Masami Nonaka, a Child’s Memories of WWII, Waiting at the Assembly Center, Part One

imageMas Nonaka  was born August 20, 1934.   The youngest of three children he was the baby of the family.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the evacuation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. Mas was a 7 year old child.

While these relocation camps were being built, evacuees were ordered to stay at what was called assembly centers.  The largest of these assembly centers was the Santa Anita Racetrack in California where Mas remembers spending a hot summer.  These American citizens were allowed to bring only what they could carry with them to the assembly centers and consequently lost most of their possessions.

Beginning in March 1942, the almost 19,000 Japanese Americans that lived at the Santa Anita Racetrack were housed in barracks or in converted horse stalls.  Mas remembers a friend of his that lived in one of the horse stalls complaining about the stench.

Each evacuee was given an Army bed or cot, one blanket and one straw mattress.  The barracks were large open areas and Mas remembers that the families hung sheets to act as walls in an attempt to obtain some privacy.  The racetrack was surrounded by barbed wire.

In August 1942, a riot erupted after a suspected informant was beaten.  Mas remembers that in the following days the soldiers conducted a search of all the internees’ possessions and confiscated any items they felt were dangerous.   He remembers the soldiers patrolling in armored cars.  It was a scary time for a child.

Before Santa Anita, Mas and his family lived in the west side of Los Angeles by a big Coliseum.   His father and uncle worked together at the market.   His mom also worked hard as a barber. The children would get up early with their parents and stay with their aunt while the other adults worked.

It was a time of safe routine for Mas before he went to camp.  Mas would go to his aunt’s early in the morning until school started.  After school he would go to Japanese language school where he was learning to read and write Japanese.  Then he would come home to his aunt’s house, have dinner and wait for his parents to come for him and his siblings.  The family would head home together at the end of a long day.

Mas was a typical little boy.   He recalls being an itazura-ko or mischief boy.  A sharp whack on the top of his head from his Japanese teacher is one punishment he earned.

All that changed with Executive Order 9066.

Things were about to get worse. In September and October 1942 the internees were sent to different relocation centers.  Mas and his family were loaded on a train headed for Amachi Camp in southeast Colorado.  The journey on the rickety train was a miserable two days.   The anxiety of the unknown destination cannot be described.

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9 thoughts on “Masami Nonaka, a Child’s Memories of WWII, Waiting at the Assembly Center, Part One”

  1. Thank you for writing and sharing this piece. What a shameful chapter in the history of our country. I didn’t learn about the detention centers until I was an adult. Our textbooks totally skipped over this travesty.
    I think, more than Watergate, learning of these events changed my views of trust in our government. We must never forget what evils our own people are capable of when they have fear in their hearts. I’m reblogging this.

  2. Reblogged this on Praying for Eyebrowz and commented:
    I remember the first time I learned of the Japanese internment camps that were erected during WWII. I was an adult. Yep, our textbooks made no mention of this atrocity. At first I thought I was reading a piece of fiction, so I researched and found that yes, indeed, our own country, in a fit of fear and ignorance, interred its own citizens in terrible conditions. And there are some who’d do it again–to Muslim Anericans, to Gay Americans, basically to anyone they don’t understand. Read and learn from this piece by one of my favorite bloggers, sanselife.wordpress.com.

    1. P.S. Would it be okay if I linked this to the Simpson UMC website? Mas and Yasuko are well loved by the congregation there and they would enjoy your column

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