Mas Inoshita is posthumously honored with a centennial celebration and memorial dedication for all Nisei soldiers who served during WWII.
More than 100 people representing the Arizona chapter of the JACL, the Gila River Indian Community and Ira H. Hayes Post 84 gathered on Dec. 8, 2019, to honor longtime patriarch of Arizona’s Japanese American community Masaji “Mas” Inoshita.
The crowd convened on an overcast day at the Mathew B. Juan/Ira H. Hayes Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton, Ariz., to celebrate Inoshita’s legacy in recognition of what would have been his centennial birthday (born Dec. 9, 1919) and dedicate a memorial in his honor and all Nisei soldiers who served during World War II.
The memorial is comprised of two design elements, including a small replica of the Gila River memorial that was constructed in 1944 at Butte Camp, as well as a plaque honoring Inoshita with these words:
WWII Veteran & Proud American
Prisoner at the WWII Gila River Japanese American Incarceration Camp
Civil Rights Advocate & Educator
Promoter of Peace & Harmony
Family Man & Friend to All
The memorial project was first proposed by the late Dr. Ted Namba after Inoshita’s passing on July 16, 2015. Inoshita’s legacy was previously recognized in 2006 when the JACL National Convention was held in Arizona. He was also the recipient of the Cesar Chavez Award, Achievement Award of ASU, USA Presidential Merit Citation, Love of Learning: The Ageless Hero Award from the Arizona Republic, Lamp of Learning Award from WESD, 2009 Martin Luther King Servant Award and member of the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.
The hourlong service was moderated by Bill Staples Jr., vp of JACL-AZ, and opened with traditional Japanese flute music, Inoshita’s favorite, by father and son performers Ken and Miro Koshio, respectively.
Bill Dixon, Post Commander with the Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84, formally welcomed the crowd to veterans park, which was then followed by spiritual reflections offered by Michael Tang, assistant minister of the Arizona Buddhist Temple, and Delane “Tony” Enos of the Gila River Indian Community. The reflection concluded with a performance of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes by Sgt. Paul Maroney of the Gila River Police Department.
Following a moment of silence, GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis addressed the audience with reflections on the long-standing relationship between the Pima Indians and Japanese American communities. The Mas Inoshita memorial was then unveiled by Ira H. Hayes Post 84 member Tony McDaniel, who was the driving force behind the project in the Gila River Indian Community.
Also representing Ira Hayes Post 84 was Maj. Urban Giff, former commander, who offered reflections on his relationship with both Mas and Joe Allman, a longtime member of the JACL-AZ community and WWII veteran who assisted Inoshita with the early Gila River memorial preservation efforts.
JACL-AZ President Donna Cheung then celebrated Inoshita’s legacy as a “healer” of individual and community relationships. Next, GRIC Land Use Officer Paul Shorthair reflected on the positive impact Inoshita had on other people during their visit to the historic monument on the Butte campsite.
The service concluded with memories and expressions of love and gratitude from Inoshita’s family, delivered by his granddaughter, Tracey Tang.
During the memorial dedication, a recording of Inoshita speaking was shared with the audience. In the clip from a 2009 interview, he said, “I’m not going to be around that much longer. … I really don’t have to say too much anymore, other people speak for me … and I think eventually that is the way this story will continue. People are picking up after me and forwarding this story to another generation of people.” The legacy of Mas Inoshita is now preserved for future generations to appreciate when they visit the new memorial in Veterans Park.