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-01-0023

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AI: And so you had applied to a number of schools to try to get in. And was it the University of Nebraska that accepted you?

PB: Yes. This War Relocation Authority had set up this group that we could go to the university. Well, my grades in school were very good, so I tendered that to the different schools, and I was accepted at University of Nebraska. The only thing is that when I went to Lincoln, Nebraska, of course paid my own way, and I went in to register at the school, and they looked at me and obviously I didn't look like a Caucasian. They said, "You know, Japanese ancestry, we have a quota, and you're above the quota." I think they would allow fifty people in University of Nebraska. They said, "It's our fault for accepting you." Well, one reason I think they accepted me is the name. Bannai doesn't sound like Kawasaki or something like that, so maybe that's what did it. But regardless, they said, "Since it's our fault and you've paid your way here, we will find a school for you. If you'll come back in a week, we'll have something." And evidently they called and wrote, and when I went there they gave me a choice. There was a school, I forgot, there was Grinnell, there was, I forgot the name of the school. Well, anyway, there was about six schools they gave me a choice on. One of 'em was Drake University. And when I saw that, I said, "Oh, that's where they had the big track meets, and I'm familiar with Drake, so I would like to go there." So they said, "We'll send your papers there and tell them that you'll be there." So I then left and went to Des Moines, Iowa. I got there and again I went to the admissions department, and they said, "Well, you have to wait because we're in-between semesters. But if you will wait, you're accepted."

Well, I got a place to live, and I still remember. It's 2315 Carpenter. Yeah. It was right near the school. And since I was very low on income, I got a roommate, and this young man was from -- I forgot the name of the little city in Iowa, but his father was a superintendent at the Maytag factory. And he and I roomed together. And I needed income, so I looked around. They told me I could get a job at a hotel at, the name of it was Taneney-McGinn. They had a chain of hotels through Iowa. So I went there and applied, and they gave me a job. And the Taneney-McGinn chain, the manager there was very good to me, and he was sympathetic to the fact as a Japanese American, I'm way back in Iowa. Well, I found out that Des Moines, Iowa, was one of the areas where when the slaves came from the South going up north, that this is one town that they went through going up north, and they were well taken care of. Well, now whether that made a difference or not, I don't know. But the people in Des Moines were very good to me -- my landlady at the house where I lived, the company that I worked for. The Taneney-McGinn chain owned several hotels, one of them incidentally in town was a Savory, I think, or... but anyway, they had turned it over to the WACs. And Des Moines was a headquarter for the WAC detachment. So the WACs stayed at that hotel. They took over. My job at Taneney-McGinn was first, I went in to help in the kitchen. I don't know why, but everywhere you go you're either a gardener or a kitchen cook. So anyway, I worked there. And they, as you know, during the war there was a great shortage of male help -- lot of women and no men. So eventually I, in a short time, few months, I worked up to be the head of all the restaurants. We had a coffee shop, we had a regular restaurant, and we had a banquet room. And even though there weren't a lot of, many banquets during the war, they did have a few big gatherings. So I would be sure that I catered those particular meals. So that was what I did.

And the manager of this particular hotel was sympathetic, very friendly to me, and wanted my story. I gave him my story and told him I was waiting to get into school. And I also told him that one of the reasons why I was there, is even though I was age, of age, I couldn't get into the military. And I wanted to get into military if I could. And he told me, he says, "You know, I have friends at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and I'll get in touch with them and see what your situation is. Maybe it'll change from 4-C to 1-A one of these days." Well, one day he called me in the office, and he says, "You know, Paul, what you don't know but I found out is I found out from a friend of mine in the Pentagon that they're going to form a Japanese American unit, and that if you are interested, they will take you into that unit." So I says, "Well, if you can find out for me and see if I can get in the army, I'd be very happy." So he did. And they said, "Yeah. You go down to Camp Des Moines" -- which was right close by. They had a railroad, little streetcar in there. And he says, "You go there and find out." So the man said, "Yeah. We'll induct you, and you can be 1-A."

So I went there, and taken in the army, issued a uniform. The colonel at the camp, Camp Dodge was the name of the camp, said, "You know, you can stay here. I'm going to give you a sergeant's stripe, and your boss tells me that you're good in food preparation, so that you can stay here and be the mess sergeant. You'll be a sergeant and you don't have to go to the front. You can avoid all your problems in the war." I said, "No, I'm here to fight for this country. I cannot stay here cooking food for those that are coming in the military." But they were all very good. In fact, the first day I was in camp, they asked me if I would be willing to take over the maintenance because they think of me as a gardener, and I could take care of the lawn and trees. I said no to that also. So anyway, I was in the army then and had to wait there a little bit before I would leave to go to Camp Shelby because they were forming the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.