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-01-0022

<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.