BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. - Wednesday marks 80 years to the day when the first group of Japanese Americans in the United States were rounded up, forced from their homes, and sent into internment camps.
On March 30, 1942, 272 Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island were gathered at the Eagledale Ferry Dock and sent to California.
The internment came following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 in February of 1942. Around 120,000 Japanese or Japanese Americans were taken to prison camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On Tuesday, FOX 13 sat down with Lilly Kodama, who was 7 years old at the time she and her family were taken.
Images of Kodama and her family are in historical museums, capturing those years.
"My sister was five, my brother was two and a half, my baby sister was nine months old," Kodama said.
There is an iconic picture of Kodama’s aunt carrying her sleeping daughter. Kodama said everyone was given tags, like a piece of luggage.
"Even the babies have tags, every family has a number," Kodama said.
The government had already arrested her dad. It took many months to reunite with his family at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.
"There is 120,000 stories. I’m one of the fortunate ones," Kodama said.
She calls herself fortunate because as a child, she was shielded by her mother, Shigeko Kitamoto.
"My mom said we are going on vacation. That’s what she said," Kodama said.
When Kodama got older, she truly understood what the grown-ups then were going through.
"They didn’t convey the fear when we were taken away. They had no idea where they were going or if they can ever come home again," Kodama said.
Even 80 years later, Kodama remembers lining up at the mess halls to receive food, and the day a sandstorm hit the barracks.
"Everyone got up en masse and they are all rushing back to the barracks, and so here is this crowd surging and my brother fell down and he got all scraped up, and I’m holding him," Kodama said.
That is why to this day, she’s uncomfortable in big crowds.
It took nearly four years before her family was released back to Bainbridge Island.
Kodama says she remembers the bigotry when she got back.
At one point, she recalls her mom taking her to Seattle to some department stores to buy shoes. No one attended to them and she remembers her mom saying they were just busy, that they would just order the shoes through a catalog. On the way back home, Kodama says she was shocked when a man hurled racial slurs at them. She says her mom told her to ignore the man and just walk away.
Looking back now, Kodama says her mom must have been so hurt, but she never bad-mouthed the man who verbally attacked them.
The ramifications of the internment lasted beyond decades. Kodama said many have struggled with mental health problems and suicides.
She says all she wanted was to fit in, to show that she was an American. Kodama says she would deny liking Japanese food and other cultural things, even until she was an adult.
She says she is ashamed of that part of her past, but that is no longer her.
The 87-year-old says she isn’t telling her story to blame, shame or guilt society. It’s so we never forget, so it’s never repeated.
On Wednesday, the public is invited to where it all began. There will be a remembrance ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Bainbridge Island Japanese Exclusion Memorial.
Survivors will be speaking at the event as well as Governor Inslee.
If you cannot make it in person, you can watch the event online through the memorial Facebook page.
Find more information about getting to the memorial here.
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