I stepped out of our car for the last time, breathing in the exhaust as if it were a precious perfume. I could almost feel the tension of the crowded train station and immediately resented the severe-looking white soldier watching me, his gun at the ready.
I turned desperately to Father. “Make them let you come,” I pleaded through the open window. He climbed out of the car and pulled me into his arms.
“Akira, you know I can’t,” he said gently, even though his voice was thick with emotion. I broke down.
“It’s not fair,” I sobbed into his chest, “Isn’t making me leave our home enough, without taking you away from me?” He sighed, stroking my hair.
“War isn’t fair, Akira. The Axis powers are trying to take away our freedom, and we can’t let that happen.” I fingered his uniform.
“But do you have to leave?” I whispered.
“I don’t want to leave, either. I want to stay right here and never walk away from you. But if I do, then my men will have no leader.” He lifted my chin and looked at me. Through my tears I could see him; a man, a warrior – my father. His clean-shaven face rippled with feeling as he studied me. “Akira,” he said quietly, “I know I can always trust you to do what is right, even if it’s what is hardest. You,” he paused, searching for words, “You must always remember and fight for your rights. Regardless of what others may believe, you are an American. We live in a free country, and we need to help keep it that way. I’ll do it by fighting overseas, and you will do it by not giving up.” He wiped the tears from my face with his thumbs. “Congress made a mistake that I pray will never happen again; but even if they failed in their duties, you and I cannot fail in ours.” I nodded.
“I won’t give up, Father. I promise.” I buried my face in his freshly pressed military jacket. I could hear the muffled sounds of people moving around on the platform – talking, laughing, crying. Many of these people were saying goodbye to the only life they’d ever known, to the only people that had ever loved them, and to the cherished liberty they no longer had. I was one of them.
“Father?” I asked suddenly, looking up at him.
“Why did you never tell me that Mother was Japanese?”
“Because it didn’t seem important,” he said slowly, “It never came up.”
“Do you ever miss her?” He held me tightly for a long moment.
“Probably more than you realize,” he answered finally.
“I wish I could’ve met her,” I said softly.
“You will,” Father replied firmly, “One day, you will. Here.” He reached up and took Mother’s locket from around his neck. He looked at it, tracing the words on the cover, “Faith &
Hope,” with his finger, and then slipped it over my head.
“Keep this safe for me until I get back from the war.”
I held the locket in my hand and opened it. On the left side was a picture of my mother and on the right one of Father, taken before he went to war twenty-six years earlier.
“Your mother would open it and pray for me while I was fighting,” he said quietly, “She said it reminded her to have faith that God would take care of everything and hope for a brighter tomorrow. It will help remind you, just like it reminded your precious mother, to never lose hope or give up faith. God is in control, Akira. Whatever happens, he knows and has allowed it into his plan. Nothing will happen by chance. Every time you see this locket, remember that.” I looked up at him, a new peace growing inside me.
“I’d forgotten, Father, but I remember now. Thank you for reminding me.”
“Of course, Akira.” He smiled fondly at me. “I find it hard to remember sometimes, too.” I sighed as he handed me my knapsack from the backseat of the car, both because I knew it was time to go and because I was relieved to remember that our futures were safe.
“Careful with that bag,” I began to say, but a sharp yap cut me short. “Hush,” I warned the knapsack.
“Akira, are those the new puppies?” Father asked in dismay, “You know you’re not allowed to bring pets.”
“Yes, Father,” I said, beginning to grin, “But you told me not to lose Hope or give up
Faith, and I don’t intend to.” A smile spread across Father’s face.
“Don’t get into too much mischief at camp,” he cautioned.
“Yes, sir,” I answered with a light-hearted laugh as I swung the bag onto my back. I hadn’t felt like laughing for days. Father dimpled. It was good to see him smile so broadly. He caught me up in his arms again, holding me close and breathing a prayer onto my head.
“I need to go now,” he said, releasing me and straightening my identification tag, “I could only get a few hours away from base to drop you off. I’ll help you find Eddie, and then I have to go.” He picked up my lunch basket and suitcase and led me towards the train.
I nodded to the white soldier as we passed him; I felt like forgiving everyone. He scowled at me, but his demeanor completely changed when he saw Father. That my father was a Captain in the army, and a white one, was probably what made the difference. He snapped to attention as Father and I passed him. I smiled and saluted back; he managed a limp smile.
