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5-End of Internment, MIS & Reflections
How long were you in Topaz?
I was there from '42 to '44.
What happened at the end of the internment?
I wasn't there until the end because we had a choice. I got out of high school, and at that time they said you could either go East, but you can't go back to California. And then also, they wanted to draft me in the service, and I said, "Oh!, I'm going to go out and see the world." So I went to Detroit.
Did you graduate high school?
Yeah, I graduated in Topaz.
So you left with the army before everyone else left the camps?
I left before everybody left camp because my mother and father were still in camp. They left camp I think in forty-six I believe, forty-five, forty-six. It had to be after forty-five because that was the peace, so it was forty-six.
What was your first thought of Detroit?
That was another thing that happened because there was three of us. We were all ready to be drafted, so we said, "Let's go to Detroit, that's a big town." I was kind of scared going on the train because they gave us twenty-five bucks, and you're supposed to go to a strange town, and live and work. And then at the same time there was a lot of service men, and I said, "Whoa, geez! I better not tell them I'm Japanese because they'll probably shoot me." So I kind of hid back, and got to Detroit. Then getting to Detroit, we stayed at a hostel. Evidently there was a Japanese minister had a house. He let people stay there until they could find a house. There was about fifteen of us in a room like this, all crowded together.
I look in the papers, "Oh, geez, all kinds of jobs here, paying good money." I go out looking for a job they didn't want to hire me because they said, "You're Japanese." Oh god, it was terrible. So finally, the only place that hired us was a milk company. So that's where I went, to the milk company.
What was the job like for the milk company?
It was assembly line, you just make Popsicles and ice creams.
Do you remember any of those conversations in which you were turned down? What did they say to you?
They just wouldn't hire. You go up to them and say I want a job, but they just won't hire you. They just ignored you because everybody thought that I was Japanese and I'd be sabotaging their place. That's what I thought.
What was it like moving to such a more diverse community after living in these internment camps where it was solely Japanese?
I went with three guys because we were together and so we finally found a little room in Polish Town, in Detroit. When I go to the factories they were all Black. Pretty soon, those guys had a lot of respect for me because I know how to read and write. I'm surprised they paid a lot of respect to us because we were so agile, and we knew what's going on. Then I volunteered for the service after that.
How did you take leaving Topaz where you basically in jail, and leaving the camps just to be discriminated?
Like I said, it was tough, we didn't know what was going to happen. We had to go to work. Like I said I got some work from the milk company, and it was more money than I've ever had in my life. Even though what they paid us was less than the defense factories, we carried on from there. We had to eat out most of the time. We had to go to restaurants. I used to go to this small place called White Front, and I was able to go see movies. In that day, it was a big band, so when you go to the movies, they had the big band playing with the movies. To me, I was enjoying myself.
What was it like to get to choose the food you ate?
It was good, yeah. I couldn't spend a lot of money, but I still ate what I-
What kind of food did you choose to eat?
I took it right off the menu. It wasn't steaks every night, that's for sure, because I didn't have the money to buy steaks. But, I ate the meatloaf and chops.
Where did you get your money from?
I was working. Yeah. Because otherwise I couldn't go out and I'd be starving. There was no welfare there. If I didn't work, nobody would give me money.
When and why did you join the military?
During all these things, I said, "This is not for me." The labor, farm labor, all that. I said, "I'm going to get me an education." At that time, they had what they called a GI Bill too. I said, "Oh, geez!, I'm going to get the GI Bill too," so I signed up. And that's how I finished college, I got my GI Bill.
Where did you go to College?
I started school while I was in Michigan, but then I volunteered. When I came back to California, they wouldn't give me credit for what I did in Michigan, so I went back to Michigan and completed school in Michigan in 1951.
How long was it until you came back to California?
I came back in—I graduated fifty-one so I must have came back in fifty-two. Yeah. I still didn't like the weather. Even though the people were nice in Michigan. The guys invited me to home for dinners and on school vacations. People were real nice out there. There was hardly any Japanese. All the people that I knew was all Caucasians up there. Then at the same time, everybody knew that I was a good student. I was pretty good athletically, and everything. They liked me, in fact-
Where were you in school?
I went to Michigan State University. East Lansing. Beautiful campus.
Go back and talk about joining the army, and going into the MIS tell us more about those experiences. Was this still during the war?
I came in right at the end, right after—because I went into the occupation of Japan. Being in the army, your 're the law in Japan. When I got into Japan, Tokyo was flat, and there was nothing there. The only building, the U.S. forces took over. So we had a nice building. Then from there—my unit goes out to the district, so we took over an area out in Niigata, and we were doing towns work. We used to monitor the communists, the Russians, the Germans, and the Chinese. We were monitoring all those. Then we were interrogating Japanese Prisoners of War, and we got a lot of information out of them.
Any good stories of interrogations that you participated in?
I'm not supposed to tell you too much about interrogation. It's supposed to be secret. But we did monitor people. The only other thing that was interesting was my uncle was in the Japanese army in Manchuria. That's my mother's brother. That's the first time I've been in Japan, so I say, "Gee, I'd like to see that guy, and see grandma." Being that we interrogated all the P.O.W.'s, I called him up. He came in, and I told who I was, and he was surprised because he thought he was going to get the grilling, and I told him who I was, and I says, "I'm your nephew, and I'm gonad' go see Grandma." So I went to see Grandma, and it's the first time I saw Grandma.
