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Section below transcribed by Greg W ('10), cleaned by Alexander F (intern). Please report errors to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I used to sing Angels of Mercy, that was a Red Cross song, and that was after the war broke out, this is when we were still in Portland. When I went to camp in the sixth grade, we had a teacher who said, "Now I want you to read all these books and then decide at the end what you want to be, and then you're going to write a little essay about this." So we read all these books, which were not very many because we didn't have very many books in the library. We read things like The Nancy Drew Series and some of those. I read Anna Pavalova, The Dancing Shoes. I thought, Oh that's nice, I'd be a ballerina and then I read Clara Barton's story and Cherry Aimes and—oh, that sounds good— I'd like to be a nurse. And, it just so happened that I hit my eye on this pot-belly stove and cut it and had to go get it stitched up, and I saw these nurses in these white swishy uniforms and I thought, "mmm”, that really appeals to me. So, that's what I wrote in this little essay, I said I wanted to either be a ballerina or I wanted to be a nurse. And guess what? It's very interesting because I kept my eye on that track all the way through. My high school I took courses that I thought would help and then I went on to nursing school.
Life Before Pearl Harbor
What do you think your family valued the most before the war broke out?
My father valued education. It was very important that we all went to school and the only time we could really stay at home was when we were sick and I mean really sick. The day that you started getting out of bed and could walk to the bathroom, you were back in school. And—remember I was saying that some of the kids came to school without shoes?—Well, we always had our shoes fixed and we always had what we needed—our pencils and paper— everything that we needed, we always had that; we had the clothes. And of course, we went to Japanese school as well and it was very important that we all get an education, boys or girls it didn't matter.
How did that affect you?
I think it was just sort of ingrained into me that I was going to go to college, that was accepted. Nursing school was fine, but I was going to go to college too, and so that's what I did. I think the goal for education was really underlying everything, because I think that, you know, he got us up out of bed to go to school, all of that.
You mentioned a song 'Angels of Mercy'? Do you remember it?
You want me to sing it? No, I don't think I will, but it's, "Angels of Mercy, there's so much to do, the something are flying overhead. Angels of Mercy, I'm calling to you, so march with your crosses of red." Argh, forget it. I'd have to go over it again, but it was the Red Cross Song.
What do you remember about the day of the Pearl Harbor attack?
My memories were that —it was on a Sunday— and, all of a sudden, my father was shaking his head and saying, "Ah, I don't know why Japan did that." So, we all went to our little radio and we all hovered around that, listening to what the reports were. As the reports came in, my father just says, "Japan is such a small country, trying to beat this big country. They're just not gonna win. Why did they do that? Why did they do that? It only means trouble." That was his response. I just sort of thought, 'Wow, Japan is attacking Pearl Harbor.' It didn't mean a whole lot to me at that time. It started to mean more when my father says, "Well, you don't have to go to Japanese school now", because they closed the school almost immediately because they didn't want people to think that we were favoring Japan.
As they war progressed, the children that I used to run back and forth to school with —we were friends— and some of them would begin to say, "Are you a Jap?" And then some of them—I would say, "No, no, I'm not a Jap, I'm Japanese." Then they would chase me or throw things at me and say to me 'Go back where you belong', that I remember very clearly.
How did the attack affect your relationships with your non-Japanese friends?
I think that they weren't quite clear what was going on exactly. I think that they pulled away a little bit, but like my Joyce Chan friend, she was still my friend. I'd go down there, and her mom would invite me in and I'd have something to eat sometimes. It was not—I think everybody was just sort of on edge, and not knowing quite what to make of it.
The people in our apartment house were extremely loyal. After awhile, there used to be an FBI agent who stood across the street from our apartment house. As people left our apartment house, he would question them and say, "Do they have short-wave radio or Japanese flags?" or, "Do they have anything that would suggest loyalty to Japan?" They would say, "No! No! They are Americans! They are born here in the United States! What are you saying?" Then they'd come in and they'd tell us what happened. There were people around who still trusted us and supported us.
Did you feel torn between America and Japan, because you were born there, but the rest of your family was from here?
There was one place and time that I remember. I don't know whether it was being torn, but they were, my sister was a little bit frightened with this because they gave us questionnaires to fill out. And on each one it said the “identifying information” and then, 'Where were you born?' My sister put down on mine, 'United States: Portland, Oregon.' I was able to get those papers 50 years later when the library of congress, I guess they opened up those papers. So I said to my sister, "Why did you put that down there?" She says, "Well, I guess we didn't want them to think or take you away or do anything like that." So, that was frightening.
