Untold stories of Tule Lake Segregation Center unveiled at pilgrimage


ON THE WALL — A sample of penciled writings on Brodie Bettandorf’s garage walls, which was once a Tule Lake barrack.

The 2010 Tule Lake Pilgrimage had the apt theme of “Sharing the Untold Stories of Tule Lake,” as more former Tuleans participated in the four-day pilgrimage, many for the first time.

Close to 330 people participated in this year’s pilgrimage on the Fourth of July weekend, with more than 60 of them over the age of 80.

The Tule Lake Committee set the tone with Barbara Takei focusing her welcoming address on the controversial loyalty questionnaire that was used by the government to separate alleged disloyals from the alleged loyal Japanese Americans.

The two critical questions on the questionnaires were numbers 27 and 28. Anyone who answered anything but a “yes” — even a “yes” with a conditional clause — was shipped to Tule Lake, which became a Segregation Center in 1943.

“The people who were segregated at Tule Lake were 12,000, 10 percent of the imprisoned population,” said Takei. “This is a group that have basically been written out of Japanese American history. Their choices have never been acknowledged as valid, and I think part of the goal of the pilgrimage is to help pilgrims understand the value of that choice, that people made this choice to protest unjust incarceration.”

This year, the Manzanar National Historic Site sent three staff members, including Superintendent Les Inafuku and Rangers Richard Potashin and Nancy Hadlock.

David Kruse, the first superintendent for the newly formed Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, gave an update on their activities.

The Purple Moon Dance Project, a multicultural dance group, performed pieces connected to the camps. Arisika Razak, one of the African American Purple Moon Dance Project performers, said they prepared for their production by talking to former inmates and listening to oral history interviews. This was her first Tule Lake pilgrimage.

“I thought as I was packing my one suitcase for this four-day trip, two days of which were traveling, what is it like to be told that you have one suitcase to carry all your belongings and you don’t know if it’s going to be hot or cold,” said Razak.

Purple Moon Dance Project dedicated a piece to Iwajiro Shimizu, grandfather of Tule Lake Committee President Hiroshi Shimizu.

Iwajiro had been arrested by the FBI on Dec. 8, 1941, and shipped to the Department of Justice camp in Missoula, Mont. After Hiroshi’s parents agreed to expatriate to Japan, the grandfather was reunited with the family at the Topaz concentration camp in Central Utah.

Tule Lake Committee President Hiroshi Shimizu introduces Bettandorf to participants of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage.

The family had been set to board the first Gripsholm ship transporting hostage exchanges with Japan, but Hiroshi was born and the family did not think the mother or the new baby could make the trip. When the Gripsholm came around a second time, the family traveled to Ellis Island. While they were put on a waiting list, they were not placed on the ship. As a result, they were sent to the Rohwer, Ark. War Relocation Authority camp and then to Tule Lake.

By December 1943, Hiroshi’s father, Iwao Shimizu, was in the Tule Lake stockade. It is unknown why Iwao was in the stockade but he had been teaching the Japanese language to high school students.

Among the memories Hiroshi has of his grandfather was him bathing Hiroshi in the winter of 1945, just before his grandfather tried to commit suicide.

“The image is very strong of the bath he gave me,” said Shimizu. “It was in one of those wrought iron tubs. And this is kind of weird, but I remember thinking it would be funny if I peed and I did. Then I remember him getting really flustered and that he had to throw the water out. When he did, there was snow outside.”

After this incident, Hiroshi recalled that his grandfather disappeared. Years later, Hiroshi ordered his family’s records from the National Archives and found that his grandfather had tried to commit suicide by drinking gasoline that December 1945. His grandfather was eventually moved to the Napa State Hospital, where he passed away in either January or February of 1946. Hiroshi is unsure how his grandfather died.

In piecing together his family’s unspoken history, Hiroshi believes his grandfather became distraught when he learned he was being released from Tule Lake while the rest of his family remained incarcerated indefinitely.

“All of a sudden I saw the picture,” said Shimizu. “Here was this guy, 70 years old, with no income, no savings, no place to go, no family to rely on, and he’s going to be sent back into the world, so what’s he going to do?”

Hiroshi’s Kibei parents had also renounced their U.S. citizenship but Hiroshi discovered this indirectly. “I was aware of it because not having citizenship prevented my father from returning to Japan with his father’s ashes,” said Shimizu.

Since the Tule Lake Committee had held three back-to-back pilgrimages, they offered an alternative site tour this year, led by Terry Harris, National Park Service chief ranger/chief of interpretation for Lava Beds National Monument and Tule Lake National Monument.

