Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Charles Olds Interview
Narrator: Charles Olds
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Klamath Falls, Oregon
Date: July 3, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ocharles-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Okay. Well, today is July 3rd, 19 -- July 3, 2000.

CO: Yes.

AI: We're here in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on the Tule Lake Pilgrimage with Mr. Charles Olds. I'm Alice Ito with the Densho Project, and videography by Steven Hamada. And, Mr. Olds, thank you very much for being with us today.

CO: It's my pleasure and privilege.

AI: I wanted to ask you to go way back and tell us when and where you were born.

CO: Well, I was born in Japan in Karuizawa, which is today a luxury resort for upper-level Japanese people. But in my day, it was the place where, a summer resort for missionaries. My parents were missionaries in Japan. My mother had been born in Japan. Her father was a very early Christian missionary. He and Joseph Nijima founded Doshida University in Kyoto.

AI: And what was your mother's father's name?

CO: My mother's name was Genevieve Davis Olds. She, my father was, they were married, he was from Beloit, Wisconsin, and went to Japan as a missionary. And he had met my mother in, during the course of their schooling, so they would, they had something in common. They wanted to go to Japan as missionaries, and particularly because my mother's father had gone much earlier. And so that's how I came to be in Japan.

AI: And what year was that that you were born?

CO: In 1913. Yeah. And I have always had -- I went to school at a Canadian school called the Canadian Academy in Kobe. And I graduated from there in 1930. I was sixteen and went on to college. And I grew up learning the street language of Japanese. I had a lot of Japanese kids as friends. I thought it was too bad that the school that I went to didn't have courses in Japanese. However, I had enough to converse with some people in very simple terms. After that, I went on to college and...

AI: And where was that? Where did you go to college?

CO: I went, that was in 1930. And incidentally, I came to, back home to the United States with my oldest brother. We crossed the Soviet, the Soviet Union then. It was Trans-Siberian Railroad. And we went to Berlin, and it was a, since it was a year ending in zero, we went to Oberammergau and saw a passion play, which occurs once every ten years. Anyway, then I went on to school at Oberlin College in the U.S. My interest in, in the Japanese always remained. I had, I always liked to have a chance to talk with visitors from Japan, and I still do. [Laughs] I remember where I lived, which was Portland, Oregon, I used to play tennis on the public courts in Washington Park, which is right below the Japanese Gardens in Portland. And a lot of Japanese tourists would come by, and I would hear them talking and I would casually make a comment. And they'd stop and be amazed to hear one of these tennis players was talking in Japanese. So I'm, I had that fun.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: We're, in our earlier conversation, you told me that you got interested in social work after college. Can you tell me about that?

CO: Yes. I graduated from college in 1934, and if you recall, that was a time when it was almost the height of the Depression. And it wasn't easy to get a job. I did get one, however, in welfare work. And I had a taste of social work, and I decided that I would accept a scholarship to go to graduate school, which I did. And I went to the University of Chicago School of Social Work. My major was in child welfare, and I did fieldwork in that work. And there's where I met my wife. She was attending school. She was from Seattle. And we had contacts during the time we were going to fieldwork. So we both were, received our degree, and in a couple years, I married her. She was from Seattle and had a lot of Japanese friends there. She would have been -- she died four years ago -- but she would have been extremely interested in, in this program here at Tule Lake commemoration and pilgrimage. But I got involved because after I had taken a job in the state of Maryland with the public welfare department, I, a friend of mine told me about the War Relocation Authority, which was responsible for the Japanese Americans who had been removed from the West Coast and were in camps, and would I be interested? If so, why don't I try it out.

AI: Now, when your friend mentioned this to you, before that, had you heard anything about the camps?

CO: Frankly, no. I hadn't known about them. I don't think there was much publicity generally. I mean, I guess I must have known. But, yes the Japanese, persons of Japanese ancestry had to be removed from the war zone. That was known. And conditions that existed in the various relocation centers varied. Some were pretty miserable, and some weren't as bad as concentration camps would have been in, like in Germany.

