Ann Curry’s TV series helps childhood friends reunite after seven decades

REUNITED ­— Former “Today” show anchor Ann Curry helped reunite childhood friends Reiko Nagumo (center) and Mary Peters (right) in 2017 for the first time in 72 years. photo  courtesy of Blink Films 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the past 20 years, Reiko Nagumo, a Nisei docent for the California Museum’s Time of Remembrance program, has told her story of how a childhood friendship helped her get through the prejudice she faced during and after World War II. By continuing their friendship against the will of her parents, Nagumo’s friend, Mary Frances White, made her feel “safe and accepted” against the hate.

The children who hear her story are especially impressed by it and they always ask Nagumo, “What happened to Mary Frances?”

Nagumo would tell them that she didn’t know because at some point during sixth grade, shortly after Nagumo returned from the incarceration camps, White “disappeared” from her memory.

That is until summer 2017, when Nagumo reunited with White, now Mary Peters, as a part of the PBS series, “We’ll Meet Again.”

The short series is hosted by former “Today” show anchor Ann Curry, who is also an executive producer for the show.

“The end of the story is not our reunion,” Nagumo said. “The end of the story continues our friendship.”

“We’ll Meet Again” is a six-part series broadcasted on PBS and produced by Blink Films, which is based in London, in partnership with Curry’s media venture. The series reunites people who once knew each other before being separated as a result of historical events.

Nagumo’s episode, titled “Children of WWII,” is shared with the story of Peter Engler, a Jewish man searching for the child of the couple who befriended him while he grew up in a Shanghai Jewish ghetto during World War II. The episode aired Jan. 23 and according to California Museum Executive Director Amanda Meeker, more than two million people watched it.

Knowing that that many people watched the episode, Nagumo said, laughing, “I can’t even figure out how many two million people are.”

The opportunity to find Peters presented itself to Nagumo when the series producer called her from London in February 2017.

He said he heard about her story from a Japanese American producer and offered to help her find Peters if she let them film it. Nagumo agreed almost instantly, and after signing the paperwork, filming began that April.

Accompanied by an assistant producer and a cameraman, the English film crew interviewed and filmed Nagumo in various places, including the Los Angeles neighborhood she grew up in and the Sacramento home she now lives in. They also traveled to the site of the former Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where she and her family were forcibly relocated.

Nagumo said the filmmakers, who knew nothing about the wartime incarceration of some 120,000 persons of Japanese descent, could not get over the fact that there were “hundreds of blacked-out barracks there at one time, now there’s nothing.”

To find Peters, Nagumo met with two genealogy researchers who used the only lead Nagumo had — Peters’ maiden name, White. Eventually, Peters was located in Kentucky. Then the producers arranged their reunion at the Japanese Tea Garden inside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

After 72 years, Nagumo’s moment to thank her childhood friend had come, and the two embraced with a big hug. Nagumo’s niece, who was present for the reunion filming, said that the moment made the film crew cry with them.

“They were really touched by the finale of the story,” Nagumo said. “I was finally able to find her to say thank you for her kindness so many years ago.”

“Meeting her again just brought so much joy in my life, and a lot of tears,” Peter said.

Reiko Nagumo (left) and Mary Peters (right) in 2017 for the first time in 72 years. photos courtesy of Reiko Nagumo

Peters said that, back in the sixth grade, she and her family moved to a different neighborhood where she finished the school year in a different class. She admitted that she “had no idea” the specific reason why Nagumo wanted to meet with her after all these years, nor the impact her acts of kindness had on Nagumo. But when she found out, Peters said it was special.

“It just shows that even a touch of a hand when somebody’s in need, what an impact it has,” Peters said.

Today, Nagumo and Peters continue to keep in touch by way of phone calls and written letters. Peters also plans to attend one of Nagumo’s Time of Remembrance program lessons with her daughter sometime in March.

“(Nagumo) says that she has told the children about our relationship and I know that we can’t touch all of them but even if we can touch a few of them, it might be instrumental in making changes in other people’s lives,” Peters said.

Nagumo said the “We’ll Meet Again” producer was interested in her story not only because it is a story about how two children were separated, but also because the Japanese American incarceration history is not known in England. In addition, Nagumo said that many Americans who saw the crew filming and asked about their project did not know about the history either.

Because so many people don’t seem to know the history of Japanese American incarceration, and because recent discussions by certain politicians say there is “precedence” for another one, Nagumo said the episode is especially important in highlighting the negative aspects of forced removal and incarceration based on race.

“We’ve got to fight that and I thought, well, maybe this will be one small way to educate people who don’t know anything about it to learn more about it,” she said.

The trailer for “Children of WWII” can be viewed on the “We’ll Meet Again” Website at www.pbs.org/video/children-wwii-official-trailer-wb40cg/. Although the full episode can now only be streamed on the Website if you are a KVIE Passport member, it can streamed for $2.99 on Amazon. The DVD of the entire series is also available for $35.

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