Chapter 20, segment 2 of 2, 'End of Confinement'
Ayako applied to ten different nursing schools throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, because she was working long hours at the hospital and also helping out her family at the apple orchard in her spare time, she missed the funding deadline for the government’s Cadet Nursing Program.
Failing to meet the funding deadline meant that she would have to pay for her training on her own if she was accepted. So when she learned that she had been accepted to St. Mary’s hospital nursing program in Quincy, Illinois, she broached the news to her mother with mixed feelings.
“That’s good,” her mother said upon hearing the news. “When will you start?”
“The program starts next month, but I missed the deadline for government funding,” said Ayako. “Without it I don’t see how I can afford to go..”
“Don’t worry,” Mizuko assured her. “We will find a way.”
So with support from her mother and the rest of the family and the assurances from the school that they would help her secure the rest of the funds needed, Ayako left rural Idaho in November 1945 for Illinois. About twenty other Japanese American young women, recently released from other concentration camps throughout the west, were also accepted to the same school. The influx of young Japanese women created a stir and an immediate sense of community in the unfamiliar Midwest.
While Ayako was making plans to attend nursing school, Henry and Mikako also were faced with an important decision back in Manzanar. Henry felt that he could no longer wait to re-establish his produce business in Los Angeles. His desire to leave Manzanar was complicated by the fact that Mikako was pregnant with their second child. Staying in camp meant that she would be able to make use of the camp hospital when it came time to deliver her baby. But each passing day meant that the competition for jobs and opportunities in Los Angeles was growing. The end of the war meant a flood of returning veterans in Southern California, all looking for jobs and places to live.
Even though Henry’s original plan was to employ his brothers, Jiro, Kaworu, Jimmy, and his brother-in-law, Sam Hasegawa, he felt it had become crucial to stake out his enterprise in advance of the rising competition. So although the other men were not available to assist him, Henry left Manzanar for Los Angeles on September 19, 1945, leaving his expectant wife Mikako, two year-old daughter Hatsumi, and his mother-in-law Hatsu Nakadegawa, behind.
By early October 1945 only 2,000 out of 10,000 inmates remained in Manzanar. An announcement was made that the camp would close in its entirety by December 1st, 1945.
On Oct 15th with most of the hospital already shut down, Mikako Nakadegawa Nomura delivered her second child, and first son, Arthur Ikuo (this book's author) without complications. Arthur Ikuo Nomura was one of the last children born in the Manzanar hospital.
On November 18th just a little more than a month after giving birth, Mikako, along with Hatsumi, Arthur Ikuo, and Hatsu, left camp by bus for Los Angeles to join Henry. They were the last of Mizuko’s extended family to leave Manzanar.
Just three days later, on Nov. 21, 1945, Manzanar War Relocation Center closed its doors.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Henry discovered that his plan to get back into the produce business was more difficult than he had imagined. In the ultra-competitive world of the Wholesale Produce Market, non-Japanese brokers had taken over the Nomura Brothers’ former stalls and would not even consider relinquishing their hold on them. Without trucks or any start-up capital he had to consider alternatives.
Many other Japanese men returning to the area were experiencing similar problems in starting over and needed to find different work than they had had before the incarceration. For many it meant becoming a residential gardener.
Despite a lack of experience, Henry talked his way into buying a used pick up truck and gardening tools on credit and became a gardener. He stayed one step ahead of the gardening inquiries of his customers by taking their questions to the local lawn mower repair shop. There, the most experienced Japanese gardeners dispensed advice on everything from pruning techniques to the most profitable plants to sell.
It took a year and a half of full-time gardening before Henry felt established enough to give the produce business another try. Since reclaiming his brokerage remained impossible, he decided to focus on hauling produce from Japanese-run farms to the wholesale market. He was able to buy a used truck for hauling with money borrowed from Lem Toi, an itinerant Chinese vegetable peddler whom Henry had known in the wholesale produce market before the war.
On a handshake agreement Mr. Toi loaned him $2500. With the income from hauling produce plus that from his gardening route, Henry doggedly rebuilt his business.
Back in Idaho, the fall harvest was nearly complete when Sam Hasegawa finally returned home from the service. His return helped to lift the depression Mizuko had felt since the A-bombs had been dropped on Japan ending the war. Sam had returned alive despite the fact that he had served in the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The 442nd had experienced the highest rate of injury and death among U.S. wartime units. Their motto of ‘Go For Broke’ epitomized the passion and dedication with which they approached their military service. Commensurate with their physical sacrifice was the fact that they were the most highly decorated unit in the United States military.
Sam was the recipient of a Bronze Star for battlefield heroism and was still recovering from combat injuries, but his return still filled everyone with relief. He quickly became involved in the harvest, and became a productive worker despite his physical condition. One evening after work, he made an auspicious announcement.
“The owner's of the farm, theMarshall family, has made us an offer,” he said smiling broadly. “If we agree to do some potato sorting and packing for them, we can have the use of a bungalow rent-free for the winter.”
“What’s the catch?” asked his father, Kinzaburo. “Do we get paid?”
“Yes, we’ll get paid a fair rate for our work. They just felt the use of the house should be included,” smiled Sam.
“It sounds very generous,” Mizuko offered. “Maybe they like the idea of a decorated Army veteran working for them.”
“I’m sure they are just good people,” Sam demurred. “The Yoshiwara family has already accepted a similar deal from them.”
Like Henry, the Nomura/Hasegawas had become the recipients of the generosity of a non-Japanese benefactor. The Marshalls, a local Mormon family, felt it was only right to help a hard-working family, Japanese or not, regain their footing. So, rather than moving directly back to Southern California, where neither work or housing was guaranteed, the family decided to spend the winter in Idaho.
The first bout of freezing weather made everyone question their decision to stay. The unrelenting chill reminded Mizuko of her years in Montana. It was so cold inside the house, that if left for more than a minute, Harumi’s wet diapers froze to the floor. One frigid night, Mizuko made a personal vow to never live in a frozen place again.
Although the living conditions were challenging, the Hasegawa family had been reunited. Despite their tenuous existence, Christmas was still a happy event for Mizuko. They were finally free of the barbed wire fences and armed guards of Manzanar, free to determine how they wanted to spend their lives. For the first time in nearly four years, Mizuko and her family were able to look to the future with a sense of genuine hope.
end of Chapter 20, segment 2 of 2, 'End of Confinement'