Woman held in WWII internment camp gets diploma

Yoshiko Golden's education cut short by war

SAN DIEGO - An 89-year-old woman who was forced to live in an internment camp during World War II has reclaimed one of the many things she lost in 1942 – a high school education.

Japanese-American Yoshiko Golden received her honorary diploma on Wednesday from the San Diego County Board of Education's Operation Recognition program. It came 71 years after the war forced her to drop out of high school.

"I always said I would go back to school. Of course, I never did after the war," she told U-T San Diego. "This means a lot to me."

It has been 25 years since the Civil Liberties Act was signed by then-President Ronald Reagan to compensate more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated in the relocation camps. The executive order offered a formal apology and $20,000 to each camp survivor.

The apology addressed to Golden and a copy of her check is displayed in a frame in her home. She intends to add her diploma to that collection.

More than 120,000 people were forced to live in the camps, said David Kawamoto of San Diego, past president of the National Japanese American Citizens League.

"It was the largest depravation of constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in our history, and people need to be aware of it," Kawamoto told the newspaper.

Born Yoshiko Maeyama on the kitchen table of her family's farm house in Oxnard, Golden helped tend crops of strawberries and broccoli. She was 16 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and barely 17 when the U.S. government herded her family to an internment camp in Gila River, Ariz.

Most of the incarcerated people were from the West Coast. They packed only what they could carry before boarding trains to the camps.

"I'd never been out of California and I remember it was very hot," she said from her home in Imperial Beach.

With her high school education cut short, she worked in the mess hall, sewed camouflage nets and tended crops in the field.  

Two years later, Golden left for Chicago and eventually returned to San Diego by way of a train from Los Angeles – where she met her husband and had three children – but she never went back to school.

Her son Olen looked into the county Board of Education program that honors veterans as well as those whose education was interrupted by the war.

"Its part of the American Dream to have a high school diploma," he said.

That diploma, the first for a survivor of the internment camps, was awarded to Golden at the San Diego County Board of Education Center on Wednesday.  

After the graduation ceremony, Golden posed for pictures with family members. She donned a purple cap and gown that the family had borrowed for the event.

"Of all the diplomas I've issued over the years, none is more special than this," said board member Mark Anderson.

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