The tour route included a visit to Petroglyph Point, which has the largest collection of tribal rock art in the United States. Harris said they also have discovered Japanese writings carved into the stone in certain areas.

“Basically from the writings and information from some folks who have actually read the individual names that are on there, and from comparing those names with a list of names with folks that stayed at the [Tule Lake] facility, we know it’s been done by people interned there,” said Harris.

Harris assumes the carvings were made during the pre-segregation era of Tule Lake, but would like anyone with more information to contact him.

The tour also visited Keintpuash’s Stronghold, better known by his Anglo name of Captain Jack. The site was the battleground of the 1872-1873 Modoc War, the only Indian war fought in California.

Similar to the way Nisei renunciants refused to accept incarceration, Keintpuash led a band of Modocs off the government reservation and returned to his tribal land, which was being overrun by European settlers. After several battles, the warriors were captured and Keintpuash and three other warriors were hung.

Another tour stop was Brodie Bettandorf’s garage, which had been a former Tule Lake barrack. Japanese writings are penciled in all along Bettandorf’s garage walls and a metal triangle, most likely used in the mess hall, hung from one wall.

Bettandorf’s relationship with Tule Lake started when he started farming on the former campsite 20 years ago.

“I’d be farming out there and somebody would stop by, and I’d say, ‘Can I help you,?’” said Bettandorf, recalling how he met former Tuleans. “They might say something like, ‘Well, we’re looking for the camp.’ I’d tell them, ‘You’re on it.’”

A Few Tulean Stories

Kiyoshi Fujiwara, 88, a Kibei, learned English at Tule Lake. He had spent 12 years in Hiroshima and had joined his father in the U.S. in 1940 when the war broke out.

“When I got off the boat in San Francisco, the only thing I understood the inspector asking me was my name,” said Fujiwara. “I learned my English during the four years in camp. At Tule Lake, I hung around with the Nisei.”

When Tule Lake became a Segregation Center, Fujiwara’s father decided they should return to Hiroshima since Fujiwara’s sister was there. “I renounced in order to go back to Hiroshima,” said Fujiwara. “You had to renounce to return.”

Fujiwara and his father, however, did not return to Hiroshima. His uncle wrote to them, saying the city was devastated by the atomic bomb and for them not to return. Later, he also learned that half his schoolmates had been killed by the atomic bomb.

In order to regain his U.S. citizenship, Fujiwara enlisted the help of Wayne Collins and Tetsujiro “Tex” Nakamura.

“I signed up to regain my citizenship through Wayne Collins,” said Fujiwara. “I think it cost me $300. I probably got the money through my dad. We had communication to Mr. Collins through Mr. Nakamura. I think Mr. Nakamura was the main go-between.”

Although Kazumi Shintani had visited the Tule Lake campsite on his own about 10 years ago, this was his first pilgrimage. Daughter Judy Shintani accompanied him.

“My dad has told me a little about camp, but I’m hoping this will encourage him to share more,” said Judy. “I think he’s heard a lot at the inter-generational groups where children of the internees and grandchildren are starved for information, so I’m hoping this will keep percolating in his mind and that he’ll think about sharing more.”

The father was born in Shelton, Wash., but his parents moved to Poulsbo, Wash., where they farmed oysters. Because the family had to work during the night due to the ocean tides, they were under constant surveillance by the nearby naval station.

“They would come by and put their search lights on our house,” said Shintani. “It didn’t make you feel good but other than that, they didn’t bother us.”

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Shintani’s father was picked up by the FBI and sent to the Department of Justice camp in Missoula, Mont.

Meanwhile, an army truck came to the Shintani home and picked them up, along with Nikkei from Bainbridge Island and Vashon Island, in Washington. They were placed on the ferry and shipped to Brownsville, near Seattle, and on to the Pinedale Assembly Center near Fresno, Calif. From Pinedale, the family was placed into Tule Lake.

Because Shintani was underage, he did not have to answer the controversial questionnaire, but his older brother, Mitsuo, answered “no-no” and ended up renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Although Shintani never asked his late brother why he renounced, he believes his brother was pressured into renouncing.

Asa Hanamoto, 87, lived in Auburn, Calif. before the war. Once war broke out, his family was sent directly to Tule Lake, where they lived in Block 44. There, Hanamoto recalled that one person kept pressuring others to answer “no-no” on the questionnaire.

Hanamoto’s family answered, “yes-yes,” and they were sent to Jerome, Ark., while Hanamoto joined the Military Intelligence Service. During his furlough from Fort Snelling, Minn., Hanamoto visited his parents.

