Then and Now: From Bainbridge to Manzanar (Part 1 of 2)

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By MARTHA NAKAGAWA
RAFU CONTRIBUTOR

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Former internees Fumiko Hayashida and daughter Natalie Hayashida Ong pose with a Seattle Post Intelligencer photograph taken on March 30, 1942. In the photograph, the Hayashidas wait to board the ferry at Bainbridge Island en route to be incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

MANZANAR — Not many centenarians venture out of their homes, but 100-year-old Fumiko Hayashida journeyed from Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Washington State, to return to Manzanar for the first time since she left the camp during World War II.

“It’s good to be home,” said Hayashida, who made the trip with her daughter, Natalie Hayashida Ong.

Mother and daughter were captured in the iconic photo taken on March 30, 1942 by the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Hayashida is carrying her baby in her arms as they leave the island.

Hayashida was one of 15 people participating in the Bainbridge Island-based Only What We Can Carry (OWWCC) project, which sends a delegation of Bainbridge Island former camp inmates and educators to Manzanar so that educators can learn first-hand the war experiences of Nikkei islanders.

“This is the first time I’m aware of that we’ve had a 100-year-old come out there,” said Alisa Lynch, Manzanar Historic Site’s chief of interpretation. “But there are a lot of people who come to visit who are close to that age that may not identify their age.”

Jonathan Garfunkel, founder of OWWCC, praised the Manzanar park service staff for giving them the red carpet treatment.

Bainbridge Island Nikkei were among the first inmates at Manzanar. In March 1942, islanders were given six days to settle their affairs and pack before being forcibly removed on March 30, 1942. After a two-day train ride, islanders arrived at Manzanar on April Fool’s Day.

Early Arrivals

Since they were early arrivals, there is little archival footage of their Manzanar stay. When Hayashida viewed an introductory video put together by the Manzanar National Park Service staff, she felt the video did not depict the Manzanar she remembered.

Hayashida, who lived at Block 3, Building 3, Apartment 2, arrived at Manzanar when the camp was still under construction, so she recalled vast expanses of sand. Her barrack had huge gaps not only in the floors and walls, but in the ceilings as well. There was no playground for the children, and meals were not served in a cafeteria-like setting. They were issued K-rations as meals just as in the Army.

“She (mother) was very agitated and unhappy that maybe people would think that film depicted our lives during that period,” said Ong. “I think when the administrators let the internees have a little more active say on what sort of amenities they needed for the families, life got better, but the Bainbridge Island group was here 11 months. There was very little here at first. Maybe three or four months later, they started having a bit more, like a new hospital.”

“When we came here, we weren’t allowed to have cameras, so most of the film you see in the introductory film was taken after we had left,” said Frank Kitamoto, Hayashida’s nephew, who entered Manzanar at the age of three. “Color film was probably not even used until like ’43 or ’44, but those are the only film footages there are of camp. So the camp we came to is probably quite a bit different from what you might see in the film.”

When Lilly Kitamoto Kodama, Kitamoto’s sister, arrived at Manzanar at the age of 13 months, she thought she was at a rhubarb farm.

“My uncle had a farm where he raised rhubarbs,” said Kodama. “And he stored the rhubarbs in a shed that was covered with tarpaper. In fact, the silhouette of the shed looked exactly like the barracks at Manzanar, so I remember saying, ‘Oh, look. We’re coming to a rhubarb farm.’ ”

Kodama’s mother had also told her that entering camp was going to be like a vacation.

“When we arrived at Manzanar, I don’t remember this, but my mother has told me that one day I said to her, ‘What kind of a vacation is this anyways?’ ”

Kodama also remembered a dust storm that blew up while they were having an outdoor program.

“As soon as the dust storm came, everybody ran to the barracks,” said Kodama. “We literally got trampled. Frank ended up at the infirmary with scrapes.”

“They were picking rocks out of me,” said Kitamoto.

The Kitamotos’ father did not enter Manzanar with them. The father had been one of 34 Nikkei islanders taken away by the FBI shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. They would later learn that the father was sent to a Department of Justice camp in Missoula, Mont.

“He was arrested because he couldn’t prove his citizenship,” said Kodama. “And another thing, we had dynamite in the barn. Ironically, the dynamite was issued by the government to help the farmers clear the land, but I guess they considered them a weapon. Then he had a rifle, which he used to shoot deer and pheasants for food. I think all farmers did that.”

Ted Kitayama’s parents ran a nursery and farm on the island before the war. “I think our crops were just ready to harvest when the government order came,” said Kitayama, who was 12 years old when he entered Manzanar. “I know my parents had a rough time deciding what to do and getting rid of everything. At the time, the government didn’t have any kind of plan for us to store our possessions so I think most of our items were just sold or given away.”