Aside from not going to Japanese school, were you able to maintain relationships with your teachers, and maintain your academic work in your American school?
Oh, yes. It was expected that we would continue going to school, but right before the school year ended, we were interned. Many years later— when I went back for a fiftieth reunion—one of the students that I knew way back when said, "You know, one day you were there and then the next day you were gone and I always wondered what happened to you."
What was school like that first Monday after Pearl Harbor?
I don't think immediately, anything felt changed. I mean, we all went back and maybe I was talking about the War, too, but I was ten and—the world wasn't—I didn't understand the world as I do now. It was sort of like, I just wanted to be with my friends and buddy around and I don't remember that. It was as the propaganda started coming through with the newspapers and the billboards, that's the time when the students started picking on me.
Can you remember some of those billboards?
I certainly do. There was a Foster and Kaiser billboard, a large one, that had a caricature of a Japanese soldier, with the protruding teeth and very slanted eyes and a bayonet in his hand. It said above it, 'Win the War!' and on the bottom, 'Kill a Jap!' So, it was that kind of thing that helped stir the feelings.
What was your reaction upon seeing this sort of propaganda?
What was my reaction? This is what I did, I— remember I told you I had this Chinese friend and as things got worse, kids chasing me—it never occurred to me that I should stay at home. My father and everybody said you go to school no matter what, so I did. I thought 'Oh, God. How am I going to protect myself?' It didn't occur to me to tell anybody either. But, my Chinese girlfriend, Joyce Chan, opened the screen door, and here she had this big, red, white and blue button, and it says 'I am Chinese'. I thought ‘Hey!' I traded her my ten cents worth of candy, for her badge and I wore it to school after that. Anytime anyone said anything, "Chinese, Chinese"; and you know what, that's it, nobody knew the difference, right? They'd say, "Oh, your Chinese, okay." So then that's the way I felt protected, so until we were interned, I would wear my little button.
What did your family think of you wearing that button?
They didn't pay attention to me very much that way, neither did my father. They're busy, you know, they're busy with their own lives. So, this is what I did.
The Assembly Center
Did you anticipate internment or anything like it?
We were thinking that something would happen, but we didn't know what. If you think about it, December 7th—remember is when it happened—by February 19th, that's not very long after, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt. So, in that very short time, the government had a plan. What was happening, the day after Pearl Harbor, is that they started taking the leaders (the men) the leaders in the community and taking them away to the Department of Justice camps. So, where was I going to go with this? What was your question?
Did your family or anyone in it have any anticipation of internment?
Because these men were being taken away, and I was scared that they would take my father as well. As that was happening, we knew that something would happen. Then, the Executive Order was signed in February, and so we were wondering when we would get the order for us to leave. We just had a couple weeks before we were told we had to leave—sell everything, get rid of everything—and that's the way it happened. That was in May, so within six months or so, they had evacuated the whole West Coast of 120,000 Japanese.
Did your father try to make any extra money in anticipation of the internment?
How would you make extra money? I mean you have your business. You're busy doing what you're doing. You're taking care of your family. There are six people to feed and take care of. What you do is you just do the best you can with what you're doing and then wait until something happens.
Do you remember the day you were evacuated?
Yeah, I do as a matter of fact. We didn't know how we were going to get there. In some communities, they had buses, they had other things, but we didn't know. Well, in our instance, we were willing to give up most everything, except our piano. But, as the days wore on, we were just so worried about this piano because it was something that reminded us of our mother, and when she used to have my older sisters learn how to play the piano. So, that was something that was very dear to us. Our friends—we had some dear friends— and they couldn't take it. So somebody, this wonderful woman from the YWCA came and she said, "Is there anything I can to do help?" We said, "Well, we have this piano and we don't know what to do." She says, "Well, I have a very small apartment and I have a spinet myself," but she says, "I'll take it for you, I'll keep it for you" and so she did. She was the one who offered, she says, "Do you have a way to get to the assembly center?" and we said, "No, we don't," so she says, "Well, I'll get somebody else and the two of us will drive you and take your belongings to the assembly center” and that's how we got there.
What was her name?
Do you remember what the assembly center was like?
