This is the second part of the story begun last issue: “Shared memories mark highlight of Pilgrimage ” when those who were at or related to the World War II Minidoka Relocation Center in southern Idaho shared their memories at the 2006 Minidoka Pilgrimage held last month. -—ed.
Story by KEN MOCHIZUKI
Examiner Assistant Editor
Brooks Andrews, son of Rev. Emery Andrews of the Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle, recalled watching his father mark off 10-foot-square sections in the church’s basement, storing the belongings of his Japanese American congregation who ended up at Minidoka.
As a five-year-old, Brooks Andrews remembered walking between stacks “to the ceiling,” and that he accompanied his father who made over 50 round trips from Seattle to Minidoka, bringing possessions to members of his congregation. The ones the internees requested, Andrews said, “were always at the bottom” of the stacks.
Upon arrival at Minidoka, “even though the guards knew us, they always had to check” the contents they brought, he said. He recalled the “mud, dust and snowstorms, but it’s the people we remember most.”
Morris Kawamoto of Lincolnwood, Ill.: as a six-year-old, he remembered the “grand time catching dragon flies.” He met his wife, Amy, in the camp. Amy Nishi Kawamoto recalled their small camp apartment as having furniture, decorated walls, “even an eagle carved out of some kind of wood” all done by her father. In photos of her family’s living quarters, she said, “it doesn’t look like camp life.”
As a young child growing up in Minidoka, “we were different from the older generation and didn’t know a war was going on,” she said. “I didn’t appreciate my parents, and didn’t get to say I’m sorry.”
Herb Tsuchiya, 73, was the youngest of seven siblings and said he used “dragon flies as temporary pets — as long as they lasted — tied to a spool of thread.” He threw a cat into the canal and, to his surprise, it “dogpaddled.” He played “King of the Hill” on a coal pile and remembered the Issei (the immigrant generation from Japan) converting some of the shower stalls into “ofuro,” or the traditional Japanese bath.
Tsuchiya thought back about a “Mr. Niita” who collected every species of local fauna in a menagerie, becoming known as “Niita Gardens.”
Joe Abo, currently residing in Bremerton, remembered dikes being built around a baseball field during winter, then the field flooded with water to create an ice rink. As a “two-to-three-year-old” back then, he once fell on the ice, knocking him unconscious. His Minidoka memory is of hands then touching him and “faces looking down on me.”
The interdependence between local farmers and Minidoka internees became apparent in the testimony of Bill Vaughn, a Friends of Minidoka board member. Born and raised 11 miles to the east of Minidoka in Greenwood, Idaho, he remembered his first interaction with Japanese American laborers from Minidoka at age 11, and that his family was “indebted to the laborers who helped harvest the crops.”
Vaughn’s family raised carrot seed – deemed critical to the war effort since carrots helped pilots see better, Vaughn said. “My folks had no idea how to raise carrots, but that fall, labor was available from the camp.”
Thirty-five years later, becoming an architect, Vaughn visited Washington, D.C. and ran across a book, “The Soul of a Tree” by George Nakashima. The book and its title “haunted me all night,” he said. Soon as he returned home, he checked his father’s ledger and discovered that Nakashima had worked on Vaughn’s farm and departed for Pennsylvania before Minidoka closed.
Nakashima became a world-famous woodworker. Vaughn called Nakashima, and Nakashima recalled: “Your mom fed us three times a day, and your dad let us drive the family car.” Vaughn and Nakashima agreed to meet at a conference Vaughn was to attend. However, Nakashima died a month before that scheduled date.
After his emotional testimony, Vaughn said, “I am very honored and humbled to serve on your board.”
Connie Chandler’s father worked for the Bureau of Reclamation – her connection to Minidoka. She was asked to take part in a high school May Day program in the camp, carrying a queen’s crown on a pillow. To “look more like everyone else” (Japanese), she inserted half a peanut under each eyelid, resulting in her eyes becoming “swollen shut.”
“I carried the crown, but had sunglasses on,” she said.
Three years old at Minidoka, Paul Tomita mostly remembered the dust. His mother spent an entire day with a bucket of water, cleaning up dust in their apartment that even worked its way through “pinholes.”
He also could recall venturing out to the barbed-wire fence, and that the guards in the towers were “friendly” but they also had “real guns and real bullets.”
“They had the right to shoot if I decided, ‘I don’t like this place anymore, and I want out.’”
Born at the Tule Lake World War II camp in northeastern California, landscape architect Kenichi Nakano was invited to the Minidoka Pilgrimage to assist with planning the Issei Memorial. He said he often felt “anger” whenever the World War II incarceration came up, especially after learning that his father, a “kibei” (born in America, educated in Japan) was offered a scholarship to study medicine at an Ivy League college.
The incarceration ruined that dream, Nakano said, with his father spending most of his working years as an Albertsons produce manager. His father and mother married at Tule Lake so they would not be split up. (His mother’s family ended up at Minidoka.)
After attending a Tule Lake Pilgrimage a few years ago, that anger had eventually subsided, he said.
Kenji Ima spent ages four through seven at Minidoka — “Block 36, Barrack 6, Apartment D by the guard tower near the fence,” he said. For him, the incarceration and events leading up to it are akin to the film “Groundhog Day” with the “same nightmare script repeating over and over.”
“Unless you were there,” it would be difficult to understand his feelings about the incarceration, Ima said. While watching “camp”-related films on the bus ride from Bellevue, “I got teary-eyed,” he said. “It’s so important to me; it will be with me till the day I die.”
James Arima recounted how his father, a newspaper publisher picked up by the FBI immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was detained at the Immigration and Naturalization Service building in Seattle, then transferred to the camps for Issei community leaders at Missoula, Mont., Lourdsburg and Santa Fe, N. M., and finally at Crystal City, Texas. The Arima family, incarcerated at Minidoka, was finally reunited with his father at Crystal City. James Arima was born there in 1945.
He credited Issei community leader Genji Mihara with keeping his family updated on the well-being of his father. Writing letters in English to “get through censorship faster,” Mihara would write his wife in Seattle and later Minidoka to relay to the Arima family that “Mr. Arima is okay.” Mihara, Arima said, “chronicled everything” and “recorded on all Issei.”
“If you don’t write your story, who will?” Yosh Nakagawa, Seattle Japanese American community leader and session moderator said as he concluded the “Sharing Stories and Memories” program. “If we do the right thing today, injustices will not happen to any other person of color. The value of the Minidoka story is that we are the last – that this happens no more. Without your story, there is no story.
“Let America never pay the price of silence.”