MANZANAR Part five.

This flag represents three sons, Frank, Burns, and James Arikawa. On July 29, 1944, the Manzanar Free Press reported that Mr. and Mrs. Takeyoshi Arikawa, residents of Block 31, Building 3, Apartment 4, had been notified three days earlier of the death their son, Private First Class Frank Nobuo Arikawa, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He had been killed in action near Castellina, Italy, on July 6. Frank, who was awarded the purple heart and the combat infantry badge, was the brother of Burns T. Arikawa who had also volunteered for the RCT from Manzanar and was on active duty in Italy. Another brother, James, was on duty at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Both “Frank and James” had been “in the services prior to evacuation.”


The Price they paid.

On Wednesday afternoon the boy found Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa, sitting on the steps of her barracks Block 31, Building 3, Apartment 4 in the Manzanar California concentration camp. He walked slowly up to her, removed his cap, bowed and handed her the envelope. He knew what was inside. She did too.

It read, 

Washington D.C. 1017 pm, 26th of July, 1944. 

Mr and Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa, Manzanar California.

The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son, Private First Class Frank Nobuo Arikawa, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team has been killed in action near Castellina, Italy on 6, July. Letter follows.

J.A. Ulio

The Adjutant General

So there it was. Frank was the first.

Arikawa, Frank N; Private 1st Class; 442nd Company F; volunteered prior evacuation to Manzanar, CA internment camp, killed in action 06 July 1944.

American families would have recognized the name James A. Ulio from one of nearly 900,000 telegrams he signed—all of which began with the words: “…regret to inform you…” 800 Japanese families would suffer the same devastating hammer blow as the Arikawas. Nearly every Japanese-American family in the Western United States received that telegram behind barbed wire.

The depth of understanding required to see how and why a family would sacrifice a son for a country who herded them behind barbed wire and guard towers, who denied them rights available to every resident and citizen of the United States; A country which denied them the rights guaranteed them under the Constitution is almost beyond belief. And the boys and girls who served? Why did they do it?

Because they were Americans and they knew it. If it meant sacrifice, they would make it. Like parents of soldiers in every war ever fought, the Arikawas held their breath for, and prayed for their sons to return. American families would have recognized General Ulio’s  name from one of nearly 900,000 telegrams he signed—all of which began with the words: “…regret to inform you…” My family received one too in December, 1944.

As a result of the registration program in February-March 1943, approximately 100 Nisei at Manzanar volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Every single drafted man responded and reported for a physical examination.

This was not the case in all the camps. Many young men and their families were furious that a government which herded them behind barbed wire and forced them to live under wretched circumstances could be so cruel and yet expect them to sacrifice their sons for a country that distrusted them, jailed them, starved them and was openly hostile to an entire population.   

Haruo Hayashi, Arroyo Grande.

Some families forbid their children to go, others tried to reason with boys who were brimming with eagerness to prove to the American people that they were worthy citizens. “We aren’t Japs, I was born here and so was my father, we’re American citizens and we hate the Japanese as much as they do. Why I’ve never been to Japan and I don’t even speak the language.” ——Shigueru “Shig” Tomoka

Much of it was the sense of duty to your family and your country instilled by parents who had emigrated from a country where such values were held with great reverence. “Do nothing to embarrass your family,.” were words spoken by many fathers to sons who were enlisting.

The whole thing was a mess. At the beginning of the war there were thousands of Japanese Americans in the Army. There were college students who served in the ROTC, Territorial Guard from Hawaii and National Guard troops all over the country. They were eager to fight for their country and at first didn’t realize they were an embarrassment to the Army which did it’s best to hide them. Nisei soldiers were actually moved around the country on trains with blinds drawn, not allowed to detrain when there was a stop. Almost all were sent to Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi where they discovered they were considered “White” and were allowed all the privileges claimed by white Americans except for the one prohibiting dating white girls. Just another confusing experience with their status. The boys of the 100th from Hawaii were the most perplexed, being from a place where ethnicity was not a major factor in society.

About 5,000 Japanese Americans were serving in the U.S. Army when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The U.S. military soon called for another 5,000 volunteers from the mainland and Hawaii. In Hawaii alone more than ten thousand showed up. In January 1942, however, The Selective Service quickly classified all eligible Japanese American men as 4-C. 4-C being “Enemy Alien,” and not qualified to serve even though they were all American Citizens. Draft age boys showed up at recruiting centers all over the country only to be summarily showed the door. “We don’t want you,” they said, ”You can’t be trusted.”

Harry Sakamoto, Arroyo Grande

Emotions were intense during 1942 as the United States entered the war and Japanese Americans on the west coast were moved to the concentration camps. “I was in 3rd grade at Orchard school in Arroyo Grande when this happened. I remember going to school that morning and lots of the kids were gone. Teachers tried to explain where they were. I really didn’t understand as I had moved so much it was no big deal to move. But lots of the kids were crying. When I got home my Mom explained to me that they had to move because of the war and some of their Grandfathers out on the farms had shortwave radios and were telling the Japanese submarines where they could shoot at us and harm us.* I really didn’t understand if their Grandfather’s were wrong why were my friends punished. It still puzzles me to this day. My family tried to calm me but they really didn’t have an answer. Sad times.” —–Patsy Hall, the authors aunt.

Various protests and disturbances occurred at some centers over political differences, wages, and rumors of informers and black marketing. Staff workers at Manzanar stole food meant for inmates and sold it on the black market in Independence, Lone Pine and Bishop.

The camp staff were fed conspicuously better food, their office were heated and air conditioned. The inmates were treated as if they had committed some crime, housed in barracks little better than shacks, provided poor food and paid as little as two dollars a week if the were fortunate enough to have a job. In the beginning, during the worst period of incarceration there was a great deal of resentment especially among the young. During a peaceful protest over living conditions some one threw a rock at the soldiers threatening the Japanese-Americans. They opened fire. Two young men were killed and 10 were wounded by military police during the so called “Manzanar Riot” in December 1942. Those of the prisoners who could be identified were immediately sent off to the punishment camp at Tule Lake. It’s ludicrous to think that those being punished in one concentration camp had to be sent to another “worse” concentration camp.

Tensions intensified in 1943 when the government required internees to answer a “loyalty questionnaire.” They were asked if they would serve in combat and if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States. Some older internees answered “no” because they were not allowed to become U.S. citizens and could not serve under any circumstances. Others refused to serve while their families were behind barbed wire. Those who answered “yes” were considered “loyal” and became eligible for military service outside the West Coast military area. Those who answered “no,” who were referred to as the “No-No” boys were quickly transferred to the punishment camp at Tule Lake, Calif.

