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“The medical situation here is pitiful. The main and only hospital is at Camp I, 15 miles away. Here in Camp III, there is one young doctor with not too much experience and one student doctor working in an emergency clinic. They are supposed to take care of approximately 5000 people! And they (the Big Shots) wonder why we squawk about medical attention.”

The Colorado River was three miles west.

“No. I haven’t hiked to the river yet. I’d better do it soon, ’cause there is going to be a fence around the camp!! 5 strands of barbed wire!! They say it’s to keep people out — ha ha ha, what people? It’s also to keep out cattle. Where in the cattle countries do they use 5 strands of barbed wire? If they don’t watch out, there’s going to be trouble.

“At Santa Anita, at the time of the riot, the armored cars parked outside the main gates, pointed heavy machine guns inside, and then the army had the gall to tell us that the purpose…was to keep the white folks from coming in…. Same with the guards on the watch towers…hah, hah, hah…

“What a morbid letter this turned out to be!”

As the months passed, internees dug ponds and lakes. They planted trees and gardens. The camps grew into green oases amid the endless desert drab.

November 16, continued: “We are learning to make beautiful things out of ugly scrap...ugly dead mesquite branches and twigs and turn them into a thing of beauty by attaching paper orange blossoms or cherry blossoms made from Kleenex…. Words just can’t describe the beautiful carvings, paintings, knitting, crochet work, dress making, etc. If I only had a camera.

Tets sent Breed a nameplate carved from mesquite. Joanne Oppenheim: “It remained one of Clara’s treasures.” Tets had carved the wood “with a bedspring he turned into a chisel.”

December 1, 1942: “Receiving things from the outside is such a rarity that most of us share what we receive, no matter how little it is.”

February 19, 1943: “This is prodigal reporting. Things have been popping rather fast lately…. When the Army came here to Camp III to…take volunteers for the Japanese American Combat Unit, it was the best piece of news we Nisei [Japanese Americans born in the U.S. and therefore citizens] have had in a long time. We were despairing in ever becoming recognized. But now we have the chance to prove our loyalty, because after the evacuation, Nisei were classed as aliens ineligible for military service.

“I am proud to say that the San Diego group has the most volunteers of any other in camp. All together, in our block we have just about 15 volunteers, including yours truly, which makes about the best record yet.”

About this letter, Breed told a friend that it “had a lift and exhilaration that has been absent from former letters. He is an idealist and this experience has been hard for him.”

March 3, 1943: “Still waiting for orders. All of us are getting quite impatient. Rumors are going fast as to when we are going. Rather nerve wracking!!”

March 15, 1943: “Still waiting for orders. The sentiment in camp is very good now. Thanx to the S.D. group…the ball has been rolling toward the good ole American spirit. The majority of the people are now behind us…Our camouflage net projects are going full speed. Caucasians are amazed at production. Yessiree, everything OK.”

In early April, Tets took his physical for the military.

April 21, 1943: “Regret to inform you that for the good of the country and morale of the U.S. Army, I have been ‘rejected for general military service’ as a result of the physical examination.

“I have applied for limited military service, although present plans do not include limited service men in the Japanese American Combat Unit…. At any rate, until further orders, I am in the rejected class.”

June 17, 1943: “Well, I’m the ‘last of the Mohicans’ now. Early this morning, the next to the last of our old gang left for Colorado. Just about all of the volunteers have gone outside to wait for the Army call.”

September 27, 1943: “Dear Miss Breed: Good news!! My father has been paroled [just days after Pearl Harbor, he was imprisoned as an ‘enemy alien’]. Your affidavit did much to bring about parole. Thanks a million and more.”

December 29, 1943: [re his father, Chiyomatsu, who by this time was working as a barber with Tets at Poston]. “We have been so busy cutting hair that that is all we have time for during the day. Everyone wants to look his best for the New Year.

“It rained Christmas night, and I couldn’t help but to think back to that Christmas two short and yet long years ago when we were all together — now there are hundreds of miles separating us.”

June 10, 1944: “Six years ago today, I graduated from San Diego High School. Tonight, the first graduating class of Parker Valley High School [Poston III] marched into the partially constructed auditorium and received their diplomas. The students can rightfully be proud to say ‘It’s my school,’ for they built it [of adobe bricks] with sweat and toil during the hot summer days Poston is noted for. The class gift was a beautiful American flag. I believe this is the first American high school graduation to have a Buddhist blessing.

“The class motto: ‘The past, forever gone; the future still our own.’

“The doctor advised me that the arm bone is in a dubious state and would take some time to clear up. I could have walked under a snake’s belly. I felt so low. Then I read some articles…of heroic deeds of the Nisei soldiers, of the hardships they suffered. I woke up. What I am going through is nothing compared to the fighting man on the front.

“I am back in training now. I am weight lifting to condition my body. Exercise seems to do my arm more good than resting it all the time. I have started playing golf. The arm is a handicap, but after all, there are one-armed golfers who do all right. Besides, I have fun.

Read Part One

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Jay Allen Sanford Sept. 18, 2012 @ 2:42 a.m.

Hoping there will be a part three of this series? These letters detailing what Japanese U.S. citizens underwent during their forced interment (or rather imprisonment) are fascinating. The accompanying illo with this one, of the wood nameplate engraved with a bedspring-turned-chisel, is particularly poignant. This story is all the more timely right now, with George Takei's musical "Allegiance" playing at the Old Globe through October 21 and tackling the same sensitive (and somewhat shameful) subject matter.


Jeff Smith Sept. 18, 2012 @ 9:40 a.m.

Jayallen, just the two parts. The books and articles listed in the "Sources" section are a place to go. Esp. Joanne Oppenheim's Dear Miss Breed. And the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego has much to offer, including a current exhibit at the Museum of Man( that has the nameplate Tets carved for Clara Breed). I'm probably not supposed to say this - authorial distance and whatever - but I really connected with Tets. His intelligence, his humor, his love of books, and most of all how he faced adversity head-on.


Twister Sept. 19, 2012 @ 11:25 a.m.


You need a link to Part One just under the title (labeled: "link to Part One"). This should be a standard part of the website software.


Duhbya Sept. 21, 2012 @ 11:08 a.m.

Nice to see that the staff acts quickly upon relevant suggestions. Thanks are in order, Twister, for pointing that one out and saving me from having to search for Part One of this gripping story. Ditto to the staff.


Twister Sept. 19, 2012 @ 11:54 a.m.

Two things:

  1. Smith's work is hard to find. This is a website design issue.

  2. Referring people to books rarely works. I understand, Jeff, that you want to sample all the candy and not write too much about anything, but this needs an "end."

PS: I like the way Smith just lays the information out, letting the readers draw their own conclusions without indulging in preachy stuff; I think that can be more potent for a certain kind of reader. But other readers, the kind who may most need to be reached by good literature, may need a little subtle analysis. If not outright preaching.

[NOTE TO READER: You've got a good thing going, but it needs work. You could be an international phenomenon as well as a local one, but you seem to be leaving the former on the table. Can square become cool?]


Jeff Smith Sept. 21, 2012 @ 10:10 a.m.

Twister, I make it a habit never to read writers who preach.


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