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Title: Tosh Yasutake Interview
Narrator: Tosh Yasutake
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: November 14, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ytosh-01-0008

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TI: Well, eventually the government decided to form a segregated army unit, the 442. And they went to the camps and they asked for volunteers from the camps. What was your reaction when that happened?

TY: Well, I thought, that's really great. But then at the time it happened I thought it was -- I was very happy to hear that.

TI: Why were you happy to hear that?

TY: Well, because we were given -- if you wanted to go in the army volunteer another -- before, we were not, even if you wanted to go we couldn't go. So now, at least we were given a chance to go into the army. But then later, the more I thought of it, the more uncertain I was because, because of the fact that actually they were asking volunteers for, to form a segregated Japanese American unit and the more I thought of it the more upset I got. And I thought that if they were going to volunteer or even be drafted in the army, they ought to just assimilate us among the hakujin troops and not have a segregated unit. And so many of the friends and working in the hospital had already volunteered, but I didn't until the very last day because of that. I was holding out, hoping that they'd say that they would assimilate us to, if we wanted to we could go to some other units. But they didn't say that. And finally in desperation, the last day I decided that maybe if I did volunteer that it might help my dad get released a little earlier. So I did volunteer. And I volunteered and then I didn't have nerve enough to tell my mother so I asked a good friend of ours who was the Episcopal minister in the camp, Dr. Joe (Katagawa), if he would go and tell my mother for me. [Laughs] I didn't have the guts to tell her myself. So we went over there and told her and understandably, she was sort of shocked and upset and then it didn't take her long to just accept the fact that I was going.

TI: Now, why would your mother be upset?

TY: Well, going in the army, the first thing you thought, well, you probably -- well, usual thing about how mother will get upset when somebody go into the army. I think that having to lose their son in the war was a very upsetting thought but when I explained to her that one of the main reasons that I did this was because I thought it would help Dad, and I think that kind of calmed her a little bit, after she thought about that.

TI: Were there any other concerns, perhaps, oh, from your mother or your family about -- I'm just thinking, 'cause you're very thoughtful, and you thought about the issue of why a segregated unit versus an integrated unit and other issues, the fact that you and your family were essentially in a prison camp being asked to fight for --

TY: Uh-huh, yeah.

TI: -- essentially your captors, the people who were guarding you. I mean, did those issues come up, too, in discussions or thoughts about your mom and perhaps your siblings supporting or not supporting you going into the army?

TY: No, I think not. I -- question like that -- people have asked questions like that to me and I thought about it and I thought now, in Minidoka, things were relatively calm. They weren't really a very strong faction of people like Manzanar and Tule Lake. Most of the people, I think were... the radical people weren't that active in Minidoka. And I think I didn't pay too much, too much of -- there were few, but not very many, and I don't think that played -- as I know, I don't think it played much, a strong part in our camp life and our volunteering to the -- and then about the volunteers. I don't think so. I don't know whether you people have heard of groups like, the radical groups in Minidoka. I don't think there were many.

AI: Well, I was also wondering if there was, as you were kind of thinking it over and you mentioned a lot of your buddies from the hospital work had already volunteered, were people trying to convince you, yeah, you should go ahead and volunteer, or was there anyone trying to talk you out of it saying, no, maybe that's not such a good idea?

TY: No, no, not really. But it was very interesting -- remember when I gave that talk at the Lordsburg, about the Lordsburg panel? After I gave a talk for, a friend of mine who worked in the hospital at that time, she was a nurse's aide. And apparently, during that time she was keeping a diary of things going on and she gave me a copy of the diary of that, the day that she got the word that I volunteered. And the notation in there was very interesting. She said, "I just heard that Tosh volunteered." And it said, "Under the circumstances, I wonder why he did that," or "why he would do that." And I thought that was kind of interesting comment. [Laughs] But no, that kind of negative thought never occurred to me, really. And I thought if anything, not only would it help my dad, it would probably -- well, I was apprehensive about being in a segregated unit and I thought they would probably use us -- there'll be discrimination in the way they'd be using us and I think at times when we were overseas it did happen. I think that we were the point in any given drive because we were what we were. I don't know. It would be my, I just get that gut feeling that maybe it played a part in our role, the role that we played over there. Not all the time but I think at times it did.

TI: Yeah, I think that some people suspect that.

TY: Yeah.

TI: But staying at Minidoka, after you made that decision, was there any kind of send-off from your, from your co-workers at the hospital or your family to bid you farewell?

TY: You know, that's a good question. I don't remember. I remember we had, they had send-off parties and whether it was specifically for me or for a group of us or what I don't remember. It's funny... I must have a mental block about things like that, but I do. [Laughs] But I do remember that at home my mother was knitting me a ski sweater. In those days I always needed a ski sweater but the fancy ski sweater with figures skiing and you know, fancy ski sweaters that she was knitting for me. And then when she heard that I was going -- she was only about a third way finished with that and so she madly knitted, finished knitting it with the help of my sister, and they got it done in about two weeks before I left, I think. In fact, I still have that sweater. I can't wear it too much now because I've outgrown it. [Laughs]

TI: So this is a sweater that you carried with you throughout your military...

TY: Yeah, yeah. In fact, I think my granddaughter is wearing it now, over in Cape Cod. Oh, another thing that, thought that came to me. I can't remember now. Well, anyway...

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.