August 26, 2009

Stories from Volunteers

Margo Bebinger
Thank you for the honor of helping with your Tag Project. I want you to know that as I stamped each name, I said it outloud, along with their age - as a sign of respect for each person and the inhumanity that they suffered.

Marie Switkes
Sitting and stamping tags methodically, being careful to get the right numbers connected to the right people aroused many thoughts. Each name represents a human being. There were large families (up to ten!) sent off to Poston together and lonely individuals too. I tried pronouncing the names as I did each one, and there were names of people I know, like "Takeshi", "Keiko", "Kenji", and so many men named "Minoru"!
I am not of Japanese American descent: my Italian father and French mother came to the US on a boat as fascism took over their countries. So I am first-born French/Italian American. I hardly remember any mention at all of the Japanese American camps in my middle and high school historuy classes at a private school in New York. I didn't really know much of anything about them until I moved to California some thirty years ago.

Tracy Wells
I first learned about the internment camps in my early teens--not as part of a history class (because we weren't taught about it in school), but on a family vacation. We were driving through the desert in California, and my uncle stopped the car near what looked like a guard post. He told me this was Manzanar, and he told me the story behind this desolate place. I was shocked--I'd had no idea--and then my aunt recommended that I read Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's "Farewell to Manzanar" to learn more. I just couldn't believe that Americans could have done this to other Americans.

Susan Smithey

In August I went to Manzanar after hiking with a group of
women friends at Bristlecone Pines. I was seriously shocked at what I
learned while at Manzanar. I was also incredibly humbled. I'd like to
help with the Tag Project in any way I can. I may also be able to
enlist the help of my hiking buddies.

Mary Sue Kern

(Mary Sue has been helping with the aging process of the Tags which requires dipping and scrunching them in coffee)
My studio smells like coffee, as the tags dry out. But it's certainly not a bad aroma. I must say, it's become rather emotional already, seeing the hand written names of all these people as I scrunch them up. But, I guess that's nothing compared to the emotions and fears they experienced. So there is no need to ask myself why I'm doing this. It's going to be a powerful piece of work, Wendy. I am proud to be helping.

Yoshio Nishimoto
My brother and I returned....from the Tule Lake biennial pilgrimage. I was surprised and delighted to see your "Tag Project" in progress.

During the war, my family was first sent to Poston, and later transferred to Tule Lake because of my father's "No-No" answer to the Loyalty Oath. As you may know, Tule Lake became known as the "Segregation Center" with armed guards, stockades, and jails due to over-reaction by the US Military. Since I left camp at the age of 12, it was interesting to listen to the older internees (at the pilgrimage) describe the events and atmosphere of those tumultuous times.

Wayne Hosaka
I am a San Diego native Sansei, my grandfather on my father's side coming to San Diego from Japan at the turn-of-the-century. My mothers father immigrated to Seattle.
My father, Fred Tomio Hosaka, was very bitter over his internship (imprisonment) and it affected his life tremendously. He was an artist, painter, sculptor, and spent his leisure time whittling while in Poston. When he retired he started using the chainsaw and Dremmel rotary grinder to sculpt driftwood he would collect on the Oregon coast.
When he was in his 70s, he compiled a family history up to World War II and published a book and photo collection. His book is entitled "Shortchanged in America"

Jamie Primmer
I only found out about the camps in a class while I was at SF State in'97 or '98. The class was led by Ruth Asawa. She told of her own internment. It was heart wrenching. And for a girl in her early twenties, an eye opening experience. I have held her story close to my heart all these years. Her art and her life have always inspired me. Same goes for you Wendy! You hold the importance of this story in common and I would absolutely love to help!! Ruth Asawa's website is

Stan Umeda
I was 7 years old when my family was sent from Sacramento to Fresno Assembly Center, then to Jerome, Arkansas and then to Gila River, Arizona. My family number was 22004 and this journey lasted 2 years and 9 months, about a 1,000 days. For me, the camps are symbolized by guard towers, barracks, barbed wire and “the tags”.

Rowland Kumamoto
I am very aware of my parents camp experiences and share it with who ever will listen. Mom and most of the people from Pasadena ended up in Gila Indian Reservation. She was in Butte camp. I lost an Uncle there. Dad's story was even more difficult. His family were finally relocated in Amache (Four Corners), however, his Dad was arrested shortly after Dec 7 by the FBI and interned in Crystal City, Texas (Dept of Justice camp), with Italians and Germans. This is where all the arrested community leaders such as Pastors, Priests, Professors, and business leaders were placed with the members of the American Facist and Nazi Parties. Most people were placed by the WRA in WPA camps. Did you know there were INS camps in Idaho and Montana, that were essentially labor camps building logging roads and highways for no pay?

