sowards presented the prisoner of war and missing-in-action remembrance ceremony, paying tribute to those who lost their lives in combat. Rabbi Shlomo of the Chabad at Oberlin closed with a few remarks and a prayer.
Oberlin City Schools superintendent David Hall, who served 20 years in the Army Corps of Engineers, thanked his wife and his three children for being “so strong and so understanding.”
“My wife saw me off on every military deployment with a hug and smile. She helped me pack my bags, load my gear, and kissed me goodbye…she didn’t know if that would be the last kiss or hug that she gave me,” he said. “I signed up for the hours of training, wars in Iraq, and intention of going to combat, but she did not.”
Hall served in Iraq in 2004 and in Louisiana after Hurricane Gustav in 2008. “There were long hot days reaching over 130 degrees to long nights on guard duty with only two or three hours of sleep,” he said of his time in the Middle East. “We all have put a lot of miles in our boots, but we’ve done it willingly.”
He called his children “the soldiers at home,” and thanked them for picking up the slack when he was gone. Hall had to miss many sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, and holidays during his time abroad.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.
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