By Mikiko Hatch-Amagai, for The North American Post
“I feel lucky; my life was (lucky) all the way from my birth. In Alaska, I was growing up very close to each other (other Nikkei)… there was only one school, from kindergarten to high school, in one building… In wintertime, the main drag (Stedman St., Ketchikan) was a hill; the stores blocked off the street with boards, so kids could slide for several blocks…”
Pat Hagiwara talks cheerfully, as though it happened yesterday. He was one of four Nisei soldiers from the Alaska National Guard. Now, he enjoys a quiet, ordinary life.
Pat’s father, originally from Nagano-ken, immigrated to Alaska in 1907. He went back to Japan in 1916 to marry his bride from Shiga-ken. He returned to Alaska for two more years before bringing his wife and starting a business, Alaska Home Bakery. Mrs. Hagiwara, seasick all the way to Alaska, joined him in Ketchikan to help in the kitchen and raise four children.
Pat, being the middle boy, avoided helping his dad.
“My brothers helped, greasing the pans and so forth; I avoided the work,” he recalls.
He still had a tight relationship with his family. His 442nd Regimental Combat Team experience would be his first absence from it, except for three months in a Portland vocational school in Oregon.
In September 1941, three months before the Pearl Harbor attack, Pat joined the Alaska National Guard and was stationed at Chilkoot Barracks, near Haines. He was one of four Nikkei there.
Six months later, they were called to the company commander’s office. The lieutenant on duty had tears in his eyes and said that the captain ordered him to transfer the Japanese Americans out.
“He told us that he first refused to transfer us. But he was taking the orders because if he didn’t, they would bring another person and eventually, somebody’s going to transfer us out. ‘I’m reluctantly agreeing to send you out,’ he said.”
The transfer ship first stopped at Ketchikan. Everybody was running up and down to see them. Then, late at night, they got near Annette Island, where all the Alaska Issei men were being interned.
“I asked the captain if I could get off the ship to see my dad.” But “No one leaves the ship” was the answer.
Then, all of a sudden, a jeep was coming, racing down toward the ship. The loudspeaker was calling his name. Looking over the gangplank, Pat saw eight Japanese, among them, his father.
“Yep, I found my dad!” Pat said, with his eyes looking into the distance.
At first, the four Nikkei soldiers were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, south of Tacoma. Then they found out they had been transferred again. Pat had a three-day pass before the next destination and decided to visit his brother, Dave, at the University of Washington. When he suggested they go out to dinner, Dave looked at his watch and said he couldn’t because Japanese weren’t allowed to stay out after 6 p.m.
That brother Dave, his sister and mother were sent to Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. His father, on the other hand, was sent from Annette Island to Fort Missoula, Montana, then to Lordsburg, New Mexico.
Pat’s younger brother, Mike, stayed home and “took care of everything, stored everything upstairs, school albums and so forth,” before also joining the 442nd.
The family members would never be all together again.
Transferred to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, Pat Hagiwara was placed in charge of instructing doctors and nurses in marching, formations, and obstacle-course training. They were even invited to Chicago Stadium for half-time football performances. Soon, he met Misako, from Wapato, Washington, attending the University of Chicago. They were married in October 1942. Every Saturday, Pat went on errands to town and visited her for over a year. Then he was transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi before shipping out overseas.
The convoy that took the 442nd RCT across the Atlantic zigzagged to avoid enemy submarines. Pat’s ship landed in North Africa after three weeks.
On July 4, 1944, Mike Hagiwara was wounded in both legs. He was caught in an artillery barrage in Italy. Pat went to see him at the hospital. He found out that the barrage was so severe that a guy named Sato from Hawaii carried Mike to a forward slope on the enemy side to save him.
“Mike had shrapnel all over the leg but he said, ‘that’s nothing compared to this side,’ which he lost below the thigh. It was terrible,” Pat remembers, not finding any words to speak. After the war, he looked for Sato in Hawaii to thank him for saving Mike’s life.
One year later, after being discharged, Pat returned to Chicago to join Misako and their ten-month-old baby girl. They bought a ’37 Oldsmobile to drive back to Seattle for Pat to look for a job. But Misako told him to go back to school.
Pat said: “After nine years away from school? You got to be a nut! Then she said, ‘Oh no, no. The kids and I are going to take off,’ so I went to UW” [the University of Washington].
Pat studied electrical engineering for three years and got a job at Boeing. Thanks to Misako, he worked for Boeing for 36 years.
Pat’s dad passed away in November 1945 after returning from camp. Mike missed his funeral by one day. He was out of reach, on the way back home, and shocked when he arrived the day after his father was buried.
The house in Ketchikan had been ransacked of all the stuff Pat was saving “because I was in the army and didn’t take everything. It was hard to take it at that time. It wasn’t home anymore.”
They sold the bakery since no one (in the family) was a baker.
There was “No animosity. I was fortunate. They respected me everywhere I’d go,” Pat says about his life. Growing up in the very tight community, “I was very fortunate to experience comradeship.”
As a result, he is still responsible for the annual Ketchikan picnic. Every year, 500 to 600 people get together from Alaska and several other states. They come and go from early morning till dark; it grew from 150 to 800 people.
“We are getting to be over 80, four of us. We are trying to get younger people, but they have different experiences,” Pat added. “They don’t feel the same way as we did (about Ketchikan).”
Asked how he felt about the war, Pat responded: “As I get older, I think more of a peaceful solution. I hate guns. I was lucky I didn’t have to point it at nobody. I heard about Peter Fujino, in G-Company, who was killed by accident when somebody was cleaning the gun. I guess you can call it patriotism because I chose to volunteer to join the National Guard. You bear with it. Japanese Americans had a good attitude. We, the 442nd, never withdrew and we accomplished something.”
But all those memories are now fading as if behind a screen.
Nevertheless, Pat’s memories of Ketchikan remain vivid. Raised in a small fishing port and a tight community, he knows that ordinary life is sometimes more precious than gold.
Editor’s note. This article, the sixth in the 13-article series, is reprinted from The North American Post-Northwest Nikkei, August 30, 2003. The remaining interviews will appear monthly.