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Memories of camp live on

Kimiko Yamada died in February, but her son carries on the memory of a time in history the Yamada family wanted to forget


By Jessica Stanton, Newberg Graphic intern

She was known as hobby artist by her children and a loving wife to her husband. Newberg residents knew her best as Kimi Yamada, wife of a longtime Newberg dentist Roy Yamada. Yet, customers would have never known that she survived three years as a farm laborer in a Japanese internment camp near Idaho.

The years following Kimi’s experience at the internment camp were shoved to the past and seldom recounted.

Kimiko (Fujii) Yamada was a resident of Newberg for 60 years until Feb. 12, when she died at the age of 92 after living the past 25 years with Parkinson’s disease. Her husband Roy died in November 1999. by: GARY ALLEN - History - Russell Yamada displays a photo of his parents, Kimi and Roy Yamada, taken while his father was home on leave from the war.

Before her death, she began to share with her oldest son, Russell, about her years at the internment camp; she left behind a treasure trove of history and memories dating back to shortly after World War II.

“My folks didn’t really talk much about that time. It was partially because of the shame from being in the war and the camp,” he said.

Russell is known as the family historian and has cataloged many of the dates, pictures, letters and even a 33-cent government paycheck she earned, but never cashed, as a farmhand at the camp.

It was not until Kimi’s sons discovered some photos of the internment camp online that Russell sat down with his mother and asked if she could recount the people who endured the labor camp by her side for those three years.

The camp

What Kimi did remember was that on May 7, 1942, five months after the Pearl Harbor attack, her family received an executive order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt which ordered her parents and seven brothers and sisters to leave their home in Troutdale.

The order to evacuate allowed only five days to secure their property and belongings before they were forced to travel to the Pacific Livestock Exposition Center in north Portland, according to the book “Along the Sandy: Our Nikkei Neighbors” by Clarence E. Mershon.

Kimi was 20 years old when she was relocated from her home. An estimated 300 to 400 Japanese Americans from Portland, Hillsboro, Banks and Yakima, Wash., were relocated to the expo center. The family waited until July, when they were given the option of moving to a farm camp in Nyssa in eastern Oregon.

Since the family had previously been in the farming business, they volunteered to go to the camp in Nyssa. Once there, they voluntarily relocated once again to farm at a different labor camp in nearby Adrian.

It was there that Kimi met Roy Yamada at a dance put on by the camp, where conditions were sparse, but comfortable. The facility, as Kimi recalled to her son before her death, was a tent camp furnished with wood stoves for cooking and heat.

“This camp was not like a prison with barbed wire,” Russell said.

The Japanese Americans could get passes to leave the camp and enter the city. They also did as much as possible to make life as normal as it was before the camp, hosting holidays, church services and dances.

Kimi remembered that there were approximately 30 families and no one was allowed to have a car. The Japanese Americans were guarded by the local police and mostly farmed sugar beets. They were paid, but earned just enough to cover their personal food costs.

It was possible for the workers to attend the College of Idaho if they earned sufficient income and Kimi attended the school, where she was a part of the International Affairs Association and the Women’s Athletic Association. However, she attended school only two years because, being the eldest of her family to work in the camp, she wanted to return and help her family.

While in the internment camp, three of Kimi’s brothers were among the 30 men drafted into the military. She then became the spokesperson for her family, writing letters back and forth to the family who was watching their property in Troutdale.

Kimi and Roy were wed on Sept. 21, 1944, in Caldwell, Idaho.

Before the war Roy lived in Nampa, Idaho, and farmed with his brother.

Roy enlisted in the Army on Jan. 9, 1942, and was stationed in the South. He was deployed and spent about a year on the South Pacific island of Tinian, near Saipan, the land base for the B-29 Superfortress aircraft that would drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945, prompting the Japanese to surrender.

As did most of the couples separated by war, they corresponded by mail. “They wrote each other every day,” Russell said. “I never saw the letters they wrote during that time, they were newlyweds so it was very intimate.”

After the war

Roy was discharged from the Army in January 1946, 13 months after Kimi was allowed to return to the family farm in Troutdale after the internment camps were closed.

Once Roy retuned to the states, the young couple started their life farming with Roy’s brother in Nampa.

It was in Idaho that Russell was born and his parents began putting the past behind them.

Roy attended the College of Idaho for two years before the family moved to north Portland so he could attend dental school. While her husband attended school in Portland, Kimi worked retouching photographs at a Portland studio.

In June 1954, Roy, his wife and three sons, moved to Newberg and he opened his dental practice on River Street.

“I can remember the population sign as we entered the city (the population numbered slightly less than 4,000),” Russell said.

From that point on the Yamada family was determined to assimilate and continue living life as best as possible. The family chose to move to Newberg because of the warm Willamette Valley climate and the accepting nature of local residents.

“There was a lot of propaganda after the Japanese Americans returned to their homes,” Russell said.

There were a few organizations, particularly the Oregon Property Owners’ Protective League, which formed to “educate” citizens on the removal of Japanese in the state.

“But my parents never talked about it, just like everyone else after the war,” Russell said, adding he never remembers their family being discriminated against or his mother and father complaining about their circumstances, what happened to them or the fact that they were the only Asian family in Newberg.

And so, the Yamada family did what most American families did after the war; worked and took care of the home and children.

Long after their kids were grown and gone, the couple moved from their home on College Street to Rex Hill and became hobby farmers. “You could take the man out of the farm but you couldn’t take the farm out of the man,” Russell jokingly said about his father.

Kimi painted, quilted and spent many hours on creative projects, her son remembers. She continued creating art during the 25 years she was stricken with Parkinson’s and Russell said in her finals days she was grateful to have seen her life lived in full circle.

“She knew that there was another great grandchild on the way,” he said, “and even though she had been through a lot, she never let it get her down.”

Kimi and Roy both rest at the Valley View Memorial Park near Newberg, the city and its people that allowed Kimi and Roy to live their lives in peace.



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