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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today is August 18, 2003, and doing the interviewing is Professor Tetsuden Kashima from the University of Washington, and I'm Tom Ikeda, the interviewer. On camera we have Dana Hoshide and with us we have Minoru Tsubota to do the interview. And is it okay if I call you Min? Or would you...

MT: Min, uh-huh.

TI: Okay, Min. So, I'm gonna start the interview talking pretty much about prewar life. And then Tets is gonna come in later and talk more about your military. But, as a first step, what was your given name, as a child?

MT: Minoru, Minoru Tsubota, my given name.

TI: And when and where were you born?

MT: Born on December 1, 1918 in Kent, King County, Washington, out there in the White River valley.

TI: Good. I'm going to talk a little bit now about your parents. And so, can you tell me where your parents came from?

MT: My dad, my dad was born in, I believe in 1876 in Hiroshima, Japan. And my mother was born in Hiroshima, Japan, also. My dad's name was Sentaro Tsubota. My mother's name, of course, was Fusano Kanda married my dad, Tsubota, at age fifteen. But she was born in 1877. So, they were born, both of 'em were born and raised in, on a rice farm in Hiroshima, Japan.

TI: So, tell me first about your father and his family as rice farmers. What was that like?

MT: As you recall, I was born and raised here, so only thing I remember would be what my parents talked a little bit about, but... Dad evidently was the only son of Taro Tsubota and he was the only son and only child and he was raised, born and raised on this rice farm in Hiroshima, Japan, just off of Hiroshima city itself. And all I remember is he was raised as an only son, I guess. And, but, he was, they were married on...

TI: Well, before we get to the marriage, so, what was it like for your dad growing up as the son of a rice farmer? Was that hard work, or what was it... can you, did he ever talk about that or did you ever hear about what that was like?

MT: Well, I understand that in Dad's case, he was quite comfortable on this rice farm because they, they owned the rice, they owned the land to raise the rice and 'course they had lot of people that were helping them. So, his life was, I assume, very comfortable and so he didn't have to go out in the field as worker. He was raised more as a, not a spoiled child, but as an only child. And so, I assume that it was comfortable and easy life that he led until he was married and came over here.

TI: And how about education for your father? What kind of education did he receive?

MT: I believe he just went through high school in Hiroshima because he was, oh, probably around five or six miles from Hiroshima and was able to go to school in Hiroshima city.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TK: Have you ever been to Hiroshima and to his, your father's home at all?

MT: Yes, I did.

TK: Could you describe it the way you see it?

MT: Yes. I took my first trip to Japan in 1955 and then I... the flight over, in those days it was a propeller airplane that brought us in from Seattle. And we went to Anchorage, loaded gas in Anchorage and on into Tokyo. But as we came in over Tokyo it was quite emotional for me to feel that my dad had been born and raised here and many years ago had immigrated to the United States and so I felt very emotional and very pleased that I had this opportunity of getting to Japan.

Those days, Japan, after we got, went in Northwest Airlines, we landed in Tokyo at Haneda Airport and from Haneda we took an airplane from Tokyo to Hiroshima. But those days, Hiroshima Airport wasn't opened yet, 1955, so we took a little airplane from, well, it's All Nippon Airways now but at that time it was just a small feeder flight, airline then. And we landed in Iwakuni, and, but, I flew from Tokyo to Hiroshima on Japan Airline, but -- I mean, to Osaka and from Osaka to Iwakuni went on All Nippon when it was a small feeder line. And so at that time there weren't too many people flying and so I was the only passenger flying with them and so my relatives, which is my brother-in-law, we had a sister in Japan that I never met that was born and raised in Japan and never did come to, was raised by the grandmother. And so I'm meeting her for the first time, but they met me in Iwakuni and they were surprised that I was the only passenger on the All Nippon Airways, airplane and they wanted to know if I chartered it or not, but I felt good.

But we took a bus from Iwakuni into Hiroshima and went to the old house. He was the... my brother-in-law was chairman of the city council of Hiroshima. And so he lived right in the city and I stayed with him the first night and visited with him because I only went there for, I thought with the idea that I would stay there just a couple of days and then come back to Tokyo. And they took me to Kusatsu, which is near where Dad was born and raised and it's up a little slope on the hillside.

TK: Was that Ko-, what was the name of that place? Kutatsu?

MT: Kusatsu was where my brother-in-law lived.

TK: Kusatsu.

MT: And then from there we got off a train and then went to, it's called Takata.

TK: Takata. Takata?

MY: Uh-huh.

TK: Okay.

MT: And so I, for the first time I was able to visit the old rice farm and the old house that they were born and raised in, and first time I've seen a kura where they keep all of the extra furniture and things like that in a, it's a storage, I guess, and so... but I was fascinated the fact that it was an old house and to visualize that he was born and raised there and grew up there was quite an emotional thing for me.

TI: What were some of your impressions about the place? I mean, it's something, when you think back now what are the things that you think about and remember from that place?

MT: Well, it's an older house and 'course, the only thing I can compare that with is, when were small we always saw the Japanese movies that came from Japan where the samurais and old homes and things like that. So it looked exactly like that because it wasn't a terribly large home but it was built very solidly with keyaki wood, oak wood and had shoji, and so... but it was a very old, old house that...

TK: Was it a large house?

MT: It was quite large for, for that area, I believe, and I couldn't say just how large it was, but it was a typical old Japanese house that you wouldn't see it at this time.

TI: Is it still in existence today?

MT: No, we tore it down and built new homes and, and my brother finally sold the property there.

TI: I'm curious, when you went to Japan, was this the first time you had met the people, your father's relatives?

MT: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TI: What was the reaction? What, how was the reception when you, when you came there?

MT: Well, it was quite interesting because I stayed at the, I think George Kawaguchi had a travel agency at that time and I booked through him and he made an appointment to, reservations in the Kokusai Kanko Hotel at Tokyo, near the Tokyo eki. And so I was, the purpose I was there to, was to make a... have a yacht made over there in Japan and, which was designed by Ed Monk, naval architect here in Seattle. But Mother had already written my Yanagatsubo niisan, which is my brother-in-law, and so hesitantly, I think the second day or third day, he called from Hiroshima to the Kokusai Kanko Hotel and he was sure, I guess, I didn't speak any (Japanese). And so he says, "My name is Yanagatsubo." And I said, "Niisan, Minoru desu." I could here him say, "Haruko, hayaku, hayaku. Minoru ga Nihongo hanaseru. And it was quite an introduction to him and so it made it a lot easier for me. So when we got to Hiroshima it was quite emotional to meet my brother-in-law and my sister for the first time. And so, but lot of people will ask, "Well, Min" -- like you're asking -- "how was it?" But over here, if we met (someone) for the first time, especially a relative, we have a tendency to embrace. And they asked me, "Did the Japanese people embrace you?" And I said, "No." We shook hands but we held hands and it was very, very emotional that way. And so that was my introduction to my sister and brother-in-law in Japan.

TI: That's good.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Let's go to your mother's family. What was her life like when she was growing up as, as a child?

MT: Mother was born in a place called Nagatsuka. It's away from Takata. And here again, they were rice farmers and had quite a bit of land. And they were living comfortably also. But, as I explained to my daughter and grandchildren, over here, at Mercer Island, the kids went to Mercer Island High School, and we, my daughter, Charlene, got them to go to piano classes and things like that. But in Japan, Mother lived fairly comfortable so they, they hired a shamisen teacher, like here in comparison to piano playing, to learn the shamisen. And Mother started to learn when she was about five years old, I guess, and she was very, very good and in fact, after she came over here she became a natori, which is equivalent to a sensei. So, she lived a very easy life, but, and I imagine that she had, I guess, maids and houseboys that helped her and so she never cooked in... living in that condition, so even when she came to America and raising us kids, she had a hard time cooking because she never cooked since she was a child in Japan.

TI: Did she have any brothers and sisters?

MT: She had, she had, let's see... two, two brothers, I think, and one sister. And they lived in Hiroshima, and the older brother and the younger sister. One was, Yamatani was the older brother, and the younger sister was a Kanda.

TI: So now, how did your father and mother meet?

MT: Well, it was in typical old Japan where the family and family got together and they were introduced, I guess, and married Japanese-style. Like I mentioned, my mother was fifteen years old and my dad was just about twenty years old. So, she got married real early and so she always mentioned how when Japanese-style they went from Nagatsuka to Takata, they brought all these things that a bride should bring, I guess, and I don't know what it all consisted of, but it was like the olden days, they, they carried it and walked it over with all the gifts of... I imagine here, you know, we have certain sewing machines and things like that, but those days in Japan, I guess it was some items that it was pretty well set what they came with in addition to their clothing, so...

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Well, was it a little bit after this time that your dad came to the United States?

MT: Uh-huh.

TI: Why did your, your father come to the United States?

MT: Well, there were quite a few, as you probably recall, quite a few people from Hiroshima were the ones that immigrated to Seattle area and Hawaii. And he would get letters from his friends saying how beautiful the Northwest was, Seattle was, and the nice life they were leading. I think they, they kinda over-emphasized what their living. [Laughs] And so, I guess Dad, receiving all those letters, was very, very curious to make a trip over here. And so they, being the only son, though, I understand that they call it a shinrui kaigi, the families get together and they discussed whether he should come or not and the decision, the original decision was that he was not to come, to stay home and carry on the family. And so, I guess, I assume in a couple, three years later he was able to tell the relatives that he was... wanted to visit Tokyo on a vacation. And so he left, packed and left Hiroshima and I understand he got as far as Yokohama and he caught a boat in Yokohama. And the next thing mother knew, she got a letter from Dad from Seattle saying that he is now in Seattle and visiting with his friends but, "Please don't worry. Within two or three years I'll return so please be patient and watch after the children." So, that's how Dad got over here.

TK: So your mother already, your mother and dad had children already in Japan?

MT: Yes, uh-huh.

TK: How many did they have?

MT: I believe they had one, that's Haruko neesan that was married to Yanagatsubo. But I, she had ten children. We can account for eight but I think she lost two of 'em during the birth, and so, she, one that was alive was Haruko neesan in Hiroshima.

TK: Did you hear any stories about what the family had... how they had reacted to your father leaving Japan? Assuming that he was gonna come back in two or three years, but they must've had some reactions? Do you...

MT: I, they never discussed that with me, how the family felt.

TK: Okay.

MT: Except that, that's all they knew, that I could see was Mother just had to wait and didn't have much choice outside of that, so...

TI: Well, so when your dad came to Seattle, what, what kind of things did he do?

MT: Dad somehow with friend, assistance of his friends, started a grocery store in Seattle here. And I under-, I understand that was near Sixth Avenue South near King Street, which would be near where the present Uwajimaya store is. And so he had this store, grocery store and he really, did start the restaurant and I guess with horses and wagons was able to transfer -- they called it transfer business at that time. But when Mother came over he was in the grocery store business.

TI: Well, so let me ask you this: so your mother came over, so your, the original intent of your father was to go back to Japan after two or three years, but then after a couple years your mother comes instead to the United States. So, did something change during those two years that made him think that he would stay here either longer or permanently?

MT: I don't... I really don't know. I don't think so but I assume that he was living a new life over here in Seattle and so probably in all good intentions he was ready to go back, but in the meantime, Mother couldn't wait so she came and joined him here and they kept the grocery store going and in the meantime they had children and so both of them did not go back after that.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Well, at some point, after living in Seattle for a while, they decided to move to Kent.

MT: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: Do you know why they wanted to move to Kent?

MT: They were down in Kent and the White River valley was, there were lots of immigrants from Hawa-, I mean, from Hiroshima, like I mentioned. And they were, at first, in the early days, I understand a lot of 'em went into the dairy business and milk cows and those that went from working in the mines or the railroads, the next big step was to go into the dairy business and the White River valley gave 'em that opportunity.

TK: Just to go back a step, on the grocery store in Seattle, do you remember the name of the store and maybe how successful it was, or how not successful it was? Do you remember anything like that?

MT: No, it... I believe it was what we call semi-successful. It did pretty well and they had it for a few years. But when, the reason they went to Kent is, from the dairy business, a lot of Isseis went into truck farming. Raising lettuce, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and so they, they talked Dad into selling his business here in Seattle and moving out to east side of Kent where they started a grocery store in Kent there, and so while they, while they, since it, well, it was an opportunity for Dad, actually. He started a grocery store there and then he started a shook mill there which was, made slats to make boxes like...

TI: Before you go there, so, just describe what's in that picture? There's a picture of a child in a basket.

MT: Yeah. [Ed note: narrator holds up a photograph] I believe this is my older brother, Henry and my mother on the side here. And so, but they started this shook mill and, it's like a little sawmill with a, the sawdust would accumulate in the city of Kent and the east side would be the main downtown Kent at that time. And the sawdust would keep accumulating. And Dad tried to get rid of it much as you can with his horse and buggy, but it kept accumulating and so the fire chief in Kent went to Dad and said that if you're gonna continue that it was too dangerous for the city of Kent because all this buildings around in that area. So he said, "If you're gonna continue the sawmill that you have to go someplace else, and, or just quit and keep the grocery store."

TK: I understand the word "shook" is S-H-O-O-K?

MT: Check. Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TK: And shook mill, I mean, could you describe how that crate was built with, with these shooks?

MT: It's like a current lettuce crate where they pound the nails and they make crates and they shipped cabbage and things like that to Seattle. So it was just a real opportunity for Dad at that time to get into that business in addition to the grocery store business. So... but when, and he enjoyed it because he was doing pretty well on that because of the large amount of farmers down in that area. And so, Dad thought well, if he's gonna have to give up the shook mill and that he could go to the west side of Kent, which is another mile-and-a-half from the east side to the west side of Kent, and start a full sawmill there. And so, that got him into the sawmill business. And so he, what, in those days, Kent did not have power lines all the way from the east side of Kent to the west side of Kent. So Dad had to pay for all of the light poles to the city of Seattle -- I mean, city of Kent and draw power over there to run the big motors and the planers and all the sawmill equipment.

TI: So here's a picture of it. And so, those poles in the background, those are the power poles that he had to bring the power to Kent?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] No, the power would be from here on into Kent. So, but the big electrical motors had to be for full power. So, and so it took quite a bit of his money from Japan, that was sent from Japan, plus lot of his friends loaned him money to get this sawmill going and so it was a fairly big enterprise at that time.

TK: Do you have a sense of how much money it takes to, to start up something like this?

MT: No, I don't. It's just... I imagine even those trucks alone would cost quite a bit.

TK: And, I mean, it just intrigues me that your father was recruited to go the Kent valley to start a store. From there he, he started making the boxes, and then a sawmill. He seems quite the businessman in some ways, creating these things and starting these things. Is that sort of characteristic of your father?

MT: Well, I give him a lot of credit to start those things. Like I mentioned, he was the only son on this rice farm, so I imagine he had no business background at all. And so, but he was a really nice fellow that everybody liked, enjoyed and that's how they got him over here and I think going into the different businesses was something that he was capable, because he did have the money that he brought from Japan and was able to promote these things. And so, that helped him a lot rather than try to work and save money and start a sawmill.

TI: And so, describe this picture. I think this is a picture of your father?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Yeah, this is my father and his... I tried to find out from the Ford Motor company how, what year vehicle this was, but they said it is probably is 1917 or 1916 and it's a chain drive, solid tires, and it's quite... an antique, that I'm sure if we had it now it --

TI: Was it common for Isseis to have vehicles like this?

MT: No, no, no. They all had wagons and horses those days. So to go into the sawmill business and to have a truck, I imagine, was really unheard of at that time.

TK: Your father had to be very adventuresome to come over here, you know?

MT: Well, I always use that word also, adventuresome, uh-huh.

TK: And to get into, I mean, driving a truck, when the horses and wagons were probably the more common conveyance.

MT: Common transportation at that time.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So, describe your parents' roles within the Kent community. What, how they get involved with either... in church activities or other community events?

MT: Like I mentioned, Mother was, just loved the shamisen that she started to learn in Japan and five years old. And so by the time that she came over here she was very, I guess, efficient in playing the shamisen, but Dad knew odori, learned odori as a pastime, I believe. And so with all the Japanese immigrants down in the valley, the main social life of the Isseis at that time was the White River Buddhist Church, which is at Thomas, Washington, which is halfway between Kent and Auburn and so all the immigrant Hiroshima people or other prefecture people that were Buddhist, met at the White River Buddhist Church and that was the social life. But to go beyond that, we had shibais and odoris which probably started when I was about five or six years old. And that was the social life of the Issei at that time.

TI: And both your parents were really involved in both of those, in the shibais and the odori, they were really involved?

MT: Yeah. All the children and the Isseis would cooperate, and without any talent were able to do odoris and shibais and of course, some of the senseis, like Tura Nakamura with the mimasukai in Seattle, came out to show us the, how to do shibais and so... and there was a Mr. Hayashi, like we mentioned all that paraphernalia in the church now. He was from Japan, he was a shibai teacher and so he came out and taught us, so... the Issei people really enjoyed it very, very much. In addition, Dad used to have all of the Japanese movies come, be brought into Seattle, I mean, from Seattle into Kent and Auburn and... in those days it was a silent movie and it's a naniwabushi. A man came along with 'em, and he... I don't know how to explain it, but it's a, naniwabushi would explain the whole movie, all the Japanese samurai movie from beginning to the end.

TI: So this person would, as the silent movie was going on, would sort of narrate?

MT: Uh-huh.

TI: Would he play the roles, too? Would he do the voices or just more just explain the storyline?

MT: I think he played the parts, too, because he could play the onna part, the lady part and the men part and narrate the movie itself, so it's something to -- we never knew it. But it went on for quite a few years, until the motion pictures started to come in, I mean, with the talkies started to come in. We go back that far and the movies were shown at the IOOF Hall in Kent where all the Isseis would come and they'd, they'd really enjoy all the Japanese movies.

TI: Would mostly Isseis, or would the Niseis also, would some Niseis also go?

MT: Well, it was all... primarily Isseis because the Niseis were still young yet, were young kids at that time. In fact, I think my older brother, Henry, I think; I imagine he was about eight, ten, twelve years old at that time. So, when the movies were gonna come in, Dad would ask us to... the brochures, he'd take the car and we'd go to all the farmhouses and put 'em in the mailboxes so that they'll know that coming Saturday or the following Saturday we'd have the Japanese movies or the shibai so they have plenty of advance notice for... they all look forward to that, got together, so that was really our social life from the Isseis.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: You mentioned your brother, Henry, and earlier you mentioned you could remember eight siblings. Let's talk a little bit about that. Why don't you sort of just go down the order of your siblings and sort of like, starting with the oldest and just kind of walk down, all the way to you.

MT: Well, like I mentioned previously, my oldest sister Haruko was born and raised in Japan. She never did come over here, but she married over there. I had two sisters that were born here, after Mother came from Japan and it was Sadako neesan and Yoshiko neesan that were the next two were born in addition to my brother Henry. And there was a brother named Masayoshi and a sister named Shizuko, she passed away and I had another sister, Yachiyo, that was ahead of me and myself. But Yoshiko and Sadako were sent to Japan to be raised by their grandma when they were about three years old and they stayed in Japan until about sixteen years old and they came back to Kent and helped us out on the farm at that time. So, that's my siblings.

