Among the most touching artifacts archived relating to Japanese American confinement during World War II are those relating to the interaction with teachers. The teachers knew their students, had watched them grow up, and knew their parents.
The virtual lifeline provided to the incarcerated by teachers helped keep Issei and Nisei connected with the outside world and focused on better days ahead.
In Orange County, we know of Anita Shepardson, Remembering Ma Shep, http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/2012/02/remembering-ma-shep-on-first-floor-of.html, and Georgia Day Robertson, Orange County author and educator Georgia Day Robertson: Moved to write by her time in Poston, http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/2012/03/part-three-of-our-interview-series.html
Add to that list Ray Elliott and teachers at Huntington Beach High School.
Huntington Beach High School
Most of the Japanese community in Wintersburg, Talbert and the surrounding area attended Huntington Beach High School.
Known in its early years as the "School on Wheels," Huntington Beach High School struggled in its early years to find a home. First opening in Los Alamitos in 1903, the high school moved to Garden Grove in 1904, and then to Wintersburg in 1905. Classes in Wintersburg were held in the armory building at the intersection of present-day Warner Avenue and Gothard Avenue.
Writing in the mid 1950s about the school's history in Wintersburg, Raymond M. Elliott wrote, "although the enrollment was very small, Mr. Solomon introduced basketball. He induced the six boys in the school to participate in this sport and succeeded in defeating every other school with which the team competed."
Elliott started as a mathematics and history teacher at the high school in 1923, and was promoted to vice principal in 1929 and principal in 1945. (Note: the letters are addressed to "Mr. Elliot"; school records indicate it was "Elliott.")
Left: Letter from Attorney General Frances Biddle to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, stating many of the dangers cited in General John L. De Witt's final report on Japanese evacuation were "chimeric," April 12, 1944. (Image, Densho.org)
One of the rumors reported in a California State University-Fullerton oral history conducted forty-four years ago in 1968 with Lee Chamness, Jr. relates to the local goldfish farmers. Chamness was the son of a Huntington Beach city councilman who resigned office to become the town civilian defense coordinator and assisted the FBI arrest local Japanese, including those in Wintersburg.
An architectural rendering of the first Huntington Beach High School building on Main Street in 1908. (Image, Los Angeles Herald, April 5, 1908)
Left: Harley Asari (#10), Toshiko Furuta (#31), and Lily Kikuchi (#33), the 6th and 7th grade of Oceanview Grammar School, Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue and Beach Boulevard, circa 1927. (Photo courtesy of Douglas McIntosh and ochistorical.blogspot.com)
Ray Elliott had become vice principal of Huntington Beach High School and watched his Japanese American students--who he had known on an almost daily basis--leave for internment. Huntington Beach High School administration and teachers worked with students so they could graduate.
Yoshiyuki Tashima, a Huntington Beach High School senior, recalled in his 1974 oral history interview with Pat Tashima for CSU Fullerton that his family had to evacuate one month before his high school graduation. He "wrote to the principal of Huntington Beach High School (then McClelland G. Jones) to inquire about my graduating with the class, and he wrote back saying all I had to do was complete one course, and that was civics, and they asked me to write a paper on the relocation camp."
Kiyoko Tatsukawa, another Huntington Beach High School student, continued her studies at Poston and became a nurse's aid in the Poston Hospital in 1943. The War Relocation Authority photographed her smiling in a nurse's uniform.
Left: Kiyoko Tatuskawa at Poston Arizona Relocation Center (Photo, War Relocation Authority)
The Asaris returned to their property and goldfish farm in Wintersburg after the war. Like the Furutas and the Akiyamas, the Asaris found their ponds in poor condition, filled with weeds and silt. They started over and recovered the ponds, operating a hatchery business well after Wintersburg was annexed into Huntington Beach in 1957-1958.
Ray Elliott went on to become principal of Huntington Beach High School, then superintendent of the Huntington Beach Union High School District, and helped advocate for the creation of Orange Coast College.
The contents of the letters from Harley Asari to Ray Elliott are unknown. What we do know is that Elliott was among the educators that represented comfort and support for those far from their Orange County home.
A note of thanks
When Dick Keiser of Silverdale, Washington, heard the story behind the envelope (left)---that it was one of Historic Wintersburg's goldfish farmers writing from internment to a Huntington Beach High School principal ---he generously donated the envelope to Historic Wintersburg. This artifact is now back home in Huntington Beach, awaiting future historical exhibition.
Special thanks to Dick Keiser, DK Enterprise, Silverdale, Washington.
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