MERCED -- It was dark and drizzling as Elise Kam, 10, raised her pencil to the bronze. "N-O-B-O ..." she scratched out, letter by letter.
"Noboru Taguma," she finished.
Taguma, 84, is Elise's grandfather and one of 4,669 Japanese-Americans who were forced into unroofed barracks at the Merced County Fairgrounds in 1942 amid fears that followed the onset of World War II.
Elise, from Union City, came to Merced on Saturday with four generations of her family to watch the unveiling of a memorial to honor the Japanese-Americans who were interned during the war.
Never miss a local story.
It was Taguma's first trip to Merced since he left the assembly center for a more permanent relocation camp farther east.
Martha Tanji created a relief of the name of her husband, Taro. He has died, but Tanji made the trip from Gardena in Southern California for Saturday's event. She and her family were held at the Tulare assembly center all those years ago.
"I think this plaza is a wonderful thing. It's history," Tanji said. "I'm sorry my husband is not here still, but I'm glad they're recognizing him."
June Abe Kawamura traveled to the dedication from Sacramento.
She was interned at the assembly center with 10 of her family members, the first family listed on the bronze plaques now posted out front. Abe Kawamura was 7 years old when she was at the assembly center; Saturday was the first time she'd returned to Merced.
"This is very meaningful. It brings back so many memories," she said, pointing to her family members' names on the wall.
"It is bittersweet because my parents are gone," she continued, fighting back tears. "And they're the ones that really suffered."
Eight hundred audience members watched as the bronze plaques and large statue were unveiled. More than 150 former internees were on hand. They traveled to the event from cities across the country.
Jeanette Ishii was the master of ceremonies for the unveiling. Her family was interned at the Merced Assembly Center, and her father died Feb. 15, just days before his name was revealed among the sea of bronze letters.
"I decided to continue doing the event because of him," Ishii said. "I think this is very special and I think he would consider it very special. For me, and to many of the families here, to see my father's name etched on the wall is to see his sacrifice etched into the history of our country."
Ishii spoke of her father's U.S. military service, and her story was similar to many of those in attendance.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the internment of citizens of Japanese ancestry. Japanese-American men joined the military as a way to prove their patriotism and get out from behind the barbed wire of the camps.
During Saturday's ceremony, Japanese-American veterans who served in the military intelligence service as Japanese interpreters and the Asian-American 442nd Combat Infantry Regiment were honored.
"While their families were behind barbed wire, more than 33,000 young Japanese-American men enlisted or were drafted in the U.S. military. They joined the military effort to demonstrate their loyalty and service to the United States," Ishii told the crowd.
"It was because of their heroism that they made America a more tolerant country."