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Bill Miller: Pearl Harbor: ‘We interrupt this broadcast’

Bill Miller: Pearl Harbor: ‘We interrupt this broadcast’

Just before noon on Sunday, Dec. 7, the first radio bulletin echoed through the Rogue Valley. America was already at war, lives would change, and 36 valley residents and their families had begun a journey — a journey unthinkable just moments before.

“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you an important bulletin from the United Press. Flash! Washington. The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Born in Central Point to two Japanese immigrants, 19-year-old Mary Takao was in her first semester at Oregon State College, working as a live-in maid to pay her way through school.

“On that particular morning,” she said, “I made breakfast as usual before going to school and took Mrs. Buxton a breakfast tray to her bed, a ritual I repeated daily.”

Mary could see something was wrong. When she began to speak, Mrs. Buxton snapped out in a loud, harsh voice.

“Mary! Listen to this bulletin on the radio!”

As they listened, all Mary remembered thinking was, “I hope they won’t ship us all to Japan.”

She tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, but fear turned to tears and quickly she and Mrs. Buxton were both crying.

“I won’t let them take you!” Mrs. Buxton said, as she hugged Mary.

Meanwhile, Medford-born Kazuo Maruyama, 23, sat on the sidewalk outside the Medford Army recruiting office, waiting to enlist. His father, accepted as the leader of the local Japanese community, had died barely two months before.

Kazuo had completed two years of college and was working for the Pacific Fruit and Produce Company. On Monday, when managers and workers noticed him missing and found out he had joined the Army, they sent him messages of congratulation and support.

He and Roy Koyama, who had both attended Medford schools, were the first two sons of Japanese immigrants to enlist in Jackson County.

Charley Fujimoto, owner of the Diamond Cafe on Sixth Street and operator of the coffee shop in the Holland Hotel, confirmed there were 36 adult residents of Japanese heritage living in Medford and 17 of those were citizens of the United States. He also said there were 19 children who were either attending local schools or away at college.

The women working in Fujimoto’s coffee shop, few of them of Japanese descent, had moist eyes as they told reporters of “Fuji’s” kindness and generosity, and the charitable work he and others in the Japanese community had done. They said they hoped no one would be antagonistic toward “the Japanese here, merely because they are Japanese.”

Rumors and racial slurs were already circulating, and the Jackson County Council of Defense warned that no one should do anything other than “reporting specific evidence of conduct against the interest of the United States” to city or state police, or the FBI.

But now, the blackout drills began — no lights at night because “the West Coast is still in danger.” Japanese planes were “believed seen” over Southern California. A slow panic was growing.

On May 23, 1942, based on the Civilian Exclusion Order authorized by President Roosevelt, “all persons of Japanese ancestry, alien or non-alien” were ordered to report to Medford’s Oregon State Unemployment Office “for immediate evacuation from the area.”

On June 1, at 1 p.m., 36 adults and their children, citizen or not, boarded buses under military guard, bound for the Tule Lake Relocation Center for the duration of the war.

Many would never return to their valley homes.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

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