AI: So after your friend mentioned this to you...

CO: Yes.

AI: ...what happened?

CO: I thought, "Well, this is where I might, my background might be of help, and it would be an interesting job for me." So I did apply and was accepted because I had the background of Japan and the Japanese language. My first assignment was to start a relocation center in Baltimore, Maryland. And the relocation centers existed in various parts of the East, and Midwest, the South, all over the country. They were to find job openings and living arrangements for people from the camps who didn't have to stay there. And so I started out in Baltimore, starting a relocation office.

AI: And about when was that? About what year?

CO: That would have been about 1940, early 1944, 'cause it was sort of late in coming. They had really just started getting these jobs, offers and so on.

AI: Could you tell me a little bit about, about the employers or people that you were trying to recruit as employers? What was their attitude?

CO: Well, we did get some publicity locally, and it attracted the interest of some people who either were desperately in need of, of help, of either skilled workers or even non-skilled, but dedicated people who would be good employees. We did some recruiting other than that, visiting some of the bigger companies and getting contacts with people and families where they could provide a housing arrangement for a family. Now, we realized that the chances of families coming wouldn't be as great as for single individuals because of, obviously, the fear that families had of leaving the shelter of camps. Bad though they were, they were a shelter. And they protected them from the, from the prejudice that existed in various parts of the country. I certainly can't say there wasn't prejudice in the East or the Midwest, but it wasn't like it would have been or it was in the West Coast. There were many people who wanted to know more and were perfectly willing to have people of Japanese ancestry come.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: So you were able to recruit some potential employers.

CO: Yeah.

AI: Now, what happened then?

CO: Well, I didn't do, stay with that part of the program very long because, for two reasons -- one, although we had recruited jobs, we didn't have as many applicants for them as we would hope for. Anyway, so I felt, "Well, why not go to one of the camps themselves and tell them about what's available, what's out there." So that's how I moved with my wife and child. I had a two-year old then. And we found that Poston, Arizona, which is on the Colorado River, is -- it's a large camp. There were three camps in the big, the whole program there. And so we moved out there, oh, in about November, or October, November, and were there through the winter. Even though it was winter, it was hot. And my wife got a job as a social worker in the camp. And my daughter was age two, and she had a ball. She'd go around and, with her little bucket-like lunchbox and say, "I go to 'wook.' I'm going to work." And one time she went out on a highway, and some Nisei drivers found her and picked her up and brought her home. And she said, she told them, she was going to 'wook.'

Actually, we had a very positive experience at Poston. The quarters for staff are separate from the quarters for the evacuees. And although they weren't luxurious, they were a lot better than the quarters for the evacuees. We had, the government had furnished apartments with a kitchen and a bedroom, one bedroom and living room. It provided a water cooler for cooling and a separate mess hall which, although I think the food was probably very similar to that that was provided in the mess halls for the evacuees. Anyway, that's where we lived. We felt this was a worthwhile thing to do, even though there was some feeling sometimes among the evacuees that the staff were getting a great deal and -- [laughs] -- were tending to exploit the job on behalf of the evacuees. But by and large, our contact, our relationship, both mine and my wife's with our counterparts among the evacuees, 'cause they, where I was a relocation officer, there were relocation people on the staff in the camp of evacuees, so that they would be responsible for going out and bringing in people who might be candidates for relocation.

AI: And then what would you do? What was your role?

CO: And then, well, we would receive, and the staff would, the job offers from all over the country would come in, and we would post them and keep them available so that the other, the evacuee staff would have that material, too. And it was a combined effort that we would go out and recruit people for jobs and so on.

AI: And once you had been there a few months, what was your impression about the evacuees' readiness or willingness or interest in relocating?

CO: What was my impression of that?

AI: Right.

