Friday, June 12, 2020

Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage: Join Historic Wintersburg on Week 2

   Join the Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage this weekend for the opening ceremony, 2 pm Pacific Time, Saturday, June 13. The opening program is hosted by KABC news anchor David Ono and actress Tamlyn Tomita (Karate Kid II, Come See the Paradise, The Joy Luck Club).
   In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, each of the annual pilgrimages to sites of wartime Japanese American incarceration have been canceled. These pilgrimages provide important educational and community-building opportunities for both descendants of the camps and the wider public. Recognizing the ongoing and multi-generational significance of these pilgrimages, Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage, is hosted by Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages (JAMP) over the course of nine themed weeks, bringing the pilgrimage experience online.

   JAMP explains, "Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage is a collaborative undertaking, involving representatives from many different contingents of the Nikkei community, as well as scholars, artists, and educators committed to actively memorializing the history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Tadaima! means “I’m home!” in Japanese - it is our way of acknowledging that we are all home and the important reasons for why that is, while also celebrating the history, diversity, strength, and vibrancy of the Nikkei community."

    Historic Wintersburg is among the many partner organizations included in the 2020 virtual pilgrimages, which include the National Park Service, Japanese American National Museum, Densho, the Manzanar Committee, Tuna Canyon Detention Station, Friends of Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Angel Island, Go For Broke National Education Center, the University of Queensland Australia, and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage, among many more historical institutions and organizations.

The pilgrimage with Historic Wintersburg is scheduled for June 21, which will be archived on the JAMP YouTube channel.   We invite you to join us as we journey in virtual pilgrimage. Register for free to receive updates and the nine-week pilgrimage schedule on the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages website.

© All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, Mary Adams Urashima. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Orange County West Justice Center to be renamed after Justice Stephen K. Tamura

ABOVE: Stephen Kosaku Tamura grew up attending the Wintersburg Japanese Mission and was involved when it was officially recognized as a church in 1930, twenty-six years after its founding as a mission. Tamura was Orange County's first Japanese American attorney. He was the first Japanese American and first Asian American to sit on the Orange County Superior Court in 1961, the California Court of Appeal in 1966, and also served as Justice Pro Tem on the California Supreme Court until his retirement. (Image, Santa Ana Register, May 19, 1930)

   On April 16, 2020, in the middle of statewide stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, the California Judicial Council approved the re-naming of the West Justice Center of the Orange County Superior Court in Westminster, California, for Stephen K. Tamura. An effort led by Presiding Judge Kirk H. Nakamura, Central Justice Center, County of Orange, Superior Court of California, a supporting document in the package requesting the name change is a 2012 feature about Stephen K. Tamura from the Historic Wintersburg blog, The Honorable Stephen K. Tamura: Lawyer, Judge, Wintersburg Mission congregant

   Tamura is an alumnus of Huntington Beach High School class of 1928 and served with the “Go For Broke” 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was posthumously was awarded in 2011 the Congressional Gold Medal along with the 100th Infantry Battalion and Military Intelligence Service.

   "It was a real privilege to submit the application to name West Justice Center in honor of the late judge,” said Superior Court Presiding Judge Kirk Nakamura, about the application submitted by Orange County community members to the Judicial Council of California, which owns and oversees all Court facilities throughout the state. He was a man of many ‘firsts’ and I am very proud to have followed his footsteps to the Bench".

ABOVE: An excerpt from a letter included in the re-naming application from Stephen Tamura's daughter, Susan Tamura Kawaichi, referencing the support her father had to pursue law from Reverend Kenji Kikuchi, M.Th. of the Wintersburg Japanese Church. In his 1981 oral history, Reverend Kikuchi referred to Stephen Tamura as one of "my Sunday school boys." 

   Pastor for the Wintersburg Japanese Mission from 1926 to 1936, Rev. Kikuchi had witnessed Tamura's path from youth to young adult. In 1930, Rev. Kikuchi penned a brief history of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission at a time when there were about 150 Japanese American families in the immediate vicinity of Wintersburg Village.

