Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ehren Watada Interview
Narrator: Ehren Watada
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 22, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-wehren-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So, today is Friday afternoon, December 22, 2006. We're in Seattle, Washington. I always like to talk about who else is in the room, Ehren, so my name is Tom Ikeda and I'm the executive director of Densho, doing the interview. On camera we have Don Sellers, and I think doing sound is Lucy Ostrander. And then also my daughter, Tani Ikeda, who is eighteen -- or I'm sorry, almost twenty, is in the room also. So let me explain, first, the purpose of this interview, and why we're doing it, and then we can get into it. But I just want to explain how what we're doing is a life history, so this might be a little bit different interview than what you've done in the past, where I'm actually going to explore your life from as early as you can remember, up to today. And then the other purpose is to use some of the clips from this interview to create a educational curriculum DVD for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community.


TI: Now, "Ehren," when I looked at it, is a name that I'm not that familiar with. Is there a story behind why your parents named you Ehren?

EW: No, I think the spelling is unusual, so some people always, when they see it, they go, "Wow, that's pretty unique." But I've seen Ehrens here and there with that same spelling. It does come from the German, it's an old German name or word. And I looked it up the other day 'cause somebody asked me, and it does mean "to revere" or "to honor." And my mother said she was just looking it up in a book, and she said, "Well, that's a pretty interesting spelling of the word, or the name Ehren," so that's why she gave it to me.

TI: So tell me when and where you were born.

EW: Well, I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and it's pretty interesting that I was born about three months before I was, before my mother was scheduled to give birth, because she was involved in a life-threatening accident in which both of us could have been killed. And her water broke, so they instituted an emergency C-section, and so I was born premature for about, by about (two) months.

TI: What was, an accident, or what was the life-threatening...

EW: It was a car accident. She was in a car, her friend was driving her home, and I guess something just happened, she swerved into oncoming traffic, and right into the path of a truck, a huge truck. And so my mother was hurt pretty badly, she had some pretty massive head, head injuries, and pretty much both of us could have been killed. Both of us were very fortunate.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Well, you mentioned your mother, tell me a little bit about her, her family history. Where her parents, yeah, about your grandparents on your mother's side, just tell a little bit about that side.

EW: Sure. Well, my father's Japanese, so thus I have the Japanese surname, Watada, but my mother is Chinese American. Her family has been in Hawaii for, I think, she is fourth-generation Chinese American or Chinese Hawaiian. You know that Hawaii did not become a state until I believe it was the 1950s, but her family had been there long before that. In Hawaii, there are a lot of, there are a lot of people of Asian Pacific ancestry because there were a lot of plantations on Hawaii, even before statehood, and they brought in a lot of immigrants or migrant workers from the Asian Pacific realm, the Philippines, China, Japan and Korea. And they came to work on those plantations for a set period of time, and after they had fulfilled their contracts, then they were pretty much free to set up their own businesses or be, or work for somebody else. And so my great-great-grandfather finished up his term on the plantations, and he started his own business and became very wealthy and prosperous, and he had many children.

TI: And what kind of business did he go into?

EW: I'm not particularly sure. I know that he did pass on a bakery to my great-grandfather, and that bakery went really well and it was in the family, and it was eventually -- because of eminent domain, they were building the freeway in Hawaii -- they had to close down the bakery, and I don't know what happened to it after that.

TI: And what was the name of the bakery?

EW: I can't remember.

TI: Do you know where it was located, sort of?

EW: No, it was in, somewhere in downtown Honolulu. I know that my mother said that she used to play around the bakery when she was younger, but I had never seen it when I was born.

TI: Okay, let's talk about your father.

EW: Sure.

TI: You mentioned Japanese American, so tell me about your father's family's history.

EW: Well, that's also interesting as well, is how they came to America. My great-grandfather was, he tried out many professions, he was a sumo wrestler, but he was never really successful. So he came to America to start a new life, and he started working on a farm, he bought some land, a very small parcel of land. And his son, my grandfather, followed him here and searched all around to try to find his father; he eventually found him in Colorado, and so they both settled down and started to farm together. And then my grandfather went back to Japan to find a wife, and he, he was matched up with my grandmother, and he brought her back to Colorado to live and raise a family. And she was, she came from a very wealthy merchant family, and she was shocked -- [laughs] -- that she had to come back and pretty much rough it on the farm, and it was a whole different life. It was very, if you can imagine Colorado during the 1930s, it was a very hard life back then.

