What If Heroes Were Not Welcome Home?

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  • Family-friendly
  • Teachers

This poignant exhibit examines the prejudice that Japanese American veterans from Hood River, Oregon experienced upon their return home from serving our country in World War II. These American citizens served heroically with the United States Armed Forces in the South Pacific and in Europe, yet many of their families were unjustly incarcerated in concentration camps on American soil.

Curated by Linda Tamura and Marsha Matthews, "What If Heroes Were Not Welcome Home?" was originally displayed at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland in conjunction with the Smithsonian traveling exhibition "American Heroes: Japanese American World War II Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal." The Medal, awarded in 2011 to Japanese American World War II veterans in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), traveled across the country in 2013, visiting only six cities in the nation.

This exhibition uses first-hand accounts, photos, letters, and historical documents to show how wartime events brought national notoriety to the small community of Hood River. Visitors will be invited to make meaningful connections between the past and present-exploring the promise and reality of American democracy and equality. One soldier depicted in the exhibit, George Akiyama, wrote in his diary that after the war, still wearing his uniform with the Silver and Bronze Star, he stopped to get a haircut at a downtown barbershop.  The barber waved his razor, exclaiming, "I ought to slit your throat." Visitors are asked to put themselves into his shoes, and the shoes of the other returning soldiers, and consider how they would have reacted in that situation, and further, how they would handle similar situations of bullying or racism in the present day.

Hosting the Exhibit

The exhibit is available in the form of PDFs that host venues may print and display. Please contact Lori Erickson, OHS Curator, at 503.306.5233 or lori.erickson@ohs.org for inquiries.