Yes. It was—all of you probably know the Cow Palace? It had the exact same footprint as the Cow Palace, exactly the same. In fact, when I went someplace for some kind of and exhibit at the Cow Palace, I said, "Oh," I said, "I know where the restrooms are." Sure enough I walked right near the arena and there they were. So just imagine, that, and you include the parking lots as well, with a barbed wire fence all the way around it. That's the way it was from the outside with armed guards going around with guns. Then, on the inside, there are some large spaces, not the arena space, where they had, one for the mess hall, then they took those other large spaces and they chopped them up and made plywood stalls. The whole family would be in a stall. These stalls had, the only thing that they had in front for the door was a little cloth. On top, it was like two stories up and there were skylights and there was no ceiling on there. So that's where we were, all six of us in one little stall.
The bathrooms, that all the women—there was a block of toilets, like maybe twenty toilets, I don't remember how many, facing each other, with no partitions, that was where the toilets were. Then the shower was just like one huge room with maybe ten or twelve shower-heads pouring in. It was very hot that summer, we had a heat wave and it was 106 and it was very, very hot. There was no place to go and no air conditioning in those days. It still smelled of the animals that had been there. Remember, this was the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Center. It's still an expo-center now. They remodeled it, but it's an expo-center. At that time, they used to show livestock, and—as you probably know—almost every assembly center was where animals had been kept before, like Tanforan, for instance.
At the time, did you know why there were armed guards and fences?
No, we didn't know why they were there, but we thought, 'Well, they don't want us to escape. They don't want us to leave, but where would we go anyway?
What was your first impression of the assembly center?
My first thought was, 'Wow, what is this place?' I thought we were going to go to a neat place. I was ten and I was very excited about moving; I really was. I thought 'Oh, boy, this is going to be fun'. I had an autograph book and I asked everyone to please write their name and addresses and I was going to write them letters. Then, when I saw all this, I didn't know what to say, and so they never got a letter.
Can you describe your daily routine?
They had to feed 4,000 people there, so there were three shifts of meals for each meal. We would have our set time to go have something to eat there in the mess hall and then we'd just hang out. There were no activities. They did, I think— somebody brought out some baseballs and some things so that in the yard they would have baseball, but it was extremely hot. So I, as a kid, would go to the arena and we would hang on the bars and run up and down and chase each other and create games, essentially.
Did you have chores or responsibilities that you had to take care of?
The food was there, my sister did the laundry, no.
Do you remember any of the games you played?
We would play things like hopscotch, but mostly we were just running around. We would just create things, you know? Follow the leader, okay, we'll do this. Can you swing like me? You know, it's just stuff like that.
Was it easy making friends?
Oh, it was wonderful. I had all the friends I ever wanted and many, many more. In fact, if you got mad at somebody, or didn't want to play with somebody, there were 10,000 more to play with. Everyone was feeling about the same way. They tried to have a school there in the summer time, but the room that they had selected was a room without any lights—I mean any windows—and it had just a raw light bulb and it still smelled musty and it was just intolerable, so they never had a school there.
What were your living quarters like?
The living quarters, as I said, was that we had I think there were four quadrants and each quadrant had these plywood stalls that were all together like that and so you could hear everything. I mean, your neighbor would sneeze and you would hear it. At night, you could hear everyone snoring and all these wonderful sounds. Then about three weeks into it, because of the way the dishes were washed, which was just like this and like this and like this for the next shift, people started having diarrhea and you could hear people going back and forth in their slippers to the toilets. It was, that was what we heard and saw.
So it was, the six of you right?
You, your siblings, and your father? In one stall?
Do you remember what the soldier's faces were like?
We were told to stay away from the fence and we were told to not engage them in any way. But of course as kids, we'd go to the fence and make faces and do all sorts of things. Unfortunately, I think it was one of our cooks leaving, and he got shot and killed. So, that made it all the more important. The parents said, "You stay away from the fence!" and so we did. We thought they were electrified too, we weren't sure, so we stayed away. We would still go close and, you know, make our faces and do things.
Why exactly was he shot? Was he trying to escape?
We always just attributed it to the fact that the soldier really wasn't very bright. He didn't stop him, he didn't say anything, he probably just shot him thinking he was escaping or something.
How old were these soldiers?
I have no idea, but I would think they were just young, like eighteen, nineteen, twenty. They were drafted in those days.