Valley's WWII internees to get honorary degrees

May 12, 2010 

Honorary degrees will be awarded next week in Fresno and Reedley to more than three dozen Japanese-American students whose college studies were interrupted by World War II internment orders.

Next Thursday, Fresno State will confer 27 honorary degrees at a noon ceremony in the Satellite Student Union. On May 21, Reedley College will award 11 degrees during the 6:30 p.m. commencement on the south lawn.

Public colleges and universities across California have been searching for the lost generation of Japanese-American students. Following the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing, a presidential order sent roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps -- including college students.

Assembly Member Warren Furutani, D-South Los Angeles County, sponsored legislation calling on the California State University, University of California and California Community College systems to honor students now likely in their 80s. Some are deceased.

Some colleges and universities already have awarded degrees; Fresno State conferred its first in December to John Hiroshi Otomo of Selma.

Fresno State officials say they have attempted to contact 83 students eligible for honorary bachelor of humane letters degrees under the CSU Nisei College Diploma Project. Those unable to attend will receive degrees by mail, and authorities continue to work with community groups to locate some alumni or their families.

Six alumni, and representatives of 21 others, are expected to accept degrees at Fresno State next week.

The alumni are Julia Goto Ohki, Richard Toshio Henmi, Joan Kanagawa Fujihara, Sumi Kamikawa Murashima, Satoshi Kuwamoto and Kazue Sekiya Iwatsubo.

Diplomas will be presented to the families of John Arakaki, Harold H. Arase, Akira Jitsumyo, Sumiye Jitsumyo Hatakeda, Toshio T. Ishimoto, Lois S. Kanagawa, Taro Katagiri, Haruko Herky Kawahara, Nao "Jack" Kawakami, Mary Kobayashi Shimizu, Mary Machida, Takami Misaki, Sachiye Maruko, Ann T. Miyamoto, Frank Yoshiharu Nishio, Olive Tetsuko Ogawa, Alice Yutaka Osaki, Shigeru Sanbongi, Otto Hiromu Suda, Helen Yemoto and Velma Yemoto.

In Reedley, Betty Jane Nakashima will accept an honorary associate of arts degree.

Family members will accept on behalf of Yoneko Ashida, Fumiko Hamada, Megumi Betty Hamada, Tsugio Hamada, Masayuki Nakamura, Aiko Sasaki, Mineto Shimizu, Mitsue Shimizu, Taky Yamada and Max Yano.

Fresno City College officials said no ceremony is planned there because records from that era couldn't be separated from Fresno State's records. The two colleges shared the same campus in the early 1940s.

The reporter can be reached at cfontana@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6312.

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