A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gordon Yoshikawa to speak at BCPL about his experience living in a US internment camp

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Gordon Yoshikawa will speak at the Boone County Public Library main branch in Burlington Wednesday about his experience living in a US internment camp as a young child.


On December 7, 1941, the U.S. port of Pearl Harbor was bombed by 360 Japanese warplanes. The United Stated declared war on Japan the next day.

At the time, Gordon Yoshikawa was living in Yuba City, California, with his parents and four siblings.

After war was declared, the military command began to take measures to secure strategic military facilities, harbors and bases as civilians on the West Coast continued to live their daily lives with perhaps a sharpened sense of potential peril. Among these West Coast residents were several hundred thousand residents of Japanese descent.

Some were fishermen, others farmers and still others owners of a variety of businesses up and down the coast. For them, life continued as for other Americans: busy but with a wary ear to news of possible Japanese military activity.

In the spring of 1942, under the authorization of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and the War Relocation Authority, more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent, some 80,000 of whom were natural born US citizens, were relocated to remote internment camps built by the U.S. military in scattered locations around the country.

For the next two and a half years, many of these Japanese Americans endured extremely difficult living conditions and poor treatment by their military guards.

Yoshikawa and his family were first sent to an internment camp at Tule Lake, California, and then two years later, transferred to a second camp at Topaz, Utah. On December 17, 1944, U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issued Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese-American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes. Gordon and his family resettled in Cincinnati in May 1945.

Gordon was able to finish school, attend college and went on to spend 37 years as a chemist in the printing ink and varnish industry in Cincinnati.

After the war, investigations by government committees found that no Japanese Americans had offered aid to the enemy or committed any crimes. Many of those of military age joined the armed forces fighting in Europe in the 442nd, one of the most decorated units in the Army. Others were instrumental in the Military Intelligence Service serving as battlefield interpreters and translators.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to recompense each surviving internee
with a tax-free check for $20,000 and an apology from the U.S. government.

There is a large body of literature, non-fiction and fiction, that recounts the experiences of Japanese Americans during the time of their incarceration by the U.S. Government.

*Note: A large crowd is expected for Yoshikawa’s talk. Extra parking is available at the Boone County Extension Office (6028 Camp Ernst Rd, Burlington, KY 41005). A shuttle service to and from the Main Library will be available from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. on May 17.

Boone County Public Library

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