When Fumiko wrote to her Uncle George Shitamae in September 1942, the two of them were caught up in the domestic backlash of World War Two. He had been picked up in Seattle after Pearl Harbor and interned in New Mexico. After many hearings, he was not to be released until 1944. The rest of the extended family were ordered to temporary facilities at the state fairground in Puyallup. Later, they were moved to southern Idaho, a bare field north of Twin Falls at Hunt. Until a post office was established at the camp, their letters were ironically addressed from nearby Eden, Idaho.
Residents of Seattle’s green and moist climate were in for shock when they arrived in the sagebrush desert of Idaho’s Snake River plain. Niece Miyoko wrote of the view from the train: “The part of the trip from Puyallup down to the Dalles, Oregon was beautiful for we viewed the scenic lands around and near the Columbia River - it was lovely…but soon after we left the Dalles we saw only barren hills and flat, prairie land. Then there was the smell of sage brush and miles and miles of the uninteresting, dirty green shrub. Finally the train stopped in what we thought was the middle of this hot desert and from there we were taken in buses marked ‘Sun Valley’ to our home for the duration.” The Minidoka Relocation Center at Hunt eventually housed 9400 people, primarily U.S. citizens who happened to be of Japanese descent.
The papers of George Shitamae covering his war-time internment were recently acquired by the University of Idaho Library through the generosity of the Library Associates of the University of Idaho Library.
Written in 1997 for the library’s Digital Memories website.
Letter: Niece Fumiko to George Shihei Shitamae, September 5, 1942. George Shihei Shitamae papers, Special Collections and Archives, University of Idaho Library.