Grandfather remembers war, internment and Wash.U.

| Special Features Editor

With the Executive Order 9066, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the forced removal of Japanese Americans across the United States. While some had only weeks to prepare for the event and others had months, most spent years in relocation camps located in places like rural Utah, Arizona and Wyoming.

But about 30 Japanese American students instead found refuge at Washington University. When accepted to the University, these students were relieved of being sent to internment camps. Indeed, freshman Andy Matsumoto’s grandfather was among them. In an interview with the Associated Press this August, Yoshio Matsumoto recalled memories of Wash. U. during in his first visit to the University in 60 years.

“On the radio was the World Series, so it must have been early October,” Yoshio Matsumoto estimated about his 1942 arrival to St. Louis. Mr. Matsumoto—interrupted from his third year at University of California, Berkeley—had spent several months in the Tanforan Racetrack, one of the temporary assembly centers where Japanese Americans were being held.

At the time, it seemed his bid for acceptance into a university in the Midwest would not be enough to keep from being among the 7,800 scheduled to move to the permanent relocation center in Topaz, Utah.

“I was waiting to be removed, and along comes a message that I’d been accepted to Washington University,” Mr. Matsumoto said. He recalled boarding a train to St. Louis in “relative comfort,” while seeing an intersecting, crowded train to Topaz carry several Japanese Americans, its blinds sealed shut.

Upon arrival, Mr. Matsumoto was greeted by other Japanese Americans already on campus. The first order of business was to visit “the Y,” at the east end of Graham Chapel, and meet the director, Arnold Hawk, along with his staff.

“A lot of other students there [in the YMCA] were there to help us and became very friendly with us, they would invite us to their homes,” said Mr. Matsumoto.

Of his time in Wash. U., the 88-year-old alum told Student Life he also remembered playing on the greens near the chapel after classes. Mr. Matsumoto briefly stayed in Liggett and Lee halls, which, according to him, were “on the other side of Forsyth” at the time.

“It’s so much bigger now, it’s hard to recognize,” added the alum about the University, expanded from a mostly commuter to a residential college since the ’40s.

During the war, Washington University cooperated with the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, made up of educators that worked out agreements with the military so that Japanese American students who were given the proper lease by authorities could continue their studies at institutions that agreed to house them. The council was also responsible for helping the students cover the costs of their education through scholarships and private funds.

“To this day I don’t know how some of my expenses were paid,” Mr. Matsumoto said in his AP interview. He had to pay a portion of his education himself.

Mr. Matsumoto graduated from Wash. U. with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1944, went on to rejoin his sister’s family in Detroit and later on to serve in the U.S. military. He moved on and kept his experience in relative silence for years.

“It was all pretty new to me. He never talked about it,” Andy Matsumoto said in an interview with Student Life. Andy first heard a thorough account of his grandfather’s story while interviewing him for a 10th-grade presentation on World War II.

Given the circumstances in which Mr. Matsumoto found himself, it is perhaps unsurprising that he did not discuss for so long what he described as a “strange time.”

“There was some fear and anger and some feeling of shame because the country of my parents had attacked the United States,” Mr. Matsumoto told AP, recalling the general sentiment during the time. “When we first got the news of the [Pearl Harbor] attack, I would walk to class and feel like people were looking at me like I was the enemy.”

But of Wash. U. itself, Mr. Matsumoto confirmed to Student Life that he recalled “lots of good memories, lots of good people here.”

Furthermore, with Andy Matsumoto making his first rounds on campus, Wash. U.’s role in the family still has a way to go.

“They were so good to him [Mr. Matsumoto], and then it’s such a good school,” Andy Matsumoto said about Wash. U. and its staff. “It has brought a lot of blessings to our family.”

For information about Wash. U.’s role in the history of the Japanese internment, you can visit its page at the Freshman Reading Program website, http://frp.wustl.edu/internmenthistory.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe