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Takeo Bill Manbo (Internment Camp)

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R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.7, W.2, SL.1, L.6  

Behind the Wire Fence

During World War II, the American government forced thousands of Japanese Americans into prison camps. This is the story of one boy who was there. 

Courtesy of Bill Hiroshi Shishima (Shishima Family); Nilmerg/Shutterstock.com (Circle)

    Eleven-year-old William “Bill” Hiroshi Shishima was in prison. He was surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns. Escape was impossible.

    Just three months earlier, Bill had been a normal kid. He loved eating tacos and  playing baseball after school with his friends. 

    Then his family was rounded up like criminals. They were forced to leave their home. Along with 120,000 other people, they were sent to live in internment camps. 

    But Bill and the others had not committed any crime. 

    They had not done anything wrong.

    They were in prison because they were Japanese American.

    Eleven-year-old William “Bill” Hiroshi Shishima was in prison. He was surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns. There was no way to escape.

    Just three months earlier, Bill had been a normal kid. He loved eating tacos. He played baseball with his friends. 

    Then his family was rounded up like criminals. They were forced to leave their home. They were sent to live in internment camps. So were 120,000 other people.

    But Bill and the others had done nothing wrong.

    They were in prison because they were Japanese American.

    Eleven-year-old William “Bill” Hiroshi Shishima was in prison, surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns. Escape was impossible.

    Just three months earlier, Bill had been an ordinary kid who loved eating tacos and playing baseball after school with his friends. 

    Then his family was rounded up like criminals and forced to leave their home. Along with 120,000 other people, they were sent to live in internment camps. 

    But Bill and the others had not committed any crime. 

    They were imprisoned simply because they were Japanese American.

Fox Photos/Getty Images (Pearl Harbor); Granger, NYC/The Granger Collection (Headline)

Going to War
Japan’s surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii shocked Americans. The next day, the U.S. entered World War II.

Attacked! 

    Bill was born in 1930 in Los Angeles, California. His family ran a grocery store. By 1941, the business had grown to include a hotel. Life was good—but trouble was on the way. 

    World War II was raging across the globe. Americans were trying to stay out of this terrible and deadly war. But on December 7, 1941, everything changed. 

    That morning, Japan launched a surprise attack on a U.S. military base in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor. More than 2,300 Americans were killed and another 1,200 wounded. 

    Bill was walking out of a movie when he heard about what had happened. He could not have imagined how this horrible attack would change American history—and his own life.  

    The day after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan and entered World War II. 

    Bill was born in 1930 in Los Angeles, California. His family ran a store. They worked hard. Soon they were running a hotel too. Life was good. But trouble was on the way. 

    World War II was raging across the globe. Americans did not want to get involved. But on December 7, 1941, everything changed. 

    That day, Japan attacked a U.S. military base in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor. More than 2,300 Americans were killed. 

    The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan and entered World War II. 

    Bill was born in 1930 in Los Angeles, California. His family ran a grocery store. By 1941, the business had grown to include a hotel. The family was doing well—but trouble was on the horizon. 

    World War II was raging across the globe. Initially, Americans were determined to stay out of this terrible and deadly war—but on December 7, 1941, everything changed. 

    That morning, Japan launched a surprise attack on a U.S. military base in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor. More than 2,300 Americans were killed and another 1,200 wounded. 

    Bill was walking out of a movie when he heard about what had happened. He could not have imagined how this horrible attack would change American history—and his own life.  

    The day after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan and entered World War II. 

 

Suspicion and Fear 

    At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, about 127,000 Japanese Americans lived in the U.S. Most of them lived on the West Coast like Bill’s family. Bill’s parents had left Japan before Bill was born. They had worked hard to create a good life in their new country. Bill was born in America—making him an American citizen. 

    But after the bombing, Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion and fear. People spread rumors that Japanese Americans were spies for Japan. There was no proof that this was true. But many people said Japanese Americans couldn’t be trusted. 

    In February 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an order. It gave the military the power to remove all Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Every man, woman, and child would be sent to an internment camp.

    At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, about 127,000 Japanese Americans lived in the U.S. Most lived on the West Coast like Bill’s family. Bill’s parents had left Japan before Bill was born. They had worked to build a good life in their new country. Bill was born in the U.S. That made him an American citizen. 

