Prejudice vanquished 60 years later
Couple returns to ACU, where love was torn apart after Pearl Harbor


Reprinted from the Abilene Reporter-News
Oct. 22, 2000

By Loretta Fulton
Reporter-News Staff Writer

Not even the halting pace brought on by age could mar the walk across campus for Masaaki Ishiguro and his bride of four months.

Masaaki and Anne Ramsey wanted to take that same stroll, hand-in-hand, around the Abilene Christian University campus nearly 60 years ago when they were young and in love. But it would be homecoming 2000 before the Ishiguros would do so publicly, this time as man and wife.

In the early 1940s, Ishiguro, known as "Ishi" to some and "Robert" to others, was a well-liked student at then-Abilene Christian College. He even founded a social club, Frater Sodalis, that remains active today.

But when his native Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Ishiguro's world turned upside down, along with everyone else's in the United States. Suddenly he was "the enemy" and, just as quickly, his courtship of Anne Ramsey, a coed from Ennis, was taboo.

The couple didn't experience many difficulties on campus before they announced their engagement. But once word got to the administration that they planned to marry, Anne and Masaaki started feeling the repercussions.

Even before the engagement, the townspeople were none too friendly if the couple happened to be seen off-campus, Anne recalled.

"If he and I went to town, people would do everything but spit on the sidewalks," she said.

In retrospect, the newlyweds understand the sentiment. America was at war, and soldiers were training just a few miles away at Camp Barkeley. Remarkably, neither holds a grudge about being robbed of a lifetime together.

"I hold no resentment," said Masaaki, who is now 81. "I always try to think positively."

Still, Anne, 76, admits she was apprehensive about returning to Abilene for the first time since she graduated with an art degree in 1945, this time married to the man she loved only in her memories for nearly 60 years. The reception the couple received at ACU's homecoming last weekend was more than they ever dreamed possible.

"I think we're going to have to make a scrapbook," Anne said. "This has been such a fantastic trip out here."

Even Masaaki's old fraternity bent the rules to accommodate a brother and his wife. Normally, the Frater Sodalis breakfast is open only to former members of the all-male club. But this time, Anne not only was invited, she was in the spotlight, along with Masaaki.

Fraternity brothers sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and gave Masaaki a plaque proclaiming him "an official good Texan."

Masaaki was living in California when he and Anne reunited last spring, and he has since moved to her home in DeSoto, near Dallas.

Their finding each other after so many years was almost as involved as what happened to them while they were students.

The reunion

Anne married in 1946 after believing she had lost "Ishi" forever. Her husband died in 1973 and she remarried in 1980. Her second husband died in 1987.

Masaaki married in 1959, and his wife died in September 1999. Not long afterward, Masaaki began a search for Anne, not knowing that she had called his house five or six years before, only to hang up when his wife answered.

Through an Internet search, Masaaki found Anne's number and called her on March 23. Anne still trembles at the memory of picking up the phone.

"This is Ishi," was all he had to say, Anne recalled, before she blurted out all the emotion she had suppressed for more than half a century.

"I love you," she wept. "I've always loved you. I've never stopped loving you."

The less emotional Masaaki assured Anne he felt the same way, and the couple immediately began ringing up a huge phone bill. Anne knew without hesitation that she and her beloved "Ishi" would marry.

Friends tried to convince her he might not be the same man. And her three children might not understand. She was not deterred. Even if "Ishi'' had changed, Anne was convinced she could uncover the man she never stopped loving.

"I know Masaaki is down there somewhere," she told doubters. "And I will get him out."

She needn't have worried. Masaaki vividly remembers reuniting with Anne in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in April, three weeks after he called her.

"She still looked like what she looked like here at the university," Masaaki said. "She still looked beautiful."

Anne and Masaaki were married June 11 and are devoting the rest of their lives to the happiness that escaped them once.

They do not dwell on what might have been, but rather live each moment as fully as if they were youngsters.

"I told her I wouldn't die until I was 150," Masaaki said.

