Tag Archives: Tule Lake

What Did FDR Know? – Part 5


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My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Yutaka, in the back row, center. He is posing with the Block kitchen crew at the Minidoka, Idaho “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. Notice their living quarters behind them.  They lived in plywood barracks covered only with tar paper.  There was no plumbing nor toilets installed.  Photo courtesy of my stateside cousin, Janice (Kanemoto) Hew.

So you likely see from reading Parts 1 through 4 of “What Did FDR Know” that Japan really never had a chance…  A chance to win WWII.

Their chances were nearly nil largely due to the US breaking two key Japanese codes.  One was JN-25, the code used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The other, as we’ve read, was “Purple”, the secret cipher used by the Japanese diplomats.  Simply put, we knew exactly what they were doing as well as what they were going to do in all aspects.

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 A Family Example of What Happened

My father’s draft card before Pearl Harbor, postmarked December 13, 1940.  As a US citizen, he was eligible for the draft and classified 1(A):

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My dad’s revised draft card mailed to him while imprisoned at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”, postmarked January 19, 1943.  This is now official notice he was now classified 4(C) – Enemy Alien.  The address bears his address (block number) at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”:

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Interestingly, the cards are creased as he was required to carry it in his wallet at all times.  All American males of draft age were…even if they were imprisoned in a dusty, barren dry lake bed in California stripped of all rights.

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Armed guard at the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. My father, uncle, aunt and cousins were there so he was guarding them. US Army Signal Corps, May 23, 1943.

Ironic, isn’t it?

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But what did FDR know about “suspect” activities by people of Japanese descent living in the US on the West Coast before Pearl Harbor?  Most importantly, of the extent and magnitude of their “suspect” activities?  We’re talking espionage.  What could have prompted his ordering the “evacuation” of such people from the west coast of America?

But don’t get me wrong; it was not just the Japanese.  People of German descent loyal to Nazi Germany also did spy…as did people of Italian descent.  Some were loyal to their homeland, not the US.  But certainly it was not ALL of them.  Let’s not forget the famous East Coast docks were run by the Italians, too.  Certainly, if one wished to “spy” and report on ship movements, there could not have been a better way.  Being dock workers, they know what supply ship left when…and with what.  After all, they loaded them.  A number were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic by the waiting U-boats.

Let’s explore this a bit further.

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Since we are addressing “suspect” activities, here’s an interesting sidebar to this story.

Did you know that eight German saboteurs were caught on American soil whose combined cases were brought before a special session of the Supreme Court on July 29, 1942?  Did you know they came ashore from submarines in mid-June with greenbacks worth over $2 million today, explosives and even James Bond-like devices?  The case was referred to as the Ex parte Quirin.  It was named as such because of the lead saboteur, Richard Quirin. Quirin had lived in the US for a dozen years and became the first spy “trainee” of this group once he returned to Germany.

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In short, six of the eight got to sit in the electric chair just about ten days later…  On top of that, a one saboteur (Herbert Haupt) actually went to live with his father in Chicago.  The father also helped him apply for a job and get a car.  Another saboteur, Werner Thiel, actually handed some of the money over to his once room mate and business partner, Anthony Cramer; they owned a deli but it had failed.  But it is interesting to note that in spite of this event, there was not a mass imprisonment of German nationals or their American-born offspring from this incident which made the US Supreme Court.

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The MAGIC Intercepts Distribution Process

Because the US had broken the ultra-complex “Purple” code in 1939 used by the Japanese diplomats, FDR was able to at least see exactly what the Japanese diplomatic corps was doing before Pearl Harbor.

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Lt. Cmdr. Arthur McCollum. US Navy Photo

ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) had established a secret delivery system for the intercepted Japanese military and diplomatic intelligence (MAGIC) for FDR in the winter of 1940. Lt. Com. Arthur H. McCollum of ONI, and the author of the “McCollum Memo”, was the distribution officer; his name was on 151 USN routing slips in the National Archives.(¹) These routing slips provided a trail to a large collection of Army and Navy MAGIC ultra secret deciphers from monitoring Japanese communications; these were presented to FDR, the top military chiefs and several key members of the Administration between February 1940 and December 7, 1941. Sometimes, when McCollum deemed he had a “hot” item, he would personally deliver the message to FDR; otherwise the President’s naval aide made the delivery as per below.

According to Stinnett (1):

The Japanese intercepts destined for FDR were placed in special folders.  Captain Callaghan (Naval Aide to FDR) was responsible for the safety of the documents. Roosevelt read the original copy but did not retain any of the intercepts. Each original was eventually returned to the folder and stored in McCollum’s safe at Station US in Washington. There they remained, available for White House review. Shortly after December 7, when Congressional critics began to question the administration’s failure to prevent the Hawaii attack, all records involving the Japanese radio intercept program—including the White House route logs and their secret content—were locked away in vaults controlled by Navy communications officials.

