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

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Well, it's December 28, 2000. We're here in Seattle, Washington, with Mr. Paul Bannai. I'm Alice Ito with the Densho Project. Dana Hoshide is on the camera. And Mr. Bannai, thank you very much for joining us today. As I had mentioned, we'd like to just start out asking about your family background. And if you could tell us as much as you know, something of your parents, your father, and also your father's parents, their lives in Japan and how they came to America.

PB: Yeah. The, lot of it is in, written, so I don't have to remember that well. In fact, I couldn't because it's before my time. But in late-1800s, my grandfather came over to United States and settled up in the Utah area. My father and his mother, the grandmother, then came from Japan. And fortunately he wrote a diary of his entire trip -- the day he left, what year it was, what day it was, from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima-ken.

Now, there weren't a lot of people that came from that area. It's interior, up north. If you look at the history of the Japanese immigration to Hawaii and to United States, you'll find that Wakayama, Hiroshima, many places that were south and along the seacoast contributed most of the Japanese that immigrated to this country. Also, a lot of people from Okinawa in those days went to Hawaii. But Fukushima-ken didn't have too many people. But motivated by the same thing, which is if you go to the United States and make money, we can come back fairly wealthy or whatever their reasons were. And as a result, there were some people that came to United States from Aizu-Wakamatsu. If anybody studied the history other than what my father and grandfather wrote, there were other people from that area that became individually famous, you might say. The first woman, her name was Okei, and her story has been written in Japanese, and I don't know if it's been translated. But I have visited her grave up above Sacramento. But my family was responsible for the headstone. They have a big stone with her name on it. And she was one of the first women that came to the United States. And the story is about her involvement in setting up a silk colony, and they brought the equipment and everything. The group was brought here by a Caucasian man who wanted to start that industry. But her story, as I say, I've asked if it's ever been translated to English. I don't know what it is.

Another individual that I'm familiar with because of my father and grandfather is a man named Noguchi. And he also came from this Aizu Wakamatsu area, kitakatta. And the reason I know about this is I went back to visit that area. And there is a bus in front of a school. And that school is where my grandfather and my father went to. And Mr. Noguchi then came to this country, went to South America, Central America. And if you want to read his book, he also is, wrote a book and was, of course, written up by many people because of his research into and helping people in the cure of diseases. But anyway, I saw the bus there and, in Japan. Also I went there one time because I wanted to find out about the background. Found out that Aizu Wakamatsu is where they have a very famous, well, you might say a museum which depicts the Byako-Tai which is a very famous story. When the last encounter took place between the Shogun area and the emperor's forces. And whenever I went there, I had the opportunity to talk to people and found out that my ancestors, my great-grandmother carried a naginata and took part in the battles. And in looking over the display in the museum -- in Japan, they have what they call a logo, family logo. And I use it on my card. But that logo was seen on some of the dresses that I saw in the museum, so I knew that my ancestors had taken part in the battles of Byako-Tai. So these are things that I can understand that my grandfather, when he came to this country, carried with him some of the pride and the history of Japan. So those are things that I have that maybe, many peoples that are -- I'm almost a Sansei because my grandpa was here first. And many of the Niseis, probably from wherever they've come, they should look up their history and find out more about their ancestry and how it became their past. And I think it's interesting to do that.

AI: I do think that it is notable that both your father and your grandfather and grandmother were all here in the United States. And wanted to ask you, what were their names?

PB: The what?

AI: What were their names? Your grandparents' and your father's names?

PB: Oh. Oh. My father was Sakui Bannai, and my mother was Shino Bannai. And my mother came later. My, I said my father and his mother came over and joined his father, my grandfather. And then down the line my mother came over later. And they were married, but she, for whatever reason, it's not written, but she did come over later. And as a result of that, they were in Utah and then went to Colorado. So that's why I was born in 1920, 'cause my mother didn't come over until later. And it was about a year, little after a year -- she came over about 1919 so that I was born on July the 4th. That's why I have my name, Paul. You asked about names. When I was born, I was the first child of my parents, and the doctor said, "July the 4th is a day that, in American history is very famous and there was a hero during the Revolutionary War called Paul Revere. So I think that you ought to name your son Paul." Well, my folks had no idea of any American names. They named me Takeo, and they said, "Yes, you will be Paul."

And I think traditional, if you look back on all of us Niseis, older Niseis, we have two names, you know, an English name and a Japanese name. And my family is the same. My different sisters, one was born in Montrose, Colorado. The doctor named her Rose. My first, oldest sister was named Lillian. And my father wrote down the reason for that is they asked the doctor, and the doctor said that his wife's name was Lillian. So we all have two names, American and Japanese name. Now, depending on where and what the circumstances, we may never use the Japanese name. But I do remember that my father never used my American name. He always used my Japanese name. But we're a group of people that have two first names anyway, a lot of us.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, and you mentioned that you were born in Colorado. What was your family doing there in Colorado?

PB: Colorado, they were farming. My father had originally come to Utah, he said, because my grandfather was working in a coal mine up there. He was killed in a coal mine accident. And as a result of it, he was born -- buried in Price, Utah. We moved his grave. I went with my father to Price, Utah many years later. And we have a family plot in a place called Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, California. So we had only my grandfather up at that grave in Price, Utah, so we moved him down to California. But he died in this accident very early. Now, one of the reasons that, in the diary that I read from my father that he ended up in Colorado and farming, was the same reason. He was injured in a coal mine accident, in a severe accident. He was sent to Salt Lake City in a hospital for several months. In his diary he depicts his problems and pains. But when he left, he said he will not be able to work anymore in a coal mine. He did own a pool hall in Sego, Utah for a little while, which didn't encounter danger or a lot of physical work. But later he decided to go to Colorado, because he had been there once before, to farm, because he could do that without physical exertion.

So I still remember where I was born. And I went back there two years ago. And it happened to be quite a accident, but I was in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is about 40 miles from Delta. And I was there for a VFW western conference. And I thought, "Well, you know, I'm close. I might as well rent a car." So I went to the airport to rent a car, and there were the usual, Hertz, Avis. And I looked over and there was an Oriental-looking girl working at one of the car rentals. So I went over, and I says, "Tomorrow I would like to reserve a car." And she said, "Well, where are you gonna go?" And I said, "I'm gonna go to the, I'd like to find Delta, so if you'd get me a map." And she says, "Delta?" She says, "My father was born there." So I immediately said, "Oh, I'd like to meet him." So the next morning, I met with him for breakfast, and he said, "If you're gonna go to Delta, I'll go with you and I will show you around 'cause I know it." So several years ago I had the opportunity, after seventy-some years, to go back and see where I was born. And he showed me where he was born. The house was kind of ratty, but it was still there. The house where I was born was gone. I saw the fields, and I could still remember the stream. I can still remember the Gunnison River. But one thing he showed me was the school where I started grammar school. And we were out front taking pictures, and a lady came out and said, "What are you taking -- " I says, "Well, I used to go to school here." " Oh, yes," she says, "I know this was a school. I bought it when they abandoned the school, and converted it to my home. So come on in and take a look, and you might remember what the classrooms were like." Well, it was only two classrooms in there, 'cause all the schools I went in Utah and Colorado were one- or two-room schools. And when you knew more than the teacher, you left. And I remember that she had converted the rooms to a kitchen and bedroom and everything, but one, you've got to figure that seventy-some years ago I went to school there, so I didn't recognize everything. But it was an experience, anyway.

AI: Oh, that's quite a story.

PB: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: When you were living there in Colorado and your folks were farming, you were the first child. You were the oldest child. And I think you mentioned earlier that your three sisters were born in Colorado...

PB: Right.

AI: ...also. Now, when, even at a young age in many Japanese families, the oldest child, especially the oldest son, has some extra responsibilities.

PB: Right.

AI: Was that the case for you?

PB: Well, I remember that I was the first one to go to school. My sisters were younger and they'd never went to school in Delta. But we lived in the country. And at my age, which was six, seven, and eight years old, I did try to help in whatever way I could. I remember going to school, the grammar school the first time, and in this little town of Delta, the only other Orientals, you might say, was a Chinese family. And this is typical. I used to travel later on throughout Middle West and all that, and the Chinese would have a restaurant, a laundry, or typically that's what they did. So when I started school in Delta, there were no other Orientals. And I came from a farm into town to go to school. And they thought I was Chinese. And I had to go the first day, I remember, and check with my folks to be sure that I wasn't Chinese because they thought I was Chinese. But my parents assured me that I was 100 percent Japanese, anyway. [Laughs]

AI: Well, in fact, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your starting school. Do you recall knowing any English when you started school?

