OAKLAND — Sixty-nine years ago, they received their diplomas from a high school in the Topaz, Utah concentration camp, the only high school class to spend its entire three and a half years behind barbed wire.
They were innocent teenage victims of a racist nation that uprooted some 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes in California, Oregon, and Washington in the spring of 1942, following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“There was not one act of sabotage or espionage committed by loyal Japanese Americans before, during, or after World War II. It was because of racism and the failure of our government that we spent our entire high school careers behind barbed wire,” remarked retired Army Lt. Col. Bob Utsumi of Oakland, chairperson for the reunion.
Now, the Topaz High School Class of 1945 will gather again for a historic reunion. Members of the class and their families will journey from Northern and Southern California, Washington, and Maryland to reminisce and reflect on their lives since graduating almost 70 years ago. Class members and their offspring are invited to attend the 69th year Topaz High School Reunion at the Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland on Saturday, June 28.
The day’s program will include displays of photographs, maps, dioramas, woodcarvings, and other memorabilia from Topaz. Each class member will recreate a replica of the government-issued identification tag imprinted with their name as well as their family’s prison camp number.
The reunion’s keynote speaker will be Patrick Hayashi, Ph.D., former associate president for the University of California system. Born in Topaz, he has been interviewing many members of the Topaz Class of 1945 and will share his insights into the qualities and characteristics that make this group of Nikkei unique.
“The Topaz Class of ’45 includes five lieutenant colonels, numerous Ph.D.s, and other graduate degrees,” commented Daisy Uyeda Satoda, reunion coordinator. “Our class also generated a group of writers who created the autobiographical anthology ‘Blossoms in the Desert: Topaz High Class of 1945,’ about what it is really like to come of age in an American concentration camp during World War II.”
Also sharing her experience after being released from camp will be former student Mary Tamaki Murakami of Bethesda, Md., who continues to talk with students, schools, and organizations about the challenges her class endured. Despite wartime hardships, Murakami always planned for a positive future, continuing her education at UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in public health/microbiology.
“If you want to go to college, you study like you’re going to go to college, although you don’t know when the camp is going to close or when you’ll ever get home to California,” she related. “That was one of the things that kept most people going — the feeling that they can’t defeat you.”
Music from the ’40s and ’50s will be performed by Mark Inouye, the principal trumpeter with the renowned San Francisco Symphony and the son of the late Tak Inouye (Topaz ’45).