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What Pearl Harbor Wrought

Flo - Part 3

It was not until the initial block meeting was ending that Jo noticed Flo and Hideo at one of the front tables, talking to Flo's two brothers and people Jo didn't recognize. Jo could not hear what they were saying, but he could see the shaking of heads and animated hand gestures.

More block meetings, again often late into the night, followed. Though Jo had made up his own mind, the turmoil among his friends continued as they agonized over what choices to make. Tom Suzuki, the only son of a gardener, for example, spent days talking to Jo and others. His parents were getting older; they thought that if they answered "no" to the loyalty questions they could remain in camp and eventually be repatriated to Japan. Tom had never been to Japan, spoke only limited Japanese. Tom wanted to get out of camp, get his degree in microbiology, go on to medical school. But in the end Tom decided he couldn't leave his parents and acquiesced to his parents' wishes.

Jimmy Watanabe, another high school friend, signed up within days of the recruiting teams arrival, contrary to his parents wishes. Jimmy was taken outside of camp with the first group to take the Army physical, only to be rejected.

Not too long after the Army recruitment team had left camp and before the stir caused by the loyalty questionnaire had died down, a new phenomenon occurred. Throughout the camp, women, each with a piece of cloth and needle and thread in hand, went from mess hall to mess hall stopping other women as they came out.

At first Jo did not know what it was about, then learned that the women were following an old Japanese custom: they were preparing sennin-bari -- sashes with a thousand stitches, each stitch sewn by a different woman. Such sashes were to be worn by soldiers going off to war. Myth had it that the sash would protect the soldier from enemy bullets. In the modern sense it simply meant that the wishes of a thousand women went with the soldier for his safe return.

Though the women waiting outside the mess hall doors were discreet about it -- there were only two or three women at the door at any one time -- it was easy to see whose sons or sweethearts had volunteered.

Jo was not surprised when he saw Flo and her mother standing outside the mess hall door at Block 9. Her oldest brother, Frank, had made it clear that he wanted to prove his loyalty to America by answering the Army's call for volunteers. Jo assumed that the sash was for Frank. (The second brother, Kaz, was just as adamant in declaring he would resist the draft when it was reinstated for the Nisei.)

But when he got close enough, Jo could see that Flo's face was tear-stained. Why? Jo wondered. Rather than look his way, Flo turned, perhaps to hide her misery. He didn't stop to ask anything and upset her further.

Some calmness seemed to return to the camp at Heart Mountain as the weeks became months of waiting for the next official move. In late April, Jo signed up to cut asparagus and harvest peas for the Blue Mountain Canneries in the eastern part of Washington State. After returning to camp in mid-summer, he went out again on temporary release as a laborer with a construction crew laying the foundation for Elk Basin, a village in the oil fields of northern Wyoming; then went to Worland, a small farming community in the north central part of the state, to help repair an irrigation canal.

Though the crew returned to the camp on weekends from Elk Basin and Worland, Jo lost track of what was happening in camp. On these weekends, he noticed that Flo no longer worked in the Block 9 mess hall and asked Ayako, whose family also was from Santa Clara.

"Didn't you know?" Ayako said. "She and Hideo went to Tule Lake."

"Oh?" Jo said. The camp at Tule Lake was the camp where the so-called "disloyals" now were being held.

"Being 'loyal' or 'disloyal' had nothing to do with it," Ayako said. She said Flo and Hideo got married and seemed to be doing all right as far as Ayako knew from a letter she had received from Flo. Flo said she was looking forward to going to Japan, where Hideo had relatives, but who knows when.

"That's not the sad part," Ayako said. "Flo originally was reluctant to go because her family was being split three ways."

Flo's brother Frank now was taking Army basic training in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Ayako said, while the second brother Kaz was actively involved with a group organized to protest the registration of Nisei for the Selective Service.

"Kaz has vowed to and will probably go to prison for resisting the draft," Ayako said. "Their poor mother is beside herself...says she feels she no longer has a family, that she no longer knows where she and her husband can go or what they will be able to do once the camp is closed."

Jo never learned what eventually happened to Flo or the rest of her family. He sometimes wondered if Flo and Hideo ever made it back to Japan, and if they did, how they fared in post-war Japan.

Flo, Jo always felt, should have had a good life; he hoped she did.

© 2010 Akio Konoshima

concentration camps fiction friendship heart mountain love loyalty questionnaire tule lake 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.”