Honor Bound

By Tricia Cornell ’95

A new art book by Carleton professor Fred Hagstrom uncovers a little-known chapter in the College’s history

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Pictured above: Frank Shigemura ’45

Willis 204 is an ordinary classroom, except for the portraits that hang there of the 54 Carleton students who died in World War II. A small plaque designates this space as the Shigemura Room, named for one of those soldiers, Frank Shigemura ’45. Thousands of people have walked past that plaque since it was hung in 1954, but Fred Hagstrom wanted to know more. Hagstrom, Carleton’s Rae Schupack Nathan Professor of Art, delved into the Carleton Archives and unearthed a remarkable story.

In 1942 Masao “Frank” Shigemura, who grew up in Seattle, came to Carleton from the Minidoka internment camp in Hunt, Idaho, leaving behind his parents, Kaye and Takejuro. Among the first Japanese American students to come to campus, he had received a scholarship through the auspices of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, which placed about 4,000 students mostly in small Midwestern liberal arts colleges.

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When students from the Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps were called up to fight in March 1943, Shigemura, one of 60 Carleton students in the reserves, was turned down because of his Japanese ancestry. He enlisted the help of Lindsey Blayney, then dean of the College, who wrote repeated, impassioned letters to the Army and Selective Service officials on Shigemura’s behalf. The dean’s pleas were heard, and Shigemura was called to active service in June 1943. He shipped off to fight in Italy the following spring. While on a special mission to France, he was killed in action on October 20, 1944.

Hagstrom says the memory of those 54 Carleton students who never came home from World War II has often moved him, but Shigemura’s story is all the more compelling because of where he came from and where his story led. Hagstrom, who specializes in printmaking, decided to use Shigemura’s story and the history of the World War II internment camps to create a book, which he titled Deeply Honored. Ultimately, he produced 50 books entirely by hand.

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The book juxtaposes two sides of Shigemura’s story. Visually, it depicts life in the internment camps, stark photos silk-screened in layers of three to six colors, while the text comes primarily from letters exchanged between Frank’s parents and then Carleton president Laurence McKinley Gould.

“No one can look at pictures of the internment camps and not feel moved,” says Hagstrom. “Frank left the camp—they were terrible places—and had what he described as the greatest year of his life [at Carleton]. The book shows a contrast between the imprisonment of the camp and the liberation of the liberal arts.”

“It is hard to realize that Frank will never return,” his mother, Kaye, wrote to Dean Blayney in December 1944, just two months after her son’s death. “I can only say that I am thankful that he was able to serve his country, God, and us all. I shall always be proud to be the mother of a true American.”

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“That Japanese Americans could respond to that situation with grace and tolerance is amazing,” Hagstrom says. “She’s lost her only child, she’s in an internment camp, and she’s talking about America without resentment.”

In 1946 Carleton published a booklet honoring the students who died in the war. “We deeply feel honored in having Frank’s picture in a memorial booklet,” wrote the Shigemuras, and they included a $100 donation to the College. That began a long and emotionally complex correspondence between President Gould and the Shigemuras. Letters from Kaye, handwritten in a flowing cursive, nearly always contained a check—for $200, $300, $500. Gould’s letters expressed both his gratitude and his growing concern for the Shigemuras. He had learned that the couple lived quite modestly on Takejuro’s salary as a railroad porter at the Union Station in Seattle.

“I have some idea what gifts of this sort mean to you,” Gould wrote in 1951. “When I realize the goodwill that goes with them, I know that the gift itself is multiplied many times in its usefulness to Carleton College and its students. My best thanks to you and my deep request that you do not have any sense of obligation to Carleton College.”

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Pictured from left: Takejuro and Kaye Shigemura, Annie (Kaneshiro) Yamada ’52

Altogether, the couple’s gifts to Carleton totaled more than $5,000. A $1,000 check was used to establish the Frank Shigemura Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a student who demonstrates financial need. The Shigemuras visited Carleton over Thanksgiving in 1951, when they met the first scholarship recipient, Annie (Kaneshiro) Yamada ’52, the daughter of a Japanese farmer in Hawaii. “They were very courteous, dignified, and quiet,” recalls Yamada, now a retired counselor living in Hawaii. “They were so grateful to Carleton, and I was humbled by the whole thing.”

Hagstrom dedicated Deeply Honored to Kaye and Takejuro Shigemura and to John Nason ’26. A committed Quaker, Nason was president of Swarthmore College during World War II. He oversaw the East Coast operations of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council and was instrumental in placing Shigemura at Carleton. When Nason succeeded Gould as president of Carleton in 1962, he took up the correspondence with Kaye Shigemura, who continued to give to Carleton after her husband died in 1964.

The first 25 copies of Deeply Honored sold out quickly to schools, libraries, museums, and collectors nationwide, but were especially popular on the West Coast. Last summer, Hagstrom completed another 25 copies; a few are still available. Some proceeds from sales of the book were donated to the Shigemura scholarship.

The 12 Japanese American students who came to Carleton through the relocation council never had a formal reunion or ceremony of any kind. A modest room in Willis and the Frank Shigemura Scholarship previously stood as the only acknowledgement of this chapter in Carleton’s history. But now, thanks to Hagstrom’s passion and talent, Deeply Honored will memorialize the heartbreaking story of the internment camps and of one family’s ultimate sacrifice. 

Web Extra: View Hagstrom’s work and contact him at fredhagstrom.com

Comments

  • March 9 2012 at 12:42 am
    Nancy R. Bartlit, mother of a Carleton grad

    Carleton College is known for welcoming students from the WWII WRA centers.  It should be proud of its history to take in academically qualified American citizens of Japanese descent.  Frank Shigemura was one of these students who wanted to prove his/her loyalty to America and gave his life.  There were other sons of men interned in the Santa Fe Internment Camp during WWII who fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe, or in the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific.  The Committee to Preserve New Mexico's Internment History will hold a two-day, public Symposium April 21-22, 2012, in Santa Fe at the History Museum/Palace of the Governors, titled, "From Inside and Outside the Barbed Wire: New Mexico's Multicultural WWII Internment Stories."  See: http://media.museumofnewmexico.org/events.php?action=search&date_Year=2012&date_Month=4&date_Day=21

    A ticket to hold a seat for both days is $15 and can be purchased online.

    This is an opportunity for scholars to learn more about one U.S. Dept. of Justice Internment camp and Lordsburg Army Camp. We have an excellent program planned. We are trying to gather as much information as we can to make available to schools and the community.  For more information, please email me NBartlit@aol.com, or call 505-672-9792, co-author with Ev Rogers of "Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun," (Sunstone Press, 2005).

  • March 10 2012 at 5:15 pm
    rhsaigo@gmail.com

    What a wonderful story about a tragic period in our lives. I and my family were interned at the Gila River, AZ internment camp near Phoenix on the Pima Indian Reservation. I was a young child during this period but remember the difficulties my brother and sister experienced in school. The adjustment was to say the least challenging for my parents but says much about the courage of the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. As the former president of St Cloud State University and Chancellor of Auburn University Montgomery I am touched by Professor Hagstrom and Carleton College for their dedication to a part of history that has been literally buried by time. I have spoken and written about my personal and general experiences of my families experiences during this period. Thank you. Roy H. Saigo

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