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Pearl Harbor Attack Triggered Tough Times For Those Of Japanese Descent In America

Jerome War Relocation Camp in Arkansas was home to Ruth Maruokas of Ventura during more than two years during World War II

December 7th, 1941 marks the 75th anniversary of the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which plunged the United States into World War Two, a day which has double meaning for an 88 year old Ventura County woman.

The shock, and fear in the months following the attack also triggered a shameful, and increasingly forgotten event in the nation’s history. Concern was high that Japanese forces were planning to follow up the Pearl Harbor attack with an invasion of the West Coast. Some panicked military and civilian leaders called for Japanese immigrants, and Americans of Japanese ancestry to be rounded up, and moved to inland relocation camps out of fear they might aid an invasion.

Ruth Maruokas of Ventura was 14 years old at the time, living with her family in a small farming community outside of Sacramento. Her parents had come to the United States from Japan in the 1920’s, but she was born in the U.S.

Maruokas says life continued as normal for the first few months after Pearl Harbor, but then, the family got some shocking news. In May of 1942, they were told to pack up their essentials. They were being relocated to a camp for those of Japanese descent. Her family, along with neighbors were taken by truck, and train to Fresno, where what was called a “Civilian Relocation Center” was set up at the county’s fairgrounds.

They lived there for a month in improvised housing, before being told they were going to be moved to a new camp halfway across the country, in Jerome, Arkansas. The camp, which was called a War Relocation Camp, was massive, some 50 blocks long. Surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire, at its peak it was home to nearly 8,000 people. Maruokas says kids adapted to the camp’s environment much better than adults. Jerome was home for two years, and then, when it was being closed, they were moved to another camp.

Finally, with the scare subsiding, the camps were being shut down, and families were finally being given their freedom. Her parents decided to bring the family back to Northern California, and return to farming, even though they had lost everything. Their home has been foreclosed, and their furniture was gone. Because farming was what her parents knew, they started again from scratch.

An estimated 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were relocated and incarcerated during the war, even though two-thirds of them were American citizens. The relocation was authorized by a Presidential order in 1942, and initially held up as legal in a court ruling. It took 34 years for then President Gerald Ford to repeal Executive Order 9066. President Ronald Reagan later signed into law which included a formal apology, and compensation for those sent to the camps.

The now 88 year old Ventura woman says while some are still bitter about their improper incarceration, she isn’t. She says her family made the best of the situation.

She became a nurse, and says all nine of her brothers and sisters had successful careers, making her parents proud. She and her late husband moved to Ventura in the late 1960’s where she they raised a daughter, which led to two grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

Maruokas says the December 7th anniversary of the attack makes her sad, because of all the people that died, but she says she, and her family made the most of the hand they were dealt, even though it was unjust.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.