Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated August 27, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated August 27, 1942. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Aug. 27, 1942
Bright & early – 10pm

Dear Norio,

I’m still here in Puyallup kicking up the dust – sleepier than he__ this morning. Thanks so much for your letter – I like the kind of dope you give me. I’ll start in and give you all of the lowdown on this end.

Last evening it rained hard, and that’s put the dust down. It’s clear and beautiful today although there are some dark clouds on the horizon. We have had relatively few warm days this summer – and when it was warm, it got very cool all of a sudden in the evening. Perhaps that’s why many of us have colds – the sudden temperature changes, lack of fresh citrus fruits in our diet – I’ve had mine for a week, and the end isn’t in sight yet.

Erstwhile Romeo – don’t study too hard or whistle at too many girls. You may get some results one of these days – and then where would you be?

Half of the camp has gone – Area B & D are deserted except for the hospital in “D.” I walked through D the other night a beautiful full moon – and the dark gloomily quiet sight, the moonlight glancing into the cold, staring windows lent an eery [sic] atmosphere to the whole scene. The crunch, crunch of shoes on gravel resounding emptily through the area. But the hospital in “D” is a life-saver. Two nights ago, I went over & played some poker – won 20¢, a minor fortune in here. Last night area “A” & “C” – the remaining areas – had a dance over there, and since I couldn’t locate a date in here, went over to the nurses’ aides quarters and took Margaret Yamamoto. You know her don’t you – C.P.S. student, Kenji Oyanoje’s girl friend. And there are several interesting girls over there – Mayme Semba, queen of Area “D”, Chiyo Tamaki, Michi Katagiri, Toshiko Takao – all nurses, and quite a few attractive nurses’ aides. But I’m not getting anywhere in this line of conversation.

Last night I slept at the first-aid-station – three of us stay there every third night on call to run for the doctor – I don’t even know first aid, but it’s the only chance to stay up beyond 10:30. Frank Okada & Walt Kato are there with me – played pinochle until 2 a.m. When one has a habit of falling asleep around 10:30, such a late hour would naturally make one sleepy. They had an emergency appendectomy last night over there – Suzuki operating, and that’s the third one since we got here. Miyo Inouye – she’s working as nurses’ aide too – has seen one and assisted in three or four O.B.s. I feel sorry for those who have to undergo major operations in the hospital with such inexperienced help assisting. But it’s good experience for the pre-meds and others interested in medicine. After associating a little with the hospital work, I wonder if I might not be very much interested in medicine – or is it the pretty nurses? Anyone will have to think carefully before embarking on an 8 or 10 year grind.

I seem to change my opinion each and every time I write to you. Today I feel reasonably certain that I will be permitted to leave for school. In fact Saul & Michi Watanabe have already left, with Helen Yorozu, for Denver and the University there. Tom Bodine in San Francisco feels reasonably certain that I will be able to get a travel permit. Oberlin has apparently been approved by the Army – I don’t know about the Navy, but I think that the latter will approve, all or most of the papers are in order – so perhaps any day now. However it will most likely be that I must go to the Minidoka permanent center in Idaho before I can leave. I received a very encouraging letter indirectly thru Herb King, National Y.M.C.A. associate secretary. He mailed me a copy of a letter he received from Dr. Walter Marshall Horton, The Congregational Minister or spokesman in the country and a professor at Oberlin Theological, stating that he would be willing to give me a letter definitely assuming responsibility for me, and that they would be willing to get a community acceptance from a local law enforcement officer if necessary. On the other hand, Tom had written me several weeks previously that there was little hope of obtaining an acceptance from a local law enforcement officer – in Oberlin village – the two accounts don’t seem to jibe. But my hopes are reasonably high.

Perhaps you are interested in a description of the Idaho Camp as I’ve been able to put it together – illegible is already down there – The camp is still very far from completed. They had to interrupt movement for a week because of lack of housing facilities – in fact the last group of 500 which left had to sleep in mess halls, laundry rooms, and any available bed space.

The W.R.A. officials were trying hard enough to have the Army stop the wholesale movement – but the d___ Army waited until they were absolutely certain that the camp over there could hold no more. There are about 4,500 there now – and no running hot water as of the latest reports. The sewage and lavatory facilities are still uncompleted – residents are using outhouses until all construction is completed. The dust out there in the midst of the Minidoka desert, the sagebrush and bugs, must be terrific. Most of the people there suffer from sore throats, and dust storms are terrific – can’t see more than a couple of feet ahead. Many of the residents get nosebleeds – the fine sand seems to wreck havoc with almost everything. It is entirely possible that if we are there long enough and get water on the soil, we will be able to make a veritable “Garden of Eden.” The first two years will be hard – how many will be able to live through it and come through triumphant?

The quality of personnel at the W.R.A. center is much higher than here, officers eat with the evacuees and live in similar barracks, and they have a program of merit appointment to positions rather than the haphazard job which has been done here. Everyone is first interviewed, then placed where his qualifications indicate. College grads & students are given preference – in the simultaneous placing of so many people, such an arbitrary distinction although not entirely fair is necessary.

