<Begin Segment 1>
LH: This is a visual history with Gene Akutsu. My name is Larry Hashima. The date is July 25, 1997, Friday. Hello, Mr. Akutsu.
LH: I guess we'll go ahead and we'll get started with the interview then. Let's start with your family, how did your parents come to live in Seattle?
GA: Well, like most all Isseis, my father came to this country back in 1908, I guess it was, and his ideas were like everybody: thinking that the United States was paved with gold, they'd make their money, and head on back home. But as it turned out, it was quite different and he worked here to get his passage and get enough money so that he could go back and find a bride. And she was brought over some eight years later after he came back and then they started, a family was started then which was very close to 1918, around there.
LH: So your father always had ideas of returning to Japan when he first came over, but those ideas pretty much disappeared once he started the family?
GA: Right, right.
LH: So they came to live in Seattle. So what did your father do when he decided he would settle and start a family?
GA: He tried various types of business. He had gone into, I think, making shoyu. He had had a shoe, shoe store, meaning new shoes. And after that, he also worked for Frederick and Nelson and he had various jobs. But he had spoken to some of the people and they told him, the people from Frederick's, in fact, told him that -- they called my father Charlie -- "Why don't you get into business that everybody needs? Why don't you try the shoe repair business?" That, people needs a pair of shoes and there'll always be shoes to repair. So, that got him motivated to start out a shoe repair shop which he carried on for, until evacuation and after he came back he also went back to a little bit of shoe repairing, in a semi-retired sort of way.
LH: So, he opened up this shoe repair business. Where was this located? Was it just sort of down on Jackson? Was it...
GA: Yeah, that was located at Sixth and between Jackson and King Street, where the International Post Office now stands.
LH: So were there other Nisei businesses in the area?
GA: Yeah, in that area there were many. Many Japanese were in that area, and I guess you might say that was the heart of Japanese town, in that area and up on Main Street, also on Sixth Avenue. So yeah, they were all concentrated in that area right next to the Chinatown.
LH: While you father was working, your mother was just basically at home...
LH: ...housewife, raising the kids?
<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 2>
LH: So, where was your house located in Seattle?
GA: Well, are we talking about when I was young or right before evacuation?
LH: When you were young.
GA: When I was young? Well, I was born in Seattle and I lived, from what they tell me, we lived up there on Ninth between Spruce and... Fir and Spruce, until I was about one year old and then they moved down to Seventh and Yesler until I was about two or three, I guess. And then they moved up to the place on Alder, between Alder and Spruce. Up the alley there was a four-plex and that's where we spent our, most of our time until they closed up or they made us all vacate that area to put up the low cost housing project back in 1938, 9. And then we had moved up to Tenth and Alder, back to back with a day nursery, which now still stands.
LH: So you had quite a bit of movement in there while you were growing up from different, different houses.
GA: Well, not really. My, I'm compacting some fourteen, sixteen years.
LH: Yeah, I guess that's true. But you also mentioned, when we were talking earlier, that there was an interesting name for that area that they called it...?
GA: Oh, you mean (Profanity) Hill, otherwise known as the red light district. We thought, I should say I thought they were nice ladies. And when they'd ask me to go pick up some bread or newspaper or milk for them, I'd go out to get it at a grocery, which was about a block away, and in return they'll give me a nickel or a dime. And I thought, boy, these are nice ladies, get nice, nice tips so that I can buy candies or whatever, and never entered my mind what kind of business those people were in.
LH: So were there other, a lot of Japanese living in that area as well and at that time so...?
GA: Yes, that was basically, where I lived was in the fringe of the, most of 'em were members of the Baptist Church and all, most of the congregation was in that area. They all lived within, say a half-mile of the Baptist Church, so there were quite a few Japanese, Niseis.
<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 3>
LH: So let's go ahead and move a little bit forward, to your time sort of right before the war, growing up. I'm sort of skipping ahead here a little bit. But, so when you're going to school, 1939, 1940, 1941, what did you, did you have any sense of the, what was maybe going on with Japan overseas at the time? Or did you have any...
GA: Well, young as I was, when you're young you really don't think too much of, about politics, of the news of the world. However, yes, I knew there was a war going on and but whether we're going to, "we" meaning the United States, would be involved in a war with Japan was beyond my means. I never even thought of that. But as the issue got hotter and hotter, you could see that, I could see that the newspaper, the news media, started to bring up a number of things... how Japan had invaded China and how they had taken over much of the Far East. And in 1941, when the actual bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred, it really was a surprise to me because at that time -- that was a Sunday on December 7th, and that morning the neighborhood kids and I were getting together to play basketball. And when the news broke that Japan had invaded Pearl Harbor, we all got excited. We all ran home to listen to the news, to hear and verify that, verification that the war was imminent there and that the thoughts that came to my mind is, "How about my school? How about my friends at school? How are they going to react to what had happened? Are they going to look at me as an enemy or what?" So... I don't know whether I veered away from your question or not, but...
<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 4>
LH: No, I think actually that's pretty close to what I was trying to ask you. But, so you thought at the time -- with as soon as Pearl Harbor and the attack happened -- that you immediately thought that you might actually be targeted as, in some ways, by your schoolmates, at least by, as being somewhat the enemy?
GA: Well, I'll tell you. Back in 19... I think that was about '37, we used to have what you call a neighborhood gangs, we were like in our early teens, ten, twelve, thirteen in that area. And each neighborhood used to have their little turf that they covered. And right behind the City, City Light, there was an open vacant lot because it was unstable ground and they never fixed that area because of the slide. And we used to have slingshot fights, and we used to have maybe fifteen, twenty, thirty of each gang get together and we have a slingshot fight. And one day, I remember, the Seattle P-I came over and took pictures of us, and we thought, "Oh, this is great, we're going to be in the newspaper." But I think the caption read that "The Japanese are, Japan is training the little kids to be future soldiers for Japan," or something to that effect. When they start writing things like that you just take another view of what's going on.
LH: So, so was this your first, sort of, exposure, this article in the P-I, to a sort of a racialized view of the Japanese?
GA: Well, let's say, let's put it this way: that was one of the first. Offhand, I can't remember much more but then, certainly there were talks about the word "Japs" were used quite often. And the comic books were all written up on the war and the war with Japan, and the... it's always the "Yellow Japs" and things like that. So, I couldn't help but think all the younger generation had all that implanted in their minds, so that a little bit of talking would convince them that the Japanese Americans were bad. They hadn't had any exposure, or not much exposure, to the Japanese Americans because we were pretty well-concentrated, as far as the school goes, into Bailey Gatzert, which was predominantly Japanese, Central School. Incidentally, Bailey Gatzert's up there on Twelfth and Weller, which is now, I guess, the Indian Center, Cultural Center or something like that. And the Central School -- which is down there on, was down there on Seventh and Madison, right across the street from what is now the Stouffer Madison Hotel, it's underneath the freeway -- that was quite full of Japanese. And the high school was Broadway, Garfield, and Franklin. Broadway and Garfield carrying on most of the Japanese population. And so most of the kids there, they knew and grew up with the Nisei so they thought nothing of it. But the others from other schools, I could surmise and say that they probably didn't know us, and they were rather scared of us, I guess. They've heard of judo and anybody who was taking judo they kept away from. Yeah.
LH: Well, that's... so that the kids that you actually went to school with, probably didn't buy into a lot of this, this racism that was being purported, but you, but did you have experiences with other kids from other schools that were, that maybe weren't as familiar with the Nisei or the Nikkei community?
GA: No. In those days, we were pretty well stuck around within our community. You know, it's quite different now and then, 'cause in those days any, like for myself, going south beyond Jackson Street to Dearborn, that was, as far as we were concerned, out in the country, like another world. That's how small our, what would you say... the area that we went, as far as we could venture out. So we pretty well stuck around to our own group, within our group that did things, so we didn't have any run-, say a run-up against anybody that was say, provoked me to fight or anything, no. Well, I guess I was fair-sized for my age, too, so they didn't pick on me or anything.
<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 5>
SF: Gene, what was your family life like in those days?
GA: Are you talking about prewar?
GA: Well, here again, the family life all centered around the dinner table. The, the, lot of it is family discussions where we did things together. And we did have radio, but then that was the only outer communication that we had. And so, we were a close-knit family and we did things together quite a bit. Although we never had a automobile, which some of the people were fortunate to have, so, but we were able to go out to various picnics and outings with somebody that did have a car and went out that way. But yeah, in those days the families were pretty close-knit.
SF: Everyone in your family got along really well or, pretty tight?
GA: Within the family? Oh yes, yes. My brother being five years older than me, I used to follow him like a shadow. My mother used to make sure that he took care of me because she had eventually started to work. And me being five years younger, I was just maybe two or three years old, that he had to take over and watch over me when he's like, eight. And he watched over me very carefully and made sure that I wasn't beat up by anybody, he took care of that. And I think the family was very close-knit. That is what's lacking in the families these days right now, that they don't have that family unity where they do things together.
LH: Well, just going back to that idea of the family unity, did you think that that's something that has continued as you grew older, your brother and you sticking together or did that sort of dissipate as he got older?
GA: Oh, no, when you, when you grow up with that kind of a close network, it goes on. In fact, even to this day, my family, the kids are very close-knit, we are all a close-knit family and people, many of the people, are amazed that we're so close-knit that we do a lot of things together. We make sure we get together once a week. Incidentally, my wife is gone but my, my three children and my oldest son has a wife and a daughter, we get together once a week and we have a dinner together and we kind of mull over with what's gone... what happened for the day or the week and anything of interest we talk and plan things like having a vacation together and we've done that, too. And I think it's a very good thing to have.
<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 6>
LH: Well, going back to right before the war, then, or actually right during that period around the Pearl Harbor attack, when you got home, what was your family's reaction or your father's reaction?
GA: Well... I think we were all in shock. But as reality crept in, why, I started to, I started to think about, "Gee, something's gonna happen here. I hope the kids at school are not going to be against me," as I said before. And that we've got to do something, whatever we can. 'Course, me being like fifteen, fourteen years old, there isn't much I could do. But yes, when we went to school the kids were... some of 'em were a little bit aloof. They weren't... you could feel the coolness. But the majority of 'em carried on like nothing had happened.
LH: And these were the kids who were not Japanese American who were sort of carrying on...
GA: Yeah, they were all white kids.
LH: So what did the other Japanese American kids do? How did they react to this as you went to school?
GA: Well, I think the majority of 'em stuck around with the Japanese group. And I don't know that they mingled with the whites as much as I have. I participated in sports so I got to know a lot of the other kids and their attitude towards me was nothing hostile. And we carried on as if nothing had happened.
<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 7>
LH: So, how long did this sort of go on for, for things to be sort of normal? And then when did start, things really start happening for you?