These intercepts would include those related to Japanese espionage efforts.  This twenty-two month monitoring program prior to Pearl Harbor also allowed FDR and key staff to anticipate and analyze Japan’s reaction to the provocations advocated in the McCollum Memo.(²)

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So what did some of the MAGIC intercepts and other investigative reports include before Pearl Harbor and up to the imprisonment of about 117,000 people of Japanese descent against their will?  We already know per “What Did FDR Know – Part 3” that Tokyo instructed its American-based diplomats to covertly begin putting together an espionage network.  In fact, because we had broken the Japanese codes, the US “listened in” on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in February 1941; he clued in Captain Kanji Ogawa, Japan’s top intelligence officer, of the intentions of attacking Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto wanted to give Ogawa enough time to put together his own military-based network in the event of war.

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ONI memo generated for FDR, dated February 12, 1941. This was based upon the Purple deciphers, with Tokyo instructing American-based diplomats to set up their espionage nets. Source: “Magic” by David D. Lowman.

Prior to the message instructing diplomats to energetically strengthen their espionage efforts, there were already Japanese spies living on the west coast.  Under the disguise of language students, Japanese military agents (primarily IJN) had already established their network including a small number of Issei and Nisei, militaristic Japanese organizations, Japanese clubs and business fronts.  This facet was led by Lt. Cmdr. Itaru Tachibana of the IJN.  In June 1941, however, this ring was smashed.  Tachibana, and unbelievably a former chauffeur and business secretary to Charlie Chaplin named Toraichi Kono, had tried to recruit a former US Navy seaman (Al Blake) but Blake turned him in.  While Tachibana and his lieutenants were deported, detailed searches of their living quarters provided detailed records of their espionage network.  This detail included names of residents of Japanese descent as well as a number of organizations.

While not a historian, the following is a summary of what I deem to be key MAGIC intercepts in addition to other information gathered by other entities such as the FBI.  In addition to information contained in the previous four parts, the thirst for intelligence by the Japanese was high:

  1. February 5, 1941 – Tokyo instructed the diplomats to come up with a contingency plan in the event something were to happen (i.e., war).  To always exercise due care and to look at Central/South America for continuing intelligence efforts.
  2. February 15, 1941 – Tokyo directly asked for intelligence on materiel movement (especially planes and ships), non-military cargo vessels, troop movements, production of planes and arms, military training activities, etc.
  3. April 24, 1941 – This intercept disclosed that Tokyo wanted a status update of its previous orders in regards to: (1) keying in on intelligence instead of propaganda, (2) recruiting of agents for the ring, and (3) established standards for reporting such information.
  4. May 9, 1941 – The Los Angeles office reported that they “…have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials…”  Further, they shall “…maintain close connections with the Japanese Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers.”
  5. May 19, 1941 – the Japanese Embassy in Washington requested $500,000 more cash to further their recruiting for intelligence gathering purposes, i.e., entertainment, bribery, etc.
  6. June 10, 1941 – To prevent an international scandal, this intercept recommended that it be made to look as if Kono’s friends were supporting him financially for his defense and to keep the IJN out of further suspicion on the arrest of Tachibana.  It was recommended $25,000 be offered as a bribe to Kono; the memo stated  in part “…in view of the danger that he might give evidence unsatisfactory  to TACHIBANA.”
  7. October 4, 1941 – specifically asked for intelligence on any change in sea or air patrols or warship movements and the immediate reporting thereof.
  8. October 28, 1941 – in one of many transmissions reporting naval ship movements, the Seattle diplomats reported in detail the sailing of fifteen Coast Guard vessels.  They also reported their four-inch guns were upgraded to five-inch guns.
  9. November 29, 1941 – Tokyo ordered the San Francisco diplomats to report in detail all arrivals, departure dates and destinations of ALL commercial and war ships in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. (Note: this was not transcribed until December 4, 1941.)
  10. December 6, 1941 – Seattle diplomats reported the departure of the carrier USS Saratoga from Bremerton, WA.

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Please note there were hundreds of these types of transmissions, both from and to Tokyo.  In addition, there were quite a few official FBI reports detailing espionage activities.  These reports also included names and businesses that were involved.  The FBI was not privy to MAGIC intercepts.

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FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which had the effect of forcibly relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry – both citizens and aliens – out of the west coast’s Pacific military zone and into War Relocation Centers. The much later publicized objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had bitter anti-Japanese attitudes.

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Dad in his US Army duds, Tokyo 1947. The Emperor’s Palace is behind him to his left. MacArthur’s GHQ is off to the right (Dai-Ichi Sei Mei Building).

