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-01-0026

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PB: And I think that overall that when everybody went overseas, that was good. I didn't go overseas with the 442nd because just before, I'd already got my rating in the 522nd. I was a gunner, and they gave me my stripes and everything. And I was ready to go. And then the last minute, I got a War Department order that, "We have a shortage of Japanese interpreters in the Pacific, and we need to recruit." Now, they did recruit very early. In the 442nd there were some they gave a test to, and they could read and write Japanese, so they were sent up to Camp Savage in Minnesota. I didn't take the test because I, as I say, I was born in a non-Japanese, I was raised in a place where nobody spoke, no Japanese school. So here I get this order from the War Department to go to Camp Savage. And I said, "Hey, I'm ready to go overseas. I'm an artilleryman." So I went to the captain, and he said, "Well, I'll tell you what." He said, "Go see the colonel. Maybe he can do something for you." So I went to the colonel, and I says, "Colonel Kern, I'm here to say that I've got this order to go to Camp Savage to learn Japanese, and I don't want to go." And he said, "Well, let's look at the order." So they looked at the order, and he says, "You know, I'm only head of the 442nd, and this is a War Department order." And he said, "There's no way that I can overturn anything like that. So you have to go to Camp Savage." And so that's how I ended up there. And when I went up there, as I say I was very fortunate that the head of the school was Colonel John Aiso, who I knew from Hollywood. He was a prominent attorney there. And also because his mother and my mother were in Manzanar together and they saw each other every day, so John knew who I was, knew that, my inadequacy at Japanese very well. [Laughs] And he said, "Paul," he says, "I know how much Japanese you know." But he says, "This is an order." And he says, "If I have to get a tutor for you and start you just basic Japanese, you're going to have to learn Japanese before you leave here." So I said, "Okay, John. We'll see what I can do." So that's how I started. Now, there's one thing that I did there is during the day I could study. We had classes, at night I had to catch up. And the latrines were the only place that had a light on. So many times I'd be sitting in the latrine with the light on, and somebody'd come in, "Hey Paul, what are you doing? You're always sitting in here." I says, "I'm studying." [Laughs] They thought I was in the latrine all the time doing what I have -- shouldn't be doing. But anyway, I did finish school there.

And I was very fortunate that John knew of my capabilities. So John Aiso told me, he says, "Well, you have to leave, and we have a request from the military police to send a team to Fort Custer, Michigan, and I'd like you to take a team. But because your team of about eighteen, twenty people, they're real good in Japanese. But I'm going to send somebody with you as a co-leader of the team because I have to get rid of him." So I won't mention his name because it's public, but he says, "I have a teacher, instructor here that's good in Japanese, but he's giving us problems, going into town and bothering all the girls at the USO. And he's a good instructor, but he wants to be in combat service. So I'm going to send him with you as a co-leader of the team." He happened to be a good friend of mine from, lived right in Boyle Heights with me. So I said, "Oh, fine." So we took the team to the MP school in Fort Custer. Fort Custer, Michigan was a training center for all MPs. And what my job was is to train them in elementary Japanese, 'cause they were going to go overseas and set up prisoner of war camp. And they said unless they understand little Japanese like the soldier, Japanese soldier would want to go to the restroom or something, they wouldn't understand. So you teach them elementary Japanese, conversational. So that's what I went there for. Well as soon as we went there, they said there's a shortage of MPs and shortage of prisoner of war camp, so we're going to leave right away. So rather than staying there and teaching, in two weeks we were sent to San Francisco, went overseas to New Guinea and set up a prisoner of war camp. So that was my start overseas. [Laughs]

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.