This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
WEST GOSHEN — When speaking about internment camps during World War II, little is spoken about the ones in the United States when people of Japanese descent were rounded up and forced into relocation camps.
But for those Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans, they won’t soon forget what happened to them, even 74 years later.
“This is a chapter in American history of the persecution and incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry,” said John Fuyuumo, one of the many Japanese-Americans forced into the camps.
Fuyuumo spoke to Fugett Middle School seventh graders about his experiences during World War II at the Gila Japanese Internment Camp in Arizona and his life-changing transfer to New Jersey.
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The 90-year-old was born in the United States after his father came to the country in the early 1900s from Hiroshima, Japan, and his mother came over in 1919.
His parents opened a grocery store in Pasadena, California, but shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, people began looking at those of Japanese ancestry, whether born in America or not, in a scared and angry manner – especially along the West Coast.
Then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing all Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast and it resulted in the relocation of roughly 120,000 people to ten internment camps.
“(There was) posted on the telephone pole outside my father’s store an exclusion order, covering anyone with 1/10 Japanese blood,” Fuyuumo said. “It said, in essence, by next Saturday at noon, terminate your businesses, sell or dispose of everything and report to the train station by 8 a.m.”
Everything in the Fuyuumo store was given away or sold off at giveaway prices and the family had to board a train with only the clothes on their backs.
They were transported to the Gila Japanese Internment Camp in Arizona.
“Our camp was in the middle of an isolated desert, surrounded by barbed-wire fences,” Fuyuumo said. “The guards in the watchtowers had their weapons pointed in the camp and anyone leaving without permission was shot.”
Things may not have been as horrific as the concentration camps throughout Europe, but that doesn’t mean Fuyuumo or the others didn’t live in fear or weren’t unjustifiably shot.
“People were shot,” he said. “I remember there was a young boy who was mentally disabled and he managed to get through the fence and kept walking. The guards told him to stop and he wouldn’t, and they killed him.”
During this time in Cumberland County, New Jersey, Seabrook Farms was growing food to supply the troops and was in need of labor since most of the men in the factory were overseas fighting.
In 1944, Seabrook Farms negotiated with the Eastern Defense Command to bring over Japanese-Americans from the internment camps, including Fuyuumo.
“The Seabrook Farms Company was the driving force that brought many different ethnic groups to New Jersey to start life over,” he said.
The former 2,500 Japanese-American prisoners were sent over to New Jersey and lived in cinder-block barracks to work — without guards and without being fenced in.
Seabrook Farms gave these 2,500 people a new chance and a new home that others weren’t as fortunate to have once they were released from the camps.
Fuyuumo continued to work at the farm, even after earning a master’s degree from the University of Rochester, and took the advice of Charles Franklin Seabrook and studied engineering while working for him as a manager.
Now that he retired as vice president of a shipping line in Bermuda, which he did with Seabrook’s son, Fuyuumo is open to sharing the story of what he and so many others experienced – and what the Seabrooks did as well.
“One should not lose sight of the fact the issuance — despite contrary reports by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Navy and the then attorney general — of Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent actions taken, promulgated a great injustice, which 46 years later in 1988, the United States government acknowledged,” Fuyuumo said. “History has repeatedly proven our Constitution is not a document that automatically guarantees its promises. Our Constitution is a concept that requires constant vigilance against forces, intentionally or not, to abolish its intent.”