Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ron Magden Interview
Narrator: Ron Magden
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 15, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-mron-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, today is June 15, 2004, we're in the studios of the Densho offices, I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and on videography we have John Pai. But today we have the pleasure of interviewing Ron Magden. And so Ron, I'm gonna just start from the very beginning, and just ask you where and when were you born?

RM: I was born in Mountain Home, Idaho, it's about 40 miles south of Boise, on August 30, 1926. I'm the youngest of three children of Roy and Zoe Magden. My father was a cook, my mother a waitress. We moved to --

TI: Well, so let me just get a little bit more. So go back, and so what was the name given to you at birth? What was your full name?

RM: Oh. Ronald, Ronald Ernest Magden. My mother had -- it's often said -- seen a Ronald Coleman movie the night before I was born, so I wound up with the name Ronald. My brother is named Roy Frank Magden.

TI: And Roy was born when?

RM: Year before.

TI: So 1925?

RM: 1925, July of '25. My sister was Jessie Catherine, she was born in 1924.

TI: So your parents had you --

RM: One, two, three.

TI: -- one after the other?

RM: Yes, and we were close together all the way through college, pretty much. And then...

TI: Do you know about how old your, your mother was when she had...

RM: I, she was twenty-one when she had me, so twenty, nineteen. She married at eighteen, right out of high school.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So let's talk a little bit about your mom. So her name again was...

RM: Zoe Catherine Magden. Z-O-E. She was born in Coos Bay, Oregon, she was, her father was a tinsmith, and her mother died when she was quite young, and her mother died at thirty. My mother was raised by her grandmother in, in Bend and Coos Bay, Oregon. And then came to Idaho with, to be with her father on a homestead when she was ready to go to high school.

TI: So, so going back to Coos Bay, what kind of a community was that? Was that more like logging at that point?

RM: Oh, yeah. It's a, at that time it was a log port, and tremendous amount of shipping of raw logs, and some finished lumber. She, she was there... she had a, later on she wrote a book called Sand, Sage, and Cement, and it was the three periods of her life. The sand, the years that she spent on the beaches of Oregon, and then the sage, Mountain Home was surrounded by sagebrush, and that era, and then cement for the floors of the restaurant she worked in later life. She worked fifty years as a waitress.

TI: How, when did she write this book?

RM: She wrote the book... actually, she started writing in the Great Depression, probably around 1930, '31, for True Story, and True Confessions, and Love Story, and she, she was getting seventy-five dollars an article, and she was exhilarated by that, that she was a published author, even though it was pulp magazines. And oh, later on, I found out that those were all on microfilm -- this was in the 1980s. And I said, "I'd really love to read those." She said, "Well, I'm never going to tell you my pseudonym. I'm never going to -- you're not ever going to get to read those," so I haven't. But the thought there. So she was writing pretty much all her life, and the capstone was the book Sand, Sage, and Cement, which told her life story. And I thought very well-done, and also told the story of a, her three children. And it received quite a lot of acclaim. She wrote it about 1989, and she would have been in her eighties at the time.

TI: I have to read that. We tried to actually check it out at the library, but we couldn't get our hands on it.

RM: Oh. Well, it's very, she, she's, wrote about particular incidents; pawning her wedding ring when things really got bad in the Depression. Her oldest son -- my brother Roy -- running off and joining the navy, forging my father's signature. My sisters falling in love with Silver Wings, the, he was an aviation cadet, and that kind, that story was quite great. And then coming to, one night in high school, I was working as a turret lathe operator in a machine shop. And it was wartime, and you could work as many hours as you wanted. And I came home from work about two in the morning, and my mother was there, and I had put on the desk merchant marine papers. I was going to enlist in the merchant marine when I finished high school. And she had placed on top of that the application to the University of Idaho.

TI: Right. And this was in her book, in her memoirs.

RM: This is in her book, this is in her memoirs. And I was very determined that I was going to see the world, travel, and get in the merchant marine, and she started to cry about an hour into the, maybe less than that. And I couldn't stand that, so I said, "Well, I'll go up and try the University of Idaho." And in the freshman English class --

TI: Yeah, before we get there, I'm going, I'm gonna pull you back in time to those early years. 'Cause I didn't know this, that your mother was writing back then. I mean, what influence did that have on you? When you saw your mother writing, I mean, what, what were you thinking?

RM: Well, I don't remember when I learned to read, but in our house, we always had lots of books everywhere, in every room, and some magazines, but mostly books. And, and I would read those, and I remember I tackled Gone With the Wind, I think, in the third grade and things like that. It was laying there and so I read it. I can't remember -- and there were some Socialist books like The Jungle, and I remember that one had great influence on me. So books were around the house, and there were conversations, but those were not particularly -- those were influences on me, I know that very much.

TI: And these were conversations with you and your mother, or with your...

RM: Yeah. My father worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. He couldn't --

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's, before we talk about your father, your father's name was...

RM: Roy. Roy Dennis. And he'd been born in Michigan, came west in 1908 with his family, there were fifteen children in the family. And they settled in Mountain Home. And he, he was an outdoorsman, loved the woods, he also was a baggage handler for the railroad, and then he, he learned -- he was a good cook, and he, he got into the cooking business and stayed with it the rest of his life. They, in the worst of the Depression, around 1937, '38, he just disappeared.

TI: Oh, before you even get there, how, how did the two of them meet? Your mom and dad meet?

RM: Oh, my mother and her grandmother lived in Mountain Home, and they had to cross the railroad tracks from their house to the high school, my mother did. And so she would -- this is the story she told me -- she would use the station, railroad station to walk, the easiest way to the high school. This was about 1922, '23. And so they would walk, she would walk across it, and this fellow who was handling the baggage would always watch her as she crossed, and he finally got up the nerve to ask her to go to a show with him, a movie. And Mountain Home had about 500 people in it. And so they went to the movie, and the day she graduated from high school, she married my father. And so... and they lived in Mountain Home for a while, and then moved on. That story is told in Sand, Sage, and Cement. Their meeting, how they grew to love each other. But he, I remember as a boy that he worked a tremendous amount. He, he had one facility talent, maybe. He could add figures in his head, he had a remarkable ability for mathematics, I think. But he'd quit high school, his father had died, let's see... he would have been seventeen when his father died. So he quit high school and went to work to help support the family.

TI: But then in the home, in terms of sort a closeness, was more with your, your mother in those early years?

RM: Yeah.

TI: And the influence of the, the readings and the writing was all there.

RM Was very strong. There was, it was almost a given, in particular, my, my brother and I read a tremendous amount, always. And I, I remember being disappointed with Dick, Jane and Spot in the first grade, having to go back and read that kind of thing. And the, the great desire to move on. And I never really was happy with school until I got to the university, where I felt I really could read and try to get meaning out of... in high school, I felt it was pretty much a bore. We kept going over the same things. Anyway...

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So how did you get to, to Boise? I mean, at what point did you move to, to Boise?

RM: Okay, it was, we started in Mountain Home, and my father bought a candy store in McCall, Idaho. McCall was a resort town about a hundred miles north of Boise. And so we moved there. And then I don't know whether he lost it in gambling or what, but we lost the candy store and had to live in a tent for six months. And that's one of my earliest memories, it was about 1930, and they pulled the tent from the water and set it up, and we lived in that tent. McCall can get really cold in the fall and the winter. So we were, by the fall, he'd found a job in Caldwell or Nampa, Idaho, cooking. So we went down there, and then he found a better job in Boise. So by 1932 --

TI: Going back to the, the tent, were there other families around there, too? So this was like a tent city, almost?

RM: Yeah, there was a tent city in, on the shores of Payette Lake, yeah.

TI: So this was right at the beginning of the Depression? You said about 1930?

RM: The U.S. census shows the family to be in McCall in June, 1930, and I know we were there probably a year, and left as the winter snow comes. McCall is very high elevation, the snow is early. And so we, we were down in Nampa or Caldwell, I can't remember exactly which, and then moved from there to Boise. I started school in Boise, Park School, and I enjoyed it.

TI: Let's talk about Boise. What was it like? So this is probably more your childhood.

RM: Oh, Boise is about 20,000 people, 20-, 25,000 people. Everybody knew each other, it was a small town, Main Street, capital, no industry, the railroad had been kept out of the city for twenty, thirty years, was way out on the edge of the city, so that Boise was not the industrial giant at that time.

TI: So how did people make their living in Boise? You said it was the capital, so it was more government?

RM: Yeah. I would think most people made their living in Boise, they were farmers, and there were a large number of retired farmers. They would come in from the hinterland and retire there. And the reason I say that, when I started selling papers in 1935, the people I sold newspapers to were retired people, rocking chair people, boarding houses and that kind of thing. I got to know them quite well, enjoy that world. There was, it was not a major business center, sort of off the track.

By the time we got to Boise, though, my mother was quite ill. Some kind of a thyroid disorder. And so I, at the end of my first grade, I remember them putting us on a stage, a bus, if you will, going to McCall, and spending a first summer, that first summer, with a Finnish couple, the Kodlas. And they didn't speak English, I didn't speak Finnish, and my brother was with me, and so, but we stayed there, and they were wonderful people. He was radical, he was a Socialist, but in any case, we enjoyed being on that farm a great deal. I went back every year 'til I was sixteen, every summer.

TI: To stay there, or just to visit?

RM: Just to stay there. To work on the farm. We milked cows and we did the work with the alfalfa and the wheat. They were very, very neat people. And I enjoyed, it was a great life. It was a, weekend social get-togethers were really interesting and important, we got to be aware of ethnicity, I think.

TI: When you say you got exposed to ethnicity, because they were Finnish and they really sort of a strong sort of Finnish identity?

RM: Yeah, it was Long Valley, and there were probably at least fifty families, I would say, Finnish families, all strongly tied together, all socializing together. And we got, my brother and I were aware of this big difference coming from Boise, where maybe sophistication, to a certain extent, and growing up with Finnish people, where it was really a community. First time I really --

TI: So up to that point, did you ever identify yourself with an ethnic community, or ethnic...

RM: No, you know, I, I was never really interested in finding out the heritage of the Magdens until I went up to see my father at probably 1940. He was working in La Grande, at a restaurant there, and I went up to see him, and for some -- and we were in the car, and I asked him about Magdens and where they were from and everything. And all he could remember was that they were from Sunfield, Michigan, and he was, he remembered the cold winters and the hot summers, and that was about it. He didn't know anything about the background of the family.

TI: Well, how about your mother's side?

RM: My mother's side... my grandfather came home in, I believe, 1935, came to our place in Boise to die. And died on the, the davenport, or... and in the process of his dying, he talked a lot about the Bunnells, and that's my mother's maiden name. Zoe Catherine Bunnell, and he talked about their coming west from Connecticut to Michigan, interesting enough, and then to Oregon. They were very early Oregon people, but mostly tinsmiths, through all that. So I knew the background of the Bunnells, but I didn't know the backgrounds of the Magdens. In, in many ways, still, though, though I tried to find 'em. I guess, though, that coming back to the story, Sand, Sage, and Cement told the story as my mother saw it, and in, let's say, the dramatic moments of our life story. She, she did persuade me to go to college, and I did go up there and I loved it. It was magnificent and I, I was really interested in what I was taking and doing, and enjoyed it immensely. I had a job as a waiter in a sorority for four years and survived that.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Well, let me now go back. You just mentioned that how in 1935, you started as a, a newspaper boy. So you must have been about nine years old or so.

RM: Yes. Yeah, I can date it because I remember the first newspaper I sold. It was Wiley Post and Will Rogers crashing at Nome, Alaska. And I think I'd sold seven or eight papers, it was a big thing, and my mother asked me where I'd been. It was an afternoon newspaper in Boise. And I said, "Well, I got a job selling papers," and one of the fellows in the grade school I was running with took me down there, and I signed up and checked out the papers and sold them, and did quite well. And I said to my mother, "Do you mind?" She said, "Well, it's all right as long as your grades don't suffer." And so I sold papers beginning in '35 until I was forced, I think, at the age of fifteen, child labor law went in and said you couldn't sell papers --

TI: Well, going back to that first, that first time you sold papers, what, what made you interested in selling papers? What was it that was exciting or...

RM: Well, I was, I think that's the birth of my love of history. I would read the paper before I tried to sell it, and I, if I were going into a saloon that had the sporting games, had the box scores, baseball and that sort of thing, I knew enough to hawk the paper on sports, and people would buy it. And so, and if I were going down political row, down by the Hotel Boise, where the politicians were, I'd, I'd talk about politics, national, state and local. And that was the way we adapted the newspaper to sell it. And if I had read the paper, I could sell better. I knew that. And so that's how I sold papers, and I had, each of us had a corner, there were about... sometimes there were eighteen people selling after school, sometimes there were eight. And our sales, we soon realized, were dependent upon whether there was an eventful day or not. And the paper was isolationist. It was opposed to preparation for World War II, that sort of thing. Both papers, but one was worse than the other. And if there was, something big really happened, then we'd get up early and sell the Statesman in the morning.

TI: Oh, so you could cross over and sell... because you sold, was it the Capital News?

RM: I sold with Capital News from '35 to, I'll betcha 1940.

TI: And so that was the afternoon, the afternoon newspaper, and then they had a, Statesman was in the morning?

RM: The morning paper, right.

TI: And, and how would the Statesman be distributed? Would that, would that same thing --

RM: Well, we'd, we'd go greet the crowd on Saturday night coming out of the dance halls and the restaurants.

TI: Okay. So, so it actually came out really late at night, and you were able to get the --

RM: Yeah, yeah. And we, we would also... there was a midnight movie, and we'd always meet that crowd with the Statesman. And so there was a nightlife within Boise. And my mother was working the Chesapeake Cafe, and it was open 'til, to get the late crowd from the, the movies, and we knew we had to be home before she was home, my brother and I. We sold together.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So I'm just thinking about how you're describing your life, I mean, you were very independent. I mean, you would, you would at nine, sell newspapers on the corner.

RM: Yes.

TI: In the summers you would go up with this Finnish couple...

RM: Come back the day before school started.

TI: Was that pretty common for, for boys of your age to be that independent?

RM: No, I don't think so. We didn't, we had a very loose-knit family structure. My father left...

TI: So when you say your father left, how old were you when your father left?

