WASHINGTON -- The House on Wednesday commemorated the Merced Assembly Center, a wartime place Mike Honda's parents once had to call home.
Then, Honda was not even 1 year old. For three months in 1942, in the turbulent wake of Pearl Harbor, his family and others were stashed in the temporary Merced camp on their way to a rural Colorado detention center.
Now, the 67-year-old Honda is a veteran congressman and one of two Japanese-American members of the House to have spent time in a World War II detention camp. His parents have told him what it was like, to be uprooted from their Sacramento Valley residence and relocated to the Merced County Fairgrounds.
"They said that when they first got there, they were assigned to horse stalls," Honda said. "There were flies, and still straw on the floor. You can imagine what that was like."
Starting in mid-May 1942, the quickly thrown-together Merced facility temporarily held 4,669 Japanese-Americans. They were gathered from seven California counties, ordered to assemble under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's now-infamous Executive Order 9066.
Honda's parents were farmhands, living south of Sacramento in the town of Walnut Grove. Both his mother and father had been born in the United States. His great-uncle and aunt operated a dry goods store. All were swept up.
"They entered the Merced Assembly Center not as Japanese-Americans, but as prisoners," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.
Cardoza authored the House resolution that takes note of the "historical significance" of the Merced Assembly Center and cites the "importance of establishing an appropriate memorial at that site to serve as a place for remembering the hardships endured by Japanese-Americans."
Previously, lawmakers have taken other mea culpa or commemorative steps that include a 1988 law providing an official apology and $20,000 payments to Japanese-American internship camp survivors. A 2006 law carried by Bakersfield Republican Bill Thomas authorized $38 million in matching grants to restore and preserve what are called "historic confinement sites," which include the assembly centers.
The latest resolution does not provide any funding, but it does honor a local commemorative committee's intention to unveil a monument design Feb. 21. The event occurs two days after the Feb. 19 anniversary of Roosevelt's signing Executive Order 9066.
Over the objections of some of his advisers, Roosevelt signed the order about two months after a surprise Japanese attack sank four U.S. battleships and killed 2,402 U.S. military personnel at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Roosevelt's order led to some 120,000 Japanese-Americans being relocated throughout the West.
From Merced and other temporary assembly centers in locations including Turlock, Stockton, Fresno and Tulare, the incarcerated were shipped off to permanent camps. Honda's family ended up after mid-September at Camp Amache in southeast Colorado. His House colleague, Tulare County native Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, was born in an Arizona internment camp. Matsui's late husband, Bob, was raised in the Tule Lake internment camp near the Oregon border.
"It pains me to remember how they lost so much through the relocation," said Cardoza, who serves with Matsui on the House Rules Committee.
The House approved the Merced Assembly Center resolution by voice vote Wednesday, but only after some Republicans hijacked the half-hour debate to complain about how Democrats are handling an unrelated economic stimulus plan. It was the kind of rhetorical guerrilla warfare often engaged in by whichever party is out of power, and no one voiced opposition to the underlying Merced Assembly Center resolution.
Honda himself was caught up in other congressional business and was not on the House floor during the debate. Reached by telephone afterward, he put into perspective the Roosevelt-era claim that he and his parents once needed to be confined for the nation's safety.
"The only thing that was of national security interest," Honda said, "was my diapers."