Kitayama had one older brother who did not go to camp. “One of my older brothers graduated from Bainbridge High in 1941,” said Kitayama. “Then he went to college in Pullman, Washington, which was outside of the Western relocation zone so he didn’t have to go to camp.”

The Terminal Islanders

Hayashida speaks during the Bainbridge Only What We Can Carry (OWWCC) project program this past weekend alongside other internees and project members, hosted by the Manzanar National Historic Site. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Bainbridge Islanders were not the first Nikkei to be removed en masse. In February 1942, Terminal Islanders in Southern California were given 48 hours notice to leave their homes.

The two island groups would live in neighboring barracks in Manzanar, and the rumored problems between the two groups are legendary.

“The girls were all excited about the Terminal Islander boys,” recalled Hayashida. “They knew how to dance, but they were kind of rough.”

Ironically, Hayashida’s parents came from Wakayama Prefecture, the same prefecture that the majority of Terminal Islanders had come from.

Kitamoto compared the two island groups. “Bainbridge Islanders were country bumpkins compared to the kids from California, who were pretty worldly,” said Kitamoto. “The kids from Bainbridge were light-skinned. The kids from California were not light-skinned. In fact, somebody once said, ‘Oh, those Filipino men over there.’

“A lot of the parents considered the kids from Terminal Island as being bad influences on the kids from Bainbridge. And the parents were concerned about their safety and things they were doing. There was the thought that a lot of them had the zoot suits and were wearing the long chains. Some of the parents called them yogores so that was some of the reasons they wanted to go to Minidoka.

“But it’s interesting when you talk to a lot of people who were teenagers at that time, they said they eventually made friends with the kids from California, from Terminal Island. In fact, we learned all these new tricks we could use when we got out to Minidoka.”

Bainbridge Islanders lived in Manzanar for 11 months before being transferred to Minidoka, where most of the Pacific Northwest Nikkei were incarcerated.

Kitayama said when he got to Minidoka, some Minidokans accused the Terminal Islanders of having had a “bad influence” on him.

Hayashida compared the two camps. “Manzanar was too hot and Minidoka was too cold,” she said.

About four or five Bainbridge Island families chose to remain in Manzanar.

Honoring the Woodwards

Mary Woodward, daughter of Walt and Mildred Woodward, accompanied the group this year, along with educators from Woodward Middle School, named in honor of her parents.

The Woodwards were the only newspaper editors during the war who regularly voiced opposition to the government’s incarceration of Japanese Americans and created an atmosphere where it was acceptable to question the government’s actions.

Mary Woodward holds up a copy of her 2008 book “In Defense of Our Neighbors.” The book is about her parents, Walt and Milly, editors of the Bainbridge Review, who were the first to write editorials condemning the relocation of 227 Bainbridge Islanders of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Contrary to what people may think, Mary said her parents had not known many Japanese Americans before the war.

“People have said, ‘Oh, they must’ve been Jap lovers,’ but my parents didn’t know many of the Japanese living on the island,” said Mary. “…the salient point about my folks and about the newspaper is that they did feel a responsibility, essentially as the voice of Bainbridge, to do it right and to be as objective as they could in the news reporting and to use their voice, in what over the years were sometimes unpopular positions.”

The Woodwards not only opposed incarceration, they also hired four Nisei from camp to be correspondents for the Bainbridge Review. “They hired high school kids to send them news reports about what was going on in the camps,” said Mary. “It was gossipy kinds of things. If you’ve ever read small-time, 1940s kind of newspapers, it’s something like ‘Billy is better now and wants to thank you for the flowers’ — that kind of thing … so one of the headlines in August was ‘First Island Baby Born in Manzanar.’ ”

Although the Woodwards were not harassed by the FBI, Mary said the FBI kept a file on her father, and the newspaper lost some subscribers.

“My parents lost some subscriptions but within a couple of weeks, the pharmacist was calling from the drug store, saying, ‘You’ve got to deliver more here because we keep selling out,’ ” said Mary. “So people weren’t subscribing but they were still buying the paper. And they did lose some advertising, although I don’t know how significant that was.”

Towards the end of the war, some who opposed the return of the Nikkei to Bainbridge held a public meeting.

“There was rather a substantial public meeting where about 200 people came out, and my mother covered that for the newspaper,” said Mary. “She tried as best she could to cover everything that was said there, and it was laid out on two pages of the Review, so islanders who hadn’t been able to attend knew what was said. For the next meeting, there were about 12 people who showed up. Islanders knew what was going on and didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Today, the Woodwards are hailed as heroes and honored with a school named after them.

