TACOMA, Wash. No. 11689.
Kikuko Dorothy Fujita Morita recognized the number on the yellowed tag attached to the black leather satchel. Decades of dust etched its skin.
"That was our family number," she said quietly.
Marked in pen on the satchel, the enrollment number was assigned to the Fujita family when it was interned along with 120,000 other Japanese and Japanese Americans on the West Coast after Pearl Harbor.
That was 65 years ago.
The name on the tag was "Y. Fujita," denoting one of her brothers, Yoshio, who died 11 years ago.
But the papers inside dozens of them belonged to her late father, Frank Kumaichi Fujita.
His satchel was found by chance recently by a contractor clearing out a house.
It contained personal letters to Fujita's family and others, official government documents, newspaper clippings, receipts for property and purchases, diaries, notebooks and even a Christmas card. Most were dated between 1942 and 1946. Most were in English, some in Japanese.
Neither Dorothy nor her other older brother, Hiroshi Fujita, 86, had ever seen the satchel before.
Spread out on the coffee table at Hiroshi's home the papers some yellowing with age were a glimpse inside a long-closed window to a part of their father's life.
Kumaichi Fujita died in 1957 at age 62.
"He was not a talker," Dorothy said.
Besides, the internment period is viewed by many Japanese as a time of shame.
Dorothy and Hiroshi gingerly picked up envelopes and pulled out the folded contents some personal, most official letters from the Department of Justice and the Department on Immigration and Naturalization.
They said little about the documents as they read them. That time, almost a lifetime ago, had been their time, too. Dorothy was 12 when their family was interned. Hiroshi was 20 and a student at the University of Washington.
The satchel and its contents might have been lost forever if not for a chance encounter with Jerry Moore of Tacoma, who was cleaning out a house this fall.
The house belonged to Larry Fujita, grandson of Frank Fujita.
Unable to find a family member who wanted it, he brought the satchel to The News Tribune to find a home. Moore said he looked through the papers and knew they had historical significance.
"It was one of the injustices our country did," he said. "It's history, right or wrong."
Ronald Magden knew exactly what the black satchel and its contents were when he saw it recently.
"It's a memorial suitcase," said the Tacoma Community College history teacher.
What happened in the camps is "very much a lost chapter" in the Japanese American community's history.
Like Fujita, "most of the people who went to camp do not like to talk about it," Magden said. "They think of it with shame. A first-person account of some talking about it is rare; a first-person account by someone writing about it is even more rare."
He looked at two small notebooks written in Japanese that appeared to be diaries.
"These are very important," he said. "If they are diaries they would be a major contribution. There were few diaries that came out of the camps."
He looked at one composition notebook of lined paper, like the kind students would have, with writing in both English and Japanese. He said it appeared the author or authors might have been translating articles from local newspapers and other publications for others to read later.
"I think it is a find," he said of the Fujita satchel and its contents. "I'd give a lot to work with it."He will get his chance. The News Tribune turned the satchel over to Magden, who said he would study the papers with others. He will recommend a museum or a university for the records to be kept, if the family wishes.
Contributing: Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service