In January 1944 the draft was reinstated for the Nisei Americans. Most of those who were drafted or volunteered joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, the 442nd fought with distinction in North Africa, France, and Italy. With 9,846 casualties, the 100th/442nd had the highest casualty rate and was the most highly decorated Army unit for its size and length of service. Nearly 26,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II. As has always been the case, hard fighting units were used as assault troops in the most difficult campaigns. The fight up the Italian Peninsula was one of the most brutal series of battles in modern warfare, a grinding, foot by foot slog against top German Wermacht and elite Waffen SS troops that took from July 10th 1943 until the Germans surrendered in Italy on May 8th 1945.

Hilo Fuchiwaki, Arroyo Grande

For those familiar with WWII history, Monte Cassino, the Rapido River, the landings at Anzio on Italy’s west coast once home to the Roman Emperor Nero, and the the final campaign from the Arno river up the northern spine of the country had the 100th/442 in it every step of the way. Nearly constant combat for almost two years. A daily meat grinder from which death or wounds was the only possible escape. Few grown men will do it, thats why the military like to take boys from hardscrabble backgrounds or those with something to prove. Boys from city ghettos, rural farms, recent immigrants children, those with chips on their shoulders, like the Nisei. The 100th/442 saw the most combat of any infantry regiment in the war. In 1944/45 the unit saw combat for 225 consecutive days. They were hands down the best infantry regiment in World War Two. Something to prove.

100th/442 RCT in Italy, National Archives photo

This was not a picture book campaign. Central Italy is dominated by a north to south mountain range, the Cisalpine Alps. With a succession of rivers running from its summit, both to the east and to the west, a more difficult place to attack a veteran army dug into the heights of those mountains can scarcely be imagined. Yet it had to be done. From the heights the germans could see the Adriatic sea to the east and the Tyrrhrenian to the west, there was no place to go but up. The valleys were dominated by German artillery, the rivers they had to cross, the Rapido, Volturno, and the Liri were fast flowing with no bridges left intact by the retreating Werhmacht. The mountains were very steep. Trucks and jeeps could not be used. The 100th, like all the infantry battalions used mules to pack in ammunition, food and supplies for the rifleman fighting towards the top. The last 1000 feet was too steep even for mules so it was packed the last few hundred yards by soldiers. They climbed hand over hand up and an over the rocks and boulders, able to carry only a single Jerry can of water or a case of mortar rounds. They even packed in the mail, though often much of it was passed back down. The recipient either evacuated wounded or dead. Add the cold, the freezing cold and the mud and the fact that it was all done in the dark. It was too dangerous in daylight. German snipers saw to that. You are just as dead from a ricochet stone chip off a granite boulder as you are from a copper jacketed slug. Their artillery targeted anything where a soldier might hide. Olive trees, pockets of boulders or any sign of loose dirt from a fox hole could bring a shell.

Human packers, regular soldiers from the infantry and service corps where just astonishing. In one ten day period, soldier packers carried nearly one hundred thousand pounds of supplies up the mountains for their battalion. Thats just one outfit. The same thing was happening in dozens of places at the same time. Most of these trails, if they can be called that were out in the open, across bare rock and exposed to artillery and small arms fire. The top of some trails were so steep that rope was strung along so that the men could pull themselves up.

The Nisei kids at times fought like primitive cavemen, so close to the Germans that they threw rocks at each other or used them in close, hand to hand combat. Grenades, more grenades were used in the mountains of Italy than in any other place in the war.

In the mountain war, rocks played a major part. Soldiers hid behind them, threw them, slept in their crevices, and were killed by them. In a single Nisei company, fifteen percent of the wounded and dead were from flying rocks.

There are no words to describe what combat does to a boy. For him its too horrible to contemplate and very quickly a sense of futility sets in, there is no hope, then, perhaps its acceptance and this allows him to go and do his job. It’s a sort of mental wreckage, boys who must break under the strain of combat. In the 100th they had every reason to break but the surprising thing is that so few did. The mystery being that anyone at all, no matter how strong, can keep his spirit from breaking in the middle of battle.

Consider Sergeant, later Lieutenant, Daniel Inouye from Hawaii. He stands a prime example of who the Nisei were. After he enlisted in Honolulu, he later said, “My father just looked straight ahead, and I looked straight ahead, and then he cleared his throat and said, ‘America has been good to us. It has given me two jobs. It has given you and your sisters and brothers education. We all love this country. Whatever you do, do not dishonor your country. Remember – never dishonor your family. And if you must give your life, do so with dignity and honor.”

Inouye Fought in Sicily, in the Italian campaign and in France. In France he also picked up what would be a consistent streak of luck when he was shot in the chest by a bullet only to be saved by a pair of silver dollars he kept in his pocket. These lucky charms would remain with him until he lost them. Just weeks before the end of World War II, Inouye found his unit fighting near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy during April of 1945. Despite having realized that he had lost his lucky silver dollars, he led an attack, pressing the attack as if he had a guardian angel riding his shoulder the entire time.

They were attacking one of the last German strongholds in Italy against a backed-up yet determined German Army where Inouye would lead an assault on the heavily defended town, Colle Musatello.

As the attack pressed on against heavy machine gun fire, Inouye stood up and was struck in the stomach by a bullet. While such a wound would send most men back to the medics, Inouye was no such man.

Pressing on as if it never happened, he continued to rake the German gun positions with his Thompson submachine gun, throwing grenades as he led his men against the German positions. Such action might be enough for one day but Inouye did not quit. Why anyone would do this is unknown. There is no explanation.

Approaching another machine gun position, Inouye stood to throw a grenade when he was struck in the elbow by a German grenade launcher. Despite the fact that the grenade nearly severed his entire right arm, he looked down at his then useless arm, pried the live grenade out of his immobile hand, and threw it at the German position wiping out the crew.

Then, almost beyond belief, he picked up the Thompson with his left hand and continued the assault. It was only when he was struck again in the leg and lost consciousness from the loss of blood that his body finally relented. He fell back into some bushes and lay there until an aid man pulled him out.

Despite his nine horrific wounds, Daniel Inouye survived. His right arm would be amputated without anesthesia, and for his actions he would be awarded just the Distinguished Service Cross. Only one medal of Honor was awarded to a Japanese-American soldier during the war. Apparently his actions weren’t good enough.

Future United States Senators Daniel K. Inouye and Robert “Bob” Dole, Percy Jones Army Hospital, Battle Creek, Michigan. 1946. Photo Courtesy of Bob Dole

Perhaps their best known action was the relief of the “Lost Battalion.” The first battalion of the 141st Infantry of the Texas 36th division which was surrounded by German SS troops in the Vosges mountains of France in October of 1944. The Texas battalion was encircled in the freezing cold and snow, trapped in a ravine with no escape.

