Masami Nonaka, a Child’s Memories of WWII Internment Camp Amachi, Part Three



The Nonaka family had arrived at Camp Amache, the internment camp near Granada, Colorado. Their home for the next 3 years.

Each family was assigned a number and a name badge which the Nonaka family were required to wear on their journey to Camp Amache.


There were 349 barracks located in 30 blocks, 12 barracks per block.  The Nonaka family was given one  of the four rooms located in each barrack.   Their room was  approximately 20’×24′  which housed Mas, his older brother and sister, and his mother and father.  Each Nonaka was given an Army bed or cot, one blanket and one straw mattress.  The Nanakas were also given a pot bellied coal stove for heat and one light bulb.

There were no toilets only an out house.  Eventually there was a latrine which also contained group showers and community laundry room.  The men’s and women’s  areas were separate but that was the extent of the privacy.

There was one large building assigned as a mess hall. The internees could not all be fed at one time so they ate in shifts.  The internees ate quickly from their tin trays to make room for the next group of people to get their meal.

There were two or three meatless days a week. Often the meals were mutton or liver, unfamiliar to the internees, with no attempt to try to make the strong flavors more tasty.

Children and adults learned to stand in line to eat and use the bathroom, it was just a daily occurrence for them.

The adults attempted to shield the children, keeping busy and making routines.  Mas remembers playing with the other boys and marbles were a favorite.



Three years to go!

To be continued.


Masami Nonaka, a Child’s Memories of WWII, Assembly Center to Internment Camp, Part Two


Mas Nonaka was 8 years old when his family boarded the train from the assembly center at the Santa Anita Racetrack in California to head for their new “home”, an internment camp in Colorado.

He does not have any photographs of himself from this time of his life, but he does remember his Mom cutting his hair so the bangs would hang straight across his forehead.

Once again each family member packed up their meager possessions, only what they could carry.  Somehow his Dad figured out how to break up his Mom’s sewing machine, it traveled with her to Santa Anita and then to Amache.  Mas has no clue how this miracle happened but it must have been a prized possession for the family.

He does not remember much about the trip as he was just a child.  The adults adopted a “show no fear, show no weakness, show no vulnerability” attitude to protect their children and to protect their dignity.  As a result Mas does not remember being afraid, just another adventure to an 8 year old boy.

He cannot remember how long the train ride was, only that it was a long ride, at least 2 days long.  Every car on the train had an armed guard at each end.  The blinds were pulled down and the guards would not allow their prisoners to look out or lift the blinds “for their own protection”.

The Nonaka family had left one barren windy place to travel to another barren and windy place.


Arriving at Camp Amache, the internment camp near Granada, Colorado in September 1942 they did not know this would be their home for the next 3 years.

There were 349 barracks.  Each barracks held four rooms, 2 smaller ones on each end for the smaller families and two larger rooms 20’X20′ or 20’X24′ in the middle, one room for each family.  Each internee was given an Army bed or cot, one blanket and one straw mattress.  Each room had a pot bellied coal stove for heat and one light bulb.  The walls and floors had cracks where the wind and dust would whistle through the barracks.

There were no toilets at the beginning.  They used an outhouse.  Toilets were never installed in the individual barracks.  Most families had a bowl called chamba to use as their indoor toilet.  This was for the elderly and the children and just anybody who didn’t want to make a trip to the outhouse in the dark or bad weather.

Mas had never seen snow before but learned that snow made the barracks miserably cold in the winter.  It was also miserably hot in the summer.

The rooms were not really rooms until the fathers got together and hung sheets from wires to act as walls in an attempt to obtain some privacy.

The whole camp was surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers or sentry towers with spot lights and guards with machine guns.


Life at Amache Camp had started.

To be continued.

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.