Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Greatest Generation shares Canoga Park High stories

I'm back in Peoria after attending the Canoga Park High School Class of 1977 Reunion. So I didn't get to see Dennis McCarthy's LA Daily News column this Sunday. No, nothing about Cardinal Mahoney. Rather, it was another CPHS Reunion, one week after mine -- officially the Classes of 1944-47, though all '40s alums were invited. My Dad graduated in January 1944, and this was the first reunion he'd attended.

The Eisenhowers sat across from the Trumans at the picnic table as the star quarterback talked about milking cows before school.

For a few precious hours Saturday, Canoga Park High School's Greatest Generation came home one more time.

More than 170 silver-haired grads from all the school's classes in the 1940s - and a few from the 1930s - gathered in the quad to eat hamburgers and hot dogs, share old stories and remember when they could look south from the school and see nothing but alfalfa fields all the way to Ventura Boulevard.

After lunch, they filed past stands of old black-and-white class pictures of themselves and stopped at a table set up to determine who had the most children, the most marriages, the most husbands and other "mosts."

Then they walked into their old high school auditorium for the first time in more than 60 years to sit on hard wooden seats and sing their alma mater one more time before honoring one of their own with his long overdue high school diploma.

Joe Osaki had gone to grammar school with most of them, but he didn't get to go to high school with them.

His high school diploma is from Manzanar High School, a makeshift school set up on the grounds of an internment camp for Japanese-American families during World War II.

"I can remember the military police coming on campus that day and taking him away," said former classmate Joe Beckwith.

"We were all stunned. It was so sad. He was our friend. We had grown up together, played together. He wasn't a threat to anyone."

But after only two months at Canoga High in 1941, Joe Osaki was gone.

Sixty-six years later, the high school classmates he never had stood and applauded as Canoga Park High School Principal Pam Hamashita - whose own parents were interned at Manzanar - handed Joe his diploma from Canoga Park High.
Read it all here.

Four Canoga students were, with their families, sent to Internment Camps during World War II, three to Manzanar in California's Owens Valley (from where Los Angeles gets much of its water), one to Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Mr. Osaki is the second to receive a belated CPHS diploma under recent California legislation, the first being Dorothy Morita in 2006. Thanks to modern technology (and family connections -- have I mentioned that the teachers who oversee the school's website are my brother and his wife?), the school has been able to re-create a genuine 1940s-era Canoga Park High diploma, including the signatures of school officials at the time.

Dad isn't mentioned in McCarthy's article, but on the phone he was telling me of watching the Daily News columnist at work. I'm not sure whose reunion was more fun, but it looks like Dad's was more newsworthy.

Update (31 July 2007) -- A story and photos of the CPHS '40s Reunion now appears on the school website. See if you can find my dad in any of the photos!

Update again (6 March 2008) -- The story's gone, but the photos are here. spt+

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