Different Facets of the ‘Poston Experience’

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From left: Event organizer Patti Hirahara; panelists Don Miyada, Robert Wada and Marlene Shigekawa; Rep. Lou Correa; panelist Gania Demaree-Trotter; AUHSD Superintendent Michael Matsuda; panelist Tom Leatherman; Anaheim High School Principal Robert Saldivar.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Second of two parts.

ANAHEIM — “The Poston Experience: Paving the Way for the Next Generations,” a program focusing on what happened to Anaheim’s Japanese American community during World War II, was held Aug. 24 at Anaheim High School’s Cook Auditorium.

The program featured student-produced films; a performance by Anaheim Elementary School District students; speakers, including Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda, SELANOCO JACL President Ryan Yoshikawa, Anaheim High School Principal Robert Saldivar, and Rep. Lou Correa; and a panel about local Japanese American history, moderated by Patti Hirahara (Class of 1973).

Rep. Lou Correa presents a commendation to panelist Don Miyada.

Don Miyada

Dr. Don Miyada is a graduate of Newport Harbor High School, professor emeritus of clinical chemistry at UC Irvine, and one of the oldest survivors of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.

He was among the replacements sent to France after the 442nd’s liberation of Bruyeres and rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of Texas. “The unit was so decimated by their battles in the Vosges [Mountains] that it took almost four months of incoming replacements to bring the 442nd up to battle strength,” he said. “Then, upon request of Gen. Mark Clark … we shipped to Italy to help breach the vaunted Gothic Line, a line which stretched across Italy from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic Sea and for which the Germans had about eight months to plan and secure their defenses.”

The 442nd was one of five Allied units that broke through the line. “The circuitous, behind-the-lines maneuver was … done by enlisting the aid of Italian partisans … who knew the terrain and advised walking abut a mile in a very deep canyon and scaling a long and steep cliff to end up behind the unsuspecting Germans,” Miyada said, noting that another veteran of that battle, Yosh Nakamura, was in the audience.

Before being incarcerated at the Poston camp in Arizona with his family, Miyada lived on a farm between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. He was later able to leave camp and work at a defense plant in Detroit, then was drafted in 1944. “I was not eager to serve but I was willing to serve if drafted,” he said, adding, “I never asked my parents how they felt about having all three sons drafted into the military.”

Miyada said of the Nisei soldiers, “They had a special desire to prove their loyalty to the United States and help pave the way for themselves and future generations to receive the benefits of citizenship and acceptance by the general public.”

He was among the veterans who attended the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th/442nd and Military Intelligence Service in Washington, D.C. in 2011.

Rep. Lou Correa presents a commendation to panelist Robert Wada.

Robert Wada

Robert M. Wada has served as charter president of SEYO (Southeast Youth Organization), Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park, and Japanese American Korean War Veterans Organization, and commander of VFW Kazuo Masuda Memorial Post 3670. He published a book, “From Internment to Korea to Solitude,” in 2009. He donated his Boy Scout uniform from Poston to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“In Poston, word got around that we were going to start a Boy Scout troop,” he recalled. “In camp everybody knew each other pretty well, so it didn’t take very long to get enough boys to charter a troop … I was 12 and just qualified at the minimum age.”

Wada described some of the activities of Troop 100, which was named in honor of the 100th Battalion. “We followed the manual … We tried to fulfill the different chores like helping little old ladies across the street, and we did a 12-mile hike … We went camping to the Colorado River and stayed a few nights. We earned our merit badges for advancement and we acted as color guard for various events. And then we had a parade for the men that were leaving for the 442nd.”

Not all of the memories were good ones. The troop collected newspapers at all three Poston camps for a paper drive in the nearby town of Parker. “After we finished unloading all the paper into a train box car, our scoutmaster … said, ‘Okay, let’s go to that little restaurant across the street. We’ll get something to eat.’ So we went into this restaurant, sat there for about 20 minutes, and waiters kept walking by but wouldn’t wait on us. So the scoutmaster asked if we could have some service. And [a waitress]replied, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t serve you, so will you please just leave?’

“Those words really are buried in my mind … I was really hurt and really sad because we were in our Boy Scout uniforms … and my two brothers were in Europe in the 442nd … I’ve never forgotten that day.”