PB: Well, you know I started there in the very first elementary school -- oh, I forgot to tell you. When I was there in Grand Junction, I also took the car and drove over the border into Utah, because we lived in a little coal-mining town called Sego, Utah. That's where my father had the pool hall and where he got injured. It was a town which was operated by a company that did the coal mining. They operated a general store, little store, where we had the post office, where we had to buy everything. And that school was, again, a two-room school, and it was, the school was a church also. It was a meeting place for the community. And I remember that -- I think it was Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, the husband taught the higher grades, and the wife taught lower grades. But that school, too, I went to. And I do remember that when you were at a certain grade and they felt that you learned enough, you were moved to the next room and the husband took over to teach you. But there were no grades. I mean it was just a matter of... but that town of Sego, Utah, went back to visit. I could not go up with my car because the road was blocked off. So I went back to the town near the railroad. It's called Thompson. Thompson, Utah. And I asked, "What happened to Sego?" And they said, "It is abandoned. The company has given it up, and there's really nothing to see there." Which I found out, because when I was going up the road I could see that the little store that they had was completely crumbled, the road was not used. So it's a town that I lived in, but I do remember so well that we lived up the road. This town in the winter months was closed because the road was unpassable. Snow would come down. But going to school, I remember that since it was at the bottom of the hill, what I would do was, I had a sled. I'd get on the sled and go all the way down the hill to school. And I'd have to pull the sled back up the hill, but at least one way I didn't have to walk. I could sleigh all the way down. And I remember that, the enjoyment that we had.

There was very few people that lived in the town. We were the only Oriental, there was another Oriental family. I think there was, the father was a coal miner. But I remember that it was, in the winter months, no communication. We didn't know what was going on in the world. There was no radio, no television, and no newspaper. So we were isolated. So there was three, four months that we were oblivious of what was happening in the world. Not that it made a lot of difference. But I remember that it got so cold that what we did is we'd put water down out in the front. Made a skating rink out there. And we all had skates, so we could skate to pass time. So I remember the good times in all those places, not only the bad but the good.

AI: Uh-huh. So it sounds like even though it was in some ways a hard life for your folks...

PB: Oh, yes.

AI: ...that, as a child that you did have...

PB: Very much so. Income-wise, there was no income. My father had bought the pool hall, and he sold it at a loss the first time because he said that with the very few people that were there, they found other recreations to go to. But one thing that it did is, because he had owned a pool hall I at least knew what the game was so I was going to be a champion pool shark. But it never materialized. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, now, let's see. I wanted to ask you also a little bit about, since you were the only Oriental, as they called it then, or Asian, in these small towns of Sego, Utah, and Delta, Colorado, as a child, did you sense any prejudice or discrimination against you or your family?

PB: No. There really never was. And you know that in reading through the diary that my father had, evidently there wasn't any prejudice per se. I think that economically there might have been some because he mentioned the fact that when he was working that he could not make enough money, comparatively speaking, in order to pay off the debts that he owed and things of this nature. But looking back, I'm thinking that the Japanese and immigrants that came to work in the coal mines, they were needed. Somewhere along the way I read that later on, that they brought Filipinos and people from, Chinese and all that to work on the railroads and all that. And as a result, they, they were used as laborers. But I think because of the necessity of those people at that time that they were not prejudiced against. They were needed. Now, getting way far ahead, as you know, when evacuation came, that also reversed itself. They said, "Here's an opportunity to get rid of all these Japanese. We'll put them into camp, and we can eliminate a lot of competition." But that's because our folks and we had achieved a lot more and we owned more and we were a competition to the general farmers and other trades.

AI: So perhaps --

PB: In those days I can't ever remember in Colorado or Utah ever meeting any kind of, you might say, prejudice of any kind.

AI: On a personal level.

PB: Yeah.

AI: Right.

PB: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Well, now then, you mentioned that after your very early days in Colorado and then the time in Utah, then after your father had, had the pool hall and it wasn't doing well, he decided to leave that. Then you moved to Glendale, Arizona? Is that right?

PB: Where?

AI: To Arizona...?

PB: Yes.

AI: farm? Is that right?

PB: Uh-huh. Right. According, and I don't know why we did, but if you read my father's diary, he was looking for ways of making more income to support the family, because now we had more, he had more youngsters to support and everything. And we went to Phoenix, Arizona. And there was a melons and, mostly melons. But I do remember the family that we lived with and helped. That was the Tadano family. And they were prominent for quite a long while in Arizona and Phoenix in particular. In fact, I went back several years later. I like to just go back and look over where I'd been. So I was in Phoenix again for a conference, and I went out to the area that we used to live in. Well, I would say not surprisingly, the entire area, the farm was gone, housing projects had sprung up, and it was just a mass of homes. I went to look for the school. I remember the school I went to was called Osborne School. And I went there to see if the school existed. No, it was gone. But when you go back after, that was about seventy years later, it's, you have to realize that there's so many changes in areas because the people from back East came out to Phoenix and settled there. And as a result of that, the homes were needed, and they just cleared all the farm land.

But I do remember the farming there because in Arizona we would, we were raising cantaloupe to ship. And they would pick those and put 'em into crates and ship 'em back East. Watermelon primarily was sold locally. But I remember the joy of working on those farms because walking up and down when the watermelon was ripe -- I would drop 'em on the ground, you eat just the heart. You throw the rest away. And I remember the cantaloupe -- when they picked 'em, if they were ripe, the, very tasty, the best time, we wouldn't ship them because they were ripe, and they said they'd get -- so we shipped them partly green. So what did we do with the ripe ones? Oh, we had mountains of 'em, and we would sell them to people or give them to people for cattle feed. And I thought, "My golly, the best tasting cantaloupes we give away." [Laughs] The watermelon, but we did raise a lot of 'em. And Tadano family were very prominent. And they became, you might say, the center of activity in the Phoenix area. But it was real good to go back there again, too, and to say, "Well, I've been here, and I remember now what it was all about."

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

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Now, when you were there working on the melon farms, about how old were you? And what were, did you have a --

PB: Oh, that time I was about eleven, because when we left Arizona and came to Boyle Heights, it was my very last year. That was 1932. So I'm twelve years old, my last year in grammar school. And I remember this because in 1932 when we moved into Boyle Heights, it was the year that they had the Olympics in Los Angeles. And my father, for whatever reason, I don't know -- he'd never said anything about being sports-minded or taking part in sports -- but in his diary he put down all the Japanese that were winning the different swimming meets, the races and things. And we went to the Olympics. Now, I remember that. I don't remember who I went with, but in his diary he put down that we went as a family. But I remember the Olympics very well 'cause I remember sitting in the stands, and as I say, at my age, twelve, it didn't make too much sense to me who was winning or what it was all about. But I do remember that I went to the Olympics in 1932.

I remember that when we moved there to Boyle Heights that my father was working for a tofu company, Matsuda Tofu. And he had to find work which was not strenuous because of his injuries. And I do remember that he was making tofu. And later on he went into the sales. He would load up a truck and go down to town to different areas and drop off the -- they had the, a, little cans, little five-gallon cans with water in it, put tofu in it and drop 'em off. But I do remember that, going with him to the train station because they would ship tofu to various areas throughout California and different places. But because our daily dietary supplement was tofu, aburage and all that I remember very, very well. But that was my last year in grammar school. I went to a school called First Street School in Boyle Heights. From there I went to a junior high called Hollenback Junior High and then went to Roosevelt High.

AI: Oh, excuse me. Before we get on too far into your schooling, I wanted to ask about that first year in Boyle Heights, and...

PB: Yes.

AI:, Boyle Heights is a neighborhood in the Los Angeles area now. And at that time, could you tell me a little bit about the ethnic makeup of the Boyle Heights neighborhood, because it seems like that was very different from the places you had lived before.

PB: Oh, very different primarily because the makeup of the population was a little different. Boyle Heights at that time was primarily a Jewish community. And we had Brooklyn Avenue, which was all Jewish shops. We lived between First Street and Boyle Heights. And our first house was on Saratoga. I think it was 210 Saratoga. Subsequent that building was bought by Chuo Gakuen, and it became part of a Japanese school. Now, I say this because there were a lot of Japanese that settled in Boyle Heights. It was kind of the center where Japanese settled. I think it possibly may be because of the composition of the people there. Right down from Boyle Heights was a place called Flats. And down there was a Russian colony, lots of Russians. There were Slavs, Russians, primarily Jewish. And as a result of that, I think that there was very little prejudice. And as a result of that, the Japanese settled there.

We had, and my folks were active first in the Tenrikyo Church because of its contact with some reverend in Utah. There was a Buddhist church on Mott Street, the next street over. And then over on Evergreen Avenue near the playground, was our Baptist church. Now, because of my age or whatever it may be, I would go with my folks at Tenrikyo. I went to Buddhist church for a while. And then I became very active in the Baptist church, primarily because I belonged to a group called the Golden Bears. We used to have Nisei basketball and different sports activities. And we would have to belong to the Cougars or the Golden Bears. I belonged to a group called Golden Bear Juniors. And a lot of them were very active at Baptist church. And I met Paul Nagano, who became a very prominent minister. In fact, at that time I think there was a fellow named Ernest Ono still around. And one time we even discussed the possibility of all of us going into ministry. Fortunately I didn't go in 'cause I couldn't minister anybody, I'm sure. But Paul Nagano did, and he did a very good job, still doing a very good job.