    But after the bombing, Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion and fear. People believed that Japanese Americans were spies for Japan. There was no proof that this was true. But many people said Japanese Americans could not be trusted. 

    In February 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an order. It allowed the military to remove all Japanese Americans from the West Coast. All of these people would be sent to internment camps.

    At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, about 127,000 Japanese Americans lived in the U.S. Most of them lived on the West Coast like Bill’s family. Bill’s parents had left Japan before Bill was born. They had worked hard to create a good life in their new country. Bill was born in America—making him an American citizen. 

    But after the bombing, Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion and fear. People spread rumors that Japanese Americans were spies for Japan. There was no proof that this was true, but many people came to believe that Japanese Americans couldn’t be trusted. 

    In February 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an order giving the military the power to remove all Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Every man, woman, and child would be sent to an internment camp.

Corbis via Getty Images (Girl); Dorothea Lange/Getty Images (Sign)

Off to Prison (left)
The U.S. government decided to send about 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. Here a young girl waits with her family’s belongings before being taken away.

 

Fighting Fear (right)
After the attack, many Americans worried that Japanese Americans were a threat to their safety. Some Japanese Americans tried to calm people’s fears with signs like this. 

What They Could Carry

    By spring, signs appeared all over Bill’s neighborhood. The signs ordered all Japanese people to report to a local church by noon on May 9. 

    The instructions said to bring bedding, clothes, and other personal items—but only what they could carry. The instructions did not say where they would be going or how long they would be gone. 

    Bill’s family sold their belongings. They gave up the lease on their store and hotel. They tried to sell their truck, but no one would buy it. 

    At the church, Bill and his family joined dozens of others. Many wore their best clothes—mothers in dresses, fathers in suits. Small children held their mothers’ hands. 

    Soon, all of these innocent people would be locked up like criminals.

    Signs appeared in Bill’s neighborhood. The signs ordered all Japanese people to go to a local church by noon on May 9. 

    The instructions said to bring bedding, clothes, and other personal items, but only what they could carry. People were not told where they would be going or how long they would be gone. 

    Bill’s family sold their things. They gave up their store and hotel. They tried to sell their truck, but no one would buy it. 

    Bill and his family went to the church. Dozens of people were there. Many wore their best clothes. Small children held their mothers’ hands. Soon, all of these people would be locked up like criminals.

    Signs appeared throughout Bill’s neighborhood directing all Japanese people to report to a local church by noon on May 9. 

    The instructions said to bring bedding, clothes, and other personal items—but only what they could carry. The instructions did not say where they would be going or how long they would be gone. 

    Bill’s family sold their belongings and gave up the lease on their store and hotel. They tried to sell their truck but were unable to find a buyer. 

    At the church, Bill and his family joined dozens of others. Many wore their best clothing—mothers in dresses, fathers in suits. Small children held their mothers’ hands. 

    Soon, all of these innocent people would be locked up like criminals.

 

Heart Mountain

    Bill and his family were put on a train. They traveled to the place that would be their home for the next three years: the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.

    During World War II, the U.S. had 10 internment camps like Heart Mountain. The camps were all located in remote areas. That way, Japanese Americans could be kept away from other Americans. 

    Life in these camps was difficult. Dust and dirt were everywhere. There were barbed-wire fences and armed soldiers. 

    Bill, his parents, and his three siblings crowded into one room. The thin walls did not protect them from the freezing Wyoming winds. That first winter, Bill got dangerously sick. 

    People tried to make the best of it. They had lost their freedom and their homes. But they still had their dignity. Families took pride in making their rooms as beautiful as possible. Mothers stitched curtains for the windows. Fathers made furniture from scraps of wood. Children attended camp schools and formed baseball teams.

    Bill and his family were put on a train. They traveled to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. This would be their home for the next three years.

    During World War II, the U.S. had 10 internment camps like Heart Mountain. The camps were located in remote areas. That way, Japanese Americans could be kept away from other Americans. 

    Life in these camps was hard. Dust and dirt were everywhere. There were barbed-wire fences. There were armed guards. 

    Bill, his parents, and his three siblings shared one room. The thin walls did not keep out the cold. That first winter, Bill got dangerously sick. 

    People tried to make the best of it. They had lost their freedom and their homes. But they still had their dignity. They worked to make their rooms look nice. Mothers made curtains. Fathers made furniture. Kids went to school and played baseball.

