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  • Val Anderson

The Footfalls of History

The Rest of the Story-Dr. and Mrs. Mori

My grandfather made a horrible mistake in 1941. He suspected a prominent Japanese couple of being spies and turned their names over to the FBI. He was wrong. Years later he would write that he never learned what happened to Dr. and Mrs. Mori, perhaps feeling a twinge of regret. He had great respect for the Japanese culture. I think he would have turned over in his grave when I discovered that Dr. Motokazu Mori and Mrs. Ishiko Mori were innocent pawns—caught in the dragnet of prejudice and fear that swept this country after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Before Ishiko Shibuya became Mrs. Mori, according to tradition, she was an old maid, a “Christmas Cake,” a leftover slice gone stale. She should have married by the age of 25. Her bad-luck-years were just around the corner. Ishiko, however, had chosen to break with tradition and sacrificed marriage for a medical degree. She was to be one of perhaps 30 women physicians in Japan.

Shortly after she graduated, she had traveled to Honolulu to visit a family friend, Dr. and Mrs. Iga Mori. Dr. Mori, one of Hawaii’s most prominent physicians,was educated at the Naval Medical College in Japan. He was the first Japanese to be honored with membership into the Honolulu County Medical Society. And he had a son, Motokazu, also a medical doctor. Motokazu was 10 years her senior.

A year after her visit on 26 April 1930, she became Mrs. Motokazu Mori. Current immigration laws denied her U.S. citizenship even though she had married a citizen. She was forced to travel back to Japan every two years, stay for a year, and then return on a new visa.[i] She did not obtain a U.S. medical license after relocating to Honolulu. Instead, she chose to raise their three sons and two daughters over the years. Sometimes she took her children with her when she needed to renew her visa, other times she had to leave them. Then, she learned that she could remain permanently in the U.S. if she became a journalist. She took the job as a reporter for the world’s largest paper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, and sent articles about Hawaii and the growing Japanese population to Japan for publication.

She sent her reports to the Yomiur Shimbun by wireless. Her radiograms were long; often more than one page, and they were in Romaji, a Romanized version of Japanese. With war looming on the horizon, George Street, District manager of RCA-Communications, found that suspicious. Her news reports ended up landing her on the ABC list, as an A-lister, someone dangerous to national security.

She sent an expensive and lengthy two-page radiogram 4 December and then returned on 5 December to ask Street if it had gone through. Having lived in Japan, he picked up on a few words that he thought might be some type of coded message. The fact that she was concerned about its delivery sent up a red flag. So, he turned the copy of the radiogram over to Naval Intelligence. In late November of 1941, he, at the urging of his boss David Sarnoff, had agreed to turn over suspicious and coded Japanese radiograms to the Navy.

Then on Saturday, December 6th 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, she arranged for a phone call between her husband and the paper that cost $200.00 (~ $3400.00 today). Her employer wanted to interview a prominent businessman of Oahu. When she couldn’t find anyone on such short notice, she volunteered her husband. The phone call, intercepted by the FBI because of the cost, created a flurry of head scratching and speculation by military command. But no action was taken—it was Saturday night on Oahu.

Dr. M. Mori, a U.S. citizen, Ishiko, their oldest son, also a citizen, and his father were arrested before the smoke had settled at Pearl Harbor. They were held at the US Immigration Center. Dr. Mori was then transferred to the Police station. Three days after being thrown into the hole, he emerged, white-haired, drained, his cheeks sunken—but not charged with espionage. His son, Jiro—after being grilled— had been released the day before. [ii] Dr. Mori was returned to the Immigration Center for processing and probably questioned again. “Did you buy Japanese government bonds? Did you buy American bonds? Are you a Christian, Buddist, Shintoist? Are you a spy?”

The only possession’ he was allowed at the Centerwere a pen, a handkerchief, and his watch. He joined the general population in an overcrowded room, rank with the smell of fear and men. Toilets overflowed, mattresses on the floor were hoarded—even the air was dirty.

It took over two weeks for General Emmons, now the military governor of the Territory of Hawaii, to declare that the civilians arrested in the aftermath of the attack were not POWs. They were detainees which allowed them access to their family. They could receive supplies from home. The Mori’s could begin to feel like humans again. Dr. and Mrs. Mori were to remain as detainees, like thousands of others, because of their heritage.