Major General John Dahlquist, commander of the 36th Infantry Division, was pushing the unit forward in an effort to liberate more French territory from the retreating Germans, but the 1-141 advanced at too fast a pace, General Dahlquist failing to provide advance reconnaissance, the 141st advanced with no flank support enabling the German forces to surround them. The men in the Battalion would soon succumb to the combination of cold weather, low rations, almost no munitions and German firepower as they took cover in a narrow valley surrounded by high mountains and German troops on all four sides. Dahlquist then threw more Texans into the fight attempting to break the line but the Texans advanced very little distance taking terrible casualties in the process. Dahlquist, knowing the reputation of the 442nd which he had on loan from General Mark Clark in Italy, yes, that Mark Clark, who defended the American kids as loyal and ready to serve their country in 1942 and who had jumped at the chance to command them when they were sent to Italy, decided to sent them into the fight in a last ditch attempt to rescue the Texans. After five days of combat from October 26 to October 30, the 442nd’s relief effort broke through the German defenses and were able to rescue 211 of the 275 Soldiers that had originally been trapped. In the process, however, the 442nd suffered more than 800 casualties.

Sadami Fujita, Arroyo Grande

Dahlquist had violated one of the most important tactical challenges there is. He had sent those boys into an assault against an enemy who enjoyed superior firepower along a sharply narrow trail, a very narrow and constrained corridor in which they laid down their lives by the dozens. Through freezing rain and dense fog, the men trudged up nine miles of thickly wooded ridges on heavily mined, serpentine paths as Germans fired artillery and machine guns from fortified positions above them. German tanks firing their 88’s into the trees at point blank range, dozens of machine gun pits on three sides and the slopes both above and ahead of them with mortars on all sides. It was quite literally a suicide run. In five days of battle the 442nd broke through German defenses and rescued 211 men. The 442nd suffered over 800 casualties. I Company went in with 185 men; 8 came out unhurt. K Company engaged the enemy with 186 men; 169 were wounded or killed. Additionally, a patrol of 55 men were sent to find a way to attack a German road block by the rear and try to liberate the remainder of the trapped men. Only five returned. Dahlquist harangued his commanders to “Keep them going and don’t let them stop.” Dahlquist even ventured near the lines himself and with his aide, the son of Author Upton Sinclair, was verbally pushing the Colonel commanding on the ground, a German sniper killed Sinclair with a shot to the back of the head. Splattered with the boys blood, the General quickly retreated to his much safer headquarters.

General Dahlquist called for a parade after the battle, proud of his command efforts. He intended to hand out a few medals and have newsreel film taken while doing it. When the remainder of the 442 assembled on the parade ground, only a few hundred of the more than 4,000 men and officers stood in line. When Gen. Dahlquist angrily reiterated  that he had ordered all the soldiers to assemble, Lt. Col. Virgil Miller responded simply and with tears rolling down his cheeks, “This is all that’s left, Sir.”

Instead of allowing the Battalions to rest, Dahlquist sent them back up the line three days later. The Nisei hated the man.

Front row center, Isaac Akinaka, S/Sergeant; 100th Battalion Headquarter Company; Medic, Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Badge, Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantry Badge. Father of my good friend Vance Akinaka. As tough bunch of brothers as you will ever meet. They called themselves “The Purple Heart battalion. Italy 1944. photo, Stanley Hamamura, used by permission.

During the Battle of the Lost Battalion, Lt. Col. Alfred Pursall, commander of the Nisei 3rd Battalion, contradicted the general, “Those are my boys you’re trying to kill…I won’t let you kill my boys…” One war correspondent observed that General Dahlquist “used the Nisei more ruthlessly than his own Texas troops, pushing them into death traps, day after day, to reach the Lost Battalion of his 36th Division.” At a 1982 military ceremony, then Col. Gordon Singles, the 100th’s commander, refused to publicly shake the hand of Gen. Dahlquist. The officers and men never forgave the man who built his military reputation on the backs of those young American Nisei boys.

Moving up the line, France 1944. Nearly 80% of the men pictured here would become casualties in the Vosges Forest. US Army Signal Corps photo

Lest we forget how this impacted our little town of Arroyo Grande, PFC Sadami Fujita of the 100th Battalion, company B was killed by intense German small-arms fire in the Vosges Mountains on October 28th, 1944. Sadami  had volunteered  to run back through the curtain of German fire bring up more ammunition for his rifle company. He was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart, both posthumous. Before he volunteered he had worked for Juzuo Ikeda, Kaz’s father. Kaz remembered him well as an outgoing and friendly young man from Hawai’i. 

Harry Sakamoto was a staff Sergeant with the 100th, company C, he was wounded in the heel in the Vosges mountains. He had farmed with his father and brother in the upper Arroyo Grande valley before the war.

The Arroyo Grande Herald-Recorder newspaper listed among it “Boys in the Service” column in August 1943;

  •  Fuchiwaki, Hiroaki Hilo; Military Intelligence Service; volunteered from Gila River, AZ internment camp,
  • Fujita, Sadami; Private 1st Class; 100th Battalion Company B; Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge; killed in action 28 Oct 1944 in France. Volunteer.
PFC Sadami Fujita, national archives photo
  • Kamitsuka, Joseph H; 1st Sergeant; Military Intelligence Service; assigned to Company E, 100th infantry regiment,
  • Maruyama, Takuo; Military Intelligence Service; Allied Translator & Interpreter Section General MacArthur’s Headquarters-Tokyo,
  • Nakamura, George Itsuo; Military Intelligence Service; volunteered from Gila River, AZ internment camp, “Dixie Mission”-Mao Tse-tung’s headquarters, Yenan, India, China, Order of Battle information;
  • Nakayama, Shoji; Private 1st Class; 442nd Company F; volunteered from Poston, AZ internment camp, 
  • Otani, Tadashi; Private 1st Class; volunteered from Poston, AZ internment camp, 
  • Sakamoto, Harry; Staff Sergeant; 100th Battalion Company C; Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Badge, Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
  • Tsutsumi, Harry M; Military Intelligence Service. 

All of these young men had volunteered before the military closed enlistments for the Nisei and listed them as 4-C, enemy aliens in 1942. By the time the High School classes of 1943 and 1944 rolled around they were glad to get as many Nisei as they could. By that time most of the volunteers and draftees were held in the camps but still served though they had many reasons not to. They were Americans and they knew it. 

Combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, the 442nd fought with distinction in North Africa, France, and Italy. With 9,846 casualties, the 100th/442nd had the highest casualty rate and was the most highly decorated Army unit for its size and length of service. Nearly 30,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II. More than 800 gave their lives for a country that didn’t want them. In combat arms, those that actually saw action the death rate was nearly one in three. Consider Marine deaths on Saipan where just four percent. Forgive the comparison but casualties in the Nisei regiments were just horrific.