LEFT: From a 1982 tribute for Justice Tamura in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. The signatures include his brother, Noburu, and fellow justice, John Aiso, who married, Sumi, the daughter of goldfish farmers Henry and Masako Akiyama, who were related to Charles and Yukiko Furuta of the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg. (Photo, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   "... Most of them are dry chili pepper farmers-they raise half million dollars a year production from peppers," wrote Rev. Kikuchi, " Also there are fish farms owned by our church members."  These would have been the gold fish farms of C.M. Furuta--who donated the land for the Mission--and the Asari and Akiyama families

   Tamura's father, Hisamatsu Tamura, arrived in California in 1901 and was a prominent farmer in Smeltzer, north of Wintersburg Village. He was president of the school board in Smeltzer, a member of the board of directors of the vegetable marketing division of the Orange County Farm Bureau, and a director of the Japanese Farming and Growers' AssociationHisamatsu Tamura was remembered by another Wintersburg Japanese Mission congregant, Clarence Nishizu, in his 1982 oral history interview* as one of "the original Talbert (Fountain Valley) pioneer Issei who first moved into this area to farm various vegetable crops and they were the ones who, with the future in mind, purchased the land in Talbert to build the Japanese language school."   

RIGHT: The building that was home to the original law office of Stephen Tamura still stands on East 4th Street, Calle Cuatro, in Santa Ana, California. (Image, Google Earth)

   Hisamatsu Tamura--along with fellow farmer Isojiro Oka and others--purchased "an old Standard Oil Company wooden building" to serve as the school and an old house to serve as the teacher's residence, moving both buildings to the school site in Talbert (off Bushard Avenue).  By 1935, they had 100 students. These pioneers are honored for their many efforts supporting education in Orange County with the Isojiro Oka Elementary School in Huntington Beach and the Hisamatsu Tamura Elementary School in Fountain Valley. Hisamatsu Tamura passed in 1936, not knowing his son, Stephen, would become one of California's legal icons.

   In 1949, Tamura became Deputy Counsel for the Orange County Counsel’s Office, before elevated to County Counsel in 1960. He served the County of Orange for 12 years before his appointment to the Superior Court in 1961 by Governor Pat Brown. He was the first Japanese American and first Asian American to sit on the California Court of Appeal in 1965. After his appointment as a Superior Court judge, he was elected presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court.  In 1966, Governor Brown elevated him to the Fourth District, Division Two, and in 1979, Tamura was appointed to the State Judicial Council.

LEFT: Tamura was a founding board member of the Orange County Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in 1935, which held its first meeting in the Wintersburg Japanese Church. In December 1941, the Orange County JACL chapter denounced the attack by Japan. As an attorney, Tamura was assisting those documenting U.S. birth up until days before the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Orange County in May 1942. Incarcerated at Poston, the Colorado River Relocation Center near Parker, Arizona, Tamura was permitted to leave to attend Harvard Law School in 1943. He enlisted in the Army in 1945, serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he was awarded posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal in 2011. (Image, Santa Ana Register, December 11, 1941)

   In addition to his 43 years in law, Tamura was a founding board member in 1935 of the Orange County Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese American Cultural and CommunityCenter in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. He was serving as a justice with the Court of Appeals when asked to serve as chairman for Disneyland's Community Service Awards in 1966.

Among his recognition and awards:
Orange County Press Club, 1965
Disneyland Community Service Awards, 1966
Orange County Bar Association Franklin G. West Award, 1972
Pomona College Honorary Doctor of Civil Laws, 1976 
California Trial Lawyers Association Appellate Justice of the Year, 1977
Japanese American Citizens League, 1981
Orange County Board of Supervisors, 1981
California State Assembly Resolution, 1982
California State Senate Resolution, 1982
Congressional Gold Medal, 2011

LEFT: Recognition as Appellate Justice of the Year for 1977 presented to Justice Stephen K. Tamura by the California Trial Lawyers Association. One of the cases that attracted media interest when he was the presiding Superior Court judge was a complaint in February 1962 filed by NASA astronaut John Glenn regarding a San Clemente apartment development investment. This was at the same time Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. (Photo, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   We're grateful to Superior Court Presiding Judge Kirk Nakamura leading this effort and for the opportunity to support the re-naming of the West Justice Center for Stephen K. Tamura with historical research.