TI: I guess a question... was about this time, as you were growing up, you talked about your dad building a sawmill, and it's a big investment. How, how did that business go?

MT: Well, the, a good part of it was he started this business enterprise. It seemed like it went pretty well because he was manufacturing lumber and railroad ties for the World War I war. And he was shipping railroad ties to Japan also at that time. But the minute the war ended, then we went into a deep depression and so we... he stopped the mill and became very much in debt. And this is where we went... started to go downhill as far as finances, health, and so...

TI: And about how old were you when this happened?

MT: I was born at the sawmill in the west side of Kent. So that'd be 1918 and so a lot of this I've heard from my mother and my father and the Issei people around us, that told me about it later as I grew up there. But the fact that he had, became very involved in debt was a big worry and a shock to my mother who, as I mentioned, was sort of comfortable in Japan and come to the United States and then Dad became, got stomach cancer after that and was ill for quite a few years.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MT: In 1929, we... 1930, my dad asked us to, he bought a brand-new car to, because my older sister Sadako was gonna get married. And so, to Japanese-style, to take her and deliver to the, to the Murakami family down in Long Beach, Washington, he bought this car the night before. The next day we were, Dad asked to take a houseguest back to Orillia, a Issei man. And so after dinner, Dad asked us to take him back so we took this brand-new car and my brother Henry was driving and behind my brother was my brother Masayoshi. He was sixteen at that time. And I was riding the passenger side, on the right side. And Mr. Okimoto was riding on the right rear. But we, it was a very, very foggy evening down in the valley. The fog became real, real bad and we, we, I think we traveled about, oh, about two or three miles from Kent, north on the West Valley Highway to go to Orillia and we were, just before we got to O'Brien, the Anderson's oil tanker, ten-ton oil tanker came across the center line in the fog and it clipped the, my brother's car, just behind him, but he hit his head and he had a head concussion. Masayoshi was right behind him but the truck ran right into him and killed him instantly. I was thrown out of the car and Mr. Okimoto's head went through the window and he was bleeding in his neck and shoulder and things like that. But it was, it was very hectic because we were, just before we got to O'Brien, but there was a lot of Japanese farmers there and this was right in front of Nomura's farm there. And all the Japanese in that area came right away but it was so foggy, they couldn't help us and Masayoshi, we laid him out in Nomura's yard there and we knew he was dead. And so they, they got word to my mother and they brought her there. And imagine that Dad was sick, he, Masayoshi died and Hiroo was completely unconscious and I was a little younger than twelve years old and Mr. Okimoto was bleeding.

And so they, but all the Japanese farmers came as soon as possible. But the one that I remember, recall that came and really helped out was Mr. Eki Saito, who was the president and owner of the White River Packing House and he had a Lincoln Zephyr at that time, the only one that, back in 1930. And Mother asked him to take us to -- we couldn't wait for the ambulance or anything and no telephones in those days. So Mr. Saito volunteered to put Masayoshi in his car and Mr. Okimoto and my brother. And my mother rode with him but it was very hectic, I imagine. I heard later that Mother wanted him to hurry up and people said, "Well, if you hurry in the fog you're gonna get in another accident." And so go fast and some say go slow and, but from Kent down to the Auburn General Hospital, that's about, almost eight miles, I believe. And they finally, got Masayoshi -- Masayoshi was left there for the mortuary to pick him up and for my brother Henry, Okimoto-san, and my mother and the Saito's car to get there. But my brother was unconscious for about, oh, over thirty days because he had the concussion of the brain where the truck had hit him. So, but I felt sorry for Mr. Saito because this Lincoln Zephyr, beautiful car, and had, blood was all over it, all the back seat and both the back seat and the front seat because of Okimoto-san in there and my brother Masayoshi was, I mean, Hiroo was bleeding all the way down there, so...

TI: When a tragedy like this happens in the community, in the valley like that, how did the community react to this? I mean, how, what kind of support did you get from the other Japanese families?

MT: Oh, it, the support is terrific because it's... we led a very, very close life among all the immigrants, not only Hiroshima people, the other prefecture people. Sometimes I think we were closer than the relatives in Japan. We're really close among each other and so the help and the... that we received at that time was just unexplainable, closeness. We felt like kyodai, you know, brothers and sisters or parents had gone through that tragedy.

TI: Well, what would be some examples of some of the things that they would do to help the family during this, this time?

MT: Well, they showed us all this kindness as much as they can but there's only so much you can do in a tragedy like this. What was very hard for me was... I wasn't able to drive at that time, but my brother, like I mentioned, Henry, was in the Auburn General Hospital for over thirty days, unconscious. But Mother, to catch the bus had to walk from the west side of Kent to east side of Kent to catch that bus. She didn't speak any English and she went to the Auburn General Hospital every day and went back and forth and sometimes the Japanese would take her there, but to get there early in the morning she always took the bus. And I give her a lot of credit because it must have been, with Dad sick at home and Yachiyo sick at home and Masayoshi had died and the strain of going from Kent to the Auburn General Hospital. But we were very, Mother was very fortunate because we had Dr. Owen Taylor, he lived in Kent but he was the head of the Auburn General Hospital and he was really a comfort because as serious as it was, he did everything he possibly could to comfort Mother and try to save my brother.

TI: When you look back at this, at this, this event, or these events that happened so closely... so, your, this accident, your father being sick, your sister being sick. How do you think this, this affected you, because you were pre-teen, so you were, you were old enough to really know what was going on and yet you were just developing as a adult. How do you think all this impacted you?

MT: It, like you mentioned, I was about twelve years old, so to a certain extent it was an experience of life and to a certain extent, to see Mother suffer to such an extent was really, it worried me very, very much. And when Mother said, well, she just hoped that she wouldn't go crazy with the entire situation falling on her at one time... to this day I really think the world of Mother and what she did for all of us kids by keeping us together after that even, so, it's really unexplainable what a Japanese mother really goes through for their kids and especially, not speaking English at all and it was thirty days at least. And finally, after thirty days my brother started to come to and so Dr. Taylor examined him and he found a blood clot on his brain and so he told Mother that since he knew my brother since he was about five years old, that he would somehow save him, his life, and it just occurred, probably a year or so before that... Dr. Taylor was a surgeon, even in the early days. And there was a boy in California from a wealthy family was in an accident and had a similar situation where the blood clot on the brain and he wouldn't snap out of it. He got conscious but still he wasn't normal. And Dr. Taylor went to California and he operated on this boy and he saved his life. And so he told Mother that he would somehow save -- we called him Hiroo at that time -- 'cause he knew him at about five years old when the name was Hiroo. And "Henry" came after he graduated high school. But he was determined to save his life and so Mother, he asked Mother to sign a release and he operated for eight hours, and right straight through in those days. And he said that, he would explain to me later that he had to take an auger to go through his skull to get into the brain and get that blood clot out and, but... Dr. Taylor told me, he said, "Min, it was so strenuous," that he took a glass of whiskey and so the strain and the pressure was so much that just to relax him. And I was so thankful. Mother was thankful.

TI: That's an amazing story. But, but going back to you, I was wondering if you felt a need to perhaps take on more responsibility, given all the things happening to your family, or in some ways, you had to grow up faster because of all this?

MT: Well, I think I did grow up faster. It wasn't me wanting to grow up faster, it was just, under the circumstances, I think I started to learn to drive when I was about thirteen, fourteen years old. And so, maturing, but at the same time, during Depression, when you're limited all around, there's only so much you can do. You want to help, it doesn't help that, but, very limited at that time so... but I did grow up quickly, a lot more than I should have because of the circumstances, I believe.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TK: I'm wondering about your family in terms of, do you have any stories about your -- from your mother's and father's about, your mother and father, about how you might live your life? Did they give you any kind of examples of, of what they thought was important in terms of values that you should have or the family should have?

MT: Really, not too much that.... in that sense. But if I may, I would like to go back to my brother, reason that Dr. Taylor was so close to him is when Mother had the grocery store on the east side of Kent, every Fourth of July Dad used to bring all the firecrackers from Japan. And for Fourth of July for the city of Kent he did all the fireworks. And, but, like a five-year-old kid, my brother had lot of hakujin friends, Caucasian friends that he went to school with. And they, of course, they had their grocery store there. They'd get him to bring some candy out and firecrackers and things like that. But one day they asked him to bring the firecrackers out and they lit 'em up there and all of 'em lit and went off except one and so instead of these hakujin kids go lookin' at it, they said "Well, Hiroo, you go look at it." And so he went, went over there and just as he looked over, it exploded and it burned his face completely and so Mother told my brother to call Dr. Taylor. Dr. Taylor had a mansion on the east hill there, beautiful home up there. And he had a Japanese gardener, Japanese cook, and a Japanese fishing pond and everything.

But to back up a little bit, just before that... my brother just loved to fish ever since he was a little kid and Mother always worried about him because he'd go down to the river and the creek and go fishing. But what happened is my brother went up to Dr. Taylor, it was probably about five blocks from there and then up the hill, and his mansion was up on the hill there. But my brother loved fish so much that he went up there to Dr. Taylor's fish pond and, like I mentioned, Dr. Taylor had these, a cook from Japan, a lady cook and the husband did all the gardening. So they brought all these koi from Japan, beautiful kois and had them in this fish pond. My brother, about five years old, went up there and he fished 'em all out of there -- [laughs] -- and he was coming down the road and Dr. Taylor came back from the Auburn Hospital and you can imagine what happened about that time. So Dr. Taylor, when my brother called and said that he got burned with this firecracker, Dr. Taylor said, "Well anybody that takes my fish like that is not, will have to walk up to my place and I'll take care of him but I'm not coming down to the grocery store to take care of you." So my brother -- Mother always told us how my brother had to walk up all the way up to Dr. Taylor's up the hill and then Dr. Taylor took care of him. But that's how he became very close to Dr. Taylor. And Dr. Taylor took care of him immediately and there was no scar or anything from that firecracker burn, that burned his face there.

In fact, when Dr. Taylor finally died, we were still living on the west side of Kent but the only one that Dr. Taylor asked his wife is to call -- we didn't have a telephone, but the creamery was across the street from us so he called the creamery and had my brother, contacted my brother and said, "Dr. Taylor is dying so would you please come?" And so my brother walked over to the east hill from the west side of Kent and when Dr. Taylor died he was the only one that was with Dr. Taylor. And so, that closeness between the fishing incident and the firecracker and the accident, his operation, brought Dr. Taylor and my brother Hiroo very, very close and --

TI: So I want to make sure I understand. So, originally because your brother fished all the koi out, Dr. Taylor didn't like him. He, he was actually very upset.

MT: I imagine he was --

TI: And when he was burned, he said, he actually was kind of mean and made him actually walk to his place.

MT: Uh-huh.

TI: But then, during the treatment they, they became close? I mean, why do you think it was during that time that they got close?

MT: Well, no, I think Dr. Taylor, as much as he's upset because these, the fish all were brought in from Japan on a Japanese ship, I'm sure he was upset, but he knew a five-year-old kid wasn't just intentionally doing it. So it's... I think the friendship was started at that time, the high closeness was at that time so, out of -- he didn't, I don't think he thought my brother's face was burnt that long. I think he just thought, like you, like we do, you used to have firecrackers in the hand and it cracks and things like that. So he didn't realize that it was that serious. So I think just to teach him a lesson he said, "You have to walk up to my place to, to be treated." And so, but that's, I think when he fished those fish out and he had 'em on the string and he had about six of 'em and he was walking down the road when Dr. Taylor came back -- [laughs] -- it was quite a story and Mother mentioned it many, many times. Until he died my brother always, he had a farm over there at Payette, Idaho after camp, but he fished every day on the Snake River. He bought a little ranch on the Snake River there. But from that time, from that time on, all, he just loved fishing. But he never come home, he'd just fish and Mother would just have to worry. He'd go down to the river and fish and Mother, he'd come home late at night and she's scared and everything like that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well, you mentioned earlier your father had stomach cancer. And in 1930 was when the accident happened. So, what happened to your father next, I guess?

MT: He finally passed away in, I believe it was 1932. And so, 1930 my brother Masayoshi died. Dad died in 1932. 1933, 1934 my sister Yachiyo died. So Mother really went through a very trying time during that short period.

TK: Speaking of community solidarity, when your father passed away there must've been a pretty big funeral for him?

MT: It was a very big funeral at the --

TK: Do you remember anything about that funeral, and...

MT: I remember the, the picture itself, in olden days I don't know... I think that picture is about that long. Where the camera would start at this end and everybody would stay still and it goes all the way across and they take the picture. So the picture is about, about that long, about that high of the whole, lot of people there, just tremendous backing from the Japanese community, so...

TI: And in addition to all the personal tragedy, at that point, did you still own the sawmill property or was that gone at that point?

MT: No, we owned it because that property, when Dad started the sawmill, the antialien land law was in force so Dwight Hartman, who was sort of a father, godfather to me and my brother, in fact, he, his relatives were part of the Meeker family in Kent that owned a lot of property there. And so, he purchased the property in his name and then, 'til my brother became of age, and then, so he had it even when we went to camp. Held it, he couldn't sell it, so...

TK: Could you explain that relationship between him and your father and the family? It sounds sort of unusual where a non-Japanese would be willing to put his name up in terms of the owner of the property, really, he knew that it belonged to your family?

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: How did that relationship start and, where you became a, sort of like a godson to him?

MT: Yeah, well, he was very close because of the fact that the property that he purchased in his name, across the street was the, oh, hundreds of acres of property that belonged to the Meeker family, the pioneer family. And he was a relative of that, so, but he got to know Dad about the time that he had this shook mill in the east side of Kent and it gradually grew and as we came along, he got closer and closer to our family. And it wasn't a situation where we, they met all the time or anything, but he was an attorney in Seattle and when problems came up like this, well, he was more than willing to help us out. So...

TK: Did you have any social occasion with family together at all?

MT: No, no, no. Not those days.

TK: And the communication was done in English, so your dad was able to speak enough English to talk with him?

MT: Enough to, or some of the older Niseis would help interpret and help my dad solve his problem with the attorneys and things.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Okay, so, Min, we're gonna get started again. And I wanna get back more focusing on you and your life in Kent, growing up as, as a child. And, why don't we start off in terms of play friends. Who did you play with, growing up with?

MT: I went to, I attended the Kent Elementary School and the junior high school. And I graduated Kent High School in 1937. My early recollection is the friends that I had prior to school were the Japanese kids that were neighbors. And since Dad had a sawmill we knew a lot of people around there, so a lot of people would visit Dad and Mother and bring their kids along. So that was about, my friendship was... but there were more than hakujin kids, it was Japanese kids that we became friendly with.

TI: And so the sawmill would become sort of a play area? You guys would play?

MT: Yeah, we'd play hide-and-go-seek and, and all kinds of games in the sawmill because it was all shut down and it wasn't dangerous. But, like I, I mentioned, getting back to my brother to show how much he loved that fishing, in addition to taking Dr. Taylor's fish out, but he'd go fishing, like I mentioned, to the creek, or the White River down there, we call it "shirakawa." And, but he would, he would, just loved fishing and he would never come back and Mother, it'd get dark and Mother'd worry about if he'd drowned or something like that. But he'd be scared to come home and so what he'd do is he'd sleep in the sawmill. [Laughs] And Mother would have to go look for him and she'd find him in the sawmill and say, "Well, it's okay, come on home." But that's how much he really loved fishing and it stayed with him all his life. And that's the part of the story of the sawmill and his life. But she, she, many, many times had to go find him in the sawmill because he was scared to come home after fishing so late. And so, but she said she'd take him to jail if he sort of stayed out any longer. He gave Mother so much trouble. And so I always remember that she said, "I will take you to the jail, city jail in Kent. And she'd threaten him that way but he never got over, he kept fishing and fishing. And, like I mentioned, that at Payette, on the Snake River every day he was there and he'd have to go, Mother'd have to go get him to eat lunch or to eat dinner and at nighttime he would still be fishing.

TI: Well, now, so, going to school for you, did your friends, who you, your friends were, did that change?

MT: Yeah. As I, as we started elementary school I had to walk from the west side of Kent to the elementary school which was probably around, about two miles. And we walked down the main street of Kent, which was Meeker Street. But we'd go past Mooney's house. And so my good friend was Dave Mooney and George Mooney. Dave Mooney later became the mayor of Kent and he was the youngest mayor in the United States at that time. And he kept on in politics and became King County Commissioner and did very, very well until he died, oh, quite a few years ago. And his brother George had a radio station afterwards, down in Tennessee. He went out in that way. But I always remember that Mr. and Mrs. Mooney, they were Issei, I don't know if it was Germany or where, but they always, when I went by there to pick up George and Dave to go to elementary school, they always invited me in and had a candy or a soft drink or something like that. But they were real, real nice people. And although Dave's dad was a street cleaner in Kent, and poor during the Depression days, he was able to buy a Boy Scout uniform for George. George was the older one. And so they bought George a summer uniform and a winter uniform. But I always remember Mr. and Mrs. Mooney was... Mr. Mooney always made sure that if it was a summer Boy Scout outing that we went to, Court of Honor, anything like that, that I would wear the winter uniform and George would wear the summer one. Then when it, and then when it was wintertime, George would wear the winter uniform and I'd wear the summer uniform. But the father always made sure that George loaned me the Boy Scout uniform. And that was when Boy Scouts was Troop 450 in Kent and I started boy scouting at that time. So my early life was elementary school, but the, my life as a Boy Scout, which helped me, I think, you mentioned about growing up fast, a lot of the badges that I got in the scouting really helped me and, even in the army, I think Boy Scouting never left me. And I always was appreciative of the fact that Mother made me go to the Boy Scouts and keep up with that.

TI: Was that pretty common for other, say Niseis, to be in Boy Scouts?

MT: No. I was about the only one there because the other Nihonjins were all outlying. We was the only ones that lived in Kent. So, outlying farms well, from O'Brien, down that way, but, they wouldn't have the opportunity to come to become a Boy Scout or join organizations like that.

TI: Well, how about having such a close friend being Caucasian, was that common for other Niseis?

MT: No. Usually the Niseis pretty well stayed with the Nisei group in school, and fairly true through elementary school, junior high school and high school. Most of the kids, they were bused in from the farm, but when it was rest period or play period or project period, pretty well the Nisei stayed together. But, it's hard to explain, but we were closer to each other than we were with the hakujin children in there. So...

TI: Well, I'm curious, your relationship with you and George, were there ever any problems, either people teasing or making comments to George about having a Japanese friend, or you getting teased by having a Caucasian friend?

MT: There was to a certain extent. It was very little. I was glad I was able to enjoy the friendship. But somewhere along the line we would run into hakujins that would tease George and because he had a Nihonjin friend, or vice versa. But I was able to start judo when I was about six, six years old. Dad made me go to judo class. So we told 'em that, when they started to tease us or abuse us we'd say, "Well, we know judo," and then they'd leave us alone. So that was one of our protections that we had as Nihonjins. So we used that all along in elementary school and junior high and some into high school when the hakujin guys would get boisterous. And so, but we pretty well, I think Nihonjins stayed at Nihonjins.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Well, in school, what kind of student were you?

