Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview II
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 29, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-02

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Okay. Today is December 29, 2000. We're continuing our interview with Mr. Paul Bannai. Thank you once again for sharing your time and your experiences with us. And the last session, you had just begun telling us a little bit about your experience after graduation from the MIS Language School.

PB: Right.

AI: And maybe we should just continue there. You were saying that you were initially, you were initially going to be training some MPs, some military police.

PB: Right.

AI: But you ended up being attached to the MPs and being sent overseas with them.

PB: Right.

AI: So, could you tell us about that?

PB: Well, I think everything in the army is by necessity. And I happened to be in a unit that was very close in New Guinea to where MacArthur was. So when he found out that many of us spoke Japanese and he could use us, the first thing that I remember is that I left the MP unit, and he asked me to accompany troops to look into areas in which he could send troops in. That would be the approach to Manila and eventually to Japan. So I was on PT boats and submarines by myself with the units, and we would meet with the Filipino scouts. And I remember several places, one was Palawan, it's a little island that stretches down from north to south along, near Corregidor and Manila. I went to Zamboanga, which was down south. It was a large city. I went to Cebu, which was on the eastern side of the Philippines, and also went to Leyte.

After all the data we took back, MacArthur decided that Leyte would be the ideal situation primarily because of the troops that we would face, Japanese troops. He felt that that was a kind of a soft spot. Also there was an airport at Tacloban. And he said from there with our Air Force in there, we could bomb Manila very easily, the objective being that if we could take the Philippines back again, we could work from there and then go on up to Japan. So that was my job for a little while. And because of knowing the area, I was asked to land with the MPs in the Philippines. And naturally, everybody knows we landed in Leyte -- Tacloban, at the airport, near the airport. And when we landed on the beach, because of the shortage of MPs, we didn't only set up camp for the prisoners of war that we captured, but we also did maintenance of traffic on the roads, things of this nature.

AI: Now, you mentioned that you were by yourself as the only...

PB: Most of the time, yes.

AI: ...MIS person, personnel, and also, were you the only Japanese American with these units that you were...

PB: Yes.

AI: ...working with? And how did they accept you? Did they understand that you were American, that you were an American soldier?

PB: Oh, yes.

AI: And did you ever feel that you were in danger? That someone might confuse you for being an enemy Japanese?

PB: Oh, yes. And that is why whenever I went to a unit, they made sure that they knew who I was. And I remember when I was assigned to the Australian forces, the Australian general looked at me, and he said, "With your uniform, American uniform, you would be mistaken very much for a Japanese soldier, and you would be in danger." So I immediately was given an Australian uniform, a digger hat, and generally at the beginning, I was always accompanied by someone, an Australian so that it protected me from that. Now, when I was in the Philippines, since they were all American soldiers and they were told who we were, that wasn't that much of a problem. But because people knew that Nisei, Japanese American soldiers were landing, I remember on the first or second day after landing at Leyte that I saw a LST come up and a suicide plane hit the ship. And I was told that there were several Niseis on there that were injured. And subsequent to that, I found out about Cappy Harada and knew that he was one of them. And then another one you interviewed, which I understand, that lives up in the Oregon area...

AI: Yes. Spady Koyama...

PB: ...or Washington. Yeah.

AI: ...was also on that ship.

PB: Yeah. So it was quite an experience.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

PB: I had a lot of dangerous experiences in the Philippines, but it all worked out for the good. I was not there a real long time, but the time that I was there, I got to meet a lot of Filipinos that, you know, they -- hard for them to distinguish between those that are Japanese American and Japanese. But they told me that they had heard that we were there. And before I left I met many Filipinos that gave me a lot of kindness. While I was there, I was then told to report to Australia again -- I had been there before -- and to join the Australian unit, because the Australian army had asked that, if we could find a Japanese-speaking soldier. So MacArthur ordered me to Australia, and that's when I became a member of the 2nd, 48th Battalion, Ninth Infantry Division, very famous in Australian history, known as the Rats of Tobruk. And I joined them in Australia and went with them to Borneo. I didn't know where I was going to go, but we ended up in Borneo. And that too was quite an experience, because as I say, when I first went there, they didn't expect to see a Japanese American and to join them.

Now, one of the experiences I remember when I was with them is that, I think it was about second or third day when I landed at Borneo, I got a call from the hospital, and they said, "There's a Japanese here, ranting and raving in English, and we don't know who he is. Would you come down?" I went over there, and sure enough it was a Nisei, and he was hurt very badly. So I went back the next day to get his story. He told me that he was a Nisei drafted in the Japanese army. When he found out that we had landed, he thought we were American soldiers. Now, the Australians, in order to protect themselves, we took hand grenades and tied 'em on the, both ends and then put 'em on the trees. So that any time anybody crossed that string, the grenade would go off. And we felt that that protected us from any of the Japanese that tried to infiltrate. Well, this young man tried to crawl back. Now, before that, we used to kill lot of baboons and other animals because they tried -- but he told me, he says he thought -- at least his comrades told him that the Americans had landed -- and he thought, "I'd better get back to them." Because he says he was taunted, he was persecuted by the Japanese army buddies of his because he was American Japanese. Didn't speak a lot of Japanese. So he wanted to get back to America, and he was hurt. Injured very badly coming back, and that's why, I never knew his name or anything because I didn't have time. I was very busy. But that's just one story of one Nisei that I ran across. There were others later on, but that was a sad tale of a young Japanese American drafted in the Japanese army and didn't want to be there, quite contrary to Americans who were in the, Japanese Americans who were in the American army.

AI: That's right. So it's like an opposite experience...

PB: Right.

AI: ...of what happened to you.

PB: I was given a medal by the Australian government, I found out later, and I also found out that I was not entitled to it. They thought I was an Australian soldier. So I sent that back to them. But one of the fellows I served with was the winner of the Victoria Medal, which is the highest award that an Australian can get. It's a British medal or part of the British Empire. And he was with us in Borneo. He came back with the unit I told you about, Rats of Tobruk, and they told him, "We don't want you to go into combat anymore. You stay home and sell bonds or do that." He said, "This is my unit." And he says, "I've got to be with my buddies, whatever happens." He was killed by a sniper alongside of me. I couldn't save him or any of my friends couldn't save him. But that was an example of someone who didn't have to be in the front, getting killed in action.

And many times I would go out. In those days we would have equipment to tie into Japanese phone lines so we could find out what they were doing. And many times, of course, like everywhere else in the Philippines and New Guinea, I was shot at, but came out of it alive until the end of the war. So I felt very fortunate that I ended up the end of the war and, without being injured. Now, at the end of the war, I thought I would go back to my own forces. But MacArthur said, "We cannot send any U.S. forces down for the surrender ceremony. I would like very much if the Australians" -- who, at the beginning of the war, were in the area down there, Singapore and Indonesia and there. So he said, "I want them to take the surrender from the Japanese. And if you'll stay there as interpreter and represent the United States, it would be good." So that's why I stayed down there.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Excuse me. Before we get into that, that part of your work with the surrender, I wanted to ask you a few more questions about your work with the Australians.

PB: Sure.

AI: And now, that was with the Allied Translator Interpreter Section, the ATIS?

PB: Yes.

AI: And...

PB: Allied Translator Interpreter Service.

AI: Service.

PB: That's what the meaning was.

AI: Yes. And I wanted to ask you about some of the translations and interpretations you did. You mentioned that sometimes you would tap into the enemy lines and intercept their communications.

PB: Right.

AI: And sometimes you mentioned also the prisoners of war that you would have some interrogation. And at that point you would be face-to-face with the Japanese soldiers.

PB: Right.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Earlier in our interview you mentioned how the Japanese soldiers were never trained about being prisoners of war.

PB: Right.

AI: And so when you asked them questions, they would give you information. Well, I, how did they react to seeing you, you as a soldier interrogating them, seeing you as really the same facial features...

PB: Right.

AI: ...ethnically Japanese, but not serving...

PB: Right.

AI: their forces. How did they react to you?

PB: Well, it depended on the individual, but many of them were very, very surprised that -- as Japanese Americans -- that we would be fighting for the United States. And after the initial reaction and surprise by many of them because we were Japanese Americans and of the same national race as they were, they became more cordial. As a result, I think that this was good for the American army. Had we been white soldiers talking in Japanese to these people, I don't think we would get the same reaction and the same cooperation that we got because of our racial features, Japanese-looking, and speaking Japanese to them. So I think that right at the beginning I said that the United States military, when they said, "We have to have Japanese-speaking individuals do this," that they began to realize immediately that it was something that they, would help in the war effort to shorten the war. And later on, you know, there was a comment made by one of our generals that the fact that we were as Japanese Americans -- as I told you, about 5,000 of us serving -- that we did help in shortening the war in the Pacific. We served in every unit. As I say, I was by myself in various units, naval units, Air Force units. The people, if you've interviewed other people, you might know that they served in the China-Burma-India theater. I have one friend, incidentally, that was not with the interpreter group, but he was in Boyle Heights and grew up with me, and he got a medal. He's a, of Mexican descent. But he is given credit in Saipan because he spoke Japanese, he lived with a Japanese family...

AI: Oh, you did mention that yesterday.

PB: Yeah. And he is given credit for talking at least 1,000 Japanese to surrender. So he was given credit for Japanese -- [laughs] -- giving, getting that many prisoners of war. So I think language was a very important thing. When we were in school, we had some Chinese, we had some Koreans, and we had some Caucasians. But they never, never did as well as the Niseis. The Chinese that were in my class could read the characters and understand them. The Koreans also to a degree, but for whatever reason, they never attained what the Niseis did in language and being able to conquer that. In fact, at the surrender ceremony in Timor, where we held one of the first ones, a Australian officer of Chinese descent came up to talk to me and -- naturally in English, because that's what you speak in Australia. But in speaking to him, he was brought in as a language officer because they thought that being of Chinese descent -- and there was a lot of Chinese, not a lot, but many of them in Australia. But he could not speak Japanese language too much. So they had him along as a officer to help us out, but that was about it. On the other side of the fence, when we had the surrender ceremony in Timor, I met a captain of the Japanese army, and he represented the Japanese army as an interpreter at the surrender ceremony. And after the ceremonies were over, I got to talk to him. And I asked him, "Gee, you're way up in rank. I never knew that a Nisei could become a captain in the Japanese army." He said, "Don't tell anybody, but I'm a private." And he said, "The Japanese would be embarrassed if they had a private in there as an interpreter in the surrender ceremony." And so they gave him captain's bars, and he officiated along with me in interpreting. But that was, that shows you some of the importance of language in all of these things.

