They were American citizens and students at Bakersfield College, torn from their homes and forced to live in internment camps. Friday evening four Japanese-American prisoners of war, or their families, received their diplomas during a graduation ceremony nearly seven decades in the making.
Mary Kinoshita has been waiting for it for 68 years. She is part of the BC class of 1942.
Kinoshita and three other now deceased BC students who were sent to the camps during World War II were awarded their associate's degrees, and long-awaited diplomas.
Kinoshita was 19-years-old when she and six of her family members were taken from their home in Bakersfield and moved to one of the harshest interment camps along the Colorado River, called Poston.
When asked what it was liked she had a one-word reply: Terrible.
When Kinoshita entered the camp she saw barbed wire all around the barracks and military police had guns pointed at her family.
“That's when I wondered and thought to myself, 'How could I, a citizen of America, having been born in Bakersfield, having gone to school here, been raised here, be sent to an internment camp?'” Kinoshita said.
Brian Tatsuno was there to receive a diploma for his father Walter Tatsuno. “They were enclosed in barbed wire and surrounded by guard towers on the corners. That's what I consider a concentration camp,” Tatsuno said.
Ironically, after Walter was released, he worked in military intelligence during World War II teaching and translating Japanese. He died several years ago.
“I think it's wonderful they recognize this, but I wish they could have done it while my father was alive,” Tatsuno said.
Relatives of now deceased internment students Aya Misono and George Tatsuno accepted their diplomas in their honor - diplomas that were earned in part, by a dark lesson in American history.
More than 100,000 Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent were held in interment camps during World War II. Thirty of them were students at Bakersfield College.
Bakersfield College staff has mailed some of the other diplomas to the former interment camp students or their families. They are still trying to locate others.