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Johnny Young: From Chinatown to Manzanar

Written by  Annie Luong

John Young was born in Los Angeles’ Old Chinatown in 1923. His father was born in Canton, China and immigrated to the United States in 1870 and was president of the Hop Sing Tong for 13 years. In 1906 he went back to San Francisco to marry Young’s mother who was 35 years his junior. Young recalls, “In those days, you really lived in poverty. My mother never worked. My father just ran the store. But my mother was the one who kept the family going.�?

Growing up in Chinatown, Young remembers playing “kick the can�?, “roll the hoop,�? and other games that they had to create themselves. He attended California Street School up on Bunker Hill and transferred to Macy Street School. He then attended Central High School and later on transferred to Abraham Lincoln High School. He was one of the founding members of Wah Kue, a basketball club that was started in the mid 1930s at Chung Wah Chinese School. At the age of 16, Young and a few other youth opened up a parking lot in a vacant lot, adjacent to New Chinatown. He learned how to drive by parking cars up in the upper and lower parking lots.

 

During his senior year in high school, Young met Kiyoko Ishihara, his future wife. She asked him out, but he had to work at the parking lot. Young remembers, “We set up a date for another time, and then we started riding the street car home from high school together and meeting each other every morning and riding the street car to high school.�? After they graduated in 1941, they got engaged in November and on February 14th, 1942, they married on Valentine’s Day. At that time they were only 18 years old and “so young and in love.�?

 

In April, his wife entered Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp, and he soon followed in May. Their first daughter was born in March 1943 and they were released. The camps were “just army barracks. It was about 120 feet long, and they divided it into four sections and two or three families in a small quarter.�? He remembers there were “a lot of doctors. The wages were $12 to $16 for ordinary laborers to $19 a month for professionals, like doctors and nurses…Before I went in, I was making about $35 a week as a truck driver for produce.�?

 

After Young was released, he registered for the army and on September 1st, he was drafted. In cadet training, Young was sent to Denver for more testing and was then shipped to La Grande. He went to college there and graduated from the pilot and navigator program in 1944. Young was in the Squadron 306 bomb group and volunteered to go overseas. In February 1945 he was stationed in Thurleigh, which is a village north of Bedfordshire, England. He recalls that “out of 36 planes, we’d lose maybe one or two. It wasn’t too bad.�? When the war ended, Young had flown 16 combat missions in his 27 months of service. He stayed in the service on camera mission in Russia until he was finally discharged in 1946.