CO: Well, I felt that they were my counterparts and that I had, they had just as much concern about seeing people leave as I did. And our relationships with the, with the staff was very close. We became very good friends. So, anyway, that went on for me for about, maybe ten months. And during that time...

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: I was going to ask you, during that time, gosh, I think you had said earlier in our earlier conversation that you were involved in some interviewing with some of the Issei.

CO: Yes.

AI: And now, could you tell us about what that was about?

CO: Well, the administration, the War Relocation Authority, were willing to cooperate with the war department to determine if there were so-called loyal residents, or if there were truly, if their loyalty was to Japan rather than to the U.S. So in order to determine who was which on this, they would set up loyalty hearing boards, so to speak. And they, everybody was supposed to come and sign an oath or sign a statement about their allegiance. I felt that it was a, really an insult to many of the people to ask them, "Are you loyal to the United States? And are you, or are you loyal to Japan?" It was ridiculous because in so many cases, the, the young people particularly knew nothing else than their American experience. With the older people, there were those who were probably genuinely interested in Japan, and if possible, they'd like to go. They were not people that you felt, or I would feel, were dangerous in the sense that they would be saboteurs or spies, but they had to be asked to sign a statement. And many Issei particularly felt that they didn't want to sign such an oath. They would, they, a few that I interviewed said, "Well, we, if we had the chance, we'd like to go back to Japan." And, but there were very few that I found.

Anyway, that was that whole program of interviewing. I could, because I knew a little Japanese, I could talk to some of the Issei in Japanese, in sort of a halting way, and maybe reassure them about the conditions that were out in the Midwest and so on, so they wouldn't have to be absolutely frightened and concerned. However, it was an uphill battle because, naturally, a good many of them and perhaps most were fearful of what would happen. So we can't say that we recruited many of the large families with the parents at all. Young people, yes. We could, they were ready to leave, and 'course, some of the men volunteered and got into the army, and some were drafted. But that was part of the program that was sort of distasteful to me, to have to do this kind of interviewing of people. For, there was a period where things had been going on at Tule Lake. We knew that, that there had been pretty rough happenings there and that yet there were still, and that it was gradually being turned into a segregation center for the so-called dangerous or disloyal or whatever. And yet there were at that point while I was there, enough people still that they'd either have to go to another camp or they could relocate. And so I went on a team up to Tule Lake, and we interviewed a lot of the residents who were eligible to leave. And couldn't spend a whole long time on it. It was only about four or five days that we were there.

AI: Do you recall about when that would have been?

CO: I'm trying to think, and my memory is hazy on exactly when. It must have been sometime between when I came to Poston, which was in the fall of 1944, I believe.

AI: Fall of...

CO: '95?

AI: Of the '40, '40...

CO: '40, 1944.

AI: Let's think about that because you were doing some interviewing around the so-called "loyalty questions," and as I recall, I think the loyalty questionnaire came out in '43?

CO: Is that '43?

AI: Yes.

CO: Yeah. Well, then it must have been a little earlier because it's hard to recall specific details of that, back that far.

AI: Right.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Well, and then sometime in the early part of the next year, then, you went to Tule Lake.

CO: Yeah. We went there not too long before I was drafted from Poston into the army. My draft board was Baltimore, Maryland, but they finally caught up with me and with a couple others, and we had indicated that we wanted to go to Japanese language school if we were inducted.

AI: And what year was that that you were drafted?

CO: That was '45.

AI: '45. Okay. So it was probably early '45, then, that you went to Tule Lake?

CO: I think so.

AI: And when you went there and you were interviewing some people for potential relocation, what was the nature of those interviews? What would happen in an interview?

CO: In the camp, generally, what was going on?

AI: Uh-huh.

CO: Well, that, I cannot recall that there had been any wild incidents yet. I mean, there were people who, yeah, were supposed to be on the segregation list that would have to stay, but I didn't have any contact with them because they couldn't be eligible to relocate.

