HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former World War II internee who was instrumental in the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision to end incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war could possibly receive the nation's highest civilian honor.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, urging him to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mitsuye Endo, a Sacramento, Calif. resident who was the only female among a handful of Japanese Americans to challenge the constitutionality of internment camps.
"Awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mitsuye Endo would provide long overdue recognition of the courage and sacrifice of a civil rights heroine whose low-key demeanor belied her steadfast pursuit of justice during World War II," Schatz said in the letter.
After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, Endo was fired from her job as a typist in the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento, and she and her family were then forced into internment camps in California and Utah where she spent three years.
Four Japanese Americans challenged the legality of their relocation and internment all the way to the Supreme Court. While her case proceeded, Endo received an offer from the government to release her as long as she agreed not to return to the West Coast. However, she refused the offer and remained confined for another two years as she continued to pursue the case.
The Supreme Court later ruled 9-0 in favor of Endo in December 1944, stating that a citizen who is not "concededly loyal presents no problem of espionage or sabotage."
The ruling led to Japanese Americans being allowed to return to the West Coast and the closures of camps in January 1945.
"Ms. Endo was an ordinary person who made the extraordinary choice to forego her own freedom in order to secure the rights of 120,000 Japanese Americans who were wrongfully imprisoned without the benefit of due process," Schatz said. "Her story exemplifies a core American principle; we are a nation of laws where one person can stand up against an injustice and alter the course of our democracy."
To view the letter, click here.