Interned Japanese-Americans Honored at Lewis County Museum

Posted

They were neighbors, classmates and friends. 

On June 1, 1942, they were there. By June 2, they were not. 

Eighty-six people from Lewis and Pacific counties were loaded onto a train in Chehalis to the internment camp in Tule Lake, California. 

One day past the 75th anniversary of the train’s departure, the Lewis County Historical Society and Museum dedicated a plaque with the names of the Americans on the train. 

“This is one snippet of our history,” Lewis County Historical Society President Peter Lahmann said on Saturday. “We are doing our best to preserve it for future generations.” 

Around 60 people gathered at the Lewis County Historical Museum to watch the dedication and to hear the stories. Many people there knew local families who were sent to California, and some were there themselves. 

Irene (Sato) Yamasaki and her husband, Ray, both spent the war behind the barbed wire at Tule Lake. 

Irene Yamasaki grew up in Adna where her family had a strawberry farm. Ray Yamasaki grew up in Auburn, California. The two met after the war ended when she moved to California to attend University of California, Davis. 

While at Tule Lake, the families lived in what were essentially tar paper shacks, said local historian, author and Chronicle columnist Julie McDonald Zander. Each barrack was lit by a single bulb, with furnishings limited to cots and a stove for warmth. The families were to share the barracks with at least three other families. The studs holding up the shiplap overlaid with building paper were left open. Wind blew sand and dust into the shacks. 

“What they said about the barracks is true,” Ray Yamasaki said after the ceremony. 

He was 10 years old when he first got to Tule Lake. For the first few years, the camp was an alright place to be a kid, Ray Yamasaki said. The guards would let them leave the camp to hike in the nearby hills. 

Then in late 1943 people began being transferred to different camps based on their answers to “loyalty questions,” McDonald Zander said. The majority of the people from Lewis and Pacific counties were transferred to Minidoka, Idaho. Ray Yamasaki stayed in Tule Lake.

After the transfers, Ray Yamasaki said the camp changed. They were no longer allowed to walk in the hills and security became tighter. 

The Sato family’s experience was similar; however, they were transferred to Idaho. 

Irene Yamasaki’s mother, Hanako Sato, died in January 1943, four months after giving birth to the Satos’ youngest child, Jane, McDonald Zander said. Hanako’s ashes were taken with the family to Idaho, then back to Adna after the war. They were buried with her husband, Tom, when he died in 1957. 

Prior to attending the dedication on Saturday, Irene and Ray Yamasaki visited her family's graves in Claquato Cemetery. While there, she saw a lot of familiar names. 

“It was nice to see they are laid to rest among friends,” Irene Yamasaki said. 

When the Satos returned home, they found their house to be intact but their farm, which once produced vegetables and eggs, was left in ruins. Tom Sato, Irene’s father, planted strawberry bushes and rejoined the community.

Mary Lou Storm, an Adna resident who knew the family, said when her father had a heart attack, Tom Sato and his son Eddie came over with their tractor to fix up Storm’s family farm without being asked to do so. 

“To us they were just people,” Storm said. 

In 1946, Tule Lake, the last internment camp closed. Many of the older internees never recovered, McDonald Zander said. Their children received educations and managed to enter the middle class. 

“Hopefully this injustice will never happen again,” Irene Yamasaki said. 

The Lewis County Historical Museum has a display marking the anniversary of the internment. The museum is located at 599 NW Front St. in Chehalis. Call 360-748-0831 or visit lewiscountymuseum.org for more information.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment