The 1941 Roosevelt High School senior class officers were, front row, from left, Bea Vollendorf, secretary and treasurer, and Lorraine Morrish, council representative. Back row, from left, are Jim Vail, president; Bill Church, council representative; and Tom Osasa, vice president.

The 1941 Roosevelt High School senior class officers were, front row, from left, Bea Vollendorf, secretary and treasurer, and Lorraine Morrish, council representative. Back row, from left, are Jim Vail, president; Bill Church, council representative; and Tom Osasa, vice president.

BACK WHEN: Thomas Osasa: Patriot by choice

A WHILE AGO I found something that deeply aroused my curiosity. I found a copy of The Tulean Dispatch dated July 10, 1942. The lost and found section had “LOST: Two Port Angeles Hi School pins. Return to #1816-B.” Tule Lake is in California. Finding the answer was very rewarding. The North Olympic History Center’s Research Library was very helpful.

So, who lost their high school pins? The brief answer is Thomas T. Osasa, Port Angeles High School class of 1941. Seeing the rest of the story is the rewarding part.

Tommy’s father, Masaru, came to the United States in 1911 seeking his fortune. Tommy’s mother, Chiyono, came later to marry Masuru. She was 21. She came with hopes that were dashed when she first saw Masuru. Masuru had sent pictures of a much younger man. When she arrived she found a man 20 years her senior. But, it was more practical to stay than return to Japan.

On May 19, 1923 their fourth child, Tommy, was born in a Seattle hotel. Osasa’s career seemed promising for a while. He speculated in real estate and provided people short term loans.

That all ended Oct. 29, 1929, when the New York Stock Exchange crashed. The crippled economy meant the payments on loans were not coming in.

It wasn’t long before Osasa saw an ad for a restaurant in Port Angeles. In the summer of 1930 he decided to move his family 70 miles west. It appears that the Osasas were the first Japanese to live in Port Angeles.

Their restaurant was a narrow slot on the first floor of the Commercial Hotel at 122 West Front Street (a parking lot, now). It was named the Port Angeles Noodle Parlor.

By junior high school, Tommy spent most of his evenings in the kitchen of the restaurant. In 1939 Tom’s father disappeared with most of the family’s money. It was a mystery to the family and local people. Tom had watched his mom work all day in the restaurant while his dad played cards down the street. His disappearance didn’t bother Tom. Years later it was learned, as suspected, that he traveled back to Japan.

Tom’s life took off in 1937 when he started high school. He joined a group of wise-cracking teenagers who became known as the Dirty Eight. They made things happen. They were the team captains and class officials. Their teachers knew they were going somewhere. This “gang” contained names familiar to long-time Port Angeles residents. They were Tom, Sam Haguewood, John Willson, Jack Young, Bill Church, Bob Stone, Jim Vail and Jack Ervin.

Tom was very involved in high school activities, including vice-president of each of his classes, Student Council, A Club and sports. Tom didn’t need to study much to qualify for Honor Society.

The class of 1941 lived in an orderly world spared from the grimness of world events. Before long their world was turned upside down.

After graduation Tom enrolled in Wilson Business School in Seattle. On Dec. 7, 1941, Toms was bowling in a tournament in Tacoma. A paperboy came into the bowling alley with a pile of newspapers with the headline “PEARL HARBOR BOMBED.” For the Japanese-Americans, they had gone from friend to foe overnight.

Japanese businesses in Seattle and elsewhere were being vandalized, burned and boycotted. But the Port Angeles Noodle Parlor was busy. It seemed every bowl of noodles was a vote of support from our community.

On Feb.y 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered all Japanese from a “restricted” area along the West Coast to register for transfer to camps. Sheriff Charles Kemp failed to get the Osasas an exemption from the federal authorities. So, relocation was imminent. It didn’t take long for the shock to turn to the practical matters.

In May the Noodle Parlor served its last fried rice and chop suey. Then the Osasas began the heartbreaking task of liquidating their assets.

On June 3, 1942, the Osasas loaded their meager belongings into their daughter’s car and drove to Port Townsend to meet other evacuees. They boarded a charter bus and traveled to the Tule Lake Camp in California.

I believe that many people do not realize the impact international events have had on our community. Clallam and Jefferson counties had 13 families totaling 41 individuals evacuated to the camps. Most of them were citizens of the United States. It is estimated that two-thirds of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps were U.S. citizens.

Tule Lake was a bleak lake bed which had been drained by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. The Osasas were among the first to arrive. Block 18-16-B was the Osasas’ new home. Their room was about 20 feet wide and the walls that didn’t reach all the way to the ceiling. Privacy was limited.

Port Angeles held good memories for Tom. That’s evident by the ad he placed for the lost high school pins. The pins were something Tom chose to keep when he was forced to leave Port Angeles. These mementos were important to Tom.

By the fall of 1942 the U.S. military started recruiting Japanese language specialists for the Military Intelligence Service. Tom wasn’t eager to go to war but he was willing to prove his loyalty.

Tom was sent from Tule Lake to Camp Savage to the foreign language school. In September 1943, Tom graduated from language and basic training and was sent to the Pacific theater of the war. Tom served with the Marine Corps, the 1st Calvary Division, and the 11th Airborne Division. Tom received a Letter of Commendation award and a Bronze Star Medal.

On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered to the U.S. On August 30 Tom, who was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division, accompanied General MacArthur to Japan. The first sight of his ancestral land was surreal. Mile after mile of flattened buildings and few people in sight because they feared the Americans. The Japanese people did not trust American soldiers of Japanese descent. For the second time in his life Tom was viewed as a traitor.

After the war Tom settled in Minnesota where he earned a business degree. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and retired in 1979 with 27 years of government service.

Over the years, Tom returned to Port Angeles for high-school reunions. Of course, the old gang would gather at Haguewood’s Restaurant and share their stories.

________

John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

Thomas Osasa; 1941 high school senior class portrait.

Thomas Osasa; 1941 high school senior class portrait.

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