Wada earned enough merit badges to become a Life Scout, one rank below Eagle Scout. “But then in the third year, things got into chaos because everyone started leaving the camp … So the records of promotions all got lost.”

Among the items he donated to the Smithsonian were his merit badges, sash, 12-mile hike report, manuals, certificates of service and certificates of rank.

“I always wanted to be a Boy Scout, so I got that at camp,” Wada said. “I always wanted to be a Marine since I was in grammar school and my scouting experience, I believe, solidified my desire to join the Marines. My experience in the Marines and in Korea definitely matured me.”

He added that he overcame his fear of public speaking when he took a psychology class at a junior college after returning from the war. “Since then I’ve given over 80 speeches from elementary schools to universities … to civic and veteran organizations, countless eulogies for the family and wedding receptions.”

The deaths of his friends and fellow Marines motivated Wada to “always memorialize those who gave their lives in America’s wars and conflicts.”

Panelist Marlene Shigekawa with Jane Newell of Anaheim Public Library at Muzeo after the Anaheim High School event.

Marlene Shigekawa

Marlene Shigekawa, who was born in Poston, is president of the Poston Community Alliance. Her baby bracelet was on display at a Smithsonian National Museum of American History exhibit, “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II.” She has written books and produced documentaries about the camp experience.

Shigekawa introduced her siblings, cousins and other relatives who were in the audience, as well as classmates from Anaheim High School’s Class of 1962.

She explained her motivation to return to her birthplace. “I went to a hearing in San Francisco and I heard an elderly woman who might’ve been my grandmother. When she spoke, she was weeping. That was very shocking to me because that generation, they were very stoic and unemotional. So I was moved by her testimony.

“I also was in the process of writing a children’s picture book which takes place in Poston. Also at the time we were in the process of adopting our daughter Quincy. So all of those elements … prompted me to want to really visit Poston because … I’d heard about it for many years through my parents and read about it, but I hadn’t really visited the site.

“So in 1993, my husband and my daughter Quincy, who was one at the time, made the trip to Poston, which was quite enlightening in terms of the desolation, the barrenness, the isolation, the feeling of rejection by your own country.”

Shigekawa discussed differences between Poston and other camps. “There were 10 relocation centers … Two are located on Native American reservations, Gila River and Poston. So Poston is quite unique … All the development we do on all of our preservation efforts has to be … approved by the Tribal Council. So we have worked for many years to establish a close working relationship with the tribal members and the tribal community there in Poston.”

The Poston Community Alliance’s mission is to preserve the stories as well as artifacts and historic structures, she said. “We’ve developed and produced a documentary film called ‘For the Sake of the Children’ … We also receive an additional grant from the California State Library to produce a multimedia educational project which will consist of a short narrative film and a document about the development of Poston, with the help of the tribe.”

With the assistance of preservation architect Barbara Darden, who was in the audience, the alliance has been working to stabilize and preserve historic structures at Poston, Shigekawa said. “Poston is the only camp where there are school buildings located in their original location. So in the last couple of years we have restored and stabilized 10 adobe classrooms … We have plans to relocate [a barrack]very near the Poston monument and build an interpretive center.

“The barrack we had designated to be relocated and used as the center … somebody set fire to it, so it was completely destroyed. But I will be going to Poston … to look at other barracks which we can use … That was quite heartbreaking, but we’re moving on.”

Anaheim High School Alumni Association President Janet Brown presents flowers to Gania Damaree-Trotter, daughter of Dr. Paul Demaree, who served as principal of Anaheim Union High School and superintendent of the AUHSD.

Gania Demaree-Trotter

Gania Demaree Trotter, 92, is the daughter of Dr. Paul H. Demaree, who was a teacher and principal at Anaheim Union High School and superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District. She was president of the Girls League and graduated with the Class of 1944. After graduating from Occidental College, she taught music at the high school in the 1950s.

“I’ve forgotten how gigantic this auditorium was,” she remarked. “I was a conductor for choirs [here]. I also marched in the band on the big athletic field when I was in high school.”

Demaree-Trotter thanked the event organizers for honoring her father and congratulated the students who appeared in an interpretive dance video. “I so impressed with the dancers … They performed with such grace, such power, such strength and character. And I thought back to the students that I taught in 1950 right after the war. They were pretty relaxed … There’s a seriousness about these students today. It’s very impressive.”

