Carl Nomura's
American Nightmare

A successful Japanese American corporate executive and renaissance man recalls, with humor and a shrewd eye, the darkest years of his youth.

by Carl Nomura


Excerpted by express written agreement from Sleeping on Potatoes (Erasmus Books, ISBN 0-970-1947-3-0,$18.95, 268 pp).
Available through bookstores or from publisher at 1-360-733-1483.
© 2003 by Carl Nomura.
All rights reserved.


Carl Nomura

Carl Nomura's
American Nightmare

y 1941, my immediate family had been living in the United States for forty-three years. My brother Henry managed to buy a truck and started his own hauling business, called "Nomura Bros. Trucking." I became one of his drivers for which I was paid five dollars a month. That was enough to support me at Los Angeles City College where the fees were only thirteen dollars a year. I worked from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., then went to college during the day, majoring in physics. I was the only student out of 6,000 who majored in that generally detested subject.

     Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In disbelief, we saw our world come to an end. The "Hate the Japs" propaganda became intense. Our lives were a misery. "The Enemy" was portrayed with slant eyes, buckteeth and a sinister yellow face.


Sleeping on Potatoes Sleeping on Potatoes (Erasmus Books, 2003) traces Carl Nomura's life from birth in a railroad boxcar through his family's desperate struggle during the depression and the dark years of internment camp to his remarkable success as an admired Honeywell executive. Nomura paints characters and situations with a shrewd eye and a lively wit to produce an engaging tapestry of the brightest and darkest sides of the Japanese American experience.
     We were placed under martial law and told to stay within a five-mile radius. In the meantime, the FBI rounded up all persons who had shown any kind of leadership abilities or who had done business with Japan. This left only the followers, women and children, to fend for themselves. Worse yet, the wives were not told why or where their husbands were imprisoned.

     On January 15, 1942, the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, made a hurried trip to Hawaii. While there, he made an unofficial comment: "I think the most effective fifth column work was done in Hawaii, with the possible exception of Norway."

     This remark gave the American press carte blanche to have a field day at the expense of all Japanese-Americans. Subsequent investigations, which have been carried on for over forty years, have not revealed one instance of the fifth column activity suggested by Knox. But this didn't stop public pressure to incarcerate the "Japs" from mounting, as people of high influence, including Attorney General Earl Warren, later Governor and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, voiced their fears based on hearsay.

     On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 into law. This Order interned all people of Japanese ancestry -- aliens and citizens alike. FDR did this even though the top Army and Navy Commanders believed that an invasion by Japan was highly unlikely.

     This evaluation of the situation was revised to a certainty after Japan's devastating losses in the battle of Midway.

     Whether needed or not, ten camps were built in barren places in California, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas. It is noteworthy that, because these camps were built in such unihabitable wastelands, all but one remain barren to this day.


     Shortly after the Executive Order was signed, notices began to appear in public places. These notices said that we of Japanese ancestry must dispose of our businesses and belongings because we were going to be evacuated. Since all Japanese American leaders and other people of ability had been jailed, the rest of us floundered, trying to find ways to dispose of our belongings. Hoodlums walked through our homes and took whatever they wanted. We had the choice of selling things at one-tenth of their value or giving them away.

     Some of us had a month to settle our affairs. But those who lived near military operations or aircraft facilities were given only a week. My brothers, Sam and Henry, were sure this madness would soon blow over. They packed up everything we owned and put it into storage along with the trucks and cars. Little did they know that, when they were finally allowed to return home four years later, everything would be gone.

     People with the good fortune to have supportive neighbors fared much better. This country was blessed with many good people who opposed this policy of the government, the Quakers being chief among them. And some of those people took responsibility for watching over the possessions of their neighbors who had been incarcerated. In some cases, friends took care of houses, even farms, so that, when the evacuees returned home they found things almost as they had left them. These were the lucky ones who were able to pick up the threads of their normal lives.

     But at the time, we were sure this was only a temporary situation; that American political leaders would soon come to their senses. So, when the appointed day arrived, we assembled, as required, in designated areas. By "we", I mean everyone of Japanese ancestry. This included children from orphanages, advanced senior citizens from intensive care homes, and patients with tuberculosis. Did someone really believe those helpless people were capable of sabotage?

     The only people who were excused from evacuation were single-parent Caucasian women and their half-Japanese children. Mixed marriages were thus put under great stress because only one was required to go.

     Ralph Lazo, a teenage youth of Mexican/Irish descent was so incensed by what was happening to the Japanese that he turned up in evacuation day and went to camp with his friends. Lazo was subsequently drafted and was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in combat. Later he became a successful sociologist, but he remains a hero to us for his personal stand.

     We were allowed to take only what we could carry. A few of the ten newly constructed "Relocation Centers" were ready for occupancy. Some of us were taken directly to one or the other of those centers. Those with no place to go were taken to temporary quarters. The U.S. Army took some of the evacuees to the Santa Anita and Tanforan horse racing tracks. Here, these poor people were forced to stay in horse stalls where horses had lived just hours before. There had been no attempt to clean up the dirt and manure on the floor. They stayed in those stables until their camps were ready for occupancy. Others were taken to impromptu barracks at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds at Pomona.

     My family was given only hours to leave our home. Then we went to the bus station where we were given numbered tags. We had with us only the hand baggage we could carry. Then we boarded a bus to this hell on earth they called Manzanar.

Owens Valley, California

     Manzanar was constructed during a six-week period in the spring of 1942 in the barren high desert east of Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada range. We were among the 10,000 people relocated there from West Coast cities. We were assigned to one room of a tarpapered barracks that had been divided into four rooms. Six of us were to live in this one room where the floor space was almost completely taken up by the cots. These cots, by the way, were World War I vintage U.S. Army.

     For matresses, the Army gave us canvas bags and told us to fill them with straw. The mess hall and latrines were located about a block apart.

     Manzanar was famous for its dust storms. We ate sand and, when we woke up in the morning, the room was covered with a layer of sand.

     As the reality of our situation set in, we began to wonder why we were imprisoned. We busied ourselves with made-up work, such as digging ditches, to wear ourselves out and try to stay out of trouble.

     And as we worked, we struggled to understand what had happened to us. We talked about it endlessly. What had happened to the promises made by the Declaration of Independence and the protection of the Constitution? We were loyal citizens of this country, living normal lives. We had committed no crimes nor were we charged with any. We were denied the fundamental right to appear before a court and defend ourselves and protect our property. PAGE 2

Page 1 | 2 | 3

“Manzanar was famous for its dust storms. We ate sand and, when we woke up in the morning, the room was covered with a layer of sand.”


© 1996-2013 Asian Media Group Inc
No part of the contents of this site may be reproduced without prior written permission.