Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco

Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco
Information Source for the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Students Share Their Experience at NJAHS: Mary's Story

Mary Matsuda Gruenwald was only 16 years old on the day the Pearl Harbor was struck. She remembers coming home from church with her brother that morning, and being filled with surprise when she found her father had arrived home from work early. The household was still and silent, she and her brother had no idea what was going on. "My brother turned on the raidio, and there was the news. The reporter was blasting it off, saying that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and that just changed everything in my life. I knew it would change but I had not a clue of how much that change would be."

Living in the rural town of Vashon Island, Washington, Mary's family stood out in the mostly white community. She describes the horror of facing school the following Monday, having to walk through the hallways feeling as if everyone was looking at her with pure hatred. It is only later in life that she recounts, it wasn't hatred at all, but fear.

In her interview, Mary describes how she was feeling at that time, saying:

I wish I had blonde hair and blue eyes and light skin. But I couldn't change the way I looked. I never was much of a talker, but I withdrew more and more and spoke less and less and the teachers were very kind, they didn't call on me unless I raised my hand, and I never raised my hand. After school I came right home, and didn't participate in any extracurricular activities. I just felt... like I was ashamed of who I was. But there was nothing I could do to change that. And then as we all know, February 19, 1942 president Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066.

It was a priveledge to hear part of Mary's story today. Although she expresses remorse about answering 'Yes, yes', over 'no, no', she eventually comes to the conclusion that in the end, there was no right or wrong answer. Instead she emphasizes the importance of dialogue and sharing one's story. We can all benefit from people like Mary, and the courage she demonstrated during a grave time of uncertainty.

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