The surrender ceremony was conducted English and Japanese because the Japanese normally don't speak English, and the Australians who accepted the surrender ceremony, we had to speak English and Japanese both. But it was interesting, and I still remember and I have some mementos, and I have a couple of Japanese swords. Each time the Japanese surrendered, they would bring a sword and give it up. Most of my swords that we got were sent to Canberra, Australia at the national museum there. I've never been there, but they tell me that a lot of Japanese swords are there. But the general was kind enough, he says, "Oh, we got all these swords." He says -- I was a sergeant -- "Sergeant Bannai, why don't you take a couple of them home?" So I did bring them home. And I still decorate my den with the Japanese swords that I got from the Japanese surrender ceremony.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

PB: But right after the surrender ceremony in Timor, there were other things that happened. For instance, one of the orders that people might be interested -- because it was in the paper the other day -- is that my orders said that before I send the Japanese troops back on the ships that I should send back the comfort. And I met a lot of comfort girls that were brought along by the Japanese troops. And they were, in Timor they were mostly young ladies from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. And I saw to their getting back to their homes first. But as I say, there were many instances down there. One of the first ones that I met in that area was a man named Sukarno. And Sukarno was a young man that was very anti-Dutch. He says, "Holland and, has had an influence upon this country." So when we had gone down there, he asked that there be no Dutch troops. We had a few Dutch troops on board. He says, "I don't think I would want them to land." So only Australian troops. So it didn't make any difference. We asked them to stay aboard ship. But Sukarno later became a very important individual to rule the country of Indonesia. But when I met him originally he was just a -- well he wasn't a nobody. He was a soldier for the troops there. So it was kind of interesting that some individuals of that type later on became leaders in the country that when we went down to take the surrender, he was not part of the ceremony or anything, but he did help us out.

AI: Yes. And he eventually became the leader of Indonesia.

PB: Right. He became a big leader, and I understand, I didn't know, but he eventually married a young Japanese girl and was very influential in the government of Indonesia.

AI: And now, the surrender ceremonies. These must have been taking place in around September of 1945? Would that be about right?

PB: Yes. Right after the war, they were held in Singapore. And they were held in various areas because of the troops. We would, the troops would know that they had given up, and we would , we would disarm them and make preparations for their going back. We didn't want any incident to mar the close of the war. Now, as soon as I left there, I went to, flew to Manila. And up in Manila everything was all over with. I think that I told you that one of the reasons when I went to Manila is that I had been notified when I was with the Australian troops that I was given a commission as a lieutenant in the United States Army. One of the provisions in the written memo they gave me is, "You must be sworn in by a United States officer." Well, there were no U.S. officers with the Australians. So when I went to Manila, they said, "You can be sworn in now as an officer." And I said, "Well, can I wait and go to my unit in Tokyo?" And they said, "Yeah, that's fine." And I went out to the airfield in Manila and wanted a ride to Tokyo. And I met a Air Force officer, and he says, "Do you speak Japanese?" And I said, "Yeah." He says, "Would you go with us because we can use your help. And one of the things that we would like to do is to have you stay with us when you go to Japan, and we're also going to Shanghai." I said, "Well, the war's over, whatever it is, I need a ride up to Japan, so I'll go." Well, we stopped in Okinawa, and the reason was that we stayed a few days there, and they accumulated cigarettes from the navy and army, and all that. They used that, they were going to use this to trade for souvenirs in Shanghai and in Japan. So that's why they wanted me to speak Japanese. So when we landed in Japan -- we landed first near Osaka, and at Atsugi Airport -- they asked me if I would go with them to trade the cigarettes for souvenirs. I asked if I could be relieved of that and report to my unit, which I did in Tokyo. I never checked in at all, because when I went there they told me that, "If you check in, you are going to be sworn in as an officer, and you would have to waive your rights to go home."

AI: Home to the U.S.

PB: [Nods] I was more concerned about my family. They were still in Manzanar, my folks were.

AI: And had you had any word of how they were doing in all this time...

PB: No.

AI: ...that you were in the Pacific?

PB: But only through rumors of people that came over...

AI: I see.

PB: ...I knew that they were still there. And because of my concern for my family more than myself and what good is it to be an officer in the U.S. Army when my family is in camp? So I stayed, and I went to Camp Zama, where they used to send people from Japan back. And I was able to get a ship. I landed in Vancouver, right above Seattle. I guess Vancouver, it must have been Oregon maybe or somewhere.

AI: Oh, Washington.

PB: Yeah.

AI: Vancouver, Washington.

PB: Washington. And from there I found out about my family. Being concerned, I said, "I will stay. I will not go back." And when I went down to the Los Angeles area, I went to Fort MacArthur. I asked if I could be relieved of duty, and they said, "Well, you would have to leave the army." Well, what happened is that if I did, then I would lose my rights to travel and to take care of my family. So I asked that I be, stay in, and I re-enlisted for one year only with the hopes that now that I had my family cleared up -- I found a place for them, a trailer in Long Beach and all that. And so that's why I stayed in the army one more year.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Now, let me back up a little bit because before you left Japan, you did have a little bit of time in-between the time you got to Japan and the time you left for the U.S.

PB: Right.

AI: And were you able to see a little bit of the country? You had never been to Japan before...

PB: Little bit...

AI: that right?

PB: ...because I was able to travel in a United States uniform. I unfortunately didn't know too much about the heritage of my parents and getting to where they were from, which was up in Fukushima-ken. I decided that -- I had heard of relatives in Kyoto. So I went to Kyoto. And there were several reasons. One reason is that the damage that the United States had inflicted on Osaka, I saw -- terrible. I went to Yokohama -- same way. There were areas, acres and acres, completely flat. The only thing I remember seeing is, people used to have safes, steel safes, and these safes would be standing there. But everything else, the buildings, because in Japan they use a lot of wooden buildings, completely burned down. So I asked, "Where can I go which would show Japan?" They said, "Go to Kyoto." Because they had spared Kyoto. It's a kind of a sacred city, and there was no military necessity in bombing that. So I went down there, and it was fortunate or it was a time in my life where because of my Japanese knowledge it came in handy. When I arrived there, there were some U.S. soldiers came up and said, "We understand you speak Japanese." And I said, "Yes." He says, "Would you do us a favor and accompany us, because we've been trying to do many things." One of them is to open a brewery down there. They had a brewery of, to make beer. And they couldn't get it open. And I said, "Why do you want it open?" "Well, it would be good for several things. We have the troops that would be furnished. Also there's a possibility that USO and the native population."

So I went and negotiated that for, it was an engineer unit. But as a result of that, it was an area called the Gion, which was a, kind of a area in the middle of Kyoto where prior to the war, all the geishas lived there, and it was where people went to be entertained. Well, it was off-limits to the U.S. troops. But when I went and the MP told me, "You can't go in," I told him, "My relatives are here." And they believed me. So they let me in. So I stayed at a hotel in the Gion, so I was completely isolated from U.S. troops in there every night. [Laughs] But it was an experience that I had that was quite interesting. And when I helped the people in the engineer unit, U.S. engineer unit get the beer and the sake, the company that bottled would give me some, and I'd take it to Gion. Well, I, they gave me money. I felt very wrong taking money and using it. So what I would do is every day I would go out, I'd give it to the kids that were around. I used to go get a shave and a haircut every day a little bit. [Laughs] Gave all my money away. But it was an experience of getting to know the Japanese because I was with military all the time. When I was in Kyoto, I dealt with Japanese that are natives there. And that was one of the many good experiences of being in Japan, not being in a camp all day talking only with GIs, but relating to the Japanese and their story as to how they felt about the war and how they survived.

AI: What kind of stories did they tell you? What did they have to say about their lives?

PB: Well, as I say, this area where I was, they were never bombed. However, they had relatives. Their children and their fathers and all that had gone off to war. So it was similar when you talk to them of our experiences, too, of being in the war. So I think it was kind of a time in which we would get a story that was similar to our existence. And that's why when war is talked about, it affects all people on all sides, whatever it is. And so it's not a good thing. And it affects people. People don't realize that it's a bad thing for everybody regardless, winner or loser or not. So that's one thing I learned very, very well.

AI: And it sounds like in Kyoto you had a very positive experience. That the Japanese people were willing to speak with you as an American. They knew you were American, and yet did you ever receive any negative reaction from the Japanese...

PB: No, I...

AI: ...about you being American?

PB: ...seldom did. It, maybe some other people that were in my particular category, interpreters who were in there, might have received some negative reaction. But most all the time, I did not. All the people that I met and the people I talked to and dealt with was very, very positive. I never felt that there was anything that was hatred because I was in the United States Army as a Japanese American. That's one thing that I never, never experienced.

AI: And for yourself, when you were in Japan even for a short time, did things about Japan seem familiar to you even though you had never been there, or did it seem rather foreign and strange?

PB: Well, it was, I'd never been there, so it was experience to see new places and meet new people. It was interesting. But as I say, I wish I had known a little bit more about my parents, my grandparents because I would have very much liked to have gone to where they were from. I didn't get there until much later when I found out. But that would've been a experience, because then those people would know that one of their descendents, that would be me, had served in U.S. Army and gone back to see what it was all about. So I regretted that. But there were other people, I'm sure, that went, that were with me because ATIS set up a headquarters in Tokyo. And they had lot of people, I'm sure, that had ancestors that they went back to see. Unfortunately I did not. But as I say, later on in life, I found out about my people that came from Japan, and I was able to go to Kyoto. I was able to go to Fukushima-ken and see and meet people that were my forbearers, you might say.

AI: It sounds like it must have been very interesting that first time.

PB: Right.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: And now, to get caught up again, you told us how you did then get back to the United States. You landed in Vancouver, Washington...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and then went down to the Los Angeles area...

PB: Right.

AI: ...found out where your family was...

PB: Uh-huh.

AI: ...and decided to re-enlist for one more year. And now, at that point you found your family, and where were they living at that time when you first got back to them?

PB: Well, they found a trailer in Long Beach. And because...

AI: California.

PB: ...I had money that I had accumulated -- I never drew money when I was in the army. I could eat and sleep on military. So I had back pay. It wasn't a lot. I had enough money to make a down payment on a little house on the south side. It was Broadway and Fifty-first. And I bought a little house for the family so that we wouldn't have to pay exorbitant rent. And I had in mind that now that they were settled that I could go back to Japan if -- so I had re-enlisted, as I say, for one year. When I went back to camp, they said, "If you enlist more than one year, two or three years, we will let you go overseas. But we have a law that you cannot go overseas if it's one-year enlistment." So I said, "Fine. I will stay." Well, during that interim, one year, I had a, you might say, furlough, and I met my future wife, Hideko, in Chicago. And we decided to get married. So we were married in Chicago. And I then was ordered to Fort Lewis, Washington, right here near Seattle. So we came out to Seattle. She was working for the government, so -- she worked at Madigan, I think it was Madigan General Hospital which was part of the fort. And I eventually got a house at Fort Lewis, and we moved in. So I was there for the one year except for times that I spent out on other duty.

