In honor of Mitsuye Nakamura and George Kaihara-former students at Tustin High School.
Many people do not realize the amazing history that is hidden deep within the halls of Tustin High School. Starting from 1921, when the school was first established, Tustin has been in the midst of some of America’s greatest historical events.
Tustin Union High School was the first high school in the area, and would eventually become a part of what we know as the Tustin Unified School District. Tustin High was a small, two-story building established in an agricultural town surrounded by miles of orange groves. The city’s farm-feeling atmosphere eventually gave a name to Tustin High School’s mascot, the Tustin Tillers. Tustin has always been home to a diverse population and a tight knit community. With a diverse population comes amazing stories of students that endured historical events while attending Tustin High School. Recently, Tustin High has been in communication with two Japanese-Americans that attended Tustin High in the 1940’s during World War II.
George Kaihara and Mitsuye Nakamura both grew up in Montebello, California and moved closer to Tustin when they were three and seven years old. George went to Irvine Grammar School and Mitsuye (known as Miko) went to Tustin Grammar School. George and Miko had known each other since they were eight years old, and were friends all throughout their schooling years. As young kids, they enjoyed being active. Whether it was making mud pies, or playing jump rope or climbing trees, they made the most of what the little farm town of Tustin had to offer. Miko said that as a young women she “wanted to cook dinner but had to go pick strawberries and pack tomatoes to send to the Los Angeles produce market.” Both Miko and George were part of families who worked on farms. They described Tustin in the 1930’s-40’s as a “small, friendly agricultural community where everyone knew everyone and classmates were all friends.” Today the city of Tustin and Tustin High School are also known for their family like and friendly community.
After they graduated eighth grade, they continued on to Tustin High School. At Tustin High, they were both involved in various activities. George played football and basketball and simply enjoyed being involved in athletics. Miko was also involved in the school’s athletics, but also enjoyed sewing. During the time of their attendance at Tustin High School, World War II was underway.
On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed by the Japanese. After the bombing, Americans became wary of the Japanese population in United States. As a result, families of Japanese descent were transferred to internment camps, most located in California or Arizona. George and Miko, both Japanese, were unfortunately taken out of high school and spent their senior year in internment camps.
They were sent to Poston, Arizona with their families on May 13, 1942. When Miko and her family left for the internment camps they, “Left the majority of (their) belongings behind and were only allowed to take one suitcase per person. What (they) left behind, Mr. Armstrong (drug store manager in Tustin) was nice about storing (their) belongings in his basement.” As 19-year-olds on the verge of ending high school, their lives suddenly became very difficult. Miko explained that they, “Were all assigned to different blocks.
In each block there were 14 barracks and one mess hall, laundry room and bathroom, combined with a shower—out of 14 barracks, one was for bachelors, Although they were still with their families and were treated well at the camps, they still had to leave all of their friends and the opportunities they had at Tustin High School. George and Miko spent four years in the internment camps and faced scarring memories that will forever be in the back of their minds.
Because Miko and George were absent from their senior year at Tustin High School, they were not able to graduate or receive their diplomas. Through a line of communication starting with one of George and Miko’s classmates in the 1940’s, to District Administrators, to Tustin High School’s Administration, we have fortunately learned their amazing story. As a result of almost a year’s worth of communication, the Tustin High School administration has invited them to the 2015 graduation ceremony. They both will be receiving their high school diplomas with the rest of the graduating class. It is an honor for Tustin High School to be able to host them and present them with their diplomas.
Congratulations to the graduating Class of 2015, as well as Mitsuye Nakamura and George Kaihara!
Note: This story was recently picked up by major news stations such as ABC News.