GA: Well, it started right after Pearl Harbor, December 7th. On December 8th, my dad went to work as usual down there at his shoe, shoe repair shop. And about noontime, I got a, my mother got a phone call telling her to close up the shop because they're going to take my father in to talk to him a little bit so they'll be detaining him over at the immigration office for a few days. And that, that was the beginning of everything that's happened beyond... after, say, about the middle of January, they were starting to talk about curfew. That any people of Japanese ancestries couldn't be going beyond First Avenue, can't go... the lake is the limits that way and the south was like, Dearborn up to someplace out there by.. where would that be? Around Stewart, the majority of the Japanese, that is. There were some people living out in the farms and things but those people were, I guess, excluded but the others were pretty well held within their limits and they had to be home by nine o'clock or whatever time it was, I can't remember offhand. But yeah, they started that up and within the meantime, my dad had called my mother up and said that, "Would you bring, bring in some personal belongings for me?" Because they had planned to send him and a number of the people into Missoula, into Montana. So we brought personal belongings, toothbrush, toothpaste, so on and so forth and went to see him and bid him good-bye. We didn't know when we'll see him again but that was the last to see of him until another, close to two years down the line.
In the meantime, they had talked about evacuation -- this is all within the month of January -- whether they should evacuate us or not, and by mid-February, I believe it was, that came true that they're going to evacuate us or, "Go by yourself," east of the Cascade. Many of the people, the majority of the people, they didn't have money or the means of transporting their personal belongings back east so many of 'em, most of us stayed back and were evacuated. There was a few that did make it over east of the mountains. And I guess it was February, March, we were told that we had to dispose of all our belongings, and have every, only items that you could carry with a suitcase, and a little hand package that we could carry. And we had to get rid of everything that we had, meaning the homes, the business and whatever valuable you may have. And the antique dealers, basically those type of people, would converge and make, wheel and deal and buy all sorts of things at the rate of maybe ten cents on the dollar and I guess they made a lot of money. And towards the end of the month, they were even dickering over a cent on a dollar and a lot of the people had gotten mad and says, "I'm not going to give those things or sell my things. I would rather break it up or burn it, rather than to give it away." So many of the valuable things that belongs to a lot of the families were just thrown away, the family treasures.
LH: So all of this happened in a span of three months, you're talking about your father getting taken away, you never got to see him until when he was first taken into the... for interrogation on December 8th. You didn't see him again for a couple of years, is that correct?
GA: Well, no, I seen him about two or three weeks later when he asked us to bring the stuff, so Mom, my brother and I went down there to say goodbye to him not knowing how long we won't see him. So that was the last time we saw him until his return.
LH: So what was that scene like, the three of you going down to the... can you describe that scene? What was it like for your mother?
GA: Well, being boys, we didn't shed any tears but we really felt bad about it, that our father, not have done, he hadn't done anything but being pulled in for some, some reason beyond our... question. We didn't know why he would be taken in, that all he was was a cobbler and that was all he did. True, he participated in the Japanese community like what they referred to as Nihonjinkai which is a Japanese club, kind of a liaison between the whites and the Japanese community to keep the community abreast of what was going on and also any questions to talk to the white people to let 'em know the doings of the Japanese community. But with the onset of the war, somehow or another they had gotten names of a lot of the people who had participated in the community service and they informed the FBIs that these are the people who are active, so right away the FBI just converged into the community and picked up all the people who were involved.
LH: So how did your mother react to this?
GA: Well, there's not much she could do about it. Certainly she felt bad about it but then she tried to, being a mother, comfort us as much as possible and she's from a old samurai family and she never would break down, meaning break down and cry or anything like that. She always says, "Keep your head up high," always, and so she told us that we have to be that way that, what has to be done is gonna be done so, there's nothing we can do about it and take it in stride.
<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 8>
LH: So for those, for those months after your father was taken away, you saw him for the last time for a couple of years, what was your life like, your everyday life like for those couple of, couple of months before evacuation started?
GA: Well, I'll tell ya, it was pretty hectic. For myself, being just a teenager of -- what was I? Fifteen years old or sixteen years old, it didn't hit us as much as it did my brother. He was in the senior year in the university, he had to cut that short and, to, to help close up the shoe repair shop and dispose of all the inventory as well as the machinery. And what they did was, they took it as doing a favor for us so they just give us little compensation for what they took. But we finally closed the shop and on May, Mother's Day in 1942, they sent us to the Puyallup -- what they referred to as an assembly center. And when we went there, they had four areas, Area A, B, C which were parking lots for the fair, and Area D, which is the fairground itself. And all of the areas were surrounded with barbed wires and -- as well as the MPs or the soldiers -- and all the key positions were manned by a machine gun tower facing inwards, not outwards but inwards. And that's when it really hit me that this is really real, that they're referring to us as an "enemy alien." We spent four months -- I guess four, four-and-a-half months in Area D. I would say we were pretty lucky to be there because... because a lot of the areas, they had the, they didn't have any shade during the summertime and we had some hot summer days.
LH: So Area D was where your family ended, and what did that look like and how was that set up in the Puyallup Fairgrounds?
GA: Wherever they had flat area, just like their arena, they had a number of barracks lined up within the area there. And also along the, close to the Dipper, where it still stands. In that area where it was all cleared they had barracks all over there, too. There were some people who were put into isolation because of the children having measles or chicken pox or whatever and they were put into some areas where animals were installed, in the stalls of animals and it really smelled in some of those areas and I felt very sorry for those people. The fairground was set up to accommodate people for about ten days during the fair but then we'd been there, as I said, for four, four-and-a-half months and what had happened was the septic tanks started to overflow. And me, not being in the, having the education -- just going to school yet -- we wound up in what they call maintenance crew, an "operation," they used to call it. And we wound up asked to volunteers as, "You-you-you, come on, we going to clean out the septic tank." And we used to clean out the septic tank every four to five weeks, take it out to the field and dump it and then take it over to the river to rinse out the garbage can and haul it back and that kind of was the regular routine. You do it a few times and you start thinking nothing of it. I guess you get accustomed to it.
LH: What about the first time that you did it?
GA: Well, I must say, that's my first start to smoke. [Laughs] Yeah, I... it smelled so much that we had to get something -- cigar, cigarettes -- give me anything and we all puffed on it and we were at the age where we'd like to experiment, too, I guess, and at that time I started to mess around with it and I kind of got hooked. Yeah. Mother knew about it, though. She'd come close to me and she says, "You smell, cigarettes."
LH: Even through the septic tank, huh? [Laughs]
GA: Oh yes. Yeah.
<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 9>
GA: And one of the highlights was we had our -- the Fourth of July they had nothing -- but to have something, some kind of a party, so they had a, they had a Fourth of July race, and we ran around the racetrack. And hurriedly our group put up a relay team -- as well as all the other groups -- and we ran a relay. And I don't mean to be bragging, but we came out first. [Laughs] That's one of the highlights, there, that was some fun. But there was many of the heartaches, too, that came along with it. Some of the food they fed us were, I've never heard of cow tongues but they fed us cow tongues and numerous other things. Liver, I didn't care for but they, they fed us quite a bit of those things in those days and it was a matter of either eating it or going to starve. And me being raised through the Depression, I learned to eat anything, if it tastes bad, just don't breathe and just chew it and swallow, and that's how basically I got through without starving.
LH: So besides the food, what were some of the other hardships that you had to endure while you were at Puyallup?
GA: Hardships, well, other than the daily chores of all sorts of things that we had to do, there wasn't what you called hardship as it was. But I know that my brother had tried to set up a, food -- shuttling food to the people who were bedridden. They didn't have any, any means to give food to the people who were old, invalid, bedridden and so he tried to set up a -- and he did set up -- a tray, tray group of girls that would deliver food to each, each person that was disabled, and, which was, I thought a good thing. But young as I was, I don't know... I can't remember much other than the good times, you have a tendency to kinda forget about the bad times and remember the good. So until September when we're... final evacuation into Hunt, Idaho, this time was spent just putting in your hours in the evening, play around a little bit, and that's about it.
<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 10>
SF: Gene, at the beginning of the incarceration when you first went into Puyallup, what did you think about what was going to happen, your feelings about the country, what your attitudes were, in the early days of the internment?
GA: Well, as a, as a young kid I really didn't think too much of it, not as an older person should or would think. That we'd say, "Well, it'll be over in a few days or few weeks and it'll be back to normal," kind of an attitude. We used to have visitations and these people from Seattle would go out there, the white people, the church members and so on and so forth, would come down and they'd come to see the people who were incarcerated. And when they would try to go up to the, through the barbed wire fence and try to shake hands, the guards would say, "Get away from there," and then you find out that gosh, you really mean business here where they really don't trust us. But there's a few people who came visiting and that's how they were treated, and eventually, the cold hard facts starts to penetrate. I wasn't bitter or anything, but then I thought it wasn't right. As I have spoken before, in my senior -- I mean, not senior year but junior year, no, sophomore year we were learning civics, the working of the democracy, how the branches of the government and structure and all, anything to do with democracy, and all that was completely wiped out when the Executive Order 9066 was signed by the president. And that was quite disappointing. This was an afterthought of, I thought, gosh, maybe what I should have done was to write a little note to my civics teacher and tell him, "All that which you taught us went down the drain." But I never did get around to doing that.
LH: Well, going back to the, further on into Puyallup, those later months right before you were, you were sent to Hunt, how much did your attitude change toward the government in terms of how long you were going to be incarcerated?
GA: Well, I guess my thoughts were still the same: that all this would be just a short while and things will go back to normal because we've never experienced anything like this. But the latter part of August they had asked for volunteers to go out to, into Idaho and to our new permanent internment to help get things ready to accept the crews or the bunch of people that would be coming every week and we were the first group, I think first... yeah, I think it was the first group to head out that way.
<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 11>
GA: They rounded us up on a, onto an old coach, train coach, and from the station they loaded us off and we went down through, I believe it was Portland, up the Columbia and into Pendleton, Ontario, and on our way to Twin Falls. At one point, they made us pull down all the shades because apparently we were passing through Sawami installation. Incidentally, each car was, they had MPs, armed MPs stationed at each end of the car, not one but two. Once over there, into... they stopped off at what I refer to as no-man's land because they had laid out a railroad spur where they had set that aside to, to unload all the people. And we were corralled into an old, I believe that was a... I think that may have been a, some were in the trucks and some were in the old busses but they trucked us over some fifteen, twenty miles into the desert country to the entrance of what was to be our home for the next three, two-and-half, three years, or my home anyway.
As we entered, see, at a far distance you could see clouds of dust rising up into the air and it looked like a dust storm but as we approached, that, found out that there was a truck still working to put up more barracks, fixing up the road so they could travel and various operations going on that created all the dust. And when we got to the entrance, sure enough, the guard station was there, was -- as far out as I could see, they had barbed wires all around wherever, wherever they had done, and kept expanding as they go and here again they had guard posts on critical points with the machine gun, armed guards on them. We wound up going to one of the first so they started to, to move the people from the lower blocks and the block that I wound up in was Block 5 which is the fifth one down the row.