    Bill and his family boarded a train and traveled to the place that would be their home for the next three years: the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.

    During World War II, the U.S. operated 10 internment camps like Heart Mountain. The camps were all located in remote areas, which kept Japanese Americans away from other Americans. 

    Life in these camps was harsh and uncomfortable. Dust and dirt were everywhere. There were barbed-wire fences and armed soldiers. 

    Bill, his parents, and his three siblings crowded into one room. The thin walls provided little protection from the freezing Wyoming winds. That first winter, Bill got dangerously sick. 

    The prisoners tried to make the best of their situation. They had lost their freedom and their homes, but they still had their dignity. Families took pride in making their rooms as beautiful as possible. Mothers stitched curtains for the windows, and fathers made furniture from scraps of wood. Children attended camp schools and formed baseball teams.

The End of the War

    World War II ended in 1945. The U.S. had won, and Americans cheered in the streets. At Heart Mountain, Bill was excited. He would get to see his old friends again.

    The internment camps closed, and everyone was allowed to leave. But where would they go? Many Japanese Americans had lost everything—and not only their homes and businesses. The government had also taken their sense of safety and fairness.

    Bill and his family returned to Los Angeles to start over. After high school, Bill was drafted into the military and served in the Korean War. He went to college and became a teacher.

    World War II ended in 1945. The U.S. had won. At Heart Mountain, Bill was excited. He would get to see his old friends again.

    The camps closed. The prisoners could leave. But where would they go? They had lost their homes and jobs. Many had also lost their sense of safety and fairness.

    Bill and his family went back to Los Angeles. Later, Bill was drafted into the military. He served in the Korean War. He went to college and became a teacher.

    World War II ended in 1945. The U.S. had won, and Americans cheered in the streets. At Heart Mountain, Bill joyfully looked forward to seeing his old friends again.

    The internment camps closed, and everyone was allowed to leave. But where would they go? Many Japanese Americans had lost everything—not only their homes and businesses, but also their sense of safety and fairness.

    Bill and his family returned to Los Angeles to rebuild their lives. After high school, Bill was drafted into the military and served in the Korean War. He went to college and became a teacher.

 

Myron Davis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images (Camp)

Life at Camp
Life was difficult and boring at internment camps like Heart Mountain. But books and games helped families pass the time.

An Apology

    Nearly 40 years after the camps closed, the U.S. government apologized to Japanese Americans. Survivors were each given a $20,000 payment. Bill gave his $20,000 to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. He gives tours there now. 

    Today, Bill is in his 80s. He feels it is important to tell his story. “Everyone in America should know what happened to us,” he says, “so it never happens again.”

    Nearly 40 years after the camps closed, the U.S. government apologized to Japanese Americans. Survivors were each given a $20,000 payment. Bill gave his $20,000 to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. He gives tours there now. 

    Today, Bill is in his 80s. He feels it is important to tell his story. “Everyone in America should know what happened to us,” he says, “so it never happens again.”

    Nearly 40 years after the internment camps closed, the U.S. government issued an apology to Japanese Americans and gave each survivor a $20,000 payment. Bill donated his $20,000 to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where he now gives tours. 

    Today, Bill is in his 80s. He feels it is important to tell his story. “Everyone in America should know what happened to us,” he says, “so it never happens again.”

ACTIVITY

Finding Text Evidence

You’ve just read “Behind the Wire Fence”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Behind the Wire Fence”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Behind the Wire Fence”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

How did Bill’s life change when he went to the internment camp? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section.

Answer: Bill went from eating tacos and playing baseball to being surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns.

How did Bill’s life change when he went to the internment camp? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section.

Answer: Bill went from eating tacos and playing baseball to being surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns.

How did Bill’s life change when he went to the internment camp? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section.

Answer: Bill went from eating tacos and playing baseball to being surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns.

Where did Bill and his family live at Heart Mountain? How did people make the best of it?  

HINT: Look for the answers in the section “Heart Mountain.”

Where did Bill and his family live at Heart Mountain? How did people make the best of it?  

HINT: Look for the answers in the section “Heart Mountain.”

Where did Bill and his family live at Heart Mountain? How did people make the best of it?  

HINT: Look for the answers in the section “Heart Mountain.”

What did Bill do after high school?  

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The End of the War.”

What did Bill do after high school?  

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The End of the War.”

What did Bill do after high school?  

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The End of the War.”