Reading the list, Minidoka Concentration Camp, Hunt Idaho. National Archives photo

The combat arm of the 100th/442 RCT was awarded 21 Congressional Medals of Honor,* 588 silver stars, 5.200 Bronze Stars, and over 9,486 purple hearts plus numerous Soldiers Medals, Legions of merit, Unit Commendations, Division Commendations and one Presidential Unit Commendation.

.At Manzanar, before the camp was closed, there were nearly three hundred blue and gold stars hung in the windows of the barrack homes. People were intensely proud of their children, both boys and girls who were serving in the military. No different than other families in America no matter the race or religion or place of origin.

Kay Fukuda, US Army Nurse Corps, Manzanar. National Archives photo
  • Only one Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded a Japanese-American soldier during the war. The recommendations from field officers who served with the Nisei were routinely downgraded by senior staff. Only many years after the war did the Army begin reviewing the awards given. To this date, 30 medals have been upgraded and awarded, half posthumously.
  • The 100th/442 RCT’s motto was “Go For Broke,” the unit motto, was actually adopted by the Regiment from a Hawaiian pidgin phrase used by gamblers to mean staking everything on a single roll of the dice in a game of craps.
  • When Hawai’i Statehood was finally achieved in 1959, it was in spite of considerable conservative Republican opposition in Congress. Some of the credit for passing the bill went to the Texas Congressional Delegation including Congressman Jim Wright and the House Speaker, Sam Rayburn and fellow Texan Senator Lyndon Johnson in the Senate; all acknowledged the 442nd’s rescue of the Texas “Lost Battalion” in France during WWII as having greatly influencing their decision. Nine former Confederate state senators voted no. That number included both Democrats and Republicans. The only southern state to Texas fully supported statehood. Senator James Eastland D-Miss. famously said, “Admission of Hawaii would mean two votes for socialized medicines, two votes for government ownership of industry, two votes against all racial segregation and two votes against the South on all social matters.” “Perhaps we should become the United States of the Pacific and finally should become the United States of the Orient,” said Sen. George Smathers, D-Fla. The Florida lawmaker went on to claim that Hawaii statehood threatened “our high standard of living” and “the purity,” he meant white men, “of our democracy.” Segregationists also worried that Hawaii statehood would mean an end to Jim Crow, the systematic, legal enshrinement of racist policies in the South. Texas Rep. W.R. Poage suggested that the proposal for Hawaii statehood might result in “two more votes in the Senate” for civil rights.
  • In 1962, Texas Governor John Connolly made each of the members of the 100th Infantry/442RCT honorary Texans.
  • The Navy, Air Corps, Coast Guard and Marines never allowed Japanese-American citizens to serve in any capacity whatsoever.
  • Three people were convicted of spying for the Japanese. One was a Japanese embassy employee in Hawaii, another a German national and the third a white woman, an American. As for sabotage, a farmer, enraged at the forced evacuation of his family, plowed under his strawberry crop because he could not bring it in before leaving with his family for Poston AZ. He was charged in absentia by a local magistrates court, and convicted of sabotaging the war effort.
  • Not a single rumor of sabotage by Issei or Nisei was ever proved, and their were no convictions of note.
  • The only firearms confiscated were a few hunting rifles mostly from two hardware stores in the Salinas valley.
  • There was not a conviction of a single Japanese-American in any serious case of espionage or sabotage after Pearl Harbor. People who are convinced that our neighbors were communicating, via radio, with Japanese submarines or selling them oil while lying offshore San Pedro or those in Hawaii, who allegedly carved arrows in cane-fields pointing to the anchorage at Pearl Harbor—are simply uninformed and repeating a third generation of ignorant lies propagated by newspaper, radio and syndicated columnists looking for profit at any expense, monetary or political.
  • Former California governor Earl Warren, and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wrote his memoirs he  stated that the faces of the children separated from their homes and friends bore down on him; he could not die without at least confessing his error to them.  The Japanese relocation program was a vivid example of the use of arbitrary governmental power at the expense of the rights of a virtually helpless minority. He had come to the realization that the Japanese evacuation, even in wartime, was offensive to America’s libertarian and egalitarian traditions and conspicuously racist.
442/100th Infantry. Prayer for the lost. Italy 1944. US Army signal corps photo



And then when it was nearly over they went home. Many of the internees, particularly those from California knew by late 1944 that homecoming might not be such a welcoming thing. Properties they owned or leased were in most instances gone. Fishing boats, houses, farmland, businesses of all kinds, money left in banks or other investments were confiscated by the government as Alien property and considered forfeit or simply stolen by neighbors and other opportunists. For many years there was an individual in my hometown who drove a Japanese Farmers truck he had taken after the man was transported to Gila River. My father said he never showed any embarrassment and in fact was known to have said, “Served them right.”………



Fourth of July.


What they did was to build a brand new society where none had existed. Vacuumed up by the military authorities were literally every profession from fisherman, farmers, business owners, college professors, housewives and even Eagle Scouts. If you made a list of the people who were imprisoned you would be hard put to find a gap in lifestyle, profession, age or education.

Photo, National Archives

Somehow the powers that be had not considered education and the first prisoners to arrive at Manzanar found no school facilities available for the nearly two thousand school aged children that arrived in the early summer of 1942. The camp administrators were ill prepared to offer any kind of organizational help to the inmates beyond very basic shelter. The first buildings only had doors in the ends so that families had to walk through their neighbors to get in and out. A building in every block was finally designated for a school but there was no insulation, no carpet or linoleum on the floor. There were no textbooks, pencils or paper and not even a chair to sit on. Whatever they needed would have to be provided by the prisoners themselves.

Outdoor School 1942, National Archive photo

“The teenagers had nothing to do and the little children ran around like wild animals. On very hot days they would play underneath the barracks to stay out of the sun. The older boys kept getting in trouble so we decided we had to have schools to keep them busy.”——Momo Nagano

Each block elected a committee and a block manager which petitioned the camp administration to be able to form schools. Once permission was obtained Japanese American teachers were found inside the camp and informal schools put together. School supples were not initially available from the WRA so people donated paper, pencils and what money they could spare so school supplies could be bought at nearby Independence and Lone Pine. Books to form a small library were requested from the Los Angeles Public Library. The National Library Association also came through. None of this was easy. Getting a government agency to move is a very difficult thing but by October of 1942 Formal schools had been approved, block buildings selected and on the 19th all the school age kids went to school for the first time since early spring. 

