CLALLAM BAY — Sixty-seven years ago, an 18-year-old Taky Kimura was preparing for his high school graduation from Clallam Bay School.
He never made it to the ceremony.
At about noon on that June day in 1942, he and his family of nine — all Japanese-Americans — were put in old railroad cars with windows boarded up and swept away to Tule Lake Internment Camp in California, near the Oregon border.
This Friday, Kimura, now 85, will receive his diploma at last, during the 7 p.m. graduation ceremony for the class of 2009 at the Clallam Bay High School, 16933 state Highway 112.
“It is such an honor to be able to do this,” he said in a telephone interview from his Seattle-area home.
“I feel like I’m impacting the ceremony. I’m so humbled that they would allow me to participate.”
Martial arts school
Kimura now operates the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle with his son, Andy.
When he was 36, Kimura befriended the 18-year-old Bruce Lee, who became an icon of martial arts movies, and Lee trained him in the martial arts.
Some of Kimura’s students heard that he had never received his high school diploma and phoned the school.
“They went behind my back and called,” said Kimura, who added he never dreamed of asking the school to allow him to participate in the graduation.
“When I found out, I asked them, ‘What the hell did you do that for?’
“I had figured it was all water under the bridge now, and those young people [who are graduating] have their own lives to think about. I don’t want to impinge upon that.”
Like many graduates, Kimura is nervous.
“I have to be honored that they would take an old guy like me in,” he said.
“I have to say I’m a little frightened and nervous about going out there for this.”
Highlight of ceremony
Superintendent of Cape Flattery School District Kandy Ritter said that the school and students were excited that Kimura will be part of the ceremony.
“He will make their day,” she said.
Prior to the ceremony, Kimura will meet with the senior class and answer their questions about his life, said senior class adviser Lori Larrechea.
When he was 18, Kimura had wanted to be a doctor.
“I had a scholarship to Washington State University,” he said.
But four years in an internment camp changed him.
“With the incarceration and the camps — and we were called all kinds of names — I lost all esteem for myself,” he said. “It really ruined me.”
Kimura described himself as a “broken man, mentally and physically,” until he met the young Chinese-American who inspired him.
“Bruce [Lee] was a guy who was half my age, but he had gone through many of the same things I had, back in Hong Kong, and through the pangs of misery, he had conquered that within himself.”
Kimura said that Lee helped him accept his circumstances and rebuild himself.
“I was old enough to be his father, but he became something of a surrogate father to me,” Kimura said.
“I started to study under him, and I began to look in the mirror and think, ‘Maybe I am a human being.’ And I began to reconstruct my whole thinking.”
In addition to becoming Lee’s friend — and eventually a pallbearer at his funeral and the caretaker of his grave in Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle — Kimura worked with his parents at the grocery stores they opened in the area.
The stores were closed in 2001, and now Kimura focuses his attention on running the martial arts school that Lee founded in 1960 to teach Jeet Kune Do.
“We don’t make any profit off of this,” Kimura said.
“What me and my son are trying to do is to teach these young people how to deal with their problems.”
Lee’s version of martial arts is not just about the physical art of fighting, Kimura said. It also taught the philosophy of overcoming opponents and problems mentally, Kimura said.
“Bruce was one of the greatest philosophers of our time,” he said.
Tule Lake was the largest and longest-running of the 10 War Relocation Authority camps used to detain people of Japanese descent, as mandated by Executive Order 9066, issued Feb. 19, 1942, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Tule Lake opened May 26, 1942, detaining people of Japanese descent removed from western Washington, Oregon and Northern California. At its peak, it contained 18,700 people.
It was closed on March 28, 1946.
Kimura said he holds no bitterness against the government.
“That is water under the bridge now,” he said. “You can’t live your life being bitter about that, because the only person it hurts is yourself.”
To some degree, he also understands what the government did, he said.
“What happened after Pearl Harbor was the whole country was in chaos, and they didn’t know what we were going to do,” Kimura said.
“It was a travesty, but when you have a huge dilemma like that, you have to do what you think you have to do — though there was absolutely no demonstration that indicated we would do something.”
His father, Suejiro, had moved to the United States when he was 16; his mother, Haruyo, when she was 15.
The couple, he said, never would have encouraged or joined an uprising against the country that had become their home, he said.
“I swear I never heard a single oratory about Japan,” he said.
“They didn’t even know anything about Japan. They were just kids when they came here.”
Accepted in Clallam Bay
In Clallam Bay, it was different. The people of Clallam Bay/Sekiu area took them in like family and still remain close to his heart, Kimura said.
Because no one could pronounce his father’s name, he was known as Sam to his fellow railroad workers.
“Word got around that, if we were one of Sam’s kids, that we were OK and to leave us alone,” he said.
“Of course, every time a new kid came to town I got beat up, but it wasn’t long before they learned that we were part of the family [of Clallam Bay].”
He especially remembers Hazel K. Murrey, who was principal at the school when he was there.
“She had the might and reputation of being the toughest principal, and everyone was scared to death of her,” he said. “But she was a wonderful lady who helped us make our way in the world.
“She treated me almost like her son or something.
“I miss her very dearly. She was a big point in my life out there.”
Another local he remembers with great respect is a country doctor he knew only as Dr. Baker.
“When all the stuff with the internment camps started coming up, he called up one of the generals of the Army and said that if they would let us stay here, he knew we were great people,” Kimura said.
“He said that he would look after us, if they would just let us stay.
“Of course, they said they couldn’t do that, but it brings tears to my heart that he would go out of his way to do that.”
One of Kimura’s childhood friends, Claude Olesen, still lives in Clallam Bay and will either walk with him to accept the diploma or present Kimura’s diploma to him, Larrechea said.
“Clallam Bay has been a huge part of my life,” said Kimura, adding that he returns every so often to visit the “old timers.”
“It is where I grew up,” he said.
Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at [email protected]