Oldest remaining survivor of Japanese American concentration camps passes away

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ICONIC PHOTO — Fumiko Nishinaka Hayashida holds her 13-month-old daughter Natalie as she waits with other Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island at the Eagledale Ferry Landing to be taken off Bainbridge and sent to a concentration camp in March 1942. photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry-Seattle Post Intelligencer Collection

 

ICONIC PHOTO — Fumiko Nishinaka Hayashida holds her 13-month-old daughter Natalie as she waits with other Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island at the Eagledale Ferry Landing to be taken off Bainbridge and sent to a concentration camp in March 1942.  photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry-Seattle Post Intelligencer Collection
ICONIC PHOTO — Fumiko Nishinaka Hayashida holds her 13-month-old daughter Natalie as she waits with other Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island at the Eagledale Ferry Landing to be taken off Bainbridge and sent to a concentration camp in March 1942.
photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry-Seattle Post Intelligencer Collection

Fumiko Nishinaka Hayashida, the oldest living survivor of the first group of Japanese Americans who were taken to concentration camps from Bainbridge at the start of World War II, died Nov. 2, 2014.

She was 103.

Hayashida became the symbol of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during the war after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a photograph of her holding her baby at the Eagledale Ferry Landing where the first group of Japanese Americans were removed from Bainbridge Island just four months after Pearl Harbor. The image was published around the world, and nearly 13,000 Japanese Americans were eventually sent to camps.

“It certainly gave her some notoriety, and gave her a lot of opportunities to speak out after that,” said Natalie Hayashida Ong, her daughter and the baby in the famous photograph.

“She was never political; she wasn’t an activist. She just happened to be thrust into that arena because of that picture.” 

Known to her friends as “Fumi,”  Fumiko Nishinaka Hayashida was born on Bainbridge Island on Jan. 21, 1911.

She was the middle child in a family with six children. Her parents, Tomokichi and Tomoye Nishinaka, came to the United States in the 1890s, first living in California before moving to Bainbridge.

The family grew strawberries on their 80-acre farm, and she graduated from high school on Bainbridge. She married Saburo Hayashida in 1938, another strawberry farmer on the island, when she was 28.

She was the mother of two young children at the start of World War II, Neal and Natalie, and was pregnant with her third when the war began on Dec. 7, 1941.

Hayashida later recalled her shock and anger about the attack at Pearl Harbor, when she testified in 2006 before a congressional committee in Washington, D.C. as Congress considered creating a memorial on Bainbridge Island to mark the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island.

“Like all Americans, I was shocked when I heard the news that Japan had attacked the United States of America at Pearl Harbor. I remember that day very well. It was a quiet Sunday morning. Our family was gathered at home reading the Sunday paper, when my brother-in-law ran into our house and said, ‘Did you hear, the war has started. Japan has attacked America.’

“My first reaction was of disbelief and anger. I wondered to myself: What is wrong with Japan? I was so mad at Japan. I thought that Japan must know that they can’t win a war against America. I did not know much about Japan, but I knew that we were a much stronger country.

“My disgust soon changed to fear, for I realized that I now had the face of the enemy. I was very scared of what people might want to do to us. Rumors began to fly. Will we be arrested? Will angry people come and vandalize our homes, ruin our farms, or do us bodily harm?

“My fears started to come true. The government started coming to our homes, looking through our possessions, confiscating some items and asking lots of questions. Because some families wanted to show to the government people that they were patriotic Americans, they sadly destroyed many cherished and valuable family heirlooms and possessions — some passed down from several generations — that looked too ‘Japanese.’” 

She recalled how the government came and began taking away relatives from the island, and then, in March 1942, when Army soldiers came to the island to begin the forced removal of Japanese Americans. They were given six days to attend to their affairs before they would be forcibly relocated to camps.

“On the morning of March 30, 1942, the Army trucks rounded us up with soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets. We could only take what we could carry or wear, so we layered up our clothes and had to make hard choices on what items we could fit into a single suitcase,”  she recalled in her testimony to Congress. “My daughter Natalie was only 13 months old, so I also had to carry her as well.” 

A photographer from the Seattle PI took her photograph as she waited at the Eagledale Ferry Dock, in the first group of 227 forcibly removed, and was taken to Seattle and then boarded a train for California and the camp at Manzanar.

After about a year, her family moved with other Bainbridge forcibly relocated residents to the Minidoka concentration camp in southern Idaho, where they stayed until the war ended and they were set free.

When the family finally returned to Bainbridge, they found they had lost everything. They tried to farm again, she recalled, but eventually moved to Seattle after her husband got a job at Boeing and the long ferry and bus ride to work proved to be too much.

Hayashida later recalled her experiences during the war in classrooms, at conferences, and then in Congress, and was honored by the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League five years ago for raising awareness about the forced relocation of Japanese American citizens during the war.

Her daughter said Hayashida enjoyed her visit to the nation’s capital as momentum grew to create the Bainbridge memorial, and was pleased to help cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony when it opened.

Her fondness for her home never faded, her daughter said. “She loved Bainbridge Island,”  she said.

Plans for a memorial service are still pending, according to her family, but a celebration of life service was held Nov. 16 in Seattle.

 

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