The buildings were much, much better than what it was in Puyallup where Puyallup was really a makeshift, almost like a screen so that people could live 'cause they had knotholes and split wood and so you could see the interior. But over in Idaho they had a little bit better construction because of the cold weather they were gonna, we were gonna encounter so they had a little bit of insulation. Each room had a potbelly stove and they all provided us with cots, mattress and a army blanket. After a few days I found employment and I was one of 'em who wound up helping to dispense the cots and the mattresses and things. As the camp kept growing bigger, we just kept ourselves busy doing that sort of thing.
And Hunt, or Minidoka was a narrow, long camp. It was about, what you might say, two blocks wide but it extended some one-and-a-half, two miles, I would say, to the end of the last of the blocks which was Block 44. When I refer to a block, that is, the block consisted of four -- no, no. Twelve barracks surrounding a mess hall and a general utility room that was shaped, an H-shape and in that utility room was a laundry room, and the, a shower which was not completed, a bathroom which was not completed, and generally it was things to do, whatever -- like a laundry room. And as far as the sanitation goes, we had to go to an outhouse located at each end of the block. And that, it was like that for about a year-and-a-half, two years until they finally installed the permanent one but in the meantime we spent a couple of winters, almost, out there and our visits there were very short 'cause of the cold.
LH: So being from the first, how many, how many people were with you on that first group that went to Minidoka?
GA: Gee, I don't know, it's kind of hard to say but I imagine the group in Puyallup was some 10,000, roughly, and they divided 'em up so that they could send 'em off on railroad cars. So maybe 500 a shot?
LH: And your entire family was with that, in that first group?
GA: Yes, we were only three of us, but, so we were all together, we wound up together, living at the same place for, until they got the other group from other camps later on in the years, they started to desegregate some of the camps and some of those people had come in from Tule Lake and Heart Mountain and some other camps. And so they had asked us to get into a smaller unit so that we'd give way to the people that had bigger families. But that was some year-and-a-half down the line. I wound up from, doing utility work after everybody was settled and we wound up working for the warehouse and hauling provisions to the mess hall each day and well, here again, whatever necessary things we had to do. Sometimes we had to haul coal, sometimes we had to haul quarter, hindquarters of beef and bring it to the warehouse, a number of things, whatever was required strengthwise, we were all there to do that kind of a job.
This was in 1942 and in September, October, I think it was, they said they're going to activate the school within the camp. And sure enough, in December, around about December they did activate it. And so I thought I'd better attend school and not knowing the future, thought well, "Gee, I'd better do everything possible to graduate within a year's time." So I took anything that they would give me other than the core class. I took all sorts of... I even took Home Ec. in order to get some points so I can graduate. And sure enough, I was lucky that I did graduate because, in fact, that was a good thing because otherwise I would have never been able to have been finished, or finished the... and gotten a high school degree because no sooner I had graduated, [Interruption] four, five months, I was called into the draft, the first one to be called in on the draft.
GA: Yeah, as it was, it was a good thing that I finished because otherwise I would be caught in the draft and I may not have ever finished. But with the diploma in my hand, at least I could say I graduated out of high school.
SF: Gene, I wanted to go back just a little bit. When you were still in Puyallup and you found out that you were going to go to this permanent camp, Minidoka, what did you feel or anticipate? Was this a good thing? A bad thing? How did you feel about that when you heard that?
GA: Well, I took it kind of as an adventure. First time getting out of the city into Puyallup, now I'm getting out of the state of Washington, I'd never been out of there. So it was an experience, and I kind of looked forward to it, not knowing where we were going. And so I sort of looked forward to going out there and since it's going to be our permanent residence until we'd, the camp would be disbanded. So that's about the thoughts I had. After all, I was just a young, young fella and you really don't think deeply into anything. Basically, to play around.
LH: So during this time from Puyallup and those months in, first couple of months in Minidoka, how much contact did you have with your father?
GA: There was absolutely no contact with my, my father. My mother, them writing in Japanese, why, we didn't know, but they had heavily censored any mail coming out of wherever he was. He was in Missoula and then I guess he was in North Dakota, and wound up into Louisiana and into Santa Fe, New Mexico. And each time they would shift him, he would send a forwarding address so that at least in that form, he was keeping in contact. And what little can a person write when their mails are censored other than I'm fine, how are you, the weather is nice and so on, the very casual questions and answers. But apparently he was doing all right because he kept writing. But other than that, we had no contact.
<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 12>
GA: Let me see, that was 1943... I think that was in 1943 when they were talking about, "Let's work on the... find about loyal and the disloyal people," the question, the famous question number 27 and 28 that whether you will, you will go wherever told, join the armed forces and fight for this country. And another one was, "Forever..." I've got it written down here, should I read it of? Well, I think most of the people know what it is but surprising to a lot of the people who thought that I was referred to as a "no-no boy," I really answered the questions as "no-yes," meaning that question number (27) was, "I'm through going wherever you tell me. You sent me to Puyallup, you sent me to Idaho and I'm through going wherever you're going to tell me to go." So I answered "no" to that. And for number 28, the question about foreswear allegiance to Japan, I've never did and never will swear allegiance to Japan and that my allegiance has always been to the United States. And I said, "I will go wherever if we should really be attacked, the United States proper" -- and that in time, at that time was the forty-eight states -- Hawaii and Alaska was not included. So I said, "Yes, if my country, the forty-eight states was attacked anywhere, I'd be willing to volunteer." So anyway, I answered "yes" to that question.
SF: How did you come to that decision? Did you talk with other folks, your mom?
GA: There was... no, these questions were asked as individual and that was all left up to us. My brother and I didn't even talk about it, hardly. 'Course, we, the questions were brought up and like he would say, "It's up to you whichever way you go." That was the same with my parents, too. My mother and father had said -- my mother and father, I say that because he was finally released in the, December of 1943 and so he was home -- and they would say that, "It's your life, it's all the whole future ahead of you, it's up to you whether you want to go or not. And whatever you do, we won't blame you but then you go with your heads held up high and follow through with what your thoughts are." So, armed with that, I decided not to go, and went all the way, all out.
LH: Let me see... well, how did you personally come to that decision? How did you decide to answer "no-yes" on your own? What was your mindset at that moment?
GA: Well, to me, that was a reasonable answer. After looking at it, the questions were not a single question but two or three questions put together as one. And I looked at it as if I answered two of the three questions as "yes," I might as well go "yes" and that's why I thought I'll go along with the kind of answer. And basically why, my gut feeling, is what it was at that time -- here I go back to the time when we answered these question number 27 and 28 -- along about that time, they had said that anybody who want to get together, the family to get together, they should apply to go to Santa Fe -- no, Crystal City, Texas and that's where you all could get together. And so we made an application to go, "we" meaning my mother, my brother and I made an application to go, and in so doing we had to apply for, for... expatriation, at which time we said, "No, we're not going to be expatriated, we're going to go because you're considering us as a Japanese, that's why you've got us in this place anyway, because you consider us as an enemy alien." So I signed up for repatriation and they approved of our request to transfer.
But in the meantime, various other things came up such as in mid-'43, they talked about volunteering for the service. They want volunteers from all ten camps and by, I think it was about mid-August, they didn't have enough volunteers so now the word started to get around that they're gonna initiate draft, whether they approve of it or not. And apparently the JACL was one of, instrumental in pursuing that side and they encouraged the draft whether it be as JACL or some other people with notoriety had suggested that we should get the draft and show that we're, our loyalty. And so that was initiated, and in January they decided that yes, they would go ahead with the draft, January of '44. And they quickly ran through a physical in the camp. And within a matter of a few days, the entire Nisei group who were in the draft age were put through the physical and put through as 1-A, from class 4-C to 1-A, an undesirable enemy alien to a classification that he would be accepted into the service.
And I thought that was not fair, without due process of law they had taken our, all our rights away. And without due process of law, converting us back to an American citizen, I thought that was very unfair. And so when they started to draft, that was in latter part of March, early April, the first of the draft came into effect when they started to draft the people out of camp, and that was when I got called in for the service. I was the first one to be called in from Minidoka, I think. And I, of course, refused to go. My parents didn't know what I was going to do, they -- that was all left up to me. I had talked to some of the people while going to school about this because it was kind of a main subject and a lot of them says, "Yeah, we ought to go to the service," and I says, "No, no, I don't think it's, it's very good. We're just following what they tell us." We had our misunderstandings, and some of 'em never talked to me after that.
When my parents found out that I had refused to go, naturally when the draft call came and I didn't go, my parents called, sat down with me and told me about, "It's up to you whatever you do, and it's obvious what you have done, but don't feel that you're doing anything wrong. You're doing what you're, you feel is right, and that if... whatever you do, you go with your head held up high and don't look back." And in turn also my mother asked me to give, cut some fingernails and cut some of my hair and she put it into an envelope saying, "If you should never come back, at least we could have a funeral with your, parts of you anyway, the fingernail and the hair." And she sealed that and put it away. And unfortunately, a couple of years ago I threw that away thinking, oh, I didn't need that. But I kept that for a long time. That's what, how much a mother thinks of their children. A father, too, of course, but mothers a little bit more, they have feelings toward their children.
<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 13>
SF: What did you think might be the possible consequences of your decision at that time when you decided not to...
GA: Well, basing it on what I used to see in the motion pictures where they had shows like "Twenty Years in Sing-Sing" and so on and so forth, those gangster movies where they get put into a prison, into solitary confinement and all that. I had real, real bad visions of what might happen to me. That, if I, if I run into the wrong group, they might beat me up, they might kill me. So my parents were not far from wrong thinking what might happen. When they came to pick me up, I had two FBI agents come pick me up, and I bade goodbye to my parents. I wound up going to the front of the guard post and they checked me out as temporary leave, they took me up to Boise County Jail. That was about a four hour's drive. The FBI agent kept encouraging us to -- "us" meaning there was another fella -- to, to change our mind and volunteer and we'll forget all about this. But I was too scared, I didn't say anything. Now, I think it was a good thing that I didn't say anything but because those FBIs, they were, what they were doing is taking notes down and some of these questions were entrapment kind of questions where in a trial they'll bring it up and they'll nail you on these questions and answers you give because at the end, a lot of these questions they asked you, "Would you sign your name?" And not knowing what it's all about, then the guys scribbled something down on a piece of paper, a person would sign their name. And eventually that winds up in evidence against you. I think that's what happened to my brother when he spoke freely in front of the FBIs when he was being taken to the jail. And to this day, I think that was in the file and some of the people who saw that started to say he was very unpatriotic, that you're gonna fight for the Japan. Naturally, if you're over in Japan, and if you, if you're forced to fight --
<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 14>
LH: Well, I want to go back a little bit, actually, and go back a little bit more toward your time in Minidoka. Specifically, you were also talking earlier about this incident, or this plan that you and your family had of getting back to Crystal City, Texas and being reunited with your father and that's while your, while your father was still separated from you. Correct?