By 5 January 1942, Dr. and Mrs. Mori were reunited. Fresh air and sea breezes brought joy to their hearts as they shuffled up Pier 5. Hustled into a launch, the Mori’s were headed for Sand Island, a desolate ancient coral reef beset with sand storms whipped by a splattering of trees. Clapboard buildings, tents, and dust greeted them.

Segregated into men and women sections—Japanese, Germans, and Italians— they did not encounter Oahu’s real spy, Bernard Otto Kuehn, and his wife and daughter.

They surveyed their new home, undoubtedly thankful that his elderly father, Dr. Iga Mori, had been released a few days earlier for health reasons. His dad was a pillar of the Japanese community who promoted “Present Patriotic Responsibilities,” co-hosted visiting Ambassador Nomura and Christian leaders, and who participated in a “race-crossing” biological study. To lock him up would have been a death sentence.

They were issued identification numbers, ISN numbers with CI for civilian that had to be stitched on the back of their shirts. Mrs. Mori was relegated the women’s barracks; Dr. Mori to tents some distance from the barracks. They were offered a tent to share, but declined, perhaps too modest to accept.

In a poem to his wife, Dr. Mori wrote:

“While I look at the house beyond the barbed wire, where my wife is confined,

I pluck a leaf of grass and chew on it.”[iii]

All internees were issued gas masks. Practice drills broke up the monotony. Those who did not get their masks on fast enough suffered the effects of tear gas. Cigarettes’ were shared by 7 or 8 people. Matches were in such short supply that they were split in two and later shaved into toothpicks. Clothes were shared especially for those who were arrested in their pajamas. Underwear and outer garments had to be washed separately, so they didn’t have to be naked on wash day.

On Wednesdays, Dr. and Mrs. Mori got to sit down for lunch—together—in the woman’s mess hall. It was the only time they were allowed this privilege. Both struggled with the pork and beans and coffee in the chow line. Their normal diet was a thing of the past because the camp cook was German. There they stayed until 16 September 1942.

Then, Dr. Mori was assigned to a relocation camp, and they were separated again. Group Six was up, headed for the mainland because the camp at Waipahu on Oahu wasn’t slated to be opened until sometime the following year. His journey would be long. Debarking at a pier in California, he was bussed or put on a train. His final destination was in a god-forsaken corner of the west that previously had been home to only coyotes and rabbits. Camps consisted of blocks of residential barracks, lined up like those in POW camps, with the laundry, latrines, mess halls, recreation buildings in a central location.

Mrs. Mori, in the woman’s group, was processed through the Sharp Park Interment Center, a holding camp, near Pacifica, California. She was held there for 10 months before probably being sent to the women’s and married-couples-without-children-camp at Seagoville, Texas near Dallas.

There they were reunited, and there they stayed until the end of the war assisting detainees with their medical needs. Three months after the war ended the Mori’s were processed for release and given $25.00 and a ticket home, a place they had not seen for four years. Dr. Mori then registered for the draft on 8 November 1945. He was a citizen after all.

They returned to Honolulu—together—aboard the Army transport ship, USAT Shawnee that sailed from Terminal Island, San Pedro, California. Anticipating their return, the transcript of the “Mori phone call” that had resulted in Dr. Mori being suspected of espionage appeared in Honolulu Star-Bulletin four days before they arrived. Their story made them “newspaper heroes.” As Mrs. Mori explained how the infamous phone call that came about:

“Ogawa called Friday” [5 December 1941]. I’m sure now that he knew something big was going to happen here. He was laying the groundwork for a big scoop, feature, and color copy when it happened. Of course, we didn’t know that then. My husband answered his questions as best he could.” When asked by the interviewee if she was a spy, Mrs. Mori responded, “Of course not. I loved Japan, I still do, but I was never disloyal to the United States. Gradually, I learned to love America the most…One good thing came from this war. I am allowed to stay here with my husband and children. Can you understand how I feel as a mother?”[iv]

Unlike many detainees, the Moris had a place to come home to. Dr. Mori returned to his practice and pick up the pieces of their lives after four years of internment. Thousands of other detainees weren’t so lucky.

