War and History Poetry posted September 3, 2008

This work has reached the exceptional level
Contest Entry: Dialogue Poem: America - WWII

I Heard America Call My Name

by Mrs. KT

Contest Winner 

Please read Author's Notes before reading this offering. Please read aloud as well.


I was a carver of wood.
I was a planter of flowers.

In my hands, beauty would flow through the grains of the wood. 
In my hands, beauty would flow through the seeds of the flowers.


One day, the beauty came to a halt.
One day, the beauty came to a halt.

Evil's wrath could no longer be ignored.
Evil's wrath could no longer be ignored.

I heard America call my name.
I heard America call my name.

What was I to do?
What was I to do? 

I was a young man of eighteen.
I was a young man of sixteen.

I enlisted the day after graduation,  June 4, 1940.
I attempted to enlist, but the recruiting officer turned me away.

I joined the United States Army Air Corps and set sail for the Philippines aboard the USS Entolin.
I stayed home in northern California and worked my father's land. 

Crew Chief for a P-40 Warhawk fighter plane.
Murakami & Sons: Landscaping and Nursery Business.

December 7, 1941: "A day which will live in infamy."
December 7, 1941: "A day which will live in infamy."

My beloved country declared war on Japan.
My beloved country declared war on my ancestral home.


All too soon, I was captured.
All too soon, I was arrested.

I became a Japanese prisoner of war: April 9, 1942.
I became an American prisoner of war: March 20, 1942.

My crime: American soldier, Pacific theater, Bataan Peninsula.
My crime: American citizen, Californian native, Japanese Nisei.

I, along with over twelve thousand American and British soldiers, were surrendered to the Japanese invading forces by Major General Edward P. King.
I, along with my grandparents, parents, younger siblings, and over one hundred twenty thousand Issei, Nisei, and Sansei American citizens sold or abandoned homes, cars, and businesses and surrendered to the United States' federal authorities.

I survived the atrocities of the Bataan Death March.
I survived the humiliations of Executive Order 9066.

I was imprisoned in a Japanese death camp: Cabanatuan, Philippines.
I was incarcerated in an American concentration camp: Manzanar, California.

For nearly three years I was enslaved, tortured, deprived of food, clothing, and medical services in the remote jungles of the Philippine Islands.
For three years I was held without due process of law or any factual basis, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards in the remote camp of Manzanar.

I fought death's fury to stay alive.
I fought fear's fury to stay alive.

I prayed that General Douglas McArthur would keep his promise to return to the Philippines and not abandon my men or me.
I prayed that President Roosevelt and the United States' government would not abandon my family or me.

General Douglas McArthur never returned. 
President Roosevelt deemed me an "enemy alien."

Only a fool would have attempted to escape; those who tried were shot and killed.
Only a fool would have attempted to escape; those who tried were shot and killed.

Americans called me a hero.
Americans condemned me as a national security risk.

My senses were tormented by unspeakable cruelties.
My senses were dulled by racial bigotry and mass hysteria.

To argue with my Japanese captors meant unfathomable horrors.
To argue with my American guards meant prolonged internment.

Still, I loved America and was proud to be an American citizen.  
Still, I loved America and was proud to be an American citizen.

I labored so hard to honor my country, do my duty, and just stay alive.
I labored so hard to honor my country, prove my loyalty, and just stay alive.

"There is still beauty in a sunrise and sunset," I wrote to my parents, hoping they would know the meaning behind my words.
"We will plant acres upon acres of lavender and see them bloom for years to come," I whispered to my father, hoping he would not despair.

I died of dysentery and malaria in the hellhole of Cabanatuan Prison, October 24, 1944; I was twenty-one years old. 
Although I suffered from flashbacks and cardiovascular disease throughout my remaining years, I was released from Manzanar Prison, June 30, 1945; I was nineteen years old.

POW: Two years, six months, fifteen days.
POW: Three years, three months, ten days. 

The United States awarded me the Purple Heart posthumously.
The United States awarded me $25.00 and a train ticket home.

Heartfelt condolences.
No apologies.

In a cool green valley in northern Michigan, I was laid to rest with full military honors in a simple casket, hand carved from the finest wood.
In a cool green valley in northern California, I began my life again, but this time, on another man's land planting acres upon acres of blue phlox, pink cottage roses, and sweet lavender.

My life was over; my loyalty to America never doubted.   
Until the day I died, many continued to see me as the enemy.

Today, wildflowers now mark the place where I was laid to rest; few visit.
Today, stately Douglas firs now welcome one and all to my great-grandson's landscaping business; the gardens grow lovelier each year.

My story is told lest we Americans forget.
My story is told lest we Americans forget.

Should anyone speak of war,
Should anyone speak of war,

Remember those who endured and died.
Remember those who endured and lived.


A few simple truths:
A few simple truths:

I loved America.
I loved America.

I gave my life for my country.
I was loyal to America to my dying day. 

I was a carver of wood.  
I was a planter of flowers.


Contest Winner


This contest requires that contestants write a poem - of any kind - using at least seven of the following words: pipe, hard, flow, senses, death, fury, argue, fool.

I chose to write a Dialogue Poem. Dialogue poems address controversy and differing opinions. These poems can express conflict between people in opposing situations such as a Hiroshima bomb victim and a U.S. Air Force pilot flying the plane that dropped the bomb. Or dialogue poems can reflect commonalities between people who might not appear to have obvious similarities such as a Salvadoran immigrant and an African American who migrated from the South.