AI: Now, would this have been 1946 that you got married?

PB: Yes.

AI: Approximately?

PB: Yes, I think it was '46, right.

AI: 1946 or so you... now, how did you meet Hideko? Did you meet her...

PB: Well, I had...

AI: ...earlier in...?

PB: ...heard of her because I told you that the Bainbridge people came to Manzanar. Her sister married a fellow, Nishimori, from Bainbridge. So I didn't know my wife at that time very well, but she had gone to, as I say Chicago. So through my sister, and my sister was working at a theological Presbyterian seminary in Chicago, and I would go there because I could stay at the dormitories without charge. And it was through that that we decided that we'd get together and get married. In fact, because of my sister's association at the seminary, the dean of the school, the pastor married us without charge and even took care of our little reception. So being a soldier with very little money, it was some incentive. It was very good.

But we came here to Fort Lewis. And my wife's parents had originally from Japan had settled in Tacoma. So there were a lot of people that they knew. One of the families was the Fujimoto, and we lived right across from Buddhist church on Fawcett Avenue, I remember that. And even though I was not always at the fort -- I was being sent to San Diego to help the marines. I was over in Yakima because I had a tank company. I did have a house on the post at Fort Lewis until my discharge. So that was a military type of a life. And I spent a lot of time in Seattle also when I was up here, and it was a very pleasant experience. And one thing I remember, and I'm sure that since I'm in Seattle I can say this, is that I had one day -- or not one day -- but one month it, we had twenty-eight days of rain at Fort Lewis. [Laughs] And as I tell people, if it was February it would've been every day of the month. But it was not. I always joke about that because it is a rainy country up here.

AI: So you had no thought of staying here in the Northwest.

PB: No...

AI: You were definitely planning...

PB: ...because, yeah.

AI: return to Southern California.

PB: Right. Because my folks were there and I was concerned about my family.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

PB: So soon as my military discharge, I was discharged at, in Fort MacArthur in Los Angeles, and immediately started my, you might say my living in Southern California. And the first place was on, the house that I had bought on Fifty-first Street. We then moved to a little place in, I think it was Matthews or somewhere near, a little bit more, farther west. And then from there we thought in terms of, the area was changing so we then decided to look for a place in the Gardena area where there were a lot of Japanese going. And that itself is another story. I had a hard time finding a house down there because of the, at that time there was still a lot of animosity against the Japanese. And if I went looking for a house in other areas where there were no Japanese, they would not sell a Japanese family a home.

AI: So for example, Boyle Heights, where you had lived before the war, there wasn't as much animosity...

PB: No.

AI: ...and you were, it seemed you didn't really face housing discrimination in Boyle Heights.

PB: Yes.

AI: But then when you tried to buy a house in Gardena, what happened?

PB: Well, Boyle Heights, I could've bought a house. The only thing is that after the war the Jewish people moved out, and it became a Mexican community. So my thought was then to go south into Gardena. And the first house I looked at was on 124th, -5th, -6th Street. And they would not sell me a house. And I would ask. "Well," they said, "Because it's, we don't want Japanese Americans in the area." Eventually I went to 146th Street, and there was a builder there building a tract of homes. The realtor told me, he says -- that was handling the sale -- that he couldn't sell me a house. I talked to the builder, and eventually, I told him, and he says, "All, most of these houses are going to be sold to minorities, especially Japanese Americans. You might as well start selling houses, because you're going to get the best price, and the best buyers are going to be Japanese." So...

AI: Excuse me. You told that to the builder?

PB: Builder. And he accepted it. So...

AI: This was a, the builder was white.

PB: Yeah.

AI: And he --

PB: It was between Normandy and a hundred, it was a 146th Street, I remember because I bought one of the first houses right on the corner. It's still there and in pretty good shape. But that tract eventually, I would say that out of every ten houses, eight houses were bought by Niseis, Japanese Americans. Eventually at the end of the street, there was a couple of lots, so I bought a lot down there when I became a real estate agent, and I built my own house. I built two houses there, sold one, and I lived in one because I wanted a bigger house. But the whole town eventually became a center of the Japanese community in Southern California. Gardena was known for that. But...

AI: But at the time that you first tried...

PB: Right.

AI: purchase there, were, now, when you first tried to purchase a house in Gardena and you faced this discrimination from the realtors, were you surprised at this prejudice that came up?

PB: Very much so.

AI: So you didn't really expect it to be so negative at that time, is that right?

PB: Uh-huh. Well, primarily because Gardena originally was an area in which they used to grow strawberries, Japanese nurseries were there. It was a farming community with a lot of Japanese Americans there.

AI: From before the war.

PB: Right, before and...

AI: And after.

PB: ...after the war, they were still there. After they started to build the homes and these fields were cleared, the Japanese started to move back in there again, and the businesses and things. That's why when I went there and saw this, I went into the real estate business with several companies. And we did more business selling homes to Japanese Americans that wanted to buy a home than any other community that I could think of. So Gardena became a Japanese American community. We built a community center. We had a shopping center. My, one of my first businesses was a sporting goods store, and I would say that 80 percent to 90 percent of our business was done with Japanese Americans. So it became a Japanese American community, Gardena.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: And it seems that you helped start that off by your decision to go beyond the realtors' negativity, that even though they were discriminating against you and didn't want to sell to you...

PB: Right.

AI: ...weren't, wouldn't sell to you, you found another solution to that problem...

PB: Sure.

AI: going directly to the builder.

PB: Right. And as a result of it, there were one of my friends that graduated the same year that I did from -- I graduated from Roosevelt, he graduated from Narbonne High School. His name was Ken Nakaoka. And he started a real estate office. Kamiya and a fellow named Mamiya, Buddy Mamiya, they started a real estate office. As a result of these companies starting up and catering to Japanese Americans, we were able to list and sell lot of nice homes to Japanese Americans. I still meet people that I sold a home to forty, fifty years ago in their -- they say, "Well, good thing that you sold us this. We're very, very happy." So I think that we did something to open up the whole community there to people. Otherwise, it would've been a very, very disastrous area that no Japanese could buy.

AI: So, once again, if you hadn't, and others hadn't taken these steps, Japanese Americans might have been shut out of that housing market.

PB: Oh, yeah. There's other areas that still don't and for a long time wouldn't sell to Japanese Americans because they were afraid it would open up to other minorities. But Gardena didn't come about that way. It's changed lately, but we've done away with a lot of prejudice in that area, and it took a little while. But everything is, if you fight it subtly without being out front, you can do it. I remember one thing as, when, I happened to mention Ken Nakaoka became mayor of our city, and I was on the city council. And some friends of mine took my name and recommended that I be a member of the Elks Club there, which was right across from city hall. And I was turned down because I was Japanese American. They even recommended the mayor, Ken Nakaoka, and he was turned down because the Elks had a policy in all their lodges, they didn't want Japanese Americans. What happened after that, as a result of that, is they started a lodge in Carson, the next city south, and they said, "Mr. Bannai, we know why you are not a member of the Elks. We're starting a lodge. We'd like to have you as a member." So I joined that lodge, which was a benefit to me because later on when I went to Washington, D.C., my office was right near the Elk's lodge, and I could go in and enjoy that. And as I traveled the country, I took advantage of my membership.

But discrimination happened that time. It still happens, and there can be ways in which you can overcome it. We, we as Japanese Americans don't experience as much now, but there are still places and times that we have it, and we have to find ways in order to try to overcome that one way or another. I'm still working on several issues, and maybe one of these days we'll get it done. I don't know. We were talking about the military. But when I was in the army, I heard about the American Legion in Hood River, Oregon, passing a resolution which went to the state and went to the national, saying that we will have no Japanese names on any monument of those that were killed in action fighting for the United States. And so ever since then, I have gone, even to the national conventions, when I used to go as a Veterans Administration official, asking them to rescind that. They say, "Why? That was during the war." What difference does it make to have that kind of a resolution? They didn't say German names, Italian names. We were at war against them. We were at war against Japanese, against Japan, so they don't want Japanese names. These Japanese names were my buddies that died fighting for the United States. So you can see there are many things that we still have that we can overdo, that we should try to correct.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: Well, in fact, speaking of the veterans and those that died in service, soon after you came back to United States and you, then you were discharged -- and I understand that you became active with veterans work very soon after that. Was there a, I think it was the Nisei Veterans organization...

PB: Yes.

AI: ...that -- did you help found that, or you became very active with that.

PB: Well, there was the building here in Seattle I used to visit, Nisei Veterans. There was a, a start of a Nisei Veterans in Los Angeles. It was called Nisei Veterans Association. I became active in that. One of the things that we did, and I've always felt that those of my buddies that didn't come back, we ought to remember them and we ought to honor them by some way. So we bought a plot, a pretty good plot in Evergreen Cemetery, and we erected a monument there. We used Sadao Munemori's picture in order to build a, have a statue made. People think it's Munemori, but I've told them that we didn't want to honor one individual. But we did use his picture, so the monument there... we also bought some plots, and we asked that people, that if they wanted to bring back their loved ones that we would give them the plot and they could be buried there. So there were several of 'em that the families, especially from Europe, brought the remains back and they were buried in Evergreen. But that was my first effort, you might say, in order to try to point out to people -- not only the Japanese Americans, but other people -- that there were Japanese Americans that were, loyally fought for the United States and sacrificed their life in order to, well you might say prove that they're Americans.

Since then I've served on the, I was the treasurer of the California State Veterans Memorial. It is built on the state capitol in Sacramento. And that one is for all the veterans. There were more veterans in California than any other state, and we built a very beautiful monument there. Anybody can go there. We've asked all the veterans to send their names in, little data. They can push a button, and we have a, imagine where, if you want your picture it'll come up or just data about you. But that was something I worked on for several years, and I'm very proud of that. Since then there've been other memorials. I have helped the Korean War Veterans, Niseis, the Vietnam veterans and that, and I'm sure that some people know that I was one of the organizers of a group called "Go for Broke" organization, made up of Niseis. And our objective, one of the objectives was to build a monument in Washington, D.C. And we introduced a bill in Congress with the help, of course, of Spark Matsunaga, Dan Inouye. Eventually, of course other people got on to the bill. But the idea was to build a monument in Washington, D.C. to Japanese Americans who were killed in action. Well, that bill was refused, as you know, because they said, "We cannot have a separate monument for an ethnic group of soldiers." So we had to make an amendment to the effect, to get it through the Congress, that it was for the heroism of all Japanese Americans. And it's appropriate because our parents and the families also suffered an awful lot during the war. So I think that I was happy to serve on that commission, and to raise enough money to build it, and to go back for the groundbreaking and the dedication. And I think it's something that we have left that is good for the Japanese Americans throughout the United States.

