Solitary Internment: Kentaro Ikeda ’44

This post is part of a series on education and war related to our current exhibition, “Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War,” on display through June 2018. Please stop by to learn more.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to determine the boundaries of artificially-designated “military zones” that allowed the United States to move Japanese Americans into internment camps. Princeton University was not within these military zones. Nonetheless, its sole Japanese student during World War II, Kentaro Ikeda ’44, found his freedom severely restricted during and immediately following the war. Rather than confinement in one of America’s concentration camps, Ikeda instead experienced a kind of solitary internment on the Princeton campus.

Kentaro Ikeda ’44. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

Ikeda’s hometown was Kanazawa, Japan, but he had lived in New Jersey since 1938, when he had begun attending the Lawrenceville School. After graduating in 1940, he entered Princeton University as a freshman. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in the first semester of Ikeda’s sophomore year, and the United States entered World War II.

While the nearby Trenton Times marveled over Ikeda’s friendship with Singaporean roommate Richard Eu ’44, Ikeda knew he would be treated as a traitor to Japan if he returned home. For better or worse, he had to rely on the friendship of his nation’s foes. Eu could empathize with some of Ikeda’s difficulties. He had planned to attend Cambridge University in England like his brother before him, but when war broke out in Europe in 1939, he decided to go to Princeton instead, knowing no one in the United States. During the war, he lost contact with his family in Singapore. “I think what helped me most,” Eu later said, “was my classmates were all very friendly to me…”

Headline in the Trenton Evening Times, March 11, 1942.

Still, Eu was not personally facing all of the challenges that Ikeda was facing, which were unique to his own situation. In the second semester of that academic year, Ikeda received a frightening notice from the U.S. Department of State advising him to report to Ellis Island on June 7 for deportation as an “enemy alien.”

Richard Eu ’44. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

Ikeda appealed to Princeton for help. Working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice, Assistant Dean of the College Burnham Dell agreed to serve as Ikeda’s sponsor. Ikeda (now termed an “alien enemy parolee”) was required to meet with Dell at least once per week to report on his activities and was functionally under house arrest at Princeton University. Dell wrote monthly reports of his meetings with Ikeda for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as additional reports of any unusual activity (such as a visit to New York for the Christmas holidays in 1942, which required additional permission from the Attorney General’s office in Trenton). In response, some Princeton classmates nicknamed Ikeda “Spy,” “K-42,” and “Fifth Column.”

(Click to enlarge.) Letter from United States Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ellis Island, New York, to Assistant Dean Burnham Dell, June 22, 1942. Undergraduate Academic Files 1920-2017 (AC198). Note: Access to student academic records is governed by this policy.

These are just a few of the restrictions placed on Ikeda:

  • Could not leave town without express permission from his sponsor
  • Could not own or drive a car
  • Could not access funds in foreign banks
  • Could not access funds in U.S. banks (these accounts were frozen and held by the Alien Property Custodian)
  • Could not communicate with anyone in Japan
  • Could not move off campus without the permission of the U. S. District Attorney

These constraints caused numerous headaches for Ikeda. Because he could not access money in foreign or domestic banks, he could not pay his tuition, forcing him to rely on private charities despite his family wealth. When he wanted to get married, he found that Princeton University’s rule that undergraduates could not marry without the permission of both sets of the couple’s parents clashed with the prohibition on communication with his parents in Japan. Ultimately, Princeton waived its requirement, and Ikeda married Mariko Shimizu, an American citizen, in 1943.

(Click to enlarge.) Grade card for Kentaro Ikeda ’44. Undergraduate Academic Files 1920-2017 (AC198). Note: Access to student academic records is governed by this policy.

Ikeda completed his degree under the accelerated program Princeton offered students during World War II. He then accepted a position teaching Japanese to American soldiers at Yale University, where professor Franklin Edgerton took over Ikeda’s sponsorship. Ikeda lived in New Haven under the same sorts of restrictions he had in Princeton. When the war ended, the United States did not immediately change its opinion about whether Ikeda should be permitted to remain in the country. Because Ikeda was no longer a student and was no longer working in service to the U.S. military, he no longer had a legal right to remain in the country despite being married to an American citizen who had recently given birth to their first child, also an American citizen. Japanese nationals were barred from immigration under the Immigration Act of 1924, so Ikeda’s sole recourse was appealing to his American friends for assistance. Administrators from Princeton and the Lawrenceville School joined in the efforts to persuade Connecticut Senator Brien McMahon to help Ikeda extend his visa. In 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act legalized immigration from Japan, easing difficulties for immigrants like Ikeda.

Ikeda stayed on as a Japanese instructor at Yale until 1951, then moved on to fulfill what had been his original goal: to follow in his father’s footsteps as a tea importer. He and his former Princeton roommate became family when Eu’s son married Ikeda’s daughter. Ikeda died in 2011 after a long and successful career.

Sources:

Eu, Richard ’44. Oral history interview. Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project Records (AC259).

Oriental Princeton Students in 2-Man Sino-Jap Alliance.” Trenton Evening Times 11 March 1942.

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Undergraduate Academic Files (AC198)

Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199)

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