So this was Boyle Heights. My association with the churches, with the Nisei sports clubs and social clubs, and it was the beginning of what you might call my future activity with all the Niseis and Japanese Americans, even though many of my friends were Jewish, were Russians, Slavs, other nationalities. We didn't have too many what you might call old-time, 100 percent Americans. They were all descendants of immigrants within the last generation or so.

AI: It sounds like it must have been just so different from your previous communities that you lived in. Was it kind of a shock to you or a jolt to be plunged into this new world of people from so many different immigrant backgrounds and so many different cultures, and also to be part of a, for the first time, a Japanese American community?

PB: No. I don't know. I guess at our age we accept what was at that time, and I never thought of it in that context that here these are, you know, first generation of people that came from Israel or wherever they came from. But the younger people were all Americans. We didn't speak any other language except English. And as a result, I think that there's a lot of difference. We never had prejudice. We didn't think of those kinds of things. In fact, I remember, and maybe it's a little premature, but when I was in high school, we had no blacks in school. And I remember that I, I was what they call the athletic manager. I took care of all the teams and their things. And I remember that one time they said -- you know, we have the Russians. I remember the Kornovs, both of 'em, they were very good players, football players. We had Frank Katsuyama. We had several Japanese that were on the football team that were very good. But somebody asked me one day, he says, "You know, there is a school downtown where the blacks are, and they have good black players." So I thought about that, and I remember going down to the produce house to visit my friend who used to drive to school. And I asked him about it. And we induced or asked one black fellow to come to our school, and he became a hero because he was a good player. [Laughs] But he was the only black that we had at Roosevelt High. But I don't think that it was because of prejudice or anything. It was just that everybody selected a place that they wanted to live to be comfortable, and my folks, of course, Boyle Heights was where they -- my father had the tofu factory to work, where we had the churches that we could go to, and it was a very comfortable place to live. And we never thought about living anywhere else. But when I look back, it was the right choice and right place.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Well, let me ask you also about, you mentioned that you and the other kids that you played with, some of your friends, that you all spoke English, and I think you had mentioned that you didn't really speak that much Japanese. And I wanted to go back a little bit in your earlier childhood and ask you about that. How did you communicate with your parents?

PB: How did I what?

AI: How did you communicate with your parents, and did you speak some Japanese with them?

PB: Well, you know, you ask that question and it's hard for me to say how did I communicate. I think it was a combination of my parents after all these years trying to use English that would be understandable, 'cause we didn't speak Japanese at all, and we on the other hand, picking up phrases or words in Japanese that they could understand. So it became a language of a mixed thing. [Laughs] I don't think anybody, if we spoke to anybody in that language, they wouldn't understand us. But between our parents and us, at least we were able to communicate because we would use part of the so-called Japanese, mostly English, and they in turn would use English that we could understand. But I remember that because we didn't speak Japanese and they didn't speak English 100 percent. But I think they became more English-oriented than we did Japanese, because Japanese, when we would go out with our friends and in the community, nobody used it. So I think that our parents went the other way, which was try to use as much English as possible. And even in churches, when I mention these churches, the services I remember were mostly all conducted in English language.

AI: I also wanted to ask you about the values that your parents passed on to you, and did they give you any lessons or teach you about particular values, whether that was Japanese values or religious values or just how to live life? Do you recall that from your childhood?

PB: No, I didn't. I think that each time that there was an incident that came up that related to things of that kind, that because of their Japanese background, they would try to tell us, and we would try to accept it on that basis. Because I remember that later on when we were a little older in camp and things of this nature, that that came up many times. Because I remember when the war started especially, that they emphasized the fact that they had been here for many years, I was born and raised here, that the first consideration should be that I am an American. I'm never going to go back to Japan, that I should think in terms of being a good American and serving this country, because this is my country and there's no other country that I owe any allegiance to. So at least they were very emphatic about that. So I think that that had some value on how I would react and what I would do and what my thoughts would be. And all of us, myself, my sisters, and my brother, we all went along on that basis.

AI: I see. So when your parents first came to the U.S., they might have had some thought of making money and going back to Japan...

PB: Right.

AI: ...but then as you and your three sisters and your brother grew older, they made a decision to stay in the United States.

PB: That's right. So I think that they became more American, you might say. And as a result of it, they wanted their children to be the same way that we -- and they emphasized that many times, that we're not Japanese, that you are American and you were, your loyalty, and as I say, when the war came along, that was the time that they really pointed that out to me.

AI: Now, when you were still in school in the '30s, Japanese immigrants could not become naturalized U.S. citizens. Even though that was the case, did they ever talk about perhaps someday becoming American citizens?

PB: Well, they did because they had been here and, as you know, there was a law that prohibited Japanese from giving up their citizenship and becoming American citizens. And for us that were born in this country, we were just naturally that way. So that eventually many of the Isseis, including my folks, decided that they would study, take the test, and try to be American citizens, because they had no desire of going to Japan, that their, their children were all going to be here, their grandchildren were all going to be here, that they should become Americans and not stay Japanese. So I think that took place in many, many households. And as a result of it, I know that there were a lot of so-called Isseis that took the test and became naturalized when the law was passed that they could become American citizens. And I think that was a wise choice for -- that's my opinion. But it worked out good.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, now I also wanted to ask you a little, you've told us some about your father. Could you tell us a little bit more about your mother, what she was like and some of her influence on you?

PB: Yes. My father, like in all Japanese families I guess, is the leader of the family. And he was the one that made the decisions. My mother on the other hand had come from Japan, and as a good wife, followed the dictates of her husband, bore myself, sisters and my brother, and raised us. She had many problems during her time of health and, but regardless of it raised a family. In my estimation it worked out very well. I'm very proud of all my brothers and sisters and what they have accomplished. She later on gradually began to lose her eyesight, and before she passed away she was totally blind. But in spite of that, in spite of her eyesight being very hard to get around, she tried in every way to make our life a happy one, a successful one. And as a result, as far as myself and the rest of my family go, we're both saying that we had very good parents. And I think that if you ask anybody else that had parents from Japan that they would probably say the same thing. I don't think that... none of us had parents that we could say were detrimental to our being here on earth. So I know both of my parents, I have to thank them for all the things that they did, all the inspiration they gave us and led us to what, whether we're successful or unsuccessful.

AI: Well, you say that they gave you inspiration. That, now, I know other families, Japanese American families have said that from their parents they got the values of hard work or responsibility. Usually education was the...

PB: Right.

AI: But I don't always hear the word "inspiration." Could you talk a little bit more about that, how that came from your parents?

PB: Well, the inspiration came more from their talking to us, and as you say, "You should do this, you should do that. You shouldn't do this." I think that they had values which they carried from Japan because after all, they came from Japan when they were well on in age and adults. And I think that some of the things that they learned from their parents -- and I happen to know that my grandfather, who I didn't get to know 'cause he did die in Utah early, but my grandmother was here in the United States, and my father and my mother were very close to them. So I think that these things carry over. And I'm the same way, like I have children -- I have two daughters and a son, and I've been the same way. I think that we try to pass on those things that our parents gave to us. We try to inspire our youngsters to achieve, to study, to do things that are, you might say, better than what the normal would be in all the areas. So I think that's one thing we learned, and we try to pass on to our children. And hopefully it will go on to our future generation. But that's, not only, well you might say it maybe have something to do with the Japanese character or the Japanese customs. I think it may have something to do with it.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Well, I'm going to take you back now to Boyle Heights. And you had mentioned that you were twelve years old and you completed your last year of grammar school in Boyle Heights. And then the next year you went to Hollenback Junior High School.

PB: Hollenback Junior High, right.

AI: And it sounded like you became very active with your friends, your classmates, neighborhood groups, sports...

PB: Right.

AI: ...some of the Japanese American groups that, the church. And was this one of the ways that your parents supported you that allowed you to become very active?

PB: Well, it may be. It may be. I've never gone back to analyze that, but I remember that when I went to junior high school that the school, again, was made up of primarily Jewish. We had quite a few Japanese Americans there. But in junior high it was more or less a matter of studying hard and making it out. Now, it changed when we went to high school because we're older, we began to set, you may say standards for going on, whether we're going to go on to university, our future, you might say, occupation. These are things that we had to think about. We also were, in high school, a lot more, you might say oriented towards individuals and people. And that's why I remember that we had a Japanese club at high school. And I became president of that and was very active to show the people, the other people in the school, that we were proud of our heritage, that being Japanese, we wanted to accomplish more, we wanted to be better than the others, you might say. And as a result, I remember I did a lot of things that I think it was more or less not to do something but to outdo what the Russians were, group would do or a thing... I remember we built a Japanese garden, for instance. Lot of the parents were now going into gardening, and they became very good gardeners. Well, I remember when we thought in terms of what will we leave as a legacy to the school? Let's build a Japanese garden. So we built a Japanese garden. Now, during the war, unfortunately, that garden was abandoned. So it's been about five years ago that the Roosevelt High School became a Mexican school, primarily Mexican, that the Mexican students came to us and said, "We ought to renovate that garden because it was a beautiful spot." So fortunately I was able to go back to the rededication of the Japanese garden. And it's a beautiful place. The Mexican students dug the holes, and we got donations from Japanese nurseries. And so if anybody goes to Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, you'll see the garden there.