GA: Right, he was still incarcerated in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And... while other parents or the husbands were able to come back out, it seemed like my, my father had not had the opportunity and we just waited and waited and it seemed like he will not be released. So that was the reason why we had requested to go to Crystal City, so that our family would be together again. Through the, during the camp -- while we were internees in the camp, my mother was kind of shunned, I think, by the other Issei because her husband was still incarcerated and they must have felt that, "Better not get too friendly with the Akutsus because the husband is still over there and if we don't watch out, maybe my husband might get taken away," or something to that effect. And she was pretty much to herself. Naturally, the husband being gone and she's trying to watch over two kids that's quite a bit on their own didn't help too much. She worried about us, our future and it started to takes its toll. And when I was taken in after, let's see... my dad was returned, as I said, in December of 1943. And by April of 1944 I was in the County Jail for refusing to go to the, to comply with the draft. So here it was, the family got together only for four or five months and then the son gets pulled away. And I think that may have been the problem, that Mother has lost a lot of blood, she became real anemic, and at one point they thought she was going to die in camp. But somehow or another -- I guess determination -- somehow she survived it. And by... and during that time, my brother was still out, and so he spent all his time at the hospital -- this is the camp hospital -- and helped get her back on her feet. And no sooner she gets back on her feet, he gets called into the draft and he also refused to go and so now she has both sons in the County Jail. And I guess that made her all the more determined to see things through all the way to see if everything, justice will be done.
<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 15>
LH: Well, what was so -- up until the time that you were called into the draft and then taken to, to Boise by the FBI agents, what was your life like in terms of the everyday life, particularly after the registration? Did people know that you were -- that you had responded "no-yes" and if so, how did that affect...?
GA: As far as the, those two questions, everybody kept it to themselves. We really didn't know about it and you talked to a few friends but you don't talk to everybody. So the subject was pretty well dropped. And I wound up, after I graduated in '43, I wound up working in the administration area and I wound up in the architectural department over there where Mr. Anki Arai was the head and he was nice enough to tutor me, to show me the workings of architecture drawings. And so I spent about six months there and when I was called for the draft, I refused to go, I didn't go up to work after that so I don't know whatever happened while I was gone, but I'm sure there must have been big talks about me not complying with the draft.
Getting back to going up on the ride to Boise, I made mention that the agents were encouraged me to -- encouraging me to volunteer and go and we passed by a place called, I think they call it "Thousand Springs." It's a waterfall coming off the side of a cliff where one of the -- I guess they refer to the Lost River, it disappears underneath the water -- the ground and comes out as a spring on the side of a cliff. We'd pass by there and he would say, "Isn't that nice, if you guys don't go to the service, you're going to get all, miss all that wonderful beauty and you're not going to have your freedom, you'll be incarcerated in a jail," and so on and so forth. Yes, I had real visions of what might happen and it was really a scary vision of what,what to expect, thinking that they might throw me into a dungeon or a deep hole without any lights, feed me bread and water and things like that. So I was, I was quite scared. But with determination, it's amazing what determination does; you just say to yourself, "Whatever may come, will come," you gotta take it in stride. And so wound up going to the County Jail, and they put us in their, what they refer to as, I guess, the penthouse, the top floor, so you can't escape.
They, and I wound up in the tank where there was, I think, about three robbers, and one, one air force guy who went AWOL. First they weren't very friendly to us, but eventually the wall broke down when, like parents send something like chocolate or something, well, naturally you share it with the people, and they kind of get friendly for being, sharing things with them. So as the mess went on, the group of resisters start to increase one or two at a time and by the time we were... in (May), I think that was the time when they were having the federal circuit court was going to have their trial over in Moscow, Idaho and the jailer had told me, "Why don't you go ahead and go have your trial there so if you're convicted, all the time would be applied against -- that you spent will be applied against your, the time you spent in jail?" But my thoughts at that time was, if I would go there at that time and if I am convicted, I would probably be sent to a penitentiary by myself and one person against a whole bunch of convicts -- I'd never stand a chance. So I thought to myself, "Well, I will... I would rather risk it, and stay and see how many more people would come." You see, my group, that I, we wound up with as they refer to us as the "no-no boys," we were never a group of people, we were all separate and whoever came in through the door, that's when many of 'em we met for the first time, never seen 'em, never talked to them before. And so anyway, we waited, and month by month we keep getting more people, not a whole bunch, but two or three at the most would dribble in at a time and, to a point where our County Jail was saturated with the resisters and they started to fill up another place in, where the heck was it... well, there was another county jail that they, they vacated to put more of the resisters into -- that was Emmett, Emmett County Jail which was, I would say, about thirty, forty miles to the north again. And then... to a point where we had some thirty-three or thirty-five people.
<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 16>
GA: And finally our, my time to appear before the judge came to plea our case and on that day the courthouse was some two blocks away, and so we all had to walk down there, of course, you had the jailer on both ends so that we wouldn't get away, and we walked to the courthouse. And my name starting with an A and my first name is G, I was the first person to, for everything. First to be called up to the judge and the judge would ask me, what would I plea, and I said, "Not guilty." "Then I will set your date for a trial later. You go out and be, you go back and sit in the holding cell." One by one we'd wind up in the holding cell and they got to a point where those people didn't care, they just kept the cell door open. Usually they keep it closed so they won't escape, but then they just kept it open and we'd just be walking in and out, plea our case and we all came in, there was a total of, as I said, about thirty-five of us. And at the end, after the last one went through their pleas... oh, at that time when we went to give our plea, we also were asked if we had a lawyer to represent me and I told him, "No sir, I don't," and so they said, "Well we will appoint a court lawyer for you." And unfortunately, I found up, I wound up with a lawyer who was the head of the American Legion. And so, when we wound up, after the pleas were given, the attorneys came and met up with us individually in various places to talk to us privately. And they gave us the court date. When I wound up with my attorney in a private office, the first thing he said was, "You're a damn fool. I'll be darned if I'm gonna help you at all. You're up on your own, boy." So there I was, all by myself, and wondering, "What should I do? What can I do?" And the court date, the trial date was set about two months -- I mean, two weeks hence, so we went back to our cells and I started to go think of a strategy, what to do.
<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 17>
GA: When we got back to our cells, being incarcerated so long, my muscles and my legs are so weak, that I was just wobbly when I got back and I just crawled into one of those bunks and laid down and fell asleep for a few hours. It's amazing how a body will deteriorate, and during that six-month incarceration, we didn't do much but just walk to and fro from the mess, mess room and eat, and that's about all we did so we didn't get our regular exercise, so we were really weak. The, it was really cool up there, up on the top floor. They'd keep the windows open during the daytime, but they don't close it at night, and you know how it is in the desert air, it gets hot during the daytime and the nighttime it cools down, then you get the wind blowing. And the bars, the cells that we were in were like six feet away from the door so there's no way we can reach out to close the doors, with, so during the nighttime it'd be cold. We'd keep everything we had on and whatever we can get to keep ourselves warm. Oh, incidentally, we did have, wound up with ticks, otherwise known as bed bugs. Didn't know what they were until I wound up being in the County Jail when we first got in there, started getting bites all over and it'd be a string of bites and we found out they were bed bugs. We'd lift up the mattress and you see those little bed bugs, they looked like watermelons all filled up with our blood. They're crawling all over the place, and it was weeks and weeks and weeks of combating to get rid of the bed bugs. That was my first encounter with a bed bug. So I guess you would chalk that off as experience, too.
<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 18>
GA: During the time that we were getting ready for our trial, the Heart Mountain folks had already gone through a number of 'em. And many of 'em had, or the committee that represented them and the lawyer that represented them said that they will go to the service provided you give me, my citizens the rights, and treat me as a citizen and I will go to the service. The thing was that they were all convicted of refusing to go to the draft and so they were all convicted and a number of 'em wound up spending, I think the earlier ones spent something about three years in the federal penitentiary, and there's a group of them that went, and each time they were convicted. And so as a citizen, I thought, "Well, they're going to convict me well, maybe I will take a different attitude that you've been treating me as a Japanese as an enemy alien. You haven't put me through due process of law so I guess I'm still an alien. Therefore, I'm going to say I'll take a stand as an alien: that you cannot draft me." And with that thoughts in my mind, I wrote up my, my presentation to the, to the jury...
LH: And this is because you didn't have a lawyer, correct? Because you did --
GA: Yes, I had no communication with my lawyer at all until after, after the trial, after being convicted, the doctor -- I mean the lawyer, I mean the attorney spoke up when the judge asked when I was to be sentenced, "Is your attorney available?" And he says, "I'm here." That was the one and only time he says, "I'm here," and as soon as that, I was convicted, he was gone. I never seen him after that. The trial... the trial portion when I went, of course, I'd never been in trouble before, so naturally I apologized to, I apologized to the judge and the jury and also told them that I might make mistakes in my trial 'cause I've never been into any court. Here again, it's not like nowadays where you see it on TV. In those days, you have to be an offender to be winding up in the court in front of a judge. And after I presented my case, before the judge sent the jury to their chambers, the judge said, "We're here not to judge how they've been treated, we are here strictly to judge whether he complied with the draft. Did he go or not? Now jury, you go into your chambers and come up with your verdict." Well, he all but says, "Choose him, make him guilty." That's about what it amounted to. So it took no more than five minutes, even less. No sooner they went in, sat down, they said, "Guilty," they came right back out. And when the judge asked for the verdict, naturally the, me not complying with the draft, they said I'm guilty. And so they shuffled me off over to the holding tank, what they refer to as where all the ones that were convicted were put in there, and one by one we went through our, what I refer to as a mock trial. It was kind of a...
LH: So even though you came up with a sort of unique defense to say that you weren't, that you weren't eligible for the draft because they treated you as an enemy alien, the judge threw that one out because he said...
GA: Right, they were strictly concerned with one thing, one and only one thing and that was, "Did he or didn't he comply with the draft? I don't want to hear anything else. Did he go or didn't he go?" And that was all the question they asked and that was everything and that's what we were convicted on. Now, I don't know what the other fellows said, 'cause I was not there. To this day, I don't know what most all the fellows... how they pleaded on their -- not pleaded but answered the questions 27 and 28 either. That's, that's individual, if they want to talk about it fine; if they don't want to but many of them didn't especially care to talk so to this day I don't know. So that was, that was the size of things about my trial or all the draft resister at that time. That they hadn't considered us for all the hardships and anything else that they, they put us through, but all they were concerned about one thing, and they meant to get us into that service. That was the idea.
