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Where EAST meets the Northwest

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNTS. Portland-born George Katagiri, who had to sell his bicycle when his family was interned during World War II, is one of 17 Oregonians featured in the Oregon Experience documentary Oregon at War. The film airs Monday, May 10 on Oregon Public Broadcasting. (Photo courtesy of George Katagiri)

From The Asian Reporter, V20, #15 (May 3, 2010), page 14 & 17.

Oregon at War presents first-hand accounts of World War IIís effect on Oregonians

Oregon at War

Produced by Oregon Experience

Airing Monday, May 10 at 8:00pm

on Oregon Public Broadcasting

By Julie Stegeman

The Asian Reporter

"I remember very well the day Pearl Harbor was attacked," begins Oregon at War, an episode of Oregon Experience that provides first-hand accounts of 17 Oregonians and details how the "date which will live in infamy" and the ensuing war affected their lives.

The program allows viewers to experience this critical time in history and how it shaped the Oregon we have today. It also provides a more intimate and compelling picture than can be found in history books. Although it took place nearly 70 years ago, the era is still firmly etched in the minds of the documentaryís participants, who come from very different backgrounds and have varied war experiences.

Oregonians in the documentary share their personal stories ó sometimes speaking in voices thick with emotion ó accompanied by photos and footage from the time while the narration details the overall impact of war on the state and its people.

According to Oregon at Warís narrator, the war "created indelible memories in each person it touched, and it touched just about everyone." Contributors to the documentary include Japanese Americans forced into internment camps, several men serving in the military, an African-American woman who moved to Vanport from Alabama to work in the shipyards, a buckaroo who provided horses for the U.S. Calvary, and others.

The program explores how the day-to-day lives of the people of Oregon were changed by the war. A labor shortage caused by young men serving in the military created opportunities for women to work in fields that were not previously open to them. The shipbuilding boom drew African Americans and workers from the country to the area, leading to a shortage of farmworkers ó a need filled by immigrants from Mexico. Meat and gas were rationed and many people planted "victory gardens" to supplement their diets. According to Oregon at War, "World War II spawned some of the most successful conservation and recycling in U.S. history."

There was an ever-present fear that the Japanese military would attack the west coast, so some coastal towns formed citizen militias to patrol the beaches and residents of Portland practiced air-raid drills and blackouts. Fear paved the way for Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of Japanese Americans.

George Katagiri, a Portland Japanese American, remembers that "immediately after Pearl Harbor, many of the families had visitors in black suits: they were the FBI." His father, who worked in an import/export business, feared the FBI would come for him. "The mothers and the kids never knew why their fathers were arrested," he said. "No reason was ever given."

Although the FBI never came for his father, his family was required to report to the Portland Assembly Center, and later to an internment camp.

Another Portland Japanese American, Mae Ninomiya, believed U.S. citizenship would prevent her and her brothers from being forced into the internment camps. "I was mistaken," she said, in an understated fashion.

"It was isolated. It was barren country and the wind would just blow and all these sagebrush came tumbling all over the place," Ninomiya said while describing Minidoka, the internment camp where her family was taken. "Nothing grew at that time." Internees ended up planting vegetables and flower gardens to make life more tolerable.

Kaz Fujii was serving at an army base in Texas where he was the only Japanese American in his outfit when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. He was moved to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed primarily of Japanese Americans and was the most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. armed forces. "I never really came back from that war," he said.

Two of the featured stories are about airmen who served in China and whose planes were shot down behind enemy lines. One of these men, Carl Kostol of Baker City, said, "Most people didnít know why we were in China and they still donít know." He was rescued by Chinese guerilla soldiers who received $500 for bringing him (and any other flier) from behind enemy lines a month after his plane went down. The other airman was not as fortunate; it took 16 months for his family to learn he was still alive.

Oregon at War does a great job of capturing what life was like in Oregon at the time of World War II, which is becoming increasingly important as fewer people from that generation remain to share their stories. The program airs Monday, May 10 at 8:00pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting. The feature can also be viewed online at <www.opb.org/programs/oregonexperiencearchive/oratwar>.