Sat, Nov 12 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski
When Henry "Hank" Wada was growing up in Redlands in the '30s and '40s, the second youngest of nine children of Japanese immigrants never thought he'd be able to go to camp. Little did he know that a camp was in his future, it just wasn't the kind of camp he envisioned.
Wada remembers being at the movies Dec. 7, 1941, when the projectionist stopped the reel and made an announcement that all military personnel were to report to their duty stations immediately. "We didn't think too much of it, because no announcement of war had been made," Wada said.
That night the Redlands chief of police stopped by the Wada house to caution the family to stay inside because some in the community might not appreciate their presence outside. The chief was a friend of the family and they followed his advice.
The next day at school, one of his classmates, probably acting on sentiments he heard at home, grabbed Hank around the neck and called him a "dirty Jap." Wada said the other kids pulled the boy off Wada and there were no other incidents.
President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. The order authorized the removal of Japanese people from the West Coast, even if they were citizens. All of Hank's siblings were citizens, having been born here. His parents were here legally and in the process of gaining citizenship.
In a matter of weeks, 14-year- old Wada was on a bus with the rest of his family heading to Camp 1 in Poston, Ariz., about 17 miles from Parker. Each person was allowed to take one suitcase. Fortunately for the Wadas, they found a Mexican family to stay in their house while they were gone, even though the return date was uncertain.
While some may think life at the internment camp would be difficult, Wada, his family and most of his interred Japanese friends didn't think so. The living conditions were cramped, as one would imagine living in a small barracks would be. Many of the Japanese had been cooks and chefs on the outside and the food was palatable. There were several gardens to grow food in the compound.
While in the camp, Hank attended school and played sports. There were plenty of other kids there and they made their own fun. He graduated from high school while in the camp. The worst part is that Hank's father became ill and eventually died during their internment.
After three years in the camp, they were allowed to go home. Some members of his large family opted to relocate in Utah and some went to Chicago. A sister and her husband moved to the Hollister area of southern San Diego. Wada was now 17 years old with his life ahead of him. He came to Hollister and worked on the sister's farm. The work was hard and the prospects were dim. Hank believed there was something else for him out there.
In 1947, Hank joined the Marine Corps. He felt no animosity toward the government. The 10-week boot camp was tough, certainly tougher than it is today, but he encountered no racial prejudice toward himself.
During those 10 weeks, boys became men. After his one-year hitch, Wada was discharged C.O.G. (convenience of government) because there was nothing for them to do. At the time there was a one-year Marine Corps enlistment.
Conflict erupted in Korea in June 1950. Hank re-enlisted in the Marines in January of 1951 and was sent to Korea, along with his brother Robert. A childhood friend of theirs from Redlands, Robert "Bat" Madrid was in the Marines in Korea with them.
Hank was wounded in the leg in mid-1951. As they say in the Western movies, "It was only a flesh wound." Hank stayed in Korea during a brief recovery period. On Sept. 13, 1951, Hank was escorting a captured Korean prisoner to his unit when a sniper shot Wada in the left shoulder.
This injury required more treatment and after the M.A.S.H. doctors patched him up he recovered on the USS Haven (AH-12), a hospital ship docked in Pusan Harbor.
After the Marines, Hank was hired by the city of San Diego as a draftsman in the Capital Projects Department. He worked there in various departments until 1988 when he retired. Wada continues to work even now as a contract employee two half-days a week.
Hank is married to Doris. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. His oldest grandson, Jordan Koopman, an Eastlake High graduate, is a senior at Butler University in Indianapolis.
A friend recently learned of Wada's Purple Hearts. "Hank, you never told me you had been wounded," said the surprised friend.
"Yeah, but I didn't try for it," Wada replied.
"I think we were actually safer in the camps than we would have been if we stayed in the city," Wada said. "There were only Japanese people in Poston. There were guards outside the camp and no one would be able to harm us."
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