So what is the point of this story, the last installment of “What Did FDR Know?”

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of their race.  In other words, they were discriminated against, pure and simple.³

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because “FDR wanted to protect the Japanese from hate crimes”.  After all, my grandmother was egged while she lived in Seattle.  Some Japanese girls were taunted or worse, molested, assaulted or raped.  Indeed, there was hysteria.

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of the espionage activities.  And from the above, we do see some were taking part in espionage activities.  In other words, the US wanted to ensure we won the war in the Pacific with the fewest amount of lost lives as possible and espionage was certainly a risk.  But if that were the case, how would the US go about removing Japanese suspected of espionage?  Just knock on specific homes and businesses and arrest specific men…but leave the others to go about their daily lives?

If they did that, wouldn’t Tokyo suspect their “secret” transmissions were being intercepted?  How else would the US have known who to arrest?  And if Tokyo did suspect that, what if they changed their codes?  We’d be in the dark again intel-wise.  More of our military would therefore possibly lose their lives.  (NOTE: It is true not one person of Japanese descent was tried and convicted of espionage.  However, it is my amateur opinion that they were NOT tried to maintain secrecy about the broken codes.  Case in point: the Supreme Court above.  Certainly, the fact we listened in on their espionage activities would have become public knowledge from testimony.)

So what do you think?  How does this compare to what you were taught?

(ADDENDUM – July 23, 2014

As a good fellow mentioned, the third paragraph immediately above can be read to imply my dad was suspected of espionage activities.  He was not.)

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In my opinion, our breaking of the Japanese codes was America’s greatest secret weapon.

It was not the atomic bomb.

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NOTES:

(1) Per “Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor” by Robert Stinnett.

(2) There was a brief period in 1941 when FDR himself was removed from the MAGIC distribution list.

(3) In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act.  The Act approved paying each surviving Japanese or Japanese-American $20,000 each for being unlawfully stripped of their rights for no reason other than race.  (My dad, four uncles, four aunts and seven cousins each did receive payment as did other more distant relatives.)

Eighty Years Later…


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Eighty years or so after he posed for a photo, my Grandfather Hisakichi is in an American book.

Standing “Marine-esque” in his Seattle barbershop.

Incredible to me.

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I had come to know Rob Ketcherside from flickr.  We had helped each other out looking at some old photos he had of Seattle – where all my aunts and uncles were born (except one).  He had some fascinating tidbits on some of my Grandmother’s photos.

Well, it turned out he was an author.  He had been doing a ton of research into “lost Seattle” – skylines and communities now long gone.  With his fascination for “what was” (me, too!), those sights are now basking in sunlight once again through this mesmerizing book.

It was boosting to me when he asked if he could use one of the family’s vintage photos in his book; specifically, the photo of my grandfather’s barbershop.  It is on loan to me from my cousin Masako (yes, the Masako after whom my blog is named) who luckily kept these family treasures all these years.  It is more wonderful in that the home in which the photos were in survived the atomic blast – as did my family.

I hope Rob (and his publisher) don’t mind a couple of pages of his book are shown herein…and I’ll be picking up a few more copies to take back to Hiroshima in a few weeks.

In the description below, Rob also mentions Masahiro Furuya and his business.  As it turns out, both my dad’s oldest brother Yutaka and his best friend John Tanaka worked for Furuya…  And yes, that is the same John Tanaka my Aunt Shiz married.  Small world, yes?  Actually, Uncle Yutaka was the matchmaker.

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A close up of his photo caption from above:

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Grandfather is standing at the right-rear of his barbershop.  And the photo is a full pager in Rob’s book!  Cool!  Grandfather should be pleased.  In the original print, you can see the brand names of the hair tonics popular at that time.  The gal in the middle was quite a cutie, too.   I wonder what happened to her.  If she was still there in Seattle when war broke out, it is likely she went to the same prison camp my dad and uncle were incarcerated in.

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On an interesting note, the consensus is the calendar shows January 9, 1930.

In concert with Rob’s massive research effort, gone is my father’s precious Hotel Fujii and my grandfather’s pride and joy barber shop.  It was demolished to make room for “Hing Hay Park” taking its place.

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Grandfather Hisakichi holding Aunt Shiz in front of the barbershop. Circa 1918.
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Dad on right with his youngest brother Suetaro in front of the barbershop (circa 1922).  They are likely standing where the label “Hing Hay Park” is on the map above. As readers know, Uncle Suetaro was killed as a Japanese soldier by the US Army on Leyte on July 15, 1945.  Dad was imprisoned in Minidoka, ID at the time of his death.

Eighty years later.

My gosh.

And like the barbershop and Hotel Fujii, my dad is the last one standing out of seven siblings and two courageous grandparents.

