Seattle University to Award Honorary Degrees to Japanese Americans Incarcerated During WWI

Press release from Seattle University:

Nearly 70 years ago Thomas T. Yamauchi was forced to leave Seattle University and abandon his education as one of 15 Japanese American Seattle University students whose educations were disrupted by their unjust removal and incarceration in 1942 during World War II. To contribute to the healing from this injustice, the Seattle University Board of Trustees will grant Yamauchi and the other students, honorary bachelor degrees at the university’s undergraduate commencement ceremony June 12. 

Yamauchi’s widow, Anne, says she’s looking forward to accepting the degree on his behalf. “He was anxious to continue his schooling after camp,” she said. “He was very ambitious.”


Honorees or their relatives have been invited to accept the degrees. Most of the honorary degrees will be awarded posthumously, as the university knows of only one student still living.


“These individuals, who were our students, were required by federal order to leave our community as a result of the fear, racial hatred and hostility that prevailed in the wake of Pearl Harbor,” said President Stephen Sundborg, S.J. “We honor these former students to recognize their courage and sacrifice, to address the injustice that occurred, and with hope that this recognition contributes to the healing process.”


The university announced its plans as the Japanese American community marks its Day of Remembrance, the annual observance of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which began the forced removal of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States.  Although it might bring back painful memories of a period in American history, the remembrance provides an ongoing reminder of the dangers of prejudice borne of ignorance and fear.

In observance of the Day of Remembrance, the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, Friends of Minidoka, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington and Seattle University will sponsor the Remembrance Taiko Festival at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, at Piggott Auditorium on the SU campus.

Lorraine Bannai, a professor at the School of Law and associate director of the law school’s Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, said recognizing the wrong done to these students and presenting the degrees they would have received is an important part of the healing process.


“While these students suffered grievous losses, they endured and survived, and most were able to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and rebuild,” said Bannai, whose own parents were incarcerated during the war.


Tom Yamauchi did indeed rebuild, going on to a successful career with Boeing and the Northrup Corp., and a long marriage with Anne before his death in 1990.


Other honorees identified include:


·         John Fujiwara, who was never able to complete his college degree but found success as a Boeing photographer for 30 years.

·         Ben Kayji Hara, who volunteered with the Army soon after he was incarcerated, was sent overseas and died in Tokyo in 1945.

·         Shigeko (Iseri) Hirai, who eventually completed her nursing degree before moving to Chewelah, Wash. to farm seed potatoes with her husband.

·         Dr. May (Shiga) Hornback, who moved to Montana to avoid incarceration and went on to earn a Ph.D.  and become a nursing professor at the University of Wisconsin.

·         June (Koto) Sakaguchi, who moved to Colorado to finish her nursing degree and    eventually settled and raised her family in Milwaukie, Wis.

·         Mitsu Shoyama, who went on to receive her nursing degree at St. Boniface Hospital in Manitoba, followed by a successful nursing career in Kamloops, British Columbia

·         Joanne Misako (Oyabe) Watanabe, who was incarcerated at Minidoka, then  returned with her husband to Seattle several years later and raised eight children.

Find more information on the Remembrance Taiko Festival at:


As part of the recognition of its former students, the university is organizing a series of discussions, exhibits and historical programs for the university community and the public. Planning is underway and details will be announced soon.


The university is also urging Japanese Americans students or their relatives, whose SU educations were disrupted by the wartime exclusion and incarceration orders to contact Junsen Ohno, administrator for the Korematsu Center for Law & Equality, 206-398-4283 or [email protected].

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