Thursday, July 10, 2008


by Doug Evans

PHOTO: Elsie Murakami, Ashford Grade School
Fifth grade, 1939

This item is dedicated to Elsie Murakami and the other Japanese children who attended Ashford Grade School and Eatonville High School up until 1942.

Each of the lumbering towns of the Northwest had a population of Japanese families. There was a large number at National, the company town of the Pacific National Lumber Company, one mile west of Ashford. They lived in a segregated community on the lower level just south of the main town. It was always referred to as Jap Camp. There never was any social mixing of the races. There were prejudices against them, but no serious conflicts that I can remember.

There were Japanese kids in every one of my classes during my eight years at Ashford Grade School. I can recall no racial problems or prejudicial feelings among the kids. The Japanese kids tended to be shy and quiet but we always played together happily.

PHOTO: A portion of the Ashford second grade, 1936.
The girls in the back row are Kioko and Frances. Elsie is in the front row.
I don’t remember the boys’ names. I am the kid in the second row with suspenders.

But then came Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and the world we had known was never to be again. Prejudices that had festered beneath the surface now erupted; hatred was extreme and expressed openly. While some of this did seep into the schools—the Japanese kids were occasionally called “Japs”—mostly we felt sorry for them and they continued to be our friends. The greatest tragedy of all was the forced deportation of the Japanese families to internment camps. The National families were sent to the Tule Lake camp in California.

PHOTO: Ashford Grade School, eighth grade, spring 1942
Front row, left to right: Kioko, Elsie, Frances

By the spring of 1942 only three Japanese girls remained in our eighth grade graduating class. The rest were already dispatched to Tule Lake. The families of the three girls were packed and ready to be shipped out. Eighth grade graduation was always a big event in the Ashford – National community. Elsie was class valedictorian, most deservedly. So on the night of the ceremony, held in the gymnasium, Elsie was obligated to give the valedictory speech. The crowd was quietly hostile; a few low boos were heard, but Elsie stood, walked to the front of the stage completely terrified. Her knees were visibly shaking, She courageously delivered her speech, and sat down to silence. To this day this memory brings tears to this old ranger’s eyes.

Elsie and the others were soon gone. Later, during the War, Elsie’s older brother, Jack, served in the army in Italy, while his little sister and family were incarcerated in the concentration camp at Tule Lake. Few, if any, of these people could return after the War. Most businesses had signs in their windows: “No Japs Allowed”. I never saw any of them again and still wonder whatever happened to them.