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4-Topaz Schools, Social Life, & Loyalty Oath
What was the schooling experience like in Topaz?
The high school was one of the blocks, and then the teachers were the people that went to college. And then they also hired quite a few outside the area and they started to hire some Caucasian teachers. But the year that I went, it was really terrible in that we didn't have any books, we didn't have any pencils, papers—just talked about things. I was surprised that my classmates all did well. It is really surprising. I could show you later in my yearbook. I would say most of them all finished college. This is true about Japanese in that they stress schools. That's why they do so well. They stress the education.
What was it like to have guards watching your every move? Did you feel you could not do things?
Oh, that definitely because we were surrounded by the barbed wire fence. You couldn't just go out. You definitely knew that you were in a jail because they had the soldiers up there with the rifles. In fact, one gentleman got too close to the fence and he got killed.
You couldn't even approach the fence?
You could walk by. You couldn't go out. It's just like a barbed wire fence there.
Do you have any more memory of that event?
I don't remember but I know he got killed and they had a big service for him in camp. It was one of the worst things that happened over there. I understand that other camps had situations like that too.
Did you personally experience trouble with the guards?
No, the only time I dealt with the guards, like I told you, we were going out to play basketball in the town and they took us in a bus. To give you an indication of what kind of guards we had, the guy said, "My name is Joe." And then the guy says, "How do you spell Joe?" And I said, "God, this guy can't spell Joe." And I knew what kind of a caliber guys that they had up there.
Do you have any specific memories of the camp that really stood out?
When we first came in I remember we didn't have schools. So we used to just sit around, and then they finally decided to have school. I was surprised that we had school and pretty soon everybody shows up at the classroom and everybody comes to the class room. Then it gets to winter. No books. They come in, and the teacher would try to give us a lecture, and that's about it. We didn't do any homework or nothing because we didn't have any books. To me I didn't think we got anything out. I was surprised that so many of my classmates went ahead and finished school.
Were there any social activities for women?
The women, they didn't practice. It was a man's world, baseball and basketball, but when the high school started they had a girls' basketball team. They were good. It was pretty dominantly a man's world.
Were most of your friends male at camp?
Like I said, I learned how to dance and so I met a lot of nice girls.
Was that like your first time really like experiencing... ?
Yeah, because that was one of my pleasures was that I learned how to dance. I know how to do "The Swing."
What were the dances like?
The dances was one of these barrack buildings, and we just played records. At that time of the year it was "Big Band" time. We had Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. I don't know where they got the records, but evidently guys bought records and we played those songs. And I thought that was nice.
Who would go to the dances?
All of the high school kids went and then some of the older ones had their own dance. We always had our group dances.
Overall, did you enjoy these dances?
Like I said, I enjoyed my stay there. I didn't sit down and moan about it. I just went and did what I could to enjoy myself. And, like I said, I enjoyed the dances, playing cards, seeing some of these fellows. I really got into sort of this thing of not having nothing. So when I left camp, I said, "Whoa, look at this." So I started going to movies, eating ice creams, and I said, "Geez!, I missed all this." But as I look back to it, it was really a spot in the field. We really didn't have nothing.
It wasn't right that they didn't have schools, or didn't have food, and didn't give us housing because the housing was bad. When I say tar-paper barracks, it was strictly board with tar-paper on it, and they gave us a potbelly stove, and it was cold. When we go to school, and in the wintertime, if you didn't get close to the potbelly stove, you were cold in that classroom. It's just like sitting outside in the cold.
You talk a lot about the weather. What other experiences did you have with the weather change in the desert?
It was tough because I was born in San Francisco, so the climate is mild. When I went to Utah, it was really different. It got over a 100. Now you never see weather being over a 100 in San Francisco, and it was terrible, hot. And then when it gets cold, it gets down to minus thirty-two and you're really freezing. But, when you're young, you could take it. But, no, everybody else, the older folks, they bundled up, and sometimes I see them wearing two coats.
The best thing that they did was the government gave us Navy Pea jackets, which I thought was very nice. It kept me warm. Then the ladies started to knit gloves, and they knit ski caps. So my mother did so, and I had gloves, and ski cap, and a scarf, which I never used to wear when I was in San Francisco.
Did they ask you questions about your loyalty?
