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The following is a short story based on a conversation I had with my late stepdad, Thomas Watanuki, about his experiences from the coastal hills of Orange County, to the Concentration Camps in Montana and Utah, to the march on Messina. A sad postscript, Thomas' elderly father died in Camp while Thomas was overseas...

Thomas Watanuki
26 April 1923 - 27 July 2012

The Four Forty Second


Justice Putnam

"A Jap's a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen or not. I don't want any of them . Racial affiliations are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second - and third-generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become 'Americanized,' the racial strains are undiluted."

-- Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt

"It was a time when some of us had to take extraordinary steps when our Constitution did not require it, to prove to our neighbors that we were worthy of being called Americans. The price was very heavy. There was much blood that had to be shed. But looking back, I can say with pride that I was part of it."

-- Senator Daniel Inouye


Thomas Matsui hadn't slept for almost 46 hours. The Italians had long stopped the fight, but the Nazis kept at it. Mortar shells exploded nearby with a frightening consistency. The rocky Italian hillside bucked and rolled with each explosion.

Battle has an uncanny affect on a soldier; it becomes a kind of tedium. The first month of a soldier's battle is the worst, it all being so new. The mortality rate is highest during that first month. After six months, with bombs exploding around the battlement, a soldier will daydream.

Thomas Matsui thought of his family's orange and avocado orchards rustling in the warm coastal breeze. He thought of the smell of his mother cooking rice in the farmhouse just above Pacific Coast Highway near Balboa. He conjured his father in the workshop, standing at the grinding wheel, sharpening the tools.

Those were daydreams that made the tedium of battle tolerable. But Thomas Matsui had other daydreams that were not so idyllic.

He saw his parents crestfallen from the notice tacked on the farmhouse. Civilian Exclusion Order Number 33 gave only two days to sell the farm before the Military evacuated them to the camp in Montana. He remembered the offer that came from The Irvine Company later that day. Mere pennies on the dollar for what the farm was worth.

He remembered the drive to the Civilian Control Station in Los Angeles, his mother crying the whole thirty miles. Twenty years growing avocados and oranges; all gone in a day. Twenty years and all the possessions acquired; gone in a day. Only allowed bedding and linens, some kitchen utensils and clothes; twenty years of Thomas Matsui's life was spent on that farm. He was born there. It was lost in a day.

The Nazis increased the frequency of the mortar attack and shook Thomas Matsui out of his reverie. He knew Marines on the other end of the hillside were getting the brunt of the bombing. The Four Forty Second though, were well hid and dug in. Soon the bombing would cease and the real battle would commence. There would be no time to daydream then.

Thomas Matsui chuckled at the memory of the military recruiter who came to his camp that Thursday in June. How fresh-faced and upright he was; the perfect embodiment of American righteousness. Thomas and his family had been at the camp for a month and life was a brutal series of bad weather and racist guards. The chance to escape that prison, with the hopeful promise of making his parent's life easier was too great to pass up. If he fought hard and patriotically, maybe the war would end sooner and his parents would no longer be incarcerated.

But the farm and all they had was lost. No, not really lost; in effect stolen. But that did not matter any longer. He wanted this war to end so his parents would not suffer any more.

The mortar attack suddenly stopped. Thomas Matsui shouldered his rifle and aimed down the hillside.

The real battle was about to begin.

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

Originally posted to The Justice Department on Netroots on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 05:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community, Netroots Radio, and Personal Storytellers.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Excuse my... (12+ / 0-)

    ... being enamored with the "Hemingway line," but I am.

    A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude -- Pablo Neruda / The Justice Department is on Blue Skies Netroots Radio.

    by justiceputnam on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 05:28:06 PM PDT

  •  A nice old guy told me this, when I said (5+ / 0-)

    he had a nice place:

    'Well, you know how I got it. I bought a greenhouse from some Japanese-Americans because they had to sell it when they were being relocated. I paid some money for it but the thing was, it was full of orchids ready to pick, and customers all lined up so I made my money back in a week.'

    He said after the war, he offered to sell it back to them but they were so disgusted with him that they said, keep it. He sold the land eventually, set for life.

    Now, I thought badly of him after hearing this and that's the point: he knew I would, that's why he told me. To show an example of disgrace for me to remember, so as to avoid a repeat.

  •  Bainbridge Island... (5+ / 0-)

    ...was once a Japanese bastion in Puget Sound.  When the concentration camp round-ups started, the Japanese families who farmed the place lost everything and their white competitors were elated at their misfortune.

    I know of one exception.  Over in Jefferson County a bit south of Sequim is a large, well kept dairy farm.  About 20 years ago my father and I were visiting some state parks in the area and he told me a bit of the history of this particular farm.  It was owned by a Japanese family who was interned during WWII.  Neighbors took care of the farm while they were gone and returned it to the owners after internment.

    Fortunately for us oyster fans, Masahide Yamashita didn't give up after losing his tidal property on the Toandos Peninsula when he was arrested and interred.  He had been a successful oyster importer, grower, and seed broker.  After the war he and his family returned to Hood Canal oyster farming.  His son became one of the founders of the Pacific Oyster Growers Association.  The fruits of his father's farming efforts are so ubiquitous that most of us locals don't realize our pacific oysters are actually Japanese oysters.  Thank you, Yamashita-san.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by DaveinBremerton on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 07:28:27 PM PDT

    •  I used to mow Sachito Nakata's lawn on (4+ / 0-)

      Bainbridge; another customer later told me that the movie 'Snow Falling on Cedars' was in part her story. My old boss Brian told me that her husband was one of the founding members of the 442nd, and that the local VFW was named after him but they changed it to something else, pretty damned unpatriotic he thought and I agree.

      I used to tell all the guys when we went there, and they all later concurred: 'Now, she's going to come out and say "It's hot, you boys should take a break", and as soon as she says that you're not going to feel tired anymore. Then later she's going to come out and say "It's late, you boys should knock off", and then you're going to feel like working till 6:30.'

      Anyway she was absolutely impeccable, above reproach, and interning someone like that is just about the goddamned stupidest thing a country could do.

      She used to make really killer apple juice too. Honestly, I miss her.

      •  The whole damn affair was stupid (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mary Mike, mookins, justiceputnam

        I was stationed on Okinawa from 1993 - 1999.  The Okinawans were invariably warm, kind, and generous.  American G.I's had a curfew to protect us and the locals

        I haven't been there in 14 years now and I still get homesick for a big bowl of chirashi and a couple cold Asahi beers.  Fortunately there's Hakata and Origami Sushi in Silverdale, and Hiro Sushi in Port Orchard.  They ain't the same, but they'll do.

        "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

        by DaveinBremerton on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 08:47:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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