TI: Do you recall any stories in your family folklore in terms of how difficult it was? Or when people say, "Grandma was surprised at how hard it was," were there any stories that you can remember in terms of what was hard for her?

EW: I think, you know, she wrote... my grandmother was very introspective, and she wrote a book of haiku, or many haiku, and it was composed into a book that the family published. And in it, you can kind of get a sense of how she felt having to survive on a farm in a faraway land away from her friends and family, with virtually a person she had no knowledge of. [Laughs] And I think there are stories that my dad told me in that she at many times felt like she didn't want to go on anymore, because, because life was so hard and tough, but she did it for her children. She ended up having twelve children, and she ended up having the will to go on because of, because of having to raise those children and love them.

TI: So twelve children, so you have lots of uncles and aunts on your, on your dad's side.

EW: Yes. My dad has... what is it... eight, seven brothers, two sisters. [Narr. note: nine brothers]. One of his brothers was killed in the Korean War.

TI: So how did you go from, the family go from Den-, or from Colorado to Hawaii? What was the connection?

EW: Well, my father was the only one who moved to Hawaii. He, he lived in Colorado for practically his whole life, he spent two years in the Peace Corps in Peru, and I think he was working on his PhD, his doctorate, and he was offered a position at the University of Hawaii. And so that's how he ended up over there, and that's how he met my mother.

TI: Interesting. So do you, do you still have a lot of family in Colorado?

EW: Yes, I still do.

TI: Now, what area of Colorado do they live?

EW: Pretty much in the Fort Lupton, Brighton area, small towns outside of Denver, the farmlands over there. And there are some that moved to the East Coast, there are some that moved to California, but primarily most of the family still lives in Colorado.

TI: Okay, we'll go back that, because I'm curious, I want to hear this. But let's, you mentioned Hawaii was where your parents met. How did your parents meet?

EW: I think the story goes is that my, both my father and my mother played tennis, and I think my father was on the courts one day, and he saw an attractive woman and asked if she wanted to go out on a date, and that's how they met, supposedly, I guess.

TI: That's good. And so they eventually got married, and so tell me about when you were born in birth order, and your siblings. How did that all play out?

EW: Well, I have one brother, and he was, he was born about seven years before me.


TI: And what's your, what's your brother's name?

EW: My brother's name, my brother's name is Lorin Watada.

TI: Okay, so Lorin's seven years older.

EW: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Okay, so let's, let's talk about your childhood. So where in Hawaii did you grow up?

EW: I grew up in Honolulu, in an area of Honolulu known as Kahala, or the Waialae-Kaimuki area. And I pretty much grew up the same as any kid on the block growing up in America or Hawaii. It's pretty much all the same.

TI: So describe that; every neighborhood's a little bit different, so what, what kind of activities would you do growing up, I mean, when you're with your buddies, your friends. What would you guys do on a typical Saturday in your neighborhood?

EW: Well, it's pretty much the same, like I said. I, of course, I did the Little League sports, baseball and soccer, my dad coached, and he coached my brother before me. And that's what I did on the weekends and after school, I'd practice. And played around with my brother, but because of the age gap, it became a time when it was, he moved on and I was still, still a kid, and he was becoming a teenager. But we, we played, and we had a lot of great times together.

TI: So was it mostly sports-related kind of activities? You mentioned a lot of, like, Little League sports, or was it other things?

EW: Yeah, a lot of kids get involved in sports at that age. I did the normal things. I can't say there's anything...

TI: So like soccer, basketball...

EW: Soccer and baseball is what I stayed with. I think there was a period that my mother made me take piano lessons. [Laughs] Those didn't last too long. And let's see... I took some swimming lessons.

TI: How about things like Chinese and Japanese?

EW: No, no. It's unfortunate that -- I had some friends who took Japanese school after grade school in the afternoon, they would go to Japanese school and I didn't. My father, being in the Peace Corps, he knew Spanish and Japanese, 'cause he's second-generation Japanese, but he, they didn't impress upon me any, any will to learn Japanese or Spanish. And of course, my mother being fourth-generation Chinese, not many people in the family still spoke Chinese.

