A long awaited train ride takes Japanese American's home.
|The Train Home
It was November, 1945. The bombings that had devastated Japan in August, and brought an end to WW II, were still a major topic of discussion. My father was sure of lucrative employment opportunities in California and was moving our family to Sacramento, our train had left Atlanta two days ago.
America’s beauty unfolded in the train window as we traveled past the splendor of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and the serenity of Louisiana’s Bayou. It was when our train stopped at a small, dusty station in Arizona, that we saw one of America’s ugliest sights. A sign hanging over the station platform swung lazily in the gentle breeze, its white letters proudly displaying the name, Stafford.
In the distance I saw the Pinaleno Mountains as they cut a jagged line into the blue southwestern horizon, their snow covered peaks glistened in the late afternoon son. The train station was crowded with people, and as I looked more closely I saw that they had one thing in common—they were all oriental. Many of them were looking expectantly to the east along the set of tracks on the other side of the platform.
“What are all those Chinese people doing here, dad?” My father sat next to me and saw the crowd.
“They’re not Chinese, Paul,” dad said. There was sadness in my father’s eyes as he scanned the crowd. “Those people are Japanese, and they’ve been interned during the war…probably not far from here.”
“Are they the same people we were fighting against?” Fear crept into my thoughts. Two people seated across from me were talking.
“Why, they don’t look dangerous to me, Perry,” an elderly woman said to the man next to her.
“I thought they would all be fat and have buck teeth,” the man said. “What do you suppose they’re doing?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, but I’ll be glad when our train leaves and we’re safely away from them.”
My father took my hand and we walked off the train and down onto the station platform. I think he wanted to get me away from the couple and their conversation.
“Are they really dangerous, dad?” I remembered what the woman had said.
“No, Paul,” my father knelt next to me, “they’re not dangerous at all…in fact, they are American’s, just like us.” As he looked at me he knew that I didn’t understand. “When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, war broke out, you learned about that in school, right?”
“I did, a lot of people died that day.”
“Yes, but these people had nothing to do with it.” He smiled at me. “These people were rounded up, taken away from their homes and businesses, and held in camps around the country. People were afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“I don’t really know, and if you asked the people who were afraid of them, they probably couldn’t tell you either.”
“Did they fight against us?” My father put his arm around me.
“Well, some of them did fight, Paul, but not against us.”
“I don’t understand, dad.”
“Well, in the spring of 1943, America asked for volunteers to form a Japanese Brigade. Many of the people being held in the camps volunteered. They fought, but against the Japanese Army, not us.”
“So they went to fight against the Japanese?”
“Yes, they did. They were formed into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Did you ever hear about the ”Lost Battalion?
“Yes, I heard about them in the news.”
“Well, the 442nd helped to rescue that battalion, in fact, one-hundred-eighty-four members of the 442nd were killed, but they rescued two-hundred-eleven Texans.”
“But they’re Japanese.” I protested.
“I’d say that because of what they did to help us, we should call them Americans, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I’d say they qualify.”
“Me too, son.”
When I heard the far-off rumble of a train, I looked east and saw the light from the big, powerful, engine as it grew brighter.
“So what will happen to them now, dad?”
“I don’t know. Some of them will return to the lives they had before they were sent here. Some don’t have anything to go back to after all this time.” A Japanese man who had been standing nearby smiled at my father. “Where is everyone headed?” dad asked.
“To Sacramento,” he replied shyly.
“Isn’t that where we are going, dad?” I asked.
“Yes it is. It was probably their home before they were moved out.”
“I hope they’ll be alright when they get home,” I said as the train rumbled into the station, vibrating the platform beneath my feet.
“I’m very happy you feel that way, Paul,” my father said as he looked at me.
The train had pulled in, it’s locomotive hissing steam. The Japanese people began picking up their suit cases, women raised little children in their arms as they slowly inched closer to the train and began to board. “Good luck,” I said to the man who had smiled at my father and said he was going to Sacramento. He thanked me through a small smile. “They don’t look very happy, dad.”
“I’m sure they’re happy…this is one train ride they’ve been looking forward to for a long time, Paul. It’s sure to change their lives.”
The train whistle blasted the late afternoon air and smoke billowed from its stack, as I watched the their train leave the station and head west.
That day instilled in me a special respect for Japanese Americans, wherever I saw them.
Word Count 917
Writer’s Cramp entry for May 11, 2011.
Prompt: A cross-country train trip opens your eyes to another way of life.
On February 19th 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Under the terms of the Order, some 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in the US were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps.
The Gile River Relocation Camp, in Arizona, was in operation from July 20, 1942 until November 10, 1945. 13,348 Japanese American’s were interned there during that time. Over 1100 of them served in the American armed forces. The names of 23 war dead are engraved on a plaque at the camp. Home for most of them had been Sacramento and Los Angeles