Recalling President Ronald Reagan’s Remarks on Signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

April 21, 2017 • AARP, Columnists

By Richard Hansen, AARP Senior Speechwriter and Guest Columnist

I am very fortunate to work with so many talented AARP employees with amazing work histories. On this 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, I asked my colleague to share his thoughts on his memories working with President Ronald Reagan.

— Ron Mori

Aug. 10, 1988, is a date that will remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life. At the time, I was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Public Affairs staff at the White House. Sadly, Aug. 10 was the day my father passed away. But before I left Washington to be with him in his final hours, I helped put together the background material to be used for the president’s remarks for his Aug. 10 signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

The president drafted much of the remarks himself from his own thoughts. Here are some moving excerpts from what President Reagan said on that historic occasion. The Pacific Citizen plays a prominent role.

“… (W)e gather here today to right a grave wrong. More than 40 years ago, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race, for these 120,000 were Americans of Japanese descent.

“… The legislation that I am about to sign provides for a restitution payment to each of the 60,000 surviving Japanese Americans of the 120,000 who were relocated or detained. Yet, no payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here, we admit a wrong; here, we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.

“… And now, I wonder whether you’d permit me one personal reminiscence, prompted by an old newspaper report sent to me by Rose Ochi, a former internee. The clipping comes from the Pacific Citizen and is dated December 1945.

“Arriving by plane from Washington,” the article begins, “Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on Mary Masuda in a simple ceremony on the porch of her small frame shack near Talbert, Orange County. She was one of the first Americans of Japanese ancestry to return from relocation centers to California’s farmlands. ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell was there that day to honor Kazuo Masuda, Mary’s brother. You see, while Mary and her parents were in an internment camp, Kazuo served as staff sergeant to the 442d Regimental Combat Team. In one action, Kazuo ordered his men back and advanced through heavy fire, hauling a mortar. For 12 hours, he engaged in a singlehanded barrage of Nazi positions. Several weeks later at Cassino, Kazuo staged another lone advance. This time, it cost him his life.

The newspaper clipping notes that her two surviving brothers were with Mary and her parents on the little porch that morning. These two brothers, like the heroic Kazuo, had served in the United States Army.

After Gen. Stilwell made the award, the motion picture actress Louise Allbritton, a Texas girl, told how a Texas battalion had been saved by the 442nd. Other show business personalities paid tribute — Robert Young, Will Rogers Jr. And one young actor said: “Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.” The name of that young actor — I hope I pronounce this right — was Ronald Reagan. And, yes, the ideal of liberty and justice for all — that is still the American way.

Richard Hansen is a senior speechwriter for AARP.

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