Thanks, Masako-san and Rob.

I kinda wish my grandparents could have seen this.

Sands of Manzanar


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What remains of the cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.

It wasn’t the deadly black sand that greeted the US Marines on Iwo Jima.

But as we stood on out on the desert, white powdery dust would swirl up in the softly blowing arid wind…  and I then realized it was upon this gawd-awful sand that my Aunt Shiz and Uncle John built their future for their family.

It was their Iwo Jima…  It was called the “Manzanar War Relocation Center” by our government back during World War II.

They were forced onto these forsaken sands by FDR in April of 1942 but made the most of it.  Quietly.  仕方が無い…  我慢.  Shikataganai and gaman.

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FDR called it relocation centers.

It’s just my opinion but political correctness be damned.

It was a prison.  Complete with eight guard towers and soldiers manning .30 caliber Browning machine guns.  Barbed wire fencing all around.  No freedoms.  Chow at specific times.  Public toilets and showers.  No running water in your “cell”.  No cars.  No soda jerks.  You were classified as “Enemy Alien” even though you said your Pledge of Allegiance or were a Boy Scout.

There were ten well known ones like Manzanar.  But quite a number of smaller or special purpose prisons were scattered about the US – some of which have been long forgotten.  But one thing in common was they held Americans incarcerated just because they looked Japanese.  Not one was ever convicted of spying for Japan.

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Pictured: Aunt Shiz and my four cousins.  There was no notation other than the date but if I were to take a wild guess, this may have been taken as they left Manzanar the second prison they were moved to: Tule Lake. I base it upon the barrenness of the area surrounding them. (Edit 9/27/2013)

I had never been to Manzanar.  However, since Aunt Shiz passed away at the age of 95 last year at this time, I heard a call to visit.  So my friend and I decided to make the 500 mile+ round trip the Friday before Labor Day weekend.  It was time to go.

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Manzanar back in 1942 was an isolated, desolate desert wilderness.  Hell, it still is for the most part.  The 2010 Census only reported about 2,000 residents; imagine how uninhabited it may have been seventy years ago.  Temperatures soar to over 110F in the summer and plummet to the 20’s in the winter.  It was exactly 100F and humid when we arrived that Friday.  It lies between Lone Pine and Independence on US 395.

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The lonely Lone Pine train station, perhaps the 1930’s?

If you haven’t heard of these prison camps during WWII, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 (There’s those danged Executive Orders again!) ordering Japanese (Issei) and Japanese-Americans (Nisei) to evacuate from the West Coast of the United States.  The FBI and the US Army were there to ensure they left.  These families could only take what they could carry with many everyday items prohibited.  Knives, guns, tools…and cameras because they were looked upon as the enemy.

Many family heirloom photos and letters were burned or tossed.  Favorite dolls.  Bicycles.  Silverware.  Dishes.  All gone.

Here are some official US Government photos (except for my color one) from that period; please note many of these were taken by the Government and were meant to appease the public:

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American workers putting together the shoddily built barracks. They only had tar paper on the outside to keep out the elements. Big gaps existed between the boards – walls or floor boards.
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My two littlest kids and a friend stand in front of an actual barrack from a WWII prison camp. Notice the tar paper remnants and the gaps between the wooden planks. Families actually were forced to live in these shacks.
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Japanese Americans were loaded onto buses or railroad cars under armed guard to be transported to the prison camps. This April 1942 photo was taken in “Little Tokyo”, an area in Downtown, Los Angeles.
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Japanese-Americans disembark from the railroad cars at Lone Pine, CA and are now waiting for buses to take them to their new “homes” at Manzanar. My aunt’s family may just be in the photograph.
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Boarding buses headed to Manzanar under guard.  The US Army soldier should be concerned someone would grab his holstered .45 ACP.  After all, he was amongst the “enemy” as FDR determined.
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A new family brings in their worldly belongings into Manzanar. Notice the dust being blown up around them. Both Aunt Shiz and my dad talked about how everything in their assigned barracks would be covered with dust…down to their Army issue mattresses and sheets. Imagine that for days on end.
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Arrivees at Manzanar. Note the ID tag on the evacuee at left. Everyone got one…even babies.
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Mess Hall chow line. You ate here whether or not it was freezing or scorching outside.

As general information, a relative said the latrines were so cramped that you almost touched each other while sitting on the toilet and that there weren’t any stalls.  Just holes when the first arrivees showed up or after toilets were finally installed a little later.  It was hot and stuffy inside with the stench and flies unbearable.  They had to wait in line to use the latrines, take a shower or eat.

During the war, Manzanar internee Pfc Sadao Munemori – through his brave actions on the battlefield – was bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor…posthumously.  (Twenty-one Japanese-American soldiers were bestowed the Medal of Honor.)