“In the first months at the Owens Valley camp there were no schools. Instead, college-educated evacuees taught makeshift classes in bare rooms or on shady patches of ground outside. There were few texts, so teachers read to their classes from a single book or led discussions on topics such as the U.S. Constitution.” Some Irony there. ——“Chickie” Hiraoka

It’s back to school days for Manzanar children today as hundreds of youngsters returned to their elementary school classes. Still handicapped by lack of insulation, floor covering and furniture the school doors were re-opened nevertheless, on a recommendation by the Manzanar Educational Council. Headed by Marshall Miler, principal, the faculty of the elementary school consists of the following teachers; Genevieve Baird, Eve Beekman, Janice Dales, Miriam Emus, Lois Ferguson, Libby Gratch, Florine Harding, Lois Hosford, Eleanor Jones, Martha Job, Lucille Lewis, Ellen McFarland, Bernice Miller and Marcia Price. ——Manzanar Free Press

Japanese-American  teachers were now to be used only as classroom aides not withstanding their sometimes superior education and experience. It was thought the white teachers would be better at teaching an “American” curriculum. When Ellen McFarland was asked years later why she would go out to the desert to teach “Japs,” she said. “I didn’t think it was right, what they did. Some of my UCLA classmates were in the camp.” She laughed and also said, “The pay was double what I could make in Los Angeles and that didn’t hurt. The children were wonderful though and I never regretted it.” 

Ellen McFarland, UCLA 1941

Very quickly organizing committees formed and an atttempt was made to corral the kids that were wandering everywhere around camp. Teenagers would leave the barracks for breakfast and not return until dark, a practice that was mystifying to their more conservative parents. In a way the camps provided a level of personal freedom they had not had at home. Organizing schools and sports for them was seen as a way to re-establish a little control. Elementary school was the first with junior high and high school to follow. 

Organizers had little money to spend as no jobs program had been instituted in camp for the internees. That was still to come. Block committees began to scrounge for what they could find in the way of things as simple as pencil and paper. School books were simply not available. A former high school student said one of his teachers in chemistry class actually said, “Pretend this is a Bunsen burner,” which made them all laugh, but that was the state of things at the beginning.

Furniture was hacked together from whatever scrap wood was lying about the camp. There are photos showing small piles of lumber shoved under barracks for future use by the families that lived there. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) provided almost nothing for schools. All furniture had to be made or purchased by the prisoners. In a stark contrast, the administrative staff, known as the, ‘White staff’, lived on site in staff housing that was painted, air conditioned, and had indoor plumbing, refrigerators and whose buildings were fully furnished. Their children were initially bussed into nearby Independence for school but after the camp schools were opened they attended school with the children of the prisoners.

Scrounging became the order of the day, nothing was wasted and if an opportunity to add to the stockpile of usable material  appeared it was taken advantage of. This was not without some peril though, a soldier shot Hiyoki Takeuchi in the chest for stealing wood from a scrap pile. He said, “He was warned to put it down and then ran, so I shot him.” The boy who survived his chest wound said he asked and received permission before he was summarily shot. The soldier was later reported to have said “I got my Jap.” Admin ruled the shooting justified and no punishment was ever applied to the soldier.

Many of the communities from which the Japanese Americans came sent inquiries to the camp administration about sending school books, materials and other supplies for the kids that had been in their schools. In this way the various grade levels began to acquire curriculum materials. Public libraries through out the western states also sent books to staff libraries. By the fall of 1942 schools had been organized for every level of student, white teachers hired and imported and most all of the functions of normal school life existed. Their were music programs, dances for the older kids, and a complete set of athletic programs. At its peak, Manzanar could field a hundred baseball teams from grade school to adult leagues. There were cheerleaders, majorettes with their own handmade uniforms topped off with high crowned hats with feathers made of paper. All of this from almost nothing. 

School organization was a major endeavor led by the adult leaders at Manzanar and by 1943 all grade levels were functioning smoothly and a new Junior College was opened that fall. Transfer students to Eastern universities was allowed by government and many students began to take advantage of it and it was deemed necessary to initiate a JC to facilitate transfer.

Throughout the time in camp, parents and kids worked hard to foster a sense of normalcy, albeit it behind barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with guns loaded. By the end of camp, schools were fully functional and were sending graduates to prestigious schools for further high level education such as Yale, or Harvard. Japanese-American kids were allowed to go to east coast schools but not the west. Some very famous schools refused admittance such as the all girls school Smith College, though they denied it after the war. Attending an eastern university was a way to escape from camp and many older students took full advantage of it. The number of prestigious school attended by children of the internees is astounding considering the number of college age kids eligable who left for higher education over the roughly three year period the concentration camps existed.

You see, children of any so-called racial group are really the same. The contents of the suitcase they each carried is fascinating. They carried books like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden. They packed their clarinets and trumpets, some took their high school baseball uniforms. They took as much of their normal life as they could. For comfort and security are important to children.

Fortunately adults took things like the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. Since they couldn’t leave the camps the catalogs became a way buy things that weren’t available inside. People had very little money so the sent away for things they considered necessities. Whatever limited money we had we spent it on purchasing things to make the camp life a little more comfortable. And one of the most popular things that people purchased, and the stores kept running out of, were chamber pots. Maybe you don’t know what a chamber pot is. They’re little ceramic pots, with a lid and that’s what you used to defecate and to urinate in. Because our toilets and bathrooms were way far away and in the middle of the night, people didn’t want to go in the freezing cold to go to the bathrooms. And so they’d use those. All modesty was gone they hid behind a curtain, hoping nobody could hear all this tinkle, tinkle and whatever. It was a new way of life.

My mother packed one entire suitcase with Kotex.—-Grace Nishi.

I took my Guadalupe YMBA baseball uniform.—-Tetsuo “Tom” Fukunaga.

My father took the Pasadena telephone book.—-“Mits” Kaminaka.

Mother packed only summer clothes, we lived in Glendale and didn’t know winter.—-Nami Dohi.

“My little brother “Teddy” packed his little suitcase with comic books. My mother was upset but it made him very popular with other kids.“—-Yoshi Akinaka

The administration allowed Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange to come in and document life at Manzanar though they imposed restrictions on what they could portray and then censored all of their work. The intent was to whitewash as best they could the life there. The prints from the National Archives used here all have censors comments on the reverse as to whether they could be released for publication. A subtext of the camp story was that many in government were opposed to relocation and the powers that be were careful not to give them any ammunition that could be used by any critics of official policies. 

The prisoners themselves had little subversive groups among them, particularly amongst younger adults who were absolutely and completely Americanized. The educated knew the constitution and their rights as American citizens and worked to document the real life in camp not the homogenized version released to Life Magazine where the “Volunteer” internees were happy and smiling in their new life. The camps “Were just a MINOR CONVENIENCE and the Japs were happy with their little farms and gardens, safe and protected by the United States Government.”

