By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
SANTA ANA — The Santa Ana College Class of 2011 stood as one last Friday night to give a standing ovation to a fellow graduate who tenaciously completed her studies many decades before.
“Margaret Funakoshi completed the requirements for her degree in 1942, but today she will receive her diploma,” the public address announcer declared to the cheers of 500 graduating students and an audience of parents and friends at Santa Ana Stadium.
With that a circle completed for Margaret Funakoshi Masuoka, wearing a floral lei and black cap and gown, as she received her Associates of Arts degree in botany — 69 years after she was forced to leave the campus, yet refused to give up her studies.
“I was so overwhelmed, to think of that all the waiting and no diploma,” Masuoka said. “Every time I would hear the graduation march, it reminded me that I couldn’t complete my education.”
She was among four Nisei graduates to attend the Santa Ana College ceremony and the only one to have completed her studies. Masuoka, 89, incarcerated at Poston, took a typewriter and her books with her to the Arizona desert.
In 1942, she mailed in her typed papers and assignments, and was later informed of her successful completion of the work by U.S. Postal Service.
“I took books instead of clothing to camp with me and wrote term papers. But they never wrote back to say they received anything,” she recalled. “I never heard, so I never knew if it was accepted or not.”
She was joined on the field by her husband, David, who was honored in 2008 by USC as one of 130 Nisei who were denied degrees at the outbreak of World War II. They both reside at Kokoro Assisted Living in San Francisco and were volunteers at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo for over 15 years.
Santa Ana College was able to identify 22 Japanese American students who were forced to give up their studies due to the signing of Executive Order 9066. Assembly Bill 37, which became law in October 2009, requires California’s public colleges and universities to retroactively grant honorary degrees to Nisei students whose educations were interrupted during World War II.
Honorary degree recipients are: Tommy Tamio Furukawa, George J. Higashi, Shizuko Ikeda, William Noboru Kobayashi, Masao Frank Masuda, Kiyoshi Elden Minato, Charles Y. Miyada, Sunao N. Murakami, Paul Murata, Tom Hitoshi Nagamatsu, Violet Fumiko Nagamatsu, Migaki Nakamura, Mitsuko Ochi, Minoru Otsu, Gladys Tsutaye Otsuka, Rakumi Sasaki, Kazuo Sato, Mary Ayako Watanuki, and Michiko Yamada.
Frank Masuda, 93, said he never returned to school after he and his family were sent first to the Fresno Assembly Center, and eventually to a concentration camp in Jerome, Ark. Masuda was drafted into the Military Intelligence Service, serving in Japan as an interpreter with the 519th Military Police Battalion. After the war, he returned to the family farm in Fountain Valley, where he still resides.
“I didn’t expect anything like this,” said Masuda, who took night classes in welding at Santa Ana.
Steve Murakami, a Sansei from Anaheim, represented his uncle, Sunao N. Murakami, a gardener who moved away to Watsonville, Calif. following World War II.
“He passed away early, he was only 48. He still has a wife and a daughter and two granddaughters that he didn’t know,” said Murakami.
He explained that Sunao tried to join the military but was turned away due to a medical condition. He then turned to pursuing an education.
“Until recently we didn’t even know he went to college,” Murakami said.
Michi Miyada and her brother-in-law, Dr. Don Miyada, both wore caps and gowns in the memory of her husband, Charles Y. Miyada, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and a Korean War veteran, who passed away of lung cancer in 1990.
“I thought he was a ‘College Joe,’ he liked the college life,” Don said. “He was in the Los Gauchos Unit, one of the men’s clubs on campus.”
Michi and Charles were married in 1952 after he was discharged from the Army and eventually settled in the San Gabriel Valley.
“Chuck would have been pleased, I’m quite sure. That’s the reason we’re both here — for him,” Michi said.