Ken Beaton: Count your blessings

How did you arrive in the USA? Were you part of a prisoner exchange with the Japanese government in late 1943? A mother and her four young daughters had an adventure traveling halfway around the world to New York City. Sit a spell, ‘cause I’ve got a tale to tell.

George Lenz Sr. was a career cook in the U.S. Navy when he met and in 1913 married the love of his life, Ah Ma, in Hong Kong. Ah Ma didn’t want to live in America because she was Asian and wouldn’t be respected.

George Jr. was born in 1914. He married Katherine, his Chinese wife, in 1937. In 1938 Jane Francis was born.

George Jr. was an educator. He taught his students to read, speak and write English, Chinese and Japanese. With two daughters and his wife pregnant with K.T., he was recruited by the American Consulate in Hong Kong as a translator. Japan’s expansion plans were cause for concern in Asia and America.

Compared to his teaching salary, the Lenz family had moved up the economic ladder. George was paid in U.S. dollars. One U.S. dollar was worth six Hong Kong dollars!

As soon as the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Hong Kong Embassy immediately assigned George to the States. Unfortunately, Katherine remained in Hong Kong pregnant with their fourth daughter. The Japanese Imperial Army captured Hong Kong on Dec. 25, 1941. Soon, Katherine and her daughters, dressed as peasant Chinese, were placed under “house arrest” in an apartment. Their diet was several crackers a day for almost two years. Fish heads and rice soup with an assortment of bugs which were considered “protein” would have been a gourmet meal.

Mary Madeline Theresa Lenz, their fourth daughter, was born under house arrest. Because of their starvation diet, Katherine’s body didn’t produce enough milk to nurse. Fortunately, they had one chicken that laid an egg every other day. Every egg was fed to Mary Madeline, supplementing her nutrition.

Soon after the prisoner exchange, Katherine and her four daughters boarded an American transport ship in Hong Kong. The five Lenz females enjoyed family style meals, no more crackers. The American sailors interacted with the children on board the transport passing out jump ropes and something called chewing gum. Their ship sailed west to the Indian Ocean, around the stormy Cape of Good Hope, across the South Atlantic Ocean and along the East Coast of the Americas to New York City, having experienced foul weather. The crew shot at anti ship mines, which exploded a safe distance from the ship. (The prisoner exchange was never discussed in the Lenz family).

Can you imagine their excitement seeing the Statue of Liberty holding her torch high above the five Lenz females to greet them as they entered New York Harbor? Katherine’s eyes were filled with tears of joy. Soon she would be greeted by her husband ending their two years of wartime separation. She was bubbling with excitement. There was so much to tell George. Most important, “George, I never want to be separated from you, ever!” (This stayed true. The couple was two of the seven fatalities on April 7, 1982 in the Caldecott Tunnel fire between Oakland and Orinda, Route 24).

Their ship docked at Ellis Island where K.T.’s mom was processed and allowed to enter the United States similar to the eight million immigrants who traveled to New York searching for a better life.

The Lenz family traveled by train to Washington, D.C. George continued to translate documents for the State Department. Katherine’s fifth pregnancy was a son followed by another son and their fifth daughter for a total of seven children. After World War II, George was promoted to Vice Consul upon his return to Hong Kong.

When the Korean Conflict erupted, the Lenz family was moved to Paramaribo, Suriname, Dutch Guiana, South America in 1951. Paramaribo had a large Chinese population. K.T. and her siblings were home schooled. In 1954 the family moved to San Francisco, George’s new employer was Pan American Airlines. The Lenz children were tested to discover each child was at grade level or better.

KT graduated from high school in 1958 and attended Mount St. Mary’s College. In 1962 she student taught at Star King Middle School. Most of the students qualified for the free lunch program. O.J. Simpson attended the same school. She graduated from San Francisco State College in 1963 and began a 54-year career.

Bob and K.T. Pollock moved to Carson City with their two sons. They witnessed the grand opening of the Ormsby House, July 4, 1972. She taught at Fremont, Corbett and Fritsch elementary schools, retiring in 2002. Mrs. Pollock’s students were not the best at the beginning of the school year. By the end of each school year, her students consistently tested higher than other classes. She admits to being a “Tiger Mom” at home, school and as a community volunteer. Presently, she enjoys working as a substitute teacher.

In closing, if you think you’re having a bad day, imagine living in Hong Kong with stifling heat and humidity without air conditioning or electronic devices. Your diet is crackers while under house arrest by the Japanese Army for two years! Count your blessings!

Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.


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