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-01-0008

<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.