MT: I was just an average, average otonashii little boy, farm boy. I never did anything exceptional or anything like that, good little boy, I think. Teachers appreciated me because we were little, otonashii, we were quiet and we didn't bother the teacher or disrupt the classes or anything like that. We were real modern, model students. So I think the teachers really appreciated all of us Niseis.

TI: Well, how about subjects? Were there particular subjects that you enjoyed more than others?

MT: No, the only thing I... in elementary school, I think I, naturally, mathematics came easy to me so we have a contest between the, me and say like a girl named Barbara, hakujin girl. We go up to the front board and race on times and addition and things like that. But outside of that there was nothing special. I enjoyed arithmetic, math.

TI: Well, and then later on, as you got into junior high school and high school, there was also music. Was that something else that you enjoyed?

MT: Well, yeah. As I got into... in Kent, from sixth grade we went into junior high school. But about that time, the White River Buddhist Church minister thought part of the program there he should start a band there with the Nisei boys and girls there. And so they bought instruments somehow on payments or whatever we could and started a band and I think it was Reverend Aoki that did it and it went on for a year or two. We played on social events. They played and I was, I wasn't -- having instruments at that time. But when, when, a few years later when they quit, my brother knew that Ann Tsurusaki, one of the girls that lived in Auburn, played the clarinet. So he purchased the clarinet for me when I just started junior high school. And so with that clarinet I joined the Kent Junior High School band and started playing the clarinet.

TI: So your brother bought the clarinet for you?

MT: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TI: Because he just knew that you wanted to play the clarinet?

MT: Well he, he, he was very close to me and usually, I think, with the Issei fathers led a Issei life, he, brother Hiroo, Henry, more wanted me to become outgoing and so he would buy the clarinet to see if I would learn and practice and get into music. And he was very good that way. He was, in place of my father, he led me that way.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MT: In fact, the first, at Thomas, they started the JACL when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. But he would take me with him. Tom Iseri was the president of -- we called it the Seattle, no, the White River Progressive League at that time, when they first started the JACL. And Tom Iseri was the president and my brother was the vice president and so he'd bring me along. So he said, "Min, you gotta learn to dance," and then the JACL started oratorical contests to, to teach citizenship to all of us younger Niseis. And so, my brother kinda led me along there so learning to dance, learning music, learning JACL, my JACL started in, back in the Thomas, Washington at the White River Progressive --

TI: Well this is interesting. Can you recall what those first meetings were like and what was said or done during those meetings?

MT: No, nothing especially. We attended the meetings and there were older Nisei men and Nisei girls --

TI: Like about how many people were there?

MT: Well, I imagine at that time there were probably around fifteen, between fifteen and twenty were the original nucleus of the White River Progressive League, JACL.

TI: Were they men and women or were --

MT: Uh-huh. The older Nisei girls and, because my brother was probably one of the older, Tom Iseri, they're all the older Nisei.

TI: Now, did they have like an adult supervisor or someone to help them, or was it just pretty much just the Niseis doing it?

MT: It was kinda touchy then because the Issei parents didn't particularly think that when we, the JACL would have dances at that time that it was a very good thing. But slowly the Niseis thought, well, we, I think Niseis did not attend high school dances or socialize that way, so us older, the older Niseis, which, my brother and Tom Iseri and the Tsujikawa girls and all that group gradually had their own social life that they built. And that, and the Buddhist Church, we didn't have dances at that time, so JACL we kinda, more Americanized group, the Christian people and Buddhist people and so we started dance. But I can, I felt at that time that the parents didn't really approve of dances going on and so, but we, it gradually crossed that barrier.

TI: Do you recall your mother and how she felt about it?

MT: She was quite against it and so when she found out my brother was taking me to have, say, one of the girls teach me how to dance, she was really upset about it. [Laughs] And I distinctly remember that. And so, that's why I know that the Isseis were, wasn't much approval about dancing in those days.

TK: If you couldn't dance at the Buddhist Church, where were the meetings held and where were the socials held?

MT: Well, I don't recall at the Buddhist Church that we had dances. It more started with the JACL because we had a mixed group of Christian and Buddhist people and it wasn't in Kent or Auburn, it was at Thomas right between, where the Buddhist Church was. But like I said, the Issei/Nisei real social life was at the Buddhist Church at the time because there were so many of 'em. But when JACL started it was a new era as far as being Americanized, I would say. So, but Mother definitely didn't think much of my brother taking me to...

TI: I'm curious, was your mother more angry at your brother or at you for doing this?

MT: My brother.

TI: And how did she show that?

MT: Well, she, well, she just came out and said that it wasn't right to be dancing, boys and girls to be dancing. So, because until then all the Niseis played baseball and baseball was very, very popular down in the valley, especially when Jimmy Sakamoto had his Japanese American Courier made all these baseball teams all through the valley, like Kent, Auburn and Fife and Tacoma, Yakima and all these different baseball teams that played and they're, of course, that was something that's very close, brought the Issei fathers closer to Niseis was the baseball because every Sunday they would play baseball and the Issei out there would, they were really rooting for their own team and so Jimmy Sakamoto really did a good job to keep all the older Niseis out of the street and, so-called street and got 'em into the baseball era.

TI: Well, did Jimmy Sakamoto, from Seattle, come down for any of these meetings of the JACL, White River JACL?

MT: Once in a while because Jimmy was the one that started the JACL in Seattle in what, in 1929? Along in there, but no, he attended once in a while he would attend to, to push that we should, we're Nisei Americans, born here, raised here, that we should be good American citizens. So Jimmy was very, very helpful that way as far as the early Niseis were concerned.

TI: Well, as we're talking about other people, there were other sort of contemporaries of yours in the White River Valley. About that time there were people like Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yamasaki, people like that, who grew up. Did you know people like that as you were growing up and come in contact with them?

MT: I was, from Gordon's standpoint, I knew him because of the Boy Scouts because although we were Troop, Troop 450 in Kent, sometimes we'd have the Boy Scout Court of Honor at Thomas which would be between Auburn and Kent. And Gordy lived in, in the Thomas area so... but that's about the extent I knew Gordy, and then, I followed what he, kinda beliefs later, but I was really know, I didn't know him to extent that I really socialized with him outside of scouting and started from that era of, Gordon Hirabayashi and George Iseri and those people, probably stayed close to the, to the Thomas area there.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So, we started off talking about the music a little bit and you got your first start within the Buddhist Church. Later on your brother purchased a clarinet for you and so you started playing. And so, this was for, in about junior high school.

MT: Yeah, uh-huh.

TI: Why don't you talk a little about the music and how that progressed?

MT: So I liked it because somehow made it perhaps it was following my mother, dad. I mean, music came very easy to me. And so I joined a band group in junior high school and we played at the different occasions in junior high school, but more so as I went into high school, I joined the band, but I joined the orchestra, also. And then as I did that I came closer to the hakujin people and classmates and went into opera and plays, school plays. And so I was very comfortable with the Caucasians as I went in from junior high school into high school because of the music. So I was fortunate that way. Like once a year, like where Puyallup Fair was a big thing, they'd have a Kent Day, an Auburn Day, a Tacoma Day and when the Kent Day all the school got out and the band played all day at the Puyallup Fair. But we played in a lot of band concerts in Seattle and Bremerton and Tacoma. So we traveled by bus and so I, as far as my relationship as a Nisei to the Caucasian, I believe I was very comfortable that way and very seldom ran into discrimination, although you know there's, I felt the discrimination... it wasn't all out to me but I still knew that I was a Japanese American.

TI: And you felt that more within the group or as you were traveling and other people saw you with the group?

MT: To a certain extent with the group that I was going to school with. But as I traveled and like we played at the University of Washington at the music concerts there, somehow being, well, when the war broke out we had a Japanese face and you still had that feeling... I had that feeling when I was still going to high school and going into the adult world, so...

TK: How did you deal with that kind of feeling when you, when you felt some of the differences? Do you remember that?

MT: Well, it wasn't a case of dealing with it, I think the fact that we, Japanese, we Nisei were on the quiet side and so if anything started to show up like that we didn't fight it or we didn't attempt to react to it or anything like that. So I think, actually, I feel that the fact that we were raised, our culture helped us overcome any kind of un-shown discrimination. So somehow we got by that way. And then the hakujin kids, if they felt there's anything coming on, they stuck right up with me and so I felt stronger that way, that I had somebody backing me up rather than to have to fight it or anything like that.

TK: In terms of your music, do you... you must have been very, very good in terms of taking up the musical instrument, clarinet and later saxophone, and perhaps, could you talk about why you think you were able to, to maybe have a proficiency in these two particular instruments?

MT: No, I think everything just fell into place as we moved into high school band, and orchestra, went into school plays and opera. It opened opportunities to participate as a... although I was Japanese American, I was able to fit in there and so it wasn't my proficiency in playing, it's just that it just worked out that a average musician that I was able to open doors to my life as a Nisei American into the hakujin shakai as far as school was concerned, so... and, no, I was just a plain clarinet/saxophone player.

TK: Okay, did you take any formal lessons or how, and how were you able to learn these pieces?

MT: Well, we took lessons at school.

TK: At school?

MT: The school had a music teacher and so, every day, or every other day we had music, band classes or orchestra classes, so that's all it took. We couldn't afford to take private lessons at all, 'cause the Depression was still following us right behind our --

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Well, as I'm listening to you, it strikes me... we used this term earlier with your father as being "adventuresome." It seems that, that you have many of those same characteristics, that you, you mentioned how you, you call yourself an average, but it's almost how you were about trying new things and going into different communities, seems somewhat adventuresome. I mean, do you think that's a fair statement about you and how you look at things?

MT: I think I was fortunate that way. It wasn't, I wasn't trying to do anything outstanding but I felt, I mean, it just came naturally to try to do different things and accomplish a little bit more than I would have probably normally did. So, outside of being average I was probably just a little beyond average and so I always look at myself that way.

TI: Because another adventure that you did, about twelve was, you had a hobby that you were really interested in, in terms of flying. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MT: Oh, yeah. Somehow it was, there used to be an old flying field outside of, south of Kent where they, the biplanes would come barnstorming in there. And my brother would take me down there and we'd watch the plane come in and going out. And for five dollars the parents would have their hakujin kids take a ride. And, but it's fascinating to me and it was interesting, and somehow I wanted to learn how to fly. So, me and this fellow named Russell Hogarty, gosh, we were young kids there, but during the Depression, God, if we had a nickel or a dime to buy a candy or something like that we were real fortunate. But somehow we were able to, over time, to gather about five dollars. But we couldn't have a ride... pay for the bus to go from Seattle to, I mean, from Kent to Seattle so the milk truck that the farmers, the trucks would come in and pick up their milk and bring it into Seattle, we'd, Russell and I would hook a ride on the milk truck and then we'd, they'd let us off at Boeing Field. And they'd go on in and in the meantime, we were able to, I think, for five dollars, we were able to take about five minutes' lessons and then when the truck came back we went back. But by the time, the next time we had any money at all it was probably another year or so and so we'd forget everything and everything. That's how we started to just get the taste of taking flying lessons, and so, it was very fascinating to me.

TI: And how did your, your mother feel about this?

MT: She was completely against it. She thought I shouldn't and, in fact, yeah, about the time I graduated high school, or just before that, we were able to... well, we'd mow hakujin lawn, big lawn, yard, they'd give us a dollar. And to, geez, it'd take us about three hours to mow the lawn and everything but we were happy to get the dollar and we'd raise that money to go flying. But, before our, I graduated high school, we were able to do odd jobs like that to save money and one day I flew over Kent with, with the instructor and I just happened to mention it to some friends and he told my mother and mother was real upset that here we were working on the farm, hard working, and, "You're endangering your life." And she could picture some tragedy coming up again, and so she was really against it. So, I didn't fly too much at that time.

TK: How about your friend, Hogarty?

MT: Yeah, yeah, that's right.

TK: Did he continue, or what, do you know what...?

MT: No, he didn't continue either, because money just wasn't available. We just, gosh, we, even during high school we played at the Puyallup Fair, gosh, all my brother would do would give me... my allowance was a dollar and, for all day long, and that's how short money was and so it was good that he could raise a dollar for me to take with me to... because we were there all day and had to buy hamburger for lunch and...

TK: Of course, a hamburger didn't cost $3.95 in those days.

MT: Yeah, yeah.

TK: How much was a hamburger back then? Do you remember?

MT: Gosh, I don't know, I imagine about twenty-five, thirty five cents. So --

TK: With all the onions on top?

MT: Uh-huh. It was real good, very good. Yeah.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Well, when you're, you were finishing up high school, what were your thoughts in terms of your future? What would the next step be as you were graduating from high school?

MT: I wanted to go on to university, but by that time, Dad was dead. He died when he was fifty-six, so he was young. But we just didn't have any money to go to school. I tried to become a houseboy, and in fact, I think Reverend Murphy of the Baptist Church was able to find me a houseboy job to go to university. But times were so bad that if one of us left the farm it was just impossible to even continue because one person not participating, we just couldn't make a go of it. And so, I had to give it up. And so we, during high school, and after high school... well, actually, to go back a little bit further that that, we were farming before I graduated high school but I would quit school on May 1st and, to, to take over the farm. But before that, my brother Henry would have the ground prepared and plants put in and everything like that. And then he would go to White River Packing House where he worked there, where he would get enough money so that we could pay the... like Hogarty and all those schoolkids to help us pick beans and cut lettuce and things like that. So I quit school in May 1st, and then take my homework to school early in the morning, and then I come back and would work all day, 'til seven or eight o'clock at night, and then we'd go home and eat and I'd study and take my lessons for the next day. I did that for thirty days in May and then it continued into September where I couldn't... we had to have all the fall crops go out. But the main, but what I'm trying to get at is, if my brother... with me coming back on the farm and, which he'd prepared, and the money that he would make, we would pay for the plowing and just the general expenses of buying seed and fertilizer and things like that. So, it was just a real touch-and-go seikatsu at that time.

TI: Well, in addition to just running the farm and barely making it there, you also had the sawmill, the debts from that. Was that also part of what you had to do also during this time?

MT: That's what made us get into that situation, is when Dad, when the sawmill ended and immediately, the economy went down into extreme depression and we knew Dad had a debt, had the debt because he brought in money from Japan but he brought, his friends were all putting up the money to get the sawmill going. So when it stopped, well, he was in debt at that time, although he paid quite a bit of it during his operation from 1917 to 1918. But Mother brought that up, the situation up with my brother and I and said that -- in fact we, here again, we talked to Dwight Hartman, the attorney, and Mother, Mother... before we met Hartman, Mother said that Dad has a debt, and Japanese-style would mean my brother Henry and me pay off that debt. And her reason was, she said, either one of you, if you should become successful, that people say would say, "Yeah, you're successful, Min or Henry because you didn't pay your father's debt off." Dwight Hartman, the attorney said, "Well no, in this country your father's debt, when he died and your mother died, well then it pretty well goes with that. So you're not, you're not obligated to do that." But again, my mother put it that way, my brother and I said, "Fine, we'll, Japanese style, we'll pay it off."

And so we, from what he earned, what we earned on the farm, and what we -- and lot of times between the farm, like Smith Brothers had, they raised, oh, probably fifty acres of potatoes. And all the Japanese would go in November, December, in the snow, we'd pick up potatoes. And the digger would dig all the potatoes and we would, to pick up the potatoes, we'd carry forty, forty empty sacks on either side, and they're heavy, you know, and we'd pick up the potatoes and then when they're halfway full we'd set 'em on the side and we'd take another one. And we'd go down these long lines and, but it was cold, snow, rain, and, but all, some of that money we always put aside to pay Dad's debt off. And like I mentioned, we didn't pay a hundred percent off, on the dollar, but we had, I believe, about eighty, eighty-five percent we paid it off. And my brother continued that, even after he went to camp, went into Minidoka, and Minidoka, started to farm, working on the farm in Payette and Vale, Oregon, continued that. And then when I came back, I remember the last check my brother and mother gave me was to give to a lady named Mrs. Nakata, lived in the Yesler Housing and she was really surprised, and really, tears came down her eyes that we had done that. And she never expected it. But her husband had loaned it to Dad and he'd died many years before that. But for us to go back that far, she was really, really appreciative. And this is the Japanese kimochi and really, I think, grew into me experiencing all this experience. And I'm glad I was born Japanese American and I was raised Japanese American and to this day I'm very proud of the fact that I'm Japanese American. Those are the things that stayed with me, besides scouting, was very meaningful to me.

TI: How did your mother feel? Like when you paid that last debt off. Did you talk to her, that it was done? And what was her reaction?

MT: Oh, she was very pleased and she... they were over in Payette. By that time, after I came back, I helped my brother purchase a ranch over there in Payette, on the Snake River. But she stayed right with my brother's family there. But she was very pleased because when I came back from the army, I was coming to Seattle, she asked me to deliver that check to Mrs. Nakata. So, so, I guess it was a real load off her back. But she, her life was... from comfortable to the tough life she lived in this country where she would've probably been real happy if she'd stayed in Japan and...

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: And during all these years, did your mother ever express regrets for coming to the United States?

MT: She never, never did. She, she, I admire her for that. That she, I mean, for her to pick up potatoes and in the snow and rain and, gosh, it must have been... coming from up high to the lowest you can possibly get, is just unbelievable. I mean, but she never complained. We, the tough as things were... she kept on going and going and kept us all together and so...

TI: Picture... she looks so peaceful there.

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Yeah, she, but she's, well, she was well-liked by everybody because of the fact that I think she raised us that way, to follow the Japanese tradition, culture, education and hold our head up high and nothing that we felt hazukashii. Sure, we ate a lot of rice and a lot of turnip greens and during the depression days and meat and... were very scarce, but she kept us all together and I just think the world of her that way, that she held us all together all that time. So...

TK: Do you have any stories about your mother and, just what kind of personality she was? How she treated you? Do you remember any stories about her?

MT: Not particularly. See, she, she was very, made sure that, even after Dad died that we'd go to Japanese school. She thought that was so important. Well, I guess, in some ways they thought well, they may go back to Japan. But like I said, that whole early intentions were somehow down the drain. But she felt that as we grew up, if they were gone and we went back to Hiroshima, that she wanted to make sure that we knew where to go, so she'd make us practice that we were... let's see, we were born in Hiroshima-ken, Kusatsu, Takata. Tsubota sentaro ko. She thought that's all we could learn, at least if we knew that much we could find our relatives. So over and over and over she taught us that, besides our Japanese school, and I really, really appreciate that she, well, she made sure that we went. In other words, she, as much as we went to American school we, all the hakujin kids got to play, we had to go to Japanese school. We called it "tip school" in those days. I don't know how "tip school" ever started but, to this day I still can't understand why they called it "tip school." We all called it Nihongo gakko. But I think, in Seattle I hear, Nihongo gakko they say they all went to "tip school." So, but, Mother, Mother was very strong that way, was to teach us her Japanese culture. But she was very fair and honest and, with all of her friends and Caucasian people that might be friendly to us. So, I admire her that way.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Okay. We were talking earlier about right after high school, you wanted to go to the university but you really needed, was needed back at the farm so you couldn't do that.

