KINGSBURG – When Kingsburg High student Kirandeep Klair learned about what Japanese American alumni from her school endured during World War II, she was compelled to find them and honor them in some way.
“We are always a family at Kingsburg High School. As we like to say, ‘once a Viking, always a Viking.’”
Klair attended the traveling exhibit “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience,” at Kingsburg’s Historical Museum in early 2018. Realizing her fellow Vikings missed out on many of the traditions of high school, she decided to not only have the school honor them, but to do so during one of the most pivotal events where school pride is at an all-time high – the rivalry football game between Kingsburg and Selma high schools.
With the aid of school officials and after much research with the help of local farmer Robert Yano, his daughter Chris Yano Goss, and Roy Deguchi, Klair sought out Japanese American students who attended Kingsburg High from the Classes of 1942 through 1945.
Klair coordinated a plaque presentation ceremony and now that marker will be installed at the Kingsburg High Stadium “as a reminder of what our KHS Vikings had to endure.”
While the stands of the KHS Stadium were overflowing in a sea of gold and green on Oct. 26, a frenzied cheer went out as the junior varsity game wrapped up. With cheerleaders at the ready for the arrival of the varsity football team, the stadium came to a halt as these silver-haired Vikings and surviving family members of alumni from the Classes of 1942 through 1945 were escorted on to the field.
Beforehand, they recalled childhood memories of their friends and teachers while attending Kingsburg’s elementary schools. They harkened back to early memories of helping their parents with farm work and life in their then-rural community. Kingsburg High held football games even when they were students in the mid-1940s, but these Vikings had that chapter of their life whisked away.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan during World War II, national security worries sparked the internment of Japanese Americans. They were primarily sent from the West Coast to concentration camps in the Western interior. Among them were Kingsburg Nisei, the first generation of children of Japanese-born immigrants, who at the time were attending Kingsburg High and other Kingsburg schools.
Klair said it was when she heard Yano’s first-hand account of his and his family’s history at the traveling “Courage and Compassion” exhibit she felt compelled to honor her fellow Vikings.
“Mr. Yano impacted all of us with his story. It was very difficult to hear about this all-around American boy and his family being imprisoned in an internment camp for their Japanese heritage,” Klair said.
Michiko (Shiine) Nobuhiro would have graduated Kingsburg High in 1945. She recalls attending Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt schools and one year of Kingsburg High before her family was relocated to the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona.
Her parents worked on farms and they lived so far out in the country, she really couldn’t attend many high school events. When a letter arrived ordering them to relocate, Nobuhiro said their family realized there was not much they could do except comply with the order.
“It was something they couldn’t help so they had to go along with it.”
She didn’t get to attend football games at KHS, but there were sports and schooling at the camps, she said.
“It was very hot and they’d show movies every once in a while but they couldn’t finish it because of the dust storms. The summers were terrible but we just made the best of it. I went all the way through high school.”
Her family moved to Idaho for a year after they were released and then returned to Kingsburg.
“It was the place where we grew up and knew the best. There was still a bit of suspicion but as time went on, it got better.”
At the time, Nobuhiro said the injustice of their internment didn’t dawn upon her until after they returned. She’s glad that at least now they’re being remembered.
“Most of us were American citizens. It shouldn’t have happened and we shouldn’t have been put in a camp but it’s really nice that they’re going to honor us.”
Carolyn (Nakata) Ikemiya, of Fresno, was among other KHS Vikings who would have graduated in 1947. She was an eighth grader when her family was interned.
“It is what it is. I didn’t have any strong feelings about it because I was too young.”
Ikemiya’s son, Kenneth Ikemiya, wheeled her out to the football field for the presentation ceremony. He appreciated the recognition ceremony and was even more impressed of how that generation of Japanese Americans encouraged the next generation to achieve success as Americans.
“It’s important to realize how they came back from the war. They weren’t bitter, they weren’t angry and they worked very hard and encouraged their children to strive and succeed and persevere.”
Ikemiya said even though his parents preferred to leave that part of history in the past, he feels it’s important for the next generations to be aware and not repeat that same chapter in U.S. history.
“I think it’s something they wanted to put in the past. There’s likely nobody up there [in the stadium stands] alive from 1942. It’s easy to forget the past, so this is a good refresher to remind people of what happened and that it’s not something we should do to a group of people.”
Klair agrees and said that not only did she want the surviving Nisei to realize current KHS students know what happened decades ago, but that they are learning from those events.
“It’s important for my generation to learn about that time in our history and how it affected our Vikings. These Japanese American students, along with their families, were incarcerated during World War II for a period of three years. Their only ‘crime’ was their Japanese heritage.”
Kingsburg High graduates in attendance that night were: Roy Deguchi who represented Michiko Mizutani, Hiroshi Deguchi and Kazuko Deguchi; Robert Lee Yano and Michiko Shiine-Nobuhiro.
Family members in attendance included: Sam Ando (Michicko Ando and Wasco Ando); Sharon Ezaki and two of her grandsons (Sumiko Ezaki, Shizuko Matsuoka and Mac Matsuoka); Steve and Ginny Fukugawa and daughters, Susan Eidal and Ashlyn Swan (Chester Fukugawa); Nicholas Shimoide and wife (Suzoko Shimoide and May Shimoide); Randy and Kathy Yano and family (Robert Lee Yano); Steve Goss and Chris Yano-Goss and family (Robert Lee Yano); Jan Yoshimoto (Yoshiye Yoshimoto); Carolyn and Kenny Ikemiya (John Nakata); Gene and Gale Nakai (Hazel Bungo); Susan Hirata (Masako Kawano); Janice and Hank Perry (Max Kawano); Sandy Ohara; Jodie Ashie and Gail Hachiya.