Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Masao Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Masao Watanabe
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 19, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-wmasao-01-0021

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: What was that like? What was Shiro like?

MW: Well, he's an entirely different story. I'm sure you got a lot of viewpoints of him. And he was a little older than I, so when we were in Seattle, we knew each other, but not as well as we did when we got into the army. He was an individual. Quite a character, tough. And we had a good time.

TI: There was one story you told me and I'm not sure exactly if it was at the point you volunteered or the point where you were inducted at Douglas, was he had to take an eye exam.

MW: Oh, God, that was when we went to Fort Douglas. I forgot how many were in our group, but we had a couple of guys that were, I would say, legally blind. And there was one test that you have to take 'cause you're -- optometry or eye, eyesight. We had two guys waiting in line to take the test, and if you can imagine, they both faced the wrong wall. I mean, it was ridiculous. But I was behind Shiro. I knew he had a rough time, so I kind of steered him right, and I think the examiners knew what was going on.

TI: So when you say you "steered him right," how did you exactly do this? What did you do?

MW: Well, I made sure I was behind him, and I would whisper to him, "E, F," -- [laughs] -- "G, H," and, you know.

TI: Because there was no way that Shiro could pass an eye exam.

MW: Aw, hell. He could hardly see the wall.

TI: But you thought the eye examiner knew this, that this was going on?

MW: I can't help but think they knew something, 'cause... or I thought my voice was low enough, but I'm sure they knew.

TI: And this was something because Shiro wanted to be, to volunteer.

MW: Oh, yeah. He convinced me he wanted to go down. An interesting side light is, I think there was -- I forgot just where the Marines were or the Special Services. We were at Fort Douglas and there was a special call for volunteers to go into the Marine Corps, and -- [laughs] -- Shiro and I were thinking, we thought, "Well, why not? You get more money." [Laughs] They rejected us, but we did try to get in.

TI: I didn't realize they were, they were -- so they were recruiting Japanese Americans for the Marines?

MW: No, not Japanese Americans.

TI: But anyone out of Fort Douglas?

MW: Yeah. At Fort Douglas they were recruiting, we had heard.

TI: And were you rejected because you were Japanese Americans?

MW: Well, I can't think of another good reason.

TI: That's interesting.

MW: It was just a plausible reason. Just made a lot of sense to me.

TI: But then during that period before Fort Douglas, you and Shiro, by working, I guess, with the wheat farms and things like that, became pretty close?

MW: Yeah. Unfortunately, we had to sleep together for a period. [Laughs]. But yeah, we worked together, ate together. We spent time together.

TI: I realize this is a little bit of a tangent talking about Shiro, but a lot has been said and written about him and a lot has been written about him as a soldier. And what I'm curious about is, sort of, him as a person and some of his characteristics. How would you sort of describe Shiro and the type of person he was?

MW: I thought he was very special, and it's not because of his wartime experiences. To use a lousy term, he was "straight arrow." He was very true to his word. You could trust him. He was tough. Unfortunately, he didn't back down from anything, but that was his nature. He was that way. He was a true blue... he was a good friend, very trustworthy.

TI: When you say he wouldn't back down, can you think of any examples, not necessarily in the military, but examples where he wouldn't back down?

MW: Oh, yeah. I could think of several instances where he was ready to go to combat or fight or anything if he thought he was right. He was true blue, I think. You know, for the lack of a better word, I think he was just a damn good citizen.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.