MT: Uh-huh.

TI: So, talk about that. So after you graduated high school, what year was that? And what did you do after high school?

MT: That was in, graduated Kent High School in 1937 and, like I mentioned, I couldn't afford to get to the schools, so -- higher education -- so Mr. Makiyama started a farm supply store in Kent where they had, they sold seed and twine and fertilizer and insecticide. And so, Mr. Saito is the one that tutored me on Japanese. Well, going a little bit back, which I appreciate and I'd like to mention it, is during JACL and Buddhist Church in White River they had these oratorical contests, both in English and Japanese. JACL, we had oratorical contests in English and Japanese. So my brother and I would draft our, my speech in English and Mr. Saito would translate that into Japanese. And then he, I would go to his home in Kent and he would tutor me how to present, how to stand, how to use the Japanese word correctly. And he did that for five or six years. And so, he was my, actually my mentor during those growing-up days of JACL, Buddhist Church and high school.

And so, when I graduated high school he had that much confidence in me, and so among other people of my age that graduated, that had sons, Mr. Saito recommended that I, that Mr. Makiyama hire me. And so I was very happy that I got the job. My pay was, I think, eighty dollars a month. He furnished the car for my, to visit, to do outside sales where... I got to eat breakfast there and dinner there, and lunch I was on my own. But that's... so I went on the road to all the farms in the valley taking orders for seed, fertilizers, twine and insecticide and... but we, I did that for about a year and still, we didn't, the farmers didn't have that much money, and so business wasn't that good and so Mr. Makiyama had to let me go. So, I came back and we went back to Smith's farm to pick up potatoes that fall.

But in those days, I mean, not only did the Niseis that were educated couldn't get jobs, but imagine me. I knew, with discrimination, I could never get a job. But, so, I figured I've got to create my own job. And even if I, one of us left the farm we couldn't make it. But I knew that if I left the farm and I could get a job, and like my brother, we brought in some cash to feed the family, and then, then we can make it. So, finally, during my year that I was with Makiyama, I get, I got to know Mr. Lebo, the Marine Byproducts. He was... he manufactured fishmeal in Alaska. And he had a plant in Seattle. And he mixed all these fertilizer. And he was the one that sold their fertilizer through Makiyama and Makiyama retailed it out. And so, I met Mr. Lebo, but he had a hakujin salesmen there at that time. So Mother, so I'd tell Mother, "I'd like to see Mr. Leibow from time to time to see if he can put me on someplace because... and of course, his hakujin salesmen, they're seasoned salesman, they're outside salesmen, they were good. And here, what am I, nineteen years old at that time. But finally I kept going to, Marine Byproducts, Mr. Lebo; he was on Alaskan Way near the Bell Street dock there, and had a plant there. And so finally I convinced Mr. Lebo to hire me and do what I was doing with Makiyama. Only instead of the White River Valley, I went to Vashon, Bainbridge, Olympia and Yakima and took a broad area. But during that time, like I mentioned, the farms, farmers didn't have any money at all. And by the time fall came it was --

TK: Just to, just let me clarify. So, the reason that he did this was because you could then sell to all the Japanese farmers in all these different places? So you were, you would really focus on the Japanese farms?

MT: I felt that I could create my own job that way.

TK: Right, exactly.

MT: And so, I thought that would be the answer.

TI: Okay, so going on --

MT: And so, it worked out very nicely because... I'll bring it back to the White River Valley again. As much as I was going to out area, I got to know Mr. Roy Andre of Andre's Market in Fife. And nowadays we have what we call, you know, big Safeway stores or Kmart. The Andre, father Andre, had a store like that, that it was just like a equivalent to a Safeway nowadays where he sold groceries, meat, hardware, fertilizer, lumber. It was a beautiful store, and he was doing a wonderful job. And he was doing business with all the Japanese farmers there, and like I mentioned, I keep saying we didn't have any money. And we didn't have any money because by the time they raised their farm crops and fall came, we ended up... so, the farmers, Japanese farmers were actually richer in the fall when the White River Packing House, the Sumner kumiai, Auburn kumiai, would give a little advance to all these farms to buy rice, fertilizer and things like that, and so, some of the farmers would buy cars with that. And that's why I say, these Japanese farms down in the valley were a lot wealthier in the fall by the money that was being advanced by all these packing houses. And they were shipping all these lettuce and cauliflower into Chicago and New York during the summertime, that short season.

But, get back to Roy Andre, he again... but the amount of money that they advanced these farmers wasn't very big. But... it worked out very nicely because as much as the Andres were helping the Japanese farmers, the farmers relied on Andres. It was a complete life as far as raising the family was concerned. And so, but, when I was working for Marine Byproducts, like fertilizer, Roy would give me a list of, say, oh, twenty farms or twenty-five farms, and he said, "Min, this is a list that I will go three thousand, five thousand dollars, eight thousand dollars as an advance for their fertilizer, twine, seed, and insecticide." And so, it made it easier for me. So, when, in October/November I could take the order and Roy would give me cash to bring back to Marine Byproducts so he in turn could use that cash to buy fishmeal in Alaska and make the fertilizer to, to sell to the farmers for March delivery, February/March delivery.

TI: So why did Roy do this? Was it financially good for him also to do this?

MT: Oh yeah, because they sold groceries, meat, and hardware, and lumber and lot of the things that the farmers needed was all supplied by the Andre Market. So, like the Andres always told me, they... "I help the Japanese, but the Japanese help me." And so I'll never forget the relationship or Japanese connection of all that area.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: There's just one story I want to end with before we close this tape. And that was, you helped Roy also import something from Japan.

MT: Uh-huh.


TI: So why don't you tell me that story about how... because it's a pretty interesting story.

MT: Well, what happened is, after about two years, or close to three years working with Roy, we became very, very close and he was almost like a brother, I mean, whenever I could I'd stop in the store. But Roy would tell me how, when he was kid going to school, his dad made him raise rabbits and chickens and the dad would take it, take it to the store, the prepared rabbits and the chicken and sell them. And he saved that money for them to go to school on. And, but when they graduated high school, father Ben Andre said, "Roy, you and" -- his brother -- "I put you through high school, now, so you're out on your own." As much money as he had, the land he had, he told the two boys, "You're now on your own." And they went to the Merchant Marine, and they went, both of 'em went to Merchant Marine. They worked on the vessels and tried to save as much money as they can. But in the meantime, the father was smart because he wanted them to get a taste of life like the Japanese had, immigrants had. He had to, wanted them to go out and regardless of how much money he had or possessions he had, he wanted them to suffer and know what life was about.

And so, about two years or three years after that, the father Ben told the boys, "Are you... how you doing?" And they said, "Well, we're not getting anyplace. We're saving a little money but we're not getting anyplace." And so, he said that Roy said, "We'd like to come back." And so Roy said -- Ben said, "Well, fine, here's what I'm gonna do," this was after the second year or third year. He took that whole block of Andre's Market store, he made it into twelve shares and he gave Roy one share and his brother -- I can't think of his name -- one share. And all the money that they had, the father took it away for that one share and they had this, and then they gradually took over the store and whatever they made, they paid the father off. And pretty well, by the time that I was friend with Roy Andre, he'd pretty well paid the store off. Both the brothers did.

But Roy said, "Min, being an outside salesman like this, and you told me about you never made the, going to University of Washington." He says, "What would you really want to do if you, that I could be of some help?" So I said, "Well, if I went to university, probably I'll want to study law or foreign trade," and, but which I never got to. So he says, "Well, are you really interested in foreign trade?" And I said, yeah, interesting because Mr. Saito, when he ended his packing house career, started slowly into foreign trade and traded with Japan. And he was telling me the stories about his relationship to, with Japan on foreign trade. In fact, he still had, kept buying the Lincoln Zephyrs and when he'd go to Japan he'd drive the Lincoln Zephyrs in Japan and I guess it made quite an impression wherever he went. But anyway, Roy said, "Well, Min, I want to help you because whatever you want to do, let me help you and I think I got the finances, I got the connections, and I wanna help you." So, when I said foreign trade he said, "Well, Min, what, what product are you thinking about?" And I said, "Well, come to think of it," I said, "Roy, I saw these bamboo rakes being sold at Sears Roebuck on the First Avenue down there." And I said, "There's an item that the people will use to rake their garden or things like that, but it's so cheap that they throw it away and they have to keep buying rakes every year. And so that's what I'd like to bring in." And Roy said, "Well, that's fine, it's a good idea." So he said, "Well, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna open a credit with the" -- I think it was one of the Japanese bank, I think it was (Yokohama Specie) Bank at that time, way before the war -- "and give you the opening credit for ten thousand dollars." So, he says, "You go ahead and order your bamboo rakes." Well, I never been to Japan and I didn't know nothing about it. But my mother's older brother was Yamatani and Yamatani had, he owned a ferry system between Hiroshima and the island that he lived on. So Mother wrote to him and we drew a picture of what kind of a bamboo rakes we wanted and so he said, "Well, fine, I'll look around Japan and manufacturers," and so he, he took on the project for me. And then, the next thing we knew, Yamatani-san told Mother that he found these bamboo rakes that he was gonna ship it over. And so, being naive and he's naive, mother's naive, we didn't question him or anything and so the next thing we knew we had ten thousand dollars of bamboo rakes pulled into Seattle and...

TI: So, a lot of, ten thousand units of rakes, or ten thousand actual rakes?

MT: It was ten thousand dollars worth of rakes.

TI: Ten thousand dollars worth of rakes.

MT: Well, so I imagine it was quite a few rakes. I had him give... so the broker called me and, see, this is what Roy wanted me to do, get the experience of working through a broker, customs, and that's what he was willing to help me out, to get this experience. And so, I remember the broker went down there, and here we opened a crate up, and we looked at it and the, the bamboo rakes, I think, I believe it was twenty-nine cents apiece. And, as I mentioned, Sears Roebuck was retailing them for between fifteen and eighteen cents, and we're talking double that.

TI: So your cost was double what Sears was selling at retail level?

MT: Yeah, laid in Seattle. So I called Roy and said, "Roy, your bamboo rakes are here but I've got a problem." I said, "They're costing us twenty-nine cents, or twenty cents, laid in Seattle and then we gotta get 'em from Seattle through the brokers and transported over to your big warehouse in Fife there," and that's where the palladium was before the war, where people went to dance. But that big store was, it was a well-known store. And so Roy said, "Well no, no problem." He says, "I'll send a truck down and so you meet 'em down there at the dock and get 'em." And so I met him down there and we loaded 'em all up and we took 'em to Fife and he put 'em in the warehouse across the street. We had all that ten thousand dollars of beautiful rakes and -- but the beauty of it was, being naive, and like I said, my cost and Sears Roebucks' retail price. But these, Sears Roebucks' rakes were regular (cheap) bamboo rakes (...) ... But there were little thin wires on 'em and thin wires here and thin wires here and they wouldn't last two or three months and you'd have to throw it. But my uncle, the ones he sent me were beautiful bamboo rakes, wider (bamboo) rakes and they had a metal clamps, clamps. They were copper-bound clamps and they were screw and nuts and bolts on 'em and real strong. And so Roy says, "Well, I can see the difference here," and he was very pleased. So he mentioned, "I want you to order another ten thousand worth." And I said, "What are you gonna do?" And he said, "Well, Min, we'll burn 'em if we have to." And so, he ordered another ten thousand. So, I had Mother write to Uncle Yamatani and we got in another ten thousand. And they came in, beautiful rakes, bamboo rakes, strong. You can use 'em for two, or three, four, five years and never lose 'em. And he picked 'em up and brought 'em in the warehouse.

And so the third time, he says, "Well, Min we want another ten thousand." And at that time I was not aware of it, but we, I went ahead and got... but see, and that was, we were going into the tail end of 1940 into 1941. But see, Roy, brilliant, he knew that the U.S.-Japan relationship had ceased and that trade was gonna break off. So he knew, I guess, see, he never told me, but I don't blame him or anything. But he wanted these bamboo rakes in because there would be no more shipments in from Japan. And that's the way it turned out. He sold 'em, later he told me after I came back from war, but about five dollars, six dollar, seven dollars apiece. And he came out really wonderful --

TI: So he made a nice little profit off of the inventory.

MT: Uh-huh.

TI: So he was...

MT: And I got all the experience of importing, exporting, custom house, brokers, and I learned all that.

TI: Just a final question: did you get paid for all this?

MT: No, I did it on my own. And I didn't ask him for it, and that wasn't the deal. I just, Roy just said, "Min, being an outside salesman you're not gonna get too far. What do you want to do in addition to go to school?" And I said, "Foreign trade."

TI: So, what you got in return was experience?

MT: To me, it was the greatest opportunity; was just to have him put up the money at the Yokohama Specie Bank and have me experience all of this, the ropes of bringing it in and it comes. So, but what was really nice -- so, I didn't expect anything but I thought it was, what a wonderful chance he's giving me as a farm boy, Japanese American, non-educated, that, to get someplace. Besides, I made my own job with Marine Byproducts, but he wanted me to go beyond that. So, so, when, about that time, Roy says, well in the meantime, Min, I, I'm -- my contact, he was well-known in Tacoma because --

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TK: Min, after the farm supply sales area, let me go back for a few seconds to your experience in terms of playing in a Japanese American band in Seattle. Could you tell us more about how you got started in that and what kind of experiences you had playing in the band? Perhaps you can hold up this picture?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Back in 1935, I think I was very fortunate when I heard that the, Al Masuda of Ellensburg was, had the Nisei Melodian band in Seattle for the Japanese community and they were playing for lot of community socials. And so I had my brother bring me to Seattle. And during, the Nisei Melodians were practicing at the Rainier Power and Heat Building. And I enjoyed it very much because most of the people were all older than I was but I was able to meet Shang Kashawagi of Seattle Tailors, Porgy Okada, they both played saxophone, I played saxophone and clarinet. We had a temporary drummer named Johnny Walker, he was African American, and we had an accordion player. And afterwards, TadKoyuki used to play the drum for us and so that completed our band.

TK: Maybe you can point out the people in the picture.

MT: Yeah, yeah, this is Shang Kashiwagi here and this is Porgy Okada. This is me, this is Johnny Walker, and this is Hats Takahashi, he used to work for the North Coast importing company. And these two girls there were with the Lotus YBA of the Buddhist Church and they were giving a presentation at the Nippon Kan Hall. I don't remember what year it was but we were asked to join 'em each year as they had their plays and things like that.

TK: What kind of music did you play at these dances?

MT: There, most of the music were Glenn Miller music and included, we went to the oldies, the oldest one were like "Blue Heaven" and "Downtown Strutters Ball." I think our, last music we were playing "I Love You Truly." I don't remember too many of 'em but there were, belonged to the Glenn Miller styling that we played.

TK: There must have been a lot of attractive Nisei girls during that time?

MT: Well, it was interesting... not the girls. [Laughs] But the fact that we played what we called taxi dancing at the Washington Hall. And usually every weekend the University Japanese Club or some other organization would sponsor a dance. And the taxi dances, each boy had to buy tickets to dance and they'd ask the girls to dance with 'em. But it was quite a fundraising project and everybody enjoyed it, and...

TK: Let me get this straight. In, in other communities, people would buy rows of tickets, and then you would dance with the woman and then you would give them a ticket. Is that what you mean by taxi dance in this sense?

MT: No. We buy the, they'd buy the tickets and then they'd ask a girl to dance with 'em and then they'd give it to the sponsor organization. So that's where the profit came in for the fundraising of the program.

TK: Do you remember how much the tickets were?

MT: Gosh, I don't remember. I don't think they were very much. But I was about fifteen years old. I was young then. But I lived in Kent and I drove in on my Model T and Model A car and they gave me about five dollars each time to pay for my gasoline and, so it was quite enjoyable for me as far as playing the music and meeting a lot of young people.

TK: How did you learn the tunes or your part with respect to the music? Did you practice at home or did you guys get together as a group?

MT: Yeah, I practiced at home but we played standard dance band music so we practiced as a band, at the Rainier Power and Heat Building on Jackson and Maynard.

TK: Do you have any memories of those days at all, any stories that you remember?

MT: Not too much. It was enjoyable when the Japanese community had picnics out at Lake Wilderness, Shadow Lake and various lakes by all different organizations and one of our Nisei really social life was dancing at these lake resorts.

TK: Earlier you'd said that your mother was not very pleased with all the dancing going on. By this time, had she changed her mind, or what was her reaction in 1935 or '36 when Niseis really getting into dancing or you were into the band?

MT: Well, about that time I, dancing had been quite a community thing and so Mother wasn't too strict about it, about the time that I joined the band. So she was very comfortable and she knew that I was participating as a musician rather than just going to different dances at various part of the city. So she was quite good about the whole thing.

TK: How about your older brother, Hiroo? Was he, did he go to the dances as a participant?

MT: Yeah. He enjoyed dancing very much. And like I said, he was very outgoing and was able to help me become outgoing by taking me to JACL and dances and the, and later the Buddhist Churches all had their convention dances and so... and I got to play for a lot of Christian church dances. So it turned out very nicely. By that time, Mother had mellowed quite a bit.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TK: Can we take a typical sort of week, real briefly. I mean, you were working at that time with the farm supply, and then you were also playing in the band. Could you maybe talk about what you did, Monday through Friday, and then the weekends in about 1935?

MT: Let's see... well, '35 I was still going to high school because I graduated in '37.

TK: Oh, okay.

MT: But I was able to, like I said, I had a Model T Ford and a Model A Ford that I would drive into Seattle and practice with them. And, but it was a chance for me to mature into, from a young kid into a semi-adult life of the Japanese community in Seattle. Very enjoyable.

TK: Then, after you were in the farm supply area, did you change your occupation from that? And this is after, certainly, with the Andrews?

MT: Andres. Uh-huh.

TK: Andres.

MT: Andres Market.

TK: Did you consider going into other kinds of businesses or work?

MT: Yes, at the time, Roy was... after our import/export experience, heard of my draft status and thought, was asking, do you want to stay where I am or go into the foreign trade right away, or -- then, but that time the Japan-American treaty was breaking off so Roy said probably the best thing to do is, "My friend is the head of the Standard Oil Company. And they wholesale gas to all the fishing boats and farms, large farms in California." So he said, "Min, I've talked to them and told (them) about your background and they were very pleased," and they said that they'd like to talk to me. So I met with them and they thought I would fit the picture so I told them that that I was, notify Mr. Lebo and I would go that way. But about that time, the Japan-American treaty coming off, the Standard Oil Company checked my draft status and they found out that -- that was in February of 1941 -- they said that, "We found out that you're gonna be drafted in one month so why don't you enlist and get" -- in those days all you had do was serve one year then you can come back and then you're back in civilian life, so he said, "Min, if you serve your one year and come back, your job will be open at Standard Oil in the wholesale gas route." So I accepted to go that way.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

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.

<Begin Segment 23>

TK: Do you remember where you were at and what you were doing when you first heard the news?