I only hope that what happened to the Moris, and so many others like them, will be taught to our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Arresting and detaining and ruining American citizens because of their heritage has marked us all. I grew up learning that the Japs were the bad guys and Americans were the good guys during the war. No conflict is that simple. Both sides did some very ugly things and shoved them into the closet-of-dirty-little- secrets. It’s time to clean out the closet—to empty it— and learn from our mistakes and never repeat them again. I don’t want my grandfather coming back to haunt me.

Mori Telephone conversation, 6 December, 1941

Transcribed from Hewitt Inquiry vol. 36 pages 523-535. The initial ‘J’ stands for Japanese;[v] ‘H’ for Hawaiian.

IC(J)Hello, is this Mori?

(H) Hello, this is Mori.

(J) I am sorry to have troubled you. Thank you very much.

(H) Not at all.

(J) I received your telegram and was able to grasp the essential points. I would like to have your impressions of the conditions you are observing at present. Are airplanes flying daily?

(H) Yes, lots of them fly around.

(J) Are they large planes?

(H) Yes, they are quite big.

(J) Are they flying from morning till night?

(H) Well, not to that extent, but last week they were quite active in the air.

(J) I hear there are many Sailors there, is that right?

(H) There aren’t so many now. There were more in the beginning part of this year and the ending part of last year.

(J) Is that so?

(H) I do not know why this is so, but appears that there are very few Sailors here at present.

(J) Are any Japanese people there holding meetings to discuss US--Japanese negotiations being conducted presently?

(H) No, not particularly. The minds of the Japanese here appear calmer than expected. They are getting along harmoniously.

(J) Don’t the American community look with suspicion on the Japanese?

(H) Well, we hardly notice any of them looking on us with suspicion. This______

(J) Has there been any increase in …?...of late? That is, as a result of the current tense situation.

(H) There is nothing which stands out, but the city is enjoying a war building boom.

(J) What do you mean by enjoying a war building boom?

(H) Well, a boom in many fields. Although there are no munitions industry here engaged in by the army, civilian workers are building houses for the army personnel. Most of the work here is directed towards building houses of various sorts. There are not enough carpenters, electrician,s and plumbers. Students at the High School and University have quit school and are working on these jobs, regardless of the fact that they are unskilled in this work.

(J) Are there many big factories there?

(H) No, there are no factories, but a lot of small buildings of various kinds are being constructed.

(J) Is that so?

(H) It is said that the population of Honolulu had doubled that of last year.

(J) How large is the population?

(H) The population increase is due to the present influx of Army and Navy personnel and workers from the mainland.

(J) What is the population?

(H) About 200,000 to 240,000. Formerly there were about 150,000 people.

(J) What about night time?

(H) There seems to be precautionary measures taken.

(J) What about searchlights?

(H) Well, not much to talk about.

(J) Do they put searchlights on when planes fly about at night?

(H) NO.

(J) What about the Honolulu newspapers?

(H) The comments by the papers are pretty bad. They are opposite to the atmosphere pervading the city. I don’t know whether the newspaper is supposed to lead the community or not, but they carry headlines pertaining to Japan daily. The main articles concern the US--Japanese conferences.

(J) What kind of impression did Mr. Kurusu make in Hawaii?

(H) A very good one. Mr. Kurusu understands the American mind, and he was very adept at answering queries of the press.

(J)Are there any Japanese people there who are planning to evacuate Hawaii?

(H) There are almost none wishing to do that.

(J) What is the climate there now?

(H) These last few days have been very cold with occasional rainfall, phenomena very rare in Hawaii. Today, the wind is blowing very strongly a very unusual climate.

(J) Is that so?

(H) Here is something interesting. Litrinoff, the Russian ambassador to the United States, arrived here yesterday. I believe he enplaned for the mainland today. He made no statements on any problems.

Photo credits: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1-12-1935 (Mrs. Mori); 1-22-1958( Dr. Mori);google images(Sand Island)

[i] Clarke, Thurston, Pearl Harbor Ghosts, the Legacy of December 7, 1941, Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1991, p74.

[ii] Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire, p. 35.

[iii] Ibid, p. 48.

[iv] Honolulu Star Bulletin, 5 December 1957,1.

[v] US Government document: Public domain

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