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What Pearl Harbor Wrought

Flo - Part 1

January 29, 1943: A War Department press release announces the registration program for both recruitment for military service and leave clearance.

February 6, 1943: Army teams were scheduled to visit the 10-WRA administered camps…to register all male nisei of draft age. Each had to complete a special questionnaire, designed to test their “loyalty” and willingness to serve in the armed forces.

Had things gone as they normally would have (if anything about camp living could be called normal) Flo probably would have had a good life. One happy aspect of the 10 relocation centers where the Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II was that hundreds of young men and women who ordinarily would not have even met each other did meet, fall in love and got married.

That was what seemed to be happening with Flo, a girl Jo knew from the time they were in the 6th grade at the Jefferson Union Elementary School in the rural area between Santa Clara and Sunnyvale south of San Francisco. Jo himself never looked at Flo in any romantic way. She was quiet and shy; did not do particularly well in school, maybe because of her shyness or because her English was not that good; had a fresh face that needed no cosmetics; always had a warm smile.

Jo and Flo went to the same high school and though they’d pass each other in the halls or see each other with separate groups after school while waiting for the bus, they rarely spoke beyond simple greetings.

When their families were interned at Santa Anita after the outbreak of World War II, Jo often would see Flo, or Flo’s mother or father, or one of her two older brothers, or her younger sister. Flo’s family was housed in the same row of horse stables as Jo’s family and ate in the same “blue” mess hall—the mess halls at Santa Anita were identified by color and you were given mess tags of either red, blue, yellow, green, or orange according to the area of the camp you were housed in.

When they were moved to the Heart Mountain relocation center in Wyoming, their two families were in Block 9, only a few barracks removed from each other. Flo then worked as a waitress in the Block 9 mess hall.

Over all the years they had known each other, Jo never thought of Flo as being either pretty or not pretty; she was just the same friendly Flo. But two months or so after the families had been interned at Heart Mountain, they passed each other as Flo was going to work, and Jo, for the first time, noticed her in a different way. Her face was beaming (outside of a little lipstick, she still used no makeup). There seemed extra energy in her walk. She was tall for a Nisei girl—about five foot six or seven inches—and Jo could not help but notice her trim figure and the fair complexion behind the warm smile. It suddenly occurred to Jo that she was fairly attractive.

Maybe that’s what love does, he thought. She had a boy friend, Hideo, a kibei, i.e. a nisei educated in Japan and then returned to America. Hideo, like a lot of the kibe, readjusting to life in America, was quiet and unobtrusive. Maybe his reserved manners were what attracted Flo to him.

Flo never introduced Hideo to Jo, but when she was with Hideo and they passed by Jo, she still smiled and said “hello” while Hideo would bow and smile. Sometimes Jo noticed them holding hands, but letting go as people approached. Outside of knowing his first name, Jo did not know much else about the man. He seemed a decent sort, and in time, whenever Jo passed Hideo, even if Flo was not with him, the man still would bow and smile.

Hideo drove the commissary truck that delivered food supplies to the mess halls on the eastern side of the camp where Block 9 was located. The rest of the truck crew probably was Kibei as well since they spoke to each other in Japanese, or, when they talked to the Issei, spoke a more proper form of the language than most Nisei were capable of.

Jo often saw Flo and Hideo sitting together on one of the mess hall’s wooden dining tables having tea as Hideo’s crew took a break from their commissary run. Hideo would be smoking his pipe, his olive drab cap and winter jacket on the bench by his side. He had a stocky build, wore circular steel-rimmed glasses emphasizing his round eyes and round face, a face that women probably saw as very cute when the man was a baby. He and Flo made a good-looking couple and had they not been in camp, they probably would not have waited very long to get married. Or maybe they were even making arrangements to get married while in camp.

Jo didn’t know when the romance between the two started. He had been going in and out of camp on temporary releases, first to top sugar beets in Montana and then to harvest beans in nearby Powell, Wyoming. But by Christmas of 1942, the romance was going strong.

© 2010 Akio Konoshima

concentration camps fiction friendship heart mountain love novel World War II

Sobre esta serie

What Pearl Harbor Wrought is an episodic novel written by Akio Konoshima, an Issei who was interned at Heart Mountain during WWII. The stories within are based on the author’s observations taken from his youth in California, his time spent in Heart Mountain, and his years serving the United States Army. Discover Nikkei will be publishing a few select chapters from this work, starting with “Flo,” the story of a young woman in love and the effects of the war on her family. Look forward to “A Soldier is a Soldier” and the novel’s epilogue in weeks to come. Konoshima hopes that his words will help “give his children and grandchildren a sense of their heritage.”