Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mitsuye May Yamada - Joe Yasutake - Tosh Yasutake Interview
Narrators: Mitsuye May Yamada, Joe Yasutake, Tosh Yasutake
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Jeni Yamada (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 8 & 9, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ymitsuye_g-01-0046

<Begin Segment 46>

AI: So this, this all happened very quickly, because it was that Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, you heard the news while you were at church, about the bombing of Pearl Harbor --

MY: We were still sort of in shock about the news.

TY: We were just --

AI: You got home, and then very soon after you returned home, these FBI showed up, and then the next thing you know, Tosh, you're picking up the car realizing your dad isn't coming back, then and not knowing where he is, so then in the next few days...

TY: We just, just uncertainty. I mean, just -- I don't know whether I was really scared, or what. But it's just the uncertainty that was very unsettling, really.

MY: It was scary. It was scary.

JY: Well, I was scared. That's the only thing I remember, is I was very scared. I don't remember any details or anything.

MY: And then --

TY: No, I wasn't, I really wasn't scared in the sense that, being very frightened. But I was scared because I, scared in the sense that I was, not knowing what was going to happen, but I was pretty sure that nothing really bad's going to happen. Bad meaning Dad's going to --

JY: Getting killed, or anything.

TY: Yeah, getting killed, or anything. So... I don't know. At that time, I think about it, and I think, I don't think I was really, really scared in that sense.

MY: Well, I think that was because --

TY: Maybe I was partly in shock.

MY: Was it, did Mr. Bonham call the following day? It wasn't that day he called. That was Sunday.

TY: No, it was at least the following day, yeah.

MY: December 7th, so it was Sunday. So they came to work on Monday, right?

TY: Yeah.

MY: Is that right?

TY: Yeah.

MY: So Mr. Bonham --

TY: Well Mr. Bonham was the, was the --

MY: Director.

TY: -- head of the immigration office. I mean, he was the, as Dad's -- not immediate boss, but boss' boss. Up at the top. And he was very, very nice. And he called Mother almost every day to tell them, to tell her what was going on. So he kept her updated on --

MY: So we knew that he was -- he called to tell us that he was there. And he said, "Don't worry, we're taking good care of him," and so forth. So my mom said that he called several times. And I was kind of hear -- listening to the tape, the discussion that we had about this thing?

TY: That period? Yeah.

MY: And she said that Mr. Bonham kept calling her and telling her, "Don't worry. I'm going to try to get -- I'm talking to Washington, I'm going to try to get Jack out." And then she said, "Come to think of it, sono, koto-o omottara. It's a good thing that Mr. Bonham didn't get him out."

TY: Didn't get out. Well maybe, maybe that's why I wasn't really, really --

MY: "Because I can't imagine what would have happened with his reputation in the Japanese community if all these men had been arrested in the, and the family didn't even know who, where they were." And some of the men, they were like Dad. They had gone somewhere, and they didn't come home. And so Mom knew, and we were kind of privileged in that sense, because he had a friend, he had his boss there. So Mom was saying that -- years later, decades later -- she was saying, "You know, it was a good thing that Mr. Bonham didn't succeed in getting him out, because donna koto ni natta ka wakaranai. Don't know what would have happened to him if he had been, he certainly would have, they would have thought that he was spying for the immigration service, since he was working for them.

TY: Yeah, they, I think he was thought of as being a plant in the group, there.

MY: By the -- yeah, and he was here, he was getting special treatment in, in the guest room. And all the other guys were all sort of in a whole, a big large --

JY: Jail cell.

MY: -- detention room. And...

AI: Because at this time, in 1941, by then, your father had worked there at immigration service --

MY: About twenty-three --

AI: -- for over twenty years.

TY: Twenty-five years, yeah.

AI: And, Joe, while you were only nine, well, Tosh, you were already nineteen?

TY: Nineteen?

AI: And had started the university, and you were a senior in high school, May.

MY: Uh-huh.

