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Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Goto Miura, a Medical Doctor's Camp Experience

In “camp,” Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Goto was known affectionately as “Dr. K.” When the war broke out in 1941, Dr. K was in her first year of residency at Los Angeles County General Hospital (LACGH) as a dermatologist.

Masako was born in Pasadena in 1914 as the third of seven children to Takejiro and Matsu Kusayanagi, owners of a dry goods store. She obtained a BA in Chemistry from the University of Southern California in 1936 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. In USC’s medical school, she was one of five Japanese Americans, enjoyed the fair treatment afforded by her fellow medical students. According to the World Who’s Who of Women, 1980 edition, she did her internship at St. Anthony’s Hospital, Terre Haunte, Indiana.

With the war on, Japanese Americans of LACGH were called to a meeting in the auditorium to be dismissed not only for the duration of the war but for 90 days thereafter as well.

When she married Dr. James Goto in early 1942 the curfew had been imposed and travel restrictions were limited to a 5 mile radius. A honeymoon was out of the question. Instead, as part of a medical convoy, Dr. Kusayanagi Goto, accompanied by nurse Mary Akita, was ordered by the US Government to take the bachelors to Manzanar. Manzanar was first established as an assembly center, under the authority of the Wartime Civil Control Administration. This civilian agency was created by the Western Defense Command on March 11, 1942 to implement the evacuation orders and to establish the 15 assembly centers.

Dr. K was one of only five doctors—Dr. T. Takahashi, Dr. Koichi Iwasa, Dr. Yoshiye Togasaki (a public health officer), and her husband--for the 10,000 internees. Upon arrival they were shocked to discover their hospital supplies consisted of a hot plate, a wash basin, a few instruments, and gloves. Their training did not prepare them for this, but they knew they had to make the best of the situation. They boiled everything in that basin.

Her husband, Dr. Goto, had the responsibility of establishing a hospital with supplies so that they could appear to function as a hospital. One camp official objected to the ordering of “perineal pads,” waving one in his hand. Blushing nurses explained he was holding a “sanitary napkin” (Kotex). To avoid confusion with her doctor husband, Masako went by “Dr. K” for Kusayanagi. She cannot forget her first “camp” dinner which consisted of beef stew with rice and canned peaches, together on the same plate. The juices mixed with the stew. After dinner the dishes were submerged in a garbage can for rinsing. She cannot recall any soap or hot water in the can.

The pay scale under the WCCA for professionals was $16 a month, blue collar $12, and laborers $8. The pay scale increased to $19, $16, and $12, respectively, when the War Relocation Authority took over. The top pay could not exceed the pay ($21) of a buck private in the army.

When typhoid shots were given, one fellow, who had his shot, spotted a friend in line and began a conversation. Oh, how he complained about getting a second shot! Dr. K organized a medical clinic assistance team of young ladies who knew shorthand, typing and filing. They, as medical stenographers, became so proficient they were able to secure good jobs when they relocated to the “outside.”

A tragic event took place when a young 18 year-old assumed the MP guard had given approval of a request to gather some scrap wood (with which to make a chair and table for his mother) outside the fence. He was shot through the elbow (some eight internees were killed by guards and a score of others were shot in the various camps). Fortunately, he fully recovered. The Gotos most frightening moment took place in early December when some Kibei became enraged with the JACL, blaming them as responsible for the internment. The unruly mob stormed into the hospital looking for JACL leader, Fred Tayama. To escape the possible wrath of the mob, the two Dr. Gotos donned their pea coats and hid among the crowd. Tayama hid successfully under the mattress of an orthopedic bed. The authorities transferred the trouble-makers to another camp.

After a year at Manzanar, the Gotos were transferred to Topaz. Many of the young doctors had volunteered for the military or some other service, creating a shortage of medical personnel. Nevertheless, upon their arrival, they were welcomed with a “strike;” well, at least a demonstration. That surprised them. They, however, welcomed the change in cooks. Topaz cooks could work magic with pork and beans and Spam, but there’s only so much anyone can do with liver and kidneys.

They couldn’t make house calls because of the overwhelming patient/doctor ratio. Although, Dr. K’s specialty was dermatology, general family practice was the rule. When Dr. K was eight months pregnant with Denise, her own health complications required the help of an “outside” doctor and facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah. German refugee doctors, who spoke haltingly in English and no Japanese, had been recruited for Topaz. The Gotos decided to stay until the closing of Topaz because the Issei and the young children required their help.

When the war was winding down, Dr. K wrote to the LA County Board of Supervisors, asking reinstatement for the completion of her residency. When they replied that this was not a “propitious” time, she threatened to use her lawyer. She knew she could count on the Friends’ Society (Quakers) and ACLU. She knew, too, that others would benefit from her lead. Fortunately, they were able to return to their home.

Dr. K stayed with LACGH until 1949. For three years they established a family practice in Little Tokyo in one of her father’s buildings. During this time, Dr. K gave birth to a son, Hans Goto, in 1950. Dr. K then went to work for the Los Angeles City School District from 1953-55. From 1955 until her retirement in 1981 she served as an civil service physician in the U. S. Army hospitals in Oakland and, later, at Fort Ord (Monterey) for soldiers, veterans, retirees, and their dependents. Among those who enjoyed her service were Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, and other Asian wives and their children. After her divorce, she married Kiyoshi Miura, an agricultural supply specialist, of Watsonville in 1956. Mr. Miura died in 1994.

When the redress hearings were held, Dr. Miura suggested to the National JACL that instead of a redress payment, health benefits would be more practical since most of the Issei and Nisei were getting old. The JACL refused to consider it, so Dr. K refused the redress payment and asked only for a letter of apology. She continues her studies in dermatology, keeping up with the requirements of her medical license. She has contributed to professional journals as a dermatologist and as a syphilologist. Dr. Miura maintains membership in professional organizations, USC Alumni Association, and Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL and its Senior Center.


*This article was originally published in Japanese American Veterans Association e-Advocate on November 17, 2019.


© 2019 Mas Hashimoto

JAVA manzanar Topaz World War II