Quilt by 8th Graders to Honor Nisei WWII Soldiers
The 8th Grade students at Sunnyside and Tecumseh Middle Schools in Lafayette ,Indiana are undertaking an awesome and inspiring project, a 19 X 41 ft quilt honoring the Japanese American soldiers who fought in World War II. This project is under the tutorship of their teacher, Mrs Leila Meyerratken. In addition to memorabilia, including dog tags of Nisei veterans , and the two poems written by 8th Graders, there will be over 20,000 names of Nisei soldiers, from the 100th Battalion, the famed 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 522nd Artillery Battalion , 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion and MIS (Military Intelligence Service) . There will be 120,000 tassels representing the number of Japanese and Japanese Americans incarcerated in Relocation Camps . The quilt dimension of 19X41 feet was chosen to represent the year 1941, the year Pearl Harbor was bombed. Like the "Go For Broke"Memorial in Lost Angeles, this quilt will be a tribute to the Japanese Americans who volunteered to fight for their country to prove that they are loyal Americans despite the incarceration of their family members in Relocation Centers. They are hoping that this quilt will be seen by others in the United States to teach others how they rose above the indignities they suffered by making sacrifices in the field of battle . The students strongly feel that this WWII history of the Japanese Americans soldiers , which is not covered in history books, should be told.
How did this project start? What made the students, who have not even met a Japanese American veteran, undertake such an awesome project, requiring countless after school hours of work on the quilt?
The students just wanted to tell the story of the Japanese American soldiers of World War II on quilt, because they had become emotionally involved with the sacrifices made by Japanese Americans in proving their loyalty to the United States. It took a tremendous amount of research on the part of the students to come up with the details that are being included in the quilt project.
This is what Leila Meyerratken wrote about the quilt:
" My 8th Grade students are working to create a tapestry called the One Hundred Twenty Thousand Tassel Tapestry. It is made up of 12 panels that together measure 19 by 41 ft for the year 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It is a tribute to the Japanese American veterans and is made in part from clothes worn by these heroes.
It is a multi-media tapestry that includes many things including poems, art, maps and memorabilia. All is the work and words of my 8th graders. The first panel begins with a poem that occupies the entire panel. The third one represent 1942 and has a photo of FDR. Next to it there is a U.S. flag superimposed on a Japanese flag. The stripes look like barbed wires and the piece is in shape of an eye. The eyebrow is the name of FDR. It represents an AJA looking at his destiny after Executive Order 9066 was issued. The eye is looking down to show loss of dignity and is also looking at the map of the US showing concentration camps, children in these camps and other illustrations of injustice. The American flag is larger than the Japanese flag to show that the people were more American than Japanese.
The quilt has the story and each part is expressed in many different ways. For example, the rescue of the Lost Battalion by the 442nd was illustrated by using orange silk fabric cut in the shape of lanterns. There are 211 lanterns and on each, there are 4 names of AJA veterans, the ones who were sacrificed to the rescue mission. My students adopted this from Japan ,when it celebrates Peace Day by writing on the lanterns the names of the Hiroshima victims. These lanterns float on a river that extends to several panels. They wrote 4 names on each panel to show the ratio of 4 to 1. Four casualties to save one soldier from the 36th Infantry Division.
For the year 1959 Hawaii becomes the 50th State. My students believe that this was the result of the work of AJA veterans. They drew 5 large palm trees in memory of 5 concentration camps established in Hawaii. Each trunk bears the name of one AJA veteran who died in the rescue mission. They chose one soldier from each of the islands that had a concentration camp and named him honorary of that island. Two were medics to make sure all were included.
The last panel represents the year 2000. It shows photos of the 23 AJA veterans who were recipients of the Medal of Honor. The images were transferred on T-shirts sent by AJA veterans , and shows logos of various groups such as the 100th, 442nd, 522nd, etc. The quilt comes with a metal rod that can be put together in many ways. For example it can take up a corner to occupy two walls.
This quilt is a tribute to the AJA veterans and their contribution to America. It is also meant to promote social justice by teaching others in simple ways what these veterans did and how they overcame racism. One student said it is also a warning to those like FDR, that if they turn their back on the U.S. Constitution again, they will end up being exposed by 8th Graders. "
Mrs Leila Meyerratken also wrote on May 21 that "the major task left is the iron-on of the 489 pages onto the quilt (containing over 20,000 names of AJA veterans who served during WWII), sew the backing and border on all panels and finish sewing the lanterns. All the origami cranes were sewn. They finished counting the tassels , all 120,000 of them; that needs to be added to the three sides. We still have no display place for the quilt. Hope there will be a few takers . "
A letter of appreciation and support from AJA organizations and individual, young and old, veterans and non-veterans would be highly appreciated by the young students, which in effect would be telling the students "thank you for thinking of us". Such letters should be sent
to : Mrs Leila Meyerratken
1126 Montgomery St
West Lafayette, Indiana 47906