TY: Come to think of it, maybe I was not all that scared because I, because of Mr. Bonham keeping reassuring Mother that --

MY: Yeah, I think that that --

TY: -- so I had a, I had feeling maybe, well, he's gonna get out any day now. So maybe I was half expecting that.

MY: Yeah. I don't think that we felt, we felt like, well, we'll leave it up to him, and he's gonna do -- and that was what he said. "Don't worry about it. I'm working on it," and so forth. He was being really very reassuring. And my mom said, on the tape that, "Mr. Bonham ga, Papa wa totemo kawaii gatte kureta," which I thought was a kind of a funny expression, the way that he has such a great affection for Dad. You know, "Kawaii kara. Papa ga kawaii kara. He was really taking good care of him," and so forth. So I think in that respect, it was not, we had reason to be reassured that he was taken care of. But also in one of the tapes, my mother mentioned, after we went to assembly center in Puyallup, that she said that Dad came to visit us with Mr. Bonham.

TY: That I don't remember.

MY: And that is the strangest --

TY: I don't remember that at all.

MY: That was the strangest thing because none of us remember that happening. And then, when you come to think of it, the FBI arrested Dad -- the FBI arrested him, and they were under the Department of Justice. The Immigration and Naturalization Service was not under the Department of Justice at that point.

TY: Department of Commerce.

MY: Yeah. And so, the, there was a kind of a rivalry between these two departments. They were saying, "Well, how dare you arrest one of our men?" "Oh, you don't think" -- there was this kind of rivalry going -- and my mother, our mother, very interestingly enough, understood that. She said that there was some kind of a fight going on, a departmental --

TY: Power.

MY: -- power struggle --

TY: Power struggle.

MY: -- going on between these two departments, and that our dad was a victim of that. And I thought that was kind of perceptive of her, that she recognized this. And she said... so under those circumstances, I cannot imagine Mr. Bonham, who was having trouble with the Department of Justice at that point, be given permission to take Dad out of the detention center -- because he was still in Seattle -- to bring him over to Puyallup to visit his family. And I don't remember, I certainly would have remembered it.

TY: So maybe, maybe it could have happened after I left camp. Went into the army.

MY: No, because Dad was already -- no, he was in Lordsburg, New Mexico --

TY: He was already in Missoula, then. Yeah, that's right.

MY: Yeah, so why would Mr. Bonham have anything to do with that? And so the only thing that we can figure out is that she must have dreamt it. Or she had imagined it. That she saw --

TY: Could very well be, yeah.

JY: I can't believe that one of us would not have remembered Dad being, coming.

MY: Yeah. 'Cause that's a, would have been a really big event.

JY: Oh, yeah.

MY: Dad came, if he were to come to Puyallup. She said, "We were in Puyallup," and do you remember that tape? Well, it's on the tape, yeah. So that, there was kind of a strange --

TY: I don't think I've ever heard Mother saying that to me.

MY: Yeah, I have the tape for you. So that was kind of puzzling, but so then Dad --

TY: Oh, he was transferred to --

MY: -- was transferred to Missoula.

TY: -- Missoula. I can't remember exactly when that was, but that's when I finally realized that he's not coming home, for sure. Not for a while, anyway.

MY: And then from Missoula, went to Santa Fe?

TY: From Missoula, I think he went to -- he might have gone to Bismarck, at one time. And I don't know where, Bismarck's, Montana.

AI: Did you receive any mail or word from him? A telegram or anything while he was in Missoula?

MY: No.

TY: No.

MY: Not that I, not while he was in those, those detention centers. But when he supposedly finally settled into the POW camp in New Mexico, in Lordsburg --

TY: Lordsburg, yeah.

MY: I think we got the first letter when we were in Idaho.

TY: Because he went -- I think he went from Missoula to, possibly Bismarck, Montana -- Idaho and then Montana, and then to San-, what was that?

MY: Santa Fe, to Lordsburg.

TY: Santa Fe, and then to Lordsburg. And then from Lordsburg he went to Crystal City. And that's where Joe and my mother joined my dad. That was a family prisoner-of-war camp.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.