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WWII INTERNMENT CAMP INSPIRES BOOK SET IN IDAHO

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"One day, my dad looked out at the endless desert and decided then and there to build a baseball field."

Thus begins a children's story of family life inside a World War II Japanese-American internment camp."Baseball Saved Us" is fiction, but it's inspired by fact.

Author Ken Mochizuki's parents were sent to Idaho's Minidoka camp during the war. Mochizuki, born and raised in Seattle, is assistant editor of Northwest Nikkei, a newspaper serving the Japanese-American community.

He did extensive research before writing "Baseball Saved Us." He also drew upon his feelings.

"My parents and most of the people who went through the experience never said much during the years when I was growing up," said Mochizuki, "but the book is inspired by the people of that generation."

"We weren't in a camp that was fun, like summer camp," the boy in the book says. "Ours was in the middle of nowhere, and we were behind a barbed-wire fence."

"My big crusade, I guess, is to improve the image of Americans of Asian descent in this country in the media," Mochizuki said.

People have been extremely hospitable to him during his book tours to San Francisco and the Midwest this year, he said, but life isn't always like that.

"As Japanese-Americans, we are still asked where we are from and where we learned English," said Mochizuki. "Some people think of us as Japanese from Japan, which is a dismal thing to realize after we've been here over 100 years."

He added, "We are also asked, `How do you people feel about owning the Mariners now?' " The Japanese man who controls Nintendo bought the team last year.

Mochizuki was not sure how he will react, when he sees the Minidoka Hunt Relocation Camp site for the first time. But he has visited a similar camp in northeastern California.

"There is nothing as far as you can see in every direction, and people lived there," he said. "I wonder what is must have been like in the dead of winter."

"Baseball Saved Us," published in 1993 by Lee & Low Books Inc., is already going into its fourth printing. And he's hard at work on his second book, another seen through the eyes of a young boy, which is due out in spring 1995.

It will be about the 442nd Army Unit in World War II, a Japanese-American unit made up of volunteers from internment camps. It's a unit that became one of the most decorated Army units of all, Mochizuki said with pride.