Interestingly, two-thirds of the Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar were under the age of 18 per the National Park Service.   There were 541 babies born at Manzanar; my cousin Roy was one of them.  (Another cousin, Neil, was born in Tule Lake, CA while his older brother Bobby perished at another camp at six years of age.)

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It is still difficult to believe all of my stateside relatives of that time – all American citizens – were subjected to the degrading treatment depicted above.  But I think my Aunt Shiz had the toughest experience raising four children – with one born in camp.

As we walked through the museum, I perspired profusely even though it had a cooling system.  While my friend was intently reading a number of exhibits, I tried to occupy my mind with other thoughts; I still didn’t know how I would react to being here.

Then, I saw several faces in photographs lining a hallway honoring Toyo Miyatake.  I had often seen them in my youth walking about Little Tokyo or at the temple (I am Buddhist.).  The familiar faces somehow made me “feel at home” or secure in a way.

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Standing is Hisao Kimura, the father of my good friend Sadao. They founded Kimura Photomart where I worked in Little Tokyo. Toyo Miyatake (seated at left) frequently came to Kimura Photomart to sit on a stool after retiring. Toyo’s son, Archie, is on his right. Please click on this link to learn more of the Miyatake heritage and connection to my family. Toyo Miyatake

Here are some other snapshots taken during the visit:

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My friend intently read the information on the exhibits during our brief visit. I feel she learned “stuff” that is not in our textbooks.  I was happy she took interest.
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At the very bottom left of the camp model, you will see a “greener” area. It housed the US Military as well as administrative staff. These barracks were more thoroughly constructed with running water and toilets.
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This is one bit of information that can be drawn up to the CPU. However, I am at a loss when it shows that Aunt Shiz was moved to Tule Lake.
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My friend appears to have a solemn look on her face while looking at the prison camp’s layout.  Over 11,000 men, women, children and babies were made prisoners and incarcerated at Manzanar – all civilians.
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Our good friend Toyo Miyatake, who had illegally snuck in a lens, fashioned a self-made camera around it to take historical pictures from inside the camp. However, photography had been forbidden. For a more complete history on Toyo Miyatake, please click on this link: Toyo’s Camera.
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A recreated barrack stands alone on the desert sand beneath spectacular clouds.  These recreations were MUCH better made than the original barracks as the National Park Service had to build these to Code.  They even had fire alarms and exit signs. 🙂
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Inside of one of the re-created barracks. According to the National Park Service website, “Any combination of eight individuals was allotted a 20-by-25-foot room. An oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw were the only furnishings provided.”
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The backside of the memorial at the Manzanar cemetery. I would not have appreciated being buried in such a desert to be forgotten. On the other hand, many of those killed in action were never found as well.
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The slightly humid desert wind blows through my friend’s hair as we stand by the memorial erected in 1943 marking the cemetery.

Lastly, a recreation of a tag each individual had clipped on his/her person to be incarcerated.  While the Nazis tatoo’d ID numbers INTO the flesh of Jews, this tag served essentially the same purpose.  This one reflects Toyo Miyatake:

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We walked on the same sand that Aunt Shiz, Uncle John, Hiroshi, Bessie, Shozo and Roy walked on for 3-1/2 years.  We experienced the heat, although it was but 100F when we arrived there and partly cloudy.  The dust that got kicked up by the warm gusts did swirl around a bit as Aunt Shiz described.  My Subaru Outback was coated with that fine dust.  It was almost like the powder law enforcement uses to bring out latent fingerprints.  And perhaps it is TMI, but I did step inside a modern “port-a-potty” set up out in the desert.  Believe me…  it was hot and stuffy in there.  That will suffice.  But I think that they all endured that for all those years…  Unbelievable.

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As we drove home, my friend asked me how I felt.  I had mentioned to her I might shed a tear or two (from the dust, of course, as real men don’t cry) before we went.  After pondering her question, I answered, “Elated.”

Bizarre answer?  Perhaps.  But I was elated I got to slightly experience what they all did 70 years ago.  No, I did not have to sleep on straw mattresses in stifling cramped rooms nor eat prison-grade quality food at the beginning of incarceration.  Nor line up for chow or to take a shower… Nor have to fear .30 caliber Browning machine guns pointed at me…

But I did finally see that my aunt and uncle built their future upon what they had lost – and what they learned to be important for family – on these white sands of Manzanar.

A Saturday in SoCal


A wordless post.

Well, almost.

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So what happens on a beautiful weekend in SoCal?

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Picked up the wall portrait of my kids from Alan Miyatake of Toyo Miyatake Studios.
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This appears to be an artistic rendition of one of Alan’s photographs of Ms. Condoleezza Rice?
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The famous grandfather of Alan, Toyo Miyatake.

