Victor Mori


Name Victor Mori
Born April 10 1924
Birth Location Honolulu
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Nisei surgeon from a prominent medical family in Honolulu. As a seventeen-year-old, Victor Mori was arrested on December 7 and for ten days kept in solitary confinement before his release. With his parents incarcerated as suspected spies, he drove pineapple trucks and city buses to help support his family. Subsequently drafted into the U.S. Army, Mori later completed medical training in the segregated South.

Family Background and Childhood

Victor Motojiro Mori was born on April 10, 1924, at the old Japanese Hospital in Honolulu, the second son of Motokazu Mori, one of the hospital's earliest surgeons, and the grandson of Iga Mori, patriarch of Japanese physicians in Hawai'i. His lineage includes once powerful samurai dynasties, Japanese imperial statesmen (including a World War I attaché to London, Admiral Kozaburo Oguri, and the first Japanese envoy to the Vatican, Ken Harada), and respected scholars like Tasuku Harada, whose daughter Misao was his mother.[1]

When Victor was three years old, Misao Harada Mori died following a lengthy illness. Along with older brother Arthur Kazuo and sister Margaret Yoshiko, young Victor was cared for by his grandmother, Yaye Mori, who took the children to live in Tokyo for a year.

In 1930, Victor's father married Ishiko Shibuya, a recent Japanese medical school graduate. The couple had a daughter, Pearl Toshiko, and a son, Ramsay Yosuke.

The child of a prominent medical family, Victor Mori grew up in a stately home called Pu'unui in Nu'uanu Valley and attended the elite private academy, Punahou School, where the offspring from families of Hawaiian royalty, white missionaries, U.S. military officers, and, increasingly, successful immigrants received their education.[2]

World War II

Victor Mori was seventeen and a senior on December 7, 1941. Early in the morning, his father was called in to the Japanese Hospital, where some two dozen injured local Japanese civilians had arrived for treatment. A few hours later, Motokazu Mori returned home to Pu'unui and was met by officers from the FBI and the Honolulu police department who took him and Iga Mori into custody.

Later that evening, officers returned to arrest Ishiko. "When they saw me, they said, 'You too. Come,'" Victor Mori recalled. He was taken to the Honolulu Police Station on Merchant Street, just a block from the downtown waterfront. "I was kept in solitary confinement for ten days. The cell was located on the upper floor of the building without windows and there were no blankets." Mori was fed hard tack and black coffee. And then, on December 17, "two men in civilian clothes appeared at my cell. They asked a few brief questions and released me to the streets."[3]

"I remember his beard was all grown after two weeks with no shaving," younger brother Ramsay Mori recalled some seventy years later. "(A)nd of course, he was amazed that they just simply checked the record, found that he was seventeen years old and a high school—high school junior and from a prominent family, and they let him loose. They didn't even give him money for car fare, but I think he had some to get on the bus and get home."[4]

In the days after the bombing, both Mori parents and grandfather Iga Mori remained in custody. Motokazu and Ishiko Mori, suspected of having passed on to Japan intelligence about U.S. naval strength on the eve of the attack, would be imprisoned for the duration of the war in internment camps on the Mainland. Iga Mori, then seventy-seven, was released on Christmas Eve. With older brother Arthur away at university, younger siblings Pearl and Ramsay were cared for by older sister Margaret, grandmother Yaye Mori, and upon his release, Iga Mori.

Prior to the start of the war, the assets of all enemy aliens were frozen and the amount of cash that they could withdraw from personal bank accounts restricted. Victor Mori recounted the challenges the family faced:

With my brother [Arthur] enrolled at Yale College, and other siblings attending private school, there was not enough money left to pay for meals and other household expenses. . . . I dug a bomb shelter in our yard. In retrospect, it was too small and too shallow to be of any use. We planted sweet potato plants on the covering dirt. We also raised a few rabbits intended for food. . . . At home, the remaining family moved into a smaller cottage behind our home on 702 Wyllie Street. I moved into the garage. The main house was leased out to a group of naval architects. . . . I often fell back on the yard work, but the tenants were very tolerant. My father's nurse and receptionist as well as other friends came with help and money.[5]

Ramsay Mori, eight years old at the time, recalled:

(W)hen everybody starts sayin', "Your father's one spy and your mother's one spy and you get spy radio in your house," and this kind of thing, any such, any such feeling of pride in being that, in that social class disappeared immediately. There were, of course, some friends that were not permitted to play with me anymore, once the war started."[6]

Victor Mori graduated from high school in 1942 and with the help of Gilbert Bowles, a Quaker missionary who had been in Japan for forty years, was allowed by the draft board to defer his military service. Mori held various jobs for the next several years: desk clerk at the Nu'uanu YMCA that his grandfather helped to establish and waiter at the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki; he drove city buses and pineapple trucks, hauling fruit from the fields to the cannery in town. In 1943, Mori began attending the University of Hawai'i.[7]

