Misplaced to mountain, Japanese internee’s bones return house

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — When Giichi Matsumura arrived at his ultimate resting place in late December, the individuals who knew him greatest when he disappeared from a Japanese internment camp in 1945 already have been there.

His spouse, Ito, who had mourned his passing for 60 years earlier than her demise in 2005, was buried in the identical plot, as was his daughter, Kazue, who died in 2018. His father, Katsuzo, who died in 1963, was close by. His brother and two of his three sons have been a brief stroll away, all buried within the shady, grassy haven of Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.

They final noticed Giichi alive within the waning days of World Battle II on the Manzanar internment camp, one in every of 10 the place the U.S. authorities held greater than 110,000 folks of Japanese descent for greater than three years, claiming with out proof they may betray America within the warfare.

In the summertime of 1945, Matsumura hiked from camp into the close by Sierra Nevada, the rugged backbone of California, and by no means returned. His stays have been dedicated to a lonely mountainside grave left to the weather.

His journey house, 75 years within the making, solely occurred after a hiker certain for the summit of Mount Williamson, an enormous peak overshadowing Manzanar, veered off route close to a lake and noticed a cranium within the rocks. He and his companion uncovered a full a skeleton underneath granite blocks.

It was 2019, and the responsibility to carry him again fell to a granddaughter born a long time after he died.

Lori Matsumura by no means anticipated to play that position. She knew of her grandfather’s unlucky demise, but it surely wasn’t one thing she typically considered.

Then an Inyo County sheriff’s sergeant phoned and requested for a DNA pattern to see if the unearthed bones belonged to her grandfather, the one Manzanar prisoner who died within the mountains.

“It was a whole shock after I acquired a name from the sheriff,” Lori mentioned. “There have been tales my grandmother informed me about her husband passing on the mountain. They have been tales to me, and it wasn’t actuality. However then when the sheriff referred to as it, you realize, introduced it into actuality.”

That dialog set her on step one of a mission to reunite her ancestors, a journey that woke up her to a historical past she had largely seen by a baby’s eyes, the perimeters softened by a era extra inclined to look ahead than dwell prior to now. Tales that after appeared rosy misplaced their bloom when confronted with the tough panorama the place her relations spent greater than three years in captivity.


Till the U.S. entered WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Giichi Matsumura and his household lived what appeared like a quiet life within the leafy oasis of Santa Monica Canyon, a retreat for artists and stars of outdated Hollywood.

Born within the Fukui prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1916, arriving in San Francisco on a steam ship with a single bag. His father already was there and so they labored as gardeners and lived on property owned by the Marquez household, Mexican land grant house owners of an space that turned components of Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

Giichi’s spouse, Ito, arrived from Kyoto in 1924, in response to U.S. Census data. The couple had 4 kids born within the U.S.: sons Masaru, Tsutomo and Uwao, and a daughter, Kazue, the youngest. Kazue, Lori’s aunt, recalled a enjoyable childhood in an interview by Rose Masters, a ranger with the Manzanar Nationwide Historic Website, a couple of months earlier than her demise in 2018.

Her mom would pull her in a wagon to play on the seashore. She remembers seeing the actor Leo Carrillo, later generally known as sidekick Pancho to TV’s “The Cisco Child,” doing lasso tips.

Giichi Matsumura, who signed up for the World Battle I draft, registered once more on Feb. 14, 1942. 5 days later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an govt order that may pressure folks of Japanese descent on the West Coast into jail camps in waves.

Below an April 20, 1942 order, the Matsumura household had a few week to go away their life within the canyon behind.

Kazue, who wasn’t even conscious there was a warfare, recalled her expertise as a 7-year-old.

Her father needed to give away his automotive and so they have been solely allowed to carry a single suitcase to camp.

She had been enthusiastic about taking a bus journey, however the novelty after an extended journey from LA by the desert alongside the dramatic japanese flank of the Sierra shortly pale once they arrived at Manzanar.

“I observed it was all grime,” she mentioned. “Nothing there. Like a desert.”

Manzanar, which implies apple orchard in Spanish, shortly turned house to 10,000 folks of Japanese descent — two-thirds of whom have been U.S. residents — dwelling in tons of of cramped, tar-paper lined barracks.

The household would have shared a barrack with 4 to 6 different households, every unit separated solely by a skinny wall that didn’t lengthen to the pitched roof. There was little privateness.

The shacks have been so poorly constructed that frequent winds blew sand by the cracks in partitions and flooring. There was no insulation, making scorching summers insupportable and frigid winters insufferable.

Giichi Matsumura labored as a prepare dinner. In his spare time, he painted watercolors, capturing the guard tower, barracks and Mount Williamson, the second-highest peak in California.

His eldest son, Masaru, Lori’s father, had been about to graduate from highschool once they have been imprisoned. As a substitute, he needed to wait till the following spring when he was within the internment camp’s first graduating class.

Lori remembers her father speaking concerning the camp’s most notorious incident when guards shot right into a crowd of individuals, killing two and injuring 9.

However she doesn’t know a lot about his time there. He didn’t like to debate it.