* The California State University Fullerton Center for Oral History collection of oral histories with Orange County's Japanese American community is named after Stephen Tamura, the "Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project".

BELOW: Office nameplates and a law book belonging to Stephen K. Tamura are among the artifacts collected in 2018 by historian and Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach author Mary Adams Urashima. These and other items are safeguarded for a future exhibit in the Stephen K. Tamura West Justice Center. (Photo, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 © All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, Mary Adams Urashima.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

George Freeth, the village of Maikura, and the 1918-1920 pandemic

   In December 1908, at the age of 25, the "father of surfing" George Freeth saved the lives of nine Japanese American and two Russian American fishermen off Venice beach when a violent Pacific storm lashed the coast. For his heroic actions, Freeth was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for bravery.

   In April 1919,  at the age of 35, the Hawaiian-born Freeth--noted for his physical fitness and still in his prime--died after a long battle with the flu virus spreading across the globe.  He was the first person to surf the Huntington Beach pier at its re-dedication in 1914.

LEFT: George Freeth in 1909, a year after he rescued fishermen off of Venice beach after the "sudden appearance by a heavy northwester."  He was 25 at the time and was reported to have "made a spectacular dive from the wharf," swimming through the boiling water to pilot the fishing boats to safety. (Image, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1909)

  Freeth was a remarkably skilled surfer, the one Jack London described during his 1907 visit to Hawaii as "his heels are winged, and in them is the swiftness of the sea." But, he isn't remembered just because he was a surfer. In Southern California, he was a local hero who dedicated his life to saving others.

   On December 16, 1908, the "heavy northwester" hit the Southern California coast, catching local fishermen by surprise. Boats were floundering and being pushed toward the rocky breakwater. As a powerhouse alarm sounded, Freeth "made a spectacular dive from the wharf" into the water and swam to the most endangered boat first. The ocean water temperature off the coast of Los Angeles County in December averages a chilly 60°F (16°C).

   The Los Angeles Times reported the next day that Freeth "successfully piloted the craft, which contained two Japanese fishermen, around the pier to a safe landing." Freeth dove into the water repeatedly until he had helped eleven fishermen safely to shore. He crawled onto one of the Japanese American fishing boats and "by a trick known only to himself, piloted the craft through the surf at railroad speed and made a safe landing on the beach." Freeth was a surfer and followed his instincts, surfing the boat to shore.

   One Japanese American fishing boat capsized as they tried to make their way to shore, with three men falling overboard and too far ashore to be thrown a life buoy. Freeth again dove off the pier carrying a life belt for each of the three men so they could stay afloat until his volunteer lifeguards arrived by rescue boat. All were saved.

RIGHT: George Freeth with a life-saving buoy he designed, described as a "hollow, air-tight, copper torpedo forty-two inches by eight, which will hold up a dead weight of five-hundred pounds." (Image, Recreation, Volumes 52-53, 1915)

   A few of the fishermen caught up in the storm were identified by the Los Angeles Times as T.O. Shiro, T. Caneshira, I. Igi, T. Yamauchi, Y. Kato, and T. Tokushima.* The majority of the fishermen are identified as being from the small fishing village off present-day Pacific Palisades, in a beach area near the "Long Wharf" known as Maikura.