She said of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “He ordered the FBI to study all the Japanese on the West Coast — spy on them, examine them, see if there’s any possibility of espionage or terrorism there. This was several months before Pearl Harbor, and the FBI report came back and said, no, there’s no danger … So why did President Roosevelt, who said, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself,’ flip around to this other thing, this [executive]order … that said all the Japanese had to leave?

“It was the power of politics, white supremism, racism. The power of agriculture — people wanted their farms … That was the dark side of our history.”

Demaree-Trotter praised the incarcerated Japanese Americans for “building a community together in the bleakest of circumstances” and the men of the 442nd, including Daniel Inouye, who went on to “become one of the great senators of our history.”

She told the story of Ralph Lazo, a Mexican American whose best friends in high school were Japanese Americans. When they were sent to Manzanar, he went with them and lived there for over a year until he was drafted. Later in life, he worked on the redress campaign.

“He was of those beautiful spirits that came out of the darkness that we knew in the concentration camps,” Demaree-Trotter said.

With an eye on current events, she reminded the audience, “Public schools are important for educating a citizenry that will stand up to attacks on people, attacks on the press, attacks on the institutions of government, trying to undermine what we are as a country. You have a decision to make when it comes time to serve your country …

“Remember … it’s important you vote because by not voting you are making an impact on the decision. So be informed. Stand up in a nonviolent way for what is right and be sure to vote.”

Panelist Tom Leatherman and emcee Patti Hirahara at Muzeo after the Anaheim High School program.

Tom Leatherman

Tom Leatherman is superintendent of the National Park Service’s Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, which is located in Richmond (San Francisco Bay Area), and representative of the Pacific West Region for the NPS’ Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) Grant Program.

He gave an overview of the program: “In 2006, Congress authorized the grant program to spend up to $38 million to produce education projects, stabilization projects, preservation projects at the sites where Japanese Americans were held during World War II. So that included the 10 camps … but it also included all the assembly centers and the Department of Justice camps. So there’s actually over 70 sites that represent the incarceration history of Japanese Americans …

“The National Park Service has a role in telling this story. We have managed sites like Manzanar and Tule Lake and Minidoka, but we can’t be everywhere … There’s this larger community that has an opportunity to help preserve these sites and tell these stories, so the grant program provides funds to all those organizations that are doing work to preserve the sites.

“There’s work being done on oral histories … on education films, education programs, but there’s also work at the actual sites to either preserve the resources that are there or actually have a memorial or some sort of remembrance of the people and their lives there. You can see that at sites like Poston … Topaz or Heart Mountain. But you can also see it at sites right here in Los Angeles, where there have been … assembly centers and other locations where people congregated.”

Poston has received several grants, the latest of which will help establish the visitor center, he said. “Many of you have been Manzanar and you’ve been to other sites, but at Poston there’s not a lot … You know the memorial there, but there’s really not a place where you can learn about that history, and I think it’s important to have some sort of a site like a visitor center to be able to do that.”

Another grant went to the Anaheim Public Library for “I Am an American: Japanese Incarceration in a Time of Fear,” an exhibition at Muzeo in Anaheim, where a program was held later that day. (For details, visit www.muzeo.org.)

“One of the things we also are able to do is preserve these first-person narratives,” said Leatherman. “These are oral histories of people who have lived in the camps … and remember what it was like to be there. And they share their stories, and through these projects, like the project at the Muzeo, you’re going to get to learn first-person from the oral histories … You’re going to be able to little learn about the history of the people who lived here in Anaheim, then what happened during the war, and then what happened afterwards.”

After the panel, one of the closing speakers was Anaheim High School Alumni Association President Janet Brown (Class of 1977), who said, “I first stood on this stage as a sophomore campaigning for someone running for ASB, and today I’m proud to be a representative for Congressman Correa, who graduated from Anaheim High in 1976.

“Documenting, remembering and sharing our school’s history is an important function of the alumni association and we have been honored to help in making this program a reality. I’m extremely proud of everyone who took part in today’s event, especially the Anaheim High alumni and students who are here today …

“We will continue to remember this time in history, also keeping in mind the plight of other human beings, including Anaheim High students and their family members who are being targeted for expulsion from our nation. Please join me in a round of applause as we end today’s historical program on Anaheim High’s campus, where students of all races, creeds, and religions are united and treat each other with kindness and compassion, for which we are most proud.”

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

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