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Memoirs - Part 4 of 4: Amache and School Days

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Visit to Amache

In mid-September 1942, after our first harvest was virtually done and before my freshman classes were to begin, I took my mother to visit my sister Helen and her family (Mrs. T. lino, her mother-in-law, Ken lino, her husband, and Glen lino, her son) at the Amache Relocation Camp. We had last seen them in Los Angeles some seven months earlier—seven months seemed like eternity considering all the trials and tribulations that occurred in the interim. Amache, Colorado was 270 miles from our farm, but it took mother and I seventeen hours to get there. We boarded a train in Alamosa, Colorado in the evening, arrived in Pueblo, Colorado after midnight, traveled from Pueblo to Lamar, Colorado by overland bus, arriving in Lamar just before noon. At Lamar, we hired a taxi to take us the final 17 miles to the Amache Relocation Camp.

I really didn't know what to expect at a Relocation Camp but what greeted us completely distressed and depressed me. As we drove up towards the compound, I noticed the steel-wire-mesh fence with angled overhanging barbed wire strands. As we neared the main gate, I saw this elevated guard tower with direct firing bead in two directions located fifty yards from the main gate. As the taxi approached the entrance, an armed guard met us but as I glanced over to the side of the entrance gate, I saw a little boy grasping the fence and looking out towards us. Then I realized that the little boy staring at us was my nephew Glen! He was less than five years old and he and his mother were patiently waiting for us to arrive. I was so depressed by my first impression of camp and the forlorn look on my nephew's face, I told my sister Helen that I wanted to take Glen out of this environment and take him home with me. After requesting a "Temporary Travel Permit" and coping with red tape, we arranged a 30-day visitation leave for my sister and nephew. Within five days we were all heading back to our home in Sanford, Colorado.

I want to present some of my impressions and views of camp life that I remember from the few days that I spent there. When I walked to the quarters, I noticed the fresh tar paper, black with a nauseating odor. The area provided for four occupants was approximately 20-feet-by-20-feet partitioned into four rooms with olive drab (OD) sheet material, suspended with rope approximately eight feet high. The barracks were just built and hadn't been finished for occupancy. There was no privacy between units, as the only separation between units was pieces of 1x12 inch lumber nailed side-by-side. Voices were clearly discernible from the next unit. Lavatories and eating facilities were for community use and were located within walking distance but were very inconvenient at night or when the temperature was freezing. Lighting was poor and the standard issue was 60-watt bulbs that were not adequate for reading.

School Days in La Jara

After migrating to Colorado, in February 1942 until the end of World War II in August of 1945 (the period of my memoirs), I attended the La Jara Consolidated Schools. Consolidated schools meant that it was an all-inclusive school providing education for all grades one through twelve. In the La Jara System, grades one through six were taught in one building and grades seven through twelve were in a separate building. All grades shared the campus and the busing facilities. The total enrollment was approximately 400 students with 220 in grades one through six, and 180 in grades seven through twelve.

Upon entering the La Jara School in February 1942, Mr. Kendall the Superintendent called a general assembly (all classes were required to attend) in the auditorium. He expressed extreme "chagrin" that the Federal and State (West Coast) authorities had enacted legislation to dislocate United States citizens and forcing them to relocate to the interior United States. He pleaded all students to offer their friendship while advocating a sense of fair play in dealing with Japanese-American students, especially the two new enrollees (brother Ted and myself). Mr. Kendall was iterating and citing the words of the Honorable Ralph Carr, who was the lone Governor to stick up for the rights of the Japanese-Americans who were uprooted from the West Coast. This inaugural assemblage at our new school was indeed the most memorable and heartwarming experience for Ted and I.

During my 1943 freshman year, I was fifteen years old and not legally able to drive a car. When school started in the fall, I biked six miles to school. I had an English racing bike that I had purchased in Los Angeles for $44. When I bought it, it was the "in" bike because it was British and it had high narrow seats with large narrow wheels, and thin soft rubber tires. The bike was ideal for cruising the paved city streets but not too practical for rough gravel roads. The first three miles of my route was on loose gravel and the tires would lose its air pressure; but at the end of the three-mile gravel road was the town of Sanford, Colorado.