TI: Well, it's interesting, you said your dad is second generation. Your grandfather, it's almost like, though, but your great-grandfather first came to the United States, but your grandfather was, was, again, born in Japan? Or was he born...

EW: My grandfather was born in Japan, yes.

TI: Okay. Although his great-grandfather -- okay, so it's almost like you could have been, almost, he could have almost been fourth generation, third generation.

EW: Almost.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Besides, any other activities? I think I read someplace, Boy Scouts, you were involved in the Boy Scouts?

EW: Uh-huh. I was in the Cub Scouts like my brother was, and then I made, a lot of the same friends that I had in grade school also were in Cub Scouts, and so we graduated over to Boy Scouts together, and then that's when we started doing the "big boy" stuff, you know, like camping and hiking and community service work, and earning merit badges and tying knots and things like that. So it was a great time. And a lot of our time was, if we weren't playing sports or in school, we were in Boy Scouts and doing all kinds of activities.

TI: And how high up in the Boy Scouts level did you go?

EW: I eventually reached the Eagle Scout, Eagle rank.

TI: Now, is that, is that fairly common for people to reach that rank?

EW: No, it's not. Many, many boys have other obligations or other things that take up their time, so they don't end up finishing. It takes some commitment, and it takes, usually, when I first came to that troop, most of the older boys didn't attain the Eagle rank until they were almost juniors or seniors in high school, even after they graduated. But the guys in my class, we really worked hard for it, and we -- or the guys in my class, the guys that were my age around the same time, we finished it when we were, I think, sophomores or juniors in high school.

TI: And so how many of you were there that, you mentioned your class or your same age, was there a group of, what, two, three?

EW: Maybe five or six that went in, we were all in grade school together, and we went into that same troop. And we were in this area called Kaimuki, and it was, it was pretty neat because most troops, they meet in either churches or community centers and things like that, but we, we were able to meet in this place called the "bowl." And what it was, it was this cement kind of circular structure, and it used to be a water reservoir. Well, anyways, they drained the water out of there, and they made this little opening and a gate in there, and we could go in there and they had a little half shelter...


TI: Okay, so we were just talking about -- you were explaining the "bowl" to me, which was this old reservoir that was drained, and there was this little shelter or structure there.

EW: Uh-huh.

TI: So it sounds like that's where you guys met?

EW: Right, that's where me met every night -- or I'm sorry, it was every Friday night, where we had our troop meetings. And so it was a pretty big area, and they had a half shelter with some bleachers in there, and some desks and things like that. And right next to it was a, was a house, and in the basement were all the supplies, and the top was, was more of a, a gathering, it was a lot nicer, some offices and things like that. So it was, for a Boy Scout troop, we were pretty well-supplied, and had some pretty nice facilities to use.

TI: So it sounds like, just the way you talk about this, it was a, sort of a fond memory, these guys going through this. Five of you eventually getting Eagle Scout, or working towards that?

EW: I think there were about maybe four of us who eventually attained Eagle, so that was pretty good. And then the friend that didn't, I don't worry about him because he's a pilot in the Air Force right now. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so, yeah, he's...

EW: So he did all right. But, yeah, it was, it was a good time, and I wouldn't trade those experiences for the world. A few of us even went to the National Jamboree at one point, over... where was it? In Virginia, Chapel Hill, Virginia, they have an annual jamboree every year. And then after that, a few more of us went to, on this hike in New Mexico. It was a fifty-mile hike, we went backpacking and camping along the whole way, we had to pack all our own food, and we didn't have a shower for a whole week. It was a good time.

TI: During those times, you were really close and on these camping trips, did the five of you ever talk about what you guys wanted to be when you grew up?

EW: No, I don't think so. Not in terms of in-depth conversations of what we wanted to be. So, no, I can't say we did.

TI: Okay, I was just curious.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: During this time, things just culturally, I mean, what, like, what kind of TV shows did you watch?