Went to visit dad…  The workers there told me he’s not eating much as of late.  He only had a small salad with a little bit of chicken for lunch.  When I asked him if he was hungry, he said no but when I showed him one of his favorite Japanese treats, he went to town.

Number one.

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There goes number two!

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Number three down the hatch!

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He’s happy now. 🙂  And he did finish the last ball.IMG_0102

Took him one of Alan’s 8×10’s…labeled.  He’s 94 now.

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My bud Brian drove down from Reno for St. Paddy’s Day weekend – no better excuse to share a stogie together!

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Played around with my new Canon SX260 HS point and shoot camera.  Never had one that I can remember but it was fun to shoot with.

Superior close up capability.

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Hand held.  Look at the detail… Not bad for a shaky ol’ fart?

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I’m keeping an eye on all of you! Who’s got Visine?

Fish eye setting…

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My neighbor’s new son, Gabriel.  The father is USAF…  I pray for his safe return always.aIMG_0168

And finally, these were for me.  Like father, like son!  LOL

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Ike, a German-American Soldier


General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Thirty-forth President of the United States of America.

An American soldier.

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An “American soldier”.

Plain.  Straight forward.  No descriptive.

But as a simple question… Was he ever referred to as a “German-American” soldier?  After all, he is of German descent.

Or as a “Kraut”?  No insult intended whatsoever.

I don’t know.

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How about General Charles Willoughby?

Major General Willoughby

Never heard of him?

He was General Douglas MacArthur’s right-hand man.  Chief of Intelligence during and after World War II.  G-2.  My dad’s boss’ boss.

An American soldier.

Did you know Willoughby was born in the town of Heidelberg, Germany, the son of Baron T. von Tscheppe-Weidenbach from Baden, Germany?  A royal German family.  His real name was Adolf Karl Tscheppe-Weidenbach.

He spoke German fluently.  And spoke English with a heavy accent.

Was he referred to as a “German-American” soldier?

Or as a “Kraut”?

I don’t know.

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How about my two uncles who received the Congressional Gold Medal?  Or even my dad?

An American soldier.

Unlike Willoughby, dad was born here.  In Seattle.

He spoke both English and Japanese without an accent.  And Ike didn’t speak German.

Is there any difference in Dad’s summer uniform in comparison to Ike’s?

Well, I guess there is a difference.  Ike’s has five stars; Dad’s doesn’t… Oh, and Dad’s is wrinkled.

But unlike Ike and General Willoughby, soldiers like Dad were referred to as “Japanese-American” soldiers.  Even today.  Or just plain “Jap” back then…even when in uniform.

Even in newspapers.  Here is one on my Uncle Paul who was bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal two years ago.

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Don’t get me wrong.  There is no intent to ruffle feathers.  Or to be accusatory or express anger.  And I certainly am not calling our 34th President a “Kraut”.

This is just history…  Albeit, perhaps, from an odd vantage point.

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But why is there a distinction made?

Are we – Americans in a broad stroke of the keyboard – bringing attention to minorities in too great a lawyer-driven focus?  But considering the popular vote, my friends, the minorities are no longer minorities.  Let’s face the facts.

From history, we need to learn.  Yes.  And we need to look at ourselves as of today… but with a helluva lot fewer lawyers.  (Did I write that?)

And people need to be “working” to the best of their ability… to live on their own ability instead of an expectation of assistance.  As a fellow blogger so eloquently wrote in “The Value of Ability“, we need to tighten up this ship and boost a person’s confidence that they do have potential and to live up to those expectations.

It’s time to move on from minority recognition…in whatever shape or form.  Hiring requirements.  College enrollment requirements.  Special program requirements. Especially within governments – local, state or federal…  Especially in our schools.  How about hiring a conservative to be a teacher once in a while..?  In my humble opinion, of course.

Time to promote “American-ism”.

Ike would have liked that, I’m sure.

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude – Part II


A young Grandmother Kono takes a modeling pose in front of her Seattle barbershop. She cannot possibly have foreseen what the future holds in store for her.

The most wicked risk of a mother’s love for a child is loss, and the price of loss is grief…  But the sheer passion of grief can become indescribable if a mother ponders on her decisions.

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In Part I, we left when my father returned to Seattle to stay while leaving behind in Hiroshima his two youngest siblings and his parents.  This was 1937.  Before leaving, the family took this portrait with Grandmother Kono sitting on the sakura wood at the house.  Suetaro is standing next to her:

One of the last portraits of the three siblings and my grandparents. Grandmother Kono is sitting on the sakura wood written about in “Souls of Wood“. Circa 1937

My father says that their younger sister Mieko was ill often.  Indeed, she passed away in 1939 at just 15 years of age from an apparent kidney infection.  Since my father was already in Seattle by that time, only his youngest brother Suetaro was left along with my grandparents.  Most decisively, Grandmother decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle when he turned 18.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi,” she was very concerned over the harassment and intimidation she had received due to the threat of war against Japan.  I also “feel” that Grandmother knew Grandfather was ill by the time she made the decision.

