75 years later, Japanese man recalls bitter internment in US

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Hidekazu Tamura, 99, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Tokyo Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Amid commemorations for Wednesday's 75th anniversary of the formal Sept. 2 surrender ceremony that ended WWII, Tamura, a former Japanese American living in California, has vivid memories of his time locked up with thousands of other Japanese-Americans in U.S. intern camps. Torn between two warring nationalities, the experience led him to refuse a loyalty pledge to the United States, renounce his American citizenship and return to Japan.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO – When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the first thing Hidekazu Tamura, a Japanese American living in California, thought was, “I’ll be killed at the hands of my fellow Americans.” It wouldn't be the last time he felt that way.

At 99, amid commemorations of Wednesday's 75th anniversary of the formal Sept. 2, 1945, surrender ceremony that ended World War II, Tamura has vivid memories of his time locked up with thousands of other Japanese Americans in U.S. internment camps. Torn between two warring nationalities, the experience led him to refuse a loyalty pledge to the United States, renounce his American citizenship and return to Japan.

“I have too many stories to tell,” he chuckles in an interview with The Associated Press.

Born in Los Angeles to Japanese farmers, his parents earned enough money to return to Japan in just a few years, buying a farm near Osaka.

Against his family’s wishes, Tamura moved back to the United States alone in 1938 when he was 17, after his dream of becoming an aircraft pilot was crushed when he failed an eye exam. The United States, he hoped, would provide him the same opportunities his parents received.

But Tamura arrived in California amid rising discrimination against Asians, and Japanese in particular. His uncle, who ran a grocery store, once drove him to a fancy hilltop restaurant in San Francisco and showed him a sign outside that read, “Orientals Not Allowed.”

“You won’t ever go in there until you die,” his uncle told him. “That’s the sort of country this is, (it) discriminates against Japanese.”

“I saw that and thought, ‘Bloody hell!’ And that awakened me as a Japanese," he said.