Toyo Miyatake was one. A professional photographer from the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, he was removed to Manzanar with his wife and children in 1942. As radios, firearms and cameras were forbidden Japanese-Americans, Toyo took geat pains to very carefully smuggle two camera lenses into camp with his luggage. He found a woodworker friend who made him a little wooden lunchbox which was really a secret camera and he then went about photographing true camp life. The photograph of the three small boys at the barbed wire fence is his, a photo that would not have been permitted under any circumstances but which trumps anything taken by Adams or Lange.

Toya Miyataki’s box camera, Manzanar museum

Toyo worked with a man he had befriended years before in Los Angeles who made a business call at Manzanar once a month and smuggled in photo supplies. If the items were small he would leave them in his jacket pocket, tell Toyo, “The jacket is hanging on the coat tree in the Admin office” and Toyo would get a camp policemen to go and retrieve it. If the items were too large for the pocket he would leave the trunk to his car slightly open and again a policeman would fetch them.

There was a surreal twist to this method of retrieval because the uniformed camp police officers, excepting the chief were prisoners themselves. In a strange twist of fate the government had made those who were prisoners the guarantors of their own imprisonment.

Manzanae Police Force, Toyo Miyataki photo.

Miyatake took wedding photographs and family photographs, He took graduation photos and did engagements. He did sports too. He also continued to document camp life with all its warts and then smuggling the film out of camp to be printed by a white friend in Los Angeles. His courage and superb eye for detail has left us a true image of camp life the government went to great pains to conceal. Eventually he was able to strike a deal with the camp administrator to become the “Official” camp photographer because he argued that people in camp wanted photographs to commemorate their time there. On the surface this seems strange but there were so many requests that he had to set up a rigorous schedule, allowing only two photos per family in order to keep up. If he had been caught with his clandestine photos he would have been immediately transported to the punishment camp at Tule Lake California.

On April 11, 1942, the first issue of the camp’s Manzanar Free Press was published. The first newspaper to be published in a U.S. internment camp, this independent record of the internees’ lives at Manzanar was distributed in the camp until shortly before Manzanar closed on November 21, 1945.

The entire staff were internees and worked without pay. 

The hypocrisy of the papers name didn’t go un-noticed by administration, but in the interest of harmony it was allowed to stand. Still each issue was submitted for review by officials before publication was allowed.

Aside from the enjoyment of the work and the relatively liberal minded staff, “The human element did not appear in the printed pages. There were no personal views from any writer. We could and did not write about what was happening to us, the poor food, the poor medical care, the lack of privacy, having to take showers together, overflowing toilets, being behind barbed wire, never free. We knew if we wrote about a certain thing, it wouldn’t get in the paper. The complaints of the internees was not ever voiced in the Free Press.” ——Sue Embrey, Editor

There was also some degree of irony because General DeWitt dropped by for a little visit and to look over his handiwork. A small article on page one of the newspaper was addressed to DeWitt, complimenting him on his understanding and humane operation of the mechanics of the evacuation. According to John D. Stevens, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Michigan who researched assembly and relocation center newspapers, these were the “first and only kind words which ever appeared in an evacuee publication about the man most” evacuees “blamed for their removal.” A week later DeWitt, perhaps influenced by the article in the Manzanar Free Press, gave official blessings to issuance of newspapers in all centers. Few are immune to flattery, even a Major General.

Interestingly, the Manzanar Free Press combined a national outlook with a newsletter feel. One can find articles on such topics as mess hall rules, school graduations, and results of games in the camp’s eight-team adult baseball league, alongside articles touting the contributions of Japanese-Americans citizens and soldiers to the national war effort. Like all American newspapers of the time it even ran an “Our boys in the Service” column.

Camp newspapers kept residents informed, relaying administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other tidbits concerning daily camp life. They published not only straight news, but also editorials, opinions, human-interest stories, and entertainment pieces such as sports news, literary works, and comic strips. They recorded the daily activities of residents for whom, even in detention, life continued.

Camp cartoonist Iwao Takamoto went on to work for Disney Studios after Manzanar and then Hanna Barbera and was one of their chief designers responsible for, among others, Scooby-Doo and the Jetson’s dog Astro. Another cartoonist, Chris Ishii who was snatched out of the Disney studio wrote Lil Neebo. A “Little Nisei” boy who had all kinds of camp adventures.

Editorially, the Manzanar Free Press was devoted to the expression of American patriotism and mindful of the synthetic distinction of ethnicity made to limit Japanese-American participation in the war.  In a January 1, 1944 editorial addressed to the “People of America,” the paper eloquently captured the resolve of these loyal, yet nonetheless demonized people:  

In three months, we will have spent two years in these centers. We have had time to rationalize our own predicament. The tragic experience of evacuation, the untold volume of business losses of the evacuees, the unwarranted hatreds engendered toward us by some people because of our hereditary kinships with the Asiatic foe—these we write off our ledger.

Alan Miyatake, grandson of “Manzanar Relocation Center” photographer Toyo Miyatake, shows photographs depicting the Japanese internment during WWII at the Toyo Miyatake Studio in San Gabriel, Calif. Feb. 17 2017. Alan tracked down the three boys shown in his grandfather’s well-known photograph and was able to again picture the trio at Manzanar’s barbed wire enclosure near Lone Pine, Calif. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)
Roy, Honey and Akira Toda, Manzanar, Calisphere collection.

She looks exactly like any teenage girl. This photo, taken by her friend Wilda Johnson who drove up from Glendale to visit her in the camp shows a trendy young girl right on the edge of womanhood. White tennis shoes and socks, gray skirt and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar fastened at the neck by a small brooch. She has her hair up in Victory Rolls, the fashion of the time and is flashing a bright and genuine smile. Her brothers Roy and Akira have the shy, reserved look of teenage boys, not quite sure what they are expected to do. No such thing for Honey though. Wouldn’t you like to know her?

We know about her today because her letters from camp were saved. She wrote in a beautiful copperplate hand with long graceful serifs. The letters are genuine. She tells of Christmas parties where everyone from her block attended, “Little tiny babies and the Grandpapas.” Santa Claus in his beard and red suit chuckled as he handed out presents to the little ones. She is captivated by the first snow on the Sierras, something she had never seen in Glendale. She talks about the freezing weather, both inside and out. She talks about the constantly swirling and dusty dirty wind and the affects of war rationing. “Only tiny babies get milk,” she says. In a bit of wonder, she never really complains about anything. She mentions the requirement that all visitors must apply for permits. Honey also mentions the prospect of being in Manzanar for a long, long time. She also says that camp life will not stop them from having fun, such as a picnics and teen dances with live music. She mentions “weiner bakes” along with hot, dusty conditions. She also notes that her free friends work on swing shifts and urges them not to let the work get them down, but rather to “do your part for the U.S.A. – ‘Keep them flying!'”