RM: I might have been eleven, twelve. My father just disappeared, and my mother didn't make any explanation. And my sister told me I was too young to worry about it. I remember that. And so I, it was about 19-, probably 1940 that I read the divorce papers. He lost --

TI: Going back to, you're eleven or so, when you first found out, and your sister said you were too young, I mean, how did you feel about it? Do you remember?

RM: I felt sorry for my father. And so I hitchhiked... he was up in Cascade, sixty miles north. I found out from a cousin that he was there. And so I just went out and hitchhiked to Cascade, it was sixty miles north of Boise...

TI: Now, why did you feel sorry for him?

RM: That he'd left his family. I didn't really connect it to he'd had differences of opinions with my mother or anything, although I'd heard those, the, it wasn't fighting so much as complaining. We, I would hear that in the middle of the night, so I knew there was trouble, but he just disappeared, and I went up to see him. I, I was probably eleven or twelve, and then picked me up, laundry truck driver who knew the family picked me up and took me there to Cascade. He was on his way to McCall.

TI: And what was that like? What did your father say when you -- he must have been surprised to see you.

RM: Yeah, he was. He was asleep on a sleeping porch, and I went in and I, I said, "Hi, Pop." He rolled over in the bed and, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I came to see you." And so he, he got up and he got a cup of coffee, and he always carried, put the spoon in the coffee, and didn't put any cream or sugar in it, but I, and I never understood the spoon in there, but it was a habit. And he got me a cup of coffee, we sat and talked for maybe an hour. Not, not once about the separation from my mother. It was all on what I was doing in school and reading, selling papers, that kind of thing. And I got through chatting with him, went out, and hitchhiked back to Boise. Yeah, I was...

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: I wanted to back a little bit more to your, to your mother, since she was such a big influence in terms of...

RM: Oh, yeah.

TI: Did she ever talk about, sort of, race relations? About other ethnic groups?

RM: Uh-huh.

TI: What was that...

RM: Well, we got into that sort of accidentally. She had an uncle, and that uncle in The Dalles, or somewhere in Oregon, had married an Indian girl. And in Boise, in... well, in Idaho particularly, there was an anti-Indian feeling. And it was there in the class, classes that I took, too. But my mother -- and I remember it clearly -- somebody came to the house, a relative, and started to disparage Indians. And my mother really, once in a while she, she would get upset, usually pretty-well controlled. But she really threw the person out of the house. She wasn't going to hear that, wasn't going to have it, and was very upset about it. And so -- and I asked her, and I've, I don't know whether Jesse or Roy were there, but I immediately, I remember, after the person was, left, I said, "Why? Why is that person so hostile to the Indians?" I said -- you know, I had 'em in class, worked with 'em, they were on, selling papers, they were just like everybody else. And she said, "Well, there are some people who just don't like other people because of their skin, and you have to know that and live around it." And then she mentioned the Jewish people and Hitler persecuting them.

TI: Before you go into that, I was curious, that incident when she essentially threw that person out of the house --

RM: Yeah.

TI: -- did that surprise you that your mother did that?

RM: Yeah, yeah, because my mother wasn't that -- was sort of a gentle creature. [Laughs] In fact, shy, even as a waitress, she couldn't, she'd, she would rarely ever become emotional and get upset like that. And so it took a lot to stir her. But that issue really bothered her.

TI: Was it more from a intellectual, or was it because she really felt a kinship? You mentioned your uncle...

RM: She, well, she loved the Indian girl that my uncle married, there was an attachment there. This is an Oregon attachment. And I don't know, that early period is pretty gray to me. I never met the Indian girl, and he died, he drowned in the Columbia River, so it was a different era that we're speaking -- this is the, in her life, this would be the "sand" area, era. And we didn't get to meet the family in Oregon 'til quite a few years later. But I remember the incident clearly, and I remember her being explosive about it, and it really jarred me that my mother could get so upset about something like that.

And I know that that had another influence, when, that there were Japanese -- just a few -- in classes that I had in, in grade school, junior high and high school, and when something would be said about them, particularly after the war, I would react hostile to that. I marched behind, in ROTC, a Japanese fellow, Atsushi Shintani, who's really a fine guy in every way.

TI: So your mother's influence just wasn't just for Indians. It was all, like, different people of color that she --

RM: Yeah. Oh, yeah. She, that's what I meant by the Jewish people. She was really hostile to Hitler's persecution of the Jews. I remember in 1937-'38, coming home, I would come home and talk about the headlines that I had read, and I'd ask her about this persecution of the Jews. And she said, "Well, they've been persecuted throughout history because they have a different religion." And I had remembered that, because I said, "But Mom, the Jewish religion came before the Christian religion. I don't understand the connection." She said, "You're not doing very well in Sunday school," something like that. And I said, "Is there a connection between Sunday school and what's happening to the Jews?" "Yes," she said, "there is." She said, "I can't think of what, for you to read," she said, "but why don't you go to the library?" So I, I went to the library and I checked out World's Great Religions, and still couldn't get the difference. It was still, to me, "Why are you persecuting Jewish people?" And that, that kind of thing.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: This is really fascinating to me, because every day you read the Capital News, which you mentioned as sort of an isolationist newspaper. So a lot of the information you were getting was sort of slanted for perspective of sort of more isolationist, and not getting involved in Europe and perhaps helping the Jews and things like this, yet you were questioning all this.

RM: Oh, yeah. I questioned the Capital News. I would read the editorials, I would read the articles, and I'd look at the adjectives and the adverbs, and I knew that there was propaganda coming through. And, and I particularly knew it because I would talk to the politicians on the street, and they were so opposed to preparation or rearmament, and I couldn't understand that, 'cause I could read the headlines about the Austrian Anschluss and Poland and that kind of thing. And when World War II started, I think they put it on page 4, September 1, 1939, somewhere like that, they hid it, you know. And we'd dig that out, kind of thing, and so I looked at the newspaper more as an element of propaganda than I did of history of truth.

TI: It sounds like almost as a teenager, you were being an editor in some ways, or you were editorializing the Capital News.

RM: Yeah, yeah, I did. And I didn't hold back on that. We had a, the person who we checked the newspapers out was a fellow named Frank Anifin. Really sort of a character. And, and he was, I think, very much on the interventionist side, and so we'd be waiting around for papers, and so I did hear intervention talk, but I, I knew World War II was coming. I could see it, feel it, know it. And to be going the opposite direction of, as the newspapers were publishing. It seemed to me it was wrong.

TI: For the people in Idaho, how would they get sort of the other perspective? I mean, if the Capital News, was the Statesman more interventionist? Was there --

RM: No, no, it was even more isolationist.

TI: So in terms of the news that they were getting, how, so how would people...

RM: Well, I compared it with the beginning of World War I. I had read the origins of World War I, probably in the eighth or ninth grade, and I was, I could tell this is blindness, sticking the head in the sand. I remember Franklin D. Roosevelt coming through in 1936 and us outside the elementary school, and he, waved at him in a convertible, and then being taken over in front of the capitol. And he gave a speech, wasn't interventionist, but it was, "Hey, we have to keep an eye on both Europe and Asia, and watch the aggressive powers." I think he used the term "aggressive powers." And so that had an impression on me, and I saw these outside forces. And I wasn't alone; most people who sold the paper were cynical about the newspaper's stand. This is misleading to people, type, and there was some of that. Maybe my mother had an influence in that. I don't -- and I think maybe, in particular, when I got to high school, my teachers had a, a lot of them were interventionist. There was a different point --

TI: So I'm curious, I mean, for the isolationists, which, what were they hoping for? What were they thinking?

RM: That it'd go away. That we'd had war scares since 1919, and all of this would just blow away, and we wouldn't have to worry about them, particularly in Idaho. And we weren't close to the Pacific Coast, so we didn't have to worry about Asia. But they failed to realize the term "world war." And I remember distinctly, the one thing I really remember, that really... I don't remember when Lindbergh came through Boise, but I remember selling the paper, and I can remember that, "Hey, this man flew the Atlantic Ocean, he destroyed the theory of isolationism, and yet here he is out here practicing isolationism." He was speaking against intervention in Europe. And as a kid, I was very interested in current affairs, current events. It stuck with me. It takes me forty-five minutes to read the paper, and I mentally joust with people who write, I think, and I've done that ever since I sold papers.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Well, now I want to kind of jump to December 7, 1941.

RM: Yeah.

TI: And with the, Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor, what was then the reaction?

RM: I was in a, a drugstore, Joy Drugstore. I was having my breakfast, I had a milkshake with an egg in it, probably ten or eleven o'clock in the morning.

TI: That was your breakfast? A milkshake and an egg?

RM: That was breakfast, yeah, that was breakfast. And my mother was asleep, I didn't want to make noise, so I left the house and went to the drugstore, Ed Cabets, and he had the radio on like everybody else in America, and I heard the announcement. And I, this fellow next to me -- I can't remember what he was eating -- but he turned to me and he says, "Oh, God." He says, "We're gonna go back through it again." And I said, "Yeah," I said, "There's, I don't think there's any way out of this one." And by the time I went over to see my best friend, whose name was Stan Ogsbury, Stan's father was saying, "Well, the Japanese aircraft carriers are on the Pacific Coast." I said, "Where?" He said, "San Francisco, Portland, Seattle." I said, "They are?" Says, "Yeah." Said, "We're gonna have to get ready." I said, "Oh," I said, "Gee, I haven't read that yet or heard that on the..." "Well," he said, "it's happening." He said, "I've got friends in the military who told me this." So about this time I started to get a little scared and I went home and listened to the radio. Or did we... just a minute, I don't think we had a radio until oh, about 1942. So I heard it, must have been a neighbor. Anyway, they, they just kept giving the same announcement over and over. And my reaction to Pearl Harbor was that, "Uh-oh. We're going in whether we wanted to or not." And I heard the Roosevelt speech on December 8th in the classroom. I had a very enlightened principal who pumped it into the different classrooms so we could hear it.

TI: What were your, your classmates saying, and teachers saying about this?

RM: "Too, we're too young to go." The kids that I was going to school with said, "We're too young."

TI: 'Cause you were about fourteen?

RM: Yeah, I was fifteen, fourteen. And I do remember on December 8th, passing -- I can't remember whether it was Scottish Rite Temple or where, but there was a long people, line of people enlisting in the service. And they were all shouting and yelling that, "Let's go, let's go." Another person would come up and they'd greet him, that kind of thing.

TI: At that point, did people understand that the United States was going to war not only with Japan, but with Europe? That it was fully entering, or was it more focused on, on Asia?

RM: No, and, and it was interesting. I was selling, I was selling papers then, and it was interesting. Roosevelt turned the, the war from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and he was helped immeasurably -- and I remember shouting the headline -- by Hitler, who declared against the United States. Probably the capital mistake he ever made. And, and so forced our attention onto Europe. Otherwise, he might have had to fight the war in the Pacific first. So that... and I remember when we were selling papers, that -- and he wasn't called FDR, he was called FR in the papers. And I remember that that, that switch took place. And, and it took so, it was so subtle, you hardly noticed it in Idaho, but it was there.

TI: I'm sorry. The switch being from, from Japan to Europe?

RM: Yeah. Yeah, of taking on Europe first, and then Japan. Roosevelt's belief that didn't come through clear in Idaho, the Roosevelt idea that Germany was a greater enemy, to be feared more, than Japan.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: But what were feelings, do you think, of the people in Boise about the Japanese and what they had done?

RM: Oh, they, well, the immediate response was the "Yellow Devils," and, and dropping "Japanese" in the newspapers to the word "Jap." And ferocious adjectives and adverbs to describe Japan's hit, surprise attack. And when the Japanese people who were in Boise -- there were small numbers of them -- and in, I don't recall direct confrontations with them at that time. And I, as I said, '41, I was still in junior high, but there were, I know the Itos and the Shiotanis and there were three or four other Japanese families there. I don't recall any hostility in the classroom to them. There was, later, when I was in ROTC. I was asked why I marched behind a Japanese, and I said, "He's not Japanese to me, he's, he's a long-time friend." And he was.

TI: And this is ROTC in college?

RM: High school.

TI: High school?

RM: Yeah, when I, when in the tenth grade, you went to high school, ninth was in junior high, and we didn't have clothes, very, very good clothes, because my brother and I --

TI: Okay, this is right. I got confused because, because the Japanese stayed in Boise. They didn't have to go to the camp, so they were --

RM: No, they weren't, they weren't incarcerated. We had -- I don't know where he fits in, what time he came governor -- but we had a mean bigot as governor. There wasn't any question about his hostility to the Japanese people.

TI: This is Governor Chase Clark?

RM: This is Chase Clark. And I, I certainly knew him around the capitol when I was selling papers, and in fact, I was aware that the family were deep in the China lobby, the Chiang Kai-shek lobby, even then. And I, and it bothered me, and I don't know why it bothered me. The Clark family bothered me. The opportunism of the family to take advantage of events to, and to rant and rave about the Japanese. And I couldn't believe he was put in charge of the trial, but that's another story.

TI: Later on, we'll get to that later, but so, boy, I'm thinking, during this period in high school then, the war's going on, you had Japanese Americans families still in Boise.

RM: Yes.

TI: And the sense was that they were pretty much accepted because they were, they were...

RM: There were so few of them, and they couldn't tell whether they were Chinese or Japanese. For most, for most Boiseans, they, they were lapped together, and we had Chinese there. And we had one -- they had, we had a Chinatown, and Saturday night, when I was a kid, we'd go have, with my friends, high, junior and high and high school friends, we'd go have noodles on Saturday night in Chinatown. And so, and I know they didn't know the difference between Chinese and Japanese, the Boise people. Never did learn to distinguish. And there were far more Chinese than Japanese in Boise.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Now, I'm curious, and this may, may go more to your newspaper memories, but in the months right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was talk of, of the camps. And I was curious what people in Boise thought when sort of news started coming up that there would be a camp of Japanese in the state.

RM: Oh, they, they really resisted that. I think if you read the Capital News and Statesman editorials, they were very opposed to putting the Japanese in Idaho. And there was a hope, originally, that they could come voluntary -- in fact, I don't know how many families did -- there was an open period before internment where you could move inland, and there were families that moved to Boise and Nampa and Caldwell from the coast. I don't think very many, but some of them did and were successful. They, and they lived out the war there. I didn't know any of those people, but I knew that they were there, I'd read the paper.

