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Night Visitors Brought Halt to Family's Hopes : Relocation: Odyssey of O.C.'s Masudas mirrored the fates of thousands along the West Coast.

LOST YEARS: The Internment of Japanese-Americans. Second of two parts.

February 17, 1992|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While she was visiting friends, an unidentified man telephoned and asked if Mary Masuda was there. When Mary answered, the man told her "she'd better go back to the concentration camp because Japanese weren't welcomed in Orange County," June Goto said.

Then, four men, who said they represented the Native Sons of the Golden West, a group of self-proclaimed California "patriots," paid Mary a visit. They told her that it would be in her best interests if they called a taxi for her return to Los Angeles, where she could catch a train and "get back to camp." They hinted that the road to Los Angeles wasn't safe for Japanese.

The intimidation didn't work. That night, Mary lay awake thinking: "I came this far, I must fight for what Kazuo and all of the rest of the soldiers fought for," her sister, June said.

Mary asked for police protection but was told that since no physical harm had occurred, the sheriff's hands were tied.

More determined than ever, Mary returned to Arizona, and moved the family back to Talbert in September, 1945.

That December, Maj. Gen. Joseph W. (Vinegar Joe) Stilwell, with an entourage of Hollywood actors, paid a personal visit to the Masuda home and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross--America's second-highest military honor--for Kazuo's bravery on the battlefield.

Accompanying Stilwell was a retired Army captain who, later that day, commended Kazuo Masuda and other Japanese-Americans at a rally at Santa Ana Bowl. "The blood that has soaked into the sands of the beaches is all one color," the captain said.

That captain was a movie star named Ronald Reagan, who, as President 43 years later, would sign a bill apologizing for the internment.

"When Gen. Stilwell came to our home, he gave Kazuo's Distinguished Service Cross to Mary and cited her courageous action," Masao Masuda said. "The U.S. government then held a big ceremony at Santa Ana Bowl. It was because of Mary and what she did and the effort by the government (that prevented) discrimination from getting out of hand out here in Orange County."

Mary Masuda died in 1987 at the age of 79. She never married and never saw the redress legislation enacted.

Her father, Gensuke Masuda, died in 1962 and her mother, Tamae, in 1964.

Kazuo Masuda was buried in a cemetery in Midway City, but not without a final indignity. The family wanted to buy a preferred plot but was not allowed to because of a racial restriction. Only after the Japanese-American community protested did the cemetery finally relent.

But time heals some wounds.

In 1975, the Fountain Valley School District named a school in honor of Kazuo Masuda. In addition, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3670 is named the Kazuo Masuda Memorial Post.

At Kazuo Masuda Middle School, Principal Steven W. Enoch said: "We make it a point to let our students know how special we are to be connected to a person of historical significance."

June Goto is a familiar face at the school named after her brother. She visits and, from time to time, reads to the young students from a binder, which holds facts she compiled on her brother's life and her family's history.

"It was something to give my children, so they can remember what we went through," she said.

Photo Album: Some of the earliest Japanese farmers arrived in Orange County in the early 1900s. They reared families and grew sugar beets for the Holly Sugar Co. Later, they became chili pepper kings, trucking hundreds of tons of dry chili peppers to the Los Angeles produce market. Nearly 2,000 Issei and Nisei were scattered during the prewar years in tiny enclaves in Irvine, Garden Grove, Buena Park, Wintersburg (Huntington Beach), Talbert (Fountain Valley) and Anaheim. These photographs are from the personal archives of Clarence Nishizu.

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