Linda's Orchard

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Category: Internment Camps

Honoring Our Heroes

Roy Matsumoto and Linda Okazaki

Roy Matsumoto and Linda Okazaki

Held in conjunction with the Bay Area Day of Remembrance, the Nichi Bei Foundation presented “Films of Remembrance” at the New People Cinema in San Francisco on 23 February 2014.

World War II was complex on many levels. In just 28 minutes, one film brought to attention many of those issues: Internment, MIS, Merrill’s Marauders, Issei, Nissei, Kibei, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima.

Honor and Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story was a moving documentary. Roy Matsumoto was a US war hero; one of his brother’s also fought for the US; three brothers were in the Japanese Army; the rest of the family lived in Hiroshima. The sensitive material was presented in a thought provoking and respectful manner. Producers Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander, as well as Roy’s daughter Karen Matsumto, were available for an in-depth Q&A following the presenetation.

It was an honor to meet Roy Matsumoto at this special event.

Bittersweet Memories

Hiroko Iida, Harold Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

Hiroko Iida, Eizo Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

On 19 February 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which set the stage for tens of thousands of Nikkei to be incarcerated without due process. Smaller numbers of Italians, Germans and Japanese South Americans were also held. Canada followed suit with a similar scenario.

This past Sunday, I attended a “Day of Remembrance”  service at the Berkeley Methodist United Church. Eizo Kobayashi spoke of his memories as a young boy from West Oakland, detained with his mother and brothers, first at Tanforan Assembly Center and then in Topaz, Utah. His Issei father remained in a California hospital while suffering from tuberculosis. Eizo’s stories were vivid and poignant. He spoke of the stench of horse manure in their dwelling, a refurbished horse stall at the Tanforan race track. He described the three day train ride to Utah, told of the regular dust storms and how he and his brothers stuffed gunny sacks with hay to serve as mattresses atop their cots. His family lost their home, their business, their possessions, and in some ways, their father. For a young boy, it was also an adventure. For his mother, it was a tragedy.

Following the service, the congregation shared displays of their own memorabilia. Maru Hiratzka brought a small  wooden chest, hand crafted during the camp years by her uncle, Jimmy Osuga. Harold Hiyashi proudly displayed his mementos from before, during and after the war. Other Nissei shared their stories, too, so that we would not forget.

Harold Hiyashi

Harold Hiyashi

APG PMC 2014

APG PMC, or the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference. What a mouthful. Sounds overwhelming and intimidating. In actuality, this was my first PMC and I found it to be incredibly informative. Speakers were knowledgeable, attendees were enthusiastic and everyone was approachable. I’m eager to start growing my own clientele, particularly Nikkei seeking their federal records.

The Enigma of Sasanji

L-R: Ichimaru and Sasanji Okazaki, San Francisco, circa 1912

L-R: Ichimaru and Sasanji Okazaki, circa 1912

Sasanji Okazaki has perplexed me for some time. Based on references from two passenger records and the 1930 census as well as family lore, he probably arrived in San Francisco from Japan in 1898. But I need proof! Of course, he could have arrived later. Given the birth of his youngest child on 20 June 1898, it’s unlikely that he left Japan much earlier than that. He could have come through Canada, Washington, Los Angeles or even Mexico. Unfortunately, the passenger records are incomplete. Those that do exist for San Francisco arrivals are difficult to read and first names are typically abbreviated to the first initial. Japan does have un-indexed passenger and immigration records, but it would cost a fortune to have someone pore through those documents and then have them translated. For the moment, I am waiting to hear back from the USCIS to see if he or one of his family members is indexed. I do have a Resident Permit number (R.p.) and an Alien Registration number (A.R.) which may aid in that search. What complicates things further is that Sasanji returned to Japan before WWII. It appears that he always intended to return to his homeland as his wife never left the farm and the property remains in the Okazaki family to this day. This means that there is no A-file for him and there are no WRA or INS internment camp records. There also are no land or voter records, as U.S. law prohibited Japanese immigrants from land ownership or citizenship. I have been able to follow some of his address changes by the immigration records of his three sons, but he hasn’t turned up in any directories that I’ve searched. Sasanji Okazaki was born 20 September 1875 to Yujiro Okazaki and Sumi (maiden name not known); he married Kiwa Kobayashi on 14 May 1892; he died 13 January 1941.

Librarians: Linking a Community to its History

Linda Okazaki and Andy Rodriguez

Visiting a site for research purposes is always interesting. But meeting the members of the community  really brings things to life. When planning my trip to Crystal City, I had been in contact with a number of individuals. Werner Ulrich was a former internee and great source of information. Werner was responsible for some of the displays currently on view at the former internment camp, including the map of the site. He put me in touch with Andy Rodriguez, the librarian in Crystal City.

Andy was helpful throughout our email correspondence, providing me with details about the city and the camp. He also agreed to meet me during the visit. I knew from previous research trips that librarians were usually well versed in local history and resources. What I didn’t expect was that Andy would take me on a personal tour of the former internment site, guiding me through areas not accessible to the average visitor. He took me to each marker and explained its significance. Andy grew up in Crystal City and his father had been employed at the camp in the maintenance department, giving him a unique perspective on the local history. He escorted me through Zavala Elementary school, along with Vice Principal Carmel Dias. As with most small towns, everyone seemed to be connected with one another, and Andy knew Carmel from his days as a teacher’s aide.

Behind the school, yet only accessible THROUGH the school by escort, was a display marking the educational system at the Crystal City Internment Camp, as well as two buildings original to the camp. Imagine my surprise as I looked more closely at the display which included a photo from the 1945 high school graduating class of Japanese American students. Looking up at me from that display was my American citizen father in law, proudly wearing his cap and gown, standing in the back row of his class photo. The picture was taken shortly before he and his family were “repatriated” to Japan at the end of the war. It’s hard to say who was more touched, me, Andy, Carmel, or my husband who sat there staring at his father. Ironically, Tee called our cell phone a few minutes later, not realizing we were in Crystal City. Maybe it was he who was most touched hearing that his photo was right there memorializing this bittersweet time in American history.

Andy continued the tour which included the former swimming pool and slabs of concrete foundations which were near what had once been the Okazaki “home”. Andy interspersed his knowledge of the internment camp with the history of Crystal City. When we finished our tour and returned to the library, Andy allowed us some research time with documents and books pertaining to camp. Despite all the research I have done over the past six months, much of what he shared was new to me. Additionally, his staff was helpful, cheerful and professional. Though brief, our visit to Crystal City was rewarding in many ways, due primarily to the assistance of Andy Rodriguez and the other members of the community. Thank you.

Primary monument honoring those Japanese and Japanese Americans who were interned at Crystal City, but does not recognize the Germans, Italians, Japanese Peruvians and others who also were detained here.

Marker located in front of what had been the German School

Tee Okazaki, student body president, back row, sixth from left.

Ted on a concrete foundation near the location of the Okazaki family duplex.

In front of city hall and the public library in Crystal City.