AI: And that dedication just happened this fall.

PB: Yes, October...

AI: That must have been --

PB: ...was when we had it. We were having a meeting, another final meeting in two more months. The monument is a beautiful monument. It will be done, completely done and landscaped in a couple more months. And if you haven't seen it, I encourage all Japanese Americans at least take a trip and go there and see a monument that is dedicated to them and their heroism and their parents during the war.

AI: Well, congratulations on that.

PB: Yeah.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: We're continuing again with Mr. Bannai.

PB: Okay.

AI: And I'm going to back up in time a little bit to about 1947, right after you were discharged from the army...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and you had returned to Southern California. And what employment did you get when you first left the army?

PB: Well, because of my prewar connections with some friends, I helped at a nursery, Star Nursery. My friend Fran Uyematsu was still operating that in Montebello. So I went out there and helped them. They were growing potted plants mostly. And as a result of that, I worked also at the flower market. They had a store at the flower market. So my association there was trying to expand their market. Their potted plants I decided to sell not only in the market, but to ship it to department stores, and that was very good. Also when I went into the flower market, I represented a group of Japanese Americans who were producing flowers in the fields, some of it in greenhouses. And my feeling was that the market could be expanded. So I went down to the airport to find out about shipping by air. Designed a box, there were 3-, 5-, and 6 foot-long boxes, standard boxes that we could put the flowers in in the morning, and then we could take 'em down to the airline, and they would ship them around.

Because there were exhibit areas and flower shows around the country, I used to travel. I remember going to Tulsa, Oklahoma one time, to Dallas, Texas, Chicago, Illinois. But I expanded the flower market throughout the United States. And so California flowers were being sold in all the cities throughout the United States. 'Cause they would bring 'em in, our flower market opened at 3:00 in the morning. That's why that, in those days I would have to get up at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning to be at work. But when the market closed at 7:00 or 8:00 when the local people would come and buy the flowers, whatever flowers we had we would try to ship it out of state. So we would pack them early in the morning. So I had a company called Golden State Wholesale Florists that would pack the flowers. We would take 'em to the airport, 8:00, 9:00, 10 o'clock in the morning, get 'em on the airplane so that they would be at their destination wherever it may be by that afternoon. Well, then the people that had florist shops in those areas could buy our flowers fresh and sell them.

As a result of that, I also got interested in other areas. And when I was in Hawaii one time, I saw them growing flowers over there. So I also started the bringing in the vanda orchids from Hilo, Hawaii. Also I'd go to Hilo, and we'd grow anthuriums. I had people grow tea leaves over there and brought those to Southern California to distribute. As a result of that, people found out about it. And I remember that even during the off-season, I used to bring cymbidium orchids in from Australia, because their season was a little different. And the cymbidium, they would last a long time as, for corsage flowers. So my flower, floral experience went, you might say, worldwide because I was doing business all over.

Now, part of that is because when I used to go to Hawaii, I was helping and, mostly in the real estate business because of my real estate connections. So the first island I went to was Kauai. And I developed a few homes and went into real estate, selling and marketing there. My next endeavor was in the big island of Hawaii. I subdivided the volcano land, and, to little lots, and sold those. That, unfortunately at the beginning, Hawaii people, the people that lived in Hilo wouldn't buy it. So we sold it to mainland people. But later on, several years later, the people in Hawaii said, "Oh my God, that's feasible land." So what I did is I took the list of people that we sold to on the mainland and sold everything to people in Hawaii. So my friend who's in the real estate business -- I won't mention her name -- we made pretty good money while we were doing business there. But my flower connections ended. I left there because, as I mentioned, I went into the real estate business because of the possibilities of, well, more income and being at home instead of having to get up at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning and going downtown. But the flower market is still active. At one time it was predominantly Japanese Americans, but now it is not. But still yet they have a lot of Japanese people growing flowers, and the flower market still exists. But it was an experience in dealing with a business that we expanded throughout the United States. And it was a good time.

But as I say, I then left that and went into real estate. And any, everything that I have done when I get involved in a business, I have a tendency to concentrate and just put 100 percent or 110 percent time into it. And the same thing with the real estate, I would work day and night trying to do something a little different. I was so active. We had a board -- they have what they call a real estate board. I was president of my board in Gardena, and I became vice president of the California State -- they call it CREA, California Real Estate Association. And I started several escrow companies.

So I was very, very busy in the real estate business at that time. I was associated with two companies for a while, but eventually I decided to open my own company, and I built my own building, which still stands in Gardena. And as a result of that, I was able to say that when I was fifty years old, that, "Why should I work anymore?" Economically my belief is and I still espouse that, that you can have all the money in the world, but what good is it going to do you? If you can live comfortably and your family is well taken care of, you don't need to work nor to keep doing things. And so from then on, you might say I started in thinking of partial retirement. And as a result of that, I then got involved in politics and things of this nature, and that's where my political career started to get underway.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: Well, before we get into that, let me just catch up on a few things. So just reviewing, it was about 1956 that you left the flower market business...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and went into real estate.

PB: Right.

AI: And then about 1958 you opened your own real estate business.

PB: Right.

AI: And I understand also you had an insurance business along with that.

PB: Right.

AI: Now, at the same time, the early 1950, the 1950s and early 1960s, you had your children...

PB: Right.

AI: ...your three children -- your oldest daughter, Kathryn, son Don, and younger daughter, Lorraine, Lori, and growing up there in Gardena. And I wonder if you could tell, you have already described that there was quite an ethnic mix there in Gardena with a large percentage of Japanese Americans...

PB: Right.

AI: ...who were able to come, move into that neighborhood partly because of the initiation you took, the initiative you took on opening up the real estate to the Japanese Americans. Would you discuss a little bit about the, more about the building of the Gardena community, especially the Japanese American community. As your kids were growing up, I understand you were very involved with community activities, supporting the community churches...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and some of the clubs. Could you tell a few of the highlights of that time?

PB: Well, they're not real highlights, but in my estimation there were routine things that I would take in any community that I would live in. But because of my children, as you say -- and I wanted to be sure that they got a good education and things of this nature -- that I remember the first thing I did, I had a Reverend Peter Chen come down, Methodist minister, and we were talking about establishing a Methodist church in Gardena. So he and I looked for a site. I found one very near where I lived on 146th Street. It was on Rosecrans Avenue near Normandy, only about four blocks from where I lived. We bought the land and we started a Methodist church. It still exists. They moved down to 182nd Street, but it is one of the larger, more active churches. They bought another piece of land next door, and I'm very happy that that church is expanded to that. I am not active in the church anymore, however, the people that go there that I know have said that it's a wonderful thing to have such a church. So that is something that the community needed and is going along. Our community has, in addition to that, a large Buddhist church, and we have other churches.

But the Japanese community has gradually been moving out, the younger people. The only ones that remain are the old-timers that have been there a long time. So I eventually see that Gardena will not have a, very much of a Japanese community. But during the time that I have served there, I have been active in community center. We have a very active Veterans of Foreign War post, and the chamber of commerce is still made up of Japanese Americans that are active in the area, and I still go to the meetings and whatever events they have. So I felt that all these things are things that build for the community. I also was one of the, many, many years ago, not an original member, one of the active members of the Lion's Club. And they're still very, very active. They're one of the more active service clubs in our area. So all of these things are important for participation to keep the community alive. I think that anyone that goes to any area, they should join and get involved with other people in that community. It will help. And that's my reason why I did it, and I'm still running around involved, and I feel that I'm trying to do what is necessary.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, now at this time when your children were growing up, did you or your wife ever talk to them about what happened during World War II or about the camp at all, camps and the discrimination you had faced?

PB: No, I don't recall that we did. I don't recall that we did. However, maybe you are aware of it, but both of my daughters, we encouraged very strongly to find out about these things and get involved. And as a result, that once they'd become attorneys and were very active in the law area, mostly pro bono, which is donation, my youngest daughter in San Francisco, my oldest daughter opened her office in Seattle, but both of them were, got involved in what was called the cases relative to Hirabayashi. And one of our daughter-in-law, incidentally, was also involved from Salem, Oregon. She was at the law school there. So my two daughters and my daughter-in-law were involved in that case that eventually was going to go to the Supreme Court but never was settled there. And so I think that without a lot of discussion with them, they, themselves, through their study and their involvement in the law case, found out more about evacuation than a lot of other people will ever know of what happened during that particular time. So I think that is very important and valuable. And I would suggest that families that have younger children or younger people or adults that don't know about evacuation and what happened and the subsequent action that was taken, that they ought to look into it. It's interesting. It's part of our history.

AI: Well, another question I have about your children's growing-up years -- it sounds like you and your family were part of creating a very active Gardena community, many community institutions there that were primarily Japanese American. And so there were many choices for your children to be involved. Were you ever concerned that your children might face prejudice and discrimination because they were Japanese American, as you had faced when you were younger?

PB: No. We encouraged our children to be active. And I remember that my oldest daughter was going to a university, and I happened to be in Sacramento. As a result, I knew of law schools, particular that were part of the united -- part of the California school system. My youngest daughter decided not to go to a school that was in California, because she said there may be a conflict of interest where people would say, "Well, your father is pulling strings to get you into law school and get you out." But I did encourage 'em, all of 'em, to get as much schooling as possible at the best school possible because that was important. And that's why I say when I came to what I consider the age of retirement in my, at my age, at that time was fifty, I felt that my children had an education, they could make a good income, and the work that they were doing, that it wasn't necessary for me now, because I had supported them, supported them through school, that I should take it a little easier. And as a result, I could spend a little bit more time for the community and to donate my time for the furtherance of society.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: Now, you turned fifty in 1970.

PB: Right.

AI: And at that point you had already seen some social changes taking place.

PB: Right.

AI: In fact, during the '60s, of course, the Civil Rights movement had really developed, and also the Vietnam War was going on.

PB: Right.

AI: Now, I understand that you served on the draft board for a period...

PB: Right.

AI: ...during the Vietnam War. And I thought that was somewhat ironic since you had spent so much time and effort trying to get into service during World War II. Now during the Vietnam War, you were on the other side. You were on the draft board, and you were having young men come before you who, as I understand, a number of them were trying to not, not to serve.

PB: Right.

AI: They were against the war or may have been...

PB: Right.

AI: ...conscientious objectors. Could you say a little bit about your experience in that?

