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-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: So here you are, it's February 1944, March 1944. You received your draft notice, and your reaction was no, you weren't going to answer it until your rights were cleared up.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: Did you have any idea what might happen to you if you didn't...

MK: Oh.

AI: ...if you didn't report in as the draft notice required?

MK: Yeah. I...

AI: What did you think would happen?

MK: I thought there might be a penalty, but I was kind of naive. I thought that common sense, common sense would tell you that we're right, that we should have our rights before we go and defend. Like I said before, everything in the Constitution, if we go defend the Constitution, we should be enjoying the rights that's written under the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights and everything like that. Well, I, that's the way I thought, anyway.

AI: So then sometime about mid-March, then, you were arrested.

MK: Right.

AI: Will you tell me about that? What happened?

MK: I, I didn't go for my physical. I didn't know what was gonna, what was gonna happen. So I just stayed in bed. I didn't go. And the federal marshal came. He knocked on the door and said, "Are you this, is this you?" And I says, "Yeah. This is me." He says come with him. So I went with him, and he came, actually came to the front of my door, our door, in a car. So we went to the administration building where I was booked. Then we were sent to Powell jail. Then from there, we were shipped to Casper, Wyoming, probably for about thirty days. Then from Casper, we're shipped to Cheyenne. Stayed there about sixty days for, for the trial. That's what happened.

AI: Well, now, before you were arrested, did your family, your parents or brothers and sisters know what you were doing...

MK: No.

AI: ...that there was a possibility you might be arrested and taken away?

MK: Only one that I, I talked to was my brother, older brother. And he told me, "I believe you are right, fighting for your rights." But he said, "In the state of Wyoming, you don't have a chance. This is really a racist state." And he said that the judges, everybody will be against you. "You don't have a chance," he said. So he says he was going to, he's gonna go to his physical. So I said, "Okay." That's what happened. I just refused to go. And federal marshal, well, he didn't say too much. He, he was just doing what he was told to do.

AI: Did you get a chance to say goodbye to your folks before...

MK: No. My mother was working in the mess hall. My father wasn't home. The kids were outside playing already. I, yeah, my sisters were probably going to school. I was by myself. But I just told myself, "This is something I have to do." I'm like anybody else. If there's a wrong, the government does you wrong, you should protest. A lot of people will say that, but they won't contest the issue because they're afraid of the consequences. And I, too, was brought up, don't bring -- that word "haji," again. Don't bring haji and stuff like that to our family. My mother put that into my head. I realized that. But I said, "This is too important of an issue to worry about haji and shikata ga nai and those Japanese words." But I did learn something from my parents -- that's pride. As long as you have pride, you'll survive. And the Issei were right. I think it's just pride alone that made Japanese Americans, they're not what you call real successful, but they're, somehow successful in life. And I think the Issei had a lot to do with it.

AI: So you were put in the Powell jail for one night. What, what was going through your head and how you were feeling, that night when you were actually in jail?

MK: Well, it wasn't a happy thought to be put in jail, first time in your life. I, I thought, "Gee, I never thought it'd come to this." I thought the government ought to at least say, "Okay. We'll do what you say. If you go in the army, we'll release your family, put them back to where they came from." That's fine. I'll, I'll gladly go in the army for that. But they'll never do that. They were out to, bound to punish us. The government was out to punish us. There was a document sent from Dillon Myer to our, what you call a, they call a, I think it's, it's called a draft board. And it says in there, "Don't give these boys a parole. If you give them a parole, it'll amount to a slap on the wrist." And that no one else in Heart Mountain is going to go for their physical. That's the warning they gave to the draft board, parole board. So that's the reason why, under law we're supposed to be offered parole after your, one-third of your sentence is done. But they, they refused to give us that.

AI: That was later. But in this early days, in fact, the first, the first day when you were taken to the Powell jail, well, when you got there, did you see people you knew, or were there other resisters there in the jail?

MK: No, they, there weren't anybody else there. We went as a group. I didn't know them.

AI: You and some of the other draft resisters were arrested the same day.

MK: Yeah.

AI: You were taken there together, but you didn't know them.

MK: No. They say this is a conspiracy, but it's not true. We didn't know each other.

AI: And then all of you who were in the Powell jail, the next day you, were you all taken then to Casper, the Casper jail?

MK: Yeah, Casper. Yeah.

AI: And, and what happened there?

MK: Well, we stayed there for thirty days. Casper jail was a brand-new jail, so it wasn't, it wasn't too bad. But what, Cheyenne jail was very filthy, old. It was -- [laughs] -- I would describe it as cruel and unusual punishment, staying there. It was very bad. I think many of, many Indians must have just died in there because it was so bad.

AI: What was...

MK: Couldn't believe it.

AI: What was your treatment like there in jail? How were you treated?

MK: At Casper, we were treated decently. And when we went to Cheyenne, we received two meals a day. We didn't have the best treatment there. They, they refused to give us a toothbrush or toothpaste for thirty days. Can you imagine that? No wonder we got bad teeth. All ways Cheyenne was, you wouldn't want to go there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.