In 1943, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald was sent to a Japanese incarceration camp in California at the age of 17—right before her graduation from Vashon Island High School, reports K5. On Saturday, 74 years later, the high school finally issued her a diploma.
Matsuda Gruenewald was a high achieving student and a member of both the Student Council and the Honor Society, reports KOMO News. She lived on her family’s strawberry farm on Vashon Island off the coast of Washington. However, her quiet life was completely changed during the course of World War II.
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed and issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of all people “as deemed necessary or desirable.”
Even though Matsuda Gruenewald and her brother were born and raised in the United States, her parents feared for their family’s safety. They burned all their Japanese possessions—family photographs, phonographic records, books, and ceremonial dolls—into an oil stove to sever any physical connections to their Japanese heritage, according to The Seattle Times.
Although her family had committed no crime, Matsuda Gruenewald, her brother, and her parents were forced into incarceration camps along with 120,000 people of Japanese lineage.
“I felt like they were going to take us away to shoot us,” said Matsuda Gruenewald, now living in Seattle. “I had this terrible feeling of doom and gloom and depression.”
They remained in prison for three years.
After her release, Matsuda Gruenewald attended Seattle Pacific University. She led a successful career as a nurse, during which her consulting services became a national model for Group Health Cooperative. In 2005 she published a memoir, “Looking Like the Enemy.”
Despite her numerous achievements, Matsuda Gruenewald still felt like she was missing something important.
“As soon as somebody suggested she might be able to get her diploma from Vashon High School, then it came out that she had always been wanting it,” said her son. “But she never actually said that until it became a possibility.”
“I think this is an incredible point in anybody’s life to be able to graduate from high school,” said Matsuda Gruenewald. “My parents and my brother – I wish they could have been here to see this. They would have been really proud, just as I am. I’m very grateful to be here.”
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