Hayami Arakawa
My mother (Rumiko) and her brothers Toshihiko, Masihiko and Raymond were sent to Poston, Arizona, camp 3 - 309. So were my mother's parents Masako and Shoshu (20th generation Buddhist minister) Sakow. My mothers second oldest brother Fumihiko was sent back to Japan just before the war, just in case.

My Father Hunter Hayao Arakawa, parents Helen and Kelly where sent to Jerome and Rowher, Arkansas. My Grandfather Kelly enlisted and served for the US Army after his 3rd year in the camps. He served in Little Rock, AR and never saw military action.

Annette Lau
I am Chinese but I heard about Ex Order 9066 from my parents who were attending college at the time. They were so concerned about the possibility of Chinese getting rounded up, after all we all look alike, that they did not want us to learn to speak or understand Chinese.

I think that non Japanese would benefit from participating in your project as well. As you have stated, most Americans have no knowledge of this discrimination.

Marian Furukawa
I am eagerly anticipating being involved with your project, which I heard about from Karen Sodini (nee Ozaki). Karen sent me your web site and link, which she had received from her son! Karen was born in Fresno Center and relocated to Jerome, where my husband's family was incarcerated. It certainly is a small world! I recently finished reading Mary Tsukamoto's book, "We The People", which was very inspiring and informational since all I remember from "camp" is the "kid's eye-view" and not the emotional reactions to what was happening. My husband's family was at Jerome and also Rohwer until they were reunited with his father who had gone to Cleveland, Ohio for employment.

June Noda
I was in three camps during that short period of time. My family started out at Walerga Assembly Center, then on to Tule Lake. Staying there required that we had to declare our allegiance to Japan, so my dad decided it was best we moved on. We were sent to Jerome, Arkansas for a short time, and then on to Heart Mountain, Wyoming until the end of the war. (As a child), my recollection of that period of time in my life was not as offensive as how most young adults felt: they were up-rooted and sent out to internment camps during a period when their lives were denied of higher education and promising careers. My parents did a great job in protecting us from the uncertainty and frightening experience. I had my grandparents, uncles and aunties close by so it was comforting. I had friends close by, so as a child, I can honestly say, I survived without the bitterness that many felt.

Joe Yamada
My dad's good friend Joe Yamada told this story over dinner one evening. (There were about 13 of us seated around a large table in a Chinese restaurant.) Before the Yamada family was sent to camp from San Francisco, Joe had a pet dog that he couldn't take with him, so he and his father drove the dog to a non-Japanese friend's house. The friend's house was all the way across town, quite a distance. Then the Yamada family left for camp, and abandoned their home. Somehow, the dog got away, and managed to find his way back to his original home, only to find that the family was no longer there. He crawled under the house and refused to leave. Despite all attempts to retrieve him he would not budge and he soon died there, possibly from starvation. My sister Karen, who is an avid dog lover, bawled her eyes out after hearing this.

Shig Yabu
I am on the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation and the Ventura County JACL board of directors. The Heart Mountain Reunions in the past has done Oral History with former internees, but so many of the past internees refused to talk or be filmed. This past December, Kevin Walker was making a documentary of all 10 Relocation Centers, and I had contacted many in Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura County with very little enthusiasm for the project.

I was in Block 14-1-C at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, and I went under two different names: Shigeru Yabu and Shigeru Okada. My real name is Shigeru Yabu, but socially I went as Shigeru Okada which is my stepfather's name.

Willie Ito, Bacon Sakatani, and I had volunteered our service at Manzanar during the Presidential weekend, and this has been the second time. In my speeches, I mention that over 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to 10 different Relocation Centers, and many of us all had pets. I happened to have 4 pets: Goldfish, turtle, canary, and a dog named which I had to leave with a friend. I am asked if I ever saw my pets again after returning back to San Francisco. No, I was not able to find Russell again.

The internees were not allowed to bring in pets and we ended up finding other pets while at the camp. I found a wild baby magpie bird and tamed her. This bird grew up with the internees of Heart Mountain, and enjoyed having visitors. I honestly did not know whether this bird was a male or female, but I named this bird Maggie. Each and every time I had walked near Maggie's cage, I would say, "Hello Maggie." One day Maggie replied, ""Hello Maggie." It did not take long before all of my friends had visited Maggie, and as the word got out we had visitors from other blocks. Maggie got so much attention that she picked up many words, whistled and her favorite was the wolf call, imitated those that laughed, and roamed between our barracks socializing with all the neighbors.

