April 7, 2018.
Sixteen-year-old Gordon took his saxophone and walked home from the dance at the cafeteria. It had been another big night for the band. The crowd especially enjoyed the Jive Bombers’ rendition of hit song “Don’t Fence Me In”. The dance had been a release from the tension built up by “the survey”.
Gordon was born and raised in Los Angeles. His father was Issei (Japanese born), and his mother Nisei (born in the U.S. of Japanese parents). After the start of WWII the family had been moved to Manzanar Internment Camp. The home he was walking back to was one of many barracks.
There had been tension in the camp for two years, but the survey from administration was making it worse. Two of the many questions were a kind of loyalty test. One asked if they’d be willing to serve in the armed forces in combat. A more complicated query asked if they would forswear any allegiance to the Japanese emperor. Some of the men in camp had been rejected when trying to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attack. Many were U.S. citizens who had never served the emperor. And they had all lost their property and freedom.
No one knew how the answers would be used. A “no” answer might affect the fate of other family members. There was no place to explain your answer on the survey.
The survey questions were a divisive issue in the Japanese community long after the war ended. The U.S government did use the results against individuals. During the war the “No-No Boys” (and sometimes families) received worse treatment.
Jive Bomber sax player Gordon Hisashi Sato eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Korea. He went to school, earning a PHD in biophysics, and became a professor. He devoted himself to the Manzanar Project, a method of feeding waste to salt-and-heat resistant algae, which in turn fed brine, then larger fish, then impoverished communities. The approach has been tried in China, Chile, Sudan, and Eritrea. Sato has earned scientific honors, and a National Geographic article calls him a “maritime Johnny Appleseed”.
In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a resolution apologizing for the government’s treatment of the internees. Some restitution was made for those who were still alive. And he said “For here we admit a wrong; here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law”.
After Pearl Harbor the U.S. also made an alliance with Peru, which had over 25,000 Japanese immigrants. Peruvian authorities rounded up most of these and sent them to the U.S.
Japanese in Canada, even citizens, received similar treatment as those in the U.S.
I enjoyed seeing pictures of the Jive Bombers at Manzanar and looked online for profiles of the members. That’s how I found Dr. Gordon Sato. The park features many other interesting stories. (After all, there are 110,000 to choose from.)
* All pics are click to enlarge.