[HISTORY] June 3, 1942 - 3,677 Japanese Americans from Oregon Sent to Internment
- June 15, 2003
Painful lesson: 34 West Sixth Avenue would be an appropriate site for
memorial to mark World War II internment of Japanese-Americans
By Jake Klonoski
For The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon
For high school seniors across Lane County, June is the month for
graduation - as it was for me five years ago. Many have celebrated
their graduation this month at 34 W. Sixth Ave. in Eugene, the Hult
Center, ignorant, as I was until a short time ago, as to the meaning
of that address in Eugene's history.
The graduates thus enter society as full civic participants having
been denied one of the crucial lessons every American, every
Eugenean, especially in an age of potential terrorism, should know:
that their rights and those of others are not fixed, but rather are
unsteady compasses, only as certain as the skills of the people
Sixty-one years ago, the Eugene community failed to live up to a
challenge similar to the one confronting it today.
On June 3, 1942, the last of 3,677 Japanese-Americans were evacuated
from Oregon, having been registered as potential threats to national
security at the municipal building at 34 W. Sixth Ave.
They were loaded onto the 87th Civilian Exclusion Order train at
Eugene's railroad station and, after a stop in Medford, went on to
Tule Lake detention camp in Northern California. There they joined
more than 18,000 other ethnic Japanese, to be held for the duration
of World War II.
That camp, along with a dozen others with names that still ring in
the ears of many Americans - Minidoka, Gila River, Manzanar - kept
112,353 people living in primitive conditions for more than three
years in hostile climates under military guard and control.
It marks the largest single governmentally organized forced movement
of people in American history. Most held there were citizens of the
United States, born in this country, while all of those who were not
had been barred from becoming citizens by federal law due solely to
A panic following the Pearl Harbor attack provided the final excuse
for a society that had long been uncomfortable with a group
considered to be alien, despite the fact that Little Tokyos and
Japantowns dotted large cities up and down the West Coast, including
Portland, and that Japanese-American farmers were sprinkled
throughout farming areas, including the Willamette Valley.
June 3, 1942, the date on which Oregon's last trainload of
Japanese-Americans passed through Eugene on its way to the camps,
ended that long presence in Oregon. It would not be until 1946 that
anyone of Japanese ancestry could legally set foot in Western Oregon
Those dates, decades past, of wrongs done to people mentioned in
history books made little impact on me until I spoke recently with
82-year-old Michi Yasui Ando, who told me of her experience with a
trainload of internees.
In 1942, she was a 21-year-old senior at the University of Oregon.
Having endured months of fear and uncertainty about the future -
especially after her father, a leader in the Japanese-American
community in Hood River, was arrested by the FBI - Michi received a
call from her brother Ray in Hood =River. He informed her that their
mother and teen-age sister, Yuka, had been deemed risks to national
security. Along with all other Japanese-Americans on the West Coast,
they were to be moved by train the next day, May 13, from Hood River
to a fate unknown to him at a camp =somewhere south of Eugene.
Despite all of her fears about her own fate, the next day Michi went
to the train station. There, in the shadow of Skinner Butte, she
anxiously waited throughout the morning, enduring suspicious glances
and sometimes angry glares from those coming and going from the
Finally, a train approached. This, she concluded from the armed,
uniformed men standing between each car, must be the evacuation
With long-suppressed tears running down her face, she began waving
frantically to the people on board. But most of the shades were
drawn and she did not recognize her mother or sister among the few
eyes she did see peering out. Quickly, Civilian Exclusion Order
train No. 49, carrying 555 people, her family, friends and
neighbors, was gone, carrying its occupants to internment at Tule
Lake for the next 3 1/2 years.
She then walked slowly back to campus on streets all Eugene
residents have walked, feeling alone and isolated in a hostile
The Register-Guard 11 days later announced the imminent evacuation
of the Japanese-American population in Lane, Douglas, Coos, Curry,
Josephine, Jackson and Klamath counties and wrote that "only a
limited number of Japanese and Nisei (were) expected to be affected
by the order." As an afterthought, it mentioned the "less than a
dozen students at the University of Oregon" and passed on the word
that a "responsible member of each family of Japanese and each
individual living alone in this area must report between the hours
of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, to ... the civic control
station at 34 W. 6th Ave. in Eugene." There they would be processed
for their own evacuation and imprisonment.
Michi instead fled the state for Denver, not knowing whether she had
graduated, and remained there throughout the war. Despite her last
few months and method of departure, she still remembers Eugene
fondly and her time there "as among the happiest of my life."
The wrong of the internment of the Japanese during World War II has
since been recognized nationally. In 1980, Congress formed the
Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to
investigate and redress wrongs against Japanese-Americans during
World War II. In 1984, President Reagan apologized on behalf of the
nation to all those interred. A national memorial in Washington,
D.C., recently opened in remembrance of those lost years for so many
In Oregon, a decade-long effort saw the opening of the Japanese
American Historical Plaza on Aug. 3, 1990. The plaza is a few blocks
from where Portland's Japantown used to be, a somber memorial to the
humiliation, loss and denial of an entire population in a moment of
wartime hysteria. It is always open, and is a beautiful part of the
waterfront reconstruction along the Willamette River.
Yet Eugene has no official memorial, plaza or even plaque to mark the
location of its part in a great mistake of American history.
Recently, following the fears generated by Sept. 11, a Day of
Remembrance Committee - made up of Eugeneans who were interred,
children of internees and concerned citizens - was formed to mark
Feb. 19, the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, issued by
President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 authorizing the internment.
It would be fitting to remember such an event year round. It would be
especially fitting for graduating high school students to have a
spot to mark the fact that the society they are entering depends on
them to protect their rights and those of others, and to remind them
that devastating results can follow should they fail.
Such sentiments are crucial at a time when the fear of terrorism
again has some Americans questioning their neighbors and the
government is engaged in a delicate balance of national security and
It is with that belief that Eugeneans have begun to think about an
appropriate way to memorialize the internment of their fellow
Oregonians and Americans. The place for such a memorial would be the
site of the registration effort, 34 W. Sixth Ave. - the Hult Center.
Yet time is of the essence. Even though the same strong spirit that
allowed Michi to survive the internment of her family has seen her
through a vibrant 82 years, she will not be here forever.
And with the passing of those who lived through Eugene's part in the
internment, it becomes crucial that their experiences live on so that
others can learn from them.
Eugene is a wonderful place, a place to which I look forward to
returning. Yuka, too, recognized it as such, for after her
internment she returned to Eugene to go to college.
And years later when she and Michi would discuss the events of May
13, Michi was finally able to learn that her tearful waves had not
gone unseen. Yuka had spotted her from the train and has treasured
the moment ever since, through the months of internment and on into
her life when she was once again free to live beyond the camps.
Navy Ensign Jake Klonoski grew up in Eugene. He is currently
stationed in Ballston Spa, N.Y., where he is training to be a