By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The disappearance of Lily Kimura haunts Berna Jene Kreitzberg Sanders.
Open up Sanders’ photo album. On page 13 is a photograph of Kimura in knee-high socks and a headband. Look in her home. Stowed away is an aging doll Kimura gave her some seven decades ago.
“It’s beginning to fall apart,” said Sanders, 78, of the doll, as her hands trembled and revealed her Parkinson’s disease.
In 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sanders’ childhood friend Lily disappeared, and she never heard from her again, she said.
Lily was part of a small Japanese community living in Clovis during the 1930s and ’40s. Ten men, five women and 17 children lived together in a compound owned by the railroad, according to a University of California Web site, Calisphere.
Most of the men, including Lily’s father, worked as machinists for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and most of their children went to Clovis schools, according to Harold Kilmer, president of the High Plains Historical Foundation.
Lily went to elementary and middle school with Sanders, and their fathers worked together on the railroad, Sanders said.
“She was just one of the kids,” Sanders recalled.
Though Lily was born in America, the U.S. government sent her and the Clovis Japanese railroad workers to the Old Raton Ranch, an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps camp located 12 miles from Fort Stanton in the northeast corner of New Mexico, according to Calisphere. In December 1942, they were transferred to camps in Utah and Arizona for internment during World War II, the Web site reads.
Thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were sent to such camps.
According to Kilmer, this was done largely as a protective measure, as anti-Japanese sentiments flared after Pearl Harbor.
“People were real angry with them after Pearl Harbor. They loaded them up the next day,” he said.
“Pearl Harbor,” he said, “was a catastrophe. We had a lot of young boys still over there,” Kilmer said.
Sanders was in seventh grade when her friend was shipped away.
“All of the sudden, poof, they were gone,” Sanders said. “Nobody told us anything. Later on … we found out what had happened to them and we got so angry,” she said.
She has never forgotten the day she and a friend were invited to Lily’s home, which was located near the railroad tracks in south Clovis.
Lily’s mother peddled items from Japan in a small store on the property, she said. Sanders and her friend were given Japanese dolls by the family as gifts. Her doll had a red kimono. Decorations that adorned it have since fallen off, but Sanders preserved the doll the best she could.
The Japanese internment camps were abolished in 1944, according to Calisphere. Some of the Japanese-Americans who lived in Clovis were heard of again, Sanders said. But not Lily.
“Nobody seems to know what happened to Lily. We simply don’t know,” she said.
“I’ve been so concerned for her, though,” Sanders said, “all these years.”