Unusual school reunion set this weekend Internment camp alumni will meetBy Helen Gao
STAFF WRITER SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
MISSION VALLEY – Ben Segawa was 11 years old when his family was forced from its Chula Vista home to an internment camp in the Arizona desert known as Poston III. The camp south of Parker closed 6 decades ago, but Segawa's recollections of the 3½ years he spent there remain vivid.
Many Poston III internees are gathering for a reunion this weekend in San Diego. About 400 people are expected at the Doubletree Hotel in Mission Valley, where organizers also have mounted a free exhibit. The exhibit features medals awarded to Japanese-American servicemen during World War II, photographs of life in Poston III and artwork made by internees, among other artifacts.
The reunion centers around alumni of Parker Valley Junior-Senior High School, which served the camp's children. The Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego organized the event.
Segawa, an active member of the historical society who now lives in Bonita, entered Parker Valley as a 6th-grader & left as a 10th-grader. His family of 12 lived in two small barracks that sat on raised foundations. The structures were built with wood that did not hold up well in the desert heat, Segawa said. "The wind would blow under the barracks," he said. "The sand came up through the openings. Not only the sand, but insects. The area was crawling with scorpions. Every morning before we put clothes on, we had to shake them out to make sure there were no insects in them."
While living conditions were harsh, many memories of the camp are positive.Internees forged lifelong friendships.
Barbara Washler Curry of Lawrence, Kansas, who taught at Poston III fresh out of college, recalled her time there fondly. Now 85, Curry's hair is silver, and she uses a walker. Several of her former students came up to hug her as she reminisced yesterday. "I loved being there. I loved the people. I loved the students. I loved the parents," Curry said, noting that her students were well-behaved and "everybody had a wonderful sense of humor."
The camp had Boy Scout & Girl Scout troops. Students organized dances & formed sports teams.
Samuel Yamaguchi, then 21, was held at Poston III internment camp in Arizona during World War II. He joined the Army, was wounded in combat in Italy & earned a Purple Heart.
Samuel Yamaguchi, 84, whose family was farming in Pacific Beach before the internment, found a sense of belonging at Poston III. Growing up in Pacific Beach, Yamaguchi had no Japanese friends. "I was better off with my own people because there was no prejudice with your own people," he said. Yamaguchi was supposed to graduate from La Jolla High School in 1942 but had to leave before graduation for the internment camp. He later volunteered to join the Army, was wounded in combat in Italy & earned a Purple Heart. "I wanted to prove that the Japanese were good Americans," Yamaguchi said.
About 120,000 Japanese-Americans were interned shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. As many as 18,000 were sent to the three Poston camps.
Segawa said the internment made him keenly aware of "the fact that people looked at me differently than other Americans." He said his dream is for the United States to become a color-blind society.