TI: Do you recall any of the news stories about this "voluntary evacuation" of people?

RM: Yeah, I remember that the newspapers opposed it. That they didn't want the "Pacific Coast trouble," that was how it was worded.

TI: So they opposed the voluntary, and then later on, news came out that they were, there were gonna be these camps, and a lot more would be in Idaho. So how, how newsworthy was this? Was this like front-page information --

RM: No.

TI: -- or was this buried someplace?

RM: Front page was very local news-oriented, not given to discussing the Japanese on the Pacific Coast. That was rare a discussion. When the federal government decided to overrule the state, and this was after the Salt Lake conference, there was no... "Okay, we'll accept it, but they can't stay here after the war." I remember that was the newspaper point of view. And, and they wanted guards around the camps, and they wanted the jobs for Caucasian unemployed. I remember that was a big end point that they made.

TI: So it, it was perceived that, that the Japanese would be in camps, guarded --

RM: Yes.

TI: -- so more like, almost like a prison environment.

RM: That's right.

TI: And then possibly jobs for the community associated.

RM: Uh-huh, that's right.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So when, when, at Hunt, Idaho, or Minidoka, when, when the camp was established, was there more news about the...

RM: There was news because Morrison Knudsen, the big construction firm in Boise, built the camp, and there were jobs galore, I remember that. And Morrison Knudsen had their main headquarters in Boise, but they didn't have their equipment and that kind of thing there. They may have, but I don't recall it. But the big thing was that it was jobs for, for people in southeastern Idaho, that's how they looked at it. And, and there was pretty much a news blanket on Minidoka until the coming of the, the people who refused to answer the questionnaire and were, they were imprisoned across the street in the...

TI: Well, so when you say "news blanket," so although the, you had, oh, over ten thousand people in your state, it pretty much wasn't covered, who these people were, it was just...

RM: Yeah, they...

TI: It was just sort of the common knowledge, though, amongst the people, that these camps were there?

RM: Yeah. Well, see, the isolated area, they were next to the Craters of the Moon national monument. They were out in the center of the desert there. The only thing I remember was indirectly that, was it too close to Sun Valley? Were the, was the camp too close, would it bother the tourist business up at Ketchum and Sun Valley? I remember that part of being in the newspapers. But I, I don't recall, I think that far more attention was paid to, to Tule and the revolts in the Tule camp, than it was to Minidoka.

TI: Do you recall the, the Japanese coming through Boise as they went to, to Hunt?

RM: No. The railroad was deliberately kept out of the town. You had to walk up to the train depot, which was one end of Capitol Boulevard, and you'd have had to know that they were coming through. And I can't remember what time they did come through, although I, I noted it one time. But the only time I went to the train depot was to see my brother off. And when he jumped the school and enlisted in the navy, when he was seventeen.

TI: So he was underage?

RM: Yes. He, he forged his dad's signature. Wasn't hard to do, we did it on our report cards.

TI: I'm curious; going back to school, was there any discussions about the camps from the teachers or your classmates?

RM: No, and I, I took history all the way through. They never mentioned it. I was always surprised at... taking high school history, not that I had a pompous feeling that I knew more, but we never got through -- I remember one American history teacher skipping the Woodrow Wilson era and World War I. [Laughs] And this was a, I couldn't believe this. We just jumped over, because he was a Democrat, and she wasn't going to talk about Democrats. But there was no discussion of the, the Japanese in the camps, and yet they were fairly close nearby. And, and I sort of thought of, I didn't put full effort in high school, I worked all the way through. I was much more interested in jobs, I was much more interested in reading what I wanted to read, and so I just put minimum effort into high school. Took the courses to go to college or university, I guess because they were there. I could have gone into shop, metal shop or wood shop or something, but instead I took college preparatory.

TI: Did you think, when you were going to high school, that you would, you would be going to college?

RM: No, I didn't.

TI: It was just an interest? You're just more interested...

RM: Yeah. My driving interest from -- and it parallels when I started working at the newspaper -- was history. I read everything in history, and I loved it. I knew that in the fourth grade, that I could, and so I would check books out of the library and go my own way. And I would pass English and history and math and whatever, just not worrying about it. Geometry or algebra, I'd take it, wasn't that big an interest.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So, Ron, we're going to get started again. And we're just sort of finishing up your high school, and with a sense that you weren't really planning to, to go on to college. Why don't we retell that story? You mentioned it a little bit about, about your, what you were going to do and your mother's intervention, but why don't we talk about that again in terms of...

RM: Okay. It was a critical moment.

TI: Yeah. So you graduated from high school. What, what were you doing?

RM: When I graduated from high school, I was still working in a machine shop. It was June -- May, actually, of '45. The war in Europe had ended, but the war in Japan was still going, and I was working probably four to midnight at the machine shop, putting threads on nuts and bolts. And I remember our high school graduation, we went out and partied all night, and I went back to work the next day. As I said, a machine shop you could work whenever you wanted putting the threads on. And so I would do that, and the, at this time, my, I can remember coming home, probably, maybe a week or two after, and asking, not asking my mother with the stuff on my desk. And I would be... I was of age, I was eighteen, I think, at the time, so I thought that I could just go ahead and fill out the forms and send them in.

TI: This was forms for the merchant marines?

RM: This is forms for the merchant marine.

TI: Now, why the merchant marines? Why didn't you think about --

RM: Well, because I loved to travel, and that goes back to another incident. In my junior and senior years, I worked for the forest service, pulling weeds that kill trees. And one, the summer of my, of '44, I worked on the -- I was up in the Blisterust, up out of Pierce, Idaho. And some sheep got in the water and a lot of people came down with boils and wound up in the hospital. And they closed the camp, not completely, but mostly. And so I took off, I hitchhiked and spent five weeks on the road to Cleveland, Ohio, and back. And I learned that I loved to travel. So enjoyed meeting the people, was really an experience.

TI: Do you recall anything in particular on this trip that really...

RM: Yeah, well, in Big Timber, Montana, I got aboard a car and the guy was drunk, and we drove on the wrong side of the road. I kept telling him to stop, I needed to get out and go to the bathroom -- and I really did. [Laughs] He finally stopped and I got out and ran the opposite direction, and he, he went off on the wrong side of the street, and I slept in a haystack in Greybull, Wyoming, and walked all night in North Dakota looking for a town, or South Dakota. And wound up having trouble hitchhiking through Chicago, so I took the train from one side of Chicago to the other. And wound up in Cleveland -- I had fifteen bucks, and turned around, because I figured I'd better go back home while I had some money, and I wound up back home. I never told my mother, and one of the people who gave me a ride sent photos of, from Chicago that I caught the ride from Chicago to Yellowstone Park with this couple and their baby. So he sent pictures and she, I told her, finally, where I'd been. But she thought I'd been up on the forest service all this time. So I knew I loved to travel, and...

TI: What was it about the travel that you loved the most?

RM: The people, the different people, the farmers, the carpenters, the different people of all walks of life. Probably, I don't know how many different people I met on that trip.

TI: How would people react to, you're like seventeen years old, a person hitchhiking, what was the reaction?

RM: I was dressed in khaki. I had an army uniform on with, without any insignias or anything, and they thought I was probably in the service or something. And they would pick me up and give me a ride. A lot of lonely people. I remember a priest giving me a ride from Chicago to Detroit, and I thought, and he, he asked me to go in and buy some chewing tobacco. So I went in the store and bought the chewing tobacco, and the guy looked at me and he says, "Gosh, you're young to be chewing." [Laughs] I didn't say anything. I took it out and gave it to the priest. But a lot of different people in a wonderful aspect of, cross-section of America. Didn't discuss, surprisingly, didn't discuss the war, this was 1944, didn't, none of that. One guy who gave me a ride had been working on Hanford, and he says, "They got their building, this huge plant. We don't know what for, and it doesn't look like it's for anything. They're just keeping us busy." That, that kind of thing. In the main, they were very nice people.

I remember one night, it was on the way back, and I'd gotten a ride, it was turning dark, and this fellow came out of a house and -- quite a ways away, and he said, "You know, it gets awfully cold here at night." I had lost my clothes in Detroit, all I had was the coat -- I mean, I'd lost my coat and other things in Detroit, and so I just had the khaki uniform on. He said, "You better come on in." So I went in, and they fed me dinner, wonderful farm couple, then, and their boys had joined up in the service. And I slept in one of the bed, and I remember I had a silver dollar, and I left that on the chiffonier, and went out. And they, she fed me breakfast, and I walked over to the road. Here he came running with the dollar, and said, "Oh, you can't, we can't take that." He said, "You were delightful company, my wife really appreciated having somebody." So I said, "Oh..." "No, you take the dollar," so I did. And, but people like that were awfully good. Hitchhiking in 1944, there were dozens of people doing it. It was a most common form of travel. And every once in a while I'd get stuck and I'd take a bus to the next town or something. Not much, though.

TI: But that gave you a sense that you liked to travel.

RM: Yeah.

TI: And that led you to want to be a merchant marine? 'Cause you thought you would travel the world?

RM: Yes. Yes. I, and it fit with my love of history.

TI: How so? How would the merchant marines...

RM: I knew there were places in the world I really wanted see, that I had an itch to see. That it was much bigger that living in Boise, that there was another world that I wanted to go and see, be a part of. And I could hardly wait to travel. And so, and that always was in the back of my mind, and I had responsibilities later as a husband and father, take care of my mother, that kind of thing, I knew those responsibilities. But I could work travel in every once in a while, and did. And, and I was fairly good at foreign languages, I didn't have to work at it to learn languages.

TI: So what foreign languages did you know going through high school?

RM: Well, French and German, and Spanish. Those, those in particular.

TI: So how, did you learn in school, or was it self-taught?

RM: Mostly self-taught. I found I could learn languages easier by myself. And I did the flash card routine, and I did that for my doctorate. The flash cards, the five thousand essential words in each language, I would memorize about a dozen of those a day, and I would carry them in my pocket and, and gradually build up. And so I had a lot of trouble with the verbs for irregular and that kind of thing. That, that was the part that I had to really work at when, later on.

TI: That's amazing.

RM: But I, I was, I think it was the fact that we went to this Finnish farm, and we had to speak Finnish, that I was five or six years old, and it was duck soup. Didn't have any problem because of that. And so I've always been an advocate of people learning foreign languages when they're young. And, and it carried over, I can feel that. And I think 1974 I learned Serbo-Croatian, so, so I could go to Yugoslavia. And I didn't have as much trouble with that as I thought.

TI: How, how about Japanese?

RM: I, you know, I have the flash cards on Japanese, and I've given it my best, and maybe I have a speaking vocabulary of five hundred words. And I've discovered that, the law of diminishing returns as you get older. And I've always rued the fact that I did French and German, because I never used it after -- oh, yes, I did, in graduate school. But after graduate school I never used it. I have been to France and Germany, and I can get along there, but in the main, I found that they weren't useful for me in the history that I've done.

TI: That's interesting. So let's go --

RM: Japanese would have been tremendous.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So let's go back. So you had the applications for the merchant marines.

RM: That's right.

TI: It was, so that was your plans, and then your, your mother saw that.

RM: Interceded. And she put it this way: "Your sister got married and wouldn't go on." My, our sister was much brighter, quicker, than Roy or I, in school. She, it was a cinch for her, and she worked at Crefts. At, she, she had this job of selling jewelry, and she would bring it home and fix it. She was really good at it. Anyway, she, the minute she got out of high school, she married, just like my mother. And my brother ran off and joined the navy, and my mother was distraught over that. I was probably up on the farm with the Kodlas. And somebody, I don't know who, told me that my brother had enlisted in the navy. They'd read it in the paper, and so I, I thought, "Jeez, he didn't say a word about it, that he was gonna go get in the navy or anything." And so when I got home from the farm, he'd come home from boot camp, and I saw him off on the train.

TI: And that was hard for your mother? Your mother did not want him to --

RM: My mother was really nervous. Roy got into the SeaBees, he was in the landing party at Kwajalein, and she was really nervous. And I had lost an eye when I was thirteen in a blacksmith's shop with, got steel in the eye, and so I wasn't going to be drafted. The merchant marine would take me, I did know Morse code, telegraphy, I figured I could get -- from the Boy Scouts -- I figured I could make use of that in the merchant marine. And so, but anyway, came down to this night, it was a big decision I now know, 'cause we looked back, and she talked me into going to the university for a semester. And I went, and the rest, I guess, is pretty... I had such a great time, and the high school principal was astounded. I, my grades were, I didn't get a four-point the first time out, but I got really high grades. And they apparently reported those grades back, and he told my mother that, "Something really happened to your son." And it was. It was sort of the birth of knowledge. I just couldn't get enough of it. And I, and I worked there as a waiter in a sorority. I think I got ten dollars a month, and board. And did that for four years to get through.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: What were some of the other activities that you did while you were at the University of Idaho?

RM: Well, I loved, I was in a fraternity, I was, pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and mainly because they had sleeping porches, and I wanted to sleep outside the room, type of thing. Anyway, I was a fraternity man for four years, and knew a lot of the people in the house that I went into. And that was, I lived a full life of that. I met my wife when I was a junior in college, and she was playing the piano, Clair De Lune, and it was a Sunday, November 1947. And my cousin was in the same house as she was, took me over and introduced me, and I fell in love. I probably was in love within three or four weeks, and I hadn't, I had gone out with girls in high school, but didn't have a car, didn't really have a paramount interest in women at the time.

TI: What was it about Lorraine that attracted you? What, what was it --

RM: She was quiet. [Laughs] And, God, all the girls that I ever went with were argumentative, you know, we even had a couple that sold newspapers. And God, they were opinionated. We would go round and round, and I had, I was doing four years' time in a sorority with all kinds of girls there, and it sort of destroyed... my sister was a sedate, dainty lady that, she wouldn't have wandered around the house with her slip on. And these girls in the, in the sorority would wander around with sometimes not even a slip, they'd be ironing it. And God, it just destroyed my mystique about women. And my wife was quiet and she loved music, she loved to read, we were very compatible as far as personalities were concerned. We studied together in the library, that kind of thing. And it was very easy to get along with her. And I knew early on that she objected to the treatment of the Indians and the Japanese. She had a -- and I, and I recall that she wrote an essay on the Chinese in Idaho, and she was like my mother in that regard. She was not going to tolerate intolerance. In fact, that's, she, she once said, "I'm intolerant of intolerance."

