Islander’s design hangs on White House tree

Mary L. Grady
Mercer Island Reporter

The White House Christmas tree, which stands in the White House Blue Room, is adorned with handmade ornaments representing the country’s 391 National Park Service sites. The tree is the centerpiece of elaborate decorations celebrating the theme of “Holiday in the National Parks.”

One of those ornaments features a symbol that serves as a reminder of a terrible time in this country’s history when the United States interned thousands of citizens of Japanese descent during WWII. The symbol was designed by long-time Mercer Island resident, Frank Fujii, in 1966, as former internees from the camps began to formally organize. National Park Guide Dianna McKeage created the Minidoka Internment ornament for the White House Christmas tree using strips from “The Irrigator,” the camp newspaper published during WWII, to make a papier-mache ball that features the internment symbol.

In 1941, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor created suspicion and hostility toward Japanese Americans. As wartime hysteria mounted, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, causing over 120,000 West Coast persons of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) to leave their homes, jobs and lives behind to move to one of 10 relocation camps.

The Minidoka internment camp in Idaho was one of 10 such camps maintained by the government during the war.

Fujii, the youngest of nine children, was interned along with the rest of his family in the Idaho camp when he was 12 years old. Fujii’s father, as was often the case, was separated from his family and sent to another location. Before the family left Seattle, they were forced to sell their business, a small apartment building and tavern, for much less than it was worth. Fujii said his father returned from the camps, a broken man.

The internment camp site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 10, 1979. The national monument was established in 2001.

The internment or “relocation” of the Japanese people is described as one of the worst violations of constitutional rights in American history. More than two-thirds of the internees were American citizens by birth.

In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act acknowledged the injustice of the evacuation, relocation and internment of citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. A formal apology was made by the U.S. Government, as well as restitution to those individuals who were interned. And most importantly, the Act provides for public education to prevent the recurrence of any similar event.

The Minidoka ornament can be viewed on the White House Web site. Visit the White House home page at and click on “Holidays” to view ornaments from each of the 50 states. The Minidoka ornament is image 216 in the slide show.

“National Parks commemorates the people, places and events that define the American experience,” said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

The National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016.

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