A Love Story: My parents Were the First Couple to Wed While Interned With Other Japanese Americans

by Sharon Maeda

“Cupid Behind the Barbed Wire Fence” was The Oregonian’s headline. My parents, Milton and Molly Maeda had the dubious distinction of being the first couple to wed while incarcerated with other Japanese Americans.

Just five days after Valentine’s Day 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that tore 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes, businesses, schools and farms and sent them to American concentration camps.

Mom and Dad were engaged at the time. Her family in Hood River, Oregon, was sent off to Tule Lake in California. Dad’s family in Portland were sent to the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Center, the “assembly center” while construction was under way to build the camp in Minidoka, Idaho. Not knowing what their future would be, Mom and Dad decided to get married so they could go to the same camp.

Maeda Wedding
Milton and Molly Maeda’s wedding in a whitewashed horse stall.

With all the drama of a movie script, Mom was driven from Hood River to Portland by the only local Japanese American not incarcerated. A family member, Minoru Yasui, had refused to report to the assembly center on the grounds that EO9066 was unconstitutional. He served as Dad’s proxy for a marriage license, then drove Mom to the Livestock Building. He later turned himself in to authorities and eventually took his case to the US Supreme Court.

Dad’s sister, Frances, somehow got the word out that wedding resources were needed and suddenly flowers and decorations, a cake and even a professional photographer appeared.  So, without her family members present, Mom married Dad in a white washed horse stall. They then began their marriage in an 8 x 10 space in a converted barn – along with Frances and the Maeda parents.

During Dad’s terminal illness, he urged us to find a nice man for Mom.  I don’t think that thought ever even crossed Mom’s mind; no one could replace Dad. Mom is 100 years old now, and has lived nearly half her life without her beloved husband. She still has faded photos of Dad on her bedroom dresser, a love that has lasted nearly 80 years.