Internment Survivor Speaks
Japan Club of Boston College hosts Day of Remembrance event
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 14:02
Almost 70 years ago, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced relocation of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry.
For the past three decades, Japanese American communities have commemorated this and the events that followed by hosting Day of Remembrance events in February with the hope of spreading awareness of internment during World War II.
At Boston College, the Day of Remembrance was commemorated Tuesday night with an event sponsored by the Japan Club of Boston College (JCBC): a presentation by Yutaka Kobayashi, who was interned in camps in Utah and California during World War II. Kobayashi lives in Wellesley, Mass. and holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry.
Kobayashi was only 17 and living in San Francisco, California around the time that internment started.
“In high school, we talked about the vitality and the strength of U.S. democracy,” Kobayashi said. “I truly believed all of this, so when rumors started circulating that we were going to be evacuated, I did not believe them.”
After Kobayashi graduated high school in 1942, he signed up for the draft.
“I volunteered with the army, but was denied,” Kobayashi said. “After Pearl Harbor, myself and all the other Japanese Americans who signed up for the war were denied and classified as ‘4C.’” During World War II, 4C was used to refer to “undesirable aliens.”
Kobayashi’s plans to attend college were put on hold when soldiers came to San Francisco to implement Executive Order 9066.
“They tacked up notices all over town—we had three days to take care of our affairs and leave town,” Kobayashi said. “We could only take the things that we could carry on our backs.”
Kobayashi and his family were taken to a temporary internment camp in Tanforan, Calif., until the permanent camps being built around the country were ready.
The Japanese Americans forced to live in the camps stayed in converted horse stalls. They used sacks filled with straw as mattresses. There was one light bulb and one outlet.
“The worst part about it was the overwhelming and constant smell of horse manure,” Kobayashi said. The camps were deemed unfit for human habitation by various boards of health. Barbwire surrounded the camps. The guard towers were equipped with soldiers with machines guns. Kobayashi remembers men being shot down for getting too close to the fence.Kobayashi remembers that there were two attitudes toward the U.S. in the camps.
“Some thought that the Japanese Americans should shed their blood to prove their loyalty to the country, others thought that the notion of sacrificing for a government that kept them cooped up in horse stalls was absolutely absurd,” he said.
Kobayashi recalled the bravery of the men of the 442nd infantry regiment during the war, whose attitudes were along the line of the former sentiment.
The 442nd infantry regiment was composed entirely of Japanese American soldiers who volunteered to fight in the war even though their families were subject to internment. The 442nd fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, France and Germany. The battalion is considered to be the most decorated infantry regiment in the history of the U.S. army.
As for Kobayashi, he was given a chance to leave the camp and go to college on a scholarship as part of a program through the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council.
“Educators became concerned about the future of many Japanese American students enrolled in colleges and universities who had to put their plans on hold because of internment,” Kobayashi said.
Efforts to immediately transfer these students to academic institutions outside the restricted areas on the West Coast were led by the YMCA-YWCA, the Pacific College Association, and college presidents such as University of California’s Robert Gordon Sproul, and University of Washington’s Lee Paul Sieg.
“I was given a scholarship to Alfred University in New York,” Kobayashi said. “I was shocked initially when I saw the price of the tuition because I could go to a California State school for much less, but the NJASRC assured me that everything would be taken care of.”
Kobayashi wants students to remember that these events like these are not anomalies.
“The same thing almost happened again after 9/11 with the Muslims—or rather anyone who looked Muslim,” Kobayashi said. “The Patriot Act of 2001 allowed the government to tap phones, monitor web activity, and jail people without warrant.”
Kobayashi reminded young adults to get involved, to follow the issues, to question the government, and most importantly to vote.
When asked about his views on the U.S. today, Kobayashi gave an answer that may surprise many.
“It’s a great country, I’ve been very lucky to have such a wonderful life,” he said.