Now, I don't know who pushed this into them or told them to but it was certainly... I was one of the first ones, now this is a kind of a questionable thing to say, but I had, I was the first one to be drafted and I just started to wonder. The people, the camp, the administration started, used to think that my brother was a troublemaker because he would go to complain about a lot of things going on within the camp, that the white people were doing. And he even went as far as, he threatened to write to Washington, D.C. to tell them the kind of treatment we'd been getting and so he was kind of a marked man. And certainly they must have thought that, well, this guy is going to raise heck and he must have a group behind him that, that will follow him, that he is a troublemaker. I thought, maybe could that be the reason why they picked on me? Maybe they picked my name one of the first ones to find out which way this little kid brother was going to go. And from there they'll find out if there's any more coming. Because by July when my brother's call came, the FBI was, I guess, was at his door before the greeting card came. Meaning they got it switched around so they came to take him to jail when they hadn't even called him for the draft so they hurriedly put him in the next call and they came to pick him up, and he wound up -- fortunately wound up coming to the same county jail with me so we spent some time together. Yeah. [Interruption] The people -- I don't think many of the people knew how the trial went, how it was run, but to discourage people, and maybe I ought to hold back, discouraged people from resisting, they made it hard for us.
<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 19>
SF: I've heard some people use the term "stop order" since your brother might have been seen by the administration as a troublemaker. Was your family under a stop order and what did that mean?
GA: Well, that meant that -- yes, my family was on stop order permanently during the, during the incarceration -- and that meant that we couldn't go out to, whereas many of the people were going out to go out to the farm to get some expense, earn some expense, we were held back in camp. I only remember going out once and that was the time getting ready for my graduation. I didn't have anything to wear so with the class, the graduating class we went to Twin Falls and I got myself a sport coat and that was the one and only time that I went out of camp and we all checked in, of course, checked out and checked in. So other than that, we never got out. We had wanted to relocate into Utah, a friend of ours had been working at a sugar beet farm I believe it was, and made an application and promptly turned down so we kind of gave that up. So anyway, getting back to what we were talking about? The trials...
<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 20>
LH: I was going to go back to the trial a little bit and sort of talk about, even after the trial, after you had been convicted and put in this holding tank, what were you... did you know what was going to happen to you then? Had they already made the sentence or were they sort of figuring well, this was done so now we're going to go somewhere else?
GA: Well, if, if everything held to the same pattern as the Heart Mountain boys, why that would be it and found guilty, they will give us our sentence and we were going to be sent wherever they thought they would like to have us go and serve our time. One by one, we were returned back to the courtroom to face the judge where he started to name off the penalty and they gave me a sentence of three years and three months in the penitentiary. As did many of the majority of them; I think a couple of 'em had changed their mind and they decided to, to go to the service so they were given their leave but the remaining thirty-two, I believe it was, wound up with -- majority of 'em -- same sentence as me, and there's a couple of 'em that had, I think two years, two months sentence.
<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 21>
GA: The treatment given to us, I think, severely by I think most means, is that they wanted to discourage any more resisters to come out of camp. That they wanted to make sure that we have a lot of people volunteering or entering the service to the JACL liking, or the administration's liking. And I think that's when they heard about us, they wound up with a name the "no-no boys," also calling us the draft dodgers and chicken and anything, a disloyal and so on so forth. And this is one of the reasons why I thought I'd better speak up now to let the people know my reasons, my thoughts about why I had taken the stand that I did. Because all through these years, for some fifty years, nobody had asked me about why I've done it but they've all drawn their conclusion from what they read in the paper.
My dad, years ago when we were still young, said, "When you control the radio," in those days of radio and newspaper, "you control the people's mind." At that time I was too young to realize what he was saying, but as I grew older I realized Dad was right. What they read in the paper they'll believe. If they write anything they want in the paper that they want people to believe, they'll do it and the people will be against you. And when he found out that I guess the majority were against me because my stand... I was quite surprised, I would say. That you'd think that there would be more people that would think about this draft and say, "Is that right?" Now to myself, I thought, to start with, they have, they called me an alien, they had convicted me almost, in fact they did being a Japanese and an alien and unwanted enemy alien without any due process of law, and I thought that was very, very bad. And that I alone can't do anything but I'm gonna do what I planned on doing and hopefully that people would understand but then when the people took the other stance and said that I'm a draft evader I felt real sad that the people thought that way.
SF: So how did you hear about sort of this negative reaction?
GA: In... while we were in the prison, my mother, one way or the other, would make her way out to McNeil Island. She had finally, she and Dad had finally moved back to Seattle when the camp closed and one way or the other she'd find means of getting out to Steilacoom to catch the prison ferry to go take them to the McNeil Island administration where they had visitation to one inmate per month. And so through the grapevine, not only me but there's others that had brothers, sisters and parents and they would exchange various things about the incidents and the news and so when we got back we would, to ourselves, we'd be talking about it and we hear what the majority thought of us. And it wasn't, it wasn't good.
LH: So that there was actually this network built up between all the inmates in terms of them talking to their family members or whatever...
GA: Yeah, well, that's the only means of communication because here again, we went through censorship and as I said, when you censor something you can't write too much other than the weather and how you're feeling and what you did for fun or something to that extent. And you can't go into details so the only thing is verbally to get your information.
<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 22>
GA: My, I didn't give you the thoughts when we wound up going on the train to McNeil but anyway, with our cases closed, they decided that we will be sent to McNeil Island as a group so the entire group of thirty of us was put on a train at Boise and sent to McNeil Island. And as we approached the dock and as the boat was there to receive us, we'd get into the (boat) and the (boat) headed toward the island, I could look back and see up into the Northwest, I could see, that was Seattle. A year and a half, two years ago, because I looked and I was a Japanese, they sent me out to an internment camp. Here it is, a year and a half later, they bring us back to a place only fifty miles away, put us into a federal penitentiary, well, I felt bad then. I thought boy, this could never happen.
When we got in there, we were put into what they referred to as a fish tank and that is where they screen us to see whether we have any disease of any sort or contrabands hidden or anything like that so we went through a thorough examination and for two weeks, I think, we were all in a single cell which was about 6 feet by 10. There was a cot, and a toilet bowl and a sink and a small desk and just to pass my time, I tried to get into something. They had a correspondence course so I got into that to keep myself occupied. And after that was over, the two weeks were over, they figured we were clean, they decided, "Well, we'll initiate 'em into the regular, regular area where all the convicts are being held." And they brought us into what they call the maximum... maximum, what is it, maximum control where the most worst criminals were being held, whether they be murderers, rapists, robbers or people who had served and went AWOL, and all sorts of people, political prisoners, some were... and we'd get to meet... eventually the ice was broken. First they were all shying away from us and fortunately we were all put into tanks -- tank meaning a cell that would hold ten people -- and we had ten... I think we had four different cells and the cells were kind of spread out so we filled up all the four so that any remaining there won't be one or two left but maybe a half a dozen or more in the last tank. And so we were all in a group so nobody picked on us but you could tell that they, they weren't very friendly.
And we thought, "Well, let's break the ice. One way to break the ice is let's start playing a little bit of sports." And so came the spring, we decided, "Well, let's apply for, to play baseball. Let's form a team and play within the group there." And to play with them we got up all the best players that we can find and we played against them and we came out the champs. And that was the... it broke the ice and people started to get friendly and they found out... "Well, you guys are just average kids. What are you guys doing here?" And this is where the questions started up like, "What happened? How come you're here?" We tell 'em that they just marked us as enemy alien, undesirable, put us into camp and they told us to go to, get into the army and we refused so consequently we're here. And they say, "Oh my God, you guys are just playing a political ping-pong. You're just being bounced around." And many of them sympathized with us, and come the following spring, many of 'em wanted to play on the same team as us. So anyway, that's how we got to know the people in the, what they refer to us as the main line, that's the maximum-security group. And you get to know them and you find out these people are regular people, too. And they understand what, a lot of these things and they understand why, and they sympathize with what we did.
Well I was... I wound up, believe it or not, helping teach. I was teaching drafting, that's mechanical and naval architecture drawing, and they wanted me to teach a little Spanish which I didn't know so I have to be a little ahead of the class by reading a few chapters ahead. But one day I heard a group go walking by below us and I looked down and I see a bunch of Japanese guys, Niseis walking through. I says, "Hello down there. Who are you?" They said, "Heart Mountain." Those guys were coming through, that was the following year, I think it was, and they were sentenced year-and-a-half or two years to go to the farm. They went to, straight out to the farm because they were given a security position, so minimum security and they were out to the farm so they went, we didn't see them until, until the war... I think was almost coming to an end when they figured we were not dangerous anymore so they decided to send us out to the farm. And we mingled with the Heart Mountain people and got to know a number of them. And a couple of years ago, I believe it was, they had a Heart Mountain reunion at the Red Lion in Seattle and that's where we got in touch with about a half dozen or more of the group that we got to know. And we had, talked about the good ol' days and I think Frank Abe was there, too. He was listening, all ears, as to what was going on and what was supposed to be a little get-together from nine o'clock, I think we disbanded like two or three in the morning and they had to have, I think they had a meeting or something the following day anyway, because they were at a convention here. And so we disbanded then, but that was good to get together with them.
SF: What were the relationships like both before the trial among the resisters and also at McNeil? You guys get together, what would you talk about?
GA: Well, we... previous to the trial, we all worked on our own thing, we had pencils, paper, wrote down what we should be talking about so, as I told you, that I took a stand as an alien and but for how they stood, or what they presented I have no idea to this day. After the trial and our conviction, we didn't say very much. We were pretty disgusted and all the way back to McNeil, they had the federal agents watching us from both ends and we scarcely talked as far as I know. Only thing was we got a rough deal, rotten deal. That's about it until we got up and... then we started to think the survival part of it and we didn't talk too much about it but there's a few people that kind of drifted away from our group, the original group, and they were, they were doing things whatever they wanted and eventually they wound up going out to the farm while we were still in the maximum security. But eventually we wound up going out there, too. But as loosely as it was formed -- the group was -- and many of them didn't want to talk about it. I think to this day, many of 'em don't want to talk about it. They don't want to be pointed out as a resister, just a handful of us, if any. And so that's about how things were with all of us fellas... and through the years, one by one they have passed on, too. When we came out, before we came out, we, through the grapevine we would hear that the vets were very much against us and they want to confront us, they want to do something about us. And we kept hearing those kind of stories and that kind of bothered me. In fact, it bothered all of us, whether it's going to be a physical abuse or contact or whether it's verbal or what it is we didn't know but then we tried to keep ourselves in good shape so that in case that we get into a fight, that we can protect ourselves some way or another.
<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 23>
GA: And so when our time came to come out -- why, that's bad grammar -- when that time came, I, we left the place with a suit, twenty-five dollars in the pocket, a new pair of pants and a raincoat and that's all I had when we came out. And thinking of the possibility of confrontation... by then my dad and mother had moved out -- see, the Japanese school was a hostel at one time -- and eventually they moved out of there and Dad wanted to carry on with his business. He started another shoe repair shop, just a block and a half away from where he closed up. And so we came there and they dropped us off. We were lucky enough to have a group of people that had cars, came to pick us up and they dropped us off at the individual houses. And so my first day was home and we were welcomed home kind of a thing. And what we wound up was quite disappointing in that my dad had a little shoe repair shop which was no more than about eight feet wide and extended in about twenty-five feet, and they lived in the back of the repair shop which was just a hole in the wall, the two of them, 'cause they couldn't afford anything else. And they lived there all during the time of our incarceration and when we came out there's no place to stay. Only they had a couple of army cots so we spread it out, out into the shop at night and pulled the shades and went to sleep there for a week or so. And we made a request to the hotels up above us and to the right of us to see if there's any place that we could rent from, and eventually after a couple of weeks we were able to rent the hotel. Actually it was me, and I wound up in the hotel which is now -- gee, where would it be located? Well, that was in, between Sixth and Maynard on Weller Street. And fortunately, we never did have any confrontation with anybody.