   The day after Freeth's heroic rescue of the Maikura fishermen, they returned to see him, bearing gifts.  In addition to a cash gift of $50---an equivalent of about $940 today---they presented Freeth with a gold watch (average price of a gold watch in 1918 was $12.93, an equivalent of about $240 today). They donated an additional $37 to the volunteer lifeguard benefit fund. The fishermen reportedly announced to Freeth that they were renaming Maikura as "Port Freeth" (Our L.A. County Lifeguard Family, LACoFD, Lifeguard Operations) A 1910 Los Angeles Times article about a Yamato Association picnic on the beach near the fishing village north of Port Los Angeles noted "which by some is called Freeth--so named in honor of George Freeth, the Hawaiian life-saver, who rescued a number of Japanese fishermen who were caught at sea during the storm of two years ago."

ABOVE RIGHT: Local media reported on the daring rescue and on the gestures of appreciation from the fishermen the following day. ("Japanese fishermen thank life saving crew," Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1908)

  Fast forward to 1918, a decade after his nationally-reported heroics rescuing the Japanese American fishermen, Freeth was working a lifeguard job at Ocean Beach in San Diego. He continued to demonstrate his surfing skills for awestruck beach crowds, including one stunt where he "suddenly leaped clearing the board by at least three feet, turned a sumersault, regained his balance on the board again, then completed his stunt with a dive. The trick was a thriller, and evoked a storm of applause."

LEFT: A stone plaque for George Freeth embedded in the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame on Main Street in 2014, one hundred years after he first surfed the Huntington Beach pier. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2014) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Months later in January 1919, Freeth was overtaken by the flu virus. The pandemic had taken root in the military bases in San Diego and, despite flu masks and a citywide quarantine in December 1918, the virus continued to spread in the surrounding community. 

   Freeth recovered, then relapsed, and was hospitalized again. He would not fully recover. On the evening of April 7, 1919, he passed. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported on April 8, 1919, that "George Douglas Freeth, well known local athlete and swimmer, died at Ocean Beach, California, last night of pneumonia, according to a cablegram received by Honolulu relatives today. In December 1908, Freeth rescued nine Japanese fishermen during a storm at Venice, Cal., for which he was awarded the Congressional medal for heroism."

RIGHT: The Japanese American fishing village of Maikura (aka Port Freeth) as it appeared the year Freeth died in 1919. The Los Angeles Times described Maikura as "one of the most picturesque spots on the coast and a large number of the houses are built after Japanese plans. The customs of the settlement are entirely Japanese." Both Maikura and George Freeth met their demise in 1919. This photograph was taken before the 2,000 residents of Maikura were displaced by the Pacific Electric Railway. Japanese American fishing villages were targeted by those fomenting anti-Japanese politics in California. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. campaigned against the villages in the San Francisco Examiner in 1923, characterizing the communities as "aliens" monopolizing an industry. Forced to move from Maikura in 1919, the residents relocated to the fishing village on Terminal Island, where they would lose their community again in 1942. ("Old Japanese fishing village at Port Los Angeles to disappear," Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1919)

   During the 1918-1920 pandemic, the mortality was a "W" curve. The virus hit hardest those younger than five, 20-40 years old, and those sixty-five and older. Many who succumbed were fit and healthy before the virus, like George Freeth.
LEFT: George Freeth, of Hawaiian-British descent (ethnically Hawaiian-Irish), with his Congressional Gold Medal and U.S. Volunteer Life-Saving medal for Valor pinned on his lifeguard uniform. (Photo, Los Angeles County Lifeguard Trust Fund)

   The number of lives lost during the 1918-1920 pandemic is estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC also notes, "with no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly." (1918 Pandemic - H1N1 Virus, Centers for Disease Control)

   George Freeth, the son of Elizabeth Kailikapuolono Green Freeth was laid to rest in the O'ahu Cemetery in Honolulu County, Hawaii after friends in California sent his ashes home to his mother. Freeth's legacy in Southern California is not just as the "father of surfing", but also the lives he saved during his short time on earth. His story is one out of the millions of souls lost to the 1918-1920 virus. 

