Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Yamasaki Interview I
Narrator: Frank Yamasaki
Interviewers: Lori Hoshino (primary), Stephen Fugita
Location: Lake Forest Park, Washington
Date: August 18, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-yfrank-01-0030

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LH: Did you find that when you were in prison at McNeil that you were bonded together with the other resisters in a way?

FY: No. Again, we are assigned different work. Now in my case, possibly because of my health, right from the beginning I was assigned to censor board and I kept books and it was in what they called the civilian area, so the people were all civilian people. And then when I got ill, they had me outside and then they fed me well at the officer's mess hall and then they shifted me to education. I was secretary there. So you know, I'm sort of isolated from the others in a sense. Funny now, I just wondered what a lot of the others... you asked me this... isn't that strange? I don't really remember what... some worked in a cannery, later on when we were all sent to the farm, there were some working in the dairy and again, out on the farm, I worked for the, they were civilian, they had a civilian crew and an engineer building up what they call a coffer dam there and I was his assistant, you might say, secretary. And there was a great time I had. I was alone. I just had to go out and check and see how much clearing that was done every day and at times I get to move these equipment, so I get the chance to drive the tractors or these big ton, heavy trucks, dump trucks and things. You know, I grinded the gear a lot. [Laughs]

And then the others, who are delivering, they would stop by and they would bring over fruit from the cannery and this and that and I asked for vegetables and one time Mr. Davidson, the project director, he comes in. He's talking to this lieutenant who is in charge of the guard. The other guy is a engineer and he's talking to him and he says, "You know, it was a funny thing. I come into this" -- they have a little shed there -- "and it smells like something is rotten, you know." So he goes around and look and he says, "You know, I found this pot here with a whole bunch of cucumber and a rock on top." [Laughs] I heard that see, and I was making tsukemono for the gang. [Laughs] And then he says, "And then another day, I go to in back of the shed to take a leak and as a I take a leak, geez, there is a whole bunch of apples down there buried." [Laughs] So there was some crazy moments.

And when we went out to the farm, of course, they were still part of the Heart Mountain people there. And there was some very sad, tragic... there was one fellow name Fred and it was his last day. He was the electrician there. Nice looking guy, good athlete. You know, tall. And his folks and his sweetheart was waiting for them across the channel there over in Steilacoom and at the last minute he was showing his new trainee how to, he went into the shed and I happened to be on a sick leave that day. And he went in to show him how to pull the switch and all that. And he didn't have to. He was already, all he had to do was leave. And the last minute, he went, and apparently there was a microscopic leak in the handle. And usually he used a stick to kick it down, but he was in a hurry. This was early in the morning, so there was moisture on the floor, cement floor [imitates sound of electric burst]. He died right there. They tried to revive him, very sad because you can imagine the shock, that instead of walking over there, he (went) across in a casket.

LH: Gosh, so close.

FY: That was, I think that was the biggest tragedy as far as the... nice guy, too.

SF: When you were at McNeil, did any people visit you?

FY: Pardon?

SF: When you were in McNeil, did folks come and visit you?

FY: Yes, yes. My mother and my brother came twice. And it was very hard, when you're in an institution like that. It is similar to the camp. If you don't think about the outside, then you can tolerate that. Then when they come, you see them and then for days you think about it. You think about the outside and all that. There were times where college students, they're apparently taking sociology or penology or something, and they want to take tours and I'd be in education and they would come storming in and that was very hard, too. You see young girls. So it's ironical that you're there, it's better to just completely shut the outside off. So you put this in a different channel and...

LH: What did you look forward to? What got you through the prison time?

FY: I think just keeping busy. Always had something to read. Always one activity or another. Just keeping busy. We were allowed three letters a week. Being working in the censor so all the letters go through there. So I can write an extra one and they don't know. I posted the letters.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.