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Koshiyama, Mitsuru

Biography:


Mitsuru “Mits” Koshiyama was born on August 7, 1924 in Mountain View, California, to Tatsuehi and Tsutaye Koshiyama. He was the fourth of eight children born to the couple, who worked as sharecroppers on a strawberry farm. Koshiyama attended public school in Santa Clara County, then Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California. Over the summers, Koshiyama and his siblings worked on local farms, picking prunes and apricots. Though he made the best of his time at Fremont High, playing basketball and participating in other extracurricular activities, Koshiyama remembers his time at Fremont, a white school, as laced with incessant racism and harassment. Though it was his senior year, Koshiyama stopped attending Fremont High School a few months after Pearl Harbor was bombed. He would later graduate from Heart Mountain High School. 

Koshiyama and the rest of his family arrived at Santa Anita Assembly Center on May 28, 1942. There, he remembers living in a horse stall with his family and running into yogore gangs. Surrounded by Japanese Americans from Los Angeles, Koshiyama quickly learned that he and other Japanese Americans from northern California, who grew up in largely rural farm communities, were considered “squares” by their southern California counterparts. He turned eighteen and registered for the draft at Santa Anita, though he would not receive his 4-C classification until months later. At the end of the summer, the Koshiyama family boarded trains for Wyoming, arriving at Heart Mountain on September 14, 1942. At Heart Mountain, the large family lived in a two-room barrack apartment: 23-5-CD. He left camp with his brother in 1943 to work on farms in Montana and Idaho, harvesting sugar beets and potatoes. 

As Koshiyama remembered, he did not attend any Fair Play Committee meetings because he “was more interested in social life” at the time, but he does remember hearing about them from a friend. When he was called for his pre-induction physical, Koshiyama decided, with a strong sense of conviction and pride, not to go. He discussed his decision briefly with his older brother, who supported him but decided to submit to the draft himself. He would serve in the Army in the Philippines and Okinawa. Koshiyama was arrested on April 7, 1944. He was held in jail first in Casper, where conditions were decent, and later in Cheyenne, where Koshiyama remembers the conditions as much worse–the jail was old and filthy, and the resisters were not given toothbrushes or toothpaste the entire month they were there. He was tried and convicted in June 1944. When the verdict in Shigeru Fujii v. United States was read out in the courtroom, Koshiyama remembered feeling shocked and hurt. Although he knew the judge and prosecution were prejudiced and racist, he was still naive enough to believe in the power of the Constitution itself. Along with the other resisters, Koshiyama was sentenced to three years in the federal prison at McNeil Island, Washington, where he worked as a truck driver. 

Koshiyama was released from McNeil Island in July 1946, after which he returned to Santa Clara County, where his family was struggling to regain their footing. They were living in a converted water tank building, gardening and doing housework in exchange for their living space. Once Koshiyama and his brother in the Army both returned home, the family began growing strawberries, before entering the flower business. He was pardoned by President Harry Truman on December 24, 1947. In the early 1960s, Koshiyama went to Japan to visit an uncle. There, he met his wife, Mizue, and the two were married in 1962. Together, they raised three children. Mitsuru Koshiyama died on February 6, 2009, in San Jose, where he had worked as a chrysanthemum grower for more than 30 years.

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