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Still the Greatest Country
In the fall of 1941 Nao Takasugi WG46 was a 19-year-old
studying business at UCLA. Back home in Oxnard, Calif., his family Japanese-Americans
in good standing in their communityoperated 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
Soon after Pearl Harbor, Takasugis 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 didnt 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 familys 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 Americas lingering anti-Japanese
sentiment, he returned to Oxnard, where he still lives today, to help
run his familys grocery store. When a Wharton classmate, Bill Schroeder
WG47, 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."
Takasugis 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 Oxnards
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 Ive
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
wont 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, its still
the greatest country in the world."
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Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 12/22/99