Heartbreak

The end of Anne and Masaaki's story is as happy as the beginning. It was only the intervening years that brought heartbreak.

Anne came to Abilene Christian in 1941 from a small East Texas town. Masaaki was born in Tokyo in 1919, and came with his family to the Untied States in 1923.

His father, who was converted to Christianity in Japan by Church of Christ missionaries, earned a degree in religion at Abilene Christian in 1922, but his wife remained in Tokyo. In 1923, Masaaki's father established a church in Los Angeles and moved his family there.

Later, Masaaki attended Pepperdine University, a Church of Christ institution in Malibu, Calif.

All was well until war erupted, and Masaaki's father fell under the suspicious eye of a jittery U.S. government.

"When the war broke out, the FBI picked him up and took him to an internment camp," Masaaki remembered.

He was held in the camp four years. In the meantime, Masaaki's mother died in Tokyo. Government officials told Masaaki he could either leave the West Coast or be interned along with his father.

The president of Pepperdine University arranged for Masaaki to transfer to Abilene Christian, a sister institution far from the West Coast. Masaaki chose to move to Abilene, and one day his path crossed that of Anne Ramsey.

"I saw him and it's all it took," Anne recalled. "I just instantly loved him."

The reticent Masaaki, not used to such brazen thinking, took a little longer.

"I think I was oblivious to it," he confessed.

The couple started dating, with no problems. In fact, Masaaki was a favorite with many faculty members who had gone to school with his father.

"I was treated fabulously well," Masaaki said.

But when the couple got engaged, the mood on campus turned dark. There were warnings not to be seen holding hands and to stay away from townspeople who were caught up in a patriotic fervor. The engagement didn't last long.

Masaaki earned a degree in chemistry in 1944 and found a job as a water analyst in Chicago while doing post-graduate work at DePaul University. His nationality didn't matter to labor-starved industries.

"They had me start the first day I went there for an interview," Masaaki said.

Meanwhile back at Abilene Christian, Anne was finishing her art degree and wondering why Masaaki didn't write.

"I kept waiting for a letter," she said. "The days turned into weeks."

She consulted a Japanese girl on campus who knew Masaaki. The girl told her that Masaaki said he was writing letters, but apparently they were being intercepted.

Unbeknownst to Anne, someone maliciously sent a letter to Masaaki, pretending to be Anne and asking that he return her photo. Then someone wrote telling him that Anne was dating someone else.

"I think they thought they were doing their patriotic duty," Masaaki said. "But it sure ruined our lives."

Together again

The engagement was over, and a lifetime of wondering had begun. Masaaki left Chicago after a year and moved to Austin to study at the University of Texas. His father, now released from the internment camp, was in poor health in Los Angeles and needed his son's help.

Masaaki moved west and worked as a chemist in Los Angeles. Back in Texas, Anne was married and starting a family.

Years later, after the death of her second husband, the small whisper of hope that Anne never lost began to speak louder.

One day, a representative from a yearbook company called and wanted to know if Anne would like to buy an annual from her old college. She said she would buy the book if the salesman could furnish her with Masaaki's phone number.

He did, and Anne called, only to hear the voice of Mrs. Ishiguro on the other end. Anne put the memories of Ishi back where they had been and moved on with her life. Then, on March 23, the phone rang and a voice so familiar said, "This is Ishi."

After the couple decided to marry, Masaaki, now retired as a chemist from Lever Brothers, sold his house within a week and moved only his clothes, some compact discs and an office desk to DeSoto.

Abilene Christian University was a long way from the couple's memory until Masaaki's old fraternity contacted them, inviting the couple to homecoming. They were apprehensive, but realized that no one at the university had anything to do with the trials they had faced.

They made the decision to come, even though their pace has slowed and walking around campus isn't as easy as it once was. Returning to the spot where they first fell in love erased a lot of bad memories.

"We're coasting now," Anne said. "We're fine."

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Last update: Oct. 24, 2000
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