MT: Well, December 7th, it was right after breakfast that we found out that, the news that Japan had attacked at Pearl Harbor. But, and so we were immediately put on alert. But you've got to realize that during Camp Roberts and San Luis Obispo, we, like in my case, we carried .45 automatic pistols, but my pistol was all wooden pistol. In other words, we weren't issued real pistols or carbines at that time except for training only. So we never had... so I was so surprised, by afternoon, December 7th, we had carbines, .45 automatic pistols and ammunition and we were all packed up by evening and it just amazed me how we were well-prepared. (...) We were prepared for the war, but we didn't know that until December 7th and it just amazed me that... I still, I brought, I brought home that wooden pistol and I had it until December 7th.

TK: And what happened to that wooden pistol?

MT: I donated it to the group in Los Angeles that our, with my uniform, that they were going around to all the churches -- I mean, schools in, elementary and high schools in the Los Angeles area in groups and talking about the war relocation camps and the 442nd combat team.

TK: So would this be the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles?

MT: No, it's another group that, that are constantly going around to all the schools and so... but I saw it before, later at the different reunions that they... my uniform and officer's uniform.

TK: So after December 7th, what transpired and what was your next movement out of that particular unit?

MT: So, by, by evening, like, it was amazing to me, is, we were fully combat equipped by evening. It just surprised me all the pieces that, that we could just move out. So within the next couple days we were, we loaded up and convoyed all the way down to March Field Air Force Base to guard the camp there and the 160th took over entire March Field Base there. And we stayed there until end of, end of January and then we were brought back into Los Angeles to guard all the airplane manufacturing plants in Los Angeles. And it... just a short time after that, the division commander were notified that the 40th Division was to be transferred out to the South Pacific, division-wise and that... but, one situation that we didn't expect was that all Japanese Americans were not to accompany the division to South Pacific. And so, arrangements were being made to ship us out of the division. I asked to be taken with the division, but the order was that they just couldn't do it, even though I was noncombatant in the 160th Infantry band. So they took out one hundred and (eighty) -- their next step was to take out 185 of us Niseis of the division out. And the next thing we knew, that we were all rounded up and loaded onto trains in downtown Los Angeles where they pulled all the blinds down and all of us were loaded up with a guard on the front end of the train, (...) the back end of the train on each one of 'em. And we left Los Angeles about three o'clock in the morning in the darkness. And we didn't know 'til we left Los Angeles that we were headed for El Paso, Texas, to Fort Bliss, Texas and would be reassigned there to the 1813th reception center.

TK: But for soldiers to go on trains, it's not unusual to have shades drawn regardless of the particular people going, is that correct?

MT: I don't think so. In this case we were all, because of the fact that we were Japanese Americans, they pulled the shades on us. And the reason I would say that is when we left the town in Los Angeles and we started heading towards Texas, they put the blinds up, but when you started to enter any other city they pulled the blinds down again. So, we knew that they were determined to not let the public know that the Japanese Americans were on board the train there.

TK: Were there any members of the 185 Niseis that you knew before, that you still keep up with in terms of friendships or acquaintances?

MT: No. They're... it was shortly after I got to the 40th Division that I got to the band. But other Niseis were spread out all through the division so I never had a chance to meet them. In fact, we went to, on our weekends, I had a friend named Buddy Davis who was a trumpet player, and he would take me to Los Angeles and visit his home and his parents and things like that. So, I was primarily with Caucasian band players all the time that went to Los Angeles and Hollywood until the war broke out. I did go to Nihonmachi in San Luis Obispo. There were some Japanese farmers, large Japanese farmers in that area and so I visited them on the weekends and they were kind enough to invite us for lunch and we ate rice and sashimi and all kinds of Japanese goodies. And so it was very pleasant staying in San Luis Obispo prior to the war.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TK: What was your reception like in Fort Bliss, Texas, when 185 Niseis came on the train?

MT: Yeah, the, when we were with the 40th Division, our division (patel), it was a bursting sun which looked like a Chinese flag... to me it did. And, I don't know whether anybody else thought about it, but we, we stopped at the railroad station at El Paso, which is about mile and a half from downtown to the Fort Bliss complex. But we were assigned to the reception center there. But we got there and about, oh, ten-thirty, eleven o'clock in the morning, but we waited 'til afternoon, and no trucks or anybody came to pick us up. So I had an opportunity to call back to the 160th and tell the commander there that we were stranded there. And he contacted the Fort Bliss Headquarters and told me not to worry, that they'll send trucks down there. So, sure enough, about four-thirty in the afternoon, the trucks showed up to the railhead and all of us, 185 of us lined up four abreast and got on, were loaded onto trucks. And before, about a half a mile before the, the entrance to the reception center, we unloaded and we, again, lined up four abreast and we marched into the compound there. And it was quite amusing to see 185 of us Oriental-looking GIs come in there. They didn't know who we were and they, some, immediately the rumor came up that the Japanese Army had come through Mexico and we, El Paso is right across the, from Juarez and that they'd come in with American uniforms. But within a couple hours they, all the people that had scattered all come back there, especially people that were in a barbershop, they had their white sheets on and... but they scattered, they were all gone. But that was our initiation to Fort Bliss, Texas.

TK: Did things get better or worse after that first initiation?

MT: Well, after that we weren't very too happy because actually, we were in the United States Army, we were in uniform, American uniform, but actually, I don't think they really knew what to do with us. We were assigned from the reception center to the warehouses where, this being a reception center, to the warehouses where we were unloading all the uniforms, shoes, socks, underwear and piling them up into shelves there. The reception center, all those drafted Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans that are drafted came through the reception center there and were assigned their, the stations where they were going. But we gave 'em clothing and everything we can. But we worked with the Italian prisoners and the German prisoners that were from, from Europe, and they're prisoners but they were working the warehouses. So we were next to, I guess, prisoner-type of work that we were doing, unloading boxcars and doing menial work, not army work.

But, the same time, we had to go on guard duty at night and so we were issued carbines to go on guard duty at night, but, you can just picture the draftees that came in from civilian life and were issued uniforms and next two days they would say that, "We're fighting the Japs and, but here we're being guarded by Japs and we can't sleep." And some of these people were pretty well, their parents were high Texas officials in politics. And so, when they telephone them and tell them that they couldn't sleep, well then, immediately they would take us off guard duty. And then, but, it's hard to, for the regular GIs to on guard duty all the time so they'd put us back on guard duty, but they'd put us on with a, with a police sticks and we'd have to go guard duty again. But it was, I think a lot of us Niseis, both Niseis and the Kibeis, were disappointed at the situation there. Discrimination was there and then all these new people coming through have never seen Japanese before and so they just picture us as people from Japan on the same "enemy alien" basis. And so it made it a little tough and they were beginning to treat us as "Japs," and so we tried to live the best we could under the circumstances.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TK: Did the other soldiers make a differentiation between say Niseis and Kibeis? Kibeis being persons of, Niseis who had some or part of their education in Japan? Were there any differences in terms of how they, they saw you folks?

MT: Yes. To go a little bit, back up. While we were on guard duty, a lot of Caucasians would go down to El Paso and they'd have cocktails and beer and then they'd be quite inebriated when they come back. But you gotta remember that this is wartime, so regardless, we didn't have carbines, we, police sticks with us, but we had to call for the passwords. And the new GIs, half tanked, would come up we'd (ask) 'em the, for the password, to halt, and they wouldn't halt and they'd keep coming in and then more so, they'd look and knowing that we were Japanese Americans they didn't bother to halt. So some of the Kibeis had to take a night stick and beat the hakujin guys up because... well, and we got away with it because it was wartime and they didn't halt and they didn't give us a password. So you can imagine where they beat some of these hakujin guys up, big tall guys and then they'd haul 'em down to the shower and they'd turn the shower on 'em and the, the hakujin guys would get real mad and would report that in. And that would go to headquarters and headquarters would call us down and say well, this incident happened, that incident happened. And we'd be, we'd become restricted to the camp area for the weekends. And once in the beginning we'd be restricted for one weekend and then it'd be okay for a while. Then we're getting restricted for another weekend.

And then these, getting back to Kibei, I'm not saying anything against the Kibei. But I don't blame 'em because they were born here but they were raised in Japan. And they were raised where they (had) no haiseki. They were, really felt they were (individual) and they were, and so they were a lot bolder than us Nisei Americans where we're born here and raised here but we knew that there was a thin line of discrimination and we felt that. So we, here again, we were quiet and we held back and try to work with the situation. But here again, so I give the Kibeis a lot of credit from what they, their education and background was. But when they worked on the warehouses there, some of these influential hakujins and Mexican Americans within about a week or two weeks, I don't know how, but they became PFCs and corporals and when they were assigned to the warehouse they thought it was a picnic that us Niseis were, our ratings were frozen when the war broke out and we couldn't do nothing and we were working in the warehouse like a bunch of servants. They became PFCs and corporals in a short time and they... I swear they were beginning to feel that they could treat us like servants and they'd tell us to do this and do this. And so, here again, Niseis, we were on the quiet side and took it, but the Kibeis, when they're pushed around like that, kept (gentlemanly) while they're at their work because we're on duty, but when the evening came, and the noncoms section was just above us, they would... we had Texas, they were eight-man tents up there for the noncoms and so, in case of fire they had fire buckets either filled with water all along that area there or full of sand. And so, the Kibeis would go up there after nine o'clock when the lights went off and they would take the sand and they'd pour it all over all these hakujin guys, and noncoms, they were... noncom's just a noncom you know. In wartime they're noncommissioned officer. And it's really not the right thing to be doing at that time, but, they, this went on for several, several times and here again, we get called down again. And it grew worse and worse to a point that one night some of the Kibeis went up there and they beat the noncoms up with a two by four sticks. And so the, I was somehow called in because I guess I was bilingual. And so each time I knew that we were gonna be restricted one week, and pretty soon it was two weeks and pretty soon it was three weeks. But the full Niseis, (...) they felt, well hell, this is unfair. You don't blame them for what they're doing, but again, we got restricted and we had to stay in, two weeks or three weeks in the camp. And there's nothing to do in the camp. And so, it was getting a little touchy between the Kibei Niseis and the full Niseis.

But again, on the Kibei side we had the, not only, not professional judo but high-ranking judo people that were shodan, nidan, sandan and karate, there was one very professional karate, I don't know what his rank was, but he could, he would show us how he could hit a guy in the cheek and rip it open. And it was quite serious. But again, on the other hand, we had had Niseis (...) that, I remember one guy was, one was sandan and one was yodan, and so if we clashed, we would really clash and so, so what they decided to do was, we had four companies, A, B, C, D Companies for the 185 of us. So what they decided to do is, at that, until then, all the Kibeis were mixed up with the Niseis. So they said, "Min, we're gonna keep A Company, B Company C Company, but D Company, we're gonna put all the Kibeis in there." I imagine there was about, oh forty-five, fifty of 'em. And being bilingual, they said, "Well, Min, you're gonna be in charge of 'em and if anything comes out of this, you're gonna be responsible for it." And so it was getting pretty touchy. And, but I was able to, we never really clashed between Nisei, we clashed with the hakujin guys, like I said, we beat 'em up and stuff like that. But we, primarily because of the password or the wartime, that we got away with it. But it was getting touchy.

TK: Was this ever resolved? Or was that conflict sort of always there?

MT: As far as I was concerned, I was able to keep talking to Kibeis, but, there's nothing wrong what they're doing. It was right. And as a Kibei, I felt that they were doing what they thought they should do because they were raised that way, and I admired them, the fact that being raised in Japan, and with a Japanese face here, you didn't have this mixture of discrimination and anything like that. And then on the Nisei part of it, we all were on the quiet side. And so when we tried to keep away from it I was able to keep from any bodily contact or anything like that.

So, but, this is about the time that, before that, I thought, being a, I was a PFC at that time, private first class, one more, and then underneath with my band. And I stay the same rating, but I thought I could do more for, not only myself, but my country would be to, if I could somehow get to officers candidate school and I would... so I made application for officers candidate to the infantry, officer candidate school to the air corps, officers candidate to the artillery. And all of the applications I made came back and said "unsatisfactory commission, Japanese ancestry" and so there was nothing (I) could do.

And just about that time the... so, about that time I got orders from headquarters of Fort Bliss that there was to be a U.S. Army general court-martial at headquarters and that I was given an order to be a translator for witnesses that have, coming in from Lordsburg, New Mexico. And so I got the orders and went to headquarters and reported in and found out that the, that there was two Japanese Isseis that were shot and killed at, just off of the railhead, in Lordsburg, New Mexico when they were transferred in and that they were to, a general court-martial would be held at Fort Bliss.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TK: Mr. Tsubota, soldiers often get passes... that we have, we live for passes at times, so you must have gotten something. Did something interesting happen on some of the times you took passes during the army?

MT: Yeah, I think that a big change in my life came as I was able to get a pass at Fort Bliss there. And, but, my mother wrote me that my cousin, Fred Taniguchi, married and is in Utah and is operating the Price Cafe, so to be sure, if I got a pass, to, to go to Utah and visit with him. So I got my pass and took the bus all the way up into Salt Lake and stayed at the Colonial Hotel there and I went down to look for the Price Cafe and nobody heard of a Price Cafe there. But, so anyway, I went to a Japanese cafe there called U.S. Cafe there and I had breakfast there and I tell 'em I'm looking for Price Cafe and they said, "Oh, no, the Price Cafe is 125 miles back towards Denver." And so, so I stayed there a few days and then I took a bus down to Price Cafe to meet my cousin Fred. And he was married to Cherrie's older sister (...).

TK: Cherry Kin...

MT: Cherrie is my sister -- no, my wife, C-H-E-R-R-I-E.

TK: Yes, okay.

MT: And she was one, of the three girls, she was the middle daughter. And so, it was very fortunate because I got into, to Price and met my cousin. He was operating the restaurant there. And we got to visit and, for a day or two and before I came on back. But I didn't know that Cherrie was there, but I was introduced to her and met her and we talked and we visited. And I thought oh boy, this is... I, and then, I, so the next day, night after next day, I had to come back to Fort Bliss and so Cherrie and I corresponded and we hit it off very, very good. And that was August of 19-, 1940.

TK: August of 19...

MT: (1942), yeah, uh-huh.

TK: '41, okay.

MT: Yeah, August of 1941. And so we corresponded and --

TK: Excuse me. It couldn't be August '41 because this, 41 is before December 7th. So maybe...

MT: No, it was August ('42) because I went from Fort Bliss to Utah. And I met her. So, so it was August that I got that pass and I met her at that time.

TK: Okay, okay.

MT: Then I came back to Fort Bliss at that time and... but we corresponded and eventually we got to know each other very, very well and I proposed by mail to her --

TK: By mail?

MT: -- and telephone, uh-huh, and so the rest of the story is after that. After I got to Camp Shelby.

TK: Could you tell us more about maybe where her background is? Where was she born, and...

MT: Yeah. Cherrie, Cherrie is born and raised in that Carbon County and went to, went to elementary school in Helper Elementary School and high school, and into Price, finished high school in Price, Utah.

TK: All in Utah.

MT: Uh-huh. The family originally went from, came from Japan and her dad worked for the railroad. And then from the railroad he started the Price Cafe there and continued. And so, Cherrie was helping at the Price Cafe at that time. So, there was three sisters and Hiroko is married to Cousin Fred and Cherrie was the middle one and Toshiko, third daughter, was married while I was overseas, to a fellow named Akira Yoshihara. I believe he was in the Wyoming camp. And they came to Salt Lake and they were married there. So, but Cherrie's mother was... when I was at Camp Roberts, back in March of 1941, Fred came from Japan, from Hiroshima, and stayed with us at Kent and went to school a couple of years and then he went to the sawmill and worked there for a while and then to mining in Montana. Then he moved to Los Angeles and with the large markets in Los Angeles, I guess. And so, when I was in Camp Roberts, he got, he was to be married in Los Angeles. So, my mother, he invited me at Camp Roberts, my mother in Kent, to come down to his wedding in, at Los Angeles. He got married at the Los Angeles Buddhist Church.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MT: And so, about that time, the, the Camp Roberts area was a grass fire all throughout there and we were immediately restricted there because of the grass fires were spreading for miles and miles and miles. But anyway, I told the sergeant that I was, I wanted to attend the wedding. And so the buck sergeant was very nice. And so that night, what he did is, he said, "Min, I'm gonna cover for you." So he put the pillows in my bunk bed and that evening, while all the trucks were out there fighting the fires we were restricted (to) fight the fires. The whole Camp Roberts was out there fighting the fire. And so, he said well, "Min, I'm gonna cover for you, (...) so be sure and come back. So that evening I went up there and all the trucks were going by and everything. And then the Greyhound Bus came about, oh... but I had to hide behind the telephone pole to, so, because nobody was on pass or anything, because they were restricted, of the fire. But I caught the Greyhound bus. And I got to Los Angeles I... my mother, especially I wanted to go because my mother doesn't speak English and she took the train from King Street Station in Seattle all the way down to Los Angeles. And she kind of thought it was the greatest thing that she was doing that. So, I had to go and I told the sergeant that I must go and he covered up for me.

And so we attended the wedding ceremony at the old Los Angeles Betsuin on March 18, 1941. And so I met Mother there and we stayed, I stayed at Pomona. And Cherrie's mother came to give Hiroko away because the father had (...) Cherrie and Toshiko had to run the restaurant there. So I met Cherrie's mother at that time. I didn't know that she had two other daughters in Price, Utah. And so, but looking back, I got to meet my mother-in-law at that time. And so I, I stayed there, I stayed there two days at Los Angeles. But Mother, being there, and I was gonna put her on a train. And I didn't have to, but I wanted to stay there. So I went AWOL two more days and didn't go back to camp and made sure that Mother got on a train and going back. I got back to Camp Roberts and went back to camp to the company there and the first sergeant says, "Min, where you been?" And I said, "Been in camp." Well, what happened is, we got trapped is, on the third day he covered me up every night with the pillows in my bed and night call, and we got by with it. But I think it was the third day, the fourth day, at the middle of the month, see, that's the eighteenth, I left on the fifteenth. And we signed the payroll. And I wasn't there to sign the payroll. But the buck sergeant told the first sergeant that I was on garbage detail or I was in the kitchen or something like that. But it finally turned out that they found out that I was AWOL. And I got back and the first sergeant called me in and he says, "Min, where you been?" And I said, "On garbage detail and kitchen and all that." And he said, "No you weren't." And so I finally had to confess and, boy, they, they restricted me to the camp for about four, four weekends. And that was all I got for... but I was AWOL because wartime. No, it wasn't, it wasn't wartime then. It was after that. But it could've been pretty bad because I was a brand-new GI like that.

TK: For Mrs. Tsubota, when you first, well, when you left, you said to yourself, "This is the one." I don't want to embarrass you, so you don't have to answer this question, but do you remember what it was that made you say, "Oh, this is the special person?"

MT: Well, I really did. I... talking to the parents and talking to her and talking to sisters and my brother-in-law, I could see that she had the real quality that I thought that I would like to find in a wife. And so, without saying anything, I never expressed my thoughts to her, but I really felt that she had all the qualities that I would really like. So, I guess I was able to express all that through my letters until we were able to propose to her. So...

TK: And she accepted and sixty years later you're still going very strong. [Laughs] Very nice.

