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Class of ’46

“Still the Greatest Country”

In the fall of 1941 Nao Takasugi WG’46 was a 19-year-old studying business at UCLA. Back home in Oxnard, Calif., his family —Japanese-Americans in good standing in their community—operated a thriving market.
    Then on Dec. 7, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, everything changed. "Bam! In a matter of hours, the whole complexion of life turned for me," recalls Takasugi, a 77-year-old retired California lawmaker who was interviewed by Tom Brokaw for his World War II retrospective, The Greatest Generation. "I had to leave UCLA because all persons of Japanese ancestry were placed on a very tight curfew and their travel was restricted."
    Soon after Pearl Harbor, Takasugi’s family, along with thousands of others of Japanese descent (most of them U.S. citizens), were forced to "relocate" under Executive Order 9066.
    He recalls reporting to the Ventura train station, as instructed, to find "a big black old train" with its blinds drawn "waiting there under armed guard with bayonets and rifles." Boarding it, he says, "I was very fearful. I didn’t know where we were going to be taken." The train traveled for about five or six hours before stopping at a county fairground, which was to provide temporary living quarters until permanent relocation centers could be built. "Ours was one of the horse stalls, where asphalt had been hastily laid on the ground," Takasugi says. "It still smelled of horse manure."
    Five months later, they boarded another train and rode 18 hours into the Arizona desert. They then traveled another 45 miles by bus to barracks on the Gila River (Navajo) Indian Reservation, which would be his family’s home for the next four years.
    Takasugi managed an earlier exit from the internment camp. The Quaker relief organization, American Friends Service Committee, sent a representative to his camp urging young Japanese-Americans to apply for security clearances to attend colleges in the Midwest, East or South. They made arrangements for him to go to Temple University, staying in the home of a West Philadelphia minister. After finishing his studies at Temple, Takasugi went on to earn his MBA at Wharton. Although he felt "accepted very well" at Penn, Takasugi says he made few friendships while there. "I had to support myself by working part-time. I had very little time to get out and socialize."
    Finding no employment in Philadelphia, where accounting firms were afraid to hire him because of America’s lingering anti-Japanese sentiment, he returned to Oxnard, where he still lives today, to help run his family’s grocery store. When a Wharton classmate, Bill Schroeder WG’47, came to visit Takasugi in Oxnard, he was surprised to find him working behind the meat counter; Takasugi explained to his friend that MBA stood for "master of butchering arts."
    Takasugi’s exposure to politics came when he tried to expand his business and had his plans for a new sign turned down by the city. He learned that there was an opening on the planning commission and decided "they needed a businessman" to cut through the bureaucracy. Takasugi went on to serve two terms on the city council and then as Oxnard’s mayor for 10 years. In 1992 he won election as a Republican representative to the California State Assembly.
    Two summers ago, Takasugi suffered a heart attack and had to undergo bypass surgery. He reconsidered his goals while in the hospital, and chose to not run for reelection. After 22 years in public life, he explains, he wanted to spend more time with his seven grandchildren and work on his tennis game.
    Although his memories of internment remain vivid, Takasugi today professes no bitterness, attributing his attitude to a family philosophy of looking into the future rather than dwelling on the past. "When I’ve gone to speak to high-school history classes or civic organizations or church groups, I just tell them what a great country we have. You just won’t find the opportunity any place [else] for a person who has been ejected to be able to come back and be a mayor of a city or a state representative. In spite of the many mistakes and flaws, it’s still the greatest country in the world."
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