Finding Poston's Girl Scouts

An Arizona historian’s search to identify Girl Scouts in a black and white photo from a World War II internment camp reunites a group of women over six decades later. 

By Nalea J. Ko, Reporter

Pacific Citizen Newspaper
Published Feb, 4, 2010

After over six decades, certain memories from Marion (Nakamura) Masada’s (Poston 211-1-B) time at the Poston internment camp in Arizona have faded from her mind. She remembers munching popcorn and staying up late the night before her family was forced from their home and incarcerated behind barbed wire.

The identification number 13141 that was assigned to her family was burned into her memory by her mother, who feared that her children would become lost in the identical barrack housing.  But the 78-year-old can’t recall other details of being incarcerated like the trip from her family home in Salinas, Calif. to the camp.

Other memories of camp life during World War II were preserved in time through photos Masada kept over the years. She eventually settled down in Fresno, Calif.
One of those black and white photos was of 12-year-old Masada, her Girl Scout troop and leader from the Poston II internment camp.

On the back on the photograph the scouts scrawled their names next to the date, 1945. Those names would become key information to Arizona historian, Nancy Buell, who had been researching different Girl Scout troops for years. It would also serve to reunite a group of Japanese American women over six decades later.

“It was just the most wonderful feeling,” Masada explained about hearing from some of the women, who were pictured in the 1945 Girl Scout photo. “I had always in my heart wanted to locate and hear about what happened to their lives.”

After hearing from Buell, who was conducting research for the Girls Scouts 100th anniversary in 2012, Masada put a notice in Asian Pacific American publications to locate the scouts. The notice, published in tandem with Masada’s Girl Scout troop photo, requested help in locating those in the image. Friends and relatives contacted many of the Girl Scouts soon after the photo was published.

“There’s so many people sending me these articles,” explained former Girl Scout Sally Hirai, 77, a Washington state resident. “I’m the one in the pigtails. I must have been mad that day [laughs].”

With the assistance of other community members, the notice would eventually help locate the nine Girl Scouts and leader pictured in Masada’s photo. Many used the opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances. “We talked for over an hour. We haven’t talked for over 65 years, or more,” said 77-year-old Jane “Teiko” Oka about speaking with Masada over the phone.

Looking at the photographed faces from her past, Masada recounted the stories she heard about each woman after reconnecting with them. Two of the former scouts,
Akiko Nakagawa and Mayumi Yasumoto (their maiden names), had previously died. Masada explained that the leader, Momoko Iwakiri, was believed to be in a nursing home in Texas. 

The search for the identity of the Girl Scouts began with Buell, who wanted to document their experiences in the troop. Buell says every internment camp had Girl Scout troops. But each Girl Scout has a different story to tell, she says. “As many as I can talk to the better,” Buell said. “It’s a continuing puzzle.” But like Masada many of the other Girl Scouts say their memories of the troop are limited.

“We weren’t very active so I guess that was one of the reasons,” said May Sasao, 77, who now lives in San Jose, Calif. “We really didn’t do that much while we were in camp. I remember going for a hike, but I don’t remember any major projects we did or anything like that.”

The details about their time in the Girl Scouts are a little fuzzy. But most remember the troop going on a hiking trip to the Colorado River and getting lost. Oka recalls another hiking trip to the mesas.  Buell was interested in learning how the Poston Girl Scouts
 obtained their uniforms. But each Girl Scout had a different theory. Some thought their mothers sewed the uniforms. “We had to buy them. I think they ordered it at Sears or Montgomery Ward,” said 78-year-old Nancy “Nobuko” Mukai.

“I don’t know whether we had to buy our uniforms — we probably did,” Oka explained. “I was looking at the photograph and I thought ‘Oh, my God! My parents had to buy that. They were earning $156 a month!”

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, some 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals were incarcerated beginning in 1942. Poston was comprised of three different camps, which were built along the Colorado River Indian Reservation.
At Poston, which was operated by the War Relocation Center, internees were used as laborers. Some 18,000 internees were housed at Poston, according to the Poston Restoration Project. Detainees were released in 1945.

Those in the Girl Scout troop say the living conditions at Poston were cramped and dusty. 

“I remember how hot it was. We got sick when we first rode the train. We were from Salinas,” said 78-year-old Kaye “Kuni” Nakayama. “They had scorpions and rattlesnakes. Things like that I remember.”

Most of the former Girl Scouts say they joined the troop to occupy their time at camp.
“I know we made origami for the popcorn to sell. We used to sell those,” Mukai said, who added that they did not sell cookies then. “I used to take care of my grandma so she would give me her share.”

Some of the former Girl Scouts say they have kept in contact with a few of the other women from their troop. Masada hopes to hold a reunion for all of the former Poston Girl Scouts in her troop. “I’m going to suggest that we meet in San Jose,” Masada explained. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Having reconnected with her old Poston camp acquaintances, Masada has been adding her fellow Girl Scouts’ contact information in her new address book.  “If you saw my address book now, it’s a mess,” Masada explained. “I bought myself a new one. I’ve been little by little sticking in addresses in my book. So I have three address books now [laughs].”

Source: http://www.pacificcitizen.org/site/Default.aspx?tabid=55&selectmoduleid=373&ArticleID=779&reftab=36&title=Finding_Poston%E2%80%99s_Girl_Scouts

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