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War And The Roses

Jack Yoshihara might not make it to Oregon State's big game, but not because he isn't allowed to be there, as in 1942

November 22, 2008|Chris Foster | Foster is a Times staff writer.

Jack Yoshihara, a Japanese American and a sophomore reserve on Oregon State's football team, was practicing in mid-December 1941, just as he had throughout the season.

There was anticipation, with the Beavers preparing to play second-ranked Duke in their first trip to the Rose Bowl game. There was also fear, with the country still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor only a week or so earlier.

"I will never forget that day," said George Zellick, a teammate of Yoshihara's. "It was late afternoon. It was drizzling. We noticed two men coming onto the field. They were very well-dressed, wearing overcoats and hats. You could tell they were different people. They met with the coach and, the next thing we new, Jack left with them. It was the first indication that Jack had a problem."

The Beavers went to the Rose Bowl, which had been moved to Durham, N.C., because of the war, and upset Duke. They traveled without Yoshihara, who was not allowed to go to the game, left school and was soon sent to a civilian assembly center in Portland.

Oregon State and Duke players went to war after the game. Yoshihara went to the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho.

In June, Yoshihara was among the Oregon State students of Japanese ancestry, interned during World War II, who were given honorary degrees by the university. After receiving his diploma, Yoshihara was asked to hold up his 1942 Rose Bowl ring, given to him 1985, bringing cheers from the crowd at Reser Stadium.

University President Edward Ray stepped to the microphone and said, "It seems to me, given the setting we're in today, it is only appropriate that we give Jack another Rose Bowl."

Rose Bowl, 2009

This season's Oregon State team is trying to honor that IOU. The Beavers need only to win their final two games to get to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1965 game.

From his condominium in Edmonds, Wash., the 87-year old Yoshihara, who retired 27 years ago from running his refrigerator and air conditioning store in Portland, keeps a close eye on Oregon State football.

"We have a good team," Yoshihara said. "We just have to keep winning big."

Even if the Beavers do, Yoshihara said he was unlikely to go to the Rose Bowl. He attends homecoming every year, but health issues, which forced him to give up ocean fishing three years ago, "would make it very hard to drive that far to go to the game."

Besides, Yoshihara's Rose Bowl is in the past.

"We knew the world was changing," Yoshihara said about his sophomore year at Oregon State. "We just didn't know how much it was going to change. But I was an athlete. I didn't worry about politics."

A young American

Yoshihara has a firm grasp on his heritage.

"My mother wasn't exactly a 'Picture Bride,' but she came to this country and married a man who turned out to not to be very good," Yoshihara said. "She went back to Japan and I was born three months later. We came back in 1924, when I was 3. She said we were on the last ship before they stopped allowing Japanese to emigrate to America."

Natusuno Yoshihara settled in Portland, remarried and ran a restaurant with her new husband. Her son assimilated into American boyhood.

Yoshihara went to Oregon State as a football player and wrestler.

"I played a lot on the scout team," he said. "I remember one game I was in. Washington had scored and Coach stuck me in there, saying 'We have to block that kick.' I rushed in and jumped so high the ball went under me and they got the point. If I would have just stood there, it would have hit me."

Zellick remembers Yoshihara differently.

"Jack was a really good athlete," said Zellick, who now lives in Lewiston, Mont. "He was fast and tough. He's just being modest."

The Beavers started 2-2 in 1941, then didn't give up a point the next four games. They wrapped up their first Pacific Coast Conference title and the Rose Bowl berth by beating Oregon, 12-7, on Nov. 29.

"Everyone was real happy the week after the game," Yoshihara said. "All my friends wanted me to get them tickets."

That changed on the next Sunday morning.

Clouds of war

Zellick was at his fraternity house when news of the Japanese attack first came in.

"We all made a mad dash down into the study, where there were maps," Zellick said. "We wanted to see how close Pearl Harbor was to the West Coast."

Yoshihara was having breakfast at home with his parents when they heard the news.

"I thought, 'What more can happen?' " he said.

Yoshihara learned the answer. Not long after Pearl Harbor, he was told by university officials that he would not be allowed to go to the Rose Bowl, as Japanese Americans on the West Coast were not permitted to travel more than 35 miles from their homes.

Teammate James Busch told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2005, "Nobody felt that Jack was a subversive threat. He was an American. My heritage was German. Nobody discriminated against me."

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