US school awards couple diplomas 72 years later

Mr and Mrs George Kaihara with family members in the Tustin High School Science Centre in California before the graduation ceremony. They could not graduate at the school 72 years ago as they were interned in an Arizona camp.
Mr and Mrs George Kaihara with family members in the Tustin High School Science Centre in California before the graduation ceremony. They could not graduate at the school 72 years ago as they were interned in an Arizona camp.PHOTO: REUTERS

As Japanese-American students, they were detained after attack on Pearl Harbour

Los Angeles - A Japanese-American couple who were plucked from their California high school during World War II and forcibly detained at a US government internment camp were given honorary diplomas last week at the school's graduation ceremony.

Mr George Kaihara and his wife, Miko, both 90, were presented with their diplomas at Tustin High School, near Irvine, outside Los Angeles, to a standing ovation from a crowd of several thousand people on Thursday, school district spokesman Mark Eliot said.

They would have graduated from the school on June 23, 1943.

"It really feels like graduating," Mrs Kaihara told local broadcaster ABC7. To another local media outlet, the Orange County Register, she said about the diploma: "I want to show it off.

"My biggest regret was not being able to graduate with the class I went to school with," she said, reported the Register.

The US government forcibly detained more than 110,000 people in 10 such internment camps set up across the US West after the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Mr Kaihara told the Register that, before he was bused to the camp, authorities visited his family's Orange County home and rifled through their belongings. "Boy, what rude people," he recalled in his interview with the Register.

Mrs Kaihara said that when her father was taken away, she didn't shed a tear. "I'm not the crying type."

Both George and Miko Kaihara were juniors at then-named Tustin Union High School when they were interned at Poston camp in Arizona in May 1942.

Poston became a city of sorts, complete with a police station, swimming pool and barbershop. The interned families took up farming, planting gardens, keeping chickens and helping to build a massive irrigation system. They also made camouflage nets for troops fighting in Europe.

Mr Kaihara was eventually drafted in 1944, the Register reported. He married Mrs Kaihara in 1950, and, three years later, the couple moved into the house in which they still reside.

The couple, who now have four sons and seven grandchildren, completed their secondary schooling during their three years at the camp.

"To each class, we had to take our chair or stool along," Mrs Kaihara told ABC7. "We got our diploma in Poston. We were the first graduating class."

The graduation ceremony 72 years later came after a former classmate reconnected with the couple and called their alma mater, which arranged the ceremony, Mr Eliot said.

"We all hated to see them go," Mr Dennis Hayden, their high school classmate, told the Orange County Register.

"It was really important to us because I know it's always been their dream to receive a diploma from Tustin High," Mr Eliot said.

Twenty-five family members were on hand to watch the couple officially graduate.

Reuters

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'US school awards couple diplomas 72 years later'. Print Edition | Subscribe