The 13-year-old lion was not only a tourist favorite, but also, a research animal. The beloved lion was being studied by the Oxford University Conservation Unit.
Three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced evacuation of some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.
Though the majority of them were American citizens, they were forced to leave most of their possessions behind and sent first to hastily assembled centers at places like the Santa Anita Race Track, and eventually to internment camps, where they lived in barracks behind barbed wire, guarded by armed sentries.
One of those who was sent there with his family was five-year-old George Takei, now known for his role as Hikaru Sulu of the television and film series “Star Trek.”
Takei remembers being forced to board a bus and leave his childhood home, and watching his neighbors wait around until his family was gone to loot their belongings. They spent three months at a temporary camp, and then they were moved to a camp in Arkansas.
“My father told me that we were going on a long vacation to a place called Arkansas, and that sounded exotic to me. But when we were put on a train with other Japanese Americans, it was a grueling, long long trip,” Takei told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.
Takei said that once his family got to the internment camp, he got used to the way of life there.
“I remember the barbed wire fence that we were told not to go near. And I remember the sentry towers that had machine guns pointed at us. And I remember the search light that followed me when I made the night runs from our barrack to the latrine,” he said. “But a child is an amazingly adaptable person. All that became normality for me.”
Takei said he feels it’s important to continue to remind not only Japanese-Americans but all Americans of what happened during World War II, a time when “the government assumed just because we are of Japanese ancestry, there’s an inborn loyalty to the Emperor” of Japan.