Hearing Voices: A Japanese-American in a WWII Camp

Producers with the Hearing Voices radio project bring the story of Ed Kiyohara, a Japanese-American who spent time at the Puyallup Assembly Center in Washington state during World War II. He was one of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent who were forced from their homes in coastal cities and towns to live in internment camps while American forces battled Japan for control of the Pacific Ocean.

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Earlier in the war, President Roosevelt ordered the relocation of all Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes in Western coastal regions to guarded internment camps. In the Seattle area, they were send to the Puyallup Assembly Center. Ed Kiyohara was a 21-year-old college student from Sumner, Washington, only a few miles from the camp where he would be held.

Mr. ED KIYOHARA (Former Detainee): It was very difficult for everybody, especially my mother, who raised us in our farmhouse and then had to leave everything.

Every day there was a truck come by and picked up 55-gallon barrels full of garbage. They took it up on a hill above Sumner and they dumped it, and they had, oh, three or four fellows on the flatbed truck. One day I thought, `Gosh, they're going right by my hometown. Maybe I can sneak a ride and go into Sumner.' So one day I asked the black truck driver, I said, `Hey, how about dropping me off in Sumner and picking me up on the way back so I can visit some of my friends and get away from here?' Took me a couple of days to talk him into it. I didn't pay him a darned thing because I didn't have any money to pay him. Being a black man, he knew the discriminations and he had a rough time himself, so he said, `Oh, well, I'll take a chance.'

So every now and then I would get on the garbage truck, sit in the back with the garbage and we'd get into Sumner, Main Street, he'd slow down and I'd jump off and go to my friend's ice cream shop and have a sundae or a banana split or something. And my folks were a little unhappy that I was doing that because they knew it was illegal. But as a young boy, why, I loved to take chances. It didn't bother me if I got caught or not.

One day I jumped off the truck and I was walking down the street and the police caught me, and he said, `What are you doing?' I said, `Well, I'm going over and get an ice cream cone.' He says, `Well, go to the ice cream parlor and stay there. Don't walk around town, because it makes me look bad. You're not supposed to be here.' I said, `OK.' Didn't have any money, so the owner said, `You never need money.'

It's very hard for me to tell you that story, because there was a lot of kind people back in my hometown that I'll never forget.

CHADWICK: Ed Kiyohara went on to volunteer for the Army. He earned a Purple Heart in Europe and served with the famous all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in US military history. He's now 84 years old. He was recorded by his nephew, Jon Watanabe, as part of the HearingVoices.com radio project.

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CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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