“When I went to Jerome, I saw the agitator from Block 44 from Tule Lake there,” said Hanamoto. “I think he was a leader of a group, but for some reason, he got out. He must’ve answered ‘yes-yes,’ although he was a ‘no-no’ proponent. I thought what is this guy doing here? It makes you wonder.”

Takeshi and Carolyn Furumoto flew out from New Jersey to attend their first pilgrimage.

Before the war, Takeshi’s father ran Oka Produce on 11th Street in San Pedro, Calif. The father lost his business after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Furumoto family was sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, Rohwer WRA camp and then to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, where Takeshi was born.

The Furumoto family was deported to Japan in December 1945 on the USS Gordon. They went to their ancestral home of Hiroshima and witnessed the aftermath of the atomic bomb devastation. In order to make ends meet, Takeshi’s father held three jobs.

Takeshi noted that under-aged children whose parents had renounced their U.S. citizenship were given a choice as to remain in Japan or return to the U.S. when they reached the age of 20. When Takeshi’s two oldest sisters reached 20, they returned to the U.S.

Eventually, the entire Furumoto family returned to the U.S. The family lived in South Los Angeles, which many consider a rough area, but Takeshi said it was nothing compared to Hiroshima.

“Japan was hell,” said Takeshi. “Especially Hiroshima.”

Although wife Carolyn was born after camp, her parents were married in Tule Lake and were both from Hiroshima. Carolyn’s parents have not returned to Tule Lake since the war.

“I told my mother she’d be free if she attended the pilgrimage this year, but she said she had no interest,” said Carolyn. “She wants to forget.”

Teruo Ishihara, 83, traveled from Arizona to attend his Tri-State High School Class of 1945 reunion, held in conjunction with the pilgrimage. Before the war, he lived in Tacoma, Wash. Once war broke out, the family was sent to the Pinedale Assembly Center and then to Tule Lake.

Before entering camp, Ishihara’s mother told him to cash in his war bonds. “My mother said I should cash in the war bonds because a country that would do this to me doesn’t deserve my support,” said Ishihara. “So with the money, I bought a lifetime subscription to the Readers’ Digest, which I receive to this day.”

At Tule Lake, Ishihara’s father refused to answer the controversial questionnaire. “If he answered, it would mean he would be a man without a country,” said Ishihara. “So he refused to respond and we were classified as disloyal, but you cannot determine loyalty by questions.”

Yonsei Colin Ehara has a Nikkei father and a Scottish mother. His paternal grandfather was at Gila River, Ariz., while his paternal grandmother was at Topaz (Central Utah).

For his senior thesis project at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he filmed his paternal and maternal grandmothers.

“I did a film where I interviewed both my grandmothers and talked about double consciousness and dual identities because myself, I’m mixed race and multicultural,” said Ehara.

His maternal grandmother, Sidney Brown, was born in Nanjing (formerly Nanking), China, and witnessed Japan’s occupation of the area. As the Japanese Army came closer to Nanking, Chinese soldiers harassed the Brown family for money.

“She tells the story of Chinese soldiers wanting money and because they didn’t have anything, one of the soldiers started loading his gun to shoot her father,” said Ehara. “The soldier dropped the bullets as he’s loading the gun and my great-grandfather kneeled down and picked the bullets up and handed them to him. I guess the gesture was nice enough that the officer decided not to kill him.”

For Shinobu Nimura Alvarez, it took her six decades to return to her birth site.

“I kind of put it in the back of my mind that I was born here but didn’t return because camp was such a stigma and because it caused me a lot of pain when I was a child,” said Nimura Alvarez. “All these years, I kind of negated the fact that I was born here but I finally decided it was time to do some healing.”

For Ken Nomiyama, this was his second pilgrimage. Ken’s parents were sent to the Pinedale Assembly Center and then to Tule Lake where Ken was born. After segregation, the family was shipped to Minidoka, Idaho.

Although Ken’s Kibei father, Don Hiraku, has passed away, Ken keeps in touch with his Kibei uncle, Tetsuo, 94, who was one of the Fort McClellan Disciplinary Barrack Boys (DB Boys) sentenced to the Leavenworth Correctional Institute in Kansas. The DB Boys had disobeyed orders as a protest against the imprisonment of their families in U.S. concentration camps and discrimination within the U.S. Army.

“I’m proud of my uncle for his courage,” said Ken. “He said when they were put in jail, he thought he was going to be put in front of a firing squad or at least, that was one of the possibilities. So he was willing to risk his life for his principle. I have nothing but deep admiration for him.”

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