MT: Yeah, yeah, right. We're very fortunate.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TK: Can we go back then, to Fort Bliss. And, so you received this letter saying that they wanted you to be interpreter for a general court-martial. Would you talk about that particular time and that particular incident?

MT: Uh-huh. At that time, when I reported in to the headquarters for the general court-martial, we were brought into the court-martial room and I was on one end of the room as an interpreter. But they had two guards on me. And I think there were twenty-three witnesses from Lordsburg, New Mexico that were Issei, Japanese on the other end of the room. And they had three or four MPs watching them so we couldn't talk to each other or visit with each other. And, but they said well, "Min, they're enemy alien Japanese and they're from Lordsburg internment camp and you are to interpret to them. But we want you to remember that if you thought they, in interpreting, you thought they said a wrong thing, and you re-interpret it in English and that, just to help 'em out, and we find that out, we will court-martial you. So we want you to interpret exactly what they are saying and nothing, no differently. And we want you to understand that." And so, I said, "I understand that." And so, they started the court-martial and whenever the witnesses were called in I went in and interpreted for them as best I could with the Japanese that I'd learned in Kent, Washington, at the Nihongo gakko there. So I got to use it.

TK: What was the purpose of the court-martial in the first place?

MT: Court-martial was, later I found out, after about the third day, the MPs would no longer guard me, or guard the Isseis and they'd run off to coffee. I was able to talk to them but the upshot of the whole thing is they were being transferred. I think it was 134 were being transferred from another camp into Lordsburg, New Mexico. And the train stopped about a mile-and-a-half from the compound and they were to detrain and line up to march there. But before they detrained, the leader of the Japanese contingent told the lieutenant there that there were two Isseis, that were Japanese, that were ill and not able to travel the one and a half miles to camp so if possible would they get a ambulance to haul them in. And so the lieutenant said, "Well, no problem, but after all, they are enemy aliens so we will have to have guards, MPs left with them," which they said, "Fine."

In the meantime, the lined all the Isseis up, four abreast in a hundred and some group, and they lined them up. And they all, only two Isseis were left behind and the MPs were left with 'em. And they marched all the way, the Isseis all marched to the compound, a mile and a half, and went into the compound and were settled into the, their compound there, living facilities. But the leader of the Japanese were quite worried and so they went to the camp commander and said that these two people were ill. And the lieutenant had said that they could come in by ambulance. And so they wanted to see these two patients. And so the camp commander said well, "No, they're very bad, they're ill and you can't see 'em." So they asked the next day and they said they were in bad shape, they couldn't see 'em. And the third day, I think, they said the same thing; the commander said that they were not in any condition to meet anybody. And so the Isseis just let it go at that.

But what really happened, from what I understand, is these two GIs went to the tavern in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and at the tavern, they really got tanked and they bragged that, "We killed a couple of Japs." And they passed the hat around and they collected money and it was a real serious situation. But what was very serious to, as far as the camp commander was concerned, is he had told them that they were sick and so when that word from Lordsburg, New Mexico got to the camp, he immediately notified the general at Fort Bliss, Texas. Fort Bliss, Texas notified Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C. through the War Department went through Red Cross and through Switzerland, and they said they notified Japan that two enemy alien Isseis had been shot and killed. "But we will have a full, United States Army general court-martial, and so please don't, do nothing drastic." And so they promised that we would have a court-martial. And that's why the witnesses and I were there to hold a general court-martial.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

TK: So, can we start with the court-martial, and then you had these twenty-seven Isseis who --

MT: Twenty-three Isseis.

TK: Oh, who were at Fort Bliss, Texas, and you were helping to interpret. Could you tell us more about what happened after that?

MT: So, but the upshot was, like I mentioned, the camp commander was very worried that two aliens were killed by United States army soldiers. And so they went through that procedure to notify Japan. And so, during the, during the court-martial, I think it was about -- so, the court-martial lasted about five, six days. But about the third, second day or third day, the leader of the witnesses came up and said, "Mr. Tsubota, the, just because the United States is at war with Japan," he says, "Chotto baka ni shitoru," which means "they're making fools out of us." And so I was concerned, I said, "Well, how do you mean they're baka ni shitoru?" And he says, "Well, when we finished the general court-martial here and go back to our quarters, we tried to take a shower and they turned all of the hot water off and they're trying to make us take a shower in cold water." And he didn't think that was right and that, "They were doing it purposely because we're Japanese." And so there was a major that was very, very nice to me that were intermediate between me and the general court-martial. And so I talked to the major. And I said, "Major, gosh, I'm worried and concerned that the Isseis are very upset that when they leave here they go back to their quarters and they got their hot water turned off so that they can't take a hot shower and expect 'em to take a cold water shower." And he said, "Well, geez, that's bad, Min." He says, "I'll look into it right away." And so he left right away and I don't think it was twenty minutes and he came back and he said, "Min, I found the answer." And I said, "What happened?" He said, "Please explain to the Isseis that nobody is trying to be, put 'em in a serious, a bad situation or anything like that, but what happened is, before the Isseis go back from here to their quarter, the German and Italian prisoners are coming back to the quarters and they all go to the shower first and they used up all the hot water, therefore there's only cold water left." So he said, "Please, please tell them that we respect them, we think they're the high, highly respect these people and although they're born and raised in Japan that they're really human beings and we want to treat 'em like human beings. And please tell 'em that the Italian prisoners and German prisoners have used up all the water." And so what, we, he said, when I made the arrangements that, as of today, we got, I think it was six command cars, which only officers can ride in. And he ordered six command cars and he said, "From the court-martial here, what we're gonna do is, they get into the command cars, they'll be taken to the officer's quarters and they can take hot water showers there and we're gonna feed 'em at the officer's quarters. And so they got, not regular GIs food is pretty good at the officer's quarters and so they, but they were very, very happy and that it wasn't something that they were being, trying to be mean to them.

But this major in the court-martial, the colonel at the court-martial wanted me to go out of my way to explain to them that they want them to be real, real, treated as real Japanese and they're proud that they're Japanese and he said, "I don't blame 'em for, if they did stick up for Japan." But an example, he said, "Min, I'm from the East Coast and I understand that you're from the Seattle, Washington area." But he said, "Take for example," he said, "the college I went to playing football at El Paso here, and University of Washington playing football here." He says, "You're bound to stick up for University of Washington." He said, "I would stick up for the university that I came from. And so there's no difference," and he says, "I want you to relay to these people that if they respect Japan and are a hundred percent for Japan, hundred percent for them, they should do that. And this example I gave you is what I want you to really get across to them. So, tell 'em to feel, relax and the situation is bad, but not because they want it to be, it's circumstances." And so he went out of his way to, the court-martial went out of his way to ask me to put the Issei at ease on that basis. And so, I was very pleased that it turned out that way. And so...

TK: And what was the outcome of the court-martial, do you know?

MT: The general court-martial is, like I mentioned, when the, all the Isseis were lined up four abreast and they marched to camp, they'd already gone into camp and they didn't, they didn't know nothing about the situation. But I understand, later, through the (witnesses) that what they found out, that the Issei -- well, let's... I explain it this way. One of the Issei was from Terminal Island where they all have the Japanese fishing boat. So, when December 7th came and the United States, the FBI were picking, had already got the records of all the Isseis and, in fact, the Niseis -- we didn't know at that time, but they, for several years before that they had already, whether they knew they were gonna have war with Japan or not, they had all the record of the Isseis and the Niseis. But this, one Issei was a fisherman at Terminal Island and on a fishing boat and, but the Japanese fishermen there, all the Nisei fishing boat owners had radios. And so they were immediately, the FBI went to Terminal Island to pick these people up first. But this Issei, particular Issei that I'm talking about was a fisherman during the weekday -- on the weekend he was a Nihon gakko no sensei and taught Japanese language school to all the kids that were there. But during the weekday he was a fisherman and somehow he was on, during his fishing work, he fell between two boats and he crushed his back and he was a complete hunchback because, as a result of his crushed back. And so the, so when the FBI came and picked up the rest of the Issei he asked the, and begged the FBI (...), "Please take me with these other Isseis because I don't have a wife, I don't have any children, I don't have any relatives, I'm alone and I will never know how to have a, get a living on that basis." So, they agreed and they took him along with them.

The other Issei was ill because he had been tubercular for about ten years and was in a weakened condition and between getting well and ill he was able to hang on that long. But, both of these witnesses were trying to say that... both, the MPs tried to say that the Isseis tried to run away and so the only thing they had to, they could do was to shoot and kill 'em, they had orders that if anybody of this group, when they first came there, that the orders were to the MP was if anybody tries to escape, to shoot and kill 'em. And so these, both of these MPs said that they tried to get away and they shot and killed 'em right there. And so, but the Isseis swear that both of em are very ill and they wouldn't have run away. But they all went into the camp already and entered the camp and nobody heard the shots and so, there's no way that the defense attorney could prove that both of these people did not attempt to run away. So...

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

TK: Then, at Fort Bliss, after the court-martial, you, ranks were frozen, of course. But then I understand that you tried some other options with respect to advancing in the army, in terms of rank?

MT: Yes.

TK: Could you tell us about that?

MT: Dr. Kashima, may I back up just a little bit? Is, the court-martial, under these circumstances, I'm sure the eight officer on the general court-martial felt that it wasn't quite correct, the way the results of the court-martial was. So they... this is my recollection now. They, and like I mentioned, I thought at that time, they brought me a copy of the orders and said that under the circumstances, the witnesses did not witness these people being shot. We have no way of proving that contrary to what the MPs have said, but here are the orders sending these MPs to... they're busting 'em, they're busting 'em to privates and sending 'em to North Africa. And at that time, North Africa was really in intense fighting and when Rommel was in North Africa. And so, he said, "Would you please explain to the Isseis that the court-martial did turn out this way but please, please understand that this is the best we can do is to bust 'em down to private and send 'em to North Africa." And so I took the -- and that's my recollection of the general court-martial and so I'd like to explain that part of it.

TK: Thank you.

MT: After the court-martial, let's see... I went back to camp, was relieved of duty and went back to the, to the reception center. About that time, Colonel Rasm-, well actually, Dr. Kashima, it was Colonel Rasmussen and Mr. Aiso in civilian clothes came to Fort Bliss, right at Thanksgiving time, which I remember very distinctly because we had a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner and we were all given a cigar to smoke. And after that we were ordered to meet with Colonel Rasmussen and Mr. Aiso --

TK: So this would be about August of '40-, I mean, October, November of '42?

MT: '42. Yeah, uh-huh, and... yeah. And so, we, after Thanksgiving dinner, we all broke up and we were ordered to be interviewed by these two people individually, and -- no, just before the interview, Colonel Rasmussen stood and called all the 185 of us out there and they stood on a platform and they explained that we were fortunate, we're in the U.S. Army, we're American citizens, we're in the army uniform, and we're able to, to fight for the county and everything like that. And it's true. I mean, that's what we're in the army, to do the best we can. But they said that, "In order to, to speed up the war effort in the South Pacific, that we are gonna start the Japanese language school and that's what we're here, to recruit the bilingual Japanese Americans." And so, he talked very shortly and to the point. And he asked all, all that you want to -- and he said, "Well, on top of that, your ratings are frozen but now we are able to give ratings to those who go to language school and are capable and will start getting noncom ratings." And so, it'd be something to look forward to. And so, but, and then he said, "Well, I'm sure all of you would be very interested in doing that," so, he asked all of the people to volunteer, that would volunteer for language school to come forward. And unfortunately, with the situation that we were under at that time, nobody would step forward to volunteer. And so, so, the next step was to interview each of us. So, I was interviewed by Mr. Aiso and, and I did not know that the general at the Fort Bliss had already talked to Mr. Aiso. He was in civilian clothes and said that, I had told him that he wanted them to take, Colonel Rasmussen, to take me to language school so I could get some ratings. But anyway, it was quite interesting from the standpoint that I... did (not) mention about my warrant officer's? Not yet.

TK: No, no. It's coming up.

MT: He asked me to read the katakana book, hiragana book and kanji. And I was unable to read that. And he asked me if I can speak Japanese. And I said I couldn't speak Japanese. Then he was quite upset because he said, "Well, Min, you're, I think you're lying." And I said, "What makes you think I'm lying?" And he said, "Well, the general just told me that you just finished interpreting the court-martial and that you were capable and he wanted us to take with. So, I said, "Well, no, the reason I answered your question that way is because I was turned down from Officer's Candidate School by three... the air corps and infantry, and that I'd passed the warrant officer examination because that did not require that I, whether I was Japanese American or not." And so he didn't know that I was waiting for that, that the rest of the regular army, master sergeant, tech sergeant and staff sergeant were all, got their appointments and I was sitting here. "And that's where I wanna go because I think I can do the best for my country by doing that." So really we understood each other, and we parted very good friends. And, but, he did not know that I already passed my warrant officer's examination. And so, we left very good friends and we had an understanding that, why I wasn't going to language school.

TK: But even though you passed the examination, the army still did not give you the warrant officer rank?

MT: No. I waited and waited and I couldn't get my appointment.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

TK: And then meanwhile, you were still corresponding with your fiance by letter. Could you tell us more about that experience as well?

MT: Yeah, I'm very happy to. I came back to Fort Bliss and I corresponded with Cherrie and told her about my life there. We discussed our various life. Incidentally, Cherrie, being from Utah, she would not, she didn't have to go to internment camp at all. And so we had interesting things to talk about where our parents were in the camp. And, but I did propose by letter and telephone to see if she would marry me. And she accepted. And in the meantime, we got a War Department order saying that the War Department had approved formation of a Japanese combat team as of January 31, 1942 and it'd be formed at the Camp Shelby, Mississippi and that I'm directed to, ordered to go there and report to commanding officer of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. So, in the meantime, I told Cherrie by letter (...) about this transfer and that I probably -- if we were lucky -- that she could either visit Fort Bliss, or if possible, that if we could married that I would like to be married at (Camp Shelby). And so, that's about the time she accepted to, accepted my proposal.

So, so we were shipped to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to form the cadre and (...) get the entire camp ready, our area ready for the volunteers from the internment camp in the States and all the volunteers from Hawaii, the 5,000 volunteers from Hawaii. And so, we went there. I arrived there about the first of February, 1942, and in the meantime we kept corresponding and we made arrangements to meet in Fort Bliss -- I mean, at Camp Shelby, and I think we were one of the first ones to be married, Cherrie was only nineteen years old. But she did accept my proposal and March 31, 1943 she came all the way from Price, Utah on a crowded train, it was just full of GIs. It was wartime, and being Japanese, I give her a lot of credit. And she, at the age of nineteen really had the gumption enough to travel that far from Utah, to all the way to St. Louis and all the way down to Jackson, Mississippi and to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. And...

TK: Here's a picture of you and Mrs. Tsubota. Do you remember where that was taken and what that was like?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Yeah, this was short, we didn't have cameras at that time, so, but this was taken a little later. But, when I got to Fort Bli-, Camp Shelby, there was a position open at the 522 for a warrant officer, junior grade and so when I told Colonel Harrison that I had taken the examination and passed it, and, but I hadn't received the appointment, they checked with the headquarters at Fort Bliss and they confirmed that I was. And so, I got my appointment on August, 1943. And so, although all of our officers for the training of the Japanese American combat team were Caucasian, I got my appointment early enough and became an officer.

TK: Was there any other Japanese American officers in Shelby at that time?

MT: There... not to mention... no, none of us could go to Officer's Candidate School. But the only... the officers that were in the infantry were those that went to ROTC and went though university and became doctors or the engineering or captain, and went also ROTC and engineer and he was a, a few of the officers of the 442nd Combat Team. The rest of 'em were all Caucasians. (...)

TK: So, you were in a very select group. Could you explain that, that photograph?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Yeah, this is, I mentioned that Cherrie arrived before all of the Hawaiian contingent or the stateside contingent came. And she was issued a small little identification to enter the camp. So she came through the camp. And, but, I lost track of the little badge, but I was able, I had this one so I thought it would be so interesting that Cherrie, at nineteen years old came all the way. Because, boy, the "Jap fever" was really bad at that time and as far as civilians were concerned and so, for her to, at that age and... then I mentioned that I met my future mother-in-law there. But I give her lots of credit to let her daughter at age nineteen, and so I give my mother-in-law a lot of credit. And I admire both of 'em very, very much that they, through all that turmoil, we were able to get married. And like you mentioned, this has been sixty years this year, March 31.

TK: And so, Mrs. Tsubota stayed with you in Camp Shelby for a while, or what happened? What was her life like until you went to Europe?

MT: So, but in order to get married, I had to find billeting off-quarters. So I went to different places in Hattiesburg and asked for, if we can rent one room. And there'd be some advertising in the Mississippi News, Hattiesburg paper and so we'd find out. But I was able to find a one-bedroom home in this family called Harrells. And so, when Cherrie came down to Jackson, Mississippi, that day we went to the county courthouse there and we got our marriage license. And then we took the bus from there down to Hattiesburg. And in those days, our chaplains were (...) Christian chaplains and, no Buddhist chaplain, so being Jodo shinshu, I wanted to be married by Buddhist religion, but in order to take care of this we were married at the Harrells' home. We had a home wedding there with George Takayanagi, he was a master sergeant, he was the head of the motor pool, and his wife and Susumu Ito who later became a lieutenant; he was a staff sergeant who came up to field grade after the American soldiers, I mean, officers were either killed or transferred. And so, it was just a small party there and we were married by a Southern Baptist minister. And it was quite interesting that... it was kinda sad because it was wartime. Cherrie never was able to have a full bridal gown and go through her friends and everything like that so... I never discussed it to her, but I often feel how she must've felt at that time we were... of course, we were thrilled at that time to get our marriage license and be married. But since then, like our daughter Charlene, we had a beautiful wedding at the Olympic Hotel (...). But Cherrie was the only one that was not married with a bridal gown.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

TK: So how long did Mrs. Tsubota live in Jackson, and then what happened during that time just before you left for Europe? Did she stay there in that...

MT: So we stayed at the Harrells' there and so I was off-quarters and we stayed at there. And I had to go back to camp for reveille, try to get back there by six o'clock in the morning. And so Cherrie stayed while we were training, so shortly after Cherrie, we were married, then the Hawaiian contingent came in and the volunteers from the camps came in and so we trained all of these trainees at that time. And Cherrie was able to come into camp because of the passes. And, but it was quite interesting because, I don't know what the first contingent was, about two, three thousand from Hawaii came and they were all eighteen, nineteen, twenty year old, young, young, well, nice kids. And, but there were older, well-educated university graduate, University of Hawaii graduates that came with 'em. And I respected the, the well-educated people besides these young people that were so eager to get the Japanese combat teams going. And then, of course, it was nice to have all the Niseis in from camp that we met... from the stateside that had come from the camps. So we trained, so all the time that we were training at Camp Shelby, Cherrie was right with me.