Sure enough, the very next year (1940), Grandfather Hisakichi passed away from stomach cancer.  He was 59 years old.  After raising Mieko for 15 years and marrying Hisakichi 31 years earlier in Seattle as a picture bride, only she and Suetaro were left in their home.  War with America would start the following year.  A war in which her three oldest surviving children called America home.

One family.  One war.  Two countries…  One mother.
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An undated school portrait of Suetaro. He looks to be about 14 years old.
For reasons I have been unable to document, Suetaro became part of the Imperial Japanese Army.  All Dad will say now is being taken by the Imperial Army was “part of life” back then.  Below, he is sitting on the sofa’s arm to celebrate the young man in the center being sent to China’s Army HQs.
According to the handwritten date on the back, this photo of Suetaro below (on right manning a non-combat grade light machine gun made for training) was taken on May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds”:
Suetaro on the right. Dated May 10, 1939. I wonder what Grandmother Kono was feeling.
Here is Suetaro, perhaps in a posed photograph for PR purposes.  It is of professional quality and taken on the same day as above:
Likely a professionally taken photograph of Suetaro.  It was also taken on May 10, 1939 in Hara Mura.

I have a strong belief this was taken at the Fukuyama training grounds for his regiment, the 41st Infantry Regiment (unverified):

A proud looking Suetaro in his full Army uniform. I cannot tell if the handle on his katana, or “samurai sword”, is wrapped in silk or machine stamped. All military issued swords were numbered, by the way.

Another piece of his elusive history then emerged – but it was not from the 100 year old woodshed.

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Readers know that my Uncle Suetaro was killed in action as a Japanese soldier on Leyte.  His regiment – the 41st Infantry Regiment – was annihilated by the US Army on Leyte.  My Grandmother Kono was told he perished on July 15, 1945 – just a month before Japan surrendered.  My father’s secret US Army unit, the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), had a direct hand in the high number of Japanese casualties – and the low number of American casualties.  In other words, the MIS likely had a direct hand in the annihilation of Suetaro’s regiment.  The MIS was comprised of Americans…of Japanese descent.
Dad as part of the MIS in post-war Japan.
It is not known if Grandmother knew of this fact.  It would have been an overwhelming of her heart.
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However, this is not a story on Suetaro’s life but about his life with his mother.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi”, we know she had her second stroke after being informed by the remnants of the Japanese military of her beloved Suetaro’s death.  The last Kanemoto in the family home was now… herself.

During my trip to the family home in September, my cousin Masako, her younger brother Kiyoshi, her son Toshiro along with my son were looking at vintage photos Toshiro uncovered just a couple weeks prior in the shed.  A number were of Suetaro with my father and Grandmother.  We were all quite emotional by then.  Masako removed herself from the table; I assumed she was overcome.  I didn’t stop her from quietly leaving thinking that.

Instead, she came back a few minutes later with something in her hand.  It was a small notebook.  Aged and frayed at the bindings.  Her eyes were red.

It was Suetaro’s war diary.  We were simply stunned.  Masako had it secreted away.  For decades.  She chose to bring it out now.  For closure.  It was the right time.

Masako shocked all of us when she brought out Suetaro’s Army diary.  (L to R) Masako, Kiyoshi and Toshiro, her son.  The Kleenex box is there for my use.

It took us a few moments to realize what she had brought.  It was brittle and smelled of old books.  The paperstock was of low quality – more like newspaper stock – as paper was in very limited supply during the war years.  We handled it as gently as possible.

The first few pages were of what he did during a short period of time; Suetaro’s writing was neat and in black ink.

Then the handwriting changed.  Suddenly.  It was hurried.  Rushed.  And in pencil.

It was his farewell letter to his mother.  My dad’s mother.  My grandmother.  It was dated March 3, 1944.
Kiyoshi is holding Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama” on the right.
Kiyoshi tried to read it; it was difficult as it not only was in his hurried cursive but in pre-MacArthur Japanese.  Many characters are simply not used any more.  Unused since 1945.  Only a few people can read it – like my father.  Suetaro’s brother.  But we managed to read critical passages.  I will include two pages as reference.  However, these are very literal translations of a few sentences but needs be read in its entire context considering the environment was when he wrote this.  It is easy to misunderstand or misconstrue his heart and soul at that moment.
Towards the left, it states, “初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます. 勿論, 生還を期してはいません”, or literally, “I am glad to be going to war and facing my first combat. Of course, I do not expect to be coming back.”
He writes, “今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます,” or “At this time, Japan is at the point of either winning or perishing. We must persevere as I still dream that we will free our older brothers.”

