OSU honors WWII-era students of Japanese ancestry.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the lives of 42 Oregon State University students of Japanese ancestry changed irrevocably. All of them were forced to leave school during World War II because of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. Many ended up in internment camps, and most were unable to return to OSU to complete their degrees or participate in commencement.
Now, more than six decades after the end of the war, those students will be recognized at OSU’s June 15 commencement ceremony. Most of these former students since have died. But several will return to campus and many others — both living and deceased — will be represented by family members during the ceremony, where they will receive their honorary degrees.
One of those students is Noboru Endow, who was a sophomore studying chemistry when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Even though Endow was harassed in his dorm immediately afterward, he never wanted to leave OSU. But the choice wasn’t his to make. In the spring of 1942, he received an official letter informing him that he had five days to leave campus and board a bus that would take him to a Portland detention center. He was devastated.
After spending a couple of days at the center, Endow was sent to a sugar beet farm in eastern Oregon and was later allowed to attend the University of Utah, where he earned his degree in chemistry. Endow, who is 85 and now lives in Santa Clara, Calif., thinks it is important for OSU to be granting the degrees. “It’s good that they are having this to recognize people who were studying, and it is worthwhile for everyone to recall those events. It’s hard how government acts during war. You want to be patriotic, but also reserve judgment; you can lose your civil rights easily,” he says.
OSU President Ray says public recognition of the sacrifices these students made is overdue. “It is a great privilege for all of us at Oregon State University to honor our former students with their degrees,” Ray said. “A great wrong was done to them and it is never too late to do the right thing. More importantly, we should use the memory of this sad and unconscionable chapter of our history to strengthen our resolve to stand up for each and every member of our community when we are tested, as we surely will be in the future.”
The impetus for granting the degrees came from two OSU students, Andy Kiyuna and Joel Fischer. Both played key roles in pushing the idea for such action into law, and state representatives Tina Kotek of Portland and Brian Clem of Salem co-sponsored the bill. In may of 2007, Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed Oregon House Bill 2823 into law, granting honorary college and university degrees to former students of Japanese ancestry who were displaced by the war.
On December 12, 1941, a mere two months before Executive Order 9066 went into effect, many of OSU’s students of Japanese ancestry, including Endow, composed, signed and sent a letter to then OSU President F.A. Gilfillan. They wanted to assure Gilfillan of their loyalty to OSU and their pride in their country. “We will deeply appreciate any opportunity to prove our mettle and our devotion to the College and to our State and Nation. We hope that the trial of this supreme national test will prove a unifying and enlightening influence upon all Americans and their resident relatives from foreign lands,” they wrote.
After 65 years, their sentiments will finally be honored.
Those receiving honorary degrees at OSU’s commencement will be:
Roy R. Hashitani*
Todd Tadao Okita*
Lena Kageyama Omari*
Mabel Sadako Takashima*
Edward Ko Yada*
Mary Takao Yoshida
Photos for this feature were generously provided by OSU Libraries University Archives.