And as I say, these are things that I think individually and all of us tried to do because we were different and we wanted to be a little bit better than somebody else. And that was the same reason that I remember that I tried to do more things for the school and work harder. And one of the things that I remember is when I graduated, I became an Ephebian, which is not based only on grades but upon your activity and what you contributed to the school. But every year they would choose so many graduating class to be Ephebians. And I remember that I was chosen that year as one of the Ephebians at Roosevelt High School, which was a proud time. Now, it's been a long time since then, and this year -- because the year is not over -- we had our 63rd high school reunion. And I wear these fancy badges. But this is the badge -- [laughs] -- 63rd reunion we had. But we still get together. And primarily the Japanese students, alumni don't show up as much except when we have the big reunion. But all the rest of my friends, the Russians and the Slavs and whatever other nationalities, they all show up, and we still have a good time together.

AI: Well, that's wonderful to hear about.

PB: Yeah.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your high school days. I realized from the information you sent me that you were also working while you were in high school.

PB: Oh, yes.

AI: That you had jobs to do. Could you tell me a little bit about the work that you did?

PB: Well, this was an economic situation because we had to pay rent. We couldn't afford to buy a house. But my father's job didn't pan out. My mother couldn't work. We had the family, my sisters and my brother. And they were young. So I felt it necessary that I contribute to the household expenses. So I remember that I would go to fruit stands and work on weekends. It helped. And I remember that the last few summers when I was in school, that was already -- I'm in, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen -- I went up two summers, all summer to Oxnard. And they had what they call Japanese labor camps in Oxnard, that all these people would go and they would work in the different fields. Up there it was primarily tomatoes, beets, vegetables of different kinds. And I remember that I went up there. And the first year I went up there, I think I was about sixteen, that this labor camp where mostly older Issei people, very few young Nisei, and I would join them to harvest tomatoes, for instance. Well, for whatever reason, even though I was young and had a lot more pep than these Isseis, the Isseis had worked at it, and they knew what to do. So whether it was picking tomatoes or hoeing the ground or anything, they were always ahead of me. And we would go down the row, I would always be behind. So I remember that the supervisor came to me one day, he said, "Mr. Bannai, you, we're going to have to find something else for you to do." So he found out that I had a driver's license at sixteen. So he says, "In the morning you will take everybody to work, and when the tomatoes are picked, you'll take 'em to the cannery and you will drive. That way you'll be doing much more than trying to keep up with the older people." So I learned then that farming was not really my area, that the Isseis who had all this experience could outdo me so much. But at least I made money that I had, that I could take home and support, help support the family. That was the reason I worked every summer and weekends.


AI: Okay, we're continuing with Mr. Bannai.

PB: Okay.

AI: And when we left off, you were just telling how you worked during high school...

PB: Right.

AI: ...on the weekends and also during the summers. And you were very active in high school, and wondered if you would just tell a little bit more about some of your favorite activities during high school.

PB: Well, I started a program called athletic manager program. And I recruited some of my students along with me. And what we did is we managed all of the football and the sports activities, and helped the athletes so they could, you might say take it to the best degree. Plus the fact that we encouraged all of our students to attend all the athletic activities. And that became a program that stayed and is still very active at the high school and went to other high schools. So I think that these kinds of things that led to more improvement from the standpoint of social, that led to better achievement in their grades were all things that I particularly wanted to do. I got to know the principals of our schools very well, worked with them real, every day. And I think it was important and -- later on, not when I was in school, but later students also. So I felt that I did something while I was in school to help the educational system along.

AI: And were you active in the student government also?

PB: Yes. We had a, I ran for vice-president of our school student body, and I was successful. And as I said, our Japanese club was very active, and I was president of that for several years. So I tried to contribute wherever I went or whatever I did to the betterment of the environment that I lived in.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: So for you, even at the high school age, you were active in your total high school community. You were active in the mainstream of the student body, and...

PB: Right.

AI: were also very active among the Japanese American students.

PB: Right. In fact, when I graduated from school, I was eighteen. And I couldn't vote or anything, but I joined the Japanese American Citizens League, even though at that time you had to be twenty-one in order to be a legal member. But I remember that in 19-, I think it was in '38 or '9 that the JACL had the national convention in Los Angeles. And at that particular time I was active in Little Tokyo, and my one aim was to try to build a community center, 'cause there was no community center for Japanese Americans to meet. I thought that if we had a nice little gym, a place to meet, and social activities, that it would be good. The reason I got involved down there is Nisei Week. I would help on that. I used to introduce the young ladies during the queen contest, emcee the program. Also there was a little hall, Kaiyamato Hall, upstairs where we used to have talent shows. And I would put together Nisei talent and present a show. Well, all these things I was very active in. So I remember when they had the JACL convention that I said I would like to go. Well, there were several people that wanted me to go, but I was not eligible because of age. And that's when I had the help of three individuals. I remember them very well. They were very active in the JACL. One was Mike Masaoka, another was George Inagaki that lived on the Culver City area, and then downtown, of course, Masao Sato. He was running the YMCA, and I was active with a group down there. So the three of them recommended to national convention that even though I'm not a member that I could attend the national convention. So I was indebted to them very much for the opportunity to get involved in Japanese American activities at an age before, you might say, my twenty-first birthday. But these are things I remember. And I remember that the reason I did that is because I wanted to be sure that rather than churches, that we build a multiracial community center in Little Tokyo that we all Japanese Americans could benefit from. It never happened at that time because of the war and things of this nature, but at least that was one of my dreams.

AI: So let me make sure I understand this right, that at the time you were in high school, many of the Japanese American activities were sponsored by the churches, is that right?

PB: Right.

AI: And so you were concerned that rather than being focused on any one church, that perhaps if it was possible to have a community center, it would be open to all regardless of their religion or affiliation with the church.

PB: That's right. That's why I chose downtown Little Tokyo because the church activities were in, as I say, Buddhist church. We had one downtown. We had one in Boyle Heights, a Baptist church. The Tenrikyo church was only up in Boyle Heights. But my feeling was that rather than have it just a church-oriented, 'cause a lot of people may not be that strong on the churches, but it would mean that we could have a area or a social hall, places that we could meet as Japanese Americans and carry on our traditions and activities and goals that we would set, not affiliated with any religious belief.

AI: Well, in fact, could you tell me a little bit more about some of the Japanese American activities that -- from the time you were in high school, maybe there were some things around the New Year's time or maybe summer picnics or club get-togethers.

PB: Yeah. Well, the big thing every year was Nisei Week, and that was one time that we tried to show the community -- not the Japanese American community, but outside community -- that there was a community that was active Japanese Americans. And so we used to have these parades. It was through Little Tokyo, and we would invite prominent people to ride in the parade or come down, and the mayor and the governor, people like that. And the parade was only maybe about, oh I'd say a mile long. And we'd have all the Nisei active people either ride, we'd have a float. At that time, of course, we chose a Nisei Week queen. Every year we would have a queen and a court. There was generally four girls that were, served on the court and the queen. But that was another big event that we had, and the coronation ball, which was held in a very fancy hotel somewhere. And I remember that I used to emcee those, and it was a very, very good experience to see that. And I remembered the queen because last year, I think it is, I went down to Nisei Week, and they invited the queens to a luncheon at the museum. And I met some of them there. There was one lady there, I won't say how old she is, but she's very old in my estimation, but she was there. But each year the one that reigned as queen was invited. And it was quite a show. All these girls are still very pretty. And I can say one thing about myself, I always appreciate pretty girls, and more so the Nisei pretty girls. And so the queen was chosen. It was quite an occasion. And to introduce her at the queen coronation was something. And these are things that I carried on later on when I was in the military and everything else because I enjoyed doing those kinds of things. But Nisei Week was a great event in those days.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And so at the time when you were very involved with Nisei Week, was that after you graduated high school? Or had you gotten involved --

PB: Well, yeah. The last year I was in and even after I graduated. After I graduated from high school, I was looking for a job. And as a result, I had my eyes set upon a job with the bank. And at that time I knew, or I went around, and they didn't hire Japanese Americans to work in the bank. So I went to a commercial education school that was downtown, took up machine, bookkeeping machine, things of that nature, to prepare myself. And I made application at all the banks around with the personnel department, the main office, because I wanted to prove to the bank that as a Japanese American that I could do just the job as good as any white American or anybody else, and I wanted to set that as a goal. So I ran around filing applications. I asked several of the personnel officers why they didn't hire Japanese Americans, or for that matter any minority, and his answer was that if we were so visible, especially if we're a teller or somebody in the bank, that they may lose the account because they didn't like the idea of us working there. And I thought that was quite wrong, so I wanted to prove to them and to myself that I could work for a bank and do a better job than anybody else and they wouldn't lose any accounts. In fact, one -- I forgot who it was -- a personnel manager, I told him, I says, "If you lose an account, I'll go out and try to get the equal amount of money for you." Well, that didn't make any sense. But anyway, he listened, so that was it.