TI: Where, where did she grow up?

RM: She grew up in Lewiston, Idaho. Her father was a barber, and her mother a schoolteacher. And she was one of three girls, she was the middle girl. She, she was, she loved the piano. In the Mulroney home every Sunday was an extended family visit. They would have a roast, and people, relatives would come. And I loved that. I hadn't, I knew that I hadn't had a family life, so that was extremely attractive. I would go down, I'd hitchhike down after school Friday night, and back on, go back, sometimes I'd have to go back on Sunday and I didn't get to stay for the dinner, because I'd have to serve at the house -- as a waiter. But in any case, we were engaged for probably almost two years, and it was a wise thing. I didn't have any money, and Lorraine wanted to, she didn't want to go on after her sophomore year. She wanted to go home, she sang at different events and things, but she wasn't interested in completing college.

TI: How did the family accept you? Lorraine's family?

RM: They didn't. They didn't. I came from... they were, well, it was an interesting -- her grandparents lived with her parents. The grandparents, he was still working as a, taking care of lawns and landscaping, was in his seventies, wonderful fellow. The grandmother was just, one, just great. Her father was seriously ill. He had high blood pressure, and was invalid quite a lot of the time, and the mother carried the, the heavy part of the load. The father, Lorraine's father and mother were Catholic, and one of the questions, first questions to ask me was what religious faith was I. And I said, "I, I haven't any." And they said, "What? Haven't you been baptized?" I said, "No, not been baptized. I don't know anything particular about formal religion." I said, "I've read a lot about religion," I said, "but I haven't made up my mind yet." And her father said, "You know, I think you better thing twice about marrying my daughter. You're, her, her religious faith is extremely important. She may not say that, but it is." And so I was careful, I didn't, I took her to mass, both when we went to college and, and in Lewiston. And I did, did the instructions over a six-month period and became a Catholic to... and I'm, it's sort of interesting, when I became a Catholic, my mother then became Catholic, and my brother. And so there was a progression with that. And from Lorraine, and I put all my faith not in the, the doctrines of the church and the teachings, I put it in the sublime peace, serenity, my wife had abided. And that carried us through fifty-five years. I never, I never raised the question of religion, and she never talked to me about that part of it. But I did, I did respect her religion as I promised her dad. And he didn't live very long after we were married.

So -- and I love the family. It was a, the family I never had. They got along extremely well, and the, the whole I idea of -- and there was a lot of jousting at the dinner table, and it was between liberals and conservatives in the family. And I can't, I don't recall the subject of race relations ever coming up there. Lewiston had even fewer Asians and blacks than, than Boise.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Well, let's, we'll get into that a little bit more. I'm curious; so after you graduated from the University of Idaho, you decided to go into teaching. Why, why teaching?

RM: Well, I, I went through a progression of ideas when I was in college. I went, I originally wanted to be a foreign correspondent; I wanted to write the truth. I was impressed by a book by Walter Duranty called I write as I please. And, and I, at this time, I was reading the New York Times. I started reading New York Times when I was a senior in high school at the library, and I liked it because you got a different viewpoints on the war and everything else. And so I, as I developed that idea, I thought, well, and I can write. I had a feeling that I could write, and my themes were, I was doing quite well on writing themes and English comp. and that sort of thing. Anyway, I fell in love and decided, "Well, maybe I should be a lawyer and give up this idea of travel again."

TI: A lawyer because you thought you'd make more money? Is that, is that why?

RM: No, that I would stay at home more. That it would be, accompany this, and I thought history... and then, then I taught a couple of times at the University of Idaho for a professor. I can't remember now exactly how that worked. And I liked it. I liked the interplay between the minds that we were talking about, and the issue was marriage and the family, I remember that. Or issues. And, and the discussion and that kind of thing. And so I, I then switched to teaching. And I took a couple of education courses on how to teach, and I was appalled at this, this formalistic way of getting across ideas to students. It just, just boggled my mind. Anyway, that was about the time I was a junior. And I had one more quarter to go, I went out mid-senior year. Got the job in Orofino. Orofino was a town of Caucasians and Indians, I was back to the Indian theme again. How do you get the Indians to go to school?

TI: Was there like a reservation near Orofino?

RM: Oh, yeah. The Nez Perce Indian reservation came right up to the town of Orofino.

TI: So this was located just, what, east of Lewiston?

RM: Yeah, 35 miles. And right on the edge of the Nez Perce reservation, and they went to school in Orofino. There were -- and here, I got to know the Indians far better than anywhere else. And some of them were good students, some of them poor students, some of them had ambitions, some did not, they were wonderful. They treated me, they taught me how to teach; that's really what they did.

TI: The, I'm sorry, the Indians did, or just the, just being that small town?

RM: The Indians did. The Indians did, they were a challenge to teach. The white man's gospel, the idea of assimilation of Indians, this is where I first ran into that. And they had their own culture, and the harder you pounded, tried to pound say a Caucasian culture in, the deeper came the Indian culture. And I, I saw that clearly, right, right from the beginning. And I never tried to say, "Hey, you've gotta learn the white culture." And I was very interested in the Nez Perce and the, read books on it, in, on their way of life. And knew that, hey, the concept of assimilation, forced assimilation was wrong. Totally wrong. That there was room for both cultures. Three years at Orofino I came up, I knew that.

TI: So in a classroom, roughly how many were Indian and how many were Caucasian?

RM: Oh, I'd say a third Indian. Samuels family, I remember, George family. They, they were wonderful people. They didn't associate with the Caucasians at all. Lorraine had contact with them more than I did, outside of school.

TI: From their perspective, why didn't they want to associate with Caucasians?

RM: They didn't want to associate with Caucasians, particularly.

TI: They just didn't want to? They just...

RM: There was no, they sat in the same classroom, and I didn't care where they sat. I made it a point that in every, from the whole of my teaching career, "You go sit where you please." And that, you'll probably have to stay in that seat, but the point was, I wasn't going to dictate alphabetical order or anything like that. That was a point that I had in my mind when I began teaching. And the Indians sometimes, and depended on the class, interesting enough, if it were mathematics, they were in the back of the room. If it were history, they were in the front of the room. It was interesting where they would sit. There were people, Caucasians in the class who made overtures to them, they were good in sports, kind of thing. That, that world was taking place in Orofino. And I worked to teach them, I learned to work with individual students, that kind of thing there. And they, and they were, they led me down the path of, of appreciation. It was different than any textbook I'd ever read and I, and I'd taken the Western Frontier in class, had nothing, no resemblance to reality.

TI: Did you ever get any negative comments because of how you, how close you were to the Indians?

RM: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Sort of indirect. They were, a lot of 'em were poor and starving, and I didn't have much money, but I wanted them fed. I knew that they were having trouble in the classroom because they were falling asleep or they were, they were so thin, especially in the winter. And I said, "We ought to, I think we ought to take up a collection, say in the Lions Club or something, and help them to eat." "No, no, they'll become dependent on us." And I said, "Jeez..." and I remember we had all this food leftover from Lions Club meetings, and I said, "We should bring that to school or something." "No, we're not gonna do that." This is the principal. "You are to make Christians out of them, even if you have to put 'em on the cross." And he told me that and I, I said, "They're, they won't learn that way." He said, "We're not interested particularly in whether they learn or not. Just keep 'em quiet. You're in there because they ran -- " they ran the teacher that they had before out. That was part of the problem.

And I had one Indian who was, carved his initials in the desk. Well, everybody carved their initials in the desk. [Laughs] "Why can't I carve my initials in this desk? Look at this goddamn desk." And I said, I said, "It's destruction of school property." "So what?" he said. I said, "Gene," -- his name was Gene Broncho, I said, "You can't do that." I said, "Not in front of me, anyway." [Laughs] And he said, "Well, you go look out the window or something. Don't, don't bother me." I said, "Oh... no, don't do it." And so he, he quit, but I had to plead with him. And my principal is telling me, "You have to have iron discipline because they'll act out aggressions." I never had an Indian act out an aggression other than carving his initials in the desk. They would come to -- it was sort of interesting -- they would come by the apartment and house, actually, I lived in the fire hall the first year, and they would come by on a Saturday and introduce me to their parents, this kind of thing. So...

TI: It sounds like it was probably unusual for them to do that with the teachers.

RM: Yeah, I don't know how many other teachers they did that with. But I, and I, I don't think, I was never told Caucasians complained about they way that I worked with the Indians. I don't know. I worked with every student in the class. I tried to take those who could write a sentence to being able to write a paragraph, that kind of thing. And this is, these are students who never dreamed of going on to college. I think we had one or two who would graduate from Orofino, out of the fifty who'd go on. Not many. They were gonna go work on the reservation or in the logging camps or something, that kind of thing.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So was it hard for you, because after, after three years in Orofino, you decided to go Seattle to, to pursue your doctorate.

RM: That's right.

TI: Was that a hard decision for you?

RM: No, the, it was not hard academically, it was hard to -- because Lorraine would have to leave her family. And in, but I told her I wanted to try. I don't know what propelled me into wanting to try, but I wanted to. And I itched to do it. And so I... and at Orofino, we weren't going anywhere. I was earning $110 a month for, I think, a eight-month contract. And we weren't going to be able to support a family on that. And so it was easy to make the decision to go to the University of Washington. I remember I got the catalog, and I looked at those history classes. My gosh, they were just, oh jeez, I ached to do it. And so, and I, we wrote for, and I was accepted at the University of Washington. And so we came over, put every, all our belongings in the back end of the car, and came to Seattle. And that was in the summer of 1951. I enrolled and I was taking solid history classes, graduate-level, and they were wonderful. And here I met the liberal establishment of Seattle, and they were --

TI: This was the faculty at the University of Washington?

RM: Yeah, the faculty.

TI: Well, this is, I want to talk to you, because during this time, this was 1951, so this was during a period where in the United States, there was a strong fear of Communism.

RM: Oh, yeah.

TI: And the liberal establishment. And in particular, at the University of Washington faculty, there were people who were perceived as, as Communist.

RM: Yeah. Now let, let me go back to the University of Idaho on that issue. When I was interviewed for the job in Orofino, the superintendent said, "What is your position on Russia?" And I said, "Well, I don't like it. They have the secret police." And he said, "Well, what do think the FBI is?" And I said, "Well, they're secret police," but I said, "they're supposed to stay within the bounds of the Constitution." I said, "The Constitution of Soviet Russia, they're not bound by." I said, "I oppose the concept of secret police." And, and I didn't realize, he said, "Well, we're teaching an anti-Communism course in, in Orofino." [Laughs] And I sort of, "What? What?" And he says, and he hands me this little pamphlet, it's got a red cover. [Laughs] And it's anti-Communism, you know, it says on it. And, and he said, "Would you teach this?" I said, "I don't know," I said, "I've never seen it before. I, I'll read it." And so I read it, and it was just collections of statements against Russia. It was the beginning of the Cold War, this is 1949, it's the beginning of the Cold War, actually. Maybe it began before.

And so when I came over to the University of Washington in 1951, and I had liberal professors -- I also had conservative, but you could tell it was a time when there was persecution on the campus. The president was a man interested only -- as I gathered -- in the medical school. He wasn't gonna get involved in the controversy of the anti-Communist conspiracy, is what a lot of 'em called it. And I had Kastigan, I had, I had the great, Salkatz, Presley, I had marvelous teachers at the University of Washington. A golden age, I called it. And, of course, this permeated the classes. How, how, who do, do you work on intellectuals? You persecute them, and then they will be quiet in the classroom. And when I, I was there three years in graduate school, and then went to teach at Renton, first thing I'm asked is, "What do you feel about the Soviet Union? What are your views on it?"

TI: So was this a common question that public schools would ask incoming teachers?

RM: Yeah. Especially social studies teachers. They didn't ask me my religious faith, whether I was Catholic or not. They asked me...

TI: Do you feel that you were, you were tainted by coming from the University of Washington also? Do you think that was...

RM: No, you know, when I was hired at Renton, there were four applicants. And he said, "You taught in Orofino?" And I said, "Yeah." He said, "The logging?" "Yeah." I said, "No, very little farming." And he said, "How were the students?" And I said they were very different, very, I had aggressive students. And he said, "How did you handle it?" Said, "Fine." He said, "Okay," just went along with this, and then right at the end, he said, "Now, what do you think about the Soviet Union?" [Laughs] This is 1954. And I said, "I don't like secret police." You know, "I haven't got any..." he said, "Well, you're gonna be teaching classes in which this is a sensitive issue here. We've got John Birch Society, we've got the Boeing Company, we've got everybody pressuring us on this issue." And he said, "It has to be handled with care." He said, "People get fired around the state for trying to be so-called 'open-minded,'" he said.

Anyway, so I knew coming into the school system, both in Idaho and Washington, that this was a central issue. And, but I, I had my own feelings about that, but I also wanted the job, so I didn't make that a big thing. The important thing was that when you went to work in Idaho or Washington, you had instant tenure. They would have trouble, they have to go through the courts to fire you, particularly on this kind of an issue. And after having the liberal establishment at the University of Washington, I was... I almost, when he asked the question about the Soviet Union, Stan Thompson was his name, at Renton, I almost said, "Hey, I'm not a flaming liberal University of Washington graduate, but I am also, but I do believe that we should keep an open mind on things." But I didn't. I thought about it.

TI: Do you think that would have prevented you from getting the job if you said that?

RM: No, no. Later on I discovered that Stan Thompson stood behind open-mindedness. Came out in another way at first, and then I knew he was going to defend anything I taught. And I taught a course called "Russian-American Relations," oh, probably for four or five years in Renton. A very, very ticklish, he wanted that taught, he wanted it taught to understand -- and here was the critical point: the Soviet Union conquered eastern Europe with troops. Didn't conquer 'em with Communist doctrine, and yet, all this stuff coming from the anti-Communist crusade was the overthrow from within of these nations, like they were trying to do it here in America. And I came strong down on that, the idea that it was military conquest, not ideological, and I got into trouble with the Boeing Company and several others, because I became president of the Renton Education Association, and was considered so-called "open-minded." And he stood behind me.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: And so when you got in trouble, what, what was the form of the trouble?

RM: Oh, they invited me over to Boeing to see a film called, "Communism on the Map" and "Operation Abolition" and to use it in my classes, and I refused.

