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What Pearl Harbor Wrought

Flo - Part 2

The winter of 1942-43 at Heart Mountain was severe, or maybe all winters there were that severe. At 20 degrees or so below zero moisture would freeze on the hair in Jo’s nostrils when he breathed in. That Christmas brought the first deep snow—about a foot—that Jo was to experience.

If anything, though, the winter harshness seemed to have made the romance between Flo and her boy friend that much cozier. Jo noticed, for instance, that while walking outside in the cold wind, the two now kept their arms around each other for warmth and support even when people passed, no longer bothering to hide their feelings for each other as they had done earlier.

The snow that Christmas gave more meaning to Bing Crosby’s singing of “A White Christmas,” the song that was played almost without stop on radios in the barracks or the camp’s loudspeaker systems. Jo felt that people at Heart Mountain were getting more used to camp life; emotions seemed more settled.

Shortly after the holiday season, however, news from Washington about separating “loyal” from “disloyal” internees shattered whatever harmony was being established. Each person in camp over 17 years old would have to fill out a questionnaire drawn up for that purpose, the reports said. The Army recruitment drive and the assumption that eligible Nisei would soon be subject again to the Army draft added to the turmoil.

Jo went to the meetings held in the administrative barracks where the reasons for the questionnaires and the new Army recruitment policy were explained by a team of two officers and three enlisted men. These meetings were followed up by meetings among the internees alone in various mess halls throughout the camp.

In Jo’s area, joint meetings between neighboring Blocks 8 and 9 were held in the Block 8 mess hall. When Jo arrived at the mess hall at 7:30 p.m., the scheduled time for the initial block meeting, the mess hall already was packed. Wives and girl friends had come with the men. All of the seats of the two dozen dining room tables were taken and people stood elbow to elbow along the sides and back aisle in the smoke-filled room. Some even sat on the stainless steel serving counters.

“We of Block 8 have decided to stick together, refuse to fill in the loyalty questionnaire or cooperate with the Army in its recruitment drive until our rights are restored,” the first of many speakers announced. Jo didn’t know the man, sensed his anger, but wondered what right the man had to speak for others in the block on something Jo thought each person had to decide for himself.

Others followed, most also venting their frustrations and asking questions for which there were no immediate answers. When could a man expect a draft notice if he answered “yes” to the loyalty questions? Would families whose sons volunteered or were drafted then be allowed to return home? What if a person refuses to answer the questions?

The initial block meeting went on until midnight, and eventually, after about two dozens speakers, a resolution to ask the administrators for some statement on the restoration of basic rights was moved but not passed and left for further action the next evening. No consensus could be reached on the wording of the resolution.

Though Jo stayed until the meeting ended, he felt that any resolution issued by people of Blocks 8 and 9 would mean little; who in Washington was going to pay any attention to it? Besides, the important decisions probably were already made.

But as he stood in the crowded rooms, Jo felt left out. Since he was born in Japan, technically he was an Issei, and, whether he liked it or not, a Japanese national, not a “non-alien Japanese” as the Nisei had been identified by the officials. He wasn’t going to volunteer for anything, though deep down he wished that he would have had to face the draft like the Nisei his age.

He was given the questionnaire issued by the civilian War Relocation Authority to the Issei parents and Nisei woman, not the questionnaire given to the male Nisei. The questionnaire for the male Nisei asked the same questions, but was issued by the War Department and carried the seal of Selective Service System. Sure, he would serve in the U.S. armed forces like the Nisei if required, Jo felt. He’d go if they drafted him. But he knew his draft status would remain that of an enemy alien—4-C. The questionnaire asked him to “forswear any allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor” when he never felt any allegiance to the emperor to begin with. As Jo listened to the speakers at the block meeting, he already had made up his mind to answer neither of the two “loyalty” questions and let whatever was to happen, just happen.

© 2010 Akio Konoshima

christmas concentration camps fiction friendship heart mountain love World War II

Sobre esta série

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.”