The sense of wonder and everlasting optimism of teenagers is hard to kill.

Song in Exile

Printed in the Manzanar Free Press, August 17, 1942

Song in exile
The other night we sat enchanted in the deepening dusk
before a drab recreation hall listening to the ageless strains
of a Brahms symphony.
Around us was the oppressive monotony of black bar
racks and dusty roads beyond, the jagged outlines of the
towering peaks softened now to a blue shadow. As we sat
there night slowly cast its black sorcery over the land and
as the violin quivered on a tremolo note the first evening star
appeared miraculously in the sky, shining in the gathering
darkness like a symbol of the beauty that still flickers in a
darkened world.
We let the mystical exoticism of Debussy fill the night
as each star came out to take its exact place in the wheeling
universe, until the night was misty with a million stars.
Man’s universal love of art and beauty is inextinguish
able. “Wherever beats the human heart, in the lush jungles of
Bataan, along the muddy banks of the Yangtze, in bomb
scarred Sevastopol, and even in Manzanar, man yearns for
The democratic universality of art does not distinguish
between nationality or race. Brahms was a German Debussy
French. Tschaikowsky was a Russian.
As we listen to the music of these great men let us
breathe a prayer for the men who are today giving their
lives that men may not only live again in peace and security
but that art may again be unfettered and freed from the
fascist censorship that would stifle it.

Manzanar Five

Closing the Circle….

On Wednesday afternoon July 28th, 1944, the boy found Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa sitting on the steps of her barracks Block 31, Building 3, Apartment 4, in the Manzanar California concentration camp. He walked slowly up to her, removed his cap, bowed and handed her the envelope. He knew what was inside. She did too…..

Coming August 17th.




Who they were……

Aiko Hamaguchi Born June 15 1924, Died 25 Sept 25, 2006 San Gabriel California.

Miss Hamaguchi wears the nursing pin of the Los Angeles County Medical Center School of Nursing. She is just twenty years old and one of the nurses working at the Manzanar “War Relocation Center” hospital in 1944 when this photo was taken.

Ansel Adams had received permission to photograph in the camp from the WRA which ran it. Aiko is the subject of several of his photos and it’s obvious why. Adams was only allowed to photograph inside the camp, all of his photos had to be approved by the camp commander and could not show guard towers, barbed wire or armed soldiers. He focused mostly on personalities though the famous photo of the gatehouse and flag pole is his.

When the internees initially arrived the few doctors and nurses treated patients in a single barracks without adequate supplies or much equipment. The government had stocked the type of medical supplies which were provided combat units which was wholly inadequate to their needs. 

The dust howling through the floors and windows, the poor  and  inadequate food, and very crowded conditions of Manzanar’s early weeks heightened fears of serious illness and epidemic. Many of the older people were fearful of the governments attentions and had every right to be.

“There were only five doctors to serve ten thousand people. There were 90 year olds and babies, pregnant women and teens, every body had needs. Many were not vaccinated against the common diseases of the time.—-Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Miura.

“We started working as nurse’s aids for the Public Health Department, we were going from barrack to barrack in the howling dust storms, and around the still open ditches to urge residents to complete their typhoid shots. — Rose Bannai Kitahara

“Here people are all scared, worried, and . . . you can’t tell them not to worry because you’re in the same position . . . You don’t know what the outcome of the war is going to be. It’s just impossible to kind of counsel them. You have to console and comfort them.” —-Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Miura

Aiko Hamaguchi, Chiye Yamasaki, Catherine Yamaguchi and Kazoko Namahaga play bridge. Ansel Adams photo, National Archives

In July of 1942, patients, staff, and equipment finally moved into a new 250-bed hospital. Housed in sixteen connected buildings, the hospital housed operating rooms, laboratories,  a pharmacy, dental and eye clinics, a morgue, and quarters for the staff. 

Though there were more than 60 midwives in camp the administration would not allow them to practice and all babies were birthed without their assistance. A terrible waste of skill which added strain on the already overworked staff.

In February 1942, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. targeted the Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. One of them was 31–year–old Fumiko Hayashida, a pregnant mother of two. Fumiko was one of 227 members of her community who, dressed in their best clothes, assembled at the Eagledale ferry landing on March 30th, 1942. As they waited to be taken off the Island by armed military escorts, Fumiko, holding her 13–month–old daughter Natalie Kayo, was photographed by a Seattle Post–Intelligencer photographer. She is obviously not a dirty Jap but an educated American Citizen just beginning the process of race shaming. Note the little fuzzy dog she carries for her little daughter. Everything about this photo speaks to a mothers care.

One of the first of the 541 babies born at Manzanar  was Fumiko’s. The hospital clinic was not yet finished so she gave birth in her room lying in an army cot. A Japanese doctor, also interned, delivered the baby without anesthetic and with no access to blood plasma should she need it.

A 28 year old unwed mother had given birth to a stillborn just days before.      She hemorrhaged and soon bled to death The doctors had nothing to give her and she bled out on the wooden kitchen table that was used for birthing.  That stillborn baby, never identified is one of six graves left in the cemetery. There was no one to care for it and it lies there today all alone, never given a name and long forgotten. The baby was an American.

In 1990 the Smithsonian planned on using the photo of Fumiko in an exhibit and managed to track her down in Seattle where she lived at the time. During an interview she was asked if she angry “Well, no,” she said. “In a way, but you know you do your duty. If the President wants us to do it. …We didn’t like it but that’s okay. I think no use fighting the government.”

“I was known as ‘Mystery Girl.’ ‘Mystery Lady,’” she said in 2007. Her highest-profile appearance came in 2006, when she testified before a congressional committee considering legislation to build a memorial on Bainbridge Island to internees.

It was a role she assumed as a result of the photo, but not one she sought. Like so many Japanese Americans of her generation, she preferred to be quiet about the events of the war years.

“My first reaction was of disbelief and anger,” she told the congressional committee. ” … My disgust soon changed to fear, for I realized that I now had the face of the enemy. I was very scared of what people might want to do to us. Rumors began to fly. Will we be arrested? Will angry people come and vandalize our homes, ruin our farms, or do us bodily harm?”

“Nobody knew where we as were going, how long we would be gone or if we could ever come back,” Hayashida said. She packed only what she could carry, making sure to place as much cloth in her case that she could later cut up for diapers. “No disposable diapers then,” she reminded. “The train trip from Seattle to Manzanar was the worst time of my life. They kept the shades pulled and there were two armed guards in each car.” She was eight months pregnant and was holding a 10 month old baby.