EW: Same thing, you know, cartoons. [Laughs] Cartoons on a Saturday morning, and that's about it. In terms of Hawaii and the mainland, there isn't much difference. I mean, Hawaii, yes, culturally, it's very different from anywhere else on the mainland, but in terms of American pop culture, we probably are a little later in terms of what's, what's the norm in America. But yeah, it's pretty much, had a normal childhood. There's, of course, there's the beach and the weather in Hawaii. I remember when I was little, my mother used to always come home from work and take me to the beach, I think when I was probably maybe four or five, every afternoon. And we'd play in the sand and play in the water, and when it started to get dark it would get cold, and I remember taking a shower and I would always be shivering after, and then we'd come home after that.

TI: Okay, good. I'm going to move on to, like school. What did you think of school? How did you like school, what type of subjects were you interested in?

EW: Let's see. I don't think there was really any one subject I was excited about. School was school, and I liked to, I liked learning and I liked to be with my classmates. I can't say it was... it was a public school and no different from any other, I think, in America.

TI: So do you think if people were to talk about you in terms of, would they describe you as a, a good student, or studious, or how do you think they would describe you?

EW: Well, I guess if you asked the other students, we, when we graduated from sixth grade, grade school, we had a yearbook with all the pictures in it, and then we had who was the most popular and who was the most, who was the smartest and things like that, and then they would put a picture there. And I guess for one of the most smartest, there was two girls and two guys, and I was one of them. I don't ever consider myself to be super intelligent, I just think that I have always, from grade school to high school to college, I always just applied myself, and kind of making up for what I lacked in intelligence. [Laughs] And then I've been pretty successful because of that.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Earlier you mentioned how you have a lot of family in Colorado, and so -- on your dad's side, so they're Japanese American. I was wondering, when did you first hear about Japanese Americans during World War II being removed from the West Coast and being sent to camps?

EW: Probably wasn't until maybe ninth, tenth grade. I only remember it because reading about the, in the Hawaii Herald, or Hawai Hochi, which is a Japanese American newspaper in Hawaii, and I just remember reading articles about it. I don't think my dad even subscribed to that until I was in high school. And certainly, yeah, it wasn't something that we, my parents talked about or my father talked about, or my family's, my father's family talked about when I was growing up. Where my family was situated in Colorado during World War II was pretty unique in that for some reason, either because they were beyond the exclusion zone, they were not relocated, or because I've heard that the governor of Colorado was sympathetic towards Japanese Americans. Because of that, or a combination of those reasons, they were not relocated or put in internment camps. Or it could have been there weren't many Japanese Americans anyways in Colorado, so they weren't really seen as a threat. But because of that, maybe there wasn't really much emphasis in teaching that history to the children and grandchildren.

TI: So although your dad grew up on the mainland, he probably didn't know that much about the camps, either. Because his family didn't have a history. Because you're right, in Colorado, they weren't in that military exclusion zone, so they weren't removed.

EW: Of course, I mean, there were internment camps right in Wyoming, right above Colorado.

TI: And actually in Colorado, too, I think Amache was there, Granada.

EW: Yeah. And then especially in Hawaii, too, there weren't many Japanese Americans who were relocated. There were a few who were sent up to the mainland. So I guess because of that, because I was in Colorado and because I was in Hawaii, it wasn't, that history was not imposed upon me or taught to me.

TI: But, and so ninth, tenth grade, you first found out about it, you read this article. What, what did you think when you first heard about this or read about this?

EW: There isn't much to think about. I mean, it's, for a lot of people, it doesn't hit home when it doesn't happen to you, when it's not a personal experience. There was, somebody told me this story the other day, of a man, and his father used to always tell him about his experience, and that his property was stripped from him, and they were put in concentration camps. And his son would go, he didn't experience that in World War II, I guess he was born after. And he would say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever." But then when he finally learned that the property that was taken away from his father or his father's family was worth, now, these days, it would have been worth millions of dollars, then he was upset, and he's like, "Oh." So yeah, it's hard to imagine if it doesn't happen to you personally, even if it's in your own family. So I guess I didn't think about it too much, but it was interesting to know, and I think that history, that information, is valuable, especially as a part of Japanese American culture.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Okay, so let's go on. So let's talk about after you graduated from high school. At that time, what were you thinking in terms of what you wanted to do after graduating from high school?