AI: Now, when you would have an interview with someone who was interested in relocating, what would you do? What would happen in an interview like that?

CO: Well, we would actually tell them about a specific job in an area, and then the data would be transmitted from that end as to the specific condition of the job. We would, you know, send communication back and forth as to fitting a certain individual or family to a specific job. And I wasn't there long enough to know how that would come out because that takes a little time.

One thing I recall while we were there, just to lighten things up, another guy and I, who's Caucasian, who speaks Japanese some, we put on a skit, and trying to make, either make fun of some of the WRA policies and the, or to influence the thought about getting out. Why stay out and, like we would speak partly in English and partly in Japanese, and it was quite entertaining. Some of the people felt they liked to, they got a big laugh out of it. I think these, our WRA people who could do that, because there weren't very many people on the WRA staff who could speak Japanese.

AI: Well, so then after four or five days...

CO: Yeah.

AI: Tule Lake, you returned back to Poston?

CO: Then I came back to Poston. Then in, I think it was in May of 1945, I was inducted into camp. And I went to, first step was to Ann Harbor, Michigan, at the University of Michigan, and that was a setting for beginning Japanese language, and most of the people that came were top students in their classes. They hadn't had previous training or knowledge of Japanese, but they thought they, it was thought they would learn fast. Anyway, we were there about six months and then went to basic training and then came back and went to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, for the advanced work.

Now, this afternoon or earlier, one of our speakers here at the conference had spoken of his getting into the Japanese language interrogation work, and the Nisei went to Fort Snelling also. I think my being there was after they had been trained. So I was there for about five months, and then, that was August of 1945, and the, we were in, no, we were in basic training when the atom bomb was dropped. And then we went back to camp, and the, my super, my supervisor or whatever it was, he said, "Don't think you're going to get out of the army just because the war's over," so on. So that wasn't very good for our morale at that point. [Laughs] But anyway, I finally did. I got a discharge from the army in order to go to China as a civilian with the United Nations. But many of my colleagues stayed on, got commissions, and went on to military government in Japan. So that was, let's see, probably the gist of my experience.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, looking back on that experience now, what do you think now about the camps and the whole incident of the removal of the people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast?

CO: Well, obviously, first of all, I, I think that it was a gross mistake on the part of our government to order it, that kind of removal of people from the war zone. They didn't do it in Hawaii, except for a few. They could have selected a few people in the West Coast, well, to put into maximum security camps. But I disagreed with it from the very start, of course. And, but having done so, I, I have great admiration for the people that went to the camps, the conditions that they went through, and their tremendous ingenuity in fixing up their physical arrangements. Had gardens, and made furniture and all kinds of things that made life more livable. I think most of the camps had a better experience than Tule Lake. Tule Lake had a pretty bad, they had a very reactionary local camp administrator, and then, that caused more and more dissension, which sort of piled up and increased as time went on so that life was pretty tough for everybody there. Anyway, that's my experience.

AI: Well, I appreciate you relating this information. Is there anything that you think can be learned from this historic situation?

CO: Well, I think that all of us on the, who worked in the program realize what can happen in a national emergency such as the war, and that to, the administration happened to be very much, very wrong in what they did to combat it. But, we've got to be careful that it doesn't happen in other circumstances or other times. If, for example, I heard that there was the thought of, of putting some Iranians into protected custody or something like that. Well, that would be just about the same kind of a thing that was done to the Japanese. And of course, the things that happened in Latin America to the Japanese who were in Peru and other Latin American countries was equally bad. It was, brought out some pretty nasty things that you could say about the U.S. policy of needing hostages to get our own prisoners from Japan back, which, it was eye for an eye kind of philosophy, which is ridiculous. So I think that we all should learn something about this whole experience, that would prevent it from happening again.

AI: Well, Mr. Olds, thank you very much.

CO: Okay. You're welcome.

AI: Really appreciate your sharing this with us.

CO: I appreciate doing it.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.