PB: Well, when I was on the draft board, the young people that appeared before us, and we would listen to their case. And as you know at that particular time there was a tremendous amount of animosity against our involvement in Vietnam. And so some of these young people that appeared before us were influenced by other people more than anything else, not their own feeling, I think. But they told us they did not want to be taken into service. And in many ways I respected that. The only thing I would try to find out from them, individually or otherwise, is was it their own feeling? Did they have a reason for that? Many of them had good excuses, maybe they had a job, they wanted to go to school, things of this nature. And since they were very sincere in their desire not to go into service, well then I would say, well, if that's the case, then maybe we can excuse 'em and not call them into service. Because we had a sufficient amount of people that we could bring into service. But it was a controversial time, and I served on the draft board for a little while, but eventually I did ask to be relieved of it.

Now, I've been to Vietnam, subsequent. I went two years ago four times to see what the eventual result was of our participation in the war there. Also I went there because I had American and Japanese companies desirous of opening a business there. I'm convinced that Vietnam, being very Communistic, will take a little while to get into being able to do anything with the United States of America. But that had nothing to do with the people that we're talking about during the war. Looking back on it, any war is a mistake no matter where it is, where we have it. And maybe Vietnam was a situation that we didn't have to be there. So you have to respect the feelings of some of these individuals that appeared before me. And I feel very sorry for the parents, the families, and individuals that lost their life in Vietnam, in what many people consider a futile effort, in not being, accomplished anything. So that was my feeling during the time I was on the draft board and I still retain that. I don't think that I would want to be back there at that particular time again and make a decision of whether a man should go into the service or not.

AI: Now, at about the same time that the Vietnam War was going on and there were some antiwar protests, the Civil Rights movement had developed, Gardena was fairly close to Watts.

PB: Yeah.

AI: And then at that time there were the Watts riots, which some people are aware were, I think some very low-income communities, members of those communities were extremely frustrated at some of the treatment they had received, both economic issues and racial discrimination.

PB: Right.

AI: You were so close there in Gardena, what was your impression, or how, what did you see happening there during that period?

PB: Well, looking back on that particular time, I think that there was much accomplished by people. For instance, like Martin Luther King and individuals that took it upon themselves to be the leader and try to impress upon the people that their rights and what they're entitled to. I think that because of that and because of what we have done individually, I think that later on you're going to be talking about the commission and what the Japanese Americans have done to try to overcome and prove to the people that we are Americans. I think that all these things done as a group or individually, contribute to making, you might say, a better America for those of us who are minorities.

AI: Uh-huh. Well, it was a very turbulent time.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: And here, we're now up to 1970, where I understand you had been called to serve on the Gardena Planning Commission...

PB: Right.

AI: ...for a number, you had been on that commission for a number of years.

PB: Yes. That was the start, you might say, of what I told you, that I felt that business and everything, I can now -- not retire but take it a lot easier and not work so hard. I don't need the money. I should spend a little bit more time in community activities. And as a result, when I was asked to serve on the planning commission by the city council, I did. Subsequent to that, many of the people in my community came to me and said, "You know, Paul, you are serving the community and you, we need someone to run for city council. Would you run for city council?" So the following year, I did. And fortunately I was elected to the city council, so I was serving on the city council.

Well, here comes two years later in 1973, and I'm on the city council, and I get a call from Ronald Reagan, and he said, "Paul, I know that you helped me. Your name shows up as helping me for the governorship. And there was a man in your area who was the assemblyman, just passed away, and we're going to have to have a special election. And I was wondering if you would be interested to run because I know you are a Republican, and that seat has never been held by a Republican. It's a Democratic district." And I said, "No, you know, I've retired and I'm just not interested in doing that." I says, "I'm doing this city council work, because I'm at home and it's only a meeting once every two weeks or so." Well, I got a call back a little bit later, and he said, "We've talked it over, and we don't have anyone running for that seat. And win or lose, we'd like to have you go, and I will come down personally and help you raise money and help you in the campaign." Well, I thought it over, and I thought, "Well, I have nothing to lose. I am retired. I might as well." So I said, "Yes, I will run." So put my name in, and I did have a little competition. Fortunately, besides his help, Ronald Reagan's help in raising money and coming down, the widow of the Democratic man that was in office came and said, "We know about you and your effort in the city of Gardena. And even though we don't live there, we're in your district." They lived in Torrance. "We will come and help you, too." So I had a lot of help from areas I didn't even expect. And as a result of that, I was able to win that special election to the California legislature.

AI: Now, could you explain this a little bit more? You make it sound so easy, but as you mentioned, that assembly seat had been Democratic...

PB: Yes.

AI: ...for quite a long time. And the district there was heavily Democratic. And you, here you were, Republican. Now, you had served on the city council and that was a nonpartisan...

PB: Right.

AI: ...service. But where did all your support come from in terms of, you were so active in Gardena, very visible there, very well-known. How are you able to explain this, that you were able to receive enough support to become elected assemblyman as a Republican from this area?

PB: Well, there are many factors. First of all, the mere fact the district itself was 78 percent registered Democrat, so that's only, you're talking about 20-some percent Republican. The mere fact that, the popularity of Reagan as governor had a lot to do with it, because when he came down to help me and we had a rally or fundraiser, he generated an awful lot of people to vote for me. The other thing was that although I was very active in my city as a city councilman, my activities in the other things that I told you about, the Lion's Club, the real estate association, they also extended into the other areas that I was running in, Torrance, Hawthorne, Compton, all these other areas. And as a result, I think that in politics, name recognition means more than anything else. And so when people saw my name on the ballot, I think they might have associated more with my activities in some of these other service clubs, service organizations, things of this nature. And so I attribute my winning the first race at least, anyway, to that. Now, I ran three other times, and I was elected three other times. But it was the mere fact that those were the things, because I think that there's a lot of people -- this district was a very small percentage of Japanese Americans, and it wasn't a district which had minorities. It was mostly white Caucasian. So that they didn't vote against me because I was Japanese American, they voted for me because of all these things that I told you about, and that's why I able to win. In fact, I think that somewhere it's mentioned, and I'm sure there was a Chinese fellow that was there, it was a senator before me, one term, but I was the first...

AI: A state senator.

PB: ...Japanese American elected in California to a state office, which was quite an honor. I didn't run because of that. But once I got to Sacramento, my feelings were that I was representing my district and not Japanese Americans as such, so that all my activities, my votes, my bills that I had sponsored was for the community I represented more than anything else. And it worked out much better. Also because my district, as I said, was mostly Democratic, it worked out well because when I went there I had the majority, as I say, were Democratic, and there was Willie Brown, there were other speakers. And every time that they wanted help they would come to me and say, "Paul, we know that Republicans, when you meet, will talk about this. We need your help." The Republicans, they were the minority on the other hand, would say, "Hey, we want to get this bill through. Will you go talk to Willie or the Democratic side and try to get their help because we need this issue?" So I found out that as a result of my district and my feelings and the way I was working that I could help both sides and try to bring uniformity in our thoughts so we would get things done. So when I left, a lot of people said that I did do a little bit of good during my term in office, and I'm happy to know that, because I'd hate like to heck to say, well I was a detriment to my people. But I think as a result of it, we have other Japanese Americans that have been elected to the California legislature, and I don't want to say that I was the forerunner and I brought that on. But it proved one thing, that regardless of whether you are of any ethnic group, that you can be a good representative in government.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: When you first joined the state legislature, did you detect any negativity towards you because of your ethnic background? You, as you say, you were the only Japanese American, and there was only one other Asian American and he was in the state senate at that time.

PB: Right.

AI: Did you maybe face, maybe not outright discrimination there but maybe some skepticism about whether you could indeed do a good job as a legislator?

PB: No, I don't recall or know of any instance and when there was any kind of feeling in that way. I do remember one thing, though. I carried a bill in order to legalize acupuncture. And people thought that acupuncture is a Chinese, or -- [laughs] -- you might say, a Asian thing. And so when I brought the bill in -- and I had studied it -- I got a lot of negative feeling. But the negative was not brought on by the people there, it was brought on by the medical profession, because they said they don't want acupuncturists going into their field of good medicine. But I had given it a lot of study before I put the bill in. There was one state, Nevada that had legalized it a year before. So I went and studied their bill, their reaction. And then what I did is -- I used to go to the Orient, too, quite a bit. I went over and found out what they were doing, and I found that they were using acupuncture. The dentists were using it, the doctors were using it when they operated. And so I said, "I will carry the bill." So regardless of the medical profession and the AMA's opposing it, I was able to get the bill through with an amendment to the effect that acupuncturists could operate only under a licensed medical doctor. I felt that once that went through, the acupuncturists, that since the doctor didn't know anything about it anyway, the acupuncturists would be able to work, which worked out very well. In fact, I had several MDs that eventually went to school, a school which I helped start in San Francisco for acupuncturists, and they wanted to be an acupuncturist, so went to school to learn about it. So it became something that was accepted and is now not only in Nevada and California, but many, many states throughout the union.

AI: Well, that's an interesting story, because prior to that, acupuncture was illegal everywhere except for in Nevada had, as you mentioned. And now it's quite accepted as a practice, and some insurance...

PB: Oh, yeah.

AI: ...will even cover acupuncture.

PB: Right. I don't know how it is in other states, Washington or Oregon, but in California we have the school that I told you about. That school was started by a young lady that wanted to study Japanese and was a friend of my daughter. So she went to Japan to Osaka to study Japanese. Well, she got very good in Japanese, so then she went to acupuncture school to learn about it, married one of the professors there, came back to United States, and opened the acupuncture school. Now, there are several schools now there. There's one in Los Angeles owned by a Korean family. So I know that it's now accepted and it's under way.

Subsequent to the passage of that particular law and -- I took a group of doctors to China to show them the application of acupuncture by medical doctors when they operate and dentists when they work on patients. And after they saw that, they were impressed that it could be used not only by itself as a acupuncture to maybe heal or relieve pain, but it could be used in other ways. So I think that along with this bill and many other bills that I put into the hopper and helped or voted for or was an advocate for, that it did have an effect upon the population of California and my constituency. And as I say, that was my main concern that when I was there that it would be a better place to live because of whatever law was passed.

AI: Well, now your legislative career is covered in detail in another oral history interview that was conducted and is now available at the California State Archives. So I won't ask you any detailed questions there. But just one other question about your legislative work, and that is that while you worked overall for your district and the welfare of the State of California, from time to time I understand you were approached on some issues of Japanese American interest. And one of these was, I think in your last term that, and it was a bill that called for support of the setting up of a commission to hear information about the wartime internment. And did you carry that bill in the state legislature? What, if you could tell a little bit about that and the discussion around that.

