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Evacuation and Walerga Assembly Center
When was the first time you actually heard that you were going to be evacuated?
That would be, I think, April or May, I don't remember the exact date. It was in February, I think, that Roosevelt signed this order 9066 and shortly after that, my brother had to go to this designated place to get information and we got numbered, each family got a number and we didn't have names anymore—we were just numbers! We were told exactly what to bring, only what you could carry. There was a lot of talk about, mom had a sewing machine and whether she could bring a sewing machine or not. Those things had to be considered. When the order came, we had no resource to fight it. We didn't have any attorneys who would go to bat for us and so on. The easiest thing to do was to follow government orders and that's what we did. And in a way, we went to camp meekly, we couldn't do anything else. Just like the Jews, they were herded up like cattle and disposed of and, I guess, we weren't any different. We just went along. There were exceptions to that. There were several people that fought the evacuation order. They brought it up to, as far as the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the evacuation. But then, in subsequent years this judge, Patel, I think in San Francisco, threw out the case. For all practice purposes, the evacuation was not legal and the people who opposed it were pardoned.
How many days did you have before you were sent away to camp?
I don't exactly remember but just several weeks, at the most, because I think by May we were in camp. We went first to what they call the Assembly Center. These are the temporary holding jails and they were barracks and they were in such a hurry and it was such a short time that the partition between your unit and the next was very thin and there was an opening on the ceiling there, so you could hear what the next door neighbor was talking about or they could hear us, on this side. The toilet facilities were crude, especially hard for the girls, I thought.
Could you tell us about the day you were sent off to the Assembly Center?
I really don't exactly remember whether we got on a bus. I think it was the bus, I think we had a certain station to go to and then I think we got on the bus or the train. I think it maybe was a train. But anyway, we got on the train, we didn't know where we were going but soon enough the train stopped and looking over there, there were a bunch of barracks and that was our home, temporarily until the more permanent camp was set up in Tule Lake. That's the southeastern corner of California.
Where was the Assembly Center?
This Assembly center was called Arboga or Walerga, in some cases called Walerga, and that was right near Yuma City, present day Yuma City, Marysville in about that area. Like I say, it was quickly built barracks.
Was it located in a field or somewhere else?
Yes, an open field. It wasn't as dusty as Tule Lake. I was a kid of, what? 1942...I would be seventeen. In a way it was a great time for us because we got to play with all the kids our age but we got word from the mess hall, that they needed some people to work in the mess hall. So we jumped at the offer, for nothing, no pay at that time.
Why did you choose to do that?
Nothing else to do! What are you going to do spending time, you know? Just to kill time. This cook in the mess hall, he was a white man; he was teaching us how to wash the pots and pans and all that. During the off hours, that is after mealtime, he would tell us about Tule Lake. And we wanted to know, "what the heck is Tule Lake?" He said, "Well it's up there hill. And I'll tell you something" he says, I remember him telling us this that " Your going to love the water there! The water is so clear and full of minerals and your going to love it!" We believed him. We were teenagers and we were susceptible to any kind of information and I still remember him telling us that. In a way, when I think about it, the water was clear when we got up there. The thing is, there were no restrooms in the barracks. If you had to go to the restroom, you had to go outside to another shed where they had these potties. And there were no partitions. It was really embarrassing for the girls. It was bad enough for the boys, but I think it was worse for the girls.
Were the bathrooms separated by gender?
Yes, but then through the cracks you could see. They had built it so quickly they didn't have all the privacy that they could have provided, I guess.
Walerga Assembly Center
When you arrived at the assembly center, what was your first impressions/thoughts?
Rather than feeling bitter, or angry, or disappointed, it's a new thing; it's a new thing, so "let's make the best of it" kind of a thought. But when I think about it now, and realize the unfairness of it all and the unconstitutional part of it all, it makes you mad, makes me mad. But at that time, when this was a very new experience, we made friends right away and when we got the offer to work in the kitchen, or what they would call the mess hall, we took it. And we worked together and had a good time, good time working. We were used to walking on the farm, and we wanted to be doing something, killing time. I think it kind of helped my mother too, I think. She was worried about the kids, us, would get into, trouble we could get into. And we could! We could get into trouble. But I think it was kind of a relief for her when I went to work in the kitchen with my buddies. By that time I had made friends.
Who was there to greet you when you got the Assembly Center?