   At the time of this writing, the Huntington Beach pier that George Freeth famously surfed in 1914 is closed to limit public gatherings due to the global pandemic coronavirus, COVID-19. For those reading this in the present day, stay home. Flatten the curve.

*Names of the Japanese American fishermen as spelled by the Los Angeles Times in 1908.

© All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, Mary Adams Urashima. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

In the time of the virus

A 1915 Model T two-door sedan, the automobile driven over bumpy country roads to the Nishizu home by Mr. Goya when he came to their aid during the flu pandemic, circa 1918-1920. (PHOTO: Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia)
   In October 1918, the flu pandemic spreading in Orange County prompted the County's Board of Health to appoint three doctors to head up an emergency response. A "scarcity of doctors and nurses adds to the gravity of the situation," reported the Santa Ana Register on October 26, 1918. "That the situation is more serious than many people think was brought out yesterday...doctors are going night and day and are worked to the limit of their physical ability, that there is a decided scarcity of nurses and that there are a good many people who are not reporting their cases and others who are not observing quarantine regulations."

   Orange County had a population estimated at 55,195 in 1918. The Santa Ana Register reported six county doctors who came together for the emergency response planning. They described a rapid spread of the virus and "an increase of fifty to 100 percent" west of the Santa Ana River. The shortage of nurses was so severe, the County called on "volunteers of any kind, women who may not have had any special training even as practical nurses, are needed in homes here, and women who are willing to volunteer for assistants for the county hospital should take the matter up over the telephone at once with the hospital, Orange 417 on the Pacific..."

RIGHT: A Honey and Tar bottle uncovered in the former Wintersburg Village in 2015. Foley & Co.'s Honey and Tar syrup was marketed from the 1870s through the 1960s. It was widely promoted during the 1918 flu pandemic, which affected Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach. The original mixture was seven percent alcohol mixed with a special solution of pine tar and honey, terpin hydrate, sodium benzyl succinate and gum arabic. Pine tar historically is used as a wood preservative on baseball bats and as a cure for skin ailments. In the case of Foley & Co.'s Honey and Tar, it was recommended for nagging coughs, pneumonia, and consumption. Pine tar was banned by the FDA in the 1990s due to a lack of proof of effectiveness. Even with honey, this did not taste all that good. (Photo, M. Adams Urashima, 2015) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In 1982, Wintersburg Japanese Mission congregant Clarence Nishizu recalled the global flu pandemic during his oral history interview with Arthur Hansen for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project with California State University Fullerton.

   "After World War I...there came a time in the United States when an epidemic of influenza spread throughout the country and resulted in 548,000 deaths. Influenza is an acute infectious respiratory disease caused by a filterable virus. It was taken for granted that all members of every family would be afflicted by this flu. Our family was no exception. Every member of our family came down with the flu. I was only ten or so years old when this epidemic hit. One day we found out that my parents both had been infected, and that there was nobody to care for us. Suddenly, Mr. Goya came to our house. My mother asked him to please leave, or otherwise he would certainly contract the flu himself. But he utterly refused to go."

LEFT: The situation was hinting at improvement by January 1919 in Wintersburg Village. Henry Winters, for whom Wintersburg Village was named, restarted construction on his ranch home which had been delayed due to flu. In Orange County, entire households were sick at the same time. Four members of the Winters family were reported as succumbing to the flu in December 1918. The Oceanview school reopened for the third time in January 1919, optimistic that students were healthy and could return to their studies. (News clip, Santa Ana Register, January 10, 1919)

   "Let me tell you about Mr. Goya. He was the most respected, intelligent, and eloquent Issei pioneer among the Kasuya Gun Jin Kai, a close-knitted group or club organized among the Issei who had come from my parents' area in Fukuoka. He had a mustache like Charlie Chaplin. He had his serious moments where he would just sit there thinking, but he also had his hilarious moments when he would laugh and tell funny, sexy stories. I overheard some of these stories, but I hesitate to repeat them now. His speech was full of humor, yet to the point, not long like the speeches my father used to make. When he spoke everybody was all ears and his remarks, filled with wisdom and humor, were the talk of the whole Kasuya group. 