I stress this abbreviated presentation can be misunderstood.  My interpretation is, “I willingly go to war for Japan as we are on the brink of winning or losing.  By winning, Japan will free my older brothers from the concentration camps in the US.”

He will fight – and die – so that Japan will win.  If Japan wins, they would take over the United States and by doing so, free my Dad and his older brother Yutaka from the concentration camp.  At the time of his writing, both were imprisoned at the camp in Minidoka, Idaho after being relocated from Tule Lake, CA.  (His nephew, Bobby, had already perished in Minidoka at the young age of six.)  His older sister, my Aunt Shiz who passed away last month, was imprisoned at Manzanar.

Man, my eyes welled up.  Everybody was in shock…even Masako once again.

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I am unable to comprehend how my Grandmother must have felt reading that letter in 1944.  Suetaro had secreted it away in the “butsudan”, or family altar.  She had decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle to join his elder siblings.  Now, having read this letter, her regret must have been immense.  Grief.  She lost a piece of herself.  A beloved piece.

Mieko had passed away.  So did her husband in 1940.  Now her youngest son writes he does not expect to return.

Could she have foreseen this fate while she happily stood in front of her Seattle barbershop near King St. and Maynard in Seattle in the 1910’s?  I doubt it.

She would be alone.  To ponder.  To possibly regret to her last day.

A mother’s anguished solitude.

It is dated April 9th on the back with no year indicated. However, as my father took it when he was in the MIS, I will assume it is around 1948. Her face is worn.

Souls of Wood


They walked on it.  They posed for family portraits on it.  They passed away on it.  It felt as if their souls were infused in it.

Although my ancestors have come and gone through that house for about a hundred years, the old sakura wood shared their souls with me.

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Then:

The Kanemoto’s sat on the cherry wood walkway for a portrait. Notice the glass paneling at the center-rear.  My father (second from left) is sadly all who remains from that generation. Circa 1928, Hiroshima, Japan.

Now:

Although aged and weathered, the sakura (Japanese cherry) wood upon which my ancestors sat upon for family portraits is unchanged. Even the glass paneling in the background is the same.

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While I am certainly not in the construction industry, my father’s family home is based on the Edo design era.  Generally speaking, they are built on stone foundations, with supporting square timbers and a raised floor.  “Tatami” mats were used for flooring.

My father, while now 93 and suffering from dementia, fondly recalled the floor plan of the Kanemoto house…especially of the main room seen the family portrait.  He said it had a “tokonoma”, or a small alcove alongside the altar, or “butsudan”.  He also clearly recalled the floor space measured by the number of tatami mats used; in this case, “hachijyou” or eight mats.

This is the room in which my cousin Masako “saw” Aunt Shiz a few days before she passed away.

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The house was indeed damaged from the atomic bomb’s shock wave.  This same shock wave shook the Enola Gay violently even while trying to escape the blast at about 30,000 feet altitude.  She was 11-1/2 miles away.

The house is about 4-1/2 miles away by way the crow flies.  Almost due west of the hypocenter.  Masako was knocked down by the hard-hitting shock wave while in her classroom.

A low lying hill called Mt. Suzugamine served somewhat as a barrier, deflecting the shock wave.  Still, nearly all of the sliding door panels were knocked down and the ceiling was sucked up more than a foot per Masako.  Roof tiling was also blown away from the force.

Masako is trying to show how the atomic bomb’s shock wave lifted the ceiling up over a foot. It is repaired now but was left as-is for decades.
Masako in the process of trying to show how far the ceiling was lifted by the blast on August 6, 1945.

My Uncle Suetaro took one of his last photos in front of this house in May 1944.  My grandmother already had her stroke and is not in this photo but his sister, Michie, is standing to his right.

One of the family treasures found during our journey to the family home in Hiroshima this month. Uncle Suetaro is going to war and his death.

Grandmother Kono’s funeral in 1954; my father can be seen in the lighter suit to the left standing next to Michie and Masako (hidden by the flowers):

Grandmother Kono’s funeral at the house.  1954

The home does have spirits within.  It’s not cornball.  It is an incredible sensation.  We were called to those souls in the wood this month.  Seriously.

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When I saw my son in front of the home, I saw that I’m in the last half of my journey in life… but I came back to myself on that old sakura wood.

Early family picture in front of the house.  The entry is on the right.
My son Takeshi standing next to the Kanemoto name in front of the house just this month.  The entry can be seen behind him.