Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> PART II: WAR MEMORIES, Japanese-Canadians sent to camps during WWII

Leader staff writer

Maki Dennis and her husband Donald, who live in the South Bend community near Jacksonville, had a personal interest in hearing a recent lecture at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History about Rohwer and Jerome, two Japanese-American internment camps in Desha County during the Second World War.

Hundreds of internees were buried there during the war.

Dennis and her family were forced from their home in Canada and into an internment camp a few months after Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Canadian government passed an order that called for families of Japanese descent to be interned.

She talked about her internment after the latest installment of the War Stories lecture series, where former McGehee Mayor Rosalie Gould spoke about Rohwer and Jerome.

Japanese-Canadians were moved to a 100-mile area of the British Columbia coast.

Maki was 12 years old when the Royal Canadian Police came to her family’s 10-acre berry farm in Port Haney while her father was working. On March 4, 1942, more than 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were told they had 24 hours to pack their belongings.

The Canadian government sold the prisoners’ homes, property and businesses to pay for the internment, according to information from www.britishcolumbia.com.

Her family, along with many other Japanese-Canadians, were temporarily held at Hastings Park race track in Vancouver.

Maki said at the track her 10 brothers and sisters and her mother were housed in a room with four bunk beds for her whole family. Her father was separated from them.

There was no privacy. Soon the Japanese-Canadians were moved eastward into one of five internment camps in British Columbia away from the coastline.

“From there we went to Lemon Creek for three years. We were there until the war ended,” she said.

The camp was still under construction when the Japanese-Canadians arrived. The Lemon Creek camp had a population of 5,000 people. She described her family’s house as small with three rooms.

Eight or more people lived in each house, but her family stayed together.

There was no electricity or even a radio.

“They were still building houses there. There was no insulation, no door to the bedroom. My dad had to build double-decked beds,” she said.

“We couldn’t go to school until the school was built. That was in March 1943. Most of the teachers were (out of) high school.

They didn’t have degrees,” Maki said.

Three families had to share an outhouse and a community bath. Maki said a group came to the camp and sold apples, fruits and vegetables until the families started growing crops next to their houses.

“Lemon Creek was way out in the country. It wasn’t fenced in but you had to have a permit to go out. It was like a small town.

We had three grocery stores. There were programs at the school and bazaars,” she said.

“My dad for $2 a day would chop wood for the stoves at the camp. There wasn’t much to do. We played softball and baseball at school,” she continued.

Dennis recalled one summer during their internment when they picked apples for a month. Another year they picked hops.

“It was terrible, because your fingers would get sore,” Maki said about harvesting hops.

She said not much exists now at the Lemon Creek internment site.

There were several different internment camps in Canada.

Some of the younger men were put in road construction camps.

There were self-supporting internment camps where 1,161 internees paid to be housed at leased farms.

Men who complained about being separated from their families or violated curfew were sent to prisoner of war camps in Ontario.

In 1945, the Canadian government forced the interned Japanese-Canadians to choose between going to Japan and losing their Canadian citizenship, or move to eastern Canada.

When the war was over, Dennis’ family did not return to British Columbia.

They lost their farm to the Canadian government.

Dennis said her father told his children he had family matters to take care of in Japan.

She said her father wanted the family to leave Canada. The family moved to Inae, Japan, where they tended a rice farming business.

Dennis went to school until the eighth-grade.

In Japan, she enrolled in Army education classes, taking typing, English and shorthand. When she moved to the U.S., she earned a high school diploma and took classes at Little Rock University.

In 1948, Maki met her future husband, Donald Dennis, a North Little Rock native, in Osaki, where the 24th Army Division was stationed. Maki was a typist for the division chaplain.

Donald was a chaplain assistant and then became a chief clerk in the chaplain office.

“My tour of duty ended in 1950. I arranged for Maki to return to Canada. She stayed with friends and relatives until I got discharged,” Donald said.

The couple married in July 1950 in Chatham, Ontario. The couple lived in Windsor, Ontario, for three months.

Donald worked for the Ford Motor Company, which transferred him to work in the United States, but he couldn’t take Maki with him.

The quota for ethnic Japanese allowed into the the U.S. was full.

“We had to stay in Windsor until Sen. Fulbright told us his special bill was passed by Congress,” Donald said. “Fulbright said in a telegram to contact immigration officials.”

The bill allowed servicemen to live in the United States with their wives of Asian descent.

Maki became an American citizen in 1954.

The Dennises moved to North Little Rock. They have lived at their South Bend home since 1962. Donald Dennis worked 21 years at Arkansas Power and Light.

He retired from Remington Arms after working there 19 years as a machinist.

Maki has worked in Jacksonville for many year at TG&Y and elsewhere.

She has worked part-time for the past 16 years at Chamber’s Drug as a service clerk.

They have four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Maki said she had a connection to Arkansas before she moved here. An uncle living in Los Angeles during World War II was sent to the internment camp in Jerome.

After the camp closed, he went to Colorado to work in the coal mines.

“A lot of people had a hard time,” Dennis said about readjusting to life after internment.

“They had to fight discrimination. They are doing all right now. Time heals.”

Maki has three sisters and one brother, who still live in Japan. Two brothers and two sisters live in Canada.

Two of her brothers have passed away.

In 1988, Canada apologized for forcing their citizens into internment camps and blamed the government’s actions on racial discrimination.

The Canadian government provided $21,000 Canadian dollars in compensation to Japanese Canadians who were interned.

Maki still has that letter.