Mary, however, felt that the Nikkei mothers who went to camp should also be considered heroes. “The mothers that were sent to the concentration camps all deserve a medal,” she said. “I have only talked to one person who was a child in camp who had had a bad experience. That was because his father was not there and his mother was very ill, so he had to assume the parental role. Every other child has good memories, and I, as a mother, marvel at that. How do you keep your emotions under control for so long, under very extreme situations? So Fumi and the rest of the mothers are heroes in my mind.”

Ong concurred. “I have no bitterness,” she said. “And I realize that this is attributable to our parents, mothers especially, as Mary has pointed out. Even today with my children, I tell them when I’m mad and when I just don’t like the situation in the world … but they protected us. I think as long as your mother is there, you can go through any kind of circumstances.”

Mary also highlighted the numerous acts of kindness by non-Nikkei who should also be recognized.

“There were many families who helped out but they always dismiss it as, ‘Oh, it was nothing,’ but it was huge,” she said.

Ironically, unlike the celebrated Woodwards, the late James Matsumoto Omura, a Bainbridge Island native and a classmate of Hayashida, is viewed as a pariah within the Nikkei community and largely forgotten.

But Omura, like the Woodwards, was a newspaperman, and he was the only Nikkei to testify before the Tolan Committee in opposition to the forced removal of Nikkei from the West Coast.

To avoid the camps, Omura and his wife moved to the “free zone” of Denver, where he edited the Rocky Shimpo. He was the only editor to publish the press releases of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee (FPC) and wrote an editorial in support of the group’s stand that advocated their release from camp before agreeing to serve in the military.

For his actions, Omura and seven leaders of the FPC were tried for aiding and abetting violation of the Selective Service Act. Omura was acquitted on the grounds of Freedom of the Press, but after the war, harassment from Nikkei leaders prevented him from holding a job for very long. He eventually became a landscaper, which allowed him to work independently, away from Nikkei persecution.

After the War

After the war, the Kitamoto family had a farm to return to. The land had been purchased before the war under the name of Kitamoto’s U.S.-born mother. During the war, Felix Aquino, a Filipino American farmhand, agreed to look after the farm. After the war, Kitamoto’s father sold an acre of land to Aquino for one dollar as a show of gratitude.

“Felix was really special because he made several trips to Minidoka,” said Kodama. “On one of the trips, he brought a washing machine so our mothers could wash the diapers without the scrub boards. But this wasn’t the washing machines you think of today. It had a big tub and an agitator, and you had to feed the clothes into the wringer. But it made it easier for my Aunt Fumi and my mother to wash the diapers.”

When Kitamoto returned to the island in 1945, he was entering the first grade and one of his classmates was Karen Beierle McCormic.

“We’d already been to kindergarten, and Frank, who was in my class all the way through kindergarten, had returned as a first-grader,” said McCormic. “Before first grade started, they had a picnic with all the parents and students. One of the memories I have is my mother pulling me aside and saying, ‘Karen, I want you to be very kind to Frank.’ And she pointed him out to me. ‘He’s been gone for a long time, and he’s just coming back. He just may need a friend.’ And so that was my introduction to Frank.”

The two became lifelong friends. Kitamoto even broke the color line and asked her to the senior ball.

“I was just glad to have a date,” laughed McCormic, who grew up in a color-blind family. She recalled a pre-war incident where her brother Bob and a Japanese American friend took the ferry over to Washington.

“In those days, to get on the ferry, you had what was called a family ticket, which allowed anyone in your immediate family to use the ticket,” said McCormic. “When you used it, they would punch holes in the ticket. So my brother and David had gone into the city. They were probably 12. And when they came back, Mom said, ‘Wow, there’s two punches taken out of the family ticket.’ And Bob said, ‘David used it.’ It never dawned on him that David could not be in the same family.”

In retrospect, McCormic has come to appreciate Bainbridge’s uniqueness.

“The island was interesting because before the war, people were spread all over the island,” she said. “You had the Japanese community farming in many different parts of the island. They were very much part of the whole, rather than living in a ghetto or whatever you have sometimes in the big cities.”

The Kitayama family never returned to Bainbridge. “There was nothing to come back to,” said Kitayama, who considers the resettlement period as much harder than preparing to enter camp.

“My father had a stroke in ’38 and he was partially handicapped, so my mother found a job as a domestic,” said Kitayama. “Somehow, she kept the family together, and I don’t remember anyone going hungry. Later on, when my two older brothers had finished college, they were able to help us along. Around 1948, we were all together again and living halfway comfortably.”

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Only What They Could Carry (Part 2 of 2) – Rafu Shimpo

  2. This is so interesting to see the woman behind the well-known photo of Bainbridge Island evacuation and to get some history about her experiences. I also have the book: In Defense of our Neighbors. It is a beautiful book.

  3. I became interested in the American Japanese experience during WWII when I read Jamie Ford’s moving book HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET. These articles only make me want to learn more. Thank you to the authors.

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