A crowd of Japanese Americans stands behind the barbed-wire fence at a prison camp.

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images


Prisoners at Home

During World War II, the U.S. government locked up tens of thousands of Japanese Americans in prison camps.  

In 1942, Tim Taira (TYE-rah) was 9 years old. He lived in Fresno, California, with his parents and two younger brothers. Tim loved his toy cars and his dog, Romper. His parents were born in California, and his dad was a doctor.

“Our family was like any other family,” Tim recalls.

But on a spring day at the end of third grade, Tim’s life changed forever. The U.S. government gave his family just five days to get rid of everything they owned. They had to give away their house, car, and furniture—and even Romper. Then soldiers rounded up the Tairas and many of their friends and neighbors. They were allowed to keep only what they could carry. They had no idea where they were going or for how long.

The Tairas and thousands of other families were sent to what are called internment camps. They were really like prisons. These camps were surrounded by barbed wire. Soldiers carrying rifles kept people from leaving. The camps would be home for the families for the next three years.

But these families weren’t criminals. The U.S. government locked them up simply because they were Japanese American.

In 1942, Tim Taira (TYE-rah) was 9 years old. He lived in Fresno, California, with his parents and two younger brothers. Tim loved his toy cars and his dog, Romper. His parents were born in California. His dad was a doctor.

“Our family was like any other family,” Tim recalls.

But on a spring day at the end of third grade, Tim’s life changed forever. The U.S. government gave his family just five days to get rid of everything they owned. They had to give away their house, car, and furniture. They even had to give away Romper. Then soldiers rounded up the Tairas and many of their friends and neighbors. They were allowed to keep only what they could carry. They had no idea where they were going or for how long.

The Tairas and thousands of other families were sent to what are call­­ed internment camps. They were really like prisons. These camps were surrounded by barbed wire. Soldiers carrying rifles kept people from leaving. The camps would be home for the families for the next three years.

But these families weren’t criminals. The U.S. government locked them up simply because they were Japanese American.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Rounded Up

Why were so many Japanese Americans put in prison camps? On December 7, 1941, Japan had launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. That is a U.S. military base in Hawaii. More than 2,400 people were killed. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. America had officially entered World War II.

Many Americans feared that people of Japanese ancestry were loyal to Japan—and a threat to the U.S. There was no evidence to support those fears. Most Japanese living in America were U.S. citizens. Many owned farms or other businesses. Others, including Tim’s uncle, had served in the U.S. military.

Still, they were seen as a threat. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an order. It allowed the military to round up all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast (where most lived). Soon, roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans were moved to internment camps in remote areas around the U.S.

Why were so many Japanese Americans put in prison camps? On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. That is a U.S. military base in Hawaii. More than 2,400 people were killed. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. America had officially entered World War II.

Many Americans feared that people of Japanese ancestry were loyal to Japan and a threat to the U.S. There was no evidence to support this. Most Japanese living in America were U.S. citizens. Many owned farms or other businesses. Others had served in the U.S. military, like Tim’s uncle.

They were still seen as a threat. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an order. It allowed the military to round up all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. That’s where most lived. Roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans were moved to internment camps. The camps were in remote areas around the U.S.

Tim Taira via David DeLaurant

Tim Taira (right) and his younger brothers at the Jerome internment camp in Arkansas

Surrounded by Wire

The Tairas were sent by train to the Jerome internment camp in Arkansas. It was about 2,000 miles from their home. The camp consisted of row after row of barnlike buildings called barracks. Thin walls did not keep out the blazing summer heat—or the biting winter cold.

People in the camps had little privacy. Families were crammed into the barracks, separated by only a curtain. They shared bathrooms and showers with no dividers. 

Tim’s father was a doctor at the camp hospital. Other adults worked as cooks and teachers. They tried to make life normal.

Still, there was no mistaking that they were prisoners. One day, Tim accidentally threw a baseball over the fence. As he stared at his ball, a soldier raised his rifle and ordered him to back away. 

The Tairas traveled by train to the Jerome internment camp in Arkansas. It was about 2,000 miles from their home. The camp consisted of row after row of barnlike buildings. They are called barracks. Thin walls did not keep out the blazing summer heat or the biting winter cold.

People in the camps had little privacy. Families were crammed into the barracks. They were separated by only a curtain. They shared bathrooms and showers with no dividers.

Tim’s father was a doctor at the camp hospital. Other adults worked as cooks and teachers. They tried to make life normal.

But there was no mistaking that they were prisoners. Tim accidentally threw a baseball over the fence one day. As he stared at his ball, a soldier raised his rifle and ordered him to back away. 

Returning Home

The Tairas spent two years at Jerome and one year at a nearby camp called Rohwer. In 1945, when Tim was 12, the war ended and the camps were closed.

The freed Japanese Americans began the difficult process of rebuilding their lives. They had no homes, money, or jobs. The Tairas returned to Fresno. Tim’s dad was fortunate enough to restart his medical practice. But for years the family still faced discrimination.

“We were not welcome in some stores or restaurants,” Tim remembers.

Tim later joined the U.S. Army and went to college. In 1988, the government finally apologized for wrongly imprisoning Japanese Americans during World War II. To help make up for it, the government paid each camp survivor $20,000.

Tim, who is now 85, wants to make sure the stories of so many Japanese Americans are never forgotten.

“What happened to us was illegal and unjust,” Tim explains. “I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone else in a similar situation.”

The Tairas spent two years at Jerome. They spent one year at a nearby camp called Rohwer. In 1945, when Tim was 12, the war ended. The camps were closed.

The freed Japanese Americans began to rebuild their lives. It was a difficult process. They had no homes, money, or jobs. The Tairas returned to Fresno. Tim’s dad was fortunate. He restarted his medical practice. But for years the family still faced discrimination.

“We were not welcome in some stores or restaurants,” Tim remembers.

Tim later joined the U.S. Army. He went to college. In 1988, the government apologized for wrongly imprisoning Japanese Americans during World War II. The government paid each camp survivor $20,000 to help make up for it.

Tim is now 85. He wants to make sure the stories of so many Japanese Americans are never forgotten.

“What happened to us was illegal and unjust,” Tim explains. “I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone else in a similar situation.”

1. How do the first three paragraphs help you understand the article?

2. What events led to the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans?

3. In the section “Surrounded by Wire,” why does the author include details about Tim Taira’s baseball?

4. What difficulties did Japanese Americans continue to face after 1945?

1. How do the first three paragraphs help you understand the article?

2. What events led to the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans?

3. In the section “Surrounded by Wire,” why does the author include details about Tim Taira’s baseball?

4. What difficulties did Japanese Americans continue to face after 1945?

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