But I did get a job eventually with California Bank at that time, which was a pretty good-sized bank. There were two reasons I got the job. One is the personnel manager I got to know 'cause I went back several times, and they had a branch in the produce department where they dealt with Japanese Americans, 'cause the Japanese Americans were in gardening, produce, flower market. The other thing is they had a, going to open a branch in Japanese Town next to Sumitomo Bank, because Sumitomo Bank was primarily a Japanese bank. So I was able to convince them that when they opened the bank in Japanese Town, they ought to hire Niseis, which they did. So we had two or three Niseis. I was one of them. And naturally I started at the bottom doing little, minor work, and then eventually became a teller. But I proved to the banking industry and to the bank that I worked for in particular that even though we were Japanese Americans, we could just do a good job. And as a result of it, I think that eventually other banks decided to hire minority people. And I think that that was an accomplishment that I tried to do, and felt that I helped in getting it done.

AI: Well, clearly you felt very strongly about this, and this was in, you graduated high school in 1938, is that right?

PB: '38.

AI: And so it was at that time that you decided to make this effort to see if you could break this...

PB: Right.

AI: ...this color barrier.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, many other Nisei could have tried or maybe even did try to get hired from the banks. But what was it in you that made you feel so strongly, that you would take the time and the trouble and the effort to prepare yourself and to go to this extra effort of going to all the banks, when you knew that the chances were very slim that you would actually get hired?

PB: Well, I think everything in life is a challenge, and when you have a challenge to prove something to the world or to the community or to yourself even, that you can do it, that that is very important. And I think that was one of the reasons why I did that. Now, about the same time that I graduated, there was another aspect of it that I wanted to prove, and that was in the area of the entertainment field. And I was not a musician at that time. The only thing I could do was play the drums. But I got together with a bunch of Slavs and Mexicans, and we had a couple of other nationalities there. But I met a friend of mine in Boyle Heights, and we formed a dance band. Now, that, object of that was because when I was working on Nisei Week and we were doing the shows, every time we wanted a band or something -- you know, it was a Japanese American show, it was hard to get. I figured that if I could get involved with a group -- now that was a very good experience because this Slav fellow, his name was Settelich, we, he had two brothers that played in the band also. And we used to play the dances at the Slav hall and Ford Boulevard, eastside. We would go to San Pedro. Now, San Pedro really was one area that I got to know because the Terminal Island people were there. But we played the Slav hall because the Slavs were fishermen, we would be down there. And I remember that before I left to go to camp, that I was still with the band, that I played this, the senior prom at San Pedro High School. And that was quite a event as far as I was concerned because I had the fellow change his name. I says, "You know, Settelich is good, but it, it denotes a certain ethnic group. And we're going to change your name." So I named the band Johnny Jay. It was Johnny Settelich and His Band, but I changed it to Johnny Jay. And as a result of it, we used to play at Balboa, at Catalina Island. We had some -- oh, up at Arrowhead. We had very famous singers come and sing with us from the movie industry. And it was an accomplishment. Well, in fact, we got so busy that I quit playing the drums and I did strictly management only, because we were so busy all week. And it worked out good. Now, when the war came along, because men folks were wanted, we would keep losing our members to better bands, because the band would hear about how good our musicians were. And they would pull 'em up, and they'd begin to play with Glenn Miller and all these big bands. So we eventually had to kind of disband because we couldn't keep all the good players. But I remember that part in life as being a time of being in the entertainment industry, and it was something that was very good. Enjoyed it a lot.

AI: So you were very busy...

PB: All the time.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

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.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: I wanted to back up a little bit even before the war started, even before December 7th. During the late '30s, and during that period, '39, '40, '41, the tensions, the world tensions were obviously increasing. And I'm sure that in the headlines you saw, you were following what was happening in Europe...

PB: Right.

AI: ...with Hitler and all. And then also what was happening in the Pacific, that Japan was increasingly moving into other territories. And I was wondering, did you have a sense in those years leading up to '41 that there was a possibility that the U.S. and Japan might someday be at war?

PB: You know, thinking back and, about that time that you're talking about, no, I don't know why. Was it because we were so busy? Because from, as I say, from about the end of '38 and '39, I was working full-time. I took a little streetcar from Boyle Heights down to First and San Pedro where the bank was and worked every day, five days a week until the war came on. And the war came along, I was still working at the bank. But it was either the involvement in the community activities or my work or whatever it was. I'm sure there was some concern by some people about the war, the situation in Europe and in the Pacific. But, you know, I can't recall that we gave very much thought to it or we did anything. I can't remember anything that we did to, say, prepare or to anticipate a kind of a situation it was. And that's why I say when the war came on and I was a member of the guard, and I don't know why I went to Exposition Park to be part of the guard, but that might have been something to do with, well, maybe there's anticipation of a war starting or something, but never real seriously. I can't recall conversation or activities or things that we said, "Well, we'd better be ready."

AI: Or even possibly your parents. Now, you were still living with your parents and your younger sisters and brother.

PB: Right.

AI: And now, perhaps did your parents read anything in the Japanese newspapers, or maybe they had some fears or conversation about this?

PB: You know, I just don't think of anything of that kind. The only thing I know is that because of the war in Europe, that many of my friends that were of age were being drafted and taken into service. And so that I remember very clearly. And that's why when it became time in the early '40s, '41 that I said, I had registered, and I was, under the law I was able to go if I was 1-A. I remember the YMCA where I, my draft board was, and I went there several times. I said, "My friends are in service. Why am I not called?" And they said, "Well, your number will come up and you may be called." So there was a certain amount of, not concern, but you might say interest in when I would be going into service and whether I would go to Europe or not. But of course, that was dispelled when the war started, because first thing I went up to the draft board, and I said, "Well, here I am. The war is on. You're calling everybody." And they said, "You are now reclassified. You're 4-C. You're no longer 1-A. You are an alien, ineligible for the draft." So I said, "Fine." Well, of course, right after that the notices went up that we were going to be evacuated. So that made a little difference.

AI: How did you feel when they told you that you were now classified as an "enemy alien"?

PB: Well, as I say, there were many, from then on many disappointing things that happened that we had to, you might say, question. But there were government edicts and laws that came about, just as the notice to evacuate. What do you do? It's a government thing. You're going to have to obey it. So that happened, and it was just like leaving for camp. I didn't want to go. In fact, I was the last one to go to camp because I worked for the bank, and I asked the WRA if I could stay behind because people were concerned about their finances and their money. And many of them had businesses where, the bank that I worked, so they let me stay. And I was one of the last ones into camp to join my folks.

My folks went early. My dad said, "Long as this law is now on the books and we have to go, I might as well go." So he went and helped the people who were coming in to get settled, building barracks, facilities, so they would be more comfortable when they came to camp. And so they were in Manzanar, Block 5, which was one of the first settlement blocks. And I asked to be the last, so they gave me permission. And as I say, I was the last one in, and I was the first one out because after I went to camp, I realized that that was not for me.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, before we get to that point, I wanted to ask you about this time before you left for camp and in-between when the orders came out and the camp, you had to go. You were working at the bank, and how were you treated at the bank? Did you have any problems, any negative treatment that came your way because you were of Japanese ancestry?

PB: No. Customers and the people who worked at the bank, I remember, let's see, my bank manager was Lindburgh, assistant manager was Victor Holly. I remember them very well. They were very sympathetic with my situation. The customers, we were in Little Tokyo and we would lose customers all the time. They would leave because of the evacuation or whatever reason. But we had very little problem at the bank itself. It was with the individual and what shall I do with the money? I told them, "Leave it," because we would watch over it.

Now subsequently when I went into Manzanar, because I knew that there was a lot of people still outside of camp that had money in different banks, I asked for permission for a bank to come in to Manzanar. In Lone Pine there was a bank, Bank of America, and the manager was MacArthur, I remember him. And I asked the director of our camp, I said, "Would you give him permission to come in once a week so that they can do business as a bank, and I can take the people that are in camp, and they will have access to banking services?" So once a week I started a little bank in Manzanar. They would drive in with their money and records. And then every, once a week I could take care of the people in camp, their concern with their money. So at least I was thinking in terms of the, not the bank but the residents so that they would be adequately taken care of. It worked out very well. The people that didn't even bank at the Bank of America came to me and wanted help. So my experience with the bank was very valuable. So I think that's something that I learned. And later on when I came back and many years later, I started a bank because I had the experience. [Laughs] So I can say banking is something that I'm familiar with. But until I went to camp, I was loyal to the bank, the bank was loyal to me, and we did service the Japanese community as well as we could. So I was very happy with that.

AI: You must have seen some very sad situations among the Issei...

PB: Very sad.

AI: ...and some of the older Nisei.

