Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Minoru "Min" Tsubota Interview
Narrator: Minoru "Min" Tsubota
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Tetsuden Kashima (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 18, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-tminoru-01-0022

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MT: So I went down and signed up for the Kent draft board and volunteered to go in the army. And so I passed the draft board in Kent and, of course, Japanese-style the... we had a Kadoyama Hall where later Mr. Kadoyama took the big, large barn there and we made it into a social hall where they had movies and shibais and... but they gave me a farewell dinner since I was leaving for the army and I got all these well-wishes to send me off to the army. Left from Kent to, took the train down to Fort Lewis. Fort Lewis, we were inducted there and was sent down to... but before we were sent down there they asked us, me and another Nisei went to the army, and they asked us whether, what part of the army or what that we would like to volunteer for. And, of course, we talked about air corps and infantry, but regardless of what we said we all ended up in the infantry. And we were shipped down to Camp Roberts, California and we took our basic training there for about ninety days in that hot, spring/summer weather. And took, got out of basic training and then, from there we were assigned to the 40th Infantry Division in San Luis Obispo and I was assigned to the 160th Infantry Regiment, which is an infantry unit.

And, but, what made me ask for the band was, in Camp Roberts, California, in the morning-time when the troops all went out with our forty-pound packs, they started out with the hakujins, tall hakujins out in front and then Niseis, short Niseis were on the tail end. And morning-time they'd really go out very slowly, and there's no problem, and it's cool. But coming home they're hungry and their long legs, they would march very fast and so we could hardly keep up. And, but that time, they usually had an ambulance following our units. So some of us had to... if we passed out we came home on the ambulance. But I was determined that somehow I could pass up being in the infantry in the 160th regiment I would like to... when I got to San Luis Obispo, I found out that there was a regimental band. And so on the second day or third day I went to Mr. Jenner of the 160th Infantry band and asked him if I could, if he could interview me and see if I can make the band there. So we had, I spent a half a day with him and played the clarinet and saxophone with him and he said, "Oh, we'll be very happy to have you." And so I was very happy. God, I could get rid of my forty-pound pack and all this marching and all we had to do in the morning was to get up before the troops but we... the band would go around and play march music and wake up everybody before reveille. And then the rest of the day all we had to do was practice band music and classical music. So it made the army career a lot better from that day on. So I was very appreciative of Mr. Jenner who was the warrant officer leader.

TK: Okay, so there you were in San Luis Obispo --

MT: San Luis Obispo.

TK: -- in the band.

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: And, but what kind of band members were next to you and why were they in the National Guard unit?

MT: The 40th Division -- the 160th Infantry is what was called the California National Guard. But the rumor, the real juicy rumor was, to all these studio people and all these professional dance band people, was that they heard about the draft but they heard that, the rumor was that if they would sign up with the Hollywood National Guard, that they would, wouldn't be called right away and that as long as the National Guard was not active, they would be able to carry on their profession with the dance band and the studios and everything like that. But what occurred is, the National Guards were called up and, on active duty and they became the 160th Infantry band. And so they were all real professional top musicians that were -- I was finally able to get together with.

TK: They must have been very surprised to be called up to active duty?

MT: They were surprised. They were, they were very disappointed, they were really disappointed because music was their whole life and they, that's all they were, real top professional band players. And, I wish I could remember the names of the bands they played in, but they were real top professional people.

TK: And how did they accept you as a really non-professional -- although you'd played in a band before -- into the unit?

MT: Well, like I mentioned, I was just an average band musician but they treated me real, real good and I think the fact that they were top professionals, they treated me, a band member rather than to discriminate me as some other band members would have, some other band, probably. But they were top people with top quality and they just accepted me on that basis.

TK: Sometimes band members even give a nicknames to particular members of their unit. Did you happen to have that kind of honor?

MT: Yeah, in my case, when I met with Mr. Jenner, from the first... he asked me what my name was and I said Tsubota. I spelled it out: T-S-U-B-O-T-A. And my first name was Minoru, M-I-N-O-R-U and they couldn't say "Minoru" or "Tsubota" so they, Mr. Jenner says, "What we'll do is we'll call you Yohi," that's Y-O-H-I, the Chinese horse thief. And so all throughout my band career I was known as Yohi. And so nobody knew me as Min Tsubota in the regimental band.

TK: And, this went on until December 7, 1941?

MT: Yeah, December...

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.