And then in the fall we were to go to maneuvers, the maneuver was a hakujin division in Louisiana. So Cherrie was pregnant at that time and so she returned to Price, Utah and it was hard because all the... like Takayanagi, his wife Chiye, they were from California, too. They stayed there, but Cherrie... the reason I was quite anxious to have Cherrie go back, because not only she's pregnant, but if a child is born in Hattiesburg, the birth certificate had "colored" on there. And so, which didn't mean too much, but I mean, it was something that we could avoid by having her go back to... so, Cherrie went back to Price, Utah and stayed with her parents at the Price Cafe. In the meantime, we went to Louisiana for maneuvers. And maneuver with the hakujin divisions. Then they came back in the winter of, let see... that would be '43...

TK: '43?

MT: Winter '43. Yeah. And then we came back from maneuvers. My, so daughter Charlene was born at Price, in March 8, 1944. (...) We were already preparing to go overseas so I went back to Price to... I took a leave just before we were going overseas. So Charlene was born in March of 1944. But I got there to Salt Lake and then to Price, Friday evening of 1944 and Saturday, Cherrie started to get pains and one or two o'clock in the morning we took her to the Price Hospital and little Charlene was born at that time. And so, I stayed there a couple of days more. And Cherrie came back home, and I had to leave as we were preparing to go overseas. So I went back to Salt Lake and then back on into camp. So Cherrie could no longer come back to camp there. So, I only saw Charlene about three, four days, and then the next time I saw her she was two years old, when I came back from Europe, the European theater of war.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

TK: Let me go back for a second. Here you are as a warrant officer, out of a unit in which you were in the band, and interpreter. How did they... and then you, and then so you're in the 522 Field Artillery Battalion?

MT: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TK: Under the 442nd?

MT: I was in 442 Combat Team.

TK: But did you have, was there any reason why they put you into the Field Artillery Unit?

MT: That I can't understand. All of my basic training and 40th Division training was all infantry training. But to this day, I really don't understand. They assigned us our MOS, I guess, before we got there and so we ended up in the artillery.

TK: And MOS is Military Occupational Specialty?

MT: Uh-huh. Was field artillery.

TK: So, then you were, as a unit, shipped to Europe?

MT: Europe, uh-huh. We, we...

TK: I'm sorry, and what was your position? And what was your responsibility in the 522 when you went to Europe?

MT: Well, when I got my warrant officer junior grade designation, I was assistant supply officer under the, the captain was a commander of our, of the supply unit, which we, we took care of ordering of all the 105 mm Howitzer ammunition, the food, the clothing, all supplies that kept up with our unit, of the whole battalion, we took care of it, including all the vehicles, jeeps, trucks, were all under our supply, under Captain Barnhill. But usually, Dr. Kashima, it was a little uncomfortable with the fact that usually when you become an officer, they usually transferred out to another unit and, but it was a little uncomfortable when I got my warrant officer, then I had to transfer, be billeted over at the officer's quarters and then all my friends were still noncoms and privates and things like that. But we got over it. I mean, well, the colonel made sure that everybody got over it because they always... everybody wanted to just call you "Min" and "Min." And like Master Sergeant Takayanagi, he, we'd go on maneuvers he'd say, "Mr. Tsu-," I mean, he'd say, "Tsubota," and Colonel Harrison says, "Min, get Sergeant Takayanagi to understand that you're an officer now and that you are now 'Mr. Tsubota,' (...)" [Laughs] So it, but we got over that very fast and, and we, we got along very good. Our friendship was all the way through our European theater.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

TK: There are a number of stories about the mainland Nisei meeting the Hawaii Niseis and sometimes they would not necessarily, at the very beginning, get along very well. Do you, can you comment on that situation? Was that real or...?

MT: Yeah, I recall that when the volunteers came in, like I mentioned, they were all fairly young eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one but there were older volunteers that were well-educated (...), graduated from University of Hawaii. And, in fact, I think there was one had a master (...) that were jeep drivers and things like that. But getting back to your question, true, we, we, I couldn't, we couldn't, the mainland guys couldn't understand the pidgin English that the younger people used. And one I can kind of remember is they always say, well, "I want da kine," and true, he'd say, "I want da kine," and I couldn't quite understand it and it's still pidgin English, he says, so we get a little confused and we'd say, "Well, what kind do you want?" "We want da kine." And the temper was getting a little flared up and, in my case I, very neutral, like I said, I just a average GI, and, but that was... and I respected these young fellows, I respected these educated fellows and, but I enjoyed to learn who they were and how they thought and everything.

Every night we would go, meet at the PX with all these (recruits), because I was staff sergeant at that time when they got there. And so, me and Sergeant Kuroda, he was a master sergeant with our battalion, we both enjoyed beer. So we'd order a case of beer and we'd all sit down on the floor in the PX there and we'd all join together. But I got to learn, I was very fortunate and lucky, we got to learn what they were thinking and how they thought and how they were brought up, plantation-wise, or... their Issei parents working on the plantation. So they weren't much different from us, Issei raising us on the farms. And so we had a lot of things in common. And then we enjoyed the beer and for three or four hours we'd have beer. And so, I got to know them and I was lucky from that standpoint that I, it was getting edgy, but I was able to avoid that and so, but it, the more, the first month, month-and-a-half went on it became edgy, edgy between the mainland Niseis and the Hawaiian contingent, because of this language barrier, I think. And they, when they talked, they were, talked in earnest but we just couldn't pick it up. And so they knew I, there were some things I couldn't understand. And that's the only example of that kind, 'cause that went on quite a while. But I'm sure it was a misunderstanding there of language communication. But again, I think the big thing that a lot of people don't know, is like us, we were in the army already and when we arrived there we were given noncom ratings before, to get the camp set up and all our companies set up, we were all ratings of corporal sergeant, master sergeant, tech sergeant, and first sergeants, and all the Niseis were given that because we got to camp as a cadre, before they came in there. Well, the reason, I get back to these, I respected these Niseis from Hawaii that were educated. I can't blame them that, but it was the circumstances that we got all our ratings before they came and they had to learn and try to come up as best they could. And we brought 'em up as quickly and as fast as we could and so, that was part of the complexion and lack of communication.

But the other one is, I think, in Hawaii they were never interned and so they never really knew about camp life or evacuation. They heard about it, but they never really understood it, and that it was such a serious thing. Until, this pretty well came to a head and like, I feel like explaining it like Senator Inouye, was one of the... he explains it beautifully, that when they finally took several buses and loaded the Hawaiian contingents during this training period and took 'em to the camps in Arkansas. And for the first time they saw their own familiar Japanese Americans, citizens, in camp, interned, and they never knew that. Then when they saw that they were suffering that much, when they came back, they respected all the Niseis, mainland Niseis, and I think that drew us all together. And that was the big mending thing was for them to understand, for the first time, what, how the Isseis and Niseis and all the women and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters were suffering. And they just came from plantations and different occupations of Hawaii and just joined us and thought... they never felt the discrimination that the mainland Niseis were really feeling. And so that drew us together, I'm sure.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

TK: Okay. So then the 442nd goes to Europe. And you were with them.

MT: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TK: And in fact, their motto is "Go for Broke."

MT: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TK: And I notice on your cap that you have a number of insignias. Perhaps you can tell us about your experiences in some of the various campaigns that you went through.

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up his uniform cap] This "Go for Broke" is a 442 Regimental Combat Team cap and...

TK: Could you explain that, perhaps? What is a "regimental combat team"?

MT: A regimental combat team is, there's several regiments to a division, but we were what we called an oversized regiment. In other words, we were a lot bigger than a normal regiment would be, that's in a division. So included is the infantry, the artillery, the engineers and the medics was our entire regimental combat team. And inside the combat team, like I just mentioned, the 522nd Field Artillery was one of the units that supported the infantry with artillery shells going into, in front of them, or into the enemy, German territory. But this is a, when I was with the 40th Division I was with the 160th Infantry, I mean, regiment and this is the Hollywood National Guard, which I saved and I treasure it because it meant so much. But, and this is the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and it's a patch that we wore here. And, but we were assigned to, like the 36th Division, 34th Division. So, in this case here, we got along very well with the 36th Division so we had this patch put on the "Go for Broke," where we traveled, fought in Europe.

TK: Perhaps you can talk about some of the campaigns and then maybe we'll ask some specific questions about particular campaigns that you went through. Maybe just an overview of some of the things the 442nd or 522 went through.

MT: Yeah, after maneuvers, we came back and, like I mentioned, I had the opportunity to help, seeing my daughter, Charlene, born, came back to camp, we got everything ready and we shipped out to Hampton Roads, Virginia and we camped there. And we almost got in a fight over there between the Hawaiian contingent and the hakujin units that were going overseas there, too. So you can see that because of the unseen discrimination, it still tagged along with us. But we left Hampton Roads and we joined the 101-ship convoy and it took us thirty days to zigzag across the Atlantic. And in my case, the 522, we landed at Brindisi, Italy, which is at the toe of Italy if you look on the map there. And from there we went up toward, debarked and with the 100th Infantry Battalion, we started combat just south of Naples and so we went, we went through the Rome-Arno in Northern Apennines, Rhineland in central Europe with places that we had combat with. But the, the 442 and, was very well-accepted by all the army corps as a crack regimental combat team and they wanted us to be attached to every one of the different units. And it's really an honor that the General Mark Clark and Patton all requested that they attach the 442 with their units. So, and...

TK: The 442nd has attained a superlative combat record. Do you have any ideas of why this unit, with the engineers, the medical, the artillery, and the infantry performed so well during this time?

MT: It was really hard to explain, I guess, but I personally say that we go back to our Issei parents, mother and father, the way they raised us, the culture they... and overall sadachi, that we were able to take the good parts and so when we were in combat, I think we had that, still that kimochi of... I think we get into giri, on, oyakoko when they, when we, when they went in to take, to pull out the Texas unit that were trapped by the Germans. We call it the "Banzai Hill" but I think that really, being Japanese American and, that spirit was right with us all the time and it's hard to explain, but I think that's what really showed up.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

TK: Well, certainly your mother was worried about you all the time.

MT: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TK: And we'll get back to the, your family's wartime days, but, her concern for you was perhaps expressed in one way by this Japanese cultural artifact that she had made. Could you perhaps talk about that?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up cloth belt] Yeah, this is what they... Mother sent me before, just before I was shipped out of Hampton Road, Virginia. And she was very concerned when she found out finally that we were going overseas, that we were going into combat. By that time, she was, my mother was interned at Tule Lake, California, with my brother and his wife and their family. And, but she was still there just prior to our shipment overseas. And she sent this senninbari for me to, to, I guess to bring me back in good health. And the story is that this is a white, I think this is actually from a rice kome-no sack. They didn't have much material there but I understand this is a kome-no sack that she washed and cleaned and then she asked each women to sew one knot in here and to make a totally of one thousand to bring me back safely. And so, but the only other person would be a lady that was born in the Year of the Tiger could make as many knots as her age, and so if she was fifty years old, she could put fifty on here, but the rest of 'em all just put one, and no males were allowed to put these knots on here. So...

TK: Could you explain the Japanese writing on it?

MT: Yeah. Being a Jodo shinshu, Mother, I'm sure, had this, the minister put "Namu Amida Butsu."

TK: That's on the right-hand side.

MT: Yes, uh-huh. And then on the other side would be my Buddhist name, Shaku Sogin. And so I very carefully carried this with me. Overseas, I knew we couldn't wash 'em so I had this all, very folded up and put into my bag and I carried it every day with me and I carried it all the way through the time that I was injured in Italy in August of 1944 and through Dachau concentration camp. I'm sure it brought me home safely. But I always loved Mother for her thoughtfulness and her...

TK: We'll go into Dachau and the injury in a minute, but isn't it sort of surprising that your mother was in Tule Lake and she was able to get a thousand of these knots put in? I think that's just astounding. Do you have any thoughts on that?

MT: Well, I really agree with you that to get a thousand people to put these knots in there, that, especially while at Tule Lake. I didn't know at that time but I understood later that there, there were groups that were gonna return to Japan or, and groups that were gonna stay over here. But for my mother, with her frail little body, to stand out in the street there and ask a person that she's never met or knew to put a knot in like that, must've been something that I just can't explain, that only, because out of love that she was able to do this and I just love her for that and admire her for that. And so I carried it all the way through the European theater of operation and...

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

TK: Could we perhaps talk about, maybe, perhaps your most frightening moment during, during the war?

MT: After, it was kind of interesting, we started combat just south of Rome, but it's amazing, somehow all the... I would say what erai people of the world wanted to, I guess, preserve Rome, artist artifacts and things. So we stopped combat south of Rome and then we went all the way through Rome until we got north of Rome, I'd say about twelve miles north of Rome, and then we started the combat again because the Germans pulled back ahead of us as we came through. But we got, and then we started combat again. And then, when we were about four miles south of Florence, Italy, we were gonna take Florence and, but we, the 522 Artillery, we were resting about four miles south of Florence. And at about four o'clock in the afternoon, and we were all, were gonna go back into combat and we had loaded up with all of our trucks and the guns and everything all ready to go out when the Germans just... in north of Florence, Italy, started shelling us with their .88 artillery. And our artillery, .105, we would lob it into the enemy, but the German .88 was like a rifle. They would shoot it right into us. And so just north, I think they were just a little bit north of Florence when they started to shoot into us and they, they pinned us down, especially the service battery, down with all our ammunition and guns and everything like that. And the first shell, it goes... they would shoot the first one over, artillery shoot it over and then the second shell will come in short and the third shell we knew would be dead center on us. And so the minute that the third shell came in we all dispersed and we were in a grape field and there was a road nearby there with a pipe where the water was coming through. And so we all ran for there. By the time I got there, Lieutenant Woolner was right up the back there and so I had to fall on the ground and the rest of us fell and the .88 shells kept pinning us down and one shot about, oh, landed about ten, fifteen feet from us and exploded.

And it, well, we were just scared because the shells were coming all over in the grape field there. But we have our steel helmets. And we were really frightened and, because the shells were landing all over. And finally this .88 shell landed and it exploded and the shrapnels got into my lower back. But what really, I think, saved me from all this situation was, Cherrie used to write me every day by air mail from Price, Utah. And I kept all those letters and even though I'd read 'em I kept 'em and I had about a dozen of 'em in my back pocket, in both pockets and these shrapnels came up right up through the, all the letters. It was just like coming through a telephone book. And they slowed it down. But I think otherwise, if it came in a direct hit it would've killed me. But as scared as I was, I was thankful that the letters had stopped these shrapnels from injuring me too much where... it could've got me in the kidney and the liver and I would have never made it.


MT: Going back to the injury, when the Germans pinned us down and were shooting those .88 shells into us, we were pinned down for, oh quite some time. But I, I'd like to explain how scared I was. I was so scared that laying against the bank of this grape field, the steel helmet, I felt my whole body just crawl right up into the steel helmet and that's how scared I really was. And to further explain, I've heard of people say that just before they die or are gonna die, their whole life scan goes right past 'em. But my whole life of my scan -- lifetime went right past me and before I passed out. And the next thing I knew I was in the field hospital. But it was really scary. And lot of people, Caucasians say well, they weren't scared, but I tell 'em it's not true, you're scared. But I really felt myself climbing up into that helmet. When I woke up next I was in the field hospital and it was terrifying, the fact that the guy on the left of me, I think, he lost both of his legs and the man on the right of me had lost one leg and an arm. And they were just moaning and groaning. And here, I was hurt and everything, I was suffering and everything but not, not when you see they lost their limbs and I was very uncomfortable that way that so much of me was still there compared to these fellows.

And I... it was about two days later or three days later, I asked the nurse to give me my clothing back so I can leave the hospital. And they said, "Well, no, you can't leave until the doctor releases you, and so, until then you just have to take, be treated by the doctors here and the nurses here." And so, so I managed, about the fourth day or fifth day, I managed to find where my clothing was and I got it. And then I went AWOL. I left the field hospital and, and, like, I felt like a dummy, actually, I guess, because I never realized that we were still in combat and that every day the password would change. And for the first time I was really glad that -- at Pearl Harbor time I wasn't -- but that I had a Japanese face. And even though I didn't know the password no more, that I could find, try to hitchhike back to my unit and... it took me a couple days. And but they, with my face, they knew I was near the 522nd Combat Team and so, but it took me a couple of days and I found the outfit, but I was marked down as AWOL and... but I just couldn't stay there. I mean, it was just --

TK: Let me get this straight. I mean, AWOL is Absent Without Official Leave.

MT: Yeah.

TK: But, in fact, you were AWOL from the hospital trying to get back to your unit. Right?

MT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it happened to a lot of other infantry people, too, because they, I don't know why, us Niseis, that we just didn't want to stay there and go back to the... we want to get back to the unit as soon as possible, quickly as possible.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

TK: The history of the 522 as part of the 442nd was that the artillery battalion was at times separated from the infantry and went on different tracks. Is that true and why did that occur?

MT: Yeah, that is true and it did occur. This occurred before, I mean, after we participated in the Texas division that was surrounded by the Germans. And at Bruyeres, we, I think we saved, I think there was about, less than five hundred Texans that were surrounded by Germans. But the infantry slowly volunteered to go in there. But all the other hakujin units tried to get in there and get 'em out of there but finally, I think, the 442 volunteered to go up there. And it was a slow process because it was November, about November, and snow, wet, cold. And the Germans had pulled back all up to a hill up there and they dug in and had logs over 'em and dirt over on top of that. So when the air corps tried to drop bombs in there it wouldn't affect it. They dropped medicine in there, they dropped food in there, they dropped ammunition in there, but they just couldn't get to the Texas outfit.

And so, but finally the casualty on the 442 was very heavy from what we come out, the people that we saved. And I think it was close to about eight hundred casualty at that time to save less than five hundred Texans. And so, with that casualty loss we were able to get 'em out of there and then we, they pulled us all the way back to Nice, France, and Cannes and other area to await replacement of Nisei, being segregated, they wouldn't... we had to wait for Nisei Americans to come back and fill us up. So we stayed in Nice for over a month there. And the artillery was shooting into from, just artillery in from Nice, in from the mountains into the German side and they would cross fire. It was just a... it wasn't a real serious fight but we kept, kept combat up and...

Then, after all of the replacements came into Nice and Cannes and area like that, they, like I, I don't know if I mentioned, but all the different armies, the thirty-, I mean, the 36th Division, 34th Division, all knew the 442 were crack troops and the 522 were cracked artillery units so they were asking for us to be assigned to them. So this is where they finally split the 442 to go back to -- [coughs] -- excuse me... to Northern Italy and we, the 522 went up into Germany and, because we were assigned according to their wishes and that's when we just didn't know it but we ran into the Dachau concentration camp. And we were, there was about, we were one of the units with the hakujin units that liberated Dachau and we, the first night there we bivouacked right there outside of the gate door there. But it was really sad. They were just so hungry. They were sick then and lot of 'em without teeth. They were half dead, actually. And they, but they came out of camp. And we were told not to feed 'em because they hadn't eaten for so long that if we fed 'em anything that they would have died there anyway. But we, when we camped there the first night we, our service battery, 522, camped right by the gate there and we made a sump where we, the kitchen potato peelings and things like that, we'd throw it in the sump. We had it roped off and some of the people would still come through and they grabbed the food and they ate it and they died right there. When we got there, there was quite a few Jewish bodies in the (boxcars) that... the camps, there was none dead in the camp. I went in there, but we could see on the wall where they had stacked up these dead bodies before. And the furnaces were there where they... but I understand that Dachau did not cremate 'em there. They shipped 'em out by boxcar and so... it was really pathetic to see all these Jewish prisoners there.


