From “What It Means to be an American,” by Andy Marchese:

“Carmen Leffler’s family is originally from Spain but came to the United States in the early 1900s. Just before the start of WWII, she returned with her family to Spain but then moved to the Phillipines so her father could teach at the University of Saint Thomas and she could be with her ill grandmother. When the war began, Carmen made no effort to hide the fact that she was an American citizen, despite her mother’s pleas to remain secretive about her origins. She remembers hearing the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio in school and that everyone was silent afterward, they all knew what that meant for the country and the world. Soon after, American citizens were being detained by Japanese soldiers across the country.

“Ms. Leffler avoided capture until her grandmother passed away but she never hid the fact that she was an American. She let her long, red hair flow freely which, she said, was a sign of her American roots.

“After her grandmother died, she voluntarily surrendered to Japanese troops and entered a detainment camp while she was in her young 20s. She walked up to the gate of the University of Saint Thomas which was now being used as a camp by the Japanese and asked to be let in. By the time she was freed by American soldiers, she had dropped to well below 100 pounds.

“Her reasoning for her actions was simple, she was an American and proud of it. Nobody would make her hide that fact and she felt it was her duty as a US citizen to be held prisoner rather than hide. This level of patriotism for the United States is nothing short of amazing. I can honestly say that I couldn’t do what she did and I think I speak for many others when I say that.”

This interview was recorded May 6, 2012 in Export, Pennsylvania. Interviewer and recordist: Todd DePastino. Special Thanks: Carmen Leffler, Ann Harder, Todd DePastino. A production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club. Executive Producer: Kevin Farkas. Cover photo of Carmen Leffler: Andy Marchese. ©VVoPOHI. All Rights Reserved.