In my offering, "I Heard America Call My Name," the narrators are both men: one is a young American serviceman who enlisted in the Army Air Corps and headed to the Philippines where he fought, was captured, and summarily died at the hands of his Japanese captors. (This narrator is based upon the circumstances experienced by my uncle, Sargeant William A. Kenel). The second narrator is also an American - but of Japanese lineage - a Nisei - or second generation, Japanese American who lived in California when America entered the war following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. He speaks of that time and of his experiences as a prisoner in the Manzanar War Relocation Camp.

The quote, "There is still beauty in a sunrise and a sunset," was written to my grandparents, Anton and Lucy Kenel, by their son and my uncle, Sargent William A. Kenel, who was indeed a POW of the Japanese during WWII and suffered the atrocities rendered in this offering. He wrote that statement on a Red Cross card that he was allowed to send to my grandparents during his internment in Cabanatuan. Since prisoners dared not write of their infirmities, this was his way of letting his loved ones know he still had his eyesight. My father remembers my grandfather saying, "At least we know Bodie can still see."

Background and Helpful Terms:

From Wikipedia:

Issei ( first generation) is a Japanese language term used in countries in North America and South America to specify the Japanese people first to immigrate. Their children born in the new country are referred to as nisei (second generation), and their grandchildren are sansei (third generation). (In Japanese counting, "one, two, three" is "ichi, ni, san.") Thus the Nisei and Sensi are American citizens; over two-thirds of the Japanese interred in American relocation camps during World War II were Nissei.

There has been much discussion over what to call the internment camps. The WRA officially called them "War Relocation Centers." Manzanar, for instance, was officially known as the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Because of this, the National Park Service has chosen to use "relocation center" in referring to the camps. Some historians and scholars, as well as former internees, object to this wording, noting that the internees were literally imprisoned, such that "relocation" becomes a euphemism.

Another widely used name for the American camps is "internment camp". This phrase is also potentially misleading, as the United States Department of Justice operated separate camps that were officially called "internment camps" in which some Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II.

"Concentration camp" is the most controversial descriptor of the camps. This term is criticized for suggesting that the Japanese American experience was analogous to the Holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps. For this reason, National Park Service officials have attempted to avoid the term. Nonetheless, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes each referred to the American camps as "concentration camps." At the time. Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower also utilized the phrase "concentration camps."

Recognizing the controversy over the terminology, in 1971, when the Manzanar Committee applied to the California Department of Parks and Recreation to have Manzanar designated as a California State Historical Landmark, it was proposed that both "relocation center" and "concentration camp" be used in the wording of the plaque for the landmark. Some Owens Valley residents vehemently opposed the use of "concentration camp", and it took a year of discussion and negotiation before both terms were accepted and included on the plaque.

Despite internment, the Unites States eventually allowed Japanese-Americans to fight in WWII in the European theater.
The 442nd Infantry, formerly the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army, was an Asian American unit composed of mostly Japanese Americans who fought in Europe during the Second World War. The families of many of its 17,000 soldiers were subject to internment. The 442nd was a self-sufficient fighting force, and fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The unit became the most highly decorated military unit in the history of the United States Armed Forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients, earning the nickname "The Purple Heart Battalion."

In 1944, two and a half years after signing Executive Order 9066, fourth-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt rescinded the order. The last internment camp was closed by the end of 1945.

Government Apologies and Reparations
Forced into confinement by the United States, 5,766 Nisei ultimately renounced their American citizenship. In 1968, nearly two dozen years after the camps were closed, the government began reparations to Japanese Americans for property they had lost.

In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed legislation which awarded formal payments of $20,000 each to the surviving internees 60,000 in all. This same year, formal apologies were also issued by the government of Canada to Japanese Canadian survivors, who were each repaid the sum of $21,000 Canadian dollars.

Other Groups in the Camps
While Japanese-Americans comprised the overwhelming majority of those in the camps, thousands of Americans of German, Italian, and other European descent were also forced to relocate there. Many more were classified as "enemy aliens" and subject to increased restrictions. As of 2004, the U.S. Government has made no formal apology or reparations to those affected.

Regarding the surrender of American and Allied Forces on Bataan by Major General Edward P. King:
On 11 March 1942, by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, MacArthur left for Australia. Wainwright was appointed to succeed MacArthur as General of the Armies of the Philippines while King became the Commanding General of the Philippine-American forces on the Bataan Peninsula. At the time, King was the commander of the artillery.

After months of fighting the invading Japanese Army and with food and medicine exhausted, King was forced to surrender his troops on 9 April 1942. (This day is commemorated in the Philippines as Araw ng Kagitingan "Day of Valor") A combined American and Filipino force of over 75,000 surrendered; this was the largest surrender of a military force in American history. Wainwright and his men, numbering 10,000, held on to Corregidor until they too were forced to surrender on 6 May 1942.

King spent three and half years as a captive of the Japanese and was often mistreated by them because of his rank.

For Further Reading:

An excellent reference that chronicles the Japanese Internment Camps can be found at www.pbs.org/childofcamp/history/index.html
or go to google.com and search for Japanese Internment Camps; you will find a plethora of information regarding a part of American history that must never be forgotten... diane kenel-truelove 9/1/08
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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