TI: And Boeing was important because they were a big funder of the, of the school district?

RM: Oh, gee. We didn't have hardly any levy, maybe three, four middle levy in the district above the normal. Because Boeing insisted, well, they, they went all out to support the Renton school district, and sort of "tail wagging the dog" on curriculum here, and I was invited to view these productions, and I said, "No." "This idea that they overthrew the, would overthrow the United States from within," I said, "was hooey." I said, "They used military force," and I said, "the Red Army is huge, and they would use it on us if they thought they could get away with it." I said, "But I don't think that their ideology would hold up."

TI: And so, and so Boeing didn't like that, but Stan Thompson...

RM: Said, "You just keep teaching the course." And he, and I got in trouble on student speakers one time, another time. I censored a profane speech, sent the kids all back to the classes. There were 2,500 students at Renton High at the time, and I made 'em go back to class. And the, the person giving the speech was, father was on the school board, and he said, as I went up the steps, the principal said, "There's going to be trouble over this." And he said, "The board, school board," said, "I'm sure they're gonna meet and demand that he be allowed to give the speech and everything." He said, "You don't have to worry." He said, "I'm gonna go there, and they have to take me out of this before they talk to you." He did that, and there was an old teacher, in his seventies, up at the top of the stairs, and as I came up to go to my classroom, he said, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." [Laughs] It was a wonderful sort of end of the... but he did, he stayed to that. I don't know if the school board, they may have had a meeting, but the superintendent did call me, and, "Say, we're in trouble here on this issue of the student speeches." And I said, "He was giving a speech that I, I thought that he didn't -- " I said, "He strayed from what he said he was going to say, and I'm not going to, I didn't allow it." He said, "Well, you don't have to worry. You'll never be on the speech committee again." [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] That's funny.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Well, I want to back up a little bit. So you went to the University of Washington for three years, so you just needed to finish your dissertation? Was that the last step?

RM: Yeah, yeah.

TI: Okay, and this was about 1954.

RM: Right. I went, and, but I had worked part-time from '51 to '54, when it was here, for a company called Harper McGee, in electronics, and I memorized parts numbers for television and radio. And so when the people come in for those, I would just go get them, I didn't have to look up the schematic. And they were wonderful people, they were the RCA distributor, and it was the early days of television. And it was a good job, almost thought seriously of not going back into education. There was lots of money, there was, it was a good group to work with, there was a future there if I wanted it. But I didn't like the work. I wasn't getting, I couldn't, I wanted to be with people who wanted to learn, and I knew that, and so the job chance came in at Renton, so I went there.

TI: I'm curious, 1954, I mean, that was fifty years ago, and, and I'm thinking it's also the fifty-year anniversary of (Brown v. Board of Education).

RM: Yes, yes.

TI: And I was wondering, did that have any impact during that period of time in Renton?

RM: Yes. One of the very -- two things happened that were extremely important in 1954 in Renton. There was a discussion amongst the faculty, if a "Negro" -- as it was at that time -- applied to teach in the Renton school districts, "would you be in favor or opposed?" It was plebiscite amongst the teachers, Stan Thompson. And I, I think there was only one vote against hiring a Negro. And right away, in my teaching at Renton, I first had a Japanese, Ikeda, Roy Ikeda, fine fellow who wanted to practice teach. And they were worried about minorities coming into the teaching profession. And so I worked with Roy, and he was fine, great teacher. And then we had, I had a black fellow named Charlie Jackson or something. Very, another fine teacher. And then, then I had a Jewish girl come, she was very shy, in Renton that would chew you up, you know, if you were shy, but she got along okay. So they were coming into the profession in 1954, '55, '56, that era, and when blacks did apply in the school district, they came in without any problems. But there were, these were the pioneers.

TI: Well, do you think the Brown decision made, made a difference in Renton?

RM: Yeah. I remember discussing, the Brown decision was why Mr. Thompson had the plebiscite amongst the teachers. It was framed around this kind of a concept: should we wait for a generation, should we wait for another generation before they, allowing them to come in to the profession? Is it time now to change the teaching profession? Is it, should we have this? A lot of people in the discussion said, "No, we should wait the twenty-five years and then put in the process."

TI: Was Renton, do you think, sort of at the, a leader in this area, or how would you characterize the Renton school district with the other school districts?

RM: It depended on the area. In the social studies we had, Carl Johnson was the department chair, and he was, I like to use the term "open-minded." Fine man, just wonderful, tremendous teacher. Great, great ability in the classroom to motivate people. And his ideas on, on this were adamant: "They are ready now, we need to have different points of view in this school." And he stood for that all the way through. And, and I think bucked the problem. At the, this was also happening in Tacoma at the same time. And, and I know that Jack Tanner went to the school board in 1954, after the Brown decision, and asked that black teachers be allowed in the school district. Not one word in all of the minutes of the Tacoma school district ever spoke to this issue. Nor in Renton, until Stan Thompson brought it up. It was extremely important to Stan.

And I liked him; I had great respect for him, not only because he stood up for me, but because he wasn't afraid to bring the issue out and lay it on the table. You know, most people would just shovel it underneath. He wanted to address this, he wanted to have... and he asked for minority teaching candidates. So we went in that, in that frame of mine. And I didn't talk to him but quite rarely. And, but it was really interesting, I think his great motto, "Don't bother me with little issues, and don't leave me out of the big ones." And that was the way he operated. He had a faculty of a hundred, and so I, I worked with him, I liked his style, I liked his approach to students. We were... and when I was president of the teachers, I, there was no administrative teacher classification consciousness here, no struggle with him over this issue, or any issue as far as I can remember.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: It sounds as a young teacher, this was an exciting time to, to be there, it sounds like.

RM: Oh, it was. It was. It was exciting to the class -- the curriculum at Renton was not staid, and there was constant innovation, change.

TI: Well, in fact, you mentioned something in terms of your teaching style, that you, you didn't want to be boring, you wanted to really engage the students.

RM: That's right.

TI: What were some ways that you did this?

RM: Oh, I would wear a, a red tie or a green tie, I would never wear dark clothing, never appear with drab stuff. I, I would go to any lengths, I would cut my hair, and just everything to in any way keep boredom from happening in the classroom. If I couldn't get the attention of the students, I'd go take the map, lower it, and let it, just let it wrap up to the top. I would do things like that, and I would always start off the class with what I thought was a provocative question. I wouldn't -- history to me is not dry dates and facts, it's connections. Connecting with, well, what, what were the problems of the Romans with dealing with minorities? Or things like that. I would seek to make the teaching relevant to the students in every way.

TI: So this is almost like the antithesis of how you were as, when you were in high school and how you were taught?

RM: Yeah, exactly. The teachers wore the same clothes. I had one woman teacher who wore the same dress the whole year when I was in high school. And I vowed then that I would never, in any pursuit of life that I went in, would I ever wear drab clothing, because it puts you down so much. It puts you off. And so I, I tried to make the classroom an exciting place, and I think I had some success at that.

TI: Well, during this period of time, too, it was a busy time, because when you're at Renton, you had four children.

RM: Yeah, we had, yeah, David, Linda, Paul, and Kim, in five years. Just like my mother, in a way. And it was a time of growth there, too. We had our family, we had our home, we had the piano, we had, right from the beginning we had Sundays just like we had back in Lewiston. And gradually, parts of the family drifted to Seattle. Two sisters of Lorraine's, and my brother and eventually my mother. So that we had the family together on Sundays again. It was extremely important to me.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So you had this rich family life, you had young children, you were teaching at Renton in a really exciting time.

RM: Yeah.

TI: Plus, you were still working on your dissertation.

RM: Yeah. I had the doctorate, the dissertation, on top of the piano. And the kids got so noisy that I took over one of the bathrooms to work in, and then, then I would lay down, Lorraine would go to sleep, and then I would get up and work on the dissertation and work two or three hours.

TI: You have to explain this story about, about being with Lorraine, so she can go to sleep. So every night, how would this work?

RM: Well, she had a, we had the four kids, it was really a trying experience. And she's not hard to get to go to sleep, but she couldn't go to sleep if I stayed working. She could not, she was a pattern, her pattern was for me to come to bed, and I would wait until she went to sleep and then I would get up to go to work. She knew I was doing this, but the, the idea was that she got to go to sleep. And she slept deeply, and it would take probably a lightning storm to wake her up or something. But anyway, that's how I finished my dissertation.

TI: And so how many hours at night would you work on your --

RM: Two or three every night. I did a, my dissertation on Russia, and American attitudes towards Russia. Comparing the attitude towards Communist Russia with Czarist Russia by major thinkers in America.

TI: Now, how'd you pick that topic? Why, why...

RM: Oh, that's interesting. I, I really wanted to do it in ancient Greek history, but one of the professors there said, "Ron, you can't get through there. Nobody has gotten their doctorate in ancient history in years and years." Said, "The guy who's really moving people through is the American historian Stol Holt." "Oh," and I thought, "Oh, okay." So I went and I saw Stol Holt, he was the head of the history department, and I said, I mentioned writing my dissertation in American history. Said, "Well, here are the topics that are available. There's labor and attitudes towards Russia..." he was doing a series. And he said, "There's religious attitudes towards Russia." American religious attitudes. "Oh," I said, "I'll take that one." He was nice, said, "Go ahead." And so I did, and I studied, and it took me three or four years to write the dissertation on these ideas. And it was, it was well-accepted, and I was really surprised at the reception of the dissertation by the academic community. And that, that's how I... and it was sort of interesting at another point.

I, you're not supposed, we were not supposed to work full-time if you're a graduate student. You were supposed to work maybe part-time. Well, I didn't tell the university that I was teaching full-time at Renton. And I didn't tell Renton that I was going to the University of Washington on my dissertation, or doctorate. Mainly because I thought they would object to that. They both had policy statements on it. And so it came out one day that in collective bargaining, I was representing the Renton teachers for, to the administration, and there was something in the P-I about it, I can't remember exactly what it was. And my major professor, Holt read this, and he says, "Now, what are you doing?" [Laughs] He said, "You're supposed to be finishing your dissertation, not getting into arguments on collective bargaining." And I said, "Well, it just happened that way." And then the superintendent read that I was receiving my doctorate, and he said, "What did you do?" I said, "I got my doctorate." He said, "How?" I said, "Well, I went up there after school and took a couple seminars, they started at, I think, at 4 o'clock, and we, I got out of Renton at 3:00, so I would go up to the U." And so he, they decided to have a party for me. I was the first Ph.D. at, in the Renton faculty, and he liked the idea of the teachers going out -- the superintendent did -- and expanding, developing their school, their academic work. So he was very much in favor of it, and they took the policy out.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: But then, but then as soon as you got your Ph.D., though, then that opened up other possibilities in terms of teaching. So, because at that point, that was after ten years in Renton, you received your Ph.D., and then what happened then?

RM: That was the interesting part. I, Stol Holt said that he could arrange for me to go to the University of Alaska or the University of New Mexico. They both needed people, that I could work in that field. And I said, "Okay," but we had two sons, one deaf and one -- almost deaf -- and one retarded. And I said, "I, I really need to be in a school district where they can be helped, and I don't know about Alaska or New Mexico." And I said, "Highline and Tacoma have really good programs." Stol Holt says, "Well, I know this fellow in Tacoma, he's president of the school board, and I think he can help us." And so the next day I was teaching in the classroom, and for the first time the principal came up to my door. And he knocked on it, and he said, "You have a phone call down in my office, and it's the superintendent of schools at Tacoma." I said, "Oh," so I went down, it's a fellow, wonderful guy, named Angelo Drudrony, says to me, he says, "You wanna come to Tacoma?" And I said, "Yes, very much." I said, "We have two sons that you have programs for." And he said, "You got the job."

And so I, I took the job, and I got a phone call from Fred Haley, he was the president of the school board, and he was a friend of Stol Holt's, and I knew he'd put into the University of Washington a pilot program for studying causes of retardation. And so I admired him a great deal. And he called to say, "We're having a party for you coming to Tacoma." "You are?" "Yeah," he said, "we're really looking forward to..." he said, "Stan Thompson speaks highly of you, and Stol Holt, and we think you can make a contribution here." And so we went over and had a party with Fred Haley, and Fred has been my friend ever since. Fred Haley really tangled with the anti-Communists in a, in a spectacular episode with the Chutakov case, and I knew about that case. And he had defended, "You have proof she's a Communist, show it and we'll fire her. You don't show us the proof, we don't fire her." And, it was a celebrated case. The only case where a teacher was accused of being a Communist who wasn't fired. So he stood by. And that friendship with Fred Haley continues to this day. I was, went out to see him yesterday.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Okay, so Ron, we just took a break and we're back. Let's get into kind of another phase of your career, and that was while you were at Tacoma Community College, you started writing books.

RM: Yes. That began in connection with the Washington Commission for the Humanities. They were, they were very interested in doing histories of local peoples and communities, and unions. And they'd given a grant to the longshoremen of Tacoma, who'd had a hundred-year history. It's the longest continuous union in the, in the state, that I know of, goes back to 1886. And they, a longshore leader named Phil Lily had the idea of writing this book, so he applied for a grant, and they gave it to him. It was really sort of unheralded. He wasn't a humanist, had no connection -- he didn't even know how to define humanities, or care. But he had this idea that, "Hey, we can tell the story of Tacoma through this union, with all its aspects." And so they started in, they hired a lady who they didn't like her writing, and so they fired her and the Humanities Commission man asked me to go and help, because I'd done a lot of humanities projects. And so I went over and they, they talked to me and a good friend of mine at the Pacific Lutheran University, the two of us wrote the book called The Working Waterfront.

TI: Well, what was the reception of the longshoremen when you came to that first meeting?

RM: Oh, they were, they were very antsy, very... one of 'em said, "Are you an intellectual?" I said, "No, I don't consider myself a philosopher." I said, "I'm a historian, I like to deal with facts and people and events." I said I'd, I'd try to help them with writing their history.

TI: At that point, did you know much about the, the union? The longshore...