At first my mother wanted this bird returned back where we had found Maggie. My mother often would say to Maggie, "What cha doing." I did not realize how attached she was with Maggie. My mother would talk in front of Maggie's cage for hours. When my mother received a letter from her brother had joined the 442nd from the Minidoka Relocation Center: it must have been the tone of her voice because that was the only time when Maggie was silent and listened.

It was August 14, 1945, we had six boys playing basketball outside in the wind, and the sirens went off for the very first time. Without knowing what the sirens was about, we had assumed that the war with Japan was over. The camp officials urged all the internees to leave camp as soon as possible, and we would go down to the railroad tracks, and say goodbye to all those going to various destinations. Heart Mountain Relocation Center became a ghost town, and mess halls consolidated, and now for the very first time we had complete privacy in the bathroom. All of my friends had left, schools were closed, and Maggie was the only friend I had as a companion. We had talked about the future, and we thought that she would be ideal to donate to the San Francisco zoo, so that I could come and visit her often: plus she would be a big hit with the visitors.

Maggie had her own plans, she did not want to leave Wyoming nor Heart Mountain Relocation Center: this was her home, and she had served her purpose by keeping the Japanese Americans happy. It was middle of October when I saw Maggie on the bottom of her cage, I could see her breathing and eyes flickering. I carried her with my arms against my chest, and I could hear my mother crying behind me. Maggie slept under my bed, but it was the saddest thing when I woke up, she was gone and I gave Maggie a decent burial. Several weeks later, we were on the train heading back to California. My parents talked about Maggie until they had passed away. In fact, according to my brother, my mother would call out for Maggie in her sleep.

Sam Terasaki
Heard about your project from your Uncle Roy and Auntie Sachi. I have coffee with them 3 times a week after we work out at the Rec Center. I met you once some years ago when you were in Aspen, Colo.*

My interest in this stems not only from my heritage as a Nisei who served in Europe with the 100th Bn. but also the fact that my Son is a professor of Photographic Fine Arts at Glendale Comm. College in Glendale,AZ.

About half of the group that I was inducted with came from the camp in Amache. I became acquainted with one of them during induction and basic training at Camp
Shelby, MISS. We went overseas together and served first in France then back to Italy where he was killed in action.

Shig Yabu

I was first sent to Pomona Assembly Center, and then to Heart Mountain Relocation Center until one week before the camp officially closed. I was just 13 1/2 when I had left Heart Mountain, and then moved to San Mateo, Burlingame, Pinole, Hillsborough, and back to San Francisco. When I joined the Navy in 1951, I attended San Diego State College, I worked and lived in San Diego until 1967.

I wrote the book called, "Hello Maggie." Maggie was a baby magpie bird, and this book had been illustrated by Willie Ito that had been interned at Topaz Relocation Center. Willie Ito was an animator at Disney, Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera.

Gary Ono
I asked my family in San Francisco if anyone there wanted to work with me on this. I got a response from a niece, daughter of my sister Sandi Matoba, who was born in the Merced Assembly Center.

Our family, parents and eventually four children were in and out of the WRA's Granada Project or later named Amache. Shortly after, being placed in Amache, my father was hired to do translation and radio broadcasting to Japan from Denver. The family had 3 kids then, and we joined him in Denver 3 months later. While in Denver my mother was adnitted to a TB Sanitorium in Boulder, one-month after our brother Victor was born. We children were accompanied back to Amache and taken care of by grandparents and an aunt.

I did produce a video documentary about my father's war job after getting a Calif. Civil Liberties Public Education Program grant back in 2002, titled "Calling Tokyo."

I also ended up becoming a bit of a family historian and wrote articles about my grandfather's involvement with the Japanese American Fortune Cookie. Google that if you have time to read it.

I also wrote some short articles about Amache, which are also on the JANM Discover Nikkei website.

Miyuki Hirano

WOW! One of my favorite images by Dorothea Lange is one taken of the Mochida family as they were being processed before being shipped to the camps. I received an email today from Kathy Chang: it turns out that her mother, now Miyuki Hirano, of Reno Nevada, is the young girl in the photo!!! One of the most rewarding experiences that I am having with this project is hearing stories such as these, and reconnecting to that past through extended families.

When I work on my projects, I think constantly about what has become of all of these people, and where they are now. I used the same image in one of my pieces on my website. This image reminds me of my own mother who was just a little older than the young girl in this photo: my mother's family were evacuated from Terminal Island/San Pedro in 1942.

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing this story.

Poston Camp 3
One of the first volunteers were roped into this project by my friend Lori Walton. Her mother, Mary (Oda) Matsuoka, enlisted herself and two friends from childhood, Sakie (Takahara) Kawahara, and Doris (Kuwada) Kunihara. Mary was at Poston for her freshman and sophomore years.

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