Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview I
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 28, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-01-0014

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AI: You were working in the bank during the day. In the evening you had the band, and you still had many community activities...

PB: That's right.

AI: ...that were keeping you busy.

PB: So that's why I say when the war started, I was already old enough to be in the selective service and had hoped to be called into the military. One thing that I remember very much is a friendship I made with the band members because when the war came on and I was evacuated, all of us where I lived -- at that time I lived on Michigan Avenue and, right near the high school -- I guess people will remember if they're Japanese Americans that people knew that we were going to be evacuated, so they would come and offer us ridiculous amounts for our household furniture and everything. Well, I had bought a car about a year before, and the offers they gave me were so ridiculous that I locked the car up, threw away the key, and went to camp. Well, my friends in the band saw this. They got a locksmith, opened the door, sold my car. Didn't get a lot of money for it, but at least I got some money. They sent me the money in camp. So these kinds of friendships were very, very important to me. And so it overdid some of the bad features of the start of the war that I remember.

I remember one thing. I was in the guard at that time. And when December 7th -- we were going to play that Sunday night -- I remember that in the morning because the war started I went down to Exposition Park where my unit was. I was in the guard. And they told me, "We know that you're of Japanese ancestry, and we cannot issue you your gun." We had our guns stored there and ammunition. So I said, "Well, if I can't work and defend my own country in a battle in the war, I will leave." So I left.

Now, that night, as I say, I was going to play with the band in a dance. And they told me there was going to be a curfew from there on out for all Nisei. You're not supposed to be out. If you're Japanese Americans, you cannot be out after a certain hour. Well, these, we had a lot of dances lined up for the next few weeks. And so one of the band members, just to show you that they were very protective and looking out for me, picked up a badge that said, "I am Chinese," and they brought it to me. [Laughs] And I says, "What's that for?" He says, "Well, because you told us you can't stay out at night." So he says, "You wear this, and then they don't know." [Laughs] So I said, "Nah, they won't know." But these were friendships that really lasted. The three Slavs that I was real friendly with, they used to attend a Catholic church near where they lived. Our Lady of Lourdes, I think it was. And they would invite me to church on Sunday because if we played late at night on Saturday night, they had what they called a high mass at midnight. Well, that's the first time I started to attend a Catholic church because they would go, and we would be able to wake up late and go. So all these things I remember because of the friendships with these Slav people.

Now, one thing that I remember, and when the war came along, their father heard that if they were in agriculture and working on a farm, they would not be called into service. So he went out to Chino and bought a farm and said, "My three boys are going to work this farm during the war." So because of that feeling and his attitude, they never went into service -- not because they didn't want to or not, because their parents didn't want them to go into the military. But they did become very successful. One became a schoolteacher out there. And I still keep in touch with Johnny. He's all right. So there's a lot of friendships that before the war I have kept, and they're, to me they're very valuable friendships.

AI: Well, at that time in the late '30s, to have such a multiracial, multi-ethnic group, a band like that, was very unusual. So it sounds like you had some very strong friendships that crossed these racial and cultural boundaries and brought you very close together.

PB: Oh, yeah.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.