Wednesday, January 3, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Wartime diploma here at last

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

Henry Kawai, a retired rose grower who lives in Manoa Valley, started his new year with a high school diploma that’s 57 years late.

No, he didn’t just graduate from high school. The diploma is dated May 13, 1943.

The story of his diploma is a tale of international conflict, hysteria and what happened during World War II in California to Japanese Americans.

Kawai said his father, who had immigrated from Japan, grew roses on 2 1/2 acres of land that the family owned in Richmond, Calif. There were no other Japanese families in the neighborhood.

"An Italian family lived next door," Kawai said. "Us kids played together until we got into high school."

Then peer pressure interfered. The other students avoided him. He said, "Being Japanese in California was no picnic."

The United States declared war on Japan when Kawai was 17 years old. Evacuation orders gave his family less than 24 hours to get out or be arrested. It was the same way for Germans in World War I. "They were going to kill a German flower grower in Richmond. My father hid him," Kawai said.

According to Kawai, evacuated families had a choice of going to inland relocation camps or living with relatives away from strategically sensitive California. The Kawai family went to live with relatives in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Back in Richmond, someone harvested flowers on the farm and sold them. Shipyard workers moved into the Kawai house.

In Twin Falls, Kawai graduated from high school in 1943, but officials forgot to give him a diploma. When he asked for one, the principal said he’d have to wait until a new batch was printed up for summer school. Then they forgot again.

As the only boy in the family, Kawai had helped run the California farm. When the war ended, he went back to start again.

"We were the first to cross the border on the day they let us go back," he said. "The police stopped us and held us under guard until they found the order had been lifted.

"I had a hell of a time getting those people out of our house. It was a mess. The farm had run down."

Growing roses is a "sunup-to-sundown job," Kawai said, so he didn’t have time to marry until he became successful.

"The Japanese in California didn’t grow flowers in California because they liked it," he said. "You couldn’t find a decent job. Unless you went into business for yourself, there was no future."

He and his wife moved to Hawaii. Now that he is buttoning up his life, he decided to write away for his diploma. The principal wrote back and said he could have a diploma printed up for $15.

That annoyed Kawai, but he got in contact with a niece in Twin Falls who’s married to a teacher at the school. A diploma arrived soon after.

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