Former student interned in World War II gets high school honors
Don Miyada remembers the classes he took, the carefree days with his high school classmates and the building excitement as graduation day approached.
But that moment never arrived.
A month before he was to put on his cap and gown and march with the Class of 1942, Miyada was pulled from class at Newport Harbor High School and sent — along with his family — to an internment camp in Arizona.
Although he later was awarded a diploma and went on to earn his doctorate in chemistry, Miyada always felt there was something missing.
This week, that memory was restored when he walked with the Class of 2014 — an 89-year-old retired university professor in a sea of teenagers, waiting to savor a moment he had been denied for 72 years.
“It’s more honor than I deserve,” Miyada said before accepting his diploma. “I’ll be thankful to the Newport Harbor graduates that they included me in the graduation.”
He was 17 when he was rounded up shortly after the bombing in Pearl Harbor during World War II, and sent with his family to Poston, Ariz., where more than 17,000 detainees were held on desert land several miles from the Colorado River.
Although he was aware that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed Executive Order No. 9066 dictating that people of Japanese descent on the West Coast would be detained in relocation camps, he was stunned when it occurred.
“I never thought it would actually happen,” he said. “Being a citizen of the United States and taking civics classes, it surprised me that they were able to declare someone an enemy alien just with the sweep of a pen.”
One day, Miyada said, he received a letter from one of his instructors, expressing his dismay at what had happened. It also contained his diploma.
Released after two years in the internment camp, Miyada moved to Michigan and was promptly drafted.
“I originally picked the Navy because I thought maybe I might see some of my fellow students and graduates of Newport Harbor, but they went through the form and put me in the Army,” he said.
After serving in Europe, Miyada returned to the United States and earned a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State University. He returned west and became a professor at UC Irvine.
In May, Miyada met Newport Harbor’s principal, Sean Boulton, during a Memorial Day service at the high school and Boulton invited him to walk with the 560 seniors who would be graduating.
Boulton even found a copy of the program from what would have been Miyada’s graduation day in 1942.
“My name was on there,” Miyada said. “I wasn’t able to attend, of course, but my name was there anyway. It was very emotional.”
On Thursday, prior to graduation, he was among the inaugural inductees in Newport Harbor High School’s Hall of Fame, along with Olympian volleyball player Misty May-Treanor and film producer Frank Marshall.
Miyada smiled and bowed as he received a standing ovation. He also returned the letter he had received from his long-ago instructor and thanked the students with whom he would be walking.
“It’s their time to graduate and their time of honor,” he said. “I’m happy they invited me to be one of them.”
Times staff writer Steve Virgen contributed to this report
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