Friends in an age of bias, they meet again after 75 years


It's time for some real-life stories that stir genuine emotion. When Ann Curry's "We'll Meet Again" debuts Tuesday (Jan. 23), it shows reunions of people who met during a time of World War II rage. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For two decades,
Reiko Nagumo has told the story to schoolkids.

She was a California
kid, just like them, when her world changed instantly. Japan bombed
Pearl Harbor; as a 7-year-old with Japanese roots, she was bullied by
many kids, befriended by one.

“Mary Frances had
been a very strong friend and a beacon to me,” recalled Nagumo, who
is featured in the opener of Ann Curry's “We'll Meet Again”
series. “I depended on her friendship.”

She told the story
often – usually while telling 5th-graders about her
years in a Japanese internment camp. Everyday gestures, she told
them, can make a huge impact.

But she had no
answer to their logical question: Whatever happened to Mary Frances?

Some attempts to
find her had gone nowhere. “I was going to have to die before
telling Mary Frances ... how much she meant to me,” Nagumo felt.

Then the
London-based producers of Curry's series heard about it. They linked
her to genealogists, who found a cousin; that's when the friend first
heard that someone from grade school was looking for her.

“I said, 'Well,
it's got to be Reiko,'” said the friend, now named Mary Peters. “I
had never forgotten her; I just wasn't looking like she was looking.”

Both women have had
busy lives. Nagumo was a nurse, working in Cambodia and Egypt and
then in California; Peters was a business executive, retiring in
Kentucky. She admits that those school days aren't vivid to her. “My
memory of my childhood is very slim.”

As Curry sees it,
that makes this even more impressive. It's “the idea that you could
do something that you can barely even remember now” that might
change someone's life.

This is the sort of
story British producer Justine Kershaw was looking for. She has her
own reunion story, involving the Greek goat-herder who rescued her
after a fall, and suspects many others do, too.

The first step was
finding the right news person to link with. She found Curry by
“literally, just Googling .... Every piece I saw just convinced me
that this was the person.”

The series arrives
at a vibrant time for newswomen. Curry worked at “Today” for 15
years and in 2011 became the anchor with Matt Lauer; she was dropped
from that job a year later and left NBC in 2015.

As her show arrives,
she faces questions about Lauer. Responding carefully in a “CBS
This Morning” interview, Curry said “there was a climate of
verbal harassment” at NBC and “I am not surprised by the
allegations” of sexual misconduct that led to Lauer being fired.

Speaking to the
Television Critics Association before the sexual-harassment issue had
broken open, Curry did indicate disappointment in TV news. “I am
getting a lot of my news, actually, from print.”

But she also was
optimistic. “I suspect we are heading toward a potential
renaissance .... To me, journalism is church and I'm very hopeful for
its future.”

-- “We'll Meet
Again,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS; then at www.pbs.org

-- The opener, Jan.
23, has World War II stories -- Reiko Nagumo's search for a friend
who resisted girlhood bias, Peter Engler's search for the daughter of
the people who befriended him in a Jewish ghetto in Shanghai.

-- Runs for six
weeks; other stories range from Vietnam to the aftermath of the Sept.
11 attack.