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Introduction of Interviewers & Early Life
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My name is Ryan, my name is Sydney, my name is Bryce, and my name is Jaime. Today is May 20th, 2004. We are interviewing George Oiye here in San Jose, California.
Can you please say and spell your name?
Yes. My name is George Oiye and it's spelled "O-I-Y- E.
Please tell us and spell your birth name?
My name at the time of my birth? It's the same one, George Oiye.
What is your birth date? How old are you now?
My birth date is February 19, 1922. So, that makes me 82.
Where were you born?
I was born in a little place called Basin Creek, Montana, USA.
What is the earliest memory that you have of your life?
The earliest memory that I have was standing along the side of a fence and waiting for a guy by the name of Mike. This was way up in the mountains in Montana at a gold-mining camp. Mike was a man that brought groceries to us in the summertime.
How old were you at the time of that experience?
I was about a year, year and a half.
Can you tell us a little bit about your family life? Were you close to your parents or siblings?
My parents came from Japan. My father came from Japan in—as nearly as we can figure out, because we don't have his passport—in about 1907, Then he went back to Japan and got married in 1914. They came to America, to Seattle, Washington and that's where my two sisters were born. My oldest sister was born in 1918. My younger sister was born in 1920. I was born in '22. My brother was born in 1925.
Did your parents like America?
Did they like America? Yes, but in those days, they could not get citizenship, So most of the immigrants that came to America came to make money with the intention of going back to Japan to live and retire.
Were your parents happy that you were being raised in America rather than in Japan?
I guess they were. They would never question about being raised as an American, they both spoke English very well. We never had a choice. We never asked to go to Japan to be educated, so I guess they were happy about us being educated in America.
Did you ever think about going to Japan and what it would be like if you lived there?
No, no. My only experience of going to Japan was when I was 78 years old, I went there twice on business.
What did you think of the American attitude on race and culture during the 30's?
Being an American, I think America is the greatest place on Earth. Having been in Europe and other places, I don't think that there is any place like America.
Are you an American citizen?
Yes, I'm a natural-born citizen, just like you.
Can you tell us more about where you grew up?
Yes. I grew up in Montana. Mostly, at a little place called Trident. Trident, Montana is the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Are there any other memorable times or places from your childhood that you'd like to share with us?
Yes. Growing up, I grew up on the banks of the Missouri River, right at the headwaters where it was relatively narrow, but its very treacherous. The banks are very steep because the railroad track runs right along the banks of the river. That was our playground, so we had to be careful that we didn't fall into the river and get swept away. The parts that I liked the best was the hunting and the fishing. It was just tremendous when I was growing up as a kid. One of the things about the hunting and fishing was that it was our source of food. You had to become a good fisherman and a good hunter when you were little. That's just the way I grew up, but I always enjoyed it as just fun, too.
Did your skills in fishing and hunting come in handy when you were in the war?
Yeah, once in a while, we got to a place, especially in Germany. I killed deer in Germany when I was supposed to be fighting the war, because there were just so many of them. Also, we fished on the Leck River and caught some pike.
Did you ever have to eat what you hunted or had caught fishing?
Not because we ran out of food, but we ate it because we get tired of eating sea rations and army rations and so the fresh food was really good; deer and fish.
What was your first school like?
When I went to school in Trident, Montana. It was a two-room school house. The first four grades were in what they called the little room, and then there was the big room which was the upper four. My first experience going to school was—well, I didn't like to go to school, I liked to be outside playing. I was a good student, but I didn't like school.
Why didn't you like school?
The reason I didn't like school was because I liked to play. I'd rather go fishing, and hunting, and playing. All the boys, we just liked to wrestle, and play all these funny games that you've never heard of like Mumbly Peg and Dock-on-a-Rock and things like that.
Were you a minority in your school?
Well, yes and no. The Asians in school, you know, they were easy to pick out. We were a minority because there weren't very many of us in the little school that I went to. In grammar school, there were—I guess that the Oiye kids were the only Asians. Of course, there were in those days, most of the students were second generation, so we had a lot of Italians. To me, they seemed kind of strange because of their language, the food they ate, they ate a lot of garlic,-you could tell when Italians came around. But we got along fine. Then, there were the Norwegian kids, who I used to go fishing with because they were good fishermen. I guess we had just about every ethnic group in our little school. I think we had somewhere around 20 to 30 students in the lower grades, Most of them were second generation of different ethnic groups. So I guess the answer to your question was yes, we were easier to pick out than most of the white type children.
Were you ever picked on because you were a minority?
Oh yeah, that's normal. It's normal amongst kids. Any time that a little kid can find something to pick on, they'll pick on it. You have to stand up for your rights and beat them up a few times. That kind of goes away after a while.
Do you think that your being picked on was ever due to your ethnicity?
Well, I think that's a hard question because it seems to me like the little kids, even including myself, we always picked on somebody that we could beat, not somebody that was bigger or stronger than us. I think that the only times that I got picked on was if somebody was trying to bully me.
Did your ethnicity ever affect your education?
No, we were taught to always achieve and be the best students, even though I didn't like school, to go to school. I was a good student.
Was your high school experience much different from your elementary school experience?
High school, by this time, all the students that in high school were much more mature and had out grown a lot of the grammar school type of ways of life. I don't think that anybody looked upon anybody else as somebody different. We were all good buddies and good friends, and as a matter of fact, I correspond almost every day on email with one of my old classmates, because we were good buddies.
Have you stayed in contact with your friend during all of these past years??
No, I think its been only going on since I got a computer. I was 65 years old before I got a computer, sometimes I wish I hadn't have gotten one.