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November 7, 2006 > Washington High & Pearl Harbor

Washington High & Pearl Harbor

by Philip Holmes and Clyde Vorhees

The fall term began as usual at Washington Union High School in September 1941 with some 700 students and 30 teachers.

Future Farmers of Washington Chapter 113 played host to the entire student body at the annual Halloween Dance.  Armistice Day was commemorated with a rally and patriotic program, and the band entertained at the annual Livermore-Washington football game on November 11.  The "Huskers" football team lost only one game, and the basketball team was showing great promise.

Newspapers were full of accounts of the war that raged across Europe while children fled in terror or hid out in bomb shelters, but children here had been able to live relatively normal lives.  Then suddenly everything changed on Sunday, December 7, 1941 when local radios blared out that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  Again radios blurted out that Japanese submarines had been sighted off the California coast, and residents were advised to extinguish all lights immediately.  The war had come to Washington Township and all living there.

The next day was Monday, and school resumed at Washington Union High School.  Bewildered students and teachers assembled in the auditorium to listen to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt explain the attack and announce that our country was at war.

All of the students were stunned, but the Japanese students were overwhelmed.  Clyde Voorhees, coach and teacher recalled, "My Japanese students were crying.  I tried to look in their faces, but I could not find any open eyes with which to communicate.  Both boys and girls averted my glances.  They were ashamed and could not face their friends and teachers.  My heart went out to them, but they would not be comforted."

As local Japanese residents were being evacuated, coaches and teachers visited former students and athletes on Saturdays to give their last goodbyes.  This was at the Tanforam Race Track in San Mateo, a temporary holding area for Japanese awaiting transfer to more permanent relocation camps.  Each week they would find that students previously visited had already been moved on.  These were sad days for everyone as each week they would visit wave after wave of additional Japanese who were being evacuated to new and more distant locations.

Clyde continued, "The effects of the war at school were all-inclusive.  Every aspect of student lives at school was changed.  Sports programs no longer had meaning or enthusiasm.  Competition was cancelled.  Some senior boys began enlisting in one of the services.  Girls too found ways to become involved in the war effort.  Class sizes rapidly became diluted because of the exodus of the Japanese, the enlistment of some boys and the movement of some families away from the area for various reasons.  Some teachers who were in the Reserves were called up, and classes had to be rearranged to accommodate all the changes."

Changes were occurring everywhere.  With the enforcement of wartime rules, there was a need for the recruitment of persons for Civil Defense.  People started teaching classes in First Aid at night school.  Mobilization for some part of the war effort was all encompassing.  Rationing came into being and Draft Boards were established.

"During the early days of the war there was much hysteria among the local citizens.  With the nightly blackouts, citizen groups of volunteers signed up for various duties such as air raid wardens, blackout enforcement personnel and other police-type activities needed to carry out Civil Defense responsibilities.  Both men and women shared in these and other duties in these worrisome times."

Washington Union High School held special graduation exercises for 15 Japanese-American students on Wednesday.  Vernon Ickisaka gave a farewell address, and those students left in the midst of tears, confusion and sadness.  Members of the Senior Class of 1942 bade farewell to their school on Sunday afternoon, June 7, but the students of Japanese ancestry were not there.  They had already been whisked away to relocation centers. 

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