SEPARATED BY AMERICA’S WWII CONCENTRATION CAMPS: Japanese dolls reunite friends after 70 years

REUNITED — After 70 years, childhood friends Marianne Rikimaru Breakfield and Beverly Pond Thornton (seated left to right) were reunited.  Ruth Palmer Mayfield, Martin Palmer and Patt Ladd are pictured standing, from left to right. The Palmers lived next door to the Rikimarus in Sacramento during World War II. At the long-awaited reunion, Ladd (left) shared old photos with Breakfield.

REUNITED — After 70 years, childhood friends Marianne Rikimaru Breakfield and Beverly Pond Thornton (seated left to right) were reunited.
Ruth Palmer Mayfield, Martin Palmer and Patt Ladd are pictured standing, from left to right. The Palmers lived next door to the Rikimarus in Sacramento during World War II. At the long-awaited reunion, Ladd (left) shared old photos with Breakfield.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The childhood friendship of 10-year-old Beverly Pond and Marianne Rikimaru, coupled with Pond’s kindness and perseverance, triumphed over a 70-year separation when the two finally reunited in Sacramento on Dec. 1 after decades of searching. Pond, whose married name is Thornton, could finally return the three sets of Japanese dolls her family held for safekeeping when the Rikimarus were forcibly removed from their home and sent to Tule Lake, Calif., one of the camps imprisoning some 120,000 innocent persons of Japanese descent in 1942.

Through a fierce down-pouring storm, daughter Angela Roland and granddaughter Nicole drove 80-year-old Marianne Rikimaru, whose married name is Breakfield, to the much-anticipated reunion with her childhood friend, now also 80.

Eighty-six year old Martin Palmer and 79-year-old Ruth Palmer Mayfield, brother and sister who had lived next door to the Rikimarus, also joined with the former neighbors of 44th Street at Fruitridge Road in Sacramento. Neither had seen their old friend in more than 70 years.

Beverly described at the reunion how Emiko “Daisy” Rikimaru, Marianne’s mother, gave the three sets of porcelain Japanese display dolls to the Pond family as they packed up their belongings for the concentration camp.

Twila Tomita, Florin Japanese American Citizens League chapter historian, shared the meaning of the dolls often given to daughters for Japanese Girl’s Day, and how they’re passed down from generation to generation. They’re a key link in family history and Japanese American culture. Marianne said she now could pass the dolls (a farm couple, an oxen-drawn cart and a noble couple) to her daughter and granddaughter.

Beverly fondly recalled how she and Marianne walked to Fruitridge Elementary School together. Marianne remembered eating at the school cafeteria, where Beverly’s mother worked.

They got along fine in their little neighborhood of a few homes amid the abundant Japanese American strawberry fields. When asked why they connected, especially in those troubled times of prejudice and fear, Martin Palmer replied simply, “We were friends.”

Beverly told Marianne that she learned from her parents, “My mom, your mom too, respected everybody.”

She remembered that they went to the Rikimaru home to celebrate the birthday of Marianne’s baby brother, Carroll. They ate Japanese food on long tables in the front yard.

Martin Palmer added, “When we ate at their (Rikimaru) house, we used chopsticks. When they ate at our house, we used silverware.”

Ruth Palmer Mayfield shared at the Dec. 1 reunion, “They (the Rikimarus) were the sweetest family.” She passed around an old photo of the Rikimaru, Palmer and Pond families, together in the 1940s.

When the Rikimarus needed to report to the train station in Elk Grove to leave for Tule Lake, the Palmers drove them. Martin Palmer recalled his parents driving three Japanese American families there to be imprisoned, following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066.