PB: Now, it wasn't that time, but one of the first people that were evacuated were two islands. Bainbridge Island up here in the Seattle area and Terminal Island, for whatever reason. It wasn't even a military necessity 'cause they were mostly fishermen. But I was working at the bank at that time, and I heard that Terminal Island was going to be evacuated. Well, I didn't know a lot of people there, but when I used to associate with the Slav people, they were fishermen so I would go to San Pedro High, like I say, and play at the dances there. So I got to know some of the Japanese there. And I remember there was one little pretty Nisei girl at the high school, so maybe that was what attracted me. But anyway, when they got their order to evacuate, and they only had a couple days to get all their possessions off Terminal Island, my concern was, somebody's got to help 'em. So I went to the produce houses 'cause I knew lot of produce companies with my connection with the bank, and I asked them to donate as many big trucks as they could. And I would get the trucks and the driver, and we would go to Terminal Island, and these people were being deluged with people that knew, and they were being offered $5 for a refrigerator, $100 for all their furniture. Most of them had nowhere to evacuate to. They had to leave the island. So I had to find churches, private residences they could temporarily go to. So I was busy for, oh, weeks on end trying to get these people resettled. But that again is something that I say personally you think in terms of what my father told me, if you do something for people, that it will remain, and that's what life is all about. So I always felt good about the fact that I was able to help all these people at Terminal Island evacuate out of their island and get pretty safe. Now, eventually where they settled determined what camp they would go to. But most of the Terminal Island people ended up in Manzanar, so I was very happy with that. I got to know some of them very well, and they were very happy with the fact that I had helped them right along.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Now, excuse me. Was your helping the Terminal Island people, was that part of your work with the JACL at that time helping...

PB: It may be...

AI: ...or was this more of an individual community activity?

PB: It may be because the JACL was active at that time in all phases of the evacuation. Now, regardless of what people now say about JACL not opposing the evacuation and things of that nature, but that time, looking back if you were living at that time, you have to understand that when this ruling came out from the government, there wasn't too much that you could do. You had to obey. If we didn't, I think we'd had a lot of problems. Now, there's a few people that disobeyed, and these lawsuits are a matter of record. I personally, when I was still there and my folks were in camp, thought very seriously of not going. Maybe I'd pull out my button, "I am Chinese" and stay. I even thought about that. But my folks and my family were in camp, so I had -- in my mind -- no choice but to join them and to worry about what is the future. So I think that many of us thought in terms of disobeying the order and saying, "Hey, I'm an American citizen. Why should I go?" But I think we did it because we were loyal citizens, and I think that makes a lot of difference. So that period of time, if you look back, many of us, we didn't want to do things, but we did it. I know that the people in Terminal Island were the same way. When they got the order they left. If they stayed there they would've been arrested and put into camp. Now, one thing that people do know is that although the people of Terminal Island, most of them ended up in Manzanar, the same thing happened to people in Bainbridge Island. They were one of the first ones. And so I got to know all the people in Bainbridge. They were in Manzanar. And as a result of it, because of their being in camp, I got to, you might say got to the point that they became relatives by marriage to several of them. So I got to know people of and the history of Bainbridge very much so. So I sympathized with their situation and didn't do anything about helping them. But afterwards found out that we had the same situation on Terminal Island.

AI: Well this is very interesting to me because I have talked to some other folks who were members of JACL from before the war, and they also said that they personally had considered resisting the order to evacuate, that they individually thought that they had their rights as American citizens and that they did consider that perhaps individually or even perhaps as an organization that JACL should consider the idea of making some statement to the government that, to the effect that this was not right.

PB: Right.

AI: And so it sounds like you had a similar idea in your mind, but...

PB: Uh-huh. I think that we become more law-abiding as a result of taking part in groups such as JACL. And so when the law said, come along and say, hey you got to do this, this is an edict of the United States government, we had a tendency to listen and to comply with it more. If we did not, then it would be different. But I think that had a lot to do with it. We were better citizens. And as a result of it, we tried to comply with what the United States government said. So that has a lot to do with it. And as I say, I'm along with a lot of other people who would've said, "Hey, I'm not going to go. I'm going to disobey the law." But it's, the law is that way. It's like going into service. There's a lot of talk about people that said, well, they don't want to go into the service for one reason or another. But my situation was a lot different. I remember in camp that when I was in the military, my folks was able to obtain the one little star. And we had little windows, and they put it in the barrack. And people would come by, and they would make obscene remarks about putting up a star, being proud of their son being in the United States military. But my folks said, and that, "We're proud that my son is able to serve and that we are Americans. And that's what we should do." So I think that the attitude of the family and parents made a lot of, a lot of difference in how we did and how we reacted. But...

AI: Right. Different families had different attitudes, and...

PB: Yeah. Right.

AI: ...the parents may have had different feelings one family to the next.

PB: As I said, I didn't want to stay in camp, and so I wanted, I went in last because of the choice to help people that needed help. I also, once I got in, I wanted to be the first one out because when I looked every morning and got up and saw those guard towers with the machine gun guards, wire fence -- we were Block 5, right next to the fence, barbed wire -- I immediately thought, "This is not for me. I got to get out." So I asked the camp director, "Quickest way, what's the best way I could get out?" Well, he said, "We're working on a project that, since there is shortage of farm labor, that we're going to get some groups together, and maybe we can put you in one of those."

So I was in one of the very first groups to go to Idaho to harvest sugar beets and potatoes. So, well, I was happy that I was out of camp because it was a completely different atmosphere when I went to Idaho. I went to Rexburg, Idaho, and every day we worked. In fact, I remember some of the hardest work I ever did in my life was during potato season up there. Oh, the potatoes were heavy, we worked all day. But at least we were free and we were not able to say, "Hey, we..." You know in camp you couldn't, in Manzanar there was one young individual that didn't know, and he snuck out through the fence. He wasn't going anywhere. He happened to be on the wrong side, and he was killed. And I think that knowing that, that feeling that you're free. So once I was on the other side of the relocation zone in Idaho, my first then thought became, "Well, what do I do? I'm here now. I'm out of the area. I've got to think of something." So I made an application. They had a governmental body that was trying to get us to, those that wanted to go to school -- I think the Friends Society may have had something to do with that. So I made an application to go to school, and that's what led me to the, back East.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Before we go on to that -- and we will get there -- but before we go on to that, I'd like to back up a little bit...

PB: Yeah.

AI: ...because when you finally did get to Manzanar, and just for people who don't know, Manzanar was in the Owens Valley in the desert...

PB: Right.

AI: ...basically in Southern California. When you first got there, what was your impression of the conditions there that you would then be living in?

PB: Well, as I say, the, when I went there my folks were already there. And these barracks -- I think there was four rooms, and we had one of them. Our whole family was in that one room. I remember the meals. We were in a, lined up and got our little meal in the mess hall there. I remember that we had to go take a shower and clean up in a common bathroom. All these things were things that I don't think any of us was ever used to. Although when I went there, I was given a very good job and had an office to go to and things. It was still the mere fact that I was confined. I couldn't go out to anywhere, couldn't do what I wanted to do. And it was taken away, the rights that I felt that I, as an American citizen I should have.

I remember though, that because of the camp and the people saying, "Well, we're going to be here, let's make the best of it," that there was activities such as sports activities, social gatherings. I never went to any dances or anything like that, but I know that they had those things set up, and to, you might say, keep the morale of the population in camp up, which was good. You had to do that, otherwise it was a very depressing situation. As I say, my main motivation was trying to get out of camp every day. My job was good. My sisters were doing well. One went, one was training to be a nurse, so she went to the hospital and was very busy every day, because when they set up the hospital they didn't bring other people in. But the local people that were in camp were the doctors. I remember they, my doctor that I had was there at the hospital served. The people like my sister and that, they were all nurses. So the hospital gave good service to the people that were in camp. And I think that these are things that benefited the camp and all of us at all times. And when I look back on it, it was because of our, you might say, the Japanese American attitudes and things that made life in camp a lot better. Now, eventually I heard about it later on, but in Manzanar was one area that we had a lot of problems between those that felt one way and felt the JACL attitude might be a little different. But I only heard about it later. When I was in camp, none of that was a matter of record, or I never got involved in that. But when you get into a place where you have 10,000-plus people, you're going to have different attitudes in different situations. Can't get away from it.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: Well, now, some people have said that for some of the Issei, being in camp was one of the first times that they didn't have to struggle so hard every day just for survival to make a living, and that it was a time of recreation, and kind of a time...

PB: Time of ease, right.

AI: take it easy. What was your view on that?

PB: Well, it may be, because at that particular time I remember that, or recall that a lot of the Isseis including my dad too, went into hobbies, recreational activities that they were never able to do when they were outside, because they were seven days a week maybe working like blazes to earn a living. And here they were able to say, "We can do what we want to." So they were able to do things. And that's why artwork and creation of different things took place in Manzanar that I know of. And so I think that from the standpoint of that part of it that it was good. But what else could you do? There was nothing else you could do. So they used their time at the, to an advantage and things they couldn't do when they were working for a living and trying to eke out enough money to make a living. So there were some, you might say good side, if that's what you want to call it.