The problem now was, now what do I do? Where can I find work? Are they going to give work to a (...) convict? But I thought I'd give 'em a chance and I passed word around to see if I can get a job. And I was able to get a job through a friend of ours, a neighbor, and I wound up working at a junk company using a blow torch to cut apart tank armors and all that stuffs to be sent out to the smelters. And that, that was a temporary job and then I tried to see if I could follow into architecture and I was able to get a job as a draftsman at a drafting office and that job held out for about a year and a half until things got bad. And prior to the Korean War and they started to lay off people and if you don't have a college degree, you're nobody. And my not having a college degree, well, they started to flip out all of the kids, people, to drop 'em. And so I had my walking paper -- when was it -- when I came back from my, my honeymoon, I had my pink slip in my mailbox. I was out of a job. So anyway, that's another story.
<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 24>
LH: Well, I want to go back to sort of that moment where you're worrying about what the vets, 442 guys were going to do to you. What was your... how did your parents react to this and how were they getting along in the community with the knowledge around that you and your brother were draft resisters, were in prison?
GA: Uh-huh. Well, that still carried through, that it reflected on our parents of what we did but there were Isseis still living in and around that area that lived in the hotel, they were, used to work at the railroad and after work they'd come back and stay at the hotel. But then they found out that my dad had a little stove that they could -- what they now refer to as a... what do you call, crack-, what do they call? Cracker barrel? Where people get together and talk about old times and things and that's about what it wound up to be, just a gathering place for the Isseis used to come around and talk about the old times. And they survived by having those people come around. But after we came out, must have been about four months, three months or so, my mother started to feel bad and she said, she feels like she's underneath a waterfall. It feels like she's got a train going through her head, roaring sound all the time. And she said she can't stand it. But anyway, one day I went to church and came back and found that she got sick and they're going to take her to the hospital. I went over to the -- and my brother says, "You stay home. I'll watch, I'll take care of..." I was working out of house, my brother was helping my dad with the repairing of the shoes and whatnot to help him out a little bit, so he says, "I'll take care of it, I'll go see Mom and take care of her." And within a day or so, she had died and that was the sad part. I started to date a girl and I guess she didn't even get a chance to meet my mother or neither did my mother meet the wife-to-be. When I came out I got to know a girl and then she and I saw eye-to-eye, we really hit it off real good and we were inseparable from there on.
SF: Did your mom pass away from a physical, a normal physical illness?
GA: Well, I referred to this as a, the wear and tear of the war years that she had gone through, that her body couldn't handle it and eventually she took her life is what had happened. That she just couldn't stand it anymore. There were rumors that some people had heard about it and they were making fun out of it that, "Ha, ha, ha," that she got what she had coming and things like that which as I thought was very, not very nice. Oh, let me see. No, it's... the time is real nice. What it does... it heals a lot of things and through the years the hard feelings that the people have had towards me and the people who had refused to go, had faded away and they used to talk about, "Well, you went in, you didn't go to the service and my friends are dead over there over in Europe." And I used to come back and say, "They were my friends, too. No, you're not the only one, that they were friends, too. My friends had died over there, too. The only difference is my thinking was different from you, you went over to fight for it to prove yourself guilty, whereas I says, 'isn't my fault, I didn't do anything, you can't make me go to war if you stick me into a prison camp.'" And that was the difference between the fellas that went and the fellas that stayed, rather my feeling, let's put it that way. I don't want to get people involved into this.
<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 25>
LH: So, going back to when you returned from McNeil Island, how was it for you to personally to come back into the community of Seattle? And how much... even sort of building on this fear...
GA: Yeah, well, my thoughts were I'd better keep a low profile, don't do anything that the people would see me out in the open but rather keep a low profile. And so after I got married, I was just with the family, my brother's, my relatives and we were pretty well, people didn't know we were around, I guess you might say. But as things grew, as my kids grew, it got to a point where my oldest started to go to high school. The next one was in a junior high, and the last one was in the grade school. And I just called them together and says, "Well, it's about time I tell you about what had happened, what I have done. You may not have heard about it." And he says, "Oh yeah, we read about it in the paper," I mean, "in the textbook." I says, "How much did you have in there?" And they says, "Oh, just a little paragraph about the evacuation." So I says, "Well, I'll tell you what happened and what had happened to me, what I have done." And so I explained to the kids what I did and so that the kids won't get secondhand news from somebody else and find out that his, his or her dad was a draft resister, I thought I'd better get it straight with him and tell him why I did it and so they realized that. And to this day, I'm glad that I told 'em. I think many of the parents, I think, they held back and lot of the parents didn't know -- I mean, the children, didn't know about what had happened to the Niseis and the Issei during the war years. And I think a lot of them, they just couldn't believe that it had actually happened.
LH: But were you also worried about other people sort of talking about you in the community as well?
GA: What they're going to say -- they're going to say. I had my own life to lead and so I didn't let it bother me. But I really didn't go out there to get out in the public either. My brother, on the other hand, he would go out there and make speeches about his why... and I imagine you see it in your videos that you taped that what he has done and how he fought against the evacuation and why. And that they had no rights to do. They used to come down on him pretty hard and he used to get some telephone threats and letter threats and things like that. But here again, as years went by it kind of wore out and people had stopped doing that.
SF: When folks first came out of McNeil, did the resisters all kind of get together and their families used to get together, or how did that go since it was kind of tough for them to go into the larger Japanese communities? Did the resisters' families hang out together?
GA: Uh-huh. No, they were all alone. Everybody on their own. Many of 'em, in fact some of their, the sisters got married to vets, and things like that, so they all went their merry way, I guess you might put it. But, no, we had no association with each other, we just had a few people that we, formed the investment group, but that soon fell apart when people didn't see eye-to-eye as to what to do on the investments. So that went down the drain, and after that we were just all... went our separate ways, yeah.
<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 26>
LH: Well, I'd like to go back, 'cause, as you mentioned, we've skimmed a little bit about sort of the surface events in camp. So let's go back to Puyallup and the social conditions in camp in terms of all the people who were gathered there for the four or five months that you were there. What was it like, sort of the interactions you had with other people and the... how your life went with that during that period?
GA: Fortunately, there was some groups that were pretty active. Basically, I guess you are, they are the church group that had participated in all sorts of events so that they would carry on parties, they would carry on a dance, something to keep the kids happy or interested. And they even had taught dance classes and first time I went there to find out how, what it was all about, dancing, and I didn't, I was too shy to dance with anybody. But it took me quite awhile. Eventually I did, naturally. But the activities, they had all sorts of activities, various programs. Community singing was one of them that was pretty popular in those days. And so they have all sorts of events for the younger kids to keep 'em interested and happy. So in that way they helped us to pass our time.
LH: Do you have any particular memories of any of those events while you were there?
GA: I think, I've talked about dancing. I finally got courage enough to dance, I mean, date out a girl to go to a dance and it was held -- this is Area D where they have the fairgrounds so they have concrete floors and it was nice to dance to. Anyway, I went there to dance with my girlfriend and I think I danced about two or three numbers when I looked up at the entrance and who do I see? I see my mother standing out there. And what could I say but to tell my date, "I think we'd better go home," and so that was the first and the last date I had with a girl for quite some time to come. My mother and father, both being teachers, they, they discouraged intermingling with the girls because they said school and girls don't combine. That when you get into a fight with your girlfriend, your grades are gonna go down and things like that and so, I shied away from the girls. Not only that, I think the Niseis in those days, they used to razz each other a lot and they'd catch you talking to a girl, they'd razz the daylights out of you. And so we kind of stayed away from it and just because of that to this day -- I guess it's something that just grew in me -- to this day, the Bon Odori that I went to just to see the other day, I cannot find myself saying I'm going to dance in that because in the younger days they were calling each other sissy and that's still deeply embedded in my mind so I just can't see myself going out there.
<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 27>
SF: Is it generally true that, like you portrayed your parents as being kind of discouraging going to dances and things of that sort, so was the Issei community so, sort of careful about what the Niseis were doing so that really kind of constricted certain kinds of social activities and no one ever did any hanky panky because it was so tightly watched and controlled dr?
GA: I think my situation was an exception being that my parents were both teachers. They were pretty strict and my mother would never allow cards, a deck of cards, in the house. My brother and I would sneak under the sheets at nighttime and play cards and she'd catch us, she grabbed that card and threw it in the fire and burnt it up. And so I didn't know about gambling. When I wound up going to camp, that's when I heard of all sorts of various gambling going on plus the Japanese hana and all that thing and I never even knew that they had anything like that. Only thing I heard about was what they call karuta, meaning, that is a game they played on New Year's. They show pictures of whatever, a little dog, and they would say, this person would read a card saying something about a dog and you're supposed to pick those cards up, beat the others to the card. It's how fast your reactions are, that kind of a game, but as far as putting money, betting, I never heard of. And I was surprised to find out so many Isseis playing cards. The Niseis over in the warehouse I found out, my God, that's all they play, is cards, cards, cards. Whenever they get together, out come the cards and they would play and I would just stand there with amazement watching them play. So I never did, I never became a gambler. I think something like that that is pounded into you ever since you're young it kind of sticks with you.
LH: But did you think that the other Issei were as strict as your parents? Was that something that was somewhat unusual, that they were so strict that they wouldn't allow cards in the house or...
GA: That's what I said, my parents were an exception, and they tried to raise us as straight as possible. They were, I'm sure to a lot of people's standards, that they were overly strict but they meant well. And they would stress education, education, and the family friend is the Sasaki, Shosuke Sasaki, and he was there up in close to going to the University when I was just a youngster. And my parents would pound that into us that we have to be like Shosuke when he grows up, we grow up, become a Phi Beta Kappa, and so on, so forth and someday if you study hard you could be the President. It's taken a long time but it's getting closer and closer. At least we have an Asian governor now so we're making headway and so maybe my dad's guessing or thinking that someday that might happen, might really happen.
LH: When he got -- going back to the sort of situation and working off of Steve's question -- in camp did you see that that was sort of a phenomena where the Nisei were sort of more under control under their parents' watch before camp? That once they got to camp, that they were sort of...
GA: Let's put it this way. What the parents didn't know, wouldn't hurt. I guess they had their share of liberties that the parents didn't know about. There were some that were pretty liberal, they got around. But I for one, speaking for myself, I was pretty much held under although I rebelled against it and like I said before, I didn't even know what to say to a girl when I dated 'em. And I used to talk to the boys to find out. What do you say to the girls? You can't talk about sports, you just can't talk about the weather. What else can you do? But I guess through time you realize or you understand what you're supposed to say to the girls... and that boils down to talk about nothing. [Laughs]
<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 28>
LH: Well, going again back to the camp experience, how do you, how did you see yourself interacting with the other people in camp as you worked, as you sort of did your other things? What was your interactions with people? Did you sort of...