I could hardly understand her because the language that she spoke was a different—different in that they're from Southern Japan. And here I was—they speak much faster. But I could talk here, but it was really tough. The little nieces had a camera, so I took pictures of them, and that was the only picture they had of that period. And then she killed the only chicken in the house there for me, for the dinner. It was tough, but it was very nice.
Was anyone back in the MIS suspicious that you were visiting your relatives in Japan?
Yeah, I'm sure they must have felt something different. But I never talked about it because they were happy to see me. Then I treated them too, because everybody was poor in those days. Japan was really, nothing there. Whatever I had was more than enough for a whole family.
How much time did you spend in Japan?
I spent about a year and a half.
When you left Japan, did you go straight to Michigan?
Yeah, I came back, and like I said, I wanted to go to school in California, but they wouldn't accept my Michigan credits, so I finished off at Michigan State.
Here you are, your 're in Japan working for the U.S. army, after having spent a year in Topaz because you were Japanese. Now your 're in Japan, interrogating the Japanese, working for the army. There must have been a lot going on in your mind at that point. Can you explain that a little more?
The Japanese—since I spoke Japanese, naturally the army wanted to use my skills. So I was with a Intelligence Unit. We could interrogate different people. As far as the Japanese looking at us, I think they had some misgivings about us because one time I did hear some Japanese young kids saying some bad things about us. "What's this guy doing?"
Here again in Japan, when the emperor says to accept the U.S. armed forces, they were easy, not like it is in Iraq. At the same time, we put in a lot of troops over there, too. So, It worked out much better than in Iraq. Then also the Korean War started up, and it geared up the Japanese economy too because they were supplying the troops over in Korea. In fact, most of my unit went over to Korea, because in Korea, they also speak Japanese because they were occupied by Japan.
Were you in a segregated group or was it mixed?
Our group is primarily Japanese American. There were a few Caucasian, but you could see the difference. We could handle it better because—with the language. The commanding officer was naturally Caucasian. That was another thing that I thought was discriminating. All of the commanders of these units were all Caucasian. There weren't any Japanese Americans. Then after we started to leave, then they started promoting them. They started giving them promotions. That's what happens. You don't promote us, we're all going to leave. So I left.
Being from Japanese descent, was it weird working for the U.S. army against your own background?
A lot of people think that just because I look Japanese, they think I'm from Japan. I get that everyday, even right now! They think, "Hey, this guy looks Japanese, he must be from Japan, and he thinks like a Japanese." Here I am, I say, "I'm American!," and they don't believe it! And to me, sometimes I kind of get mad about it because here I am, American citizen, and I know less about Japan than you. I say, "Why do these guys ask me these dumb questions to me? That's what I think.
Life in California
Did you move back to California after college?
Once you were in California, did you pick up a job? How did you continue your life?
After I got through college—I was top men in college. I'm Chi Epsilon which were top men there. I was on dean's list and everything else. I was a good student. Then I put out my interview for jobs. They want to send me to Venezuela. Nobody really come looking for me. So I said, "Oh geez!, here I go again."
So I came back to California because—I figured—back with my folks. And then I start looking for a job again. I tried all these big companies, and nobody hired me again. They don't say "no," they just don't give you an offer. The only place that I could get offers were places I could sign up was Civil Service, so I put in for the City, the State, and Federal Government. So finally, they hired me with the state and that's where I retired at. But here again, even with the State Government, it is a glass ceiling too for Asians. You could only go up so much in rank, and that's it.
Looking back on it today, how do you feel about the whole event?
I do a lot of traveling now. I've been all over countries and different places. I still feel that the U.S. has got the best livelihood. Food, living, building, everything. You can't beat it. There's nothing like the U.S. I got my retirement, so I'm comfortable. I'm not a rich man, but I'm very comfortable. I got retirement, and I got a home. I have my children and family, and I'm real happy. I'm not really looking for more. I'm just having a good life, and I think I'm very happy with it.
Did the experience have any effects on your viewpoints on U.S. government or the U.S. in general?
Yes, I have my feelings of what happened to me, and I have a lot of thoughts about it. You see in the papers certain things happen like marijuana. My group didn't smoke marijuana, and I voted against marijuana, but here all kinds of pot clubs coming up in San Francisco, and stuff like that. When I vote, San Francisco is an Asian town, so I see a lot of good Asians, and I would vote for these Asians like Ed Lee or Fiona Ma, or someone like that. I've talked to these people, and I've talked to some Caucasians, and I have a better idea of what good people are.
Did you ever receive reparations?
Yes, every person that been in the internment camp got reparations. We got 20,000, which hardly pays for what we went through, and I used that to pay for my children's education. So I put it to good use.
Do you have any life lessons or moral values that you have taken from your experiences that you would like to share with us?
I think the big thing that I found is Civil Rights. I'm all for Civil Rights, that everybody has equal opportunity, whether they're Black, or White, or Iraqis, or Arabs, or whatever. I strongly believe in Civil Rights. That everybody should have their rights not taken away from them.
I came because I wanted to get the message across too, because that's one of the things I like to do now.
What is the message that you would want to give to the younger generation?
Well, that the Japanese aren't bad guys at all. It's only been recently that I went to this memorial service for Fred Korematsu. Up to then, they thought that the evacuation of Japanese was right, and they finally found out that it was wrong, and they overturned the Supreme Court ruling. I thought that was a big thing. Things like that really impresses me.