“Hello, Mr. Whitman!” a cheery voice called out, and I hurried to catch up with Father, who was almost to the train.
“Hello, Ted!” Father called back. A boy of twelve years ran up and shook our hands violently. No less enthusiastic was his nineteen-year-old brother.
“Hi, Eddie!” I said as we performed our distinctive handshake.
“Ohayō,” he replied, using the Japanese word for “good morning.”
“Where are the others?” Father asked.
“They’re already on the train,” Ted answered, “We were all tired after the past six days of extreme packing. We drew lots for who was going to come meet you, and Eddie and I got the short pieces.”
“I’m glad we’re leaving at the same time,” I said, “It will be easier to travel with people I know.” Father pulled his watch out of his pocket and looked at it.
“I need to leave now, Eddie,” he said, “I can trust Akira to you?”
“Thank you, Ed. I feel surer of her now.” Father shook his hand firmly and then clasped me in his arms.
“Goodbye, darling girl.”
“Goodbye, Father.” With his reminder of God’s sovereignty, I could say it without crying.
He held my shoulders firmly. “Never forget that you are an American. Never.”
One last, long embrace, and he was gone.
“I won’t forget,” I murmured as I watched him disappear into the crowd.
“Come on, let’s get you onboard,” Eddie ordered, grabbing my hand and leading me towards the door of the train. A sudden fear gripped me as I realized that the soldiers would have to search my bags, my knapsack included. My heart began to sink as I saw the soldier in charge of searching the luggage; it was the scowling Caucasian soldier.
“Uh, Eddie,” I said, but he didn’t hear me over the noise of people saying their goodbyes.
The soldier frowned at Ed as he handed over my suitcase to be checked. My ears pounded as Teddy pushed me forward, lunch basket in hand, to be searched. One of the soldiers checked my tag while another took my basket. I hoped they wouldn’t notice my knapsack.
“Ahem, I need to see that bag,” the soldier in charge said in a harsh voice. I knew I had no choice, so I pulled it off and handed it to him, praying hard that he wouldn’t see the most important things inside. He opened it, peering inside. I heard a small bark.
“Nasty practice,” he said sternly. I felt like choking.
“It’s a shame anyone would eat pups,” he added, shaking his head. My face got hot as I realized what he was saying.
“I would never…” I began indignantly.
“Shh,” he warned, then continued out loud, “I’ve always thought it was a crime, now more than ever.” He handed my lunch basket to me. “In there,” he whispered. I stared at him open-mouthed as I tried to understand what he was saying. “Quickly. Here,” He scooped up Faith and shoved her in head first, holding her mouth closed with one hand. He shook his head again. “But I guess it’s not my call. Young lady,” to me as he added Hope to the basket, “I wouldn’t suggest the eating of a dog. It’s unclean and, personally, mean and unkind.” I grinned back. Giving me a stiff bow and a much less stiff wink, he handed the bag to one of his buddies to finish checking. “Double-check the rest of it,” he told him.
“Nothing but toiletries in here,” the man replied, handing it back to me. Eddie picked up my suitcase and ushered me in the door of the train.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding to the soldiers. “The back of the car,” he added to me in a low voice. I followed Ted as he led me to where the rest of their siblings were sitting.
“What was that all about?” Eddie whispered into my ear. For a reply, I lifted the lid of my basket. A small golden retriever’s face peeked out, so I quickly shut it again. “Oh,” was all Eddie said, but we smiled at each other knowingly.
The train started moving, so I sat down as Eddie pushed my suitcase into the overhead compartment. The windows were blackened but were open a crack so that we could see out. I leaned down to watch the station recede from view, then sat back up and looked at Eddie, sitting next to me.
“You ready?” he asked with a tired smile.
The past six days had not been easy. We’d needed to sell or rent our homes, businesses, and furniture, and then pack only what we could carry. The following days wouldn’t be easy, either. We would be kept in a concentration camp of sorts for the duration of the war, and we didn’t know which one. But God did. I touched Mother’s locket; Faith and Hope. I grinned back at Eddie.
Amber Lee is a sixteen-year-old Sophomore in high-school. She chose to write about the Japanese Internment because she’d previously read about the topic and was already interested in learning more. It was the perfect opportunity to think more deeply about it.