Local News

Tuesday, Mar 11 2014 01:53 PM

'First Look': Veteran recalls internment camp experiences

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    Ken Nishiyama, left, talks with Californian CEO and President Richard Beene about his experiences in an internment camps during World War II during a segment of "First Look with Scott Cox."

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

It's been 72 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered and issued Executive Order 9066 during World War II. The order led to the relocation of about 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps.

Ken Nishiyama, 80, remembers Feb. 19, 1942 like it was yesterday.

"It was frightful, we didn't know what was going to happen to us," Nishiyama said Tuesday on "First Look with Scott Cox."

But even after being interned at age 8, he never turned his back on his country -- America. Nishiyama is a retired Lt. Colonel who served nearly 30 years in the Air Force as a navigator.

Growing up in Oakland with two younger siblings -- at that time 4-year-old and 6-month-old brothers -- Nishiyama was used to living in a comfortable home with his parents. He ate good food and had privacy when he needed it.

But the executive order mandated he and his family pack thier lives in 72 hours and head to the Oakland train station where they would be taken to their destination.

"We were allowed to carry blankets, pots and pans, clothing," Nishiyama said. "And with my two younger brothers, we couldn't carry too much."

At the train station, holding onto their belongings, they were tagged and loaded inside a bus, where the blinds were drawn.

His family and others were dropped off at a horse racetrack south of San Francisco that had been transformed to living quarters.

Horse stables were converted into individual sleeping areas, only divided by canvass that hung in the middle of the stable, illuminated by a single light bulb.

"My dad's generation felt they couldn't do anything and we weren't in a position to protest," Nishiyama said. "You had to make the best of it."

Even though the meals weren't good -- they were fed lots of potato salad and ground meat -- the lack of privacy was the worst.

"As a young kid, I was used to privacy," Nishiyama said.

Instead of privacy, he had to sit between older men who read the newspaper and smoked cigarettes as they used the toilet.

THE MOVE

After living in the horse stables for four months, Nishiyama and his family spent three years interned in a camp in Topaz, Utah. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and looked and felt like prison, Nishiyama said.

After the war, as Japanese Americans were slowly let out of internment camps, Nishiyama attended UC Berkeley for three years and then joined the Air Force Aviation Cadet Navigator Training Program in 1955. He retired in 1984.

"I never heard my parents say they were bitter about things that happened in our lives, because we moved foward," Nishiyama said. "My history is here, as a Japanese person living in America."

You can meet Nishiyama and hear his story in person at 1 p.m. Saturday at Minter Field Air Museum, 401 Vultee St., Shafter. The event is free and refreshments will be provided.

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