AI: Now, did your mother or father make any comment to you at this time while you were all in camp about their situation or their prospects for...?

PB: No, they never did. In fact, before I went overseas, I went to see them, and they were very happy at my situation. And they never told me that they wished that everything would end or they could go out. I think they were accepting things on the basis that they're more Japanese. Whereas with us, we, we're on the other end of the fence. We're Americans. We're not Japanese. We, we feel it wrong to be in camp. We feel it wrong. So I think the attitude of the Isseis and the Niseis might have varied to that extent.

AI: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Well now, also before you did get out of camp, you mentioned that you had a job. And now can you tell a little bit about what that job was, what your duties were? Was it in property management at the camp?

PB: When?

AI: When you were first in camp...

PB: Oh yeah.

AI: ...that you were given the job.

PB: What I did was, in camp there were three grades. You get paid $19, $16, and $13, I think.

AI: Dollars?

PB: Huh?

AI: Dollars.

PB: Dollars a month, yeah. And it was more prestige than anything else. When I went in, I said, "Well, if that's the case I'd like to be in the category of making $19 a month," 'cause after all, that's the top pay. So I was put into a position of the property management department and head of that, and that was all property. Everything in camp was brought in by the government, whatever little furniture there was, personal items, things of that nature, everything in the offices that run. So we handled all the property. We had to take an inventory, everything came in, knew where all the property was, whether it's property that was used by the evacuees or used by the military or used by the camp director and his staff. So that was my job. And it wasn't a hard job, but nevertheless, as I say, given the top classification of $19 and a professional status, I figured, "Well, what the heck? That's pretty good." [Laughs] Made a lot of difference, $6.

And I remember that even though I was in camp, I had a lot of people that were friends outside. When I left the bank and went up there, one of the accounts was a company that had a lot of audio and visual equipment, and they sent me -- because they heard that I, I didn't have a radio. Couldn't take a radio. They sent me a radio by mail. Well, unfortunately the camp director said he'd have to turn it down. But I had friends like that that would try to help in every way possible to make my life in camp a lot easier because they didn't know what the situation was. They were never allowed to come to Manzanar. They couldn't visit. They couldn't come in. In fact I remember one time that the gate at Manzanar -- they were very strict, nobody was allowed in. And any time that the so-called non-Japanese came to visit, they were not ever allowed into the camp. When I was in the military, I had a hard time getting in even with an American uniform on.

AI: So Manzanar was, the official title was a "relocation center."

PB: Right.

AI: But in actuality it sounds like it was more than just a relocation center.

PB: Oh, yeah. Well, you know there's controversy and different people saying "concentration camp" and "relocation center." Either way it's correct because it was a camp where we were concentrated. It's a concentration camp. You could not go out. So if they say, "Well, I was in a concentration camp," what's wrong with that? Depending on where I'm speaking or who I'm talking to, I would use the word "concentration camp" over "relocation center" because that's exactly what it was. The problem is a lot of people try to compare our concentration camp with that which was in Europe, Germany. Well, sure. Because there were a lot of people killed in Europe in the concentration camp, they say, "You can't call American relocation center a concentration camp." But that's exactly what it is. They were a concentration of Japanese Americans illegally, which was proven later -- we'll talk about that. But they were relocation. We were relocated there, but we were concentrated there. We couldn't get out, no way.

AI: So the main point is you were not free to go...

PB: Right.

AI: were stuck there.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: All right. We're continuing with Mr. Bannai. And just to ask you a little bit more about Manzanar. You mentioned earlier that you had known Toyo Miyatake, the photographer...

PB: Right.

AI: Los Angeles from before the war?

PB: Right.

AI: And he was in Manzanar also.

PB: Miyatake, right.

AI: Miyatake. Did you know that he had smuggled in parts to make a camera? Were you aware that he was taking pictures...

PB: No. I became aware of it after the end results of some of the pictures he had. But no, he was, I'm sure he had to keep it very secretive. And as a result, I never knew. And in camp I didn't do things that I'm sure that he would need a photograph. As I mentioned, it was prior to the war. His studio was right down on First Street, and I'd go down there. And because of my activities at Nisei Week and all that, he would take a lot of pictures of me. And so he retained an awful lot of copies and negatives. So I used to put on all the Nisei Week talent shows. He would take pictures of not only myself, but the talent that I introduced, the coronation balls, I would introduce the queen. He would be, always be there. The parades, he would be there. He was the number one photographer in L.A. at that time. So as a result of it, I got to know Toyo real well. So I would see him in camp, but there was very seldom anything that I did that I think that he would say I would record on film. So it was only after the war that I found out that he had taken pictures in Manzanar, because I don't know if you know Ansel Adams, I think was his name, that was a photographer that they allowed into camp to take pictures of camp life. But that was the permission of the WRA.

And so after the war I got to know the family. His son, Archie, has a studio on the east side of town. His son has his studio in the same lot that I have my office in Gardena. So I still have the opportunity to see pictures from before the war, not pre-, after the war that were taken by Miyatake. But nothing that I know of did he ever take a picture of me in camp.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AI: Well, now you were in camp from about April 1942 to, it was about, sometime that summer, maybe July or August '42, that you mentioned you went out to do the sugar beet harvest...

PB: Right.

AI: Idaho. Will you tell about that, about going to Idaho? You mentioned earlier in our interview how you had that feeling of leaving camp, that at least you were free.

PB: Right. Well, as I say, I wanted to be the, I didn't have to be the first one, but I wanted to get out of camp as soon as I could because it was not an atmosphere that I enjoyed. So I made an application, the first, any way, it didn't make any difference. Well, it so happened that because of the shortage of farm labor and knowing that we were in camp that the WRA said, "Yes, we will form labor units to go to camp," I mean outside of camp. So I went with a group of Niseis all my age. I don't remember all of them, but we went to Idaho Falls and then to Rexburg, Idaho. And Rexburg was primarily potato and sugar beet country. So we went up there and harvested crops. There were several families, Japanese families, one that I had met at Salt Lake, and they moved there. And as I mentioned for whatever reason, they had several, two sisters, pretty Japanese Nisei girls, and so I was able to visit with them in Rexburg. And I remember they were so kind that I remembered the Japanese kindness more than I did the German family that I stayed with, because at one time I told them something about liking bananas, and I remember that they had bananas brought in from somewhere. [Laughs] So I could go visit them and had a banana. But the German family that I stayed with that was a farmers, they treated us very well. We didn't have the best quarters in the world, but they were comfortable, and they gave us good food. The pay was of no consequence. We were outside, and that was the main thing. But I remember very vividly some of the hardest work I've ever done in my life. And I had worked on farms and other work was on the potato because they would bring these big sacks of potato. We would put 'em in the sack, and we'd have to load 'em onto the truck. And they would take 'em into the storage shed. And those potatoes, I think, weighed 60, 70 pounds, one sack. They were in 100-pound sack. But working all day lifting those sacks of potatoes, I was worn out during the day. It was hard work.

But during that time, knowing that I was on the outside, then that's when I put in to go to school. So I was able to say, "Well, I did finish my contract to work," and I was able to say, they accepted me at school, so I could leave. So I did my part of the bargain with the farmer, and I enjoyed the freedom of being outside even though I had to work my head off in order to survive. [Laughs]

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

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.

<Begin Segment 24>

AI: Before we go on to that, because I know that's a whole story in itself...

PB: Right.

AI: ...I wanted to just ask a few more questions about your time in Des Moines.

PB: Right.

AI: And, now, I think after your working in Idaho, that was kind of through the fall of 1942...

PB: Right.

AI: ...or to the end of '42?

PB: Right.

AI: So then, by the time you had gone to Nebraska and then on to Des Moines, it must have been early 1943 or so?

PB: Right. Beginning.

AI: Right. Beginning of 1943. And it sounds like from what you've said that you received very positive treatment from...

PB: Oh, very much so.

AI: ...the folks in Des Moines.

PB: As I say, I went to visit my friend that worked at the Maytag because his son was with me, and the family, oh, they really took care of me. Now, his son that was my roommate decided that I'm gonna go, trying to get in the military. He says, "I'm old enough. I can get in." So he volunteered. And I said, "What are you going to volunteer for?" He says, "I'm going to go into the, either navy or the marines." I says, "Why not the army?" He says, "I've lived in Iowa and never seen the ocean." I said, "That is a silly reason for being in the navy or the marines." But he was taken in the marines. And he wrote me a letter, oh, about every week, every two weeks. Well, one of the things that I got from him is that he was sent to Camp Pendleton in California. And one of the letters he wrote to me, he says, "You know, Paul," he says, "I made a mistake." He says, "I should've gone in the army or the navy." He said, "The marines," he says, "we train," he said, "I've only been here for a couple, three months. We're now ready to go overseas." And he says, "They don't care about me. 'The honor of the Marines Corps' is all they stress. That's all they talk about." And he says, "They should care a little bit about the individuals." But he says, "That's it." Well, anyway, that was the last letter from Camp Pendleton. Then I got a letter from his friend, and he says, "Your friend was killed in action. We landed at Saipan first day." And he says, "One of the things he told me -- and he gave me your address, if anything happens to him that you would see to it that the personal belongings, you would take care of it and get it to the parents." So when the war was over, I, that's what I did. I went back there and did it. But he wrote me the last letter before he went overseas and got killed. And I still remember him as a friend.

