Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mits Koshiyama Interview
Narrator: Mits Koshiyama
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 14, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-kmits-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Well, and as you were saying earlier, after learning so much about the Constitution, here you were in Heart Mountain concentration camp. You were finishing up your senior year in high school inside this camp, and you were reminded of the Constitution again by this fellow student's...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...paper. Now, about the same time that you graduated from high school in camp, it was 1943, you received your draft classification, and what was it?

MK: I received a 1-A, see, because the government had opened up the selective service to all Japanese Americans. Naturally since I was a 4-C, I didn't know what to expect. But a lot of my friends that were 4-C told me that they received a 1-A. So I kind of expected it and it did come, a 1-A.

AI: So even though before that you, young men of Japanese ancestry were classified 4-C, you had heard that this change was going to happen...

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: ...that the government was going to start accepting...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...volunteers to the service. And so when you got your draft classification, it was 1-A.

MK: Yeah. Well, what happened was that the volunteer program the government initiated was a failure. There were less than, little over 800 people that volunteered out of all the camps. There were, where they expected maybe 10,000 people will volunteer from the camps.

AI: Well, in fact, it was early 1943 that the call for volunteers to the service came out. What was your reaction when you, when you heard about that call for volunteers?

MK: Well, it didn't bother me because I knew, under the conditions, I wasn't going to volunteer. There's no way, put me in a concen-, they kicked me out of my home in California because they didn't trust me. All right? They put me into a concentration camp because they didn't trust me. But they're willing to draft me into a segregated army unit. If they don't trust me, why did, why would they put, draft me into the army? It doesn't make sense. If now, if I was free in California I would've gladly gone, because this is my country. White America just can't understand that.

AI: So when the call for volunteers came out in early 1943, at the same time, the government put out a so-called "loyalty questionnaire" that everyone had to fill out. And as we know, there were two main questions that were controversial, number 27 and number 28. Number 27 was the one about, "Would you serve wherever ordered for the United States?"

MK: Correct.

AI: And number 28 was swearing unqualified allegiance to the United States, foreswearing any previous allegiance to the emperor of Japan. Well, so when you and your family got this questionnaire, what was your thinking on this or any discussion that you might have had with your family or friends or others?

MK: Oh, I took everything at face value. This question 28, some people come up with different answers later, but I just, I just said, "no." I don't have any loyalty to the emperor of Japan. That's the way I felt. And 27 is that, I felt that I was a good American citizen -- I put down, "yes." But I wanted my constitutional rights returned to me first. I got a copy of what I wrote down. It's not exactly that I put down, "I want the return of my constitutional rights first." It, I wrote more. But that was the basis of it.

AI: Now, why, why did you write more than just a simple "yes"? What, had you discussed this with some other people, or had you seen some other writings about this before you actually wrote down your answer?

MK: I read in, I read in this bulletin someplace that the government said it's all right to qualify your answer 27. And a lot of people told me that's the way they're gonna answer it. We want, we want our rights back as American citizen, and our families freed from the camps. Lot of us talked about that, I said, "Yeah. You know that's really true. How can we go fight for and defend democracy when our parents and family are locked up in this concentration camp?" And they're denied the very rights I'm supposed to fight for. Who am I supposed to fight for, in a way? If I can't fight for my parents and family, who am I gonna fight for? It doesn't make sense to me. And I talked to my friends. A lot of my friends said, "Yeah, that's the way it is. We should have our rights before going in the army." But they didn't want to challenge the government, so they, they went through the physical, and a lot of them went into the army.

AI: When they received a draft notice?

MK: Yeah. But I said, "No, I'm not gonna go until I get my rights back as an American citizen."

AI: So you didn't have to face that right away. In 1943, you had not received a draft notice yet.

MK: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.