ASHLAND — Two dueling football teams from across the Pacific — one from Japan and the other the Ashland High School Grizzlies — Tuesday staged a touching ceremony of unity, caring and understanding, with the goal that the tragedies of World War II and Hiroshima, marking its 70th anniversary this year, shall never happen again.
The Pacific Rim Bowl XIV Peace Ceremony at Lithia Park Bandshell featured a taiko drum performance, a song wishing “Skies of Blue” for our children and flute music by Richard Williams, along with a speech by Southern Oregon University President Roy Saigo, who retold his internment in a Japanese “concentration camp” in Arizona, despite the wishes of many Japanese-Americans that they be considered loyal citizens during the war.
His talk was translated, as were others, for the benefit of the Japan All-Stars, here for the game against AHS at 7:30 p.m. Friday in SOU's Raider Stadium. A pregame ceremony begins at 7.
The two football teams' respective captains, Mason Dow and Taisei Ieda, took turns reading the same statement, with Dow noting how, in a visit with the team to Hiroshima, he “saw the city fresh and vibrant,” came to understand the atrocities of war and “despite our conflicted past,” hoped to be as resolute for peace as the atom-bombed city has been.
“Culture, competition and camaraderie” is what the teams now seek, they added. The team comes from the Kansai region, which includes Osaka.
Keynoter Saigo, who was introduced as one of the very few — less than 1 percent — of Asian-American university presidents, recounted his confinement as a child in an interment camp after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, adding that all internees wanted to demonstrate their loyalty to the U.S. by fighting or serving in some capacity, such as translating Japanese messages.
“We were American citizens convicted of nothing more than having Japanese ancestry,” said Saigo, who was removed, along with his family, from their home in California's Central Valley. He noted that some Japanese-Americans were allowed to fight in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which was the most decorated and sustained the most injury and death of any unit in American history.
“Can you place yourself in the soul of these soldiers, who were willing to sacrifice their lives,” he asked, “to prove that we people who were behind bars were loyal to our country? The horrors of war fell on Japanese civilians as well as all soldiers, especially in war zones. We all lost people and were affected in unimaginable ways.”
Saigo ended his address by quoting the Pete Seeger war protest song, “Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to flowers every one … When will they ever learn?”
AHS Valedictorian Sierra Webster read the “Skies of Blue” poem that says, “Let us leave our children skies of blue. That burning August morning even shadows burnt away … Put out the fires of war … May peace and love and liberty and life grow in our handshakes, in our voices, in our songs.”
Jill Mackie, president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, reminded everyone of the week of ceremonies and remembrances coming up in Lithia Park, the Ashland Plaza and other sites to mark the deaths of 129,000 Japanese caused by the attack on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, resulting in the end of World War II within a week. Observances begin at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, in the grassy area at the entrance to Lithia Park.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.