Life Interrupted....

Photo: Haruye "Hankus" Nagata (Poston 308-8-C) looks at old photos as she recalls the people she met at an internment camp in Arizona during World War II. Photo credit: Jason Medhill, the Reedley Exponent.

Japanese Americans to receive honorary degrees from Reedley College
By Jason Mahill
Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One former student and family members of several others will accept honorary degrees Friday at Reedley College graduation ceremonies. All are Japanese Americans whose education was interrupted in 1942 when they were uprooted and relocated to internment camps following President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

This order gave broad authority to military leaders to relocate anyone in the United States to designated internment camps if they were suspected of being a threat to national security. While the United States was at war with Germany, Italy and Japan during the Second World War, the order impacted fewer than 15,000 people of German and Italian heritage.

The largest impact of this executive order was to the Japanese-American community, numbering about 110,000 people nationwide.

One such person who will accept a degree on behalf of her late younger brother, Masayuki Nakamura, is Haruye “Hankus” Nagata. In 1942, Nagata’s family was uprooted from its Reedley ranch and relocated to Posten (Poston) Internment Camp in Arizona.
Nagata remembers that her brother Masayuki (Nakamura) was 17 at the time the executive order was issued and, as a gifted student, was a young college sophomore.

“While at Great Western, he finished second and third grades in one year,” said Nagata. “After the war he graduated from UCLA, spent a few years farming and later worked in real estate. He was a sophomore at Reedley College when we had to leave and go to the camps. It was hard.”

Nagata was 19 years old when she and her (Nakamura) family left Reedley, leaving behind a ranch they were not sure they would see again.

“When the orders came, people were very discouraged and depressed,” said Nagata. “We were being uprooted from our homes and we didn’t know where we were going or what the camps were like, but it was orders from the government, so we had no choice.”

From 1942-1945, the peak population of the Posten camp reached approximately 17,000. As a community slightly smaller than the size of present-day Reedley, internees found work within the camp similar to occupations they held at home.

A newspaper, the Posten Chronicle, was started at the camps to publish the news of the camp and keep residents informed of the news regarding the war and family members serving overseas.

While there were also opportunities to get work off camp, many of the young men sent to the internment camps volunteered for military service when recruiters came to the camps. Nagata’s brother, Masayuki (Nakamura), volunteered with the Army and began his service in Virginia. Once finished with basic training, he served most of his time in Minnesota working in intelligence since he could fluently speak Japanese.

“When the recruiters came to the camps, many of the older people were against any military service to the country,” said Nagata. “Many people in the camps were immigrants or born citizens of this country. Either way, this country is our home and the older people felt betrayed. My brother and many of the young men wanted to serve in the Army before the order came out and being sent to the camps did not change that.”

One of the most difficult things the family had to face was the failing health of Nagata’s mother.

“My mother (Shizu Nakamura, Poston 308-8-C) really suffered because of her health,” said Nagata. “Before being sent to the camps she spent some time at the San Anselma Hospital in the Bay Area. She had tuberculosis of the intestine, which I think was cancer. She needed a special liquid diet that she could not get at the camp and eventually she passed away in August of 1944.”

Returning home for many internees was difficult and many found they had no home when they were released in 1945.

For Nagata’s (Nakamura) family, returning home to Reedley was in part feasible because of the support given to them by friends and neighbors. A neighbor at the time, Lorence Segrue, leased the family ranch during the war and kept the property up until the family’s return. In addition to this, friends from the Mennonite Church kept in close contact with the interned families and visited Posten when possible to bring care packages and other needed items, said Nagata.

On Friday night, former student Betty Jane Nakashima (Poston 326-14-CD) will be present to receive her honorary degree.

Family members will accept degrees on behalf of these former students: Yoneko Ashida (Poston 305-5-B), Fumiko Hamada, Megumi Betty Hamada, Tsugio Hamada, Masayuki Nakamura (Poston 308-8-C), Aiko Sasaki (Poston 318), Mineto Shimizu (Poston 318-9-C), Mitsue Shimizu (Poston 318-9-C), Taky Yamada (Poston 309-11-A) and Max Yano.

Commencement ceremonies will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Reedley College, on the south lawn near the gymnasium.

[Note: The newswriter spelled 'Poston' incorrectly in this article.]

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