GA: I got along with everybody well. And I was bigger than the average, I would say, more muscular so I was able to do a lot of things that the other kids wouldn't, wouldn't do. But during the camp years, I was rather quiet, I wouldn't say too much. Here again, this is something that came about when I was a youngster, I guess, when I would say something and my comment would have two... you have a dual comment. You can take it the wrong way or take it the proper way that I'm trying to say and I made some enemies with the comments I made so I thought the best thing to do is to keep quiet. And so most of my teenage years I was quiet. And here again, my brother was there to be my mouthpiece and while I was young and well into my, first, sixth grade or so, he used to be my mouthpiece, he used to be my protector, and so I was behind him all the time so I really didn't have to speak up. And that was a drawback for me because I never was able to get out on my own to be independent, that I was quite reliant on my brother. But as time went on, somehow a person's personality does come out -- you can't keep that subdued. And so eventually I started to talk and here I am.
LH: Well, do you think that that's sort of that moment when you were first drafted and sort of taken and your brother wasn't there to help you along. Do you think that that sort of influenced the way you developed? How did you sort of react to that position?
GA: No, by then, by then I had my own thoughts. Although I didn't speak up much, I had my thoughts and I had my conviction and I decided to, I'll just stick to it come hell or high water. I thought that there would be more people thinking the way I did because of the situation but apparently most other people felt that they were guilty and that they should prove themselves loyal. Whereas my thoughts were, "I have been and I always will be but you never trusted me and you made me an enemy alien. So until you clear me of that, I'm not gonna do anything," and I don't think the people would blame me for saying that. I know that many of the Sansei that start to ask questions and they ask me what I did, I'd tell them that I refused to go and I would proceed to explain to them what I have done, why I have done it and they all say, "Hey, I agree with you, I wouldn't do that either." And so most of the Sanseis, they're, they are the generation that thinks for themselves before they do anything. They don't say, "You told me to go, I'll go." They would say, "I'll go but why? Give me an answer and I will go." That's many of the people's, the comments. I think that's one of the reasons why the Vietnam War, many of the people refused to go because they said, "Tell me why I should go. We're going out there and fight in some other country? This is, a draft is strictly for protecting our own nation, not to go out there and fight in somebody's, somebody else's place." Many of the people start to ask questions about that and they found out, hey, this is not the right thing to do. Lot of 'em defected to Canada, lot of 'em refused to go, and that was because they started to ask the question, "Why? Tell me why and if it's a good answer, I will go."
<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 29>
SF: So, when the people started volunteering for the 442, what sort of went through your mind about those people who volunteered?
GA: I thought nothing of it. I mean, it's their opinion what they thought, what they felt. They want to prove themselves loyal that way, that's up to them. I have my way of doing it although it may not be the same as the others but I want to prove to myself or to the people that my way of thinking is okay, too.
LH: So why didn't you think, though, that, or why do you think that more people didn't react the same way that you did or take the same stand that you did?
GA: I think some of it is -- I guess you might say follow the leader -- "they went so I will go. My friends are going that way, I might as well go, or I'll be all by myself." I don't know. It's hard to say. I guess you have to be an individual at that time how they were thinking. Maybe they did think that it was their duty to go out there to prove themselves.
SF: At the time the draft was instituted, as far as the general camp went, what was the mood like? Do you think the average, most of the people were saying, "We shouldn't go," or, "We should go," or what was the general feeling at that time?
GA: That was all talk but there was a lot of that going on and they sent in some, a Nisei serviceman and tried to recruit some people in camp. They spent two, three weeks at each camp, try to recruit some people, but they couldn't get enough recruits. But that should be an indication that the people didn't go for that. Meaning if you want to, would you go? They didn't want to go. But if they said you gotta go or else, then they go. So you can draw your conclusion from that as to what went on. "Well, if they tell me to go, I'll go," attitude, I guess.
LH: Now, you also had mentioned earlier that your family was put under stop order where they, you wanted to leave camp, you wanted to get outside of camp, and, but you couldn't because you were prevented. Did you have other, did you know of any other families who were under the same conditions and if they tried to do different things to get out?
GA: You know, there's those kind of things, pretty well kept under cover. They didn't want to admit that they're being held back or anything. Right away it's, "Hey, this guy here is dangerous. Maybe the FBI is watching over them." So nobody would speak out and you see the same people around and then you kind of come to a conclusion that well, maybe they're under stop order, too. But yeah, like most of the people, we all wanted to get out. Basically, our funds were running out. We were poor family; we came up through the Depression. My dad had a shoe repair shop and he just get a early, make a meager living comfortably. We never did go hungry because many of the farmers who didn't have money would come and ask to have their shoes repaired and my dad would repair the shoes and in turn they would bring vegetables and whatever, maybe chicken or sole or two, and bring that in exchange for getting their shoe repaired so we always had food on the table but then we were not, by far, rich at all. And so in camp, why, mentioning, we were earning like sixteen dollars a month. That doesn't last too long. You buy a little bit of nice, nice thing at the canteen but before you know it, all that is spent and you're digging into the family money, what little we had. So we did want to go out to see if we can earn some money and survive. But somehow or another my parents did it. They just sacrificed everything.
<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 30>
SF: Did you ever think about, "Well, if I answered 'yes-yes' then maybe I could go to the Midwest or the East in 1943 and that would be a good thing?"
GA: Well, that was not in my mind. That portion they were stressing your loyalty, not whether you could leave the camp. And if they... I hadn't even given it a second thought about if I answered "yes-yes" I could leave camp. It was just my personal feeling, if they want to know my personal feeling, well they'll get it. So analyzing the questions as they did, I just went ahead and thought what I thought best, whether it's against the camp rules or whatever. So no, no, I never even gave it a thought of using that to get away from camp. To me, I thought that was a regular loyalty question and I should answer loyally. My heart, my feelings.
LH: Now you had mentioned earlier also that you're, you had thought, and you weren't certain about this, but you also thought that because your brother had been sort of very vocal in camp and protesting some of the situations there, that you may have been targeted or other people might have been targeted because they either knew your brother or what have you, to sort of see who might be the disloyals or who might be the troublemakers and then see how they would react. How do you think that sort of played out with other people? Did you think that other people were also being targeted or do you really think that that's what the FBI or the camp authorities were trying to finger certain people?
GA: Are you talking about the resisters?
LH: No, not just resisters, but in general. Did they have people who they thought who might be resisters or...?
GA: Other camps may have had that but then our camp was pretty loyal people and 100 percent whatever that administration said, they go, went along with. So there weren't that many people that made any resistance. Only when the people from Tule Lake came up, they had rebelled against the kind of food they were given, the treatment they were given and so one of them happened to land in our block and he was one of the spokesmen for some of the people down there. He's an Issei but he spoke good English and he took my brother to the administration area with a complaint and he told him how he'd go about it. Like the food that you have us eat. Basically Columbia River smelt and liver and something like that and we didn't have any other thing edible and so on so forth and within a matter of a few weeks, our food changed over. Instead of getting smelt, we started to get other fishes.
So it proved that it pays to speak out but also became a target of the administration, too, that he could be a troublemaker. And basically my brother is a, what you might call, a fighter where you get knocked down and you'll get up and still keep trying to go after what he's trying to, he was a go-getter. And what he tried to do was he was trying to do things for the people in camp but then when the people in camp started to turn against him, he was really disappointed. That, "I've done all these things for them and they just turn against me, all what I did, it's just down the drain." So the other people, there weren't too many, people that where you heard so much about were the ones that stood out in the service. Volunteer and "let's all go together" kind of a thing which is, that was fine, that's their business. But as far as the resisters making comment, you see all of 'em, they're rather quiet, subdued people. But apparently they are deeper thinkers than average people that they thought more than, about the situation, more so than the others, I guess. At least I felt that way.
LH: Well, did you ever think that there was a, that if you, sort of, looking back about the way that your resistance sort of affected your family, did you ever feel that, were there any times or any moments that you thought, "If I would have just not gone along with it," that things would have been different, or did you -- you had mentioned that philosophy that your father had and your parents had of sort of going all the way with certain things -- but were there any real moments of doubt even as you were going to Boise or being held in the incarceration or even being taken to McNeil Island? Were there any moments where you thought, "Maybe there would have been, something different would have happened and things might turn out better if I would have just gone the other way"?
GA: No, I don't think so. I -- it's almost like asking me would you do it over again? That's about the kind of question you're asking me and I would say, yeah, I'll do it again. Under the same situation, I'll do it. That wasn't right what they did and I will fight for whatever I feel that we should, my rights. So if I have to do it again, I'll do it. So the whole thing gets down to, I never had a change of mind or think even give it a thought.
<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 31>
LH: So going again toward your time in, at McNeil Island -- because I think we sort of skipped over that pretty, pretty quickly -- what was actually the physical conditions at McNeil Island? You explained some of the set-ups, the cots, but what was your everyday life like at McNeil Island in terms of...?
GA: Oh, well, to start with, the guards -- to take on those kind of a job -- I guess you gotta be a separate breed of person. Some of them were little guys that they wanted authority and you couldn't raise a hand to 'em 'cause you'd be reported and right away you'll wind up in the solitary confinement. So there were good guards but there were also guards with chips on their shoulder like, "I dare you." But when you're... my father used to say, "There's a lot of time when you say you lose to win." That means... "makeru ga kachi." That means you lose to win. And with that attitude you look at these guys and you say, "Oh, you sorry son of a gun," and ignore whatever they tell you but just go ahead and do it. And many of, much of that was spent that way as far as the guards go.
The food was okay. Everything was, the entire system is self-sustained. They have the farm, the animals, the vegetables and everything and so the food we got were good. But one thing was you'd better eat whatever you've got on your plate or else you're going to get pink slip and if you get pink slip you start, your privileges get taken away. So everybody would eat whatever was on their plate whether they like it or not. We wind up into the daily routine of getting up at six o'clock, breakfast at seven, out to work by eight or working by eight, twelve o'clock come back for, for lunch. Each time we leave, we go through the metal detector to make sure that we don't have anything and some of the fellas had metal shoe plates for arch support and the alarm would go off and they'd get pulled to the side and they get frisked all over. My brother happened to have one of those arch supports and a number of times he got pulled aside and the thing was that we'd make friends with the fellow inmates who worked in the same place and when he would step in and start to step up, the other guy would step in. Well, maybe he's got the alarm -- I mean, the metal plates, too, so you got too much metal and the alarm would go off and they would frisk him and they'd get a big kick out of that, kind of make, play games with the guards. At one o'clock, we'd be getting back out to work and then four o'clock we're back again and get ready for supper and after supper you have time to be able to go out to play a little bit for a hour, hour and a half, and that's the time that we wound up playing baseball, playing baseball.