What she knew got here largely from her grandmother and Aunt Kazue, who lived collectively throughout the road, tales about squashing scorpions on the way in which to the toilet utilizing geta — elevated wood sandals.


Lori Matsumura all the time meant to go to Manzanar. However she’s undecided she would have made the greater than three-hour drive north from Los Angeles.

Now she needed to go.

A couple of weeks after the sheriff’s name, she and her boyfriend, Thomas Storesund, drove to the station in Lone Pine the place she gave an oral swab for DNA. They then drove a couple of miles north the place the Nationwide Park Service operates the camp as a form of dwelling museum.

The sentry home nonetheless stands on the entrance. A duplicate of one of many eight guard towers looms overhead and duplicate barracks, a latrine and a multitude corridor recreate what the camp appeared like, minus tons of of different buildings crammed right into a sq. mile of excessive desert surrounded by barbed wire.

The buildings show vestiges of life in camp and a number of the many indignities skilled, such because the loyalty questionnaire adults needed to full.

“How might one thing like this occur in America?” Lori thought.

However she wasn’t struck by the gravity of her household’s loss till she visited the place they’d lived.

Standing close to an indication for Block 18, Matsumura appeared out at an inhospitable barren patch of scraggly rabbitbrush, fiddleneck weed and a row of barren locust timber. She was crammed with sorrow.

“I used to be blown away by how desolate the place was,” she mentioned. “Seeing it in particular person made it so unhappy for me. I don’t suppose I might have survived that.”

For the primary time, Matsumura felt a connection to the place her household lived. She was strolling of their footsteps. It was now actual.

Whereas the buildings have been gone, one reminder stood out: Mount Williamson standing at 14,374 toes (4,381 meters) to the west. It was the positioning of her grandfather’s first grave.


Giichi Matsumura left camp July 29, 1945 heading towards that peak with a bunch of trout fishermen for a several-day outing. He deliberate to sketch and paint.

Prisoners had been free to go away camp six months earlier, however about 4,000 internees remained. Many, just like the Matsumuras, had nowhere to go or feared racist reprisals in locations they as soon as referred to as house.

Ito Matsumura didn’t need her husband to go on the journey. She forbade him from taking his artwork provides as a result of she feared he would cease to color and get misplaced, Lori’s Aunt Kazue recalled.

It takes no less than a full day to ascend about 8,000 toes (2,438 meters) to succeed in the chain of lakes the place they have been destined. The path ultimately ends and hikers should navigate a forbidding jumble of granite within the skinny air on the excessive altitude.

On Aug. 2, Matsumura stopped to color as others fished.

When a storm blew in, the fishermen, who had been there earlier than, knew the place to shelter in a cave, mentioned Don Hosokawa, whose father, Frank, was on the journey. The boys couldn’t discover Giichi after the storm and returned to camp, hoping he headed there.

Precisely what occurred to Giichi Matsumura stays unknown. Aunt Kazue mentioned she heard her father slipped on moist rocks and hit his head. Don Hosokawa mentioned the physique was later discovered subsequent to a bloody rock.

His disappearance got here 4 days earlier than the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima that may hasten the Japanese give up.

Three search events appeared for him within the following weeks. They discovered solely his sweater.

A couple of month after he was misplaced, a hiker from close by Independence was attempting to summit Mount Williamson together with her husband and a buddy, however rain ruined their plans. They stopped for lunch, and Mary DeDecker, a botanist, observed a department within the rocks beneath, which struck her as uncommon as a result of timber don’t develop at that altitude.

A better look revealed a physique.

A small burial get together from camp made a final journey into the mountains, carrying a sheet from Ito Matsumura to wrap her husband in. They buried him underneath granite and affixed a easy piece of paper to a block to mark the grave. In Japanese characters, it gave his identify, age and mentioned, “Relaxation in Peace.”

The group returned with locks of his hair and nail clippings, a Buddhist custom for a physique that couldn’t be returned.

About 150 folks attended a funeral ceremony again on the camp. A photograph by Toyo Miyatake, well-known for documenting Manzanar life, exhibits mourners in darkish fits and attire behind a wall of crepe paper flowers.

Aunt Kazue lamented that it was troublesome by no means having seen her father’s corpse or his gravesite.

“To this present day it looks like he’s not handed away,” she mentioned. “It looks like he’s gone some place as a result of I don’t see his physique.”

On the Manzanar cemetery, the place a tall white obelisk is commonly embellished with chains of origami cranes left by guests, an indication says 150 folks died at camp. Most have been cremated and their ashes buried after their households left camp. One man, Giichi Matsumura, the signal says, died exploring the Sierra and “is buried excessive within the mountains above you.”

That signal should be modified.


The gravesite was not extensively recognized so it initially seemed to be a thriller when hikers unearthed it Oct. 7, 2019. Officers from Inyo County Sheriff’s Workplace flew by helicopter to retrieve the stays.

When phrase reached rangers and historians at Manzanar, they’d a hunch who it was.

“It wasn’t an enormous thriller,” Ranger Patricia Biggs informed Lori Matsumura in February final 12 months. “We’d have been amazed if it wasn’t your grandfather.”

