Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gene Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewers: Larry Hashima (primary), Stephen Fugita (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 25, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-01-0011

<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.