Centennial Story 69: Bell Masayuki Shimada (BS, 1947; MS, 1948; PhD, 1956; BA, 2008 Honoris causa)

In the spring of 1942, Bell Shimada, a senior in the College of Fisheries, was barred from the UW campus and incarcerated at the US Government Internment Camp in Minidoka, Idaho. From there, he volunteered for basic training with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, and thereafter, received Japanese language and intelligence training at Camp Savage in Minnesota. Assigned to the Military Intelligence Service and embedded in the US Army Air Forces, Bell hopscotched behind the Pacific front line, ultimately serving in General MacArthur’s Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers headquarters in Tokyo until December 1946. After leaving service, Bell returned to the College of Fisheries and completed the remaining course work for his BS and MS degrees, followed eight years later by a PhD in 1956.

Bell Shimada holding a penguin, circa 1957.
Bell Shimada, circa 1957.

In early 1949, Oscar Elton Sette was recruiting staff for the new Congressionally mandated Pacific Ocean Fishery Investigations (POFI) on the campus of the University of Hawaii Manoa. In short order, Bell reported as a seagoing fishery biologist working alongside Milner “Benny” Schaefer (BS, 1935; PhD, 1950), Frederick “Fred” Cleaver (BS, 1941; PhD, 1967), Townsend “Towny” Cromwell, and Elton’s secretary, Rae Shimojima, a Portland (Oregon) native recruited from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) headquarters in Washington DC, who would become Bell’s wife.

In February 1952, Bell and Rae followed Schaefer to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), which had recently been established. The IATTC was co-located with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) laboratory in La Jolla. This was during the post-war period of expanding Pacific tuna fisheries and an energetic marine science community on the West Coast and Hawaii. Close friendships with then colleagues included several from UW Fisheries: Wilbert “Wib” Chapman (MS, 1933; PhD, 1937), Richard Van Cleve (BS, 1927; PhD, 1936), Paul Olsen (BS, 1950), Frank Lowman (PhD, 1956), Allyn Seymour (PhD, 1956), Lauren Donaldson (MS, 1931; PhD, 1939), and others from BCF, Scripps and IATTC: William “Bill” Royce, Roger Revelle, Carl Hubbs, Warren Wooster, Elbert Ahlstrom, Gerald “Gerry” Howard, Garth Murphy, Richard Whitney, John “Jack” Marr, Withold “Witek” Klawe, and William “Bill” Bayliff (MS, 1954; PhD, 1965). These names are well known to fishery scientists and oceanographers of certain age and different times and, perhaps, are recognized today by succeeding generations in the scientific literature.

Shimada and Cromwell, who had also joined the Commission, continued their work following the principles of fisheries oceanography that Elton Sette had pioneered at POFI. Cromwell’s insights on water properties and temperature gradients driving the equatorial tropical Pacific currents, along with Shimada’s on the dynamics and distribution of tuna stocks, were particularly fruitful. In 1957, their collaboration included a research cruise off Mexico’s Clarion Island as part of an IATTC/Scripps/BCF project, the “Island Current Study.” Subsequent plans called for both men to undertake one more survey of Clarion Island in early June 1958, thereby extending their field research before Shimada was to leave the Commission to become the first director of USFWS Bureau of Commercial Fisheries’ new Eastern Pacific Tuna Investigations on July 1, 1958.

Bell Shimada and Fred Cleaver, circa 1951. Photo by Milner “Benny” Schaefer.
Bell Shimada and Fred Cleaver, circa 1951. Photo by Milner “Benny” Schaefer.

Coincidently and concurrent to their early morning outbound departure from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, a hastily organized symposium on the “Changing Pacific Ocean in 1957 and 1958” was held June 2–4, 1958, in Rancho Santa Fe, California. The proceedings published in 1961 included the following dedication.

“This Symposium is dedicated to Townsend Cromwell and Bell M. Shimada, associates in research of many of the participants in this Symposium, who lost their lives, June 2, 1958, in an airplane crash near Guadalajara, Mexico, while en route to join the research vessel Horizon to make further observations on the changing conditions in 1958.”

That fall of 1958, while Rae was preparing to leave La Jolla to be with her family on Chicago’s north side, Warren Wooster, then at Scripps, undertook a modest collection of contributions from colleagues and friends for an education fund benefitting their young children, Allen and Julie.

The Long Journey Home…   

Perhaps the most cherished recognition conferred on Bell Shimada from his alma mater came on May 18, 2008. On that day, 440 Japanese American students from the UW undergraduate classes of 1941–1942 (both living and surviving family of the deceased) assembled together in Kane Hall for a long delayed commencement ceremony to receive their Bachelor of Arts degrees.

NOAA’s fisheries survey vessel, Bell M. Shimada (R-227), christened in 2008, in Elliot Bay. Photo by Sean Mooney.
NOAA’s fisheries survey vessel, Bell M. Shimada (R-227), christened in 2008, in Elliot Bay. Photo by Sean Mooney.

The University Regents citation reads in part:

“We come together this day to honor you and to confer upon you what rightly should have been yours decades ago.

We come together to restore. We acknowledge the injustice of the past, and we walk with you now into the future.

For your courage, your grace, your magnanimity, for your remarkable achievements in the aftermath of what you endured, for your allegiance to your principles and your country, the University of Washington is proud to confer upon you the degree of Bachelor of Arts, honoris causa, nunc pro tunc.”

Nunc pro tunc,“Now for then…”

With heartfelt appreciation for the UW’s enduring “Spirit of Inclusion,” and every good wish for what is yet to come, the family of Bell and Rae, celebrates the SAFS 100th Anniversary, and new beginnings with the Rae S. and Bell M. Shimada Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Memory of Warren S. Wooster.

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