What happened was, of course there were guards around, soldiers. Then we got in the gate and then we were given number of the unit we were to go to. The head of the family, which in our case was my older brother, he went and got all the instructions from whoever was there, I don't remember. Just how it was physically located. Went to Arboga, got off the train and right away we were told, "this is your barrack number 6B" row whatever it was and we went there and we picked up whatever baggage we had and tried to make the best of it, getting ourselves comfortably in the barracks for bed time. I don't remember whether we had to fill the mattress with hay or not. I don't know if it was there or in Tule Lake. That's the first thing you did, where are we going to sleep tonight? The first thing you look for is your bedding. I think they gave us blankets, army blankets. I don't know if we had sheets. I guess we did. It was a totally new experience and there was no privacy. My mother and father, I don't know what they did. Married couples, I don't know just how they got by.
Do you remember your parents talking about this experience they were going through?
Number one: they only spoke Japanese and we were speaking only English and so there wasn't too much communication there, between the generations. We did most of my talking, for example, with my buddies. We confided in each other, what we were going to do. Do we take this offer to work in the kitchen or what do we do? That's another thing that you point out there that the family as a unit is, kind of, destroyed. When we go to the mess hall, generally we would sit with our friends and not with our family, so there was no family communication, which would take place normally, you know, dinner table. But that wasn't the case in camp. In the assembly center and it carried on to the more permanent Tule Lake camp.
Did the break up of the family start before you entered camp or was it a slow progression?
Slowly. More and more we established friendship with kids our age and rather than eat with the family, we'd eat with our friends. And that was happening gradually, more and more so.
Did your family have a strong bond?
I guess we were about as strong as any other family, I wouldn't say we were the outstanding one or anything. I think I always knew that my mother was concerned we might get into trouble. At teenage, that's when trouble could start, or some families even earlier or some even later. She was always, I know, worried about that. She always wanted me to be doing something—working as a kitchen aid. They call it the round abouts, something in that order. We enjoyed it, working with friends. I don't know how to clean the pots and pans got but we went through the motions of doing this work and the chief cook appreciated what we did and we had a little rapport going. That was a nice experience. In all the chaos, and upheaval, there is always something like that that is a silver lining that alleviated all the anxiety, as far as I was concerned. I think I was a normal teenager, just like you folks, you know you're looking for fun. Can't always have fun but then you want to make the best of it and get along. That was happening in camp and soon, this happened in Tule Lake, the more permanent camp, where they organized leagues. Baseball leagues, basketball leagues, football, so on. In the Assembly Center, it was just temporary so all that I'm telling you now is what happened temporarily in, what we call, Assembly Centers. We were one of the better ones. Some of the people in this area had to go to Tanforan, a racetrack, and some of the families were housed in horse stalls. And they knew it was horse stalls because of the stench that was still there. They tried to cover it up but it was still there. When I look at it that way, then we weren't so bad off.
Can you describe the soldiers at the Assembly Center?
At that time, as far as I can remember, the war had just started and America was so far behind in modernizing equipment. The hats they wore and the equipment they had was very old. I don't remember exactly how it was but we know that they were soldiers and we knew that they had guns and we were told to be careful.
What was keeping you inside the Assembly Center, the soldiers or something else?
It was the soldiers around. I think they had barbed wire fences around too. If we wanted to escape, where would we go? We didn't have a safe haven anywhere. It's hard to understand that why we put up with all that nonsense. You only realize the power of the US government when you go through something like that; you're helpless. Although you're a citizen, you're helpless. That's something that, you know, I feel pretty bad about, that is the government can have so much power that individuals don't count anymore. Take a look at the Holocaust. It was Hitler and his Nazis that ran the government and those who opposed were jailed, or even killed. You hear the story about a Doctor Bonhoeffer. He was in with a group of people that wanted to get rid of Hitler. They got found out and he was killed—he was hung. When a government gets power and the leader is desperate, like Hitler or, I would say President Bush, they have so much power, even if the whole country is saying "no," he still stays with this thought of "staying the course." There is an old saying that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." During the wartime, it was happening to us through this camp experience, just as the people who are incarcerated in Guantanamo. It's not right, I mean as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, those were times when humans are actually inhumane to other humans, is what takes place. That's the tragedy of wars. There are no winners or losers in wars.
We were kept in this area, under barbed wire with soldiers standing around, in watchtowers. In the sober moments you think. When I was going to grammar school every morning we would raise our hand and later we would just put our hands to your chest because when we did this, we were too much like Nazis. We were saying the pledge of allegiance by doing this. The final phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance is "justice and freedom for all." Some words to that effect. Well that's all out the window. When you're in camp, you're helpless, that kind of pledge you used to make in grammar school is just out the window—just a piece of paper, or whatever you want to call it. That's the challenge for you young people; hey we ought to make this a little bit more fair with justice and freedom for ALL people.