Natalie Ong, the child in the photograph, finally asked about the camps when she was in the third grade. “One day,she came home from school … and she asked us, ‘Did we? Did you go into camp, you know?’ That was the first child in the family that asked because I have a lot of nieces and nephews who are older than her but they hadn’t heard about it. Somehow she was the first one. Then we told her because of the war we had to leave home and she said, ‘Mommy, Daddy, you are American citizens. How come? That’s against the law. She is still angry about it to this day.”

Natalie said of her mother, “She was nobody and yet, she was everybody.”

Fumiko Hayashida died at age 103 in 2003. At the time she was the oldest l,iving survivor of the camps. The baby boy born in Manzanar, a second generation Nissei served his country as a soldier in Vietnam and earned a purple heart. Loyalty is an ephemeral thing and must be constantly guarded.

Alan Nishio was born in captivity at Manzanar on August 9th, 1945 the day the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. His grandfather lived there and was vaporized in the blast which killed an estimated 170,000 people. The story of his birth remained a closely-guarded family secret. It wasn’t until the 1960s,

while poring through the stacks of books at University of California, Berkeley library, that Nisho accidentally discovered the truth about his birthplace. He knew he had been born in a place known as Manzanar, but he had always assumed it was a farm labor camp in Northern California. The paper he found on campus identified Manzanar in quite a different way: as one of ten detention camps that held Japanese Americans during World War Two. He tried to discuss his birthplace with his family when he returned home for vacation, but was met only with silence. His parents would not speak of it.

Alan retired from CSU Long Beach after a career teaching in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and serving as Associate Vice President of Student Services. Within the community, Mr. Nishio was a founder and co-chair of the National Coalition of Redress/Reparations, an organization that played a significant role in the redress campaign for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.

Dennis Bambauer, Senior Photo, Bishop HS. Used by permission

Manzanar had a section in the camp dedicated to orphans which was known as the “Children’s Village.”  Before 1942, the majority of orphan children of Japanese ancestry either lived with distant family members or foster families. Some were placed in one of three orphanages in California specifically for children of Japanese ancestry: the Salvation Army Home in San Francisco, the Maryknoll Home in Los Angeles, and the Shonien in Los Angeles.    One of the kids was Dennis. Of Japanese and French-Irish descent, his mother was Japanese American. He was born October 1, 1934, in Los Angeles, California. As a child he resided in the Children’s Home Society Orphanage in Los Angeles. During World War II, he was scooped up by the authorities along with all the Japanes staff and sent to Manzanar concentration camp’s “Children’s Village” for orphans. 

“Well, I was an orphan, and my mother took me from her familyto an orphanage, and I remember well my days in the Children’s Home Society in Los Angeles as a small child. I was the only Japanese American in the orphanage, but I really didn’t know that I was different than the other children. It wasn’t until we got evacuated that I suddenly discovered that lo and behold, for some reason, I was different. I didn’t learn until later when we, as small kids, were faced with the American patriotism of the workers at the camp. It was about that time, shortly after arriving there, that I realized that I was there because I was part Japanese. My mother was full-blooded Japanese; my father was French-Irish. So 50 percent.” Dennis laughed at that. When asked how much Japanese blood was necessary in order to be sent to camp, he said, “ I recall something that the director of the relocation, his name I believe was Meredith, who said if you had a drop of blood, you got interned. So any kind of Japanese heritage, you were interned if you were living on the West Coast. Even if you’re only six years old. Just like me.

The Village held children from newborn to high school age and was for the most part completely segregated from the rest of the camp. If you were born to an unwed mother you were immediately removed from the mother and placed there. If your parent or parents died in camp you went to Children’s Village. They took you even if you had relatives nearby.

“The worst memories was that we were prisoners. Every night the searchlights would flash, circle around the camp and would come through the barracks so you would see the light out the windows, searching. The barbed wire fence held us in. When little kids were playing and a ball rolled under the fence the guards wouldn’t let you go get it. Sometimes they just kept them. The fact that we were prisoners, that’s the worst memory. And the soldiers had to do their job. But the soldiers were a little lenient, it seems, for us little kids. They didn’t try to be mean. We would walk by the towers, and they would chat with us. So that’s a better memory about the situation, but that was because of the individuals more than the system.”

Dennis was adopted out to the Bambauer family and went to live in Bishop when he was in third grade. He had to be fingerprinted before he left and the soldier who did the printing told him, “This is in case you do anything bad; we’ll be able to catch you.” That was a, that was a traumatic experience for me, and I’m sure that the soldier didn’t mean anything by that, but it really knocked me for a loop. It was really… I was really sad. It didn’t make me angry because at that age, six or seven, you don’t get angry. You get scared. So it just made me even more scared. I didn’t know what I was — I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know anything about the Bambauers except that they had come to the camp and they wanted to adopt a child and so they selected me. But other than seeing them, I didn’t know anything about the family so it was a traumatic experience leaving my friends and a comfortable place, and then to have that warning, I just have never ever been able to overcome that. Also I was known as the yellow Jap in Bishop. Those things never go away. ——Dennis Bambauer  earned a degree at Occidental College and became a teacher and a philanthropist in Redding Ca. He died in 2017 at 84.

Lieutenant General John Lesesne DeWitt, Commander Western Defense Command.

John Lesesne DeWitt was a general officer in the United States Army, best known for leading the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War two. DeWitt believed that Japanese nationals and Japanese American citizens on the Pacific Coast were conspiring to sabotage the American war effort, and recommended they be removed from coastal areas. following the Roberts Commission report of January 25, 1942 accusing persons of Japanese ancestry of widespread espionage in Hawaii prior to Pearl Harbor, along with his perception of public opinion as anti-Japanese, he became a proponent of internment of all west coast Japanese. He felt that the lack of sabotage efforts only meant that it was being readied for a large-scale effort. “The fact that nothing has happened so far is more or less . . . ominous, in that I feel that in view of the fact that we have had no sporadic attempts at sabotage that there is a control being exercised and when we have it it will be on a mass basis.” DeWitt stated, “Let me warn the affected aliens and Japanese citizens that anything other than strict compliance with this proclamations provisions will bring immediate and severe punishment.” Numbers of studies into sabotage or any other spying both during and after the war revealed not one, not one single instance of sabotage by any Mainland Japanese or Japanese American, none. Zero.

DeWitt was never sanctioned by the military or government and went on to serve in many other military capacities including commandant of the War College. His grandchildren were completely unaware of his involvement in the transportation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. DeWitt died at age 82 in 1962. It is common for children who did not grow up in the camps to be ignorant of their family history. The adults kept their knowledge to themselves. My friends whom I have known all my life has never spoken about Gila River or Poston where they were born.They left there as infant or very young children and their parents never spoke about their experience. Much of the original research has been done by those too young to remember or who were born after the war. Without them and their activism most of these peoples stories would have been lost.




What they did was to build a brand new society where none had existed. Planners had not expected this.