PB: No, there was, as you know at that particular time there were several bills that were being proposed in Congress relative to redress and things of this nature. And most of the opposition from the California legislators was that since this is a federal matter, that we should not get involved in, one way or the other to help the other. My feeling was that a resolution just saying that we support it, that we're not voting for one thing or another, that we support legislation of that kind would be appropriate. But as I say, since it was controversial to the extent that we were "meddling in federal bills," that it did not pass. Subsequent to my election there, Floyd Mori from up north near... north of Oakland was elected also to the California State Assembly. And many of you know that he is now the president of the Japanese American Citizens League. But when he came into office, he also contributed quite a bit to, you might say, another view of Japanese Americans and their, you may say, desires or whatever you want to say. But as I say, since our representation in each area was so small of Japanese Americans, that all the laws and the bills that we introduced were not targeted for the benefit of Japanese Americans. We just couldn't do that and never done it.

AI: Oh, you know, that recalls one last question. And I may have the information wrong about this, but was it sometime around 1975 that there was an effort to establish some, a leave provision, a war relocation leave for some Japanese Americans who had been employees of California state government? And how, what happened with that piece of legislation?

PB: That too was a, I remember vaguely that it was introduced. But as a result of the conflict with other agencies and things of this nature, it never got through. I was interested in it because when the war started my sister was working for the Los Angeles Board of Education. And she was told that "We have to let you go." Now, she went back to work because the board of education reversed that, saying, here a board of education who teaches tolerance, who teaches all these things, to let an employee of Japanese ancestry go, even though the citizens of the United States, was completely wrong. So she went back to work. But there were instances of this kind where people were not back to work and were relieved of their jobs. And so I think it was fair to consider that. But it would be very hard to prove down the line after those many years that that was a reason why they may have been let go, so -- and there was so very few. But as I say, that one never became an issue, and it was never taken up on the floor.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Now, during this time in the 1970s as you know, there were, there was more and more activity on the part of Japanese Americans to get some kind of redress for the internment...

PB: Right.

AI: ...experience. And as I understand when the redress idea was first discussed, it was controversial, and that many Japanese Americans were not sure it was a good idea. In fact, I understand some Nisei were even against pushing for some kind of legislation on this. What was your opinion at the time?

PB: Well, as I, I heard about it, too. Since I was a victim of that and my family, I think I mentioned that when we decided to move, we sold our furniture, my car was at a loss, one-twentieth of what the value was. We were the recipients of that kind of treatment and loss. Now, there were people that lost a lot more, the big farmers, the big nurserymen, those people that I know very well, their loss was in millions of dollars. So I sympathized and I felt that by law, we ought to do something. And as I say, when I was in the California legislature, these bills were being discussed and taken up in Congress. But I couldn't actively get involved in it. And when the bill was passed and it was going through, I knew that somewhere down the way that that would pass, which it did. And as you know, it passed and they decided that in 1980 that the commission would be set up. And that is another story. But it worked out that I was out of the legislature in 1980. And I remember that I was back in California in my hometown, and I became active with the chamber of commerce because they asked me to. So I was invited to Sacramento to speak at a chamber of commerce luncheon. And I remember vaguely -- I forgot what I was talking about at that luncheon at the hotel -- but there was a call, and a lady came out from the kitchen and said, "Mr. Bannai, there's a call for you from Washington, D.C." And I said, "Washington, D.C.? How do they know I'm here?" So, anyway I went in the kitchen and took the call. As I say, it was right at the beginning of 1980, and it was Jane Burns. [Ed. note: narrator is referring to Joan Bernstein] And she was, as you know the, the kind of the director and the one that was running the Commission on Wartime Relocation.

AI: Oh, Bernstein? Bernstein?

PB: Yeah. So she was the one on the phone saying, "Mr. Bannai, we're interested in getting someone to be the administrator of the Commission on Wartime Relocation. Would you be interested?" And I said, "Well, I don't know. I'm very familiar what's going on." She says, "We'd sure like to talk to you. Would you be willing to come to Washington, D.C., and talk to me?" So that was on Thursday. And I said, "Well, I'm here in Sacramento. I guess I can get a plane and go to D.C." So on Friday I went to Washington, D.C. The reason why I accepted the position was this. I met the people that she had hired already, because her basic staff was made up of people who were already working for the federal government, and they had a little office that was next to the White House. And she asked me to meet them and talk to them, before I took the job.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Excuse me. Just to clarify, this was the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and it had been established as a result of...

PB: Legislation.

AI: ...federal legislation...

PB: Right.

AI: 1980, specifically to gather information about the internment...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and to determine whether some injustice had been done.

PB: Sure.

AI: So at this point the government had not admitted anything. They were just, Congress was just establishing this to find out, to investigate.

PB: Right.

AI: And when the chairperson called you, she was looking for an executive director of this office. And so at this, this is the point where you...

PB: Yeah.

AI: ...then met up with the staff that...

PB: Right.

AI: ...she already had.

PB: That was, I think, about March or April...

AI: And now, this was...

PB: ...of 1980.

AI: '80. And what did you find when you met the staff?

PB: Well, see, the commission was to get under way and start doing the work in January, but she had gotten the staff together. There was no administrator. So when I went back there and I met the staff, I immediately knew that, not myself, but somebody that knew Japanese American, the history of it -- when I talked to them, these people didn't know anything about the evacuation. They didn't know about camps. Most of them, I talked to them about Japanese name. They didn't know a Japanese name from a Hungarian name. And I said, "I will take the job," because it was required that at least I knew a little bit about all of this. But I would not commit myself to 100 percent all the time. But I says, "I can at least get it started." And that's why I said, "I will stay." I didn't come back. I brought my clothes there, and I says, "I'll worry about going back and getting my personal belongings." But I saw the need.

Now, later on I got thinking about why, three or four months they hadn't hired anybody. Well, I went back over the files and found out that due to letters and information that Miss Bernstein was getting relative to who should head this commission, there was one thing that was told to her, and I saw this, is there was many, many active people that could've headed it, but they were strong connections. I won't go into names at all, with various organizations, the NCRR, the JACL. I was a very long-time member of the JACL, but I was not active to the extent that I was running for president and all that. And they didn't want anybody to head that commission with that kind of a background. And so I fit into the category, and so I was hired. So I started working that day, and Monday I was under way. First thing I realized is I've got to hire staff that would understand. So I got people that I found out about in the area...

AI: Who was that? Who did you hire?

PB: Well, there was a Kobayashi, who was working for Library of Congress, and he had left and retired. I got him. There was quite a few other people in the area, and I also hired people from West Coast to come out, Niseis that understood names and what the issue was. And as a result, the staff could do a lot better work. Now, the other Caucasians that we had on the staff that were long-time members of the federal civil service system, they were very good in other areas, so we kept all of them on. But when I took over as executive director, I wanted to be sure that we did the job that Congress gave the commission to do a good job. Now, first thing I did because we were directed to do this, is to set up cities where we would have hearings. And I contacted various people in the area of each city that we had to get the witnesses and to, the testimony that would go into the hearing. So if you read the book and know what happened, we tried to get people so they would tell their story of their losses. We felt that if they would explain... also another thing we wanted to do is, since we had the power of subpoena, that we ought to subpoena all those people that made the decision on the evacuation, "These are the people that we're going to take out and put into camp." So there was a lot of military people, FBI, army, navy, things of this nature. We also felt, in my estimation that if I could get the people from the various trades such as the farming, the floral industry, wherever the Japanese were strong, because there was a feeling -- and it was proven again -- that there was an economic reason for getting the Japanese out. This was their chance, because they said, "We're at war with 'em. They don't, they're citizens, they're non-citizens. If we put them into camp, we eliminate competition from them." So these are the things that I thought about when I started setting up the staff. And as I say, the staff worked very hard. We had very good hearings. And it worked out.


AI: Thank you, Mr. Bannai. We were just talking about your work at the Commission for Wartime Relocation...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and Internment of Citizens. And you had explained how you had hired on some additional staff, including some Nisei. And I understand Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig was another of the staff that you hired.

PB: She was a very valuable addition because of her research work that she had done on a lot of this. In fact, all the Nisei people we had on there were valuable from the standpoint that they knew a little bit about what happened. When you're very naive and didn't know that we were evacuated and don't know the problems of Japanese Americans, it's pretty hard to serve on the commission that deals with that. So I have to say that the people that we had that are Japanese Americans were probably the greatest contributors of a very fair report. And that was very important. Now, as I say, also because we had the right and we were able to question people that made the decision to evacuate us and put us into camp, that had a lot to do with it. Because if it didn't come out that there was a reason for us being in camp, that also would not be very good. So the commission work, and all that area, I think led to the report and was very valuable, was instrumental in our apology from the president, which represented the U.S. government, and the reparations which we received. So other than that, I think that the job of the commission was done. It was created by Congress and we carried out the work that Congress wanted.

AI: Now, you mentioned the hearings that you and your staff set up.

PB: Right.

AI: Did you attend most of those hearings?

PB: Yes, I did. I couldn't go to all of them. And as you probably know that besides those that were Japanese Americans that were put into relocation or concentration camp, whichever you want to call it, there was in that same bill a searching out of those that were evacuated from the island chain up in Kiska, and all that, and they were in camp in Anchorage in Alaska. And so that, too, we had to have a hearing on up in Anchorage in Alaska. So I think that although I couldn't make all the hearings, I made sure that we had adequate access, time, and the place that people could give their views, and would also bring documentation if necessary to show that there was a loss. It wasn't a loss only of their own feelings but monetary, physical, monetary losses more than anything else. I think that all the hearings were successful wherever they were held. Naturally most of the ones that were held on the West Coast where people, gone back to and back near where their losses were sustained were very important. And the commission members who listened were sympathetic, and they were very fair-minded and listened. And as a result of that, I think we got a good report, which led to the reparations.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: Well, now as we discussed earlier, at the very beginning of the redress movement, there was some controversy, some Nisei who were not for the movement toward redress. But it seemed that as time went on, there was increased feeling that these hearings were very important. Now, at the same time, I know that even with my own father who was in camp also, that many Nisei were reluctant to talk about their experiences. Did you have any concern that, at these hearings that you would not get sufficient testimony or that perhaps the testimony would not be detailed enough or really tell the whole story? Did you have a concern about that?

PB: Well, there were naturally some people that were reluctant if the government situation is not a private thing. So there were reluctancy on some of the people. Since this was a voluntary thing that we didn't force anyone -- in fact, on the subpoena part where there were people in government that we would like to have heard from very much so, even if they turned us down for whatever reason, we accepted that. So it was the same way with the people that should have testified and told us about how, what they experienced and the loss that they had, we didn't insist on that. There was no way that we could say, "Hey, you gotta do it." But there was a sufficiency of people that we contacted that wanted to tell the story, and that was the main thing. And it was sufficient enough to bring out the fact that first of all, that the government ruling of evacuation was very unfair and brought on by people that didn't know the whole story, and it was completely wrong. Secondly, that there was losses sustained by people because of their action, and a result, that the government made a big mistake and we should do something about it. And that was the main object of the legislation that was passed, and we as the Commission on Wartime Relocation and the evacuation proved that. That came out in the report, which I guess everybody knows. If you haven't read it, it's interesting. And if you have the report, you know what we studied and what we arrived at and how we arrived at that decision.

