It appears that after over 70 years, in essence, Executive Order 9066 was responsible for the mass evacuation, assembly centers and concentration camps interning Japanese, those born in Japan and the U.S. This issue is much in the news these days.
I have said over and over, it is passed, forget about it, but it seems so many people who are unaware of this tragedy need to know this dark period for the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This is the reason I am sharing this article, “Horse Stables to Barracks,” of some of my experiences during that time.
My family — consisting of my parents, an older brother, a younger brother, a THREE-MONTH-OLD baby brother and a SIX-YEAR-OLD sister — left San Diego in April 1942. I was almost 17 at that time. Each family member was allowed only ONE suitcase. My family was given a “family number” that was to be used as a form of identification. The four numbers were largely printed on a square, cardboard tag.
Those leaving San Diego were piled in a “milk train” that chugged along, destination unknown. No one smiled or laughed and very few conversations were heard. It was a long, long, tiring ride, sitting on hard seats. We finally arrived at our unknown destination, the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, where we assembled. It became known as the Santa Anita Assembly Center.
We got off the train, stood in a line to receive our hay mattresses. We were asked to show our family number. I could not find mine, so the Army guard pointed his bayonet at me and said, “Get out of line!” I searched through my sweater and skirt pockets and finally found it in one of my sister’s sweater pockets. I was holding her on the train and I didn’t want to lose the tag, so I put it in her sweater pocket.
I showed my tag to the guard and again, he pointed his bayonet at me and said, “Get back in line.” To this day, this frightful incident still stands out so clearly in my mind.
We were assigned stalls in the stables. The stalls were not exactly clean. It appeared they were merely swept. The stink, excuse the word, of the horses and hay still remained in the stables. My friends and I often wondered whose family was in Sea Biscuit’s stable.
My three-month baby brother’s “crib” was a trough until we ordered a buggy from Sears. He had developed asthma and cried and cried, so I had to hold him and rock him to sleep for several weeks.
(Mama was not well when we arrived at Santa Anita. When the war broke out on Dec. 7, 1941, Mama was 8 months pregnant. The news really startled her. It was discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck while he was being born. The midwife was very skillful and Mama was in good health at that time, so all turned out well. My brother was born in January 1942.)
After a few months in the stables, the barracks were built and all those in the stables moved into the barracks. There were four partitions to each barrack and four families lived in one barrack. The walls were thin and we had to be careful when speaking. There was absolutely no privacy.
The days in the Santa Anita Assembly Center became routine, but it was a full day for me. I attended classes in the morning. In the afternoon, I had to wash diapers, care for my baby brother, tend and entertain my sister. Toward the evening before dinner, I bathed my baby brother. To do this, I had to carry buckets of hot water, one in each hand, which I got from the laundry room. A large tub was ordered from Sears, which was my brother’s bathtub. I placed the tub in front of the barrack and that is how I bathed him.
Papa cared for his children while I was at school. He was one of the cooks in our block mess hall, and he did not go to the mess hall until 4 p.m.
After graduating high school, I assisted another teacher in the nursery school, caring for children 3 to 5 years old in the mornings.
A few months later after another tiresome ride on a bus, we arrived in Poston, Arizona, a former Indian reservation made into a concentration camp. There were three different camps known as Camp I, Camp II and Camp III. Those from San Diego and outlying areas were placed in Camp III, those from Central California (Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande) were placed in Camp II, and those mainly from Los Angeles and San Francisco were placed in Camp I.
Shortly after our arrival in Poston, Mama had to be hospitalized. At the time of her confinement, she left a 9-month-old son and a daughter in my care.
There were no conveniences in camp such as refrigerators, ranges, washing machines or dryers. I washed diapers daily, scrubbing them on a washboard in a deep sink-like tub as I did in Santa Anita Assembly Center.
Mama was still with us while we lived in Santa Anita, so she was able to breast-feed my baby brother. As I stated above, Mama was hospitalized shortly after we arrived in Poston; therefore, in order to give my brother his midnight feeding, I went from mess hall to mess hall literally begging for one bottle of milk so my brother could have his bottle in the middle of the night.
After many evenings, I spoke to the chef in our mess hall and he promised to save some milk for one bottle, which I was thankful for. Milk was scarce at that time.
Time in the mess hall was limited; therefore, a considerable amount of my meals were hurriedly consumed so that my brother and sister could enjoy theirs.
There were many sleepless nights holding a crying infant and comforting a very ill and very unhappy sister when they contacted contagious diseases such as mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox. These so-called “childhood diseases” really did spread to children because of the close quarters and other factors.
Yes, times were difficult, but there were some good times in the concentration camp in Poston during the early ’40s. I met new friends and attended block parties. I had my first opportunity working as a secretary to the community analyst. It was also my first experience as a Sunday school teacher teaching a junior class of students, ages 7, 8 and 9. I have had the privilege of being a secretary and a Sunday school teacher since then for many decades and have enjoyed both.
Our God has truly watched over me even in the days of horse stables to barracks, and He has never forsaken me. I thank Him for all his blessings then and now.
Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.