Today marks seventy-one years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. This morning, I “googled” Pearl Harbor and once again read the Day of Infamy speech, looked at photographs. I wondered what I might learn new about the attack. On the History.com website, I found a post titled, “5 Facts About Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona” and learned a few new things:
- Twenty-three sets of brothers died aboard the USS Arizona.
- The USS Arizona’s entire band was lost in the attack.
To read more, click here.
From my earliest recollection, I remember seeing photographs and video of the December 7, 1941. Even as I child, I used to wonder what it would be like to be surprised by an attack like the one that occurred at Pearl Harbor. Sometimes, but not often, I heard bits and pieces of my family’s history that resulted from that day.
On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was issued, which led to the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese people living on the West Coast, 62% of whom were Japanese Americans. My mother was one of those Japanese Americans. She was only six-years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and even today, she tries to hide her tears.
All of these memories led me to write The Red Kimono, which will be released by the University of Arkansas Press on January 10, 2013.
The book opens with nine-year old Sachiko Kimura, announcement of the attack:
December 7, 1941
Like a broken record, Papa’s words played over and over in Sachi’s mind.
Remember gaman, Sachi-chan. You must learn to be patient.
But Christmas was still eighteen days away. Be patient? It was like asking a bird not to fly.
She tiptoed into her parents’ room and opened the closet door, hoping the squeaking hinges wouldn’t tattle on her. Pushing her mother’s dresses apart, she searched for presents that might be hidden in the darkness. Anticipation tingled in her hands. Finally, Papa had convinced Mama it would be okay to celebrate Christmas. Sachi giggled to herself, imagining how he must have convinced her.
“Sumiko, I doubt Buddha would have a concern with our family celebrating Christmas the way most Americans do.”
Pearl Harbor . . . surprise attack . . . sinking ships . . .
Sachi jolted at the words that drifted from radio in the living room and grabbed at Mama’s dresses to regain her balance. Several fell from their hangers.
Taro is in Pearl Harbor!
Images of her oldest brother, surrounded by explosions, flashed in front of her eyes as she ran downstairs. “Papa! Mama!”
Her parents sat across from each other in front of the radio, so still they reminded Sachi of mannequins she’d seen in department store windows. All that moved was the steam rising from the hot tea on the table next to Papa. His eyes looked strange as he stared at it.
She couldn’t even see Mama’s eyes. Her hands covered her face.
Words blared from the radio and pounded like a drum against the tension in the room.
“The surprise attack has destroyed a large part of the U.S. Naval Fleet, and the casualties are expected to be in the thousands.”
“Papa? Is Taro-nisan okay?”
The lines in Papa’s brow softened and his eyes crinkled the way they always did when he smiled. He reached for her, and she ran to him and snuggled into his arms, comforted by the scent of cedar incense on his shirt.
“We have not been able to reach him yet,” he said.
Mama rose from her chair and walked to the window, her eyes sad and dark, her lips pressed tight. She straightened and took a deep breath. “Michio. She must practice. Sachiko, please go and practice your dance lessons now. Mrs. Thompson will be here soon.”
Sachi slumped in Papa’s lap and whined. “Dance lessons? On Sunday?”
“Do not argue,” her mother scolded. “Mrs. Thompson was kind enough to let you make up the lesson you missed last week.”
Mama turned away, but not soon enough for Sachi to see the look in her eyes, too. Sadness. Anger. Fear. It reminded Sachi of how she felt all those times kids at school called her slant eyes. She had wanted to cry. But there was no way she’d let them see a single tear fall. Not one, single tear.
Papa gave Sachi a squeeze, tugged at her ponytail, then nudged her off his lap. “Do not argue with your mother. Off to practice your dance now.”
Stomping out of the living room, she grumbled to herself, quite upset that she couldn’t stay and listen to the news about Pearl Harbor.
She trudged up the stairs. At her bedroom doorway, she paused to look at the three dolls on her shelf. Silent and still in red kimonos that shimmered in the light from her window, their black eyes spoke what their lips could not.
A porcelain mask
Though inside, a heart beats strong
Even the oak breaks.
She acknowledged their whispers and shuffled toward the dance room. Mama might as well have banished her to a prison cell.