TK: So you were, so when you walked in and you saw the dead bodies stacked up, can you go on from there?

MT: Yeah. The dead bodies were... well, when we got there we opened the gate and we saw all of these Jewish prisoners come out. Outside of the Dachau camp there's a lot of the forty and eight boxcars had dead bodies in it because, prior to our arriving at Dachau, the German Nazis and the SS officers had pulled back and they were gone by the time we got there. And then, so the Jewish prisoners themselves didn't know what happened. And then, on top of that, like I said, in the boxcars they didn't have time to get the bodies out of there but there were, they had emptied the dead bodies out of the camp itself. But when I went in there I saw some of the buildings there where you could see where the bodies were stacked up and just the, not the, but the aftermath of the bodies. The bodies were outside the camp. They tried, they tried to get rid of 'em as quickly as possible but by the time we were coming they were only left the bodies in these boxcars. And so, the Germans had pulled back and left.

But here again, these prisoners didn't know what had happened because there were, all of a sudden there were Germans all around there until then, then they pulled back as we came up. And then here they saw not only hakujins but they saw the Japanese American 522 coming in there and they couldn't understand who you were and what we were doing there except some of 'em, I guess, thought Japan had capitulated and had joined the American army. But again, immediately we tried to explain that we were Japanese Americans with the United States Army and not from Japan. And they, it took a little bit of time but they understood and they felt very relieved. But we were told the, not to feed 'em because the Red Cross would be coming along, but we did give 'em chocolates, chewing gums, K rations, a little bit so that it wouldn't bother their physical condition.

TK: Do you remember what you felt or how you felt when you walked through that gate and into the buildings at all?

MT: Well, actually, I'd say no, because at that time I think we were keyed up on surprise that we found the Jewish concentration camp, which we didn't know. And then we found out that it was a Jewish camp. But later, I thought, "What a coincidence. Here we Japanese Americans were liberating Dachau concentration camp where..." and here Mother was in a move from probably Tule Lake into Minidoka, and it was something that didn't occur to me exactly at that time but, because of the situation, but it was something I thought about, what a coincidence it would be that we were liberating Jewish people that were under the Nazi and here our parents and relatives were all in concentration camp in the United States.

TK: Approximately what month and year was that with the Dachau?

MT: Dachau was (April).

TK: of 19...

MT: (April) 1945.

TK: Okay.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

TK: From there until VE Day, was there anything significant that you remember in terms of the 522?

MT: Well, from there we were, keep pushing the Germans back. They kept pushing back and we were heading for Munich. And so the war ended in Munich and we were in Augsburg, Munich area. And but... it's kind of interesting is, when we got to Munich, Augsburg area, Eva Braun, which, you know, was the girlfriend of Hitler, her mother lives in Augsburg there. And we got to meet her. We talked to her and, in fact, I don't know if I... I didn't mention it, but when we were fighting Bruyeres, division wanted to make sure that the combat team was getting enough food, hot food, in that cold weather and everything like that. So I asked the, I think it was the general -- I can't remember his name -- that if I can take all the dried potatoes and, "Could I trade 'em for rice?" Because nobody wanted dried potatoes. And so the general says, "No, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll give you nine tons of rice and you keep the potatoes." So we, from ever since Bruyeres, we, all the Hawaiian Niseis, they all ate ochazuke at night. From camp they got tsukemono, they got shoyu, they got all kinds of different food and of course we had plenty of rice, so, besides, then evening came they were still Japanese Americans, I guess. They all ate ochazuke, we had ochazuke. So when we, what I'm getting to is when we met Eva Braun's mother, food was very scarce then. So, we, we made lots of rice for her and she brought chicken and, chicken that she'd raised there and some vegetables and we made okazu and fed her and put the... that was quite an experience to find out that Eva Braun's mother had lived there. And then, I didn't know that the German people liked rice so much, that in Italy they did and in France they did, but Germans they really were, loved rice.

But just before, as we got into Munich before the war ended, it was interesting that all the, lot of the German soldiers, instead of going to the hakujins -- and the Russians were in that area, too -- and instead of giving up to them they had a tendency to come to all of us because they knew that we would, being Japanese American, that we'd treat 'em a lot better. And we tried to do everything we possibly could because, after all, I mean...

TK: How did your unit meet Eva Braun's mother and how would you describe her, both personally and then physically?

MT: I completely, I can't even picture her no more.

TK: Okay.

MT: The name comes to me and the fact it's, Eva Braun was in, up there in Eagle's Nest with Hitler.

TK: Eagle's Nest, yes.

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: Okay. Where were you on VE Day, Victory in Europe Day?

MT: Right in Augsburg, there.

TK: In Augsburg.

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: Do you remember your reactions when you first heard the news that the war was over in Europe?

MT: Well, yeah, it was, it was actually fantastic, I guess, because we had gone through combat all up to there and then, at that time it was sort of joyful because all the German soldiers became our prisoners and they were happy that the war was over. But 'til the night before we were shooting at each other, actually, although we were in a pushing position all the way up that... but no, we were real happy that the war was over, that we will be heading home and meet our families.

TK: So, here's a picture of the 522? Is that the 522 or is that just part of it? The battalion?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] No. These are part of the 422's I guess. And anybody that came back.

TK: Oh, the 442nd, yes.

MT: MIS, MIS, I suppose. But this is in 1951, we paraded down Second Avenue near the Frye Hotel and, but, this is Yanagimachi from Garfield, Garfield that played football, I guess.

TK: Oh.

MT: I don't know which one it was, but John Kusakabe and George Abe. This is me here. But it's just a mixture of all the --

TK: I see.

MT: -- GIs that were back in Seattle in 1951.

TK: So, that's in Seattle?

MT: Uh-huh, right by the Frye Hotel under the Smith Tower.

TK: Okay.

MT: We were coming down this way.

TK: Can we go back to your mother and your brother for a few minutes? Your mother was in Tule Lake.

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: And she went to Minidoka?

MT: Minidoka, uh-huh.

TK: Was your brother there at the same time, and what happened to your brother, by the way, and his wife?

MT: Well, they, they were in Minidoka, I don't know just how long they were. By that time, correspondence was very thin as far as Mother writing to me and brother writing to me and... but they left Minidoka camp, and they, they, lot of the White River valley Shirakawa people evacuated to Ontario, Oregon before the, about the camp time, they were going to camp, they evacuated that way. So there was a lot of White River valley people in Ontario, Oregon. So my brother and my mother wanted to go out to Ontario and they went to a place called Vale. And they started to raise onions and, I think primarily onions there for a couple of years. And then by the time I came back he wanted to go to the Snake River over in Payette and buy a ranch over there so he went over there. But they worked on the farms primarily beet farming and onions and potatoes, I guess. So, Mother worked in that hot weather.

TK: So your mother was with your brother?

MT: All that time, uh-huh.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

TK: How did you meet with Mrs. Tsubota?

MT: My mother?

TK: No, your wife, Cherrie.

MT: Oh, actually, I left, we came home on the point system and Colonel Harrison, the commander of our unit and I had been in the army since 1941, so we had a hundred and, what we called a hundred and ten points. And so we were able to come back first. And we left the unit to go to what we call, they used to have Camp Lucky Strike, Camp Wings, all those cigarette names and in France. And so we, gosh, I guess it was about September of 1945, Colonel Harrison and I left and Lieutenant Hirano, he came up from a staff sergeant up to a lieutenant. It was a, he got a... and we went to camp. But what happened is, being a warrant officer, see, I'm between a second lieutenant and a first lieutenant. And we're about the lowest you can come. And so each camp we'd go to some higher officer would come in and they'd assign themselves onto the shipping list and you'd get shipped back and so we got left, we'd go to another camp. So, when I left Europe, France, I, it was in December, by that time. So I think the, lot of the 552, 442 had already come back and I was still struggling over there.

And so we got, we came back on a liberty ship to New York and then, but, when I got to New York -- no, no. Before I left Repo Depot, the soldiers from, American soldiers from all over United States at the Repo Depot that they're getting assigned back. There was a fellow from Idaho someplace, it's a little off the story but after the war the Russians were never paid during the war but when the war was over they got paid. All of a sudden they had all kinds of invasion currency, I guess, and, but, not had too much during the war, but you kinda get into black market type of a situation. So the American guys, the Russians, oh, they loved jeeps and they loved American 6 x 6 trucks, 4 x 6 trucks. And so they'd, the American GI would sell a jeep and then take the Russian the money but they're naive enough to think they bought it. And naturally, the MPs would come along and they say, "Well, I bought it and I paid cash for it." And they said, "Well, do you have a title to it?" And they say, "Well, no." And they'd say, "Well, I'm sorry. It's a stolen vehicle as far as we're concerned," and they'd pick it up. So this guy from Idaho evidently did quite a bit of this stuff and his duffle bag was loaded with invasion currency and you can't, you couldn't bring it back.

So I was assigned fifty guys to come back to the Idaho, Utah area, hakujin guys, fifty of 'em and one of these guys was this guy and so I got him a pass to suggest that he, the only thing would be, would be he can't bring the money back so possibly if he can negotiate with some French people or German people, buy a home and use that money that way and probably come back later. And so I got him transferred out of the outfit and, but I brought the fifty back with me and we got on at, we got to New York we got on a train. And when I got to Fort Douglas, Utah, it was December 24th. And so then Cherrie came from Price with Charlene and was almost two years old. And her sister Toshiko was waiting at the gate there. But they, they decided that they weren't gonna release me because I was injured and they thought that I'd have to take a full examination to stick around about a week or so. And I said, "Well, no way." And besides, there was some word in there that they would want me to sign up again for another term and then go to Japan and use my bilingual talents over there. But I just felt that it was fully five years that I'd been in the army and I thought I did the best I could and so what I did is I told the officer there that what I'll do is, "I want to go, my wife is here, and sister-in-law is here and I want to get out tonight and it's Christmas Eve." And he says, "Well, I can't figure any way to do it 'cause you gotta be examined." So I said, "Well, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll waive all of my injuries." And I waived it thinking well, I was only, what, twenty-seven, and I signed a waiver. So he said, "On that basis, I'll let you go." And so I didn't have to go to Japan or I didn't have to stay there. So we got on a train that night and headed back for Price, Utah.

TK: It was a nice Christmas.

MT: Yeah, it's just the timing was really off and things.

TK: From 1945 until you returned to Seattle, what did you do?

MT: We stayed a week in Price there and I borrowed my brother-in-law's car and then mother and brother were farming in Vale, Oregon, so Cherrie and I went to visit my mother and brother there. We drove from, all the way up to Salt Lake and then all the way down into Vale, Oregon.

TK: Did your mother say anything about the thousand knots to you when she saw you in Vale?

MT: No. We were more excited, I guess, that I'd come back.

TK: Safely.

MT: Uh-huh. And, I never thought of it that way, but at a different interview they asked me, "Min, when you first saw your mother, what did you do?" And so I said, "Well, we rushed up and we held hands," and, but, you know, it didn't occur to me that between the Issei and the Nisei that we would embrace. Now we do, I mean, with wives and mothers. But all of a sudden when they asked me that question, I thought, here, Issei, Nisei, I mean, we held hands and namida ga deta, but I thought, "Gee, why didn't I embrace," after all that wartime, and during camp, I went to combat and back safely. Omota no da ga. But at that time it was the Issei, Nisei, oya, kyodai. Kimochi da ne.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

TK: So from then on, up to about 1980s, what kind of work did you do in Seattle?

MT: So I came back, like I said, I was in officer's uniform and by... so that was December. My separation was for March, March 18, 1946. So it's give me a full five years and so I came back to Seattle. I went back to Utah a couple times and came and, came back to Seattle. And then I met a relative that was running a hotel in Seattle here and they're from Long Beach, Washington. And so I went to visit them and they said well, "Min, we're having difficulty," because they, they owned a lot of oyster ground, acres and acres of oyster ground and had oysters on there, they had the boats and their processing plant and everything and they left it to the hakujin and went to camp. And sono mama was all the oyster seeds and everything like that. But when I got back and I visited them, they said, "Min, we have a problem because we tried to go back there and he said there was people in Long Beach in Nahcotta" -- they call it N-A-H-C-O-T-T-A -- "Washington, lined up with shotguns, and they said, 'If you guys come back we're gonna shoot you and kill you.'" So, so they came on back and they, I guess they tried it another time and the same thing and couldn't so I guess they leased this hotel and started to, right above North Coast Importing company there. And so, they said, "Min, would you help us out?" So, so I came back and there was no place to stay except the Renton Highlands. They had those camp-like homes over there and so Cherrie and I registered and we got in there. And so we stayed in Renton Highlands with the three of us there.

And then, so from there I went down to Long Beach, Washington, there and, of course, I was in uniform and I don't know that the time between the shotgun incidents, two, three time shotgun incident to the time I went, but I was in full uniform and so I went there and I was naive enough to go. I didn't think nothin' of it. I went back there and there was nobody there. I saw some people there and they didn't say nothing. I went to the plant, the oyster plant, and it was on the dock there and I met the guy who was running the plant. And (before) that time I think he, they had lots of seeds oysters on there but they all matured in the two or three years and he sold them all and I guess they never got any money for it, and the boats were there and the plant was there but the oyster grounds were depleted of all the oyster seeds. And, but I went there and I met the guy that was running it and shook hands with him and told him that, "These people want their oyster ground back, and that that's what we're back here for." And so he agreed and so we used a Seattle attorney to help us to get that property back and to get the title and everything back. But that was one incident, that was the first incident I had when I came back, that they didn't want no Japs back there. So...

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

TK: And so, you got into the insurance business.

MT: Yeah.

TK: How did that happen?

MT: Well, I wanted to get into the insurance business because I didn't know where to find a job, I mean, you know, I looked around and so, but insurance, being an outside salesman before, insurance intrigued me, the fact that I started with life insurance with Occidental Life Insurance Company. And Occidental Life Insurance home office is in Los Angeles and Occidental was owned by the Bank of America. But I knew that in life insurance, being a salesman, that if you're gonna sell anything, you want life insurance, it helps to protect your family. But again, nobody had any money coming back from camp and so the next program was to save money as much as they possibly can. I mean, live as best they can and get settled and buy homes or whatever they could. And so life insurance seemed the most logical thing to get into from a savings standpoint. And I thought Bank of America owned Occidental Life and if Bank of America went haywire, well, then there wasn't much to worry about anyway. So I signed up with Occidental in October 1946. And went into life insurance business there. So I sold life insurance --

TK: And then became a broker and very successful.

MT: Day after day there was people I didn't know and... but again, having gone through and had in my mind that right after the war, First World War and the economy just dropped to nothing, I thought, God, we might run into the same situation there, so I was willing to work hard and every night six and a half days a week to seven days a week because they told me, "Min, if you can get say five hund-, yeah, five hundred clients in three years then you're pretty safe." So I worked on that schedule and I did it and...

TK: Very nice.

MT: So I didn't make a draw or anything, I just went on commission basis and, but everybody, like I said, didn't have any money and so we talked life insurance and, which was usually in Isseis about twenty-year endowments you buy insurance and twenty years later you cash it in and you got your, if it's five thousand dollars, you got five thousand dollars. And they bought that kind -- but it was only fifty dollars a year per thousand and they couldn't afford that. And in fact, when I used to call on people, a lot of people came back from camp and it's the first time along First Avenue I saw a flophouse where Japanese, when they came back, the only thing they could get into was hotel business. And the only ones that were available was on First Avenue, Second Avenue along Alaskan Way and things like that. But I never saw a flophouse before. It was with mattresses all on the floor and I asked the Nihonjin, "How much you charge?" and he said, "Twenty-five cents a night." And, but that's all they could get into is that hotel business. And so, at one time I think the most was over three hundred hotels and apartment when I was in the casualty business and the Japanese Hotel and Apartment Association handled it, though. They started pure from the bottom and started working up and then they clean it up, paint it, and then they'd sell it to the next guy and get a little bit more money and he'd clean it up and bring in more people and they'd sell it. And it was, they really pulled themselves by the bootstraps, I would think. And...

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

TK: We're almost near the end. Can we go to 1980, and there was a redress and reparation campaign.

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: Do you have any thoughts about that? When it first came up, did you have any ideas that it would become successful or what kind of thoughts did you have about that?

MT: Well, gosh, I don't know. I knew it was a big, very big project that they were gonna work on at first when they were talking about redress. And, but, I really was hoping it would go through, but about that time I really knew that it was gonna take a lot of work, lot of time, lots of months and months. And I wasn't discouraged but I thought it was a tremendous project for them to, to try to complete and so what they did is really tremendous, isn't it? You know, it's just intricate things that they went through to finally get the redress. And then the presidential apology.

TK: Was your mother alive at that time in 1980? When did she pass away?

MT: She died in 1977.

TK: '77.

MT: Uh-huh.

TK: Was life any different for Japanese Americans after the redress was signed, in your mind? Have you seen any noticeable differences at all?

MT: No, I don't think so.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

TK: Then, what do you think are some important points or lessons that helps explain why the Nisei generation acted so bravely and so well during this, during all those times of turmoil?

MT: Well, going back, my only experience from that standpoint would be going back to about 1960 when I had an opportunity to become JACL president here and be working on the Antialien land law and as the Niseis came back, they were getting jobs at Boeing and the Isseis were starting into business from rock bottom up and the, the perseverance that they went through, the Issei, Nisei it was, I think it was just amazing, you know, what they're doing. So I don't think of anything particularly but I still go back to the Japanese American culture that was left by the Issei helped every one of us to come through this entire ordeal. The majime, the honesty, the giri, on, things like that that implanted in you and it's not showable but it comes out all along the way, not in one particular situation, but it came out that way, and so I can't think of anything spectacular in that, so...

TK: And the last question perhaps is, after reflecting on your life and some sixty years of marriage, any words that you might like to pass on to the Sansei and Yonsei generation?

MT: Gosh, well, I'm certainly happy that the Sanseis are really doing well, I mean... and then to their, primarily because they're well-educated. I give their parents credit and grandparents credit that education is so important and regardless of, I don't know what the various lives were from camp but they kept right in there and build up to a normal family life. But education was so important and so I'm very happy for them that way. I really hope that whatever the 442 had accomplished, the loyalty that we tried to prove and we thought we had to prove, and we did prove, would have an impact into the Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei life but that I really don't know. And I appreciate all these organization that still go to the high schools and elementary schools and tell about the camp life and of the evacuation which a lot of people don't know, never knew. A lot of people never know there was a Japanese American combat team. It's getting thinner and thinner but I salute those people that are still keeping that up and are taking the time from their busy schedule to educate Caucasians and so...

TK: Thank you. But is there anything that you would like to add or say that we haven't covered?

MT: No, I just hope that they continue to be good Americans and have good family life, happiness and really live the life that the Issei culture that they had left and, because I don't think they'll go wrong, so never forget those things.

TK: Thank you, Mr. Tsubota.

MT: Best wishes to them.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.