By David Stevens
Roy Ebihara left his hometown in fear on Jan. 23, 1942.
“Awakened from our sleep, we were herded into state patrol cars and rushed out into the darkness,” he wrote in a 2008 essay for “Discover Nikkei,” a website dedicated to Japanese emigrants and their descendants. “I cried and cried myself to sleep off and on. We traveled for endless miles in the darkness of the night.”
Ebihara, 8 at the time, was among 10 men, five women and 17 children escorted away from Clovis, purportedly for their own safety, seven weeks after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
He remembers his father learning about the attack hours before most of Clovis, listening to news reports from Radio Hawaii on a shortwave Philco radio.
“We didn’t go to Sunday school that day, nor did we go to school after that Sunday,” he wrote in his essay. “Even my father came home carrying his lunch pail the next morning, being told that he was no longer needed (at his job with the railroad). We were now scared, worried about how we would survive with no food on the table.”
All 10 of the men had worked for the railroad in Clovis 20 years or more, the children were active in the public schools and many attended the Christian churches, but suddenly their loyalty to the U.S. was in question.
“There were dark suggestions that if the Japanese continued to work (for Santa Fe Railway), they might meet with accidents,” West Texas State University history Professor John J. Culley wrote in a 1982 research paper for the Western Historical Quarterly.
The families were taken to Civil Conservation Corps barracks at Fort Stanton near Ruidoso. “When Dad turned on the lights, hundreds of bed bugs were crawling all over the place,” Ebihara remembers.
The Ebihara family was released from the custody of the U.S. government in 1943 and settled in Cleveland where Roy still lives after retiring from a career in optometry. But, especially in those years immediately following the war, he wrote that “we were constantly harassed and badgered about our race. We passed as Chinese.”
While the children had all been born in Clovis and never lived anywhere else until 1942, none of the 32 from the Clovis “Japanese Colony” returned to live in Clovis after the war.
Their stories are not widely known, but Clovis native Adrian Chavez is trying to change that. He learned about the 32 in a college history class and has been working to tell them all that we’re sorry about what happened.
Only three are believed to be alive today, but Chavez has invited them to participate in this year’s “Pioneer Days” the first week of June.
The annual celebration’s theme is “Welcome Back to the Homestead.”
They can’t visit their old homes south of the railroad tracks; those were torn down soon after they were forced out. But at least we can show them they don’t have to be afraid anymore.
David Stevens is editor for the Portales News Tribune. Contact him at: