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Couple Moves On From Silence About Time In Japanese Internment Camps

Roy Ebihara and his wife, Aiko, at StoryCorps in Oberlin, Ohio. Both were in Japanese internment camps in the 1940s.
Roy Ebihara and his wife, Aiko, at StoryCorps in Oberlin, Ohio. Both were in Japanese internment camps in the 1940s.

This weekend marks 75 years since President Roosevelt's executive order that sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps.

Roy Ebihara and his wife, 82-year-old Aiko, were children then, and both were held in camps with their families.

At StoryCorps, 83-year-old Roy told Aiko about what happened in his hometown of Clovis, N.M., in the weeks just before the executive order was issued.

"A sheriff and two plainclothesmen barged into the house and searched for what they called 'contrabands.' They took out my brother's box camera, my father's shortwave radio and they took the ax to it and chopped everything up," Roy says. "My father never protested. Never said a word. He just stood there.

"And one night, vigilante groups formed in town. We saw the men were holding the oil torches coming across to where we lived. They were going to burn down everything. The state patrol came roaring in and told us quickly to gather up what we can in pillowcases and whatever can fit into the trunk of the car. I remember my sister Kathy, my sister Mary and my brother, Bill, and I, the four of us were squeezed into the back seat of the sedan, and we left in the darkness of the night. We were all crying. We couldn't stop. It was just terrifying."

That night Roy's family was taken to the Old Ratan Ranch Camp about 12 miles outside the Fort Stanton Military Reservation in New Mexico where they were held until December 1942, when they were moved to the Topaz War Relocation camp in Utah.

Aiko remembers getting on Army trucks that took her family to a camp. "I was probably 5 or 6 years old," she says. "I thought I was going on a vacation."

Roy says he did not know he wasn't going to return to his house again.

"I was 8 years old, and I really didn't understand what this all meant and how it would affect our family," he says. "I guess I felt we were guilty of something but what, I didn't know."

Roy says his family didn't talk about the camps — his father didn't want it discussed, and he and Aiko continued that tradition as parents to their two children. It's something he calls "the silence of our parents."

"We regret it very much," Aiko says.

"I just feel that I want to go back and accept that pride, that pride of who we are," Roy says.

Audio produced forMorning Edition by John White.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 16, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous Web version of this story incorrectly located the Topaz camp in California. It was in Utah.
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