Florrie Lyle set to recall WWII days at Jerome Relocation Center
Florrie Wakenight Lyle, a retired Benton High School teacher, is scheduled Thursday night for a special presentation in Benton.
Lyle, who recently turned 99, will share memories of her role as a teacher at the Japanese-American Detention Camp at Jerome, Ark., during World War II.
Her presentation will take place at 7 p.m. at the Saline County History and Heritage Society Center, 123 N. Market St. in Benton. It is open to the public.
In August 1942 Florrie Wakenight (Lyle) helped to select the teachers and curriculum for the children of the Japanese-Americans who were relocated to the Arkansas Delta from Hawaii and the West Coast under the Doctrine of Military Necessity.
Her teaching assignment at Jerome started in October 1942.
In prior accounts, Lyle recalled that the Jerome unit encompassed 10,054 acres with the compound located on 500 acres of tarpapered, A-framed buildings arranged into specifically numbered blocks. Each block was designed to accommodate around 300 people in 14 residential barracks with each barrack, 20 by 120 feet, divided into four to six apartments. This was the traditional military style for barracks, though the internees rebuilt or remodeled the interiors.
Each block reportedly included a recreational building, a mess hall, a laundry building, and a building for a communal latrine. All the residential buildings were without plumbing or running water and were heated during the winter months by stoves.
Guard towers were situated at strategic areas and the compound was guarded by a small contingent of military soldiers.
There were 2,483 school-age children among the 8,497 evacuees at Jerome.
In 2005 Lyle was honored by the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles for her service to the families incarcerated at Jerome.
During that celebration, one of her students, Esther Kirita Noguchi, praised Lyle (Florrie Lyle married Thomas Lyle in 1944), saying she was not only a great teacher but also noting that she had a genuine concern for the children’s welfare.
She pointed out that as the evacuees had arrived by train from the warmer climate of the West Coast and Hawaii, most were wearing only shorts and sandals.
She said Lyle was instrumental in securing warm clothing for them to wear in Arkansas’s cold winter months. This was another example of the concern and kindness cited by Noguchi.
The first of the 10 relocation centers in the United States to close, Jerome was next used as a German POW camp until the end of the war in Europe.
Many Saline County residents have become familiar with Lyle each year when she participates in the Veterans Day ceremony at the Saline County Courthouse.
On that special recognition day for all veterans, Lyle rings the school bell that her mother gave to her to ring to celebrate the close of World War I.
Local residents are invited to hear Lyle's presentation.