Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Harvey Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Harvey Watanabe
Interviewer: Stacy Sakamoto
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: November 4, 1996
Densho ID: denshovh-wharvey-01-0023

<Begin Segment 23>

SS: Did you ever feel that you had to work twice as hard to prove yourself as a non-Japanese American would?

HW: No. I think, sometimes, dependin' on the person, I felt that I could do just as much in half the time. But, there again, the assignment has something to do with that, you know.

SS: But you didn't feel like you had to prove yourself to them, then.

HW: No, no. No, actually, I had a kinda embarrassing situation when I was at, in Australia was that they had assigned an officer to my unit, to my team. And I says, "Well, good, he can be the captain of the team and I'll" -- I was the sergeant, tech sergeant -- "and I could work for him." And they said, "No, no, no, he's gonna work for you." It was embarrassing to have an officer working for an enlisted man. But then I went to Korea and I found that that was true. Because we had, in our regiment that we were attached to for rations and quartering, there were two companies that had first lieutenants, World War II veterans, as company commanders, with two majors, their subordinates. They're subordinates to the first lieutenant -- two ranks down. And the intelligence unit in the regiment, they had a first lieutenant, World War II veteran, recalled, with two majors workin' for him in regimental intelligence. And the colonel of the regiment says, "I put -- not rank in position, but I put the most, the proper person into the position. We are at war. We don't put rank in position. I don't put rank in the position. I put the person that can cut the mustard into the position, regardless of rank." And that was, lot of talk about that at the time.

SS: Were you ever stationed in Japan during the war? Or soon after the war?

HW: Yes. After, soon as the groundwork was laid for the occupation in Japan, then I was assigned to the headquarters commandant of MacArthur's headquarters, and to be, work with him. I presume to be interpreting in Japan. And, on board the ship going to Japan, why, first day out he asked me to his stateroom, and I went there, and he asked me -- he told me that, "I'm gonna assign, figure, two soldiers to assign to you for bodyguards." And I says, "Well, Colonel, I don't need bodyguards." He says, "Well, this is our first day at sea, so why don't you think about it and we'll talk about it some more tomorrow." And I said, "Okay." Went back, and tomorrow he called, next day he calls up again and says, "Watanabe, you think about it? Bodyguards for you?" And I says, "Well, I don't need bodyguards." And he says, "Why?" And I says, "Because the war is over, Colonel, and they are people like you and me. Why should I have a bodyguard? People are people." He thought about that for a while and he says, "Okay." But he says, "Will you do something for me?" he says, "I know you were assigned to me to be an interpreter and so forth, but I'm short of officers. Will you do other work besides?" And I says, "Sure, anything you want me to do, I'll be happy to do."

So when we get to Yokohama and get on a troop convoy and go in, we drive along, we're in Tokyo, and the convoy stops about midnight, somebody's beatin' on the side of the truck calling out my name. So I poked my head out and I said, "Here I am." And they said, "Well, grab your bags. This is where you get off." I grabbed my bag, jumped off, and convoy takes off. Left me standing there on the street. And I looked up and it said Daiichi Hotel. And I said, "Well, if they're gonna leave me here, I might as well go inside and find a quiet place to sleep." And I went in there, in the lobby and lobby and everything was all full of baggage. The Japanese were moving out, see. And so next morning, I woke up rubbin' my eyes, and this signal corps sending in, putting in telephone lines. So I went to the sergeant and I says, "How long is it going to take you to get the telephone lines in?" "Oh," he says, "about another hour." And I said, "Will I be able to call the headquarters commandant?" "Oh yeah, you should be able to." So I waited around and I called him up and he answers the phone and, "Where are you?" And I says, "Well I looked at the building outside and it says Daiichi Hotel." And he says, "Well, you're gonna run that hotel." [Laughs] 735-room hotel. It was in a mess. Four years of no attention. I find out later that the air system, air conditioning didn't work. The hot water system hadn't been used for four years. Nothing been maintained for four years. I went down to the kitchen. There was nothing in the kitchen. All the metal had been taken out. All the elevator cars, except one, was removed. So people assigned to the seventh floor room have to walk up and down those stairs.

I had a, the busiest four months of my life in Tokyo. Gettin' that hotel in shape so, gettin' the elevator cars in, and gettin' it redone. Turned the hot water on -- four hundred leaks, you know. Air, air conditioning system didn't work, got that straightened out. Heating system wouldn't work. Got that straightened out. Had to get tailoring service for the occupants, for the colonels, colonels and admirals -- not, colonels and majors that stayed there, and lieutenant colonels and two generals that didn't want to go to the Imperial Hotel. I had a delegation of fourteen from Russia, Russian Embassy. They couldn't get into their embassy because it was the old hierarchy that was still there. They had locked everything and wouldn't let them in. So they stayed at the hotel. They were troublemakers, the Russians. They would drink vodka and come home and tear up everything. Finally got 'em kicked out. I had to write a two pages, single-spaced misdemeanor list that they were causing, and sent it to General Willoughby and he used that to kick them out of the hotel. Tell 'em to go find your own stuff in Tokyo.

SS: You were in contact with so many high-ranking officers. Including, probably, MacArthur himself?

HW: Never saw MacArthur. I saw his wife in Tokyo a lot of times, but never saw him.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.