It is strange how many people see their travels as only the list of where they may have gone on vacation throughout their lives. That is certainly an important part of their travels, but certainly not the sum.
Every once in a while, you enter into a situation during what seems to be just another “normal” day. March 8th, 2011 was one of those days for me. In this case, it was a walk back in time.
I went to a very competitive high school in Northern Illinois. I was in a graduating class in which a very high percentage went on to either Ivy League schools or major universities around the United States. In all of that quality education, I do not ever recall learning the totality of what I did this day.
It was a cool morning (by Las Vegas thin blooded people standards) and rather windy. As I walked over to the shopping center from my home, I was thinking about all I had to accomplish in the day. To start off, I had to get to three stores to purchase various things for the house. I arrived at the first store to realize that it did not open until 10:00am. I looked at my cell phone…9:06am. With a sigh I looked around and decided to walk over to Wal-Mart in the shopping center. This Wal-Mart has a McDonald’s inside of it…so, I figured I would have a seat and a bite to eat until that store opened.
As I entered Wal-Mart and the section within it belonging to McDonald’s, I realized a group of people in their 60’s to 70’s. I have seen them many times before. They were a group of friends…about 5 couples that come here regularly. This time they were split up, the men at one table and the women at another.
I went up to order my food. A few minutes later, I received my food and began eating. I was at a table next to the women’s table. I was not paying attention to the conversation until I heard these words…” I remember when…“. I should explain, that ever since I was a young child, I loved speaking to those many years older than me. I have always seen their stories as fascinating and I take every opportunity to learn from those stories.
When I heard these words, I looked up from my food and began to listen intently. All that follows was a learning experience.
The woman speaking sat up straight and her voice got a little louder in confidence as she spoke (after all…she was there). She said she remembered when they had to have coupons to buy shoes…sugar…lard. Coupons? I don’t remember hearing about having to get coupons to buy shoes. The shoes were inferior to say the least, so growing up in Michigan in the World War II era you had to wrap your feet before putting those shoes on. She recalled the air raid sirens and hiding under the desks at school. She remembered the fear.
It turns out that her husband…seated at the next table, is a Japanese American. During World War II, he was sent along with his family to the Japanese Interment Camps. He resided in California, so he was sent to Tule Lake Internment Camp. This is the camp they sent Japanese families that wanted to return to Japan (I don’ remember learning this in school either). He begged his parents not to return the family back to Japan. Eventually, they agreed. His family was then sent to an Internment camp in Arizona…either Poston or Gila River…I’m not sure. Then on to either Rohwer or Jerome in Arkansas where he spent the rest of the war. He stated that he really had it made being at the camps. He was fed…had a roof over his head, no real practical worries. In fact, he said while in Arkansas, he used to sneak out and fish all the time. Of course, most of the farm hands from across the country were off fighting the war, so they took many from the Internment camps to work in the farms.
Believe it or not, everyone that turned 18 years of age within the Japanese Internment Camps was also subject to the military draft! Can you imagine being locked into soldier guarded Internment Camps day and night, then being drafted by the same military that locked you in? For those that were not drafted, the real trials began when the war ended. They returned home to find all of their assets taken…other people living in their homes. In the 1980’s, about forty-five years after the end of World War II, then President Regan signed a bill that would repay each Japanese American family approximately $20,000. They did not get the check until the presidency of George Bush Sr.
Then, there was the story about the Chinese man who lived in town. Whenever he had to go out shopping, he wore a sign on his shirt that said ” I’m Chinese, not Japanese.” It became clear to me after much of this discussion that it was not, for the most part, those inside the camps that were a danger to the rest of the United States citizens. It was that many American citizens were the danger to those inside the camps as anger raged over the Pearl Harbor attack and the subsequent war.
I looked at my cell phone….10:16am. Whoops, I’m late. I didn’t really care at that point. I thanked the wonderful people for their time and stories. Then, walked onto the next store feeling rather satisfied.
As I started to think, all of this information piled up to almost the overload point. This is much of what is lost within the educational system. The personal…”I was there”…touch. When you take yourself out of the Dragnet, “Just the facts” approach of many schools these days, you can get to know exactly what it was like. Everyone has their own fascinating experience that has contributed to making them what they are and how they act in their every day.
Little did I know that my impromptu stop at the Wal-Mart McDonald’s, would send me back in time to World War II, but I was meant to be there. It is now part of my experience…and now part of yours too.
Yes, I can say that this is part of my travels.
I encourage you to embrace life…what you can draw in from the experience of others. There are so many people out there with a lesson to teach, if you would only take the time out of your day to listen. I do.
——— Erik Sudberg