Yeah, there was one thing that happened in camp. After they decided that we were now going to be drafted into service. Can you imagine that? Here you're in jail, and they said you're going to be drafted into the service. At that time they had a questionnaire which really had quite an effect in the camp. One was that, in regards to "do you pledge loyalty to the United States, and forsake the Emperor and all that." And that was a tough question, because here you're in camp, and you can't get citizenship. Like my mother and father, they couldn't get citizenship. So here they say you're going to forsake your citizenship, and then they want you to be with the U.S. because you couldn't get citizenship. What are you going to do then?
The other question that was a tough one was that, would you be willing to serve in the United States Service? Here again, you're in camp, and they want you to serve in the army. It was a tough question. I was surprised that some of the guys that were much older than me, they actually volunteered into the army. And this unit called the 442nd Combat Infantry unit was made out of predominantly Japanese American soldiers. They won more medals over in European Theater than any other U.S. army unit. I think that had a lot to do with the change of the attitudes of the United States people that we were more loyal than disloyal.
And I myself volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service, and a lot of the other people too because at that time they needed Japanese Americans to interpret and get the interpretation of the war maps that they intercepted from the enemy. They say that they shortened the war by at least two years because of the interceptions of these secret codes and stuff.
Do you know what your parents answered to the questions?
See my parents were too old. But, my brother was in U.S. army before Pearl Harbor. So, my brother was in the service while we were in camp. The answer was that, I think on the first case they had to answer "no," that they would forsake their citizenship. Then they said, "yes," that they would serve.
There were a lot of people that said "no, no." They said I wouldn't be drafted or whatever, and they actually separated them into another camp. As I look back at that, and I say to myself "These guys actually had more guts that I did, because they actually protested it." At that time, I thought these guys are not loyal and all that. But now that I am much older, I look back and say, "hey," these guys had more guts than I did," because I served in the U.S. Army.
Did you know anyone who left the camp to serve in the 442nd?
No, I was in the Military Intelligence. This is the language group, they called it. They went to the Pacific, and the other group went over to Europe.
What decided whether or not you would go to Europe or if you would be the translators?
It's up to the government.
So it was random?
No, no, the only time they would take the Japanese Americans—I told them I wanted to go into the Navy, but they wouldn't take me to the Navy. They took them all into the army, and they put them into the Japanese American unit. It was discriminatory. At that time, a lot of the units were discriminated. Because when I went into the service, I noticed they had a lot of black troops. And then in the navy, they had a lot of Filipino troops all doing mess hall duties. It was quite discriminatory—the army, at that time.
What was your most memorable experience was at Topaz?
The only thing memorable to me is that I met a lot good people there, Japanese Americans. I know a lot of them in the Bay Area now, which I would never have met before. That's why I like to go to these Topaz reunions because I see such nice people there. We had comradeship because we were suffering together.
Did you stay in touch with any of these people afterwards?
I see them at the Topaz reunion, and if I see them in the city when I participate in some of these affairs, or I go to church, then I see them.
What was your worst experience at Topaz?
My worst experience at Topaz is when I had to go to Provo, Utah. During summer break they said they needed some workers to harvest the crop. They had sugar beats, and fruits, and all that. So I said, "Oh!, it's a good chance for me to make some money and get out of camp." And we went through Utah and Idaho, and it was one of the worst things I ever did. I didn't realize how much hard work it is to work on a farm, topping beats, and picking potatoes. The worst thing that happened was we were in what they called a farm labor camp in Provo, and some young kids came and shot at us, with a shotgun, over at the tents, and they didn't do nothing about it. That was kind of disturbing.
Did they move you from that place afterwards?
No, I guess, I left because the summer was almost over. I worked all summer and they charged me room and board. By the time I got back, I didn't make a dime. To me, they exported us. They put us out there to work and harvest crop, and then charged for room and board, and I came home with nothing.
What was your immediate reaction to the gunfire?
We had to say, "Hey!, what are they going to do to us?" They didn't do nothing. That kind of said, "Hey, I'm not going to stick around here. They're not going to protect us."
Did you have a choice at that point?
It was volunteer. We went out to work, and then you could come home if you wanted. Just say, "Hey, I don't want to work no more, just go home."