At hearings held by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians during the last two years in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, New York and Chicago, hundreds of Japanese Americans interned in camps during World War II described their experiences for the first time publicly, creating the most complete record so far of the events 40 years ago.
Here are some excerpts:
* Emiko Matsutsuyu, reading from his diary of events before his evacuation from Terminal Island, Calif.: "12/31/41: At 12:15 a.m. New Year's Eve, three plainclothesmen and two policemen came into our bedroom. They were polite but as we lay in bed, they stood at the foot of the bed and were so tall and menacing, it left my youngest sister, 14, with her teeth chattering and knees knocking. They explained they were going through all the houses looking for radios and whatever . . . . Monday, 2/2/42: When I went home for lunch today, a couple of FBI men were going through father's desk drawers. They were reading letters. They were particularly interested in letters dated after Dec. 7, 1941. The Island was swarming with soldiers today. I noted jeeps, scout cars, blitz buggies . . . . It is difficult to concentrate on the job at the office."
Masao Takahashi, describing his arrest and detention as an enemy alien: "On the very day of my eldest daughter's 11th birthday, Feb. 21, 1942, I was roused from my sleep very early in the morning. The FBI, along with four Seattle policemen, searched my house, ransacking closets . . . . I was placed in the Immigration Detention Center . . . . I recall feeling confident that I would be released in time to eat birthday cake with my family that evening. However, when we were stripped naked and thoroughly inspected, I was shaken . . . . After about a month and a half, my family came to the train station when a group of us were transferred to [a Justice Department detention center at] Missoula, Mont. I was allowed a few minutes to walk to the fence and to say goodbye to them. I was at a loss to find comforting words. Boarding the train, I heard my daughters crying out, 'Papa, Papa.' I can still hear the ring of their crying in my ears today."
* Ben Takeshita, recalling evacuation from San Mateo, Calif: "As we walked on the sidewalk with all the belongings we could carry, I remember some of our neighbor 'friends' peeking out of their windows from behind the curtains and shades and watching us as we left. I remember feeling very ashamed, as if I were a criminal or a leper. Except for our next-door Chinese friend, no one came out to wish us goodbye or anything."
* Alice Okazaki, on getting ready: "I still remember agonizing over which doll I would take . . . . The agony of making that decision has stayed with me all these years."
* Elsie Hashimoto: "My father was seriously ill . . . . We were taken to Merced Assembly Center [in California] by bus. Father was taken earlier by ambulance. My dad was denied the privilege of remaining outside in a hospital. The facilities were totally inadequate for the critically ill. I believe he was the first person to pass away in our camps. It was a hot June day; he laid in agony on a straw-filled mattress placed on a canvas cot. He slowly passed away in this horse's stall."