USC to honor late Hawaii dentist, others who were forced into internment camps

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Before James Sasaki married his sweetheart Lorraine, they were local kids who had dreams of going away to college.

“She and my grandfather left on one of the ships in the 1940s to go to school on the mainland,” Lauren Sodetani-Yoshida said.

James enrolled at the University of Southern California to study dentistry. Lorraine at Los Angeles City College. Then in 1941 and 1942, everything changed for Americans of Japanese descent.

“The war broke out and executive Executive Order 9066 was published and students on the West Coast were evacuated to Santa Anita Race Park. And then from there they were sent to the internment camps,” Sodetani-Yoshida said.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s order forced her grandparents and other Nisei students from their schools. Sodetani-Yoshida said her grandfather spoke very little about it but her grandmother did.

“She would tell me how she felt like she went to jail for no real reason,” she did.

More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were put into internment camps. James was among 121 Japanese-American students at USC.

After their release from the camps, few returned to the campus, including James. He earned his dentistry degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

“His perspective was that in life you go through hard times. But it’s really how you handle it,” Sodetani-Yoshida said.

James Sasaki was a well-known dentist who practiced on Oahu for 50 years. He died in 1994. Lorraine Sasaki died in 2003.

On Friday, USC will honor James and the other displaced students with honorary degrees. Sodetani-Yoshida said he would be proud to receive it in person if he was still alive.

“He would just express immense gratitude,” she said.

She said the school’s gesture is greatly appreciated, but it’s also a reminder of what happened to her grandparents and to other Japanese in America during the war.

It’s also a reminder of a dark time in history that should never be repeated.

“History books don’t talk about this kind of stuff. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to share it with others so this part of history is never forgotten,” she said.

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