Sanford was a small town with a general store and a service station. I would stop at the service station to replenish the air in my tires and then bike the last three miles to school on a paved highway. On the return trip, I would stop at Sanford to check and make sure I had enough air in the tires to get home. This ritual worked out satisfactorily for several weeks but one morning as I stopped to replenish the air, the service station owner shut off the air compressor. By the time I realized what was happening, instead of replenishing the air, I depleted the air and the tire was flat. I had to walk the bike the last three miles to school. Later, the service station owner's explanation was "I don't provide free air to no Jap kid."

Since biking to school was no longer a viable mode, I moved into the town of La Jara for the rest of the school year. Fred Ujihara (who was Ted's close friend and classmate) went to work at the local drugstore and rented an unheated apartment on the edge of town. Besides being unheated and remotely located, it had other repugnant features such as mice and cockroaches. When first entering the house after school, there were no mice or roaches visible, however, when you fired up the stoves (warming and cooking), the mice and roaches would come out of hiding and take over the house. When the school year 1943 ended, I moved back to the farm.

During my 1944 school year, I was a sophomore and the eldest Japanese American male student in school. As such, the new Superintendent Robert Buckles arbitrarily selected me as the spokesman/arbiter for all Japanese American students if and when they broke any school rules. It turned out that the only Japanese American student needing reprimanding was me. This occurred when my Caucasian and Chicano friends and I were "roughhousing" in the school hallway. Our actions were reported to Mr. Buckles but my friends were not called into his office. Mr. Buckles kept me in his office for forty-five minutes, ranting and raving about the suspicious and un-American activities conducted by the Japanese Americans in the San Luis Valley. He claimed he had sole and direct contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and he knew the FBI had a file on the Inouye family and that the La Jara Buddhist Church activities were under Federal suspicion.

When he finished his tirade and threats, he stated that I was to leave the building immediately and not return to class. I asked him if someone from my family had to come see him to re-instate me back in school and he said that wouldn't be necessary, I could return to school the next day. When I got home, I went to the field where the family was in the midst of harvesting potatoes. I told my brother Roy about the incident at school and he immediately decided we should report the abuse to the school board. The President of the School Board was Mr. Jim McDaniel, a vegetable buyer and shipper whom we had dealt with for years, even before the war. When he heard about the incident, he immediately took us to see Mr. Buckles at his rented apartment but Buckles wasn't at home. Mr. McDaniel requested that we meet early the next morning before school to confront Buckles at the apartment. But in the morning, we were unable to locate him, his landlady said that he had packed all his belongings and left town on the early morning train. Thus ended Mr. Buckles' tenure as School Superintendent—he lasted less than two weeks.

World War II ended on August 15, 1945. I continued my schooling in La Jara for two more years, graduating in the class of 1946.

It is particularly noteworthy that Buckles accusations had some substance. After the World War II ended, we determined that the FBI did indeed have a file on the Inouye family including a detailed account of our migration to Colorado in February 1942. Individual files included Ted, who during the fall of 1941 was observed at San Pedro Harbor, taking sensitive photographs of ships in the harbor. At the time, Ted was a senior student at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, and was participating in a photography class project.

George's file disclosed that he was suspected of being a member of the German Bund Society whose symbol was the Nazi Swastika. George had sent his suit jacket to the dry cleaners and had forgot to remove his Young Buddhist League (YBL) membership pin from the lapel. The YBL pin was patterned after the Navajo Indian Peace symbol that was the Nazi swastika symbol in reverse. (The symbol is called manji. It is a traditional Buddhist symbol. -ed.) The dry cleaners reported the find to authorities who in turn notified the FBI. It is amazing how such innocuous incidents could be developed into an FBI investigation and the resulting dossier.

Photo to commemorate Roy and Yoshiko's marriage. Taken in August or September 1941. Only family members in this photo are named. Back low, L to R: 3. George Inouye, 4. Ken Iino, 5. Ted Inouye, 7. Hearb Inouye; Front row, L to R: 3. Helen Iino, 4. Glen Iino (child on lap), 5. Roy Inouye, 6. Yoshiko Inouye, 7. Shio Inouye.


© 2008 Herbert Inouye