City Beat

Air Force veteran held no grudge for internment camp imprisonment

Japanese-American activists and community leaders rededicated a monument at the Walerga Assembly Center at Walerga Park in August 2015 in Sacramento. More than 4,700 Sacramento and San Joaquin County Japanese Americans were imprisoned at the center for months before being sent to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center and other internment camps.
Japanese-American activists and community leaders rededicated a monument at the Walerga Assembly Center at Walerga Park in August 2015 in Sacramento. More than 4,700 Sacramento and San Joaquin County Japanese Americans were imprisoned at the center for months before being sent to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center and other internment camps. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Frank Nakamura and Adeline Miyama met on a train. They were 7 years old, and Adeline stole Frank’s comic book and punched him. Frank was ordered by his mother not to hit girls, so he didn’t.

When the train got to its destination, Frank’s family and Adeline’s family remained close. They lived only a few buildings apart, and Frank’s older sister was best friends with Adeline’s mother. The kids grew up. They ate turkey on Thanksgiving. They played outside.

The destination reached on that train ride back in 1942 changed Frank Nakamura’s life, but it didn’t shape it. In fact, he rarely spoke about the years he and his family spent as prisoners in the Tule Lake Relocation Center, a massive internment camp in Siskiyou County that held nearly 19,000 Japanese Americans at its peak during World War II.

“We were kids,” Adeline said this week. “When we came out, we were still kids.”

Frank died at his Sacramento home on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, with his family by his side. He was 83 and his obituary in The Sacramento Bee a week later told the story of an American devoted to his country.

While studying engineering at UC Berkeley in 1953, Frank enlisted in the Air Force. He married Adeline five years later and spent 20 years in the service as a navigator. He flew on reconnaissance missions in the Vietnam War and retired in 1973 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was proud of his service; three of his favorite hats were Air Force hats, and he enjoyed explaining to his family how the intricate parts of a B-36 worked.

After his retirement from the Air Force, Frank went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. He retired from that job in 1998, 45 years after he first went to work for the federal government. He’ll be buried in the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.

Many would have excused Frank for being angry at his government for the nearly four years he spent in Tule Lake. But Frank didn’t hold a grudge. Instead he focused on making a life for his wife of 58 years and their daughter, Lynda.

“He was very much about making sure that you knew what your responsibilities were,” his daughter said, “and making sure they got done.”

Frank’s childhood experience seems especially poignant today.

Earlier this month, Carl Higbie, a prominent supporter of President-elect Donald Trump, suggested internment camps during World War II provided “precedent” for creating a national registry of immigrants from nations with active terrorist networks.

Those comments led to sharp and swift criticism from civil rights groups and others around the nation. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, who was born in an internment camp in Arizona, called Higbie’s comments “outrageous, unacceptable and reckless.”

Higbie’s comments were made after Frank died. But it’s unlikely they would have riled him up. Frank didn’t talk politics and instead saved his rants, and much of his joy, for his beloved San Francisco 49ers and Giants. Frank made a pretty good life out of his tough start.

“That was a long time ago,” Adeline said. “It was just what happened. It was a fact of life.”

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