Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated May 12, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated May 12, 1942. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Camp Harmony
May 12, 1942

Dear Norio,

Here I am, and I’ve been for almost the last two weeks, sitting on my haunches in the “assembly center” - what a name - at Puyallup watching the days roll by. Hell, what a feeling! Cooped in by a fence with armed guards patrolling outside and submachine guns in the watch towers, powerful search lights playing in the area between the barracks and the fence, watched by armed guards the moment we leave to go to another camp - what a mess!

Thanks for the two letters, the last one of encouragement. And I apologize for the delay, but I’ve been quite busy until now. You’ve probably got the physical details of the camp from your sis, but I’ll explain as best I can and hope that you can get a good idea of what is happening here.

Before I go very much further, I’d like to say that I left Seattle Thursday, Apr. 30, and Caleb Foote spoke at the Wednesday cabinet dinner. About halfway thru the discussion, we Japanese had to leave - what a feeling. Goodbye - and where were we to go - where would we meet again? Tears came to my eyes as I shook hands with the whole bunch, and what a swell bunch they are! There are still possibilities in democracy if youth continues to think as it does.

If I sound incoherent, please excuse me, for I’ve got one ear tuned to Bob Burns and trying to write at the same time.1 But to go into a description of the camp, the food, the set-up, and what not.

The Puyallup assembly center is divided, as I explained before, into four areas, A, B, C & D. We’re in A in the northeast corner of the fairgrounds. At present the population of this area “A” is about 2,500 or 2,600, and I’ve just heard tonight that a group from Tacoma might be put into this section. I wouldn’t mind that at all—not at all! The whole population is accommodated by 23 rows of barracks with 4 barracks in each row running north and south with 7 rooms, apts., or boxes in each long building. The avenues - 11 of them - on which two rows of bldgs. face - are numbered from 1 to 11 and below, or to the west of First Avenue is Alaskan Way. At the south end of the rows are six mess halls on the “main drag” which we named the Burma Road. That was our creative genius as we were trying to fix the muddy mess shortly after we arrived and thought that we looked like a group of Chinese coolies. But the sign has been taken down, and no new one has been put up, and I fear that it will be rechristened by some commonplace name as Main Street. Between groups of two avenues are the “cans” and showers…one of each for the men and women. They aren’t bad, but the water just seems to refuse to run the correct way, and we have the makings of a second flood. But we ditch diggers are doing our best to remedy the mess. There isn’t any privacy in bath the “cans” and showers, but when nature calls, who in the H cares. I prefer to call this place Camp “H” instead of Camp Harmony. That is a brief description of the physical picture of the camp. To draw a map of the whole set-up:

Camp Harmony Map, Letter from Kenji Okuda, 5/12/42

Area B has about a 1000 and that seems to fill up the area, Area C is only half-filled, and D is mostly full. In the last four days 4,000 came in, and we worked like dogs getting them settled. Inside the fairgrounds the barracks are built quite haphazardly, or so it seems. And they have one HUGE mess hall feeding at least 1,000 at one sitting. At each of the mess halls in our areas, about 500 per meal are served cafeteria style. But I guess that this is enough of the typical set-up.

It is now 10 p.m., and so I must turn off the lights and hit the hay. I will carry on again tomorrow.

May 13, 1942

Here I go on the second installment. There’s a little excitement here as the Yasutake’s next door prepare to move. They came into A with us and now they’re going to D in the fairgrounds for Tosh must assist the medical staff. What a world! They’re so short of medical men that they even put in the “hyoko” of pre-meds and make them work.

Tomorrow another 400 are coming in from Seattle and Bill Makino should be somewhere in the bunch. We’re rapidly filling up, but 3,000 are coming in tomorrow and the two following days. I don’t know where they’re going to put everything and everybody. Today some 200 bachelors were moved into 3 large exhibition barns - what places. No sunlight except from the two doors at either end, huge and cold, and no privacy. Hell, but who can raise a squack? Those places are much worse than even the little rooms we have. Hell, our places are like hotels and mansions.

Gordy Hira is going to make a test case and refuse to register to evacuate.2 He’ll probably go to prison, but he’s got guts anyway. He was scheduled to go to the C.O. camp in Oregon, but his induction was cancelled at the last moment.

In this area are Sally, illegible & Bill Soyejima, and 2,6000 others—to mention a few. Sueko Hasegawa & Martha Mitsudo are coming in tomorrow but I think they’ll go into another area. As I get the news via the grapevine, Tacoma is coming to join us in this camp. If so, I have my fingers crossed as to who will be assigned the room next door which the Yasutake’s are vacating.

As I examine the whole set-up, I can see more forcefully than ever the potential power of non-violent non-cooperative means. A mass strike or refusal to work could do ever so much more than any use of violence whether individually or collectively. But too many are frightened at the mere mention of the Army’s authority. I guess there’s no use starting trouble until it’s unavoidable.

To give you a few addresses - I don’t know Takuzo’s

Toshio Inatami c/o Mrs. Springer
611 9th S. E.
Minneapolis, MINN

Where in the H is my address book??

Betty Morita
Apt. 3D
564 W. 189th St.
New York

Sat Hoshi c/o Rev. Chester Soucks - can’t find the address.

I guess that I’ll call it quits with this - I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Until again


1. Bob Burns was a radio and film comedian of the 1930s and 1940s.
2. Gordy Hira refers to Gordon Hirabayashi.