    The most important thing is that he came to nurse our family knowing that we were all sick. To come to our rescue at the risk of his own exposure is a trait that is so beautiful. It is like the story of Father Damien, the Catholic priest who saw the sad condition of the lepers on Molokai island in Hawaii in 1873 and volunteered to tend to their spiritual needs. He managed by the labor of his own hands and by appeals to the Hawaiian government to improve the water and food supplies and housing. Thus, he gave his own life and died of leprosy [on April 15, 1889]. Anyway, Mr. Goya came to our place in an old Model T two-door sedan." The Nishizu family recovered and Clarence Nishizu became a key individual in the growth of Orange County.

   In February 1919, the Santa Ana Register reported that the virus "has proven to be one of the worst epidemics ever visited on the suffering world." The Register admonished people to stay home and observe quarantine, and not walk about and spread it to others. By June 1919, it was reported that California's flu cases from October 1918 through March 1919 had totaled 305,856, roughly ten percent of the state's population. There had been 200 virus-related deaths in Orange County in the two-month period of October-November 1918.

RIGHT: An advertisement for Foley's Honey and Tar from 1919, promoting the "clean and wholesome tar of the pine and the balmy, tasteful, demulcent honey of the bees combined with curative plants found in the forest and field."

   Reported cases of the virus appeared to have peaked by March 1919 and some quarantine cases were beginning to walk out into the sunshine.  However through 1920, the Santa Ana Register continued to provide reports on flu or suspected flu, including reports from other states and around the world. Having seen friends and communities suffer, a vigilance about public health practices remained for a generation as efforts to develop immunizations and means to combat disease became a global mission.

   On New Year's day 1920, the New York Times reported "there were times during 1919 when the era leading up to the war seemed, in the casual retrospect, like some far-off Golden Age." While some communities improved, the virus continued to return in various parts of a tired country in 1920. In California, every resident of the Paiute community in Inyo County--later home to the Manzanar Relocation Center during WWII--was found by a mail carrier to be stricken with the virus and without medical care. One hundred died.

   The virus did ultimately diminish by the end of 1920. It had touched every family and altered the perspective and politics of the country.

   Communities coming together to help each other through tough times is the history of the peatlands. It's how missions were built and barns were raised, how schools set up classes in donated buildings, and how the harvest was done.  It's how families endured loved ones heading off to a world war. And, it's how families survived a global pandemic a century ago.

ABOVE: The celery harvest in the peatlands of Wintersburg Village and Smeltzer. (Photo courtesy of Center for Oral and Public History, PJA 026) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

© All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, Mary Adams Urashima.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Podcast: Historic Wintersburg's Mary Adams Urashima

Chapters is a five-part Creative + Cultural Podcast series dedicated to "stories surrounding the exclusion, forced removal, and internment of Japanese-Americans".   Among those interviewed is historian and author of Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach, Mary Adams Urashima.

(22:45 minutes)

Historic Wintersburg was designated one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2014 and one of America's National Treasures in 2015. The Furuta farm and Wintersburg Japanese Mission mark more than a century of Japanese American history and represent pioneer arrival and settlement of the American West, Orange County's agricultural history, pioneer achievement, and the struggle for civil liberties.
The Placemaking Roadshow is a traveling program made possible with support from Chapman University, The California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, a state-funded grant project of the California State Library and from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

© All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, Mary Adams Urashima. 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The gift: A medal for Ichiro

ABOVE: Russell Cleary (standing, far right) with a Sea Scout troop at Newport Beach in 1940, viewing a diving helmet and breathing apparatus as part of training for a Veterans of Foreign Wars Bridge of Honor program. To qualify for honors, the boys planned to "descend beneath the sea with the helmet on". (Image, "Santa Ana Sea Scouts to Use Diving Helmet", Santa Ana Register, January 24, 1940)

   He didn't know what else to do. The world was at war. Russell Cleary's childhood friend had been taken from Orange County to a desert camp by the U.S. government, before they'd even had a chance to finish their senior year at Santa Ana High School. The two friends had been looking forward to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Citrus Belt League championship track and field competition.

