As part of the national program deemed Operation Recognition, World War II, Korean War veterans and Japanese-Americans who were relocated to internment camps during World War II will take part in a special commencement ceremony Saturday, Oct. 22, at Nishimoto Elementary School.
The event will coincide with the Madera Unified School District's dedication of Nishimoto Elementary School.
Eleven Japanese-Americans who would have graduated between the years 1943 and 1945 will receive their high school diplomas. Three of the honorees are arriving from Southern California, San Francisco and Sacramento. Two will have their diplomas accepted by a sister and brother.
Immediately following the declaration of war, signs were posted all over Madera telling all Japanese-Americans to report for relocation to internment camps throughout the country. Almost 40 families from Madera were taken from their homes, forced to leave school, jobs and businesses and report to the authorities - the sheriff's department.
Joe Inami, whose parents owned the Washington Market, remembers receiving a Tuberculosis test and two weeks later, allowed only a suitcase, and being put on a bus to the Fresno Fairgrounds.
"Then, the whole family, my mother and father and seven sisters and brothers were placed on a train to the camp at Jerome, Ark.," Inami said.
Sunny Nishimoto's parents owned the Bridge Store for many years before the war. Nishimoto, for whom the elementary school is named, also remembers entering the desolate camp with his mother and father and three siblings.
"All the families from Madera, except two, arrived at Jerome," he said.
The camp, Nishimoto says, "was surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. And the soldiers pointed their rifles not outward, but toward us."
Conditions at the crowded barracks-style camp were filled with hardships. However, Inami said, "we did the best we could." Inami remembers Nishimoto's father, Tom, playing Santa Claus at Christmas time for the children.
With sponsorship, some internees were allowed to work outside the camp. Nishimoto's brother, Keith, had joined the Army before the war and was stationed in Minnesota. After six months, Sunny's family was allowed to go north.
After two years, and FBI clearance, Inami was allowed to also work outside the camp. The remainder of his family stayed within the barbed wire.
After all of the hardships they and their families had faced, both Inami and Nishimoto found themselves in the U.S. Army. As luck would have it, Inami and Nishimoto were both stationed just outside Tokyo immediately after the war ended. Nishimoto, knowing how to type, served on base. Inami worked as a secret agent for the Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC). He wore civilian clothes, carried concealed pistols and worked in the public sector helping the CIC find weapons caches and opposition to the American occupation.
After they had served their duty, they returned to Madera. A year later, Nishimoto retained possession of the store that his family still operates today. Inami returned to find his store shelves bare. The people that had taken over when he had been forced to leave had sold almost everything. With considerable time, effort, and stress, Inami finally opened his market again. Even so, the returning families found prejudice and harassment.
Through the hardships, Inami, Nishimoto, their families and the Japanese-American citizens of Madera went on to build productive lives and contribute greatly to the American way of life and a better community.
This Saturday, at Nishimoto Elementary School, thanks to the effort of Dr. Sally Frazier of the Office of Education and others, these loyal Americans will be honored and receive their long-awaited, hard-earned diplomas, deprived from them during the darkest days of American history.