RM: I didn't know anything about the union. Didn't know a thing about longshoring, other than that I'd seen them work the docks and been aboard ships and that kind of thing, but knew nothing about the longshore history, or, nothing about it. They were, they were interesting people from the very moment that I started, though. They ran the gamut from radical, from the radical left to the arch-conservative right. They were not a solid phalanx of rebels, they were people who believed in the work ethic, and they wanted the people of Tacoma to know this, that they weren't drunken bums who beat up their wives. I think that one of 'em expressed that. That's all they ever put in the newspaper about them. And so I started, I started working --

TI: So how do you get started with a group that is, is somewhat sort of suspicious, or not really comfortable with you? You said "antsy," how do you gain their trust?

RM: There was always, there were, in every case that I've written a book, there's always been a couple of people who've come forward who, who had hopes, and their hopes outweighed their suspicions. And with the longshoremen, there were a couple of people who, who said -- well, one of them said, "What is your union background?" I said, "My mother was in the hotel and restaurant employees for fifty years." I said, "I'm familiar with the unions in general, and I know their history." And he said, "But you don't know anything about longshoring?" I said, "No, but I'm willing to learn." I said, "I'd like to try my hand."

And so I interviewed a ninety-six-year-old man, his name was John Now, and John had been shot in the 1916 strike, in the stomach. And he'd survived that, despite what everybody said, that he was going to die. And he was strong, self-reliant. He loved, he had a stump ranch, he liked to go out and ride horses. And so I went out to his cabin one day and we were going to ride, and he decided, no, he'd rather talk. So we went in the trailer and we talked all day. And he was very interesting, he'd been a Wobbly, he'd been everything, and finally wound up sort of as a capitalist owning property, and he said, "Such is life." But he'd been born in Tacoma, knew the early, earliest longshoremen, and we had this talking relationship. And from John, John introduced, had another longshoreman come to his house, and I talked to him there. And the president of the Longshore union joined us at about that time, and he was quite a character. He loved history and he loved to talk about longshoring. And so it was sort of, it began with one person.

When I did Furusato, the Japanese book, the same thing. I knew that the Japanese people were quiet and didn't want to particularly talk about internment. I knew that from previous, with students in my class. That I'd ask about the internment, and they wouldn't have wanted to talk about it. Anyway, I took the idea of, that I learned with the longshoring, and there were two wonderful women. There was a, her name was Sakamoto, and she married --

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: Ron, before you go into that, let's, I just wanted to finish up with the, the longshore.

RM: Oh, the longshore. Okay.

TI: So, like, how long did it take you to write that book?

RM: Seventeen months. It took seventeen months, I was really surprised that that longshore union had never discriminated on the basis of race. That from the beginning there were African Americans in the union, and Hawaiians, and all kinds of people. Anybody who could work on the docks was in, could be in the union. It was a different attitude than I'd ever heard before, because when I taught American history, we taught that the AFL-CIO discriminated, or put people in separate unions at best. Here's the longshore union that didn't really practice any of that, followed the concept of, "If you could work, you could stay on the docks." And that's what happened. I told that story, from the basis of that, that it was based upon how hard you worked, and that's how you got to stay on the waterfront.

TI: Good. I'm curious; what was the reaction of the longshoremen after the book was complete and they read it?

RM: It was incredible. We had a party after the book was finished, there were five, six hundred people there. It was, and there were people from the Humanities Commission, there were longshoremen, there were their families, they really liked the book, and they, they spoke of it as "our book." It was, it was different than any, writing a dissertation or anything. It was, it was a grand party. It was a culmination of something that I never could believe. The book got better reception that night, and actually it did sell 4,500 copies. It was really a well-liked book by -- and we balanced it between the employer and the longshoremen. The employers gave us access to their records, and I got to interview employers who hated longshoremen. And all of that, it was quite an interesting process. And the book was, it has been very successful. And so, and from that, the, I got another chance to write another book, just drifted from one project to another.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: And so, so the book was completed, and you, you took some time off, and then someone came to you and said, "Would you write another book?"

RM: Yeah, I don't think there was any time. I think while we were celebrating the publication of The Working Waterfront, the next project, which was writing a history of a one-room school, Art Martinson of PLU and I did that one together, too. It was a Humanities project, and we told the story of this little one-room school, it was open from 1890 to 1930, Hearts Lake School, there were enough students and teachers still alive that we could tell that story. And it was a won-, another wonderful, pleasant event. The day that book was finished, they rang the school bell and NPR radio was there, it was a marvelous occasion. So I had two, what I considered great victories to start with. As a writer, being involved with -- and again, it was the interview process mixed with the historical facts.

TI: So those two books, about when was that when you finished the second book, or first...

RM: Gee, let's see. I think we finished, '82 we finished The Working Waterfront, and about '84 we finished Hearts Lake School. And then, and then I got, in the meantime, there were, there was a group of five Japanese Americans who were translating the work of a man named Fukui, who had been editor of the Tacoma Japanese newspaper, weekly newspaper. And this was, had been going on already for better than ten years, and there were twelve volumes. And I, I was working at the time at Tacoma Community College, and Joe Kosai was the registrar. And we were good friends. And, and he was using the college computer to record the, the transcriptions of the --

TI: So the committee would, they would translate sort of, in longhand what they read, and then someone would come to school and type in the...

RM: Yeah. Then there was a wonderful lady named Michiko Freeman, a Shin-Issei who was having her students put it into the computer. And I was reading the computer drafts of Fukui's work that had been translated by this committee of five. And it was interesting; it was really interesting, it was the study of a city like Tacoma by a group. Not Caucasian history, this was really Japanese history of a Caucasian community.

TI: And this was written, like, in the 1940s, 1939?

RM: Yeah, '40, 19-, November of '41, it was finished.

TI: So, so right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it was finished.

RM: Yeah, just couple weeks before, he, Fukui finished.

TI: So this gave this, this wonderful perspective, prewar Tacoma? Or was it --

RM: Uh-huh. Prewar Tacoma, 1890 to 1941. That was marvelous.

TI: And so when it was finished, November of 1941, this document, this twelve-volume document, what, what happened to it? What, was it published, what...

RM: No. No, it was printed off in, oh, that paper that goes on forever and put into loose-leaf binders, punched and put in the loose-leaf binders, and I worked from the loose-leaf binders probably six or seven years. It was a mammoth amount of material. Huge.

TI: I'm sorry. So these twelve volumes, or these, so it was in loose-leaf binders, but from November of 1941, who kept this or where was this stored?

RM: Oh. That's another interesting story. The original book, Fukui's work, was kept in a garage. It survived World War II. And no one really paid any attention to it. People knew that it existed, and a man named Dr. James Watanabe took a crack at World War I. He translated parts of it that went from 1890 to 1918. One could say that, sort of a golden age. And so there was an awareness that some of it had been done. He did that around 1980, but no one was aware that it started in, with the very first Japanese who came here. No one was aware that this early group had done so much as, as what they had. That they'd started from Port Blakely sawmill and, and saved their money and bought leases on hotels and restaurants in Seattle and Tacoma.

TI So this is a pretty special document. I mean, it's on the order of perhaps, how would you compare it with the work that Ito did on the Seattle community?

RM: Oh, okay. Fukui and... Ito didn't use Fukui. Didn't know that, well, he knew parts of it existed, but he interviewed, as early as he could, the earliest pioneers. And so some of this -- in fact, you can collate and see the differences between the two versions. It's quite interesting sometimes. And Ito then, it parallels Fukui's work.

TI: But Fukui's work was, probably predated Ito in terms of looking at the history.

RM: Oh, yeah. And ended November of '42.

TI: So in some ways, this is an incredibly valuable document that was created by Fukui.

RM: Yeah. Yeah, he, what he did, he took the minutes of the Japanese societies. The business society, the community service society, the different women's groups, he did all of this. He did their minutes, transcribed them, put 'em his book so you could see everything. It's total. The warts, everything. The criminals, the whole --

TI: When you look at other Japanese American communities up and down the West Coast, are there similar type of documents that you've seen?

RM: No. There, there are histories of say, San Francisco Japanese, and Portland and Los Angeles, but none of them approach this early era like Fukui did. I mean, this is very detailed history, this is names, everything. People who died and the problems they had, all of this. It's very, it's a complete history.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So when you're at Tacoma Community College and you saw this group doing this project, and you would read the pages every once in a while, what, what did you think, or what did you tell the group in terms of what they had on their hands?

RM: Well, I remember particularly World War I. The Japanese farmers supplying vegetables and fruits to the fort, or at that time, Camp Lewis. And, and being there at 3 o'clock in the morning, this kind of thing. And their, the reaction to the Japanese volunteering to fight World War I. All of this unknown to me, and that they'd done that. In fact, Fukui is one of the volunteers. He goes to war in France. And so all of this comes as a big surprise. I'd read Tacoma history, but I'd never seen any mention of the Japanese Americans -- and to a large extent, here are the attitudes of the Japanese Americans towards the Caucasians, and those who were favorable and hostile, and how they understood and worked with them. And how Tacoma, or, for example, Pierce County had a prosecuting attorney who was open-minded, liberal. Refused to enforce the Asian -- or the alien land law, where in Pierce, in King County, the guy wants to make political capital out of it.

TI: So this was all captured in the...

RM: This is all captured in these documents, yes.

TI: So was the plan for this group to actually publish this work, or what were they thinking as they were translating all this, this work?

RM: Oh. In 19-, they were just translating it, and then in 1977 they had this giant reunion of all the people who had been in Tacoma before 1942. They came back, and when they got there, they were working on, these five people were translating at the time, and somebody got the idea and presented it that they have a book.

TI: Okay, let me back up a little bit. So these five hundred families in this big reunion, these were families, Japanese families that were in the Tacoma area before the war.

RM: That's right.

TI: When it was much larger...

RM: There were two thousand people, two thousand Japanese Americans in Tacoma and Pierce County at the war, as it began. There were approximately 150 that came back after the war. And in 1977, they decided to the, those who were still remaining in Tacoma, decided they would invite the people who didn't come back, to a reunion. And so the, it went out and over a thousand came back. It was a big reunion. And they voted at that reunion to have a book based upon the Fukui material. And Kosai asked me if I'd like to try my hand at it. I had finished the, oh, the Waterfront book, and I think I was working with Art on the, the grade school, one-room school. And so we did. We went together and, on that book, and then Art had a family, his son got killed, and he didn't want to go ahead. And so I went ahead with Furusato.

TI: So you had this, this really key document, but for the book Furusato, it was much more than just that document. You really incorporated others, or -- maybe the question I'm asking is, is what are the, sort of the, the deficiencies of just that document alone?

RM: Okay. It didn't have any flesh on it. It didn't, didn't tell about the people themselves, how they suffered and worked and solved problems like the flood in the valley destroying their crops, and how they got restarted again. It would just have the bare, simple facts. And so I, when Joe and I talked about doing the book for this committee, I, and I agreed to do it, I said, "I'd like to interview -- "

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: Before you get into that, why, why did you decide to do this? What, what made you think that this would be a -- knowing that it's a pretty large project to take on, why, why'd you decide to do it?

RM: Oh, I was fascinated by the, Fukui's book. I was fascinated not only at the detail, but at the arriving at conclusions. The, this wonderful statement, I don't know, I've forgotten his name now, "Knocked down eight times, but always get up the ninth." That concept is in Fukui's book. Beat down, they couldn't own property, beat down, they could vote, they couldn't, they didn't have any influence whatsoever, they could be thrown off the property and were, all of this. And yet every time, they come back and go at it again. And that stubbornness, that desire to, to make it no matter what, the Issei temperament, I think, was there.

TI: So this topic really --

RM: And I admired that.

TI: So this topic really interests you.

RM: Yeah.

TI: Conversely, why do you think Joe wanted you to write the book, and not someone who was perhaps more involved in say, Japanese American history?

RM: Joe and I had been together since '64. We wrote the first grants at Tacoma Community College to, to, Humanities grants. He knew that he liked, I think, the way I wrote.

TI: So it was really through Joe. Joe, because he knew you back at Tacoma Community College, he was the one who said, "I know this person, he can, he can write it." So he was the one who really --

RM: Yeah, he had confidence in me.

TI: Good.

RM: And we had had, in the writing of grants, we'd work 'til four or five in the morning, we had done that. We had a long association under great pressures. Not only writing grants, and there was also another stronger connection, I think, than just our friendship. My mother was a poet, and she knew Joe's brother Yosh. Yosh Kosai was probably the leader of the Japanese community in Tacoma. Wonderful man. And, and he invited my mother to his New Year's Day dinner, and, and I took my mother, Lorraine and I, my wife, and I went. And it was a wonderful occasion and so we went year after year. So I had a -- this is before, long before Furusato came, I had known Yosh Kosai and really liked and admired him. And he had done an audio tape on Tacoma, Japan, Japantown, Nihonmachi, in Tacoma. It was a, and it really was great, it's nostalgic and everything. And so I had a, a good idea, and after -- and I'd had the background following Fukui for more than a year. Maybe four or five years. And so when Joe approached me, I said, "Yeah, I'd like to give it a try." I said, "I don't feel too comfortable." I said, and I tried to josh him into working with the manuscript. And he was really busy as registrar, but he agreed we ought to do this.

And so that's how I started. He got a fellow named Dell Tanabe to take me to see the two most elderly women in the community. Martha Sakamoto Yatsue. Well... no. Kazuo Yatsue. She's still alive and in her nineties, was very kind and helpful. And then I, there were other people involved and I gradually from one, they passed me to another, and I interviewed the, the people who were oldest in the community first, and got their stories, just like the longshore union. And, and they were, there were people who refused to talk to me, and by this time, I was used to that. So that, "Okay, it's all right. We'll try to do the written record around you." And with Fukui, that was easy. He had every detail there, I didn't really, when I talked to people, they added things to it. But the basic facts were already there. And so with Furusato, and I think it took me five or seven years, I think, to do it, I was very careful. I tried to relate it to the history of -- in the footnotes -- with other communities: Seattle and San Francisco, particularly. And to compare and contrast them. I was unfamiliar with Asian American studies and literature. I had read The Politics of Prejudice by Roger Daniels, I was familiar with Daniels' work, 'cause I used it in my classes, and also his later works. So I did know the internment movement. I was familiar -- even when I was selling newspapers -- about internment and about the people who were in, up in the jail.

TI: Well, good.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: So when you, when you look at, when you finished the book, you said five or six years, what was the reaction of the Tacoma Japanese American community?

RM: Well, they were surprised it was done. [Laughs]

TI: Why were they surprised?