   Cleary only did what made sense to him. He mailed a talisman of hope to his friend, Ichiro "Cheesy" Yoshimi, Block 38, Colorado River Relocation Center, Arizona: a pole vault medal.
RIGHT: Two months before the Yoshimi family and all Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from Orange County in May 1942, childhood friends Russell Cleary and Ichiro Yoshimi competed at the southern California counties track meet in Huntington Beach. Russell competed in high jump and Ichiro in the pole vault competition. Competing at the same meet was James Kanno, who would become in 1957 the first mayor of Fountain Valley (formerly Talbert). Kanno's father, Shuji, was an elder in the Wintersburg Japanese Mission in Wintersburg Village, where the Kanno family were congregants. (Santa Ana Register, March 20, 1942)

   "Dear Cheesy, I got 4th place in the meet with 10'6". I am sending you this medal because you deserve it," wrote Russell of the . "I know you could have done as good or better." 

   Enclosed was a small bronze medal with a yellow ribbon. Ichiro attached it to his watch chain and proudly wore it during his incarceration at Poston.

   The story of the gift was shared in detention center and camp newspapers at Santa Anita and Poston, as well as in the Santa Ana Register by sports columnist Eddie West in his "West Wind: Here and There in Sports" column on August 5, 1942. 

   "A 'Medal for Cheesy' is the title of the little human interest yarn below", wrote West, "which comes from the Poston Press Bulletin by way of Kaz Oshiki of the Santa Anita Pacemaker, which published it as its story-of-the-week."

   "I think you'll like it," added West about the story of the two high school friends, " is young democracy in action and at its best".

LEFT: Ichiro Yoshimi's father, Fred S. Yoshimi, owned the Rose Chop Suey Parlor at 404 West Fourth Street in Santa Ana (also sometimes listed at 402 West Fourth Street). This location is extant and is the 1915 red brick "Lawrence" building on West 4th Street, across the street from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse. Chop suey is an American invention and not authentic Chinese cuisine. It first started appearing in the United States in the 1880s and by the 1920s was a popular dish around the country. The advertisement at left was published on Christmas Eve in 1930. (Santa Ana Register, December 24, 1930)

   West's republishing of the "A Medal for Cheesy" story included the back story that the two friends were "both looking forward to the Citrus Belt League Championships when they could match poles with vaulters from other schools. But in May, just before the event, Yoshimi with his family, suddenly became a resident of Poston, Arizona.  Instead of gripping the thin, strong bamboo in his hands, instead of his body agilely soaring through the air, Yoshimi took a firm hold of a paint brush and went to work in the sign department."  

   West already was familiar with Ichiro, who had been reported on in local sports articles and columns for his achievements in track and field. West also was in alignment with the newspaper in which his column was published, The Santa Ana Register

   The Santa Ana Register's publisher R.C. Hoiles stood against the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans, remarking in an opinion piece on October 14, 1942, that "few, if any, people ever believed that the evacuation of the Japanese was constitutional. It was a result of emotion and fright rather than being in harmony with the Constitution and the inherent rights that belong to all citizens...true democracy is always dangerous but it is the safest thing we have. If we are not willing to run any risks and cannot have faith in humanity and regard people innocent until they are proved guilty, we are on the road to losing our democracy."