Military Service on the Mainland

At the end of the war, shortly after his parents were released from internment and returned to Hawai'i, Mori was drafted. He was sent to basic training and then to the Army Language School (formerly the Military Intelligence Service Language School) at the Presidio of Monterey for Japanese language instruction. When he declined a three-year re-enlistment as a language specialist, he was reassigned as a mortar gunner with the 717th Tank Battalion at Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, which had served as a temporary internment facility for Italian and German enemy aliens as well as people of Japanese descent from Alaska and Hawai'i.[8]

Medical Career

In 1947, Mori was discharged and returned to Honolulu to complete his university education. Again aided by Gilbert Bowles and his son, who was an alumnus of the Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia, Mori was accepted to the program there, one of the few admitting Japanese from Hawai'i during the postwar period. "Dean [William] Parkinson was a religious man," Mori said, "and he felt that he should take two students from Hawai'i and two students from Puerto Rico annually. Like Noah's Ark, he admitted a couple of Hawaiians to each class."[9]

Mori graduated from Temple in 1953 and then undertook training at the Marion County General Hospital in Indianapolis. He applied for a general surgical residency, but then a hospital administrator "noticed my background. He did not want to sign on a 'Jap.'" Mori trained with the obstetrics and gynecology service instead. "After a year when things simmered down, I was admitted to the general surgical service."[10] Here Mori went on ambulance calls, narrowly avoided a "lynch mob," accompanied transport to mortuaries, and rotated through the city jail. It was a time Mori recalls with fondness: "I had very little time or money but these proved to be very wonderful years. Sometimes we enjoyed great diversions. Several times I slept in the back seat of a Volkswagen beetle, while my friends drove to Cincinnati a hundred miles to the east."[11]

In 1958, Mori enrolled in a one-year thoracic surgery residency at Kentucky State Hospital in Louisville, where he encountered the system of institutionalized racial segregation. He treated white residents from the surrounding communities of Appalachia and African-American patients at the Red Cross Hospital.

Here, too, Mori met Marilyn Jean Wirth, an occupational therapist in Indianapolis, who would drive the 100-mile round trips to see Mori during his periods of free time from the hospital. With anti-miscegenation laws in place at the time, "we discovered that intermarriage was illegal in both Indiana and Kentucky [and that] we had a problem," Mori recounted. "We held the wedding in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were living on a hundred mile triangle." They would eventually have three children and three grandchildren.[12]

It was also during this time period that Motokazu Mori died. Victor Mori wrote, "The Second World War separated us, followed by my military service and an extended education through surgical residency. He died before I was able to return home. However, he had the knowledge that I would follow in his footsteps."[13]

Victor Mori returned to Hawai'i in 1959 and practiced surgery for thirty years. In the 1980s and 1990s, he pursued redress for the World War II internment of his parents and received a letter of apology from President Bill Clinton.[14]

Authored by Sheila H. Chun

For More Information

Mori, Victor M. East Meets West: A Family History. Honolulu: privately printed, 2010.

———. My Life in Medicine: A Recollection of My Training and Practice in the 1940’s and 50’s in the USA and Hawaii. n.p.: Victor M. Mori, 2014.

Okihiro, Michael. "Japanese Doctors in Hawaii." Hawaiian Journal of History 36 (2002): 105-17.

Footnotes

  1. For information on the Mori lineage, see Victor M. Mori, East Meets West: A Family History (Honolulu: privately printed, 2010); Masao Ota, and George M. Oshiro, "Mediator Between Cultures: Tasuku Harada and Hawaiian-Japanese Intercultural Relations in the 1920s," Hawaiian Journal of History, 33 (1999): 171-201.
  2. East Meets West, 25-28; Victor Motojiro Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro, July 1993, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  3. East Meets West, 32.
  4. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview by Tom Ikeda and Kelli Nakamura, Densho Visual History Collection, Feb. 28, 2011, accessed on Sept. 25, 2017 at http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-316-transcript-c767c09698.htm.
  5. 'East Meets West, 37, 38, 39.
  6. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  7. East Meets West, 39; Victor Motojiro Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro.
  8. East Meets West, 41-42; "Mori Iga ni kansuru chosa" [An inquiry about Iga Mori], Oral history interview with Motojiro (Victor) Mori, November 3, 1996, by Masao Ota and Chiyo Yanagita, Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B1, F6. Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  9. East Meets West, 39, 43. Parkinson quote from Victor Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro.
  10. East Meets West, 46.
  11. "wonderful years" from East Meets West, 46. Victor M. Mori, My Life in Medicine: A Recollection of My Training and Practice in the 1940's and 50's in the USA and Hawaii (n.p.: Victor M. Mori, 2014), 13-15.
  12. East Meets West, 47; Victor Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro.
  13. "Motokazu Mori," Time Capsule for My Grandchildren (Honolulu: Victor M. Mori, 2003).
  14. In 1946, a joint congressional investigation into Pearl Harbor determined that the Moris had not engaged in any espionage that resulted in the Japanese attack.