RM: Well, because it seemed like, you know, most people, when you write a book, think that you can get it done in a year or two. That it's not as hard a process as... and what happened with Furusato was that where we thought we would interview ten or twenty or thirty people, I interviewed over 100, maybe 200 people for the book. And I wanted to make sure everybody had their say. And so I, and I interviewed -- and as a result, it, it went longer than we thought.

TI: Were people upset about the length it was taking you? Were they...

RM: Yeah. They always are. But I wanted it to... one of the things that happened early in my writing career, I was, I wrote The Working Waterfront, and then I discovered -- with Art -- and then I discovered, though, that we left out half the story. So I went back and rewrote the book, and it came out The Working Longshoremen. And, and then, so I made sure, I wanted to make sure when I did subsequent books, that I wouldn't have to go back and rewrite it because I'd left out information. And so with Furusato, I deliberately tried to get everything in to make sure that I had it in, and I hadn't forgotten something or missed it. And anyway, that worked out. And so I have it as a policy that it's better to let it take longer to make sure you've got the whole story, than to rush to judgment.

TI: Well, so they, so you took five or six years to complete it, and it was done, and so you said, people, it came out --

RM: They had a big party.

TI: Big party, so what was the reaction after they read it? They were happy that it was done, but then, what was the reaction of the actual content?

RM: Well, there were two reactions, and I think they were extremely interesting. The longshoremen read the book, and they thought it was a better work than what I'd done on the longshore union. And the Japanese community were extremely pleased, they thought it was a good representation, and they were pleased that it was sort of interesting, that it didn't have a pro-Methodist, anti-Buddhist, or the reverse of that, that I had been able to grasp both the different elements in the Japanese community. And I did my best to make sure that I did that, balanced as far as I could. Between the businessmen and the farmers there was another gulf for years and years. And so I worked hard to put, tell the story as clearly as I could. And then about the people that, in particular, the people who picked up -- I wanted to study the people who'd taken the Japanese lands when they were interned, and their businesses, and I wanted to show exactly what happened to those. And that was, there were, real estate people in Tacoma didn't want to discuss that. And I thought, no, we've got to iron that out because that's, that's one of the central issues. And it's the central issue with the Puyallup Indians. It's a central issue in the history of Tacoma, the whole land question was. And I wanted to make sure that I did that, and I took an extra year and a half to get at what I considered the root of all that. And they were clamoring for the book. I said, "I gotta, I have to settle this once and for all. I don't want to come back and have to redo this." I went to Washington, D.C., to get the land records that were not here. That were, had never been microfilmed. So I worked at that, I put a lot of time into it, because I wanted to tell that story, and I did.

TI: Well, it's really well-done. I mean, in the weeks leading up to this interview, I read the book, or re-read the book, and the thing that I spent actually a little more time with, that I found really interesting and useful, are your citations, your footnotes for every chapter. I mean, you kept detailed records of where all those pieces of information, which I found really useful. I mean, what's your philosophy of using the footnotes?

RM: I have, I have a... when I'm working, like with Fukui or anybody, I have, every once in a while, this desire to find out as much as I possibly can about a particular person or about a particular thing, and I'm gonna follow it as far as I can. I wanted to find out who got the first land, Japanese, on the reservation, in the Puyallup reservation. I wanted to know how this worked out, because I'd been, I had read the foreclosure notices served by Caucasians on Japanese who clear land, and planted it in, oh, places like Puyallup, Orting, Sumner, and why the Japanese were on the federal land, why they were on the Indian land. And the answer was simple; they never were thrown off the Indian land. And they would sign these leases with Indians, and be left alone to farm there. And so that, I had this -- well, I'd like to find that first lease.

So I went back to Washington, D.C., and I looked at the -- and I couldn't find anything. One day, I was looking at the Puyallup Indian roles, and the name Mihara showed up on those roles. Well, "Mihara" is not a land, Puyallup Indian. And, and so I went and got the file. Of course, it's a fellow named Genji Mihara, and it's not the one that later comes on in Seattle, but here's Mihara Isharo and his wife. And they were the first to get Indian land. And here's the lease, and description of them and the Indians that did that, and so I knew I was off. And I went another thirty leases and finally I -- there were 177 leases to Japanese, and so it was all right there. And it hadn't been touched since the 1930s, the files.

TI: So, so the... so what I take away from this is, those footnotes are just like a, the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the amount of research you did, I mean, you found so much more information as, putting flesh on not only the interviews, which are also cited, but all these documents. And, and you were, you cited all of them, but it sounds like even to cite those, that's just like a hundredth of the number of documents you actually looked at as part of this --

RM: Yeah, that's true. That's true. But I have, I don't know whether it's intuition or what, but I, every once in a while I have this overwhelming desire to know a particular, something about a person. The first Japanese -- well, not the first, but one that really attracted me was Kiyohachi Nishii, who came and worked at the Port Blakely mill in '82, had a restaurant in Seattle by the time of the fire in '89. Took him five or six years to make the money, got burned out, and came over to Tacoma and started all over again. I was really interested in him because he never, he's one of these who got knocked down eight times, got back up the ninth. And made a fortune, went back to Japan, married, and came back, kept going strong, and then retired and went back to Japan. The 106 Seattle/Tacoma Japanese businessmen erected a statue to him in Japan. And I wanted to see that statue, so I went, I was in Japan with a high school baseball group, I took off one day and I got on the train and went to see that statue. Yeah, it was in a little town where hardly anybody spoke English. [Laughs] But it was a, it was a very exciting event for me, anyway, that I, "Hey, I've connected with the history of this, this fellow."

TI: Yeah, that's, that good.

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<Begin Segment 29>

TI: I wanted to kind of switch gears a little bit.

RM: Yeah.

TI: There was a, during this general period, there was another book that you were working on that was never published, and it was about the teamsters.

RM: Yes.

TI: And I wanted to, to ask you, one, how did this book come about, in terms of, or you working on this book.

RM: Well, it was, one day, a Catholic priest called me. Father Bolue. And he said, "You're, you're a Northwest historian?" I said, "No, not necessarily." I said, "I like to investigate Northwest history," and this was... around the, just before I started Furusato, maybe a year before. And I, and he said, "Well, we're interested in doing a history of the Washington state teamsters. "Oh," I said, "They're a fabulously interesting union." I met them when I was doing The Working Waterfront on the longshore book. And they had a huge pension group and, and I liked them, too, and used to meet with them. Anyway, he said, "Well, we'd like to talk to you. We'd like to hire you to write the history of the teamsters in Washington state." I said, "Oh, I, I'd be interested in that. I'm interested in the union history." And so he came out from Washington, D.C., and we met, and it was the first time that I'd signed a contract. Every book I'd done before that was just by shake of the hand or a nod. Furusato wasn't even that; Joe just called me into his office, "We'd like to have you write a book." I said, "Okay," and that was how we did that.

But going back to the teamster book, I started by the same process, interviewing the oldest and working down. And one of the people I interviewed was Dave Beck. And I spent a year interviewing Dave Beck. It was an interesting interview, the first half-hour, forty-five minutes --

TI: Before you get to his interviews, tell me a little bit about who Dave Beck was.

RM: Oh, okay.

TI: Why is he a key person?

RM: Yeah. There, the teamsters in Washington state were dominated by Dave Beck from 1919 to 1956. Very dominant figure, in fact, he left to be head of the, all of the teamsters, the international teamster movement. And anyway, I was interested in him because I had ran into him in the general strike of 1919. Not many people know that teamsters in Seattle and Tacoma, their history began with three-year strikes. And they, both Seattle and Tacoma teamsters were broken by these, these long strikes. And so they were in disarray. And by 1919, the teamsters were sort of weak and minor, and in 1919, Seattle had a general strike, and a hundred and -- I can't remember whether it was 110 or 117 unions went out in support of the shipyard workers getting a raise. The only one to speak against that was Dave Beck. He said that that would destroy the union movement in Seattle for twenty years. He was quite -- almost twenty years. He was almost at, totally accurate. And so he stood for business unionism, not to strike, but to strike a business, strike a deal with the businesses. So he would make deals with the cleaning establishment and this kind of thing. And he was that kind of organizer. He had gotten his start as a laundry truck driver in the union, but he took his products to the Chinese, non-union shops, to get it cleaned and everything. He saw no problem with that, saw no conflict of interest, no abridgement of his principles or anything. He just figured he could do that, and he did, and he made a bigger profit than those who took their clothing to union cleaners.

And, but in 1919, he emerges as the, the leader of the union movement in Seattle, because he'd stood out against the general strike, which had destroyed all the unions, and the fink halls were prominent in the 1920s in, in Seattle. And so when I met and interviewed him, I asked him about his relationship to the Chinese. And he, he was derogatory about them, and, but not necessarily there. Where he was really hostile was when we talked about the Japanese and them coming from, with their vegetables over the pass to Seattle.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

TI: So about what year was this, that he was talking about?

RM: I think the trouble with the Japanese started in the '30s, and became white-hot after World War II. He said that he told the Japanese, "I don't care whether you bring the vegetables over or not," he said, "so long as it's a union truck driver bringing those vegetables." And, and he stopped them on top of the pass, and turned them around, sent them back.

TI: So these were, like, truck farmers in Eastern Washington...

RM: Yeah. Yakima valley.

TI: Yakima, they would, they would get their crops, and then they would try to drive them over to Seattle.

RM: That's right.

TI: Across Snoqualmie Pass, which is kind of the only way to really get across the pass.

RM: That's right, that's right. Well, they could have come White Pass, but very curvy and, no, they wanted to come -- they came by...

TI: And so how would Dave Beck or the teamsters turn back the Japanese?

RM: Oh, they'd figure out, they would form a picket line at the top of the, the pass, they would have people who were spotting the Japanese coming, and turned them back.

TI: It sounds like a pretty involved process, because you'd have to be up there almost twenty-four hours of the day.

RM: Yeah, it was. It was an involved process, but he was determined to stop the Japanese truck farmers.

TI: And in particular, the Japanese, because they were non-union, or because of racial issues? What do you think was...

RM: You know, I never could segregate that. He had... Dave Beck, it was all or nothing. You either were with him, with total loyalty, or you were an enemy. He, he had no people in-between. An interesting person. He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he didn't swear. It was, I think, a daily communicate to mass, or daily, almost as he could, but he was, kept that whole life separate. And when he was the union man, he, it was a total commitment to unionism in his, the way he defined unionism. An interesting person. He didn't see ethics ever entering into this, he didn't, he, what he truly felt about Japanese or Chinese people, he never said. He would classify them as "people of no account." To him, it was building a union and controlling the, the people he got in the union, and that's... and he framed those ideas starting in 1919, I'm sure.

TI: Did you ever get, or talk to anyone else that could collaborate sort of...

RM: Oh, yes.

TI: ...what happened to the Japanese?

RM: Yes. I talked to people who were involved in different episodes in his life. Union organizers, particularly a man named Clyde Black, who was one of the major organizers for him. Whitey Dallager, there were, there were, I didn't interview Whitey Dallager, but I read a lot of his materials. He was the number one union, teamster in Tacoma. And there were other people involved in this that I interviewed who, who would collaborate with Beck, or they would simply say, "Well, he's exaggerating," so I, I got a fairly clear picture of it. If you were, Clyde Black was totally loyal to Beck because his whole career, let's say, depended on it. There was a fierce loyalty -- when Dave Beck came to Tacoma in about 1990 for a meeting, the longshoremen invited him, and the teamsters were there. They all stood and cheered. He was, he was a hero. He had solved the mess of the general strike. It was still remembered that way.

TI: This was seventy years after that?

RM: This, seventy years after. And he was a demagogue as a speaker, and, but they, there was this terrible, this fierce loyalty. It was sort of incredible. Nothing like that in the longshore union, or in any other union movement that I have been connected with. He had the supporters, and he never forgot a person, a name, or anybody else. He had a tremendous ability to recall. And, but I never got the impression if, if the Japanese would have cooperated with him, fine, he wouldn't have -- by cooperation, it meant 100 percent submission.

TI: Now, people like, you mentioned like Clyde Black, did, did he participate like at Snoqualmie Pass...

RM: Yeah. He participated not only in Snoqualmie Pass, but in Aberdeen where there were minority groups that had to be "brought into line," the, the teamster line.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

TI: So what, what kind of things would Clyde Black and his group do?

RM: Whatever the dirty tricks took, they would do.

TI: Is there, do you recall either Dave Beck or Clyde Black talking about any other groups that they would target in a similar way?

RM: No. It's strange, he never mentioned African Americans or other, Filipinos. We talked about the Japanese at the top of the pass, and we did talk about when the federal government said, "You have to take minorities into the teamster union," during World War II. And Clyde Black said that it was the most difficult time for the union. And, and, it was either that or they weren't going to get control of the Fort Lewis, McCord, the different federal installations, and so they had to. And Clyde Black was placed in charge of that union. And, and Clyde Black was just an interesting person in so many ways. He, he, he had no... he was not a race-baiter or anything, and the union was thrown open to all minorities, that, that one local. And, and so they got around the federal requirement in that fashion. But he was... and I think, by and large, he was the taller man, at least, from what I gathered -- he started out as, as, as I said, on the "dirty trick squad," but he wound up being head of the, a local that the minorities were in, and he represented them to the best... in talking to people who were there, beside Clyde Black, people of color, they, they all said that he, he was, he represented them as best they could. And he did.

TI: What an interesting, what an interesting opportunity you had in talking about that.

RM: Yeah. Well, he was dying. He didn't... when a person, in the interviews that I've conducted, when a person is reaching the end of his life, he has terminal cancer, heart disease or something, it's an entirely different interview. And I can remember interviewing a longshoreman the day before he died. He called and he wanted me there, he wanted to "talk right now." And I went over, and we talked about his being a member of the Communist Party and his hopes that we could all share the wealth of America. It was an idealistic approach, and he said, "You know, it got perverted by both sides, the government and my Communist Party." Anyway, it was a fascinating interview, and I felt, had far more depth than anything I'd, and I've had that happen four times.

TI: And so when you say the depth, I mean, what, what comes out of that, an interview, when someone knows that he or she is going to die? Is it...

RM: An effort to, to say the truth. That fellow I'd interviewed before, and he pooh-poohed that he'd been in the Communist Party, and we both knew, and we were, and we were just waltzing through the interview. When he knew death was coming, it was an entirely different interview. "I want it known what I believe and stood for."

