LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee extends its deepest sympathies to the family of Frank Akira Kageyama, who died on December 7, due to complications from aspiration pneumonia.
Kageyama, 96, was one of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were unjustly incarcerated in ten American concentration camps, and other confinement sites, during World War II.
Kageyama, who was incarcerated at Manzanar, in California’s Owens Valley, is best known as one of two horticulturists who worked on the Manzanar Guayule Project, which extracted rubber from the Guayule (pronounced y-yoo-lee) plant.
With rubber in short supply during World War II, the United States Government invested $37 million to support the Emergency Rubber Project in Salinas, California, where more than 1,000 scientists and technicians raised 32,000 acres of Guayule, a plant native to Mexico, to support the war effort.
Under the guidance of Dr. Robert Emerson, Kageyama, Dr. Tomoichi Hata, Dr. Masuo Kodani, Frank Hirasawa, Homer Kimura, Dr. Morganlander Shimpe Nishimura, and Dr. Kenji Nozaki, a smaller, but similar project was developed at Manzanar, dubbed the Manzanar Guayule Project. But unlike the work in Salinas, it was not designed to manufacture rubber items for commercial use. Rather, the purpose was to develop techniques for faster growth of Guayule, and to increase yield of a higher quality of rubber.
Unable to get actual Guayule seeds, at first, the Manzanar Guayule Project team had to figure out how to raise plants from cuttings. Later, they used household bleach to soak seeds, cutting germination time from six months to two weeks.
“On five acres of land with forty incarcerees, and at a cost of about $100.00, the Manzanar Guayule Project produced a higher yield of plant and a higher quality of rubber than the Salinas Project or tree rubber,” wrote Joyce Okazaki, in Rubber For The US War Effort: The Manzanar Guayule Project. “The tensile strength of the rubber was 5,150 pounds per square inch (PSI), compared to 3,700 PSI for Salinas [a separate Guayule project], and 4,400 PSI for tree rubber.”
In 1944, along with Emerson, Hata and Nishimura, Kageyama published a research paper in the American Journal of Botany, entitled, “The Propagation of Guayule from Cuttings.”
Kageyama, who lost both parents by the time he was 18 years old, dropped out of University High School in West Los Angeles to support and raise his four younger sisters, Fumi, Mae, Mary Nomura (the “Songbird of Manzanar”), and Lilly (Tilly) Kageyama, along with Bill, his brother.
At Manzanar, Kageyama met his wife, Keiko Kawahara, with whom he raised five children, twin boys, David and Glenn, daughters Sandra and Maria, and son, Roy.
“Frank will be remembered for many things,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “His long and fascinating life, however, is inextricably linked to his days at Manzanar, where he participated in efforts to extract rubber from the Guayule plant. This project captures how so many Nikkei, while incarcerated, brought their knowledge, skills and talents to the war effort.”
“Despite being forcibly removed from their homes and placed behind barbed wire, Frank, and so many others, ironically, worked to further the effort to defend our democracy,” added Embrey. “Frank will always be remembered as a important figure in Manzanar’s story, and on behalf of the Manzanar Committee, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to his family. He will be missed.”
Funeral services will be held on Friday, December 28, 2012, 11:00 AM, at Gardena Buddhist Church, 1517 West 166th Street, Gardena, California, 90247 (see below for map/directions).
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.
Manzanar Committee member Joyce Okazaki contributed to this statement.
Gardena Buddhist Church
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