AI: Now, during the hearings was there anything that came out or anything about the hearings that surprised you?

PB: Well, in some of the hearings, although they were more one-sided, there was a negative -- as you know, one of our members was fairly negative. Whenever he showed up at our commission hearings, his questions were, you might say, frowned upon by the witnesses that were testifying. But all the way through including the last vote, when we voted for reparations and he voted against it, that individual was totally against it. Also in Los Angeles, I happened to be there when some of the veterans were testifying, and we had one lady go up there and say that it was a lie and all that. We had to ask her to be escorted out by the guards that we had as security people.

AI: So she actually believed that the camps were, that there were...

PB: There, it wasn't...

AI: internment camps.

PB: Yeah.

AI: She --

PB: She happened to be an individual that came from my home city of Gardena, but she was the same way when we had city council meetings. She was very anti-Japanese -- [laughs] -- and so I could understand that she would want to come down when we were having a hearing and try to arouse people to be against anything that we would gain as Japanese Americans. But that was the only incident that I know of that was kind of upset, hearing. All the rest of the hearings went very well. The hearings, I think were necessary. They worked out, and as a result of it there were a lot of people that knew about it that were not Japanese Americans that attended, and when they went there, I talked to several of them, and they said, gee, they didn't know that happened. This was something they were not aware of. So I think that it brought out to the public not only to Japanese Americans, but to the public other than Japanese Americans that we were discriminated against in the wrong way and that there should be something done. And of course, as you know, Congress then took the report and took the action to do what they felt was right. And I think it was proper.

AI: Well, now something interesting that happened at this time was that there was Senator S.I. Hayakawa, also of Japanese ancestry, originally Canadian, but he became a senator in the U.S. Senate.

PB: Right.

AI: And he was very outspoken against the redress. What was your opinion of his stand at that time?

PB: Well, we knew about it, and he's originally, I guess, Canadian, didn't experience the fact of being evacuated, of losing anything, and it may have been his own personal idea or it may be a political situation. It's hard to say. But nevertheless, a lot of people did not listen to him and went by without it. Unfortunately the one person that was on the commission, the, Dan Lundgren, lot of people did listen to, but he was one lone voice that was speaking against giving us reparations and things of this nature. So the majority in this country rules, and I think that that's the rule that we go by, the law we go by, and when we say the majority made that decision, it was the right decision, and I'll have to go along with it.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Now, as you mentioned earlier, you did not commit to staying on the staff of the commission for the entire life of the commission, and in fact, you did step down from the position before the writing of the commission's report. Would you explain a little bit about your decision to do that?

PB: Yes. I explained this when I stepped down from my position as the executive director. I said since I was one of the ones put into camp, that myself, personally, my family suffered a great amount of monetary losses, that I didn't feel that personally I should write a report or be part of a report in which I would ask for reparations or apology or anything like that. That I think it should be given to someone that read all of the report, that read all of the testimony, and would write a report which was unbiased, because I would be very biased. I wouldn't maybe ask for $20,000. I'd maybe ask for $100,000 -- [laughs] -- and that wouldn't be right either. So I said that I would not be part of the person or individuals writing the report. And as a result, when they, I said it should be independent, they did hire an independent attorney, Angus Macbeth, who wrote the report, and as a result of it, I think it had lot to do with the awards being given. I think it's only fair that it was given on a nonbiased basis, that the complete report was of people, but the report itself was written from an unbiased situation. So I'm, I still feel that I should not be part of writing a report.

AI: Right. So the report of the commission eventually was published...

PB: Yes.

AI: a book entitled, Personal Justice Denied...

PB: Right.

AI: ...authored by Angus Macbeth, as you mentioned. And then after that, Congress did indeed pass legislation...

PB: Sure.

AI: ...titled, the Civil Rights Act, which was then finally signed by then-president Ronald Reagan in 1988.

PB: Right.

AI: And so from the time that you were executive director in 1980 to 1988, that was quite a number of years there of activity. And it looked for a while as if that legislation might not pass and that there might not be an apology and reparations, even though that was the commission's recommendation. What do you think were some of the main factors in that eventual success and the passing?

PB: Well, you know that any time government acts, it takes time. This particular issue happened to deal with money. And when you're talking about millions of dollars and money which was going to be given to individual citizens, that those things take an awful lot of discussion and determination. And I think that had more to do with it than anything else. I don't know if a lot of people know, but during the time that, in 19-, well, before 1980, there was a lawsuit that was being conducted. I'm sure many of you know and I won't mention names or who it was, but the suit was being brought against, well, what they would do is to, a lawsuit against the federal government to get reparations for individuals. Now, being in government at that time in California and knowing a little bit about it, I did not oppose. But I said, "Very impractical. It doesn't happen. You don't sue a government and get money." All the time that when I was in California government, and this was in the federal government also, if you wanted money for a wrong that the government did or a government agency did, what you would have to do is have legislation, and the legislators would then act upon that particular issue and then determine whether or not money that was the government's, federal or state money, could be paid to an individual or a group of people. So I've always contended that a lawsuit that was at that time saying, "Hey, we were evacuated. You ought to give us money," and the suit was brought. My main thing was that money was being collected by people that didn't know. And so this money that they donated to this cause was, in my estimation something that they should not do. If some individual wanted to do it and sue the government, that's fine. But that was my feeling at that time, and so I didn't come out personally or vocally say that. But I said the only proper way is to have government legislation as it was done and then have the government, the body, Congress say, "All right. We will have hearings," or they didn't have to have hearings. They could say, "We'll give money." But they said in order to verify what we're going to do, we'll have hearings.

So there was two other, two parties, you might say that went into it. And the one party that I say that I was not vehemently opposed, but I didn't, felt was wrong, was trying to sue the government for a wrong that they did. We knew that, but you don't sue the government and try to get money. It's very difficult to do. But it proved that we did it the right way. Anybody that got reparations ought to be thankful, or you might say that the government of the United States, even though they made a mistake, will rectify it by eventually saying, hey, we did make a mistake, and we're sorry. And because of the mistake we're going to give reparations to you regardless of what you lost. Some people, as I say, lost millions of dollars, but they got something back, and that's something.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: Well, now as you had discussed earlier, at the same time that this commission process was going on and the hearings, your own two daughters, Kathryn and Lori, were involved in what's now known as the coram nobis...

PB: Right.

AI: ...cases, which was a reopening of the World War II period Supreme Court cases...

PB: Sure.

AI: ...of the, Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui, who challenged the curfew and the evacuation orders for Japanese Americans. And so at about this same time in the late '70s and early '80s, your daughters and other attorneys were -- and other community members were gathering information and data that supported much of the hearing information you received at the commission...

PB: Right.

AI: ...again showing the evidence that there was no military necessity. And now at this time were you surprised at all at what was coming out as a result of these, reopening these lawsuits? Because during the wartime there was so much misinformation about Japanese Americans being spies and saboteurs and that type of anti-Japanese, anti-Japanese American propaganda.

PB: Right.

AI: So here this new information was coming out that that was not the case. In your own mind, were you surprised at what was found?

PB: No, I wasn't surprised. I think that the lawsuits that you say that my two daughters and my daughter-in-law were involved in was very good. It may not be necessary, but it brought out an awful lot of things that was necessary. And I think that as a result of this, it set a precedent in all cases that may come up later that would have anything to do with this type of a situation -- that it set a precedent that will stay and maybe prevent anything like this ever happening again that, because of racial -- and this is what it was, it was racial -- that at least the three individuals, the names that you mentioned, were the proponents of trying to get the right thing done even after many, many years. And I'm very happy that my family members were involved in this and that they were able to contribute to this. And if it ever comes again, I would still encourage them to do the same thing, to do the right things. And that's what they were doing. They were doing the right thing, and I think that that is a very important thing.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AI: Now, when you, yourself, received your own letter of apology and your redress check in the mail, what was your reaction?

PB: Well, like I said, I knew that I had lost much more than what I got. But I felt that there are other people that were doing, in the same way. I did not use that money for my own personal use, because I felt that there were other ways to use the money for the benefit of a lot of people. So most of my people, I donated out to different charities and things because I really didn't, by the time I got that money, did not need that. As you know, when I resigned from the commission, President Reagan knew that I was in Washington, D.C., and asked me if I would go over to the Veterans Administration and help run that. So economically I didn't need the money at that particular time. Now there's a lot of other people might have. But because of that situation and because I was part of getting the check, I felt that I shouldn't enjoy it and spend it foolishly. So I used it in donating to areas that I felt would much more, needy and useful.

AI: Well, now as you mentioned, even while you were working on the commission, you were being recruited to go to the Veterans Administration.

PB: Right.

AI: And the veterans, issues of veterans was something that you had been involved with for decades at this point. And I understand that you were recruited to head the Memorial Affairs Department?

PB: Yes. Department...

AI: Is that right?

PB: The Veterans Administration is composed of three large departments. The Veterans Administration, incidentally, is the second largest governmental agency in the federal government, surpassed only by the military, and -- the military, army, navy, coast guard, marines. So the Veterans Administration, with hundreds of thousands of employees, has a hospital which is one of the biggest hospital chains and health care agencies in the world. And they employ thousands and thousands of people. They also have a department which makes home loans, takes care of insurance for veterans, things of this nature. That's one other department. Then the third department of which I was the head of is called the Department of Memorial Affairs. We have in this country and overseas too, about a hundred and some cemeteries that we have, we took over from the military originally, but in which all those who have died in battle or served in the military are buried and have the right to be buried, including their families. And so that was my job. I, the commission was on one side of the White House, and my job at the Veterans Administration was right across from, on Vermont Avenue, right across from the White House. So I was in touch with the president and his staff. It was a job that I enjoyed because I was doing things again for people that I had served with. I felt that I was doing something for my buddies and for people that needed the help. And so each day that I, and I didn't spend all my time in Washington, D.C. there, because my job took me around to many areas. Our facilities were in Alaska. Of course, we had two big cemeteries up there in Sitka and Anchorage. Our, one of our very famous ones, of course, is Punch Bowl in Hawaii. We had other ones overseas that was run by another agency. But in the United States in every state, we had cemeteries which were very busy and took care of the veterans. And as the veterans' age is now increasing, our job was even more so. And so to say that I enjoyed doing it, yes. I thought that I was doing a government job which we were obligated and said we would do. Each time I would visit a cemetery, and I visited all of them, some of them more than once or twice on my job, but I felt very much that it was a necessary part of the federal government to take care of those who were deceased.

