Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview II
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 25, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-02-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Gordon, I'm now gonna go to the, about the second week in, in May and at this point you are the last Japanese American in Seattle. That all the other Japanese and Japanese Americans have been relocated to Puyallup, or evacuated to Puyallup. Why don't you talk about what you did at that point. 'Cause at this point you had defied, you had made the decision that you were going to defy the exclusion order. Why don't you recount the events...

GH: Yeah.

TI: Either a few days before, or right around then.

GH: Yeah, I think I could begin -- I had consulted my legal advisor, Arthur Barnett, and, and it was decided that when the last official day of Seattle was over, it's gonna be over at twelve noon or something, so I would, it was agreed that we would turn myself in. I didn't want to have YMCA responsible for anything. And he would come and pick me up, take me down to the FBI headquarters, which was at Vance Hotel, up on one of the floors of Vance Hotel. And, so all that was prepared. And that morning one of my fellow students came up, a girlfriend, and said, "You're leaving this morning. I came to wake you up in case you overslept." And so we went out to have breakfast, my last breakfast at the corner. And then he came at ten o'clock or whatever time we had set. And we were waiting there. And then, so I said goodbye to this person who also knew Art Barnett, and Art took us down, took me down to the FBI. We walked up to the office together. And they were expecting me. 'Cause they had information that I was gonna be showing up.

TI: And where did they get that information, that you were going to turn yourself in?

GH: Well, some -- somebody that -- it, it's possible that that they got it from the director of ROTC. Who was not in -- he didn't hear of it from that role, but he was the president of the Board of Trustees of the University of Washington YMCA. And I, I went to his home a couple of times representing the student cabinet, to tell the trustees what kind of programs we're having and what we're doing. And he knew I was a conscientious objector, and came to my defense in a meeting, because I was meeting with the conscientious objectors in the Y, you know. I didn't realize, I just took it as I'm just meeting with them in my living room. 'Cause all of us were allowed to have that as our living room, when, off hours, on weekends and so on. And, at one meeting -- this is one aside, but it explains his support for me personally. He, he and his wife who served a supper for the board -- and we, I was enjoying it as a student, sitting on the board there. At one of the board meetings, according to Woody, somebody raised a question about my meeting as a CO and, and he said, "I have a clipping here I wanna read to you." And it's like this clipping except it came as a result of that clipping. This reporter had called me and he said -- and he asked me a number of questions. And I said, "Well, if you wanna talk to me I'm willing to talk, but not over the phone." And so he said okay. And then he asked me a few more questions, and then, okay. And he, he really fooled me. He got enough to write a story and put it in, and didn't care about another appointment. At any rate, he, what he put down was the question, "Why, if you want to be a conscientious objector, why do you have to, why do you have to assemble and meet? Do you have to, do you have to promote this to somebody else? Or, why can't you just keep it to yourself?" I said, "Well, we're humans. We like support, moral support, and we like to encourage each other as we confront issues. And we like to have clarity. We like to have our positions challenged and be able to defend it." And in fact, we're like other worshipers and believers. Why do people meet every Sunday? Why do they have to -- they're convinced people, most of 'em -- why don't they stay home, and read the Bible at home? Why do they have to meet? I said, "Well, we're the same way. We, we, we like to learn from each other's tests and share things." And, and that, that really pleased him. And he said, "This is what he said. And I feel that he's given a real good answer. And that's why I asked to read this, I asked for an opportunity to read this to you. His answer is quite legitimate and that's what he's doing."

TI: This is the president of the board that you're talking about.

GH: Yeah, yeah, our advisors. And so, and he's a colonel. So he, he's bending over backwards in one sense to protect a conscientious objector who's behaving according to his lead. And so, that's, that's the situation I was in. And I was trying to protect YMCA from any accusations of harboring a law violator and so on. Well, when this thing came up, we went, we went next morning --

AI Oh, excuse me. Before going into the, more about the FBI. Was it about this time that you made a written statement of your position?

GH: Yeah, well. Just before that...

AI: Just before?

GH: As I -- right at this time, and just before, maybe just a few days before. As I came to this position that I'm gonna violate it, and I'm gonna turn myself in. And, and I prepared a statement why I'm going to refuse to voluntarily move according to the government's orders. And I passed it around to about six people, to the executive committee, I mean the executive secretary, Woody, and, and through him, a copy to the president of the board, colonel, Art Barnett, and I don't know who else I gave it to, just a few people like that. Mary, Mary Farquharson, Senator Mary Farquharson, who was, who had said, came to talk to me and had said, "If you don't have an organized legal team ready to defend you, we'd like to form a committee to do that. And we'd like to support your position," and so on. So I gave her a copy. And she became my spokesperson, you know, most articulate high profile person. And when I went to the FBI, I said, "I've got a statement I wrote that explains my position." He says, "Well, we already have your statement." And apparently -- there's two versions of -- apparently I, I feel that the colonel, being a colonel, felt obligated to turn that in. And anyway, he didn't feel that he was violating anything, any, any confidence, because I, I'm writing this to be presented to the FBI. But I heard from other people who swear that they, there's another copy of that that was found by somebody on a city bus or something. That I dropped it somewhere, and it was picked up, and that was turned over. At any rate -- where, where -- I said it doesn't matter. By the time I handed mine in, he already had one. And I said, "Well, you might as well keep this. This was prepared for you." [Laughs] And so he took it. But, I said, "Just outa curiosity, I'm, I'm, I only passed a few of these around. I'm, I'm curious to know how you got this one." And he says, "Well, we might use this source again sometime so we don't wish to disclose it." So I never heard. [Laughs] I don't know who, but it didn't matter.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.