TI: Interesting.

RM: And I've had that happen with several people.

TI: Good.

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<Begin Segment 32>

TI: Another book that you, more recent, Mukashi, Mukashi.

RM: Oh, yeah.

TI: That's another book, so talk about that one and how you got involved in that.

RM: Okay. Well, Joe Kosai passed me over to a lady named Sadie Yamasaki, and they called and said, "We're very interested in doing a book on the history of the Buddhist Church in Seattle." "Oh," I said, "that's an interesting topic." I said, "Gee," I said, "I, I found the history of the Tacoma Buddhist Temple very interesting, and I studied that in contrast to the Tacoma Japanese Methodist Church, the Whitney church." And said, "I'd like, I know a little bit about the history of the Seattle Buddhist Temple, not a great deal, but I'd, I'd like to talk about it at least." And it was a hundred years old, about to be, and so I came over and met Sadie and the archives committee. And again, like the Fukui book as the basis of, was the basis of Furusato, here's, the archives of the Seattle Buddhist Temple are a hundred years old. They go back to the birth of the, the temple, of the first people who founded it and why they founded it. Could, and with one central question: "Could Buddhism survive in America?" And this is a hundred-year history of could it, would the Japanese people here be assimilated into American society and forget their Buddhism, their culture of the homeland? And so the, the topic appealed to me. I wanted to see the ups and downs of the fortunes of the Buddhists here in America. And so I entered it with that idea, and the early documents, like in Tacoma, were in Japanese. Down to 1927 they were all Japanese. But I had a good friend in Tacoma who just retired from Osaka University. Wonderful guy. And I said, "You know, if I take this topic on, would you help me with some of the documents that are in Japanese?" "Oh yeah," he said, "I'd like to test my strength against kanji, early Japanese language. And so we entered that with the idea that he'd translate these basic documents, and then I'd tell the story. So it unfolded very much like...

TI: Now, what would these basic documents be? What kind of documents are they pre-1927?

RM: Okay. The seven founders decide they're gonna go out and recruit, one-by-one, other people. And then, and pretty quick they, they have a hundred people coming to Tsukuno's noodle shop once a month for a meeting. They don't have a Buddhist minister or anything, they're just meeting. And, and so they, they then get the desire to have a minister. And so they appeal in to Kyoto to send a minister. And there's this long wait because the Japanese Consulate said, "Hey, that would interfere with trade." Don't, that's another story. But the whole point of it was that again, knocked down eight times, but come back the ninth time. And survive what can, in a larger plane, can Buddhism survive as a, as a religion, is a really interesting question. Because it's the first religion from Asia to try to make it in America.

TI: And all this was captured in, again, what documents? Was it like sort of the minutes of the meetings?

RM: Oh, they, they, in the very first documents.

TI: And these were, like, writings from the ministers, or it was from the actual founders?

RM: No, these are for, writings from the founders and from, they started a public document called, "The Light of Dharma." They had a monthly publication, this little group, that they were using to get people to subscribe to and adhere to. This is before the coming of a minister. So... and those documents are, would it be embarrassment if Buddhism came and failed here? Would, would it be success if... would the, would it rouse the Christian religions to really oppose Japanese, how would it fit there? How about the trade picture? We've already spoken of that. There were these different elements, and these were covered in the Japanese documents. They don't have to hide anything when they write it out in Japanese.

TI: Good. So, and these were all, the Buddhist archives committee had all these documents?

RM: Yeah. Well, they had the start of them, that was sort of interesting. They would have the early issues of the documents, and then I saw where, well, they went on for six years, and again, for twenty-one years. And so we had to locate those. We found those at the Bancroft library. And so you can put the whole picture together, and that's what we did.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

TI: Well, now that you, you did the book about the Tacoma, Pierce County Japanese Americans --

RM: Yes.

TI: And then Mukashi, Mukashi, which is more focused on the Seattle Japanese Americans, I'm curious, for you to do comparisons between the communities. What, what do you see are the same or different between the two?

RM: Oh, I would say the Seattleites are socially conscious, where the Tacomans are less interested in social concerns. And I, I know that may, there'll be arguments over that, but in, the historic record shows that. And it's not only true, say, for the Japanese American community, but for the longshore world. Now, there are noticeable exceptions that, to that rule. There were people in Tacoma every bit as interested in civil liberties and social concerns as they were in Seattle, but there seems to be much more concern about civil liberties here. The, the movement for equal opportunity of employment in the late 1940s, the open housing legislation, the movement, in general, for minority rights, much stronger push here in Seattle than in Tacoma. It could be just the size of the communities. Remember, there are only 150 that came back to Tacoma. And, and there were more than 150 Tacomans who came to Seattle after World War II.

TI: And partly for that reason, too, I mean, I've looked at it a little bit, going back to Tacoma after the war was very difficult. I mean, there was a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment.

RM: Yes. The Remember Pearl Harbor League was far stronger in, in the suburbs, in King County and Pierce County and Tacoma than it was in downtown Seattle. In fact, in Seattle, when the Remember Pearl Harbor League tried to have a meeting, I believe it was in Bellevue, they were shouted down by students in the University of Washington, Caucasian students. It was a very important event, they just heckled 'em, and the Remember Pearl Harbor League never had much success here. There was a... and a lot of that was the Nisei Vets organization, and the fact that so many had been killed in World War II from this area that, that turned the tide.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

TI: Which brings up a, I forgot about this, but another project that you worked on, have been working on for the last probably fifteen years or so, was to sort of get names of the veterans who were killed in action during World War II, for a monument in Pierce County.

RM: Yeah.

TI: And why don't you talk a little bit about that?

RM: Yeah. Well, that started with the eight Japanese who were killed, who were from Tacoma and Pierce County. I was going to erect a monument to them, and I sent for their war records, and they said, "No, they're not from Tacoma, Pierce County." I said, "You've gotta be kidding me. They went to Fife High School, they went to Stadium, they went to Lincoln, they went right into the service," and then I suddenly discovered, no they didn't, they went to Minidoka and they enlisted from Minidoka, and they're credited to Idaho and Minidoka, particularly the ones who were killed. And I said, "There's something wrong with these lists." These are the federal, official federal and in-state lists of those killed in action, wounded in action, died of wounds suffered in action, and missing. And so they called it finding in death, they don't call it "missing" anymore. And the lists were inaccurate.

And so 1991, I set about trying to straighten out the lists. I, I just had this compulsion, as you know, I get off a little track, and I was determined that I was going to find those. And I was working on this, and a couple of Nisei vets said, "Ron, if it's that bad with the eight Japanese, what about the, the others? There's nobody listed from Fife, Caucasian or otherwise, as being killed, and we know that there were eleven, because their names are up in the high school. What's going on? Why aren't they listed from the county? Why are they missing all these people?" And so that began in 1991, the search for the right lists. Because there is no list of the Tacoma, Pierce County killed in World War II. There is a list, but it's not accurate. And so I've been working on it, and finally, we've got it down to 615 people we know for certain who were killed serving in World War II. And we have approximately forty people who could be from Tacoma, and as a, we have a committee that are investigating whether these people are really Tacomans or not. And I don't know how bad this is for the rest of the United States, and I found it appalling how, that so, the lists were so carelessly put together, that I couldn't believe it. I've always believed, in World War II, when I'd look at the New York Times in the library, and I'd see this "War Communique" and it would list all the people, where they were from, how they got killed in action, that something like that could happen here, I wanted -- and I still, I have this passion to see that done and finished. And to get it as far as we have has been incredible.

TI: And what would a finished thing be?

RM: It's gonna be a monument. There are people in the community who want to put a monument up. The site hasn't been picked, nor what kind of a monument or anything, but the fact is, we're going to do that. It should be done. I ran an ad in the News Tribune Memorial Day weekend, and I said, "Gone, but never forgotten," and we listed the names of the 615 that we have, and we said, "Do you have, do you know of anybody else that should be on this list?" Gotten five replies so far. That's, that's another issue, but it did start with just trying to find the eight, what happened, why these eight Japanese weren't recognized. And the experts in the field, who really covered it, said one of the, one of those that's reported by the federal government as being a Tacoman can't possibly be from Tacoma. I said, "What?" "He never was in Tacoma." I said, "There's gotta be a mistake." I said, I said, "I've got the records, I've sent for the records. He is from Tacoma. He enlisted here." And so, and yet the Japanese community didn't even know him. So it's, it's that kind of struggle.

TI: Interesting.

RM: But that's what I'm doing.

TI: Yeah.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

TI: Now, here's a question, I'll throw this out, this might be out of the blue, but you've worked on several books. It sounds like oftentimes, people approach you with ideas and want to work with you. I'm curious; if you were to write a book that you wanted to write, what would that be?

RM: Oh.

TI: If you could, like, all of a sudden, clear your calendar and actually work on a project or a topic that you want to work on, what would that be?

RM: The fallacy of the human mind. The hundreds of people I've interviewed, and how fiction has become truth in their mind, and the reverse of that. How fallible the human mind is, and I find myself now, at my age, saying, "Hey, I, I remember it so exactly as this," and then suddenly to realize, no, it wasn't, Ron. You, you've let the myth and the desire and the hopes become the facts. I would love to write a book on how the human mind plays tricks on people. How, how change is so subtle that you didn't recognize it. And I find this particularly, in all the interviews I've done, especially when it's a central issue in their minds. I can take diary entries and compare them with the answers of the, of the interview, and they're diametrically opposite, and yet they're adjusted in this human being's mind.

TI: So as a historian, how do you deal with that? So that you, you have this sort of sometimes a document record of something that happened, then you start interviewing people who tend to be more elderly, and they may have forgotten some things, or twisted things around. How do you, how do you sort of use your judgment in terms of when you put flesh on things, realizing that some of these memories are frail?

RM: I go back to my ancient history days, and Thucydides and the great speeches on the Pelopennesian War that are in those, and the controversy over whether those speeches were actually given or not, and, and how real this was. Dave Beck is a classic example of revision of history. Of how he wanted to be remembered, how he saw his immortality based upon not what happened, but what he wanted to have happened. And he was in his, he was ninety at least when I started to interview him, and how this colored his imagination, and I could run Black, Clyde Black interviews and other people, and it was diametrically opposite what really happened. And I find that fascinating. And I find trying to separate out the, what people wanted to have happen with what really happened. It, to me, is the core of history.

TI: Now, explain that. So, so when you have someone who, who perhaps in their mind -- they're not really lying to you, this is how they really think it happened, but it may be exactly the opposite of what really did happen.

RM: That's right. That's happened.

TI: You said that was interesting to you. Why is that interesting? What does that --

RM: I'm interested in the human mind and how, how it will hide disasters. Maybe that was why, one of the basic reasons I got involved with internment. The denial of camp life, there's a lot to that that's missed in interviews and everything else. The shame of it, the, we want not to remember this, we want to remember the good parts of what happened in the camp if there were, and they -- that kind of ideas. And it's so important, and yet, history is the pursuit of truth. That's all it really is, and sometimes we don't want to see that truth, it's so horrible. And, and it was in many people in the camp, and it did destroy people in camp. And, and it left an indelible memory that people have never forgotten. And I didn't, it didn't hurt me when people said, "No, Ron, I'm not gonna talk about camp. You can ask me anything you want about my life, anything, but I don't want to talk about being in the, in the concentration camp, please." You know, and I would respect that, that it was too sore still, fifty, forty-five years later. And they didn't even try to gloss over what happened in camp, or see the optimistic side no matter what. They, they just wanted to deny it, that they didn't, the memory of it was so bad, that -- and they, it would destroy them psychologically. And I think there was a lot of the Holocaust concept in this, that I saw in writing the book. And there were those people who wanted to face it squarely: "By God, it happened, and if there's any way that I can prevent it from ever happening again, I'm gonna do it, even if it's, it sickens me and saddens me, I'm gonna tell you exactly what happened so that if you get it in the book, they can't deny it." Now, was it exaggerated? Sometimes, maybe. But I always had the camp incident records. I knew what I was doing with Minidoka. I knew what happened in Minidoka every day, 'cause I had the written federal records. I could follow exactly what was taking place. "You, you didn't know that they electrified the fence?" "No." "You were the security guard running around the camp?" "Yeah." "Didn't you see the fence?" "No." Said, "Did you look for it?" "No." I, I said, "It was a big incident there." "I don't know anything about that." "You were in charge of security?" "Yeah. But it's something I didn't want to see." And, and that's how to explain some of this. There's inconsistencies in all of history.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

TI: But it sounds like what you've, you developed is a, is a combination. I mean, it's, it's talking to people to -- I think you said earlier -- to get the flesh on the, on the facts, but you still need those, those documents, the facts.

RM: Oh, you have to have them.

TI: And, and to really have both to, to help.

RM: Yeah, and if they, if they don't agree -- and believe it or not, quite often the person is right, and the document is wrong. Deliberately wrong. They, they're fabricated to make the person writing them look good, or to make 'em pass the superior Caucasian officer in the social service section, there's a lot of that. And, and to get at the very truth is... you know, if this is the conclusion if it, I look at history as building blocks. I had my chance, I put as many blocks together as I could. Now, somebody else is gonna come behind me, and they're going to look at those building blocks, they're going to see the errors and the problems that I faced with it. But they're going build on that, and we're going to have a better, fuller record as we go through. They're further away, they have much more perspective on what's happening than, than I do. I talk to the people who were there, who went through it, who experienced it, and, and parts of it are missing. And so there, they will come, and they will put more pieces of it together, and hopefully, someday, we'll have a good study, understanding of this terrible event of internment.

I, the last interview I want to talk about, I interviewed a German longshoreman who was interned in World War I, and sent to a fort in Utah, on a, on a special train with other German nationals. World War I, and he wound up down there, and he could not return during the war, he was interned. Nobody ever told that story until a fellow named Poston wrote about it, Aliens and Sedition. And, and so it was totally forgotten. I look at what we're doing as a social cause on the internment. We don't want to have that happen again, and yet we have the tendency to let it happen again. And history should show that if you destroy it for one, or a group, you're going to destroy it for all. Civil liberties hang by a thread, and the loss, they can be lost easily. So I do have a social agenda. Thank you.

TI: Well, no, thank you. That's a wonderful way to end the interview. And thank you so much. This was, this was wonderful.

RM: Oh, my pleasure.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.