Now, subsequent to that, I have retired from the Veterans Administration. But I still feel the same way, and I'm now running around the country on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And I represent the State of California in Washington, D.C., the Veterans of Foreign Wars. So, I'm still looking out for my buddies that I served with, so that the benefits that they're entitled to for having given up their time and many of them sacrificing not only their time but maybe a life, or limb, or whatever, that they will be looked after and that whatever they're entitled to, the government law says they're entitled to, I will see to it that they're, that they will get that. And so that's my job, and so I still get a certain amount of satisfaction of doing what I feel is my duty.

AI: So you retired from the Veterans Administration, and that was in 1986?

PB: Yes.

AI: Is that right? 1986. And now still representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

PB: Right.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: Well, you've had a very long career of public service working in the mainstream public institutions of American life. And at the same time, you have throughout your life from high school on, you were very involved in the Japanese American community and setting up community institutions run by and for Japanese Americans.

PB: Right.

AI: So in some ways you had almost two parts of your life where you were very involved. Was it, did you ever find it difficult or have some contradictions in having these two portions of your lives, one in the Japanese American community and then in the broader, mainstream society?

PB: No, I don't find it difficult. I think that each one of us make up our mind to do things. I look at it from the standpoint that I do have the time, and as I say, when I reached my economic, what I felt was a time that my family didn't need my help economically, I didn't have to work too hard, my parents were probably the one that taught me that the main thing in life is to help people, not for money or anything else. But if you do that, that there is a reward at the far end. And so I keep busy. And it's a good thing to keep busy because as you get older, I see people that deteriorate by not doing anything -- watch, staying home watching TV or something. I watch TV a lot, but I feel that if you're doing something and each day you accomplish something that you feel has benefited society, benefited someone else, that that is what life is all about. So I will keep doing it, and I don't think I will stop until I'm unable to do so because that is the important part of life, that you're contributing to society, you're contributing to the betterment of everybody that's around.

AI: Well, another thing that strikes me after hearing about so many of your experiences is throughout your life you took on many challenges. And as you know, there's a Japanese saying that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. And I think some Japanese Americans take that saying to mean, don't do something that will make you stand out. Perhaps, don't take on a challenge that will perhaps open you up to being a visible target that will be hit.

PB: Sure.

AI: Now, you, on the other hand, starting with going after a job in the banking industry, then later on going on to city and state politics, very visible jobs there, taking on the housing discrimination that you did. Can you tell me what was it that, perhaps from your parents' influence or within yourself that caused you, motivated you to take on these kinds of challenges that other people might not have?

PB: Well, each time that I've got into this it's been a, a challenge to an extent of seeing the ultimate result of something that will be better for that. For instance, the flower industry, I saw the people there growing, but they were, individually they never thought in terms of expanding and to make a bigger industry than what they were in. In the real estate industry it's the same way. One time I set a goal that I would try to sell thirty houses in a month. So I planned for six months, and I set up my clients, the property, and at that time there were lot of new housing tracts being built. And I achieved that. So when I set a goal, I try to reach that goal by planning ahead, whatever it takes, and trying to get as close as I can. If I don't achieve the goal, I want to get close to it. So it's the same thing with everything else that I have tried to do. And I think that if you try to think in terms of what there is by doing something, achieving at making the world a better place, then I think that is very, very important. And I will always work on that basis. And even now as I say, the time and health-wise and everything else -- maybe you don't have the same enthusiasm and the health thing as you did in the younger age, but as long as you're able to get around and do the things that you would like to do, I think that rather than just sitting down and staying at home, that when a challenge comes up to do something for somebody that you should try to do it. That's why I still stay very active in the community. I'm still active with the various service groups in my community, and I will keep doing it until I'm no longer here, because I think that that's something that we should do, important.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AI: Now, speaking of service, in more recent years, and I understand in the 1990s, you received an award from the Japanese government. Can you explain what that was and why, what that was for?

PB: Well, there's certain things that I did. One of the things is that in my city, there is a program called the Sister City Committee, and at that time I was going to Japan with different groups. I, I, it was associated through a travel agency with my sister. And I made an association in Chiba Prefecture with a city called Ichikawa. And subsequent to that the next city to me, Torrance, set one up with Kashiwa. But this association became very good. We would bring students over. We would send students over. Our city councils would alternate years go to Japan. Japanese would come over to Gardena. We set that up. And as a result of it, other cities decided to do this as a good means of forging more cordial relationships with countries. Well, Japan happened to be the most appropriate because we did have some Japanese in our town. That is one reason, I think that they may have. Other than that, because we have a consul general in Los Angeles, that whenever we had any occasion that, whether we had Nisei Week or something to do with Japan or Japanese, I would be sure that the Japanese people and the Japanese consul general's office was invited and they would partake. Because I think the friendship, not only with Japan, but -- I've set the same thing up with Mexico. I set up in a place, Huatabampo, a relationship, a sister city, more because the people there needed things. We donated a fire truck to them. They're very poor, so we donate material things, so their city will be better off than we are. We have a lot of things in Gardena that we really were much richer than those countries. The Japanese relationship was a little different because they're pretty well-off. But I think that these things where you have friendships with Japan and the relationship, and I've gone to Japan quite a number of times, and I'll still be going again because of my ancestry. That might have something to do with why I would get a medal from the Japanese government. But anyway, I'm very proud of it. So whenever I go to the consul general, and we were there last month because it was the emperor's birthday and I was invited, I proudly wear the little emblem that says I got a medal from the Japanese government. And I wonder at all before they gave it to me that they have thought about my fighting against them during the war -- [laughs] -- because maybe if they knew that they wouldn't give it to me.

But at least the association and my friendship and the furtherance of friendship with Japanese cities and Japanese people, and I do that because of my heritage, and I want to keep that up. And I'll be going back to Japan here in a few more months, and I hope that I'll be able to do something good for the people. And because of it I have a lot of people that still come from Japan. And I help them in their business. I've helped people from Osaka, from throughout Japan, whenever they come to the United States. In the real estate I used to take care of a lot of Japanese companies in their purchases in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, all over, take care of their property. But I do that because I know that they need the help language-wise and their knowledge of things in this country are a little different than in Japan. So that may not be the reason for the award, but at least I'm very proud of the fact that, to be recognized by the Japanese government.

AI: Well, I think it's clear, too, from what you've said that you are proud of your Japanese heritage and the culture of the Japanese heritage, and that at no time in your life did you ever deny your Japanese heritage. Now, now in the more current days, there are some Japanese Americans, younger Japanese Americans who may actually deny that that Japanese culture or Japanese heritage is a part of them. They, they feel and act thoroughly American. I think, too, that you were the first Japanese American in many settings that you went into. Perhaps you encountered whites, others of other ancestry saying, "You don't seem like a Japanese American, or, "You seem, you don't seem like other Japanese Americans. You're just like any other American." What kind of response do you have to those folks who either say, "Well, you don't seem Japanese American," or to younger folks who really don't feel a sense of their heritage. Do you have something that, that you might, some thought about that?

PB: Well, my heritage, I'm almost, we've talked about it, almost a Sansei, which means third generation in this country. No, I'm very proud of the fact that my folks came from Japan. I never, never, ever say that I'm of another ancestry. If anybody asks me, I'm proud to say that I'm of Japanese ancestry. In many times when people question it or look at me to see whether I'm Chinese, or Thai, or whatever I am, I'll come out right at the beginning and say, "My grandparents came from Japan." And I have no qualms. I'm proud of the fact that I'm Japanese, and I will never say that I'm other than of Japanese ancestry. I'm an American first. That's one thing that my folks said, as I told you when I went into the army, they said, "You're an American first." But I know that looking at me, and I will never change, eating American food every day, it's still the same. I will still look Japanese. So I will never deny the fact that I'm Japanese, and I'm proud of the fact that my folks came from there, and I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I'm proud of that. But, over and over, I say the main thing is I'm proud that I'm an American, that I was able to fight and do these things. And that's one of the reasons why, when you, we were talking about different memorials and monuments, that I will always support that, because we want to show other people that even though we're Japanese Americans, we're first and foremost proud Americans, and we're proud of the fact that we are Americans and doing well for this country.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AI: Well, now at this time in your life, you not only have your three children, you also have grandchildren now. And I'm wondering as you think of them and the next generations to come, do you have any thoughts for them? Anything that you would like to pass on or any other words reflecting back here as we come to the end of the interview?

PB: Yeah. I have five grandchildren, four grandsons and one granddaughter. And whenever I get together with them, which I try to as often as possible, I will always encourage them whatever I talk about is to carry on and the work. Be good Americans. Study hard. That's one thing. If they study hard, they will accomplish what they want to do. And to never forget their parents and who their parents are. And I think that because of it, I analyze some of my older grandchildren now and they're doing well. Now, it doesn't have to be only in the area of education, but I encourage them, I have one grandson who's very good in sports. And about three of them are very good musicians. And they play the piano and the violin and all that. So I encourage them in these areas, because I think that getting assimilated in all the educational areas, the sports area, the community as a whole, what they're going to do is to be a good American, and they're going to prove to the rest of the world that they're good citizens. And I think that's very important.

AI: Is there anything else that you would like to say or touch on?

PB: No. This is something I didn't know about until I got your fax and the letter and the phone calls. I think it's a program that is something that should be retained. I'm glad that whoever thought about it in putting all this together, and putting it on tape and writing and everything is going to do good. Now, the reason I say it's doing good, it's just like I talked about retaining monuments and things of this nature, it retains for future generations some of the things that they ought to know about, about the accomplishments of their forefathers, and I think that's very important. Now, one of the things I think I might have mentioned or may not have mentioned is the diary that my grandfather kept when he came from Japan. My father did a very remarkable job in writing down all the reasons why he came, what he did, how much he made in potatoes, what kind of work he did, the hardships he had, things of this nature. I think this is good because I read it, and it inspired me to do as much if not more. He was never disappointed. He had debts and he couldn't make enough money to support the family. But the things that he did after he got injured and wanted to support the family, I think it was an inspiration to me that I would be the same way with my family and to keep a record of all that. I keep a record of everything that I do, and then some day maybe my children and grandchildren will be able to look at it and says, "Well, that guy was a busy guy, but" -- [laughs] So that's part of it. So I think that the project of this type is very important, that it's for the future generation, not for now. But later on people are going to look back and say, "Hey, that's very, very good."

AI: Well, Mr. Bannai, thank you very much for the interview and all your information, experiences and insights.

PB: Good.

AI: Appreciate it.

PB: Enjoyed it.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.