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Pearl Harbor changed her life. Now she wants us to learn from it

Photo taken from a Japanese plane during the Pearl Harbor attack
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
Photo taken from a Japanese plane during the Pearl Harbor attack

Fujiko Tamura Gardner was 9 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She remembers hearing about it on the radio at her parents’ farm in Fife, Washington.

“I just remember the horror and not really understanding what was going on and what was going to happen,” Gardner said.

That one event, 75 years ago, changed thousands of lives. It led to the U.S. entry to World War II and to the internment of Japanese Americans like Gardner.

She remembers the fear that gripped families like hers after the attack.

“I remember that my mom and dad started to burn everything that was Japanese, all of the books, everything,” she said.

The only thing they kept were Gardner’s eldest brother’s judo certificates.

Being Japanese was suddenly dangerous.

“I remember the blackouts and the curfew and the FBI. I never saw an FBI agent roaming around, but we were told that the FBI would be coming around, checking up on us.”

Not long after, Gardner and her family ended up at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. It was a staging area, an assembly point for families before they were sent to internment camps.

Gardner was part of a large family. Her mother came to the U.S. as a picture bride and had 11 children.

Gardner’s parents had put everything they had into their farm.  

“Little did we know that the biggest horror would be that they would have to give up their farm that they worked so hard for and struggled all those years, and when things began to fall into place nicely for them to have to lose everything, and I mean everything.”

The camps were hardest on the adults, Gardner said. As a kid, she just went along with things. And she’s grateful for the adults who kept her busy with impromptu math and knitting classes.

But life still wasn’t easy.

Gardner had her 10th birthday at the camp in Puyallup. And she remembers the place being terrible.

“I remember being handed a big canvas bag that we had to go out to the haystack and fill it with hay so that would be our mattress.”

And whenever it rained ... mud everywhere, Gardner said.

Gardner’s family was eventually moved to the Minidoka camp in Idaho. Life there was a little different. As farmers, her parents were allowed to leave the camp to work for nearby farms.

Gardner is grateful for that.

“I’m quite sure that’s the only thing that kept my father going,” she said.

The war took a toll on Gardner’s family. Three of her brothers served in the Army, one was killed in action in Italy. Another of her brothers became crippled because a broken leg was left unattended while he was in the camp in Idaho.

“Those are the kinds of negative stories that any family can share with you," Gardner said. "There’s really nothing we could have done at that time to make things better, but we tried our best.”

Today, Gardner believes there are lessons to be learned from her family’s experience. Particularly by those talking about things like creating a registry for Muslim people.

“It just really is frightening to me that lessons really haven’t been learned, even though there seems to be so much interest in what happened to us.”

Gardner, now 84, has re-visited the Minidoka camp in Idaho several times in the past few years. She said she’s been overwhelmed by the reaction from people she sees there.

“A gentleman came up and gave me a big hug and with tears in his eyes, coming down his cheek, he said to me, ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this experience.’ And the lady he was with also hugged me and she was crying.”

Gardner is hoping that this kind of interest in her experience will help to prevent past mistakes from being repeated.

She’s also placing her faith in the younger generations, people like her granddaughter.

“I’m grateful to the young people and hopefully they are the ones who will come forward and say no. No. This is all wrong.”

Year started with KUOW: 2015
Year started with KUOW: 2013