The barracks there are two feet above the sand and dust – 70’ x 120’ divided into six apartments from 20’ x 16’ to 20’ x 25’ to be used by families of varying size. The ceilings are only seven feet high, the insides of the rooms are insulated with 3/8” fiberboard, and closets are built into each room. Each block consisting of 12 barracks has one mess hall, one building containing showers, lavatories, and laundry, and one recreation hall. Thus each mess hall would accommodate about 300 – 400 as compared to the 450 average fed in here. Hope that we don’t have to stand in line there – 100+ heat in summer to 25º heat in mid-winter with the thermometer wavering between the two. Quite a change!

August 30, 1942

Three guesses to where I am. Hope – not Idaho – guess again! No, it isn’t Puyallup, nor is it Oberlin! I am gradually getting acclimated to the mid-California weather here at the Merced Assembly Center, Merced, California. To get back to events in their proper order.

I was writing this letter to you when 11:30 and lunch time rolled around on the 27th – only three days ago, but what hectic, nerve-wrecking days. Just as I came out of the mess hall well-filled, Beth Sugura rushed up with a pass for two of us – Bill Mimbu and myself – to see Mr. McGovern, center manager. We walked over wondering what the Army wanted with us – settled ourselves in his office, and McG. calmly announced that we would be leaving on the 4:58 p.m. train. I looked at my watch – it was just noon. I was thunderstruck where? – Merced, California and then to Granada, Colorado, W.R.A. center. What a blow? Could I do anything to resist? Was I so powerless as to submit meekly and passively? What could I do? Anything. Sane thought was impossible – a feeling of futility, then a dogged determination to carry thru.

What a sad parting!!! Those 4 1/2 hours were among the most hectic in my life!!! As I left, my vision was blurred and my eyes stung. So long illegible, So long Wall – goodbye all – the last of Puyallup Assembly Center and maybe the boys girls in there for the duration!!! I was so numbed I wasn’t fully aware of the significance of the whole thing. Bill Mimbu & family were transferred to Stockton Assembly Center and will eventually wind up in Arkansas.

The train ride down was tiring, but I had a chance to collect my bearings. I couldn’t help feeling that we were on a pleasure trip – not a one way ride. To mingle freely once again with people – only a civilian guard watching us! The reality became more & more forceful as we approached Merced half way between Stockton & Fresno on “99.” It was midnight when we got off the train – 2:30a.m. when we finally hit the hay.

I’m living for a few days here at A-1-8, but by the time this letter reaches you I’ll be in Colorado. This camp starts moving on the first of September, and I was able to get into the first group to depart – we leave here on the morning of the 1st at 11 a.m. and arrive at the Granada WRS Center, Granada, Colorado, on the 3rd at 2 p.m. Granada is about 250 miles southeast of Denver near the intersection of the boundaries of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado close to the Arkansas River. This center will be the smallest of the WRA sites including only 7,500 residents. The 4,600 from here will be reinforced by 2,000 or more from the West Los Angeles group at Santa Anita.

My general impressions of camp are still subject to change. There is plenty of room here, better quality residences and facilities than Puyallup – but too damn warm. The people here are from various parts of California, and naturally rivalries have sprung up. Included here are Merced County, Turlock, Stockton County, Marin County, some from San Francisco, Yolo County, Yuba City, Livingston, Walnut Grove – quite a cosmopolitan group of farmers. It is getting warmer & warmer, only 12:30, and my sisters are too hot to do any work. But the people here think nothing of it !!!

The young people in here are not cold, but not easy to get acquainted with, either. Very few however been around – very backward in many respects. This at least has its good points for we do not have the notorious California rowdies. There seem to be plenty of attractive girls, but how do I get started? They had a dance last night – almost all the girls had dates, and then the terrific male stag line. I didn’t have a chance! It’s an interesting observation that girls who catch my eye at first glance resemble some good friends of mine upon a closer scrutiny. Is it the tie with the friends which attracts - part of my being still living in the past? Or is it the girls whom I know were attractive anyway? I cut in quite a few times – girls & boys down here seem to dance a different style. And there’s plenty of rhumbaing & jitterbugging. And how some of these girls dance. They seem to take delight in leaning backwards when dancing – and leading with (you know what). That seems to be just the way they dance. Not bad or anything. Give me a little more time to make observations.

As far as my school plans go, another reversal has occurred & I’ll have to change my view. Tom Bodine gave me a Sp.Del. letter from Frisco today – the Army G.2 (Intelligence) has refused to grant me permission to leave camp. The reason is unknown – I’ll wait until I’m at a WRA Center before pushing my case forward. Tom has two theories as to why I am not being permitted to get out – (1) my C.O. stand. (2) my connection with the Pacific Cable from which I cut out the article by Gordy I was planning to enclose. Personally I think it is the second. If so, influential men will back me up and try to prove the publication not subversive according to Tom. If this gets worse, I’m going to court & apply for a writ of habeas corpus. They can’t deny me privileges which other evacuees can get without a d___ good reason.

Please write to me whenever you can at the Granada WRA center, Granada Colo. Without friends – in an unknown camp – letters will be more interesting and looked forward to than ever. I’ll still try to push my chances of getting out. Good luck – until Xmas vacation.