RIGHT: Like many Japanese American-owned businesses, the Rose Chop Suey Parlor supported community events, such as the 1933 Fiesta del Oro and Rodeo for which the restaurant is listed as one of the "public spirited citizens and business institutions". (Santa Ana Register, July 26, 1933)

   Russell Cleary, who passed in 2005, married his high school sweetheart, Louise Kenyon, before joining the Air Force after graduating from Santa Ana High School. His obituary, published in the Orange County Register (the former Santa Ana Register), notes that Russell operated fishing concessions at Irvine Lake and Anaheim Lakes until his retirement, and that "he lived his life to the fullest with unmatched enthusiasm, tending his fruit trees and grapevines, cooking and canning, eagerly reading anything about the Old West, walking, going to swap meets and farmer's markets..."

   Ichiro Yoshimi, a 1942 alumnus of Santa Ana High School, passed in 1995 at the age of 71, with services held at the Honpa Hong-Wanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. He is noted as the "beloved husband of Sachiko, father of Robert, Jon and Richard...". 

   In Poston, he was listed as a member of the camp's Red Cross, along with his father, "Fred" Saishichi (sic) Yoshimi (The First Year, Story of the Red Cross in Poston, September 1, 1943). Ichiro's older sister, Lily Yuriko Yoshimi, had been attending Santa Ana College in 1942 when her college aspirations were interrupted. In 2010, she was one of 22 students listed to whom the college wanted to provide a diploma (after the 2009 California law requiring public college and university systems to retroactively grant an honorary degree "to any student of Japanese American descent, living or deceased, who was forcibly removed and subsequently incarcerated during World War II").

 LEFT: The Santa Ana Register reported high school graduation ceremonies held three weeks after Ichiro Yoshimi and his family arrived at Poston. The article noted that 14 members of the class were already with the armed forces and three were "Japanese students moved to the interior during the recent evacuation." Ichiro Yoshimi was one of the three, along with  Yone Sasaki (Munemitsu) and James Kanno. Not all high schools in Orange County listed the Japanese American students who received their diplomas in absentia. In 1999, the graduating class of Santa Ana High School asked former Fountain Valley mayor James Kanno to walk with them at their commencement ceremony. (Santa Ana Register, June 9, 1942)

   Between 1942 to 1945, the CIF did not hold state meets for track and field, due to World War II. There were restrictions relating to gasoline rationing and no rubber for balls and other sports equipment. The Citrus Belt League competition in 1942 was as far as Orange County athletes would go that year.

   A history of the CIF written by Forrest William Fraasch in 1972 records that in 1942 "discontinuation of the use of the bamboo pole for the pole vault became complete during this period. Bamboo shipments ceased because of the war with Japan." CIF also notes the bamboo pole "really required a science in vaulting" and that the war was a "catalyst in changing the types of poles to the present fibre glass since it was so hard to obtain the bamboo pole..."

RIGHT: Raymond Furuta, son of Charles Mitsuji and Yukiko Yajima Furuta of the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg, during a track meet circa 1932. A star athlete who graduated from Huntington Beach High School in 1932, Ray participated in track during the bamboo pole era. (Photograph courtesy of the Furuta family collection) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   In 1945, when Japanese Americans began returning home to California, the CIF Southern Section initially placed restrictions on their participation in high school sports following a letter by the Burbank High School Registrar and Assistant Principal Theo. Kopp to Commissioner Seth Van Patten in November 1945. It was published on the front page of the CIF Southern Section Monthly Bulletin in December 1945 with the title, "Japanese boys create problem". 

   "With the return of a considerable number of Japanese boys to Southern California, it will be necessary for the CIF to come to some decision regarding the eligibility of these boys for next semester," wrote Kopp.  The eligibility requirement was related to credits missed for academic subjects during the fall 1945 semester for which they had not been able to fully participate due to their incarceration. The "problem" was referred to the CIFSS council for their February 1946 meeting (there is no mention of the resolution in subsequent Monthly Bulletins).

   The politics and wartime hysteria that separated Russell Cleary and Ichiro Yoshimi in 1942 were bigger than the two friends, but Russell's tiny gift to Ichiro was noticed by many. The medal for "Cheesy" in Poston was a message from the outside world to hang on. He was not forgotten.

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