Held back by WWII internment, she's getting her degree
May 24, 2011By Andrew Galvin / The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA – In February, Margaret (Funakoshi) Masuoka (Poston block 328) saw a newspaper article saying that Santa Ana College was looking for 1940s students whose educations were interrupted when they were forced to enter internment camps.
A 2009 state law requires California's public colleges and universities to grant honorary degrees to any student of Japanese American descent who was forcibly removed and incarcerated during World War II.
Margaret Funakoshi Masuoka at the assisted living center in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, David.
Masuoka, who was studying botany in 1942 when she and her family were sent to a camp in Poston, Arizona (block 328), phoned the college and left her name. She won't be getting an honorary degree, however. On Friday, she'll receive the actual associate degree she earned 69 years ago.
In early 1942, when she learned that she was going to be interned, Masuoka spoke with her professors and arranged to complete her studies by correspondence. She had a typewriter at the camp, which she used to write term papers as desert winds blew in through holes in the wood floor, she said.
"I did study in the camp and sent in the papers," Masuoka, 89, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco, where she lives. "Nobody ever wrote back. I never knew whether they arrived or not."
Apparently, the term papers reached their destination, because college records showed she earned her degree, said Judy Iannaccone, a college spokeswoman. In fact, the college wasn't looking for her; its search was focused on students who hadn't completed their studies.
Before the war, Masuoka's family owned the Flower View Nursery and Flower Shop at 1522 S. Main St. in Santa Ana, near St. Anne's Catholic Church.
After a year in the camp, Masuoka was allowed to leave with her parents. She went to Colorado and did domestic work, cooking for five people. In January 1944, she married David Masuoka, whom she'd met before the war at a church conference on Balboa Island. He'd been studying pharmacy at USC before being interned with his family at Gila River, Ariz.
David Masuoka was drafted into the U.S. Army, assigned to a military intelligence unit and trained at Fort Snelling, Minn., to serve as a Japanese-language translator. He served a year in Japan before returning to USC to finish his studies and pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology. The couple settled in Los Angeles and raised their two children.
"Every time I heard a graduation march, I would say that's something I never got to do," said Margaret Masuoka.
On Friday evening, she will, along with 1,800 other Santa Ana College graduates at a commencement ceremony at Eddie West Field, 602 N. Flower St., in Santa Ana.
The college will also award 20 honorary degrees, some of them posthumously, under the California Nisei College Diploma Project. Among those who lived long enough to be honored are Masao Frank Masuda, 93, of Fountain Valley, and Kazuo Nobuko Sato, 89, of Tustin.
Masuda was working on his family's farm in Fountain Valley and studying at night at Santa Ana College in 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The order was used to forcibly relocate more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to camps. Masuda's family was sent to a camp in Jerome, Ark. After about a year, he was allowed to leave. He got a job as an auto mechanic in Evanston, Ill.
He, too, was later drafted into the Army and trained at Fort Snelling. He served as an interpreter at the 519th Military Police Battalion in Yokohama, Japan.
After the war, Masuda returned to the farm in Fountain Valley, which the family sold in 1974 as housing developments intruded. He now lives a couple of miles from the old farm site. He's been married for 63 years and has two children.
"We're very honored," he said, about receiving the degree.
Margaret Masuoka remembered that shortly after she left college, her family was being held at a temporary relocation center at Santa Anita race track in Arcadia. One of her botany professors, J. Russell Bruff, came to visit her.
She and Bruff were forced to talk through a barbed wire fence because she wasn't allowed out of the camp.
"He handed me something between the fence," she said. It was a small magnifying glass in a case. He told her to take it to the desert to look at flowers and plants.
"It was so nice of him," she said. "That was what really hurt this professor. He saw us hanging on the fence, and we couldn't even step outside.
"And what did we do wrong? We were citizens who were born here. And they put us into a concentration camp."