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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

The Nakamuras


In June 1943 a new family came to Bloomington. They were truly a novelty, because they had come from a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. The story was written up by one of the Pantagraph's female reporters, Charlotte Fitz Henry, who the next year would be the Women's Editor for the Pantagraph. By writing up their arrival in the Pantagraph, the transition of the Nakamuras was probably made much smoother, because residents who might have been alarmed by the presence of Japanese people in the town would be reassured by hearing the news through their daily newspaper.

1943 was not a good time to be a Japanese person in the United States. On the courthouse lawn the effigies of Hitler and Hirohito were often displayed during war bond drives, stoking the fires of patriotism -- and racial fears.

Frank and Mary Nakamura were photographed by Ms. Fitz Henry with their two children, Robert and Frances, all holding something that was new to them -- ration books. In the camps they never had occasion to use ration books, and they were having a hard time getting the hang of purchasing under rationing. It must also have been hard for them to adjust to the lack of fresh vegetables and fresh fish in Idaho and Illinois after living in Seattle.

The Nakamuras had possibly been released from the camps because of their religion. They were third generation Catholics, and additionally, Mrs. Nakamura and the children were all American citizens. Mrs. Nakamura's grandmother had been converted in Japan, and the family had been Catholic ever since. In Seattle, where the Nakamuras had previously lived Mr. Nakamura worked at a wholesale grocery and Mrs. Nakamura stayed at home to manage their apartment building.

Like other 12 year old boys, Robert Nakamura wanted to go swimming and play baseball. His sister Frances was just fourteen, but had been working on the switchboards at the camp and wanted to find a job. Robert and Frances both attended the Catholic schools. Mr. Nakamura wanted to go fishing! They were happy to be in Illinois and said that the people they had met in Chicago and on the train had all been pleasant to them.

In Bloomington, they lived in rooms of the Trinity Grade School, courtesy of the Catholic church, which had also provided Frank with a job as the janitor of the school. Robert graduated from the grade school in 1944 and also won second place in an essay contest in the spring of 1944. Frances attended Trinity High School for one year and was on the "A" honor roll there, but the Nakamuras didn't appear in the city directory or subsequent school directories after 1945. Perhaps they were able to reclaim their lives in Seattle, as well as their apartment building.

Fitz Henry reported that the population of the camp in Idaho was dwindling, and genealogy records reflect the slow dispersal of the internees -- but the Nakamuras were among the very first to leave their camp. They had had to make the difficult choice to leave behind other relatives at the camp. By 1944, when the constitutionality of the internment camps was being challenged, the government had already decided to release the internees, because the danger of invasion had passed. However, many internees were still on the rolls of the camps as late as September of 1945.


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