Sgt. Nate Derr had referred to as Matsumura for a DNA pattern as a result of she was listed on the historic web site as a contact particular person for her aunt. It took about three months for the Division of Justice to match her DNA with a tooth from the stays to positively determine her grandfather.

Derr notified her in January final 12 months. Then she needed to determine what to do with the bones.

Manzanar wouldn’t permit her grandfather to be buried within the small cemetery the place solely six our bodies, interred when the camp was working, stay. His bones additionally couldn’t be returned to the mountain.

The considered scattering his ashes at a type of locations held some enchantment. Though it’s unlawful to scatter ashes on public lands, Lori mentioned she was informed by one official that nobody would cease her.

But it surely was unlikely her household would trek up the mountain for a burial service and returning him to a spot he’d been captive appeared in poor style.

After consulting her siblings and cousins, they determined he must be cremated and laid to relaxation along with his spouse. His identify was already on the grave marker, his toenail clippings and hair buried together with her.

Lori needed to signal paperwork amending the demise certificates from a burial to a cremation. And she or he wished to view the stays.

On Presidents Day final 12 months, she and different members of the family went to the small metropolis of Bishop, about 45 minutes north of Manzanar, to Brune Mortuary, which can also be the county coroner’s workplace.

Coroner Jason Molinar started to guide Lori and her niece, Lilah, from his workplace to a non-public viewing room when Lori halted within the doorway to reassure the 11-year-old, who was scared.

“They’re simply his bones. That’s all it’s,” Lori informed the woman.

Laid on a sheet-covered gurney have been the stays of the grandfather she’d by no means met.

The skeleton was roughly organized so as. The cranium was bleached white, more than likely from solar publicity. The ribs, backbone and joints have been stained a shade of brown.

Molinar pointed to a coil of fishing line, the stays of a rusty pocket knife and two buttons discovered with the bones. A pair of sneakers and belt he had worn have been subsequent to his decrease leg bones.

It was outstanding to seek out the physique 99% intact, Molinar mentioned, a testomony to an excellent burial in a local weather the place the stays have been in all probability encased in snow and ice a lot of the 12 months and undisturbed by folks or critters.

“The loopy half is the truth that it’s this well-preserved,” he mentioned. “Often after this a few years, you simply discover fragments.”

Lori made a video name to her sister, Lisa Reilly, who lives in San Francisco and couldn’t make the journey.

“Do you wish to see Grandpa’s bones?” she requested.

She then turned the digital camera to the skeleton and artifacts. She paused on the cranium and identified the sutures, the positive cracks the place the bones of the cranium are joined that had begun to separate from publicity. The cracks had led the hikers to take a position on social media about foul play.

Lori and her niece stood with their arms clasped in prayer and heads bowed. They prayed he would relaxation in peace and be reunited along with his household.

After the viewing, they went to Manzanar to donate the sneakers, belt, fishing line and knife, to be placed on show.

As Biggs appeared on the weather-beaten sneakers and withered belt, she was virtually overcome with emotion.

“I simply wish to have a second,” the ranger mentioned. “Out of respect. Wow. It’s wonderful to me the issues that final endlessly and the issues that don’t.”

In a visitor guide, Lori’s nephew, Lukas, 9, wrote: “We’re bringing you house Nice Grampa Giichi Matsumura. We love you.”

Two weeks later, Lori retrieved the ashes.


Misplaced as soon as and located twice, it was now time to correctly bury Giichi Matsumura.

On Dec. 21, Lori, her brothers, Wayne and Clyde, together with Clyde’s spouse, Narumol, and two kids introduced his ashes to a burial service at Woodlawn, which is a block from the place they grew up.

The Rev. Shumyo Kojima, a Buddhist priest, assembled a small altar with a framed picture of Giichi Matsumura in entrance of the field containing his stays.

“He moved from the excessive Sierra to right here. All of you’re eyewitnesses,” Kojima mentioned. “This can be a sort of house-warming get together. So, everybody shall be right here to have a good time his new residence.”

Kojima lit incense and picked up a bell that he rang at completely different intervals as he chanted historic sutras, bowing repeatedly.

Every member of the family stepped ahead to sprinkle incense in a burner whereas Kojima chanted.

Kojima confirmed a doc from the Zenshuji Buddhist Temple that recorded memorial providers Ito held for her husband on necessary milestone anniversaries over time. It confirmed how she saved interested by him, the priest mentioned.

Three cemetery staff then moved the altar to disclose a gap within the floor. Certainly one of them positioned the field of ashes within the shallow grave.

Because the interwoven threads of incense smoke drifted northeast — the course of Manzanar — the members of the family every took a flip dropping a shovel filled with grime on the field.

The grave-diggers completed the job and positioned a bouquet of white flowers on the grass. Kojima sprinkled water over the grave for purification.

Lori Matsumura wished the hikers hadn’t disturbed the grave. She imagined it was a good looking setting in mountains her grandfather admired.

But she was glad he was again with those that cherished him.

“His physique is laid to relaxation with everybody, so it’s sort of simply closed the chapter on my dad and his siblings and oldsters,” she mentioned.

She solely regretted they weren’t alive to see it.

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