And also we were wind up, we never had a football to speak of, so we were using a big basketball to play football with and this fella we got to know, he was convicted of murder, I guess, while overseas. I guess he got into a brawl with somebody but he's a tough guy and I guess he beat the guy or punched him and killed the guy. But we got to be friends and he turned out to be a heck of a good ball player. I mean, he could have played professional ball right then. But we would team up and play on the football team. I was pretty quick on my feet and I used to outrun a lot of people, and the guy would just heave the ball out there and we catch the ball and touchdown every time. And that's how the game went and so a lot of the people here again wanted to play with us, on the winning team, of course. Yeah. Those were some of the fun times that we had. True, we had some sad times, too. One of the fellas, I guess over at the guard gate, rear guard gate, I think he was, he had a broom in his hand and he wanted to get rid of it. The shed to store the broom was over on the other side and he threw it out and there happened to be a guard nearby and he, he accused the fella of throwing the broom at him and he wound up in solitary for one week with bread and water. He came out and he was pretty slim.
GA: Yeah. Another sad thing was one of the first contingent of the Heart Mountain group left the farm. We were privileged to meet with those first group, too, only for a few weeks, but one day we came back to the farm to find out that one of the fellas was executed...[Ed. note: Narrator meant to say, "electrocuted."] That there was a short in the -- he was an electrician, and there was a short in the power line someplace and when he -- the transformer or whatever, and the main switch -- and what he did was, he was, since he was leaving he was explaining to the would-be, the next person to take his place, what all the necessary things to know about working in and around the power lines, and he happened to touch something and it was shorted, and he was electrocuted and died instantly. And the sad part was, he was supposed to be leaving I think two days, in two days he was to left home, I mean, left there and gone home. But unfortunately we had to send out, send out, send him home with a fella, one of the fellas taking what they call koden. Even to this day they have it. We sent that out and sent our sympathy to the family. But that was one of the real sad part of what had happened over there.
<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 32>
LH: So, you didn't, you didn't have too much contact with the people from Heart Mountain, the Heart Mountain boys, but I've heard stories about sort of passing things through the gates or negotiating with the people in the maximum-security prison and the farm. Did you hear of anything like that or sort of...
GA: Passing things between the maximum security...
LH: Sort of like trading goods or something like that...
GA: Unless you were a real, real criminal that knew how... that was real strict, but what we did out on the farm was a different story. We'd go out and like I wound up working a turkey farm and they'd send me out to herd the turkeys off the road and get 'em back on the field where they belong and they also had the hog farm, the chicken farm, all that. My brother wound up working at a chicken farm, I think it was, and over there they have a lot of surplus stuff, Army Navy surplus, canned, canned rationing, canned beef, all that, powdered ice cream, they all feed it to the hogs and they kinda tested it out to see if it's edible and they found out, hey, this is pretty good. So they started to pass that out.
And also in the, like, in the middle of the night, all the bed count, everybody go to bed and the guards come around counting our heads on each bed to make sure we're all there. After he's gone, we're in a big dormitory, I see somebody come along and nudge me and he says, "Take this," so I reach out and take it. Gee, it look or feel like a big pop bottle. I pick it up, a great big drumstick, turkey drumstick. He said, "Eat it," and he leaves it and takes off. Well, I eat my share of it and I pass it on to another guy and so on so forth until we get it eaten up. The guards know because they probably go to the wastebasket and find a big bone in there and they found out that a lot of times they found out that we were just young kids and we weren't bad.
Another case is one fella says, "Kind of cooking, this is not good for us. We gotta have rice on the table. We gotta have tsukemono on the table." So he says, "I'm gonna volunteer to work in the mess hall." Sure enough, they made tsukemono where all the white people were sitting on by themselves, we'd be sitting in our group and what happens? We see a dish of green cucumber come over and sit on our table. "Hey, this is good." [Laughs] So we had tsukemono to eat where the other people, they didn't know what was going on, the white people. I imagine they did know, but then nobody, nobody turned any complaint about what we had done. And through all this experience they had found out that we were just young kids that's very innocent, that we had meant no harm.
SF: You were with these, at least with some hardened criminals. Did any of the Niseis ever, the Heart Mountain guys, Minidoka people, ever fall under a bad influence supposedly or become... some guy said, "Okay, when we get out, I'll take care of you," or something like that. Did anyone ever do anything like that?
GA: Not to my knowledge. No, I don't think so. Our upbringing is quite different and we all knew right from wrong so we wouldn't be influenced by anybody. If they did, pity them.
<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 33>
LH: So you also had mentioned that your mom really made an effort to go out to McNeil Island to see both you and your, your brother. Can you describe what those meetings were like? I mean, her coming out there and how she had to...
GA: Yeah we... they would call us out by name and we'll go down and go to the administration area. As procedure, go down, go through the metal detector and go to the administration and they would have a room, a long table with a partition that stood up maybe I would say, twelve, fourteen, eighteen inches high, about a foot apart, and the guard would be sitting on the end so that they would, they could see if anything was being passed over. And once a month we'd get a visitation of about half-hour or so and we try to do as much talking as we could. We just strictly talk to our own, not talking to that person or that person, but talk to whoever came to see you, which was mainly my mother. In appreciation, we'd better pay attention because, heck, that was a lot of work in order to get themselves to making their way all the way out to the place, up to McNeil Island, because they had no way of making it unless they go down to the bus depot. And just to get down to the bus depot, they had to catch the trolley or the streetcar or whatever they had in that town, go down to the bus depot and then go all the way down to Steilacoom and that's a day's work just to make it out there. And how she did it, I don't know, just determination.
LH: And was she able to see both you and your brother at the same time or did she have to do separate visits?
GA: Just one visitor per prisoner.
LH: So she would have to come by once --
LH: Either/or, so she would have to come by one time to see your brother first and then next time see you.
GA: Yeah, that right.
<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 34>
GA: This is jumping back to after we came out. About a year after we came out, first we had to report to our, what the heck you call those, the agent to tell...
LH: Parole officers?
GA: Parole officers, right. And to report to them every month to say that I'm still here in town and what I've done and so forth and about the second visit he says, "I don't think you should come around. It's not necessary for you to come around." So we stopped going which is fine as that was up at the Federal Building and takes an extra effort to go down there. But about a year later, I get a note from the parole officer and in it, it said that the President of the United States decided to give, give me a clemency, that would give us our full citizens back, citizenship back and everything pertaining to. That in prior, previously, that was, I think it was in 1948 when I got it, I think in 1947, the President set up a amnesty board to review all cases of people like us, and review everyone to see whether they should give 'em amnesty or clemency. And I guess mostly all the Niseis got it. But it took a whole year later when the board had, came to, got into existence, then a whole year later, then the note came saying that we were all given our amnesty. And the thing is, boy this government, any government, sure moves likes a turtle. All it is, you know, it's across the table and he should sign it, and you think, "Well, that's good." But it was all after we had served our time and then some when they give it to us. But it's good that they did. And the only thing I feel bad about is my mother wasn't there to see that, that the government didn't say, "You're bad." They give us our citizenship back and you could take it as, "Well, I guess we made a mistake. We apologize, we'll give your citizenship back," is about what it amounted to. So that would have been real nice if my mother was alive to see that but she wasn't.
<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 35>
LH: Now you were also, I mean, you mentioned that you had, rather than becoming an expatriate, sort of applying under, being an expatriate, you had become a repatriate. Did you really discuss, did your family discuss the idea of returning to Japan or being repatriated to Japan?
GA: No, the first and only thought was the family to get together. And looking at the vocabulary, I mean, dictionary, to differentiate between expatriate and repatriate. And there was a difference so we decided to, since they're treating us like a Japanese national, "Well I guess we'd better put down repatriate." It didn't say on the form but I stressed that, we all stressed that this is repatriation, not expatriate. "I'm not forsaking my country going to enemy country, but as a Japanese citizen, which you had made me, I've gotta repatriate in order to get together with my parents." And that's the attitude I took. I had, rather.
<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 36>
SF: The only broad question I have is that, looking back at the whole internment experience, how do you think the Japanese Americans in general should have reacted to the internment?
GA: I think they should have thought of things more. They shouldn't have felt guilty of being a Japanese. They should be proud that they're Japanese and express their feeling, and objected. If they had objected right in the beginning, maybe things like this may not have happened. Maybe something worse might have happened. Who knows? But, the first thing was, let's be obedient and find out what they're going to do to us because they said they're gonna take care of us. And we didn't know to what extent. But as it turned out, it was more like an internee in a concentration camp and when that comes about, you start thinking. And I thought that a lot of the people thought the way I did that this is not right, they're not treating me right so I'm going to rebel. And as I said, it surprised me that a lot of the people didn't think that way. 'Cause I don't feel guilty of what I did. I don't feel guilty that I'm, because I'm a Japanese. I'm an American citizen, born and raised, and you can't take that away from me as a citizenship.
<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 37>
LH: Well, I think we're going to wrap up here but I wanted to get your last comments. If there are things that we've overlooked in the questions which I'm sure we have and I think you've recognized. If there's anything else that you'd like to add and more importantly, if there's anything else you'd like to indicate as what people should learn from this experience of internment, what people really need to take away from that...
GA: It's good to be obedient but it also, it's good to speak out when you think thing is not right. And so regardless, whatever people say of you, they'll come around if you're right.
LH: If you have anything to say in terms of what people should learn from this experience of internment and what happened to the Japanese Americans, what would that be?
GA: That whatever you feel right, you should speak out. It's nice to be quiet but then it doesn't hurt to create a little wave to let the people know that you don't like what's going on. I think we all had the tendency of our upbringing to be obedient, whatever they tell you to do, just follow through because they tell me to do it. And that way, they could lead you any direction they want to and unless you come out and speak out, you're going to be a follower all the time. Many of the -- well, let me see... when, when you feel that you are right, you should speak out because if it could happen to you, it could happen to anybody. As long as you're a minority, they can pick on you and they can incarcerate you as they did us because you're a minority. But if you get out there and speak out and speak out loud, I think you will be able to combat those type of things. As you notice, that the Jewish people, they stress the Holocaust year after year after year until people are sick and tired of listening to that. But what they're doing is to, telling the people, "Don't forget. Don't forget that this could happen to you, the Holocaust." And in the same manner, we should go out there and tell the people and make them remember that this should never happen again. Because you as a minority could be the next one. I could be talking about any other nationality. Right now I'm thinking of the Iranians, I think it was, when they started out, they're talking about rounding up all the Iranians. It never did materialize but they did start talking about it. So things like that could happen. It's a war hysteria that people just jump on the, on one of those, and to get out there and anything could happen when a person or a group is in a mass hysteria. So let's hope that nothing like that would ever happen and I hope that this will teach the younger generation that wherever you must get out, don't hesitate but get out and speak up your feelings and let them know that you want justice.
LH: Thank you very much, Gene, thanks a lot.
<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.