And it was typical of all the people in Iowa, and they all, I don't know, my boss there and everybody. In fact I remember when I went and left -- as I told you, there was a streetcar into the fort and back. So the last day the train was coming through. I remember being at the train station. I looked up, and I think it was about 8 o'clock at night. The train pulled in. I was the only one in uniform waiting there. It was a troop train going to go down, and it was full of soldiers. So they stopped to pick me up. What happened is that the hotel, knowing that I was going to leave that night, about fifteen, twenty girls, all girls there, young girls, came to see me off. So I embrace all of them and get on the train. All these guys there had the windows, they're looking out, had their head out, here was this Oriental -- [laughs] -- I was probably the only Oriental in all of Iowa there, and they got, I got on the train, and everyone wanted to know, "Why all these pretty girls come to see you off?" I says, "I don't know." They said, "What do you do?" I told them I worked at the hotel. But anyway, they were so envious of the fact that I had a send-off of that kind. [Laughs]

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

PB: But anyway, in a couple days we were down in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and that's where I started my military career. And I was what they call a cadre, in other words the beginning of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. That also was quite an experience there. I went down, and I was Service Company. They had started to ship in Hawaii boys as a unit. The 100th Infantry was up in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. They came down. They started to bring in Hawaii people, but then later on, little by little, people that were drafted in the different camps. So we had a very, mixture. But I remember at the beginning, the -- it wasn't a resentment, but all the Hawaii guys would tell them all those kotonks. [Laughs] And they were Buddhaheads. But they said, "These kotonks." And I said, "What's a kotonk?" He says, "kotonk, kotonk." They says, "Those are the mainland boys," see? [Laughs] So I got to know the Hawaiians very well. I'd never been to Hawaii, so I got to know the Hawaii boys at that particular time. It was quite an experience.

AI: Well, in what ways did they seem different, the Hawaii fellows?

PB: Well, as I say, the Hawaii people had never been threatened with camp or anything. Many of them, of course I found out like the part of the 100th Infantry Battalion were defenders of the United States when Pearl Harbor happened, so their attitude and everything was completely different. They didn't experience somebody saying, "Hey, you gotta go to camp. Your family's gotta go." Things of this nature. And that's why I remember that when I was with the unit, a lot of the Hawaii boys just go out to Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi, and some went to New Orleans. And they'd come back and they'd tell me, he says, "You know, the American people, they're very cold. We go to USO, and the girls don't treat us, say we're different. We look different. We're just not accepted. They think we're Japanese, not Americans." And so they always used to complain about it.

So what I did is I went to the colonel, and I says, "Colonel, you know these Hawaii boys especially, but all of our troops are not, you might say in the best of shape morally. I think their morale could be improved." And I said, "There's a, several camps here in Arkansas, Jerome and Rohwer." I says, "Is there any way that I can contact them and maybe work out some kind of a program to bring the girls over?" So I contacted and finally got an answer from director of Jerome, and he says, "Yeah, we can get, if you'll pay for the bus, we'll get volunteer girls." So I said, "Yeah, we've got the big hall here at Camp Shelby, and I'll put the dance on." So I emceed and had a dance on Saturday night with Nisei girls from Jerome. And oh, especially the Hawaii guys, they really enjoyed that. It was something that, not seeing girls, for one thing, and having enjoyment. So Saturday night was a big night for 'em. And then what I would do is bring them in Saturday, they would dance, and then Sunday I would scatter different girls out to the different mess halls. They would have breakfast, put 'em on the bus, and send them back to Jerome. There were two aspects of it that came out real good as a result of this. The first thing is the association of Hawaii boys with mainland girls, they learned a lot about that. Plus the fact that gave them something to do that's not normal. One disappointing fact for me I can say is that whenever I put the dance on, I'm emceeing the dance, and all these girls would come up and say, "You know, you don't dance, you're so busy, so we're going to save you the last dance." Well, here I got thirty, forty girls wanted a last dance with me. How can I dance the last dance? I never did. [Laughs] So that was a disappointment.

The other aspect which I say is good is that in this process, the people that were there, for instance, I had two people that became very influential later -- Dan Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, who were in my unit. They were part of the 442nd. I says, "You know, you got to know the girls. You ought to go to camp and see what the camp is like." So we got a bus, and they went to camp to take a look. And they came back impressed and also completely awed by the fact that we who were put into camps would even volunteer for the military to help the United States, a country that would put all of our family into such dire circumstances as those camps. So they then appreciated we who were called kotonks a lot more, because they realized that we had really done something to volunteer for the U.S. military, whereas they had little bit different circumstance. Their folks were not put into camp. They were free to do what they want to. So that was one thing that was good about serving and getting these people to see the camp.

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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]

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<Begin Segment 27>

AI: Well, we'll continue on with that at another time in our next session. But before we get there, let me ask you just a little bit more about the language school.

PB: Yeah.

AI: The MIS, Military Intelligence Service Language School, was, as you mentioned, was set up specifically to develop the interpretive and translating skills...

PB: Right.

AI: ...that was needed by the U.S. military. Now, when you got that war order to go up to the school, you would, just explained how you really didn't want to do that and how it was ironic since you really didn't have the Japanese language skills when you started. Now, did you think that it was, or how did it strike you that first the U.S. government put you and others of Japanese ancestry in the camps and confined you. But then at the same time, then you were recruited, and clearly being Japanese and having Japanese language skills and some knowledge of the culture became very valuable. Did that strike you as strange or ironic, or how did you view that?

PB: Well, in retrospect after you study the history of why they had the school there and what we did and what we called the Military Intelligence Service, then you have to understand the military and how they came to this point. Originally the school was in Monterey -- I mean in San Francisco, a little army, it's a little island there at the end of the bridge. And they had a language school there where they were teaching Japanese. In fact, John Aiso, who was taken in the army and was a mechanic on a jeep, he knew Japanese, had studied in Japan. He was with that school. Now, the reason they came to the conclusion, part of the history of the MIS, is when they went into Kiska and Attu in Alaska to, to evacuate and to beat the Japanese troops up there, they found how valuable the use of the language and being able to monitor what was being said by the Japanese military. And they came to the conclusion that unless we have Japanese-trained people in the military that it would be just hopeless. And that was one of the reasons why, when we were evacuated, they said, "We can't have Japanese on the West Coast." They had to move the camp to Camp Savage. Now, Camp Savage was a CCC camp. It was real unmilitary place.

AI: Civilian Conservation Corps?

PB: Yeah.


PB: It was just an old place. Now, there were several reasons I understand they picked the place. One was that it was close to camp, Fort Snelling, which was a big base in Minneapolis. The other reason they didn't want us in Fort Snelling or any other major military base is because of the secrecy of what we were being trained and what we were being taught. And so they picked this Camp Savage. It was on a river, across the river from Minneapolis, and a small place. But that's why we were there. Now, eventually there was about 5,000 of us, I understand, that was sent to the Pacific. And by the time I got there, there was quite a number of 'em already overseas. They were serving in all the units that, well, from, well, even from Saipan. In fact, I have a friend that got the medal there. And the reason he did is he, he's a Mexican, but he lived with a family in Boyle Heights and got to know enough Japanese. So when he was in Saipan with the marines, he knew enough Japanese -- in order to get people to surrender, he would go into these foxholes and whatever, caves that were... and he's given credit, and the reason he got this Congressional Medal is he is credited with bringing in 1,000 Japanese prisoners of war. But this is where language was very important.

Now, if you want, I can tell you some of my exploits in my MIS experience overseas, but even with my very poor Japanese -- because I was not real good -- I was able to, by myself, go out and try to help the troops that I was with. And as I say, when I went overseas with the POW group in New Guinea, the first thing that we did was to set up prisoner of war camp. And when we had the Japanese that were taken as prisoner of war, they were put into these camps, and we could converse with them. That's when I learned that the Japanese soldier was never told that they were going to be a POW. You either give your life up, you don't give up at all. So when we talked to them and gave them a cigarette and treat 'em right and we asked them about their unit and what they were doing and what... the information was readily given to us. They never were told, as American soldier, that if you're captured, you give them your name, rank, and serial number and that's all. The Japanese weren't ever told that. So all during the war in the Pacific whenever we got prisoner of war and talked to the Japanese, we got information that was helpful down the line, saved our troop lives, made it easier for us to advance. All these things was a lot different between our army and the Japanese army. So the mere fact that we could speak the Japanese language made a lot of difference.

AI: Well, I'll ask you more about that in our next session.

PB: All right. [Laughs]

AI: Thank you.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.