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.