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A commemorative plaque honors Japanese Americans detained at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds during WWII.

By Patti Hirahara, Contributor

In commemoration of the closing of the Pomona Assembly Center on Aug. 24, 1942, the Fairplex, the actual center site, unveiled the Pomona Assembly Center plaque honoring Japanese Americans detained at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds during World War II on Aug. 24, the 74th anniversary of the center’s closing.

With more than 100 guests in attendance, speakers at the dedication included Consul General of Japan Akira Chiba; Tina Loza, director of the Los Angeles County Fair Assn.; William Fujioka, member of the Los Angeles County Fair Assn. whose family was held at Pomona; Dwight Richards, Fairplex vp of operations; Bacon Sakatani, chair of the Pomona Assembly Center Committee who was sent to Pomona with his family and returned there after the war; and U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Davis, commander of the San Gabriel Valley Recruiting Co.

Consul General Chiba expressed his sentiments during the ceremony: “Nothing can reverse the suffering that Japanese Americans experienced during WWII under internment, but as with the granting of redress and reparations from the U.S. government under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, I hope that today’s dedication will offer some measure of peace and healing through acknowledgement of the pain that so many experienced. One of the greatest developments after WWII has been the evolution of the U.S.-Japan relationship, which has led to the two countries working “hand in hand” to advance and defend democratic values. Two, once bitter enemies, now form one of the strongest alliances maintaining peace in the world. For this, Japan owes a debt of gratitude to Japanese Americans, who have always been and continue to be crucial bridge builders in the bilateral relationship. This would not have been possible without the tremendous sacrifices and resilience of Japanese Americans in the midst of great hardship. I extend my deepest gratitude.”

The Los Angeles County Fairgrounds was one of 15 temporary assembly centers established during World War II pursuant to Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942.

“This is part of our history at Fairplex,” according to Richards. We felt that the installation of the plaque would provide a place for the families and all involved to find peace, closure and a place to reflect. The Los Angeles County Fair Assn. feels that this recognition is long overdue.”

The Pomona Assembly Center held people from California’s Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties.

“The plaque will let people know of how 5,514 of us were unfairly treated by the hysteria and discrimination of that time,” said Sakatani, who represented the people who were held at the center. “The Pomona Assembly Center is probably one of the least-known places, and now we have a plaque that will let the people know what happened here.”

Sakatani also has worked to preserve ties to Heart Mountain as well as anything related to its history.

With the assistance of the Pomona Assembly Center Committee, the Historical Society of Pomona Valley, the Fairplex and others, this plaque dedication has become a reality.

Mickey Gallivan, president of the Historical Society of Pomona Valley, offered his sentiments during the dedication ceremony.

“My feelings were very complicated,” he said. “I felt sad, guilty, embarrassed for my country that we did such acts, acts that were against every principle, every creed we believe in and profess to follow. I felt humbled and so much admiration for the internees who handled it with such bravery, strength and dignity. I do not know how they had the strength to survive the camp and rebuild their lives from nothing. As president along with VP Deborah Clifford and our members, we felt honored to have had a small part in creating the plaque, and we hope it will help to ensure that our nation never makes this mistake again. We felt so proud to be associated with the Japanese American community at the event.”

In August 1942, the majority of the Pomona Assembly Center detainees were relocated to Heart Mountain, Wyo., one of 10 relocation camps that collectively confined 120,000 people without due process of law, charges or trial or establishment of guilt as a result of hysteria and racism.

Said retired newsman Joe Blackstock: “When I started researching the Pomona Assembly Center at the Fairplex about 14 years ago, I was struck by the almost total absence of information or history about the place. Something that so changed the lives of so many people was mostly forgotten. Creating a permanent recognition that the camp existed, that a group of people were locked up more due to terror than good judgment — this is important.”

As California Registered Historical Landmark #934, it is hoped, with this dedication, that such injustice and suffering never recur again.