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In passing

Fred Korematsu, 86, fought internment

San Francisco Fred Korematsu, who unsuccessfully fought Japanese American internment camps during World War II before finally winning in court nearly four decades later, died Wednesday of respiratory illness, his attorney said. He was 86.

Korematsu became a symbol of civil rights for challenging the World War II internment orders that sent 120,000 Japanese Americans to government camps. His conviction for opposing the internment was finally overturned in U.S. District Court in 1983.

He was honored by President Clinton in 1998 with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Korematsu, the son of Japanese immigrants, was born in Oakland. He was living there in 1942, a 23-year-old welder, when military officials ordered all Japanese Americans on the West Coast – including U.S. citizens like Korematsu – to report for transportation to remote camps.

Nearly all complied, including Korematsu’s family and friends, who urged him to go along. He refused.

He was arrested, convicted of violating the order and sent to an internment camp in Utah. The Supreme Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction in December 1944, agreeing with the government that it was justified by the need to combat sabotage and espionage.

Current legal scholars almost universally regard the ruling as one of the worst in the court’s history. But it was not repudiated until the early 1980s, when Asian-American lawyers and civil rights advocates unearthed new evidence that undermined the internment order.

John Howe, 58, sought recognition for WWI vet

Albany, N.Y. John Howe, a Vietnam veteran who led the unsuccessful effort to get a posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to a black World War I soldier, died Wednesday in his sleep, county officials said. He was 58.

Howe, a former state worker, was instrumental in getting recognition for Henry Johnson of Albany, who served in the all-black 369th Regiment – known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” – in France during World War I.

During a German attack, Johnson was wounded numerous times but still single-handedly fought off a larger force while saving a comrade’s life. Johnson’s heroics earned him one of France’s highest military honors, but the U.S. military virtually ignored his actions.

After the war, Johnson returned to Albany where he died destitute in 1929. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Howe, who was wounded twice in Vietnam while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, led the effort to get Johnson awarded the Medal of Honor. Instead, the Pentagon in 2003 awarded Johnson a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military honor.

Frank Conroy, 69, led Writers’ Workshop

Iowa City, Iowa Frank Conroy, who directed the University of Iowa’s celebrated Writers’ Workshop for nearly two decades and wrote a memoir chronicling his troubled, nomadic childhood, died of colon cancer.

He died Wednesday at age 69. “Frank took a great program and made it an extraordinary one,” said James Alan McPherson, acting co-director of the workshop.

Conroy made a memorable literary debut with “Stop-Time,” which described his youth growing up in homes that included a Florida shack, a snowy cabin and a tiny Manhattan apartment. The impressionistic memoir was nominated for a National Book Award.


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