When Mary Frances White Peters’ parents told her to stop hanging out with her friend Reiko Nagumo, it didn’t make sense to the second-grader.
The directive came after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States declared war in response. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the underdog,” Peters told The Sacramento Bee. “Why should we stop being friends if we hadn’t done anything wrong? It sounded like a ‘grown up’ problem to me.” She refused to end the friendship, which was “very courageous,” Nagumo said. Nagumo, her parents, and siblings were sent to the internment camp for Japanese Americans in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and when they returned home to Los Angeles in August 1945, Peters was waiting for her. “Mary Frances was the first kid to come up to me and take my hand,” she said. “It made me feel safe.”
Peters’ family moved away not long after, and the friends lost touch. Nagumo volunteers at the California Museum in Sacramento, sharing with elementary school students her experience during the war, and for years she’s been telling the students about her friend Mary Frances. “I was afraid I would die before ever getting the chance to thank her for being such a good friend,” said Nagumo, 83. Through the new PBS series We’ll Meet Again, the long-lost friends were reunited last year, 73 years after they last spoke. “Over the years we were separated, I often thought of Reiko,” said Peters, who lives in Kentucky. Now that they are friends again, the kids who visit the California Museum will get to meet Mary Frances in person — she’s been invited to join Nagumo during her presentations.