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Orphans tell of World War II internment


March 24, 1997
Web posted at: 8:47 p.m. EST (0147 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The injustices of the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II are well-documented, but now a new angle is emerging: that of the interned orphans.

CNN's Anne McDermott reports

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Tamo Isozaki was one of them. His mother died and his father could not care for the family, so Tamo was bundled off to a Salvation Army orphanage in San Francisco.

Then in 1942, the Army took scores of children of Japanese descent -- some with as little as one-eighth of such ancestry -- and sent them to a camp at Manzanar, 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles.


"It was a camp, and it was guarded by a fence and had towers, so we knew we were captive," said Isozaki, now 70.

Now many of the surviving orphans are talking about their war years following the discovery of a government report on the orphanage. Scholars at California State University at Fullerton have begun the first comprehensive study of the orphanage.

"It was shocking, you know," Isozaki said, explaining the reaction of the orphans. "What do they want with us? What [are] we going to do to hurt [the] United States?"

Many of the orphans felt luckier than other internment camp residents, people who lost all their belongings. The orphans had nothing to lose.

That may be why one of Takatow Matsuno's strongest memories of the orphanage is the Christmas gift he received from another orphan.


"...she gave me this comic book, and I cherished it," Matsuno said. "I was six. I remember that."

Today, Matsuno still puts in hours at his auto body shop, and does not often think back. In fact, researchers are finding many of the orphans do not.

"A lot of these people I've talked to, none of them seem to be bitter," said researcher Lisa Nobe. "They seem to say well, that just was that part of life and this is [what] we're living now."

Isozaki was angry with the government that imprisoned him, then freed him so he could be drafted into the Army. But that was many years ago.

"I stopped being bitter, and I don't feel like I have an enemy in my life now."


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