EW: I had no idea what I wanted to do. A really good friend of mine and I were talking about joining the military. He eventually joined, I had taken the ASVAB and I was thinking about which service to join, and a friend of mine said, "Hey, I'm going to go up to Whitworth College over in Eastern Washington." And I said, "Whitworth? Where's that?" And he's like, "Oh, Eastern Washington," and I was thinking, "Oh, Washington, there are a lot of Hawaii people up there, so it might not be that bad." And I remember the recruiter came down, he was really nice, and a lot of the kids from my high school came out to hear his pitch on Whitworth. I asked my friend, "Do they have football over there?" because I was a football player in high school. He said, "Yeah," so I said, oh, maybe I can extend my football playing time for another few years or so, so I thought I'd give it a try, even though I'd never even seen the campus or heard about the curriculum or anything like that. So off I went after I graduated from high school. And I didn't end up playing football over there. I tried for a little while, and I said, "This isn't for me." And I eventually spent two years over there at Whitworth College, a small Presbyterian school, and it was definitely a different experience. It's cold, snowy.

TI: Oh, the winters are brutal. It's in Spokane, right? Spokane, Washington.

EW: Yeah. The culture is nothing like Hawaii, even though there's a pretty big Hawaii contingent over there. I think there's some specific schools that the recruiters target in Hawaii. And, but it was a good time, it was a good time over there. And I left after two years 'cause I just wanted to experience a school that was bigger, something that had a little more to offer in terms of various studies and extracurricular activities. And so the next year after that, I went down to University of Colorado at Boulder, where my father graduated from, and where my brother had just recently graduated from. And I spent a year over there trying to get residency, and I got it after a year, and I only spent a semester there over at Colorado. And after that, I eventually decided, "You know what? I think it's time for me to go home." [Laughs]

TI: What made you make that, so when you said, why was it time for you to go home? What do you think was the reason?

EW: I just think by that point I had been away from Hawaii too long, and there was things that I missed. I think my brother had, he had moved back to Hawaii, and I don't know, I think, I just felt like I needed to reconnect back to my family and friends.

TI: So when you got back to Hawaii, what did you do?

EW: Well, I started working, and I went back to school part-time for a little while at the local community college. Then I eventually enrolled at Hawaii Pacific University, where I eventually graduated from.

TI: And what, what field of study did you graduate in at Hawaii Pacific?

EW: Business. I was, I was always in business in form or another since I, even when I was at Whitworth, and I graduated in, a Bachelor of Science in business administration.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So at this point, sort of looking back, so you just graduated from college. Looking back on your life, were there any events that you can recall that really had a big influence on you one way or the other? That you just think back, and it was kind of a defining moment for you?

EW: A defining moment?

TI: Or just anything in terms of, that is memorable to you.

EW: I think I had very, a lot of memorable experiences. None come to mind right now, but certainly that's, I think we all go through life, and whether we realize it or not, there are always events that are shaping our life from day to day.

TI: Oh, things like you mentioned your, that hike in New Mexico or something like that, or the jamboree. But I guess moving on, how about individuals or people? Are there some people like teachers, coaches, parents, that were a large influence on you as you grew up?

EW: I think, there were, there were a few teachers here and there. I think I had one teacher in grade school who really believed in me, and she put me in this, in a higher learning class in sixth grade. And that really meant a lot to me, I think, back in grade school, just to have somebody believe in what I could do and believe that I had some intelligence, some worth when it came to learning and things like that. So I think in high school, there was, there were a couple of teachers who were very impactful. There was, I remember there was one teacher who, who really got on me because I got a 'D' in her class, and this was sophomore year. And I had her again in senior year, and she put me at the front of the class, right in front of her. And I struggled, but I got an 'A' for the entire year that I had her. And I remember during football, she was one of the few teachers who stayed at seven o'clock, seven-thirty, eight o'clock at night to tutor football, football players. And there weren't many teachers who were willing to do that, but she was there. And she tutored me as well. And I realized that years later, I think maybe just as recent as a couple years ago, she passed away. And she, one of the other teachers told me that she didn't have any kids, she didn't have any family. Students were her life, and she was a math teacher so math and students were her life. And she really dedicated everything she had to her students. And she passed away, and it really, what she did for me as a person, and what she did for the other football players, I think, had a huge impact on my life, and I never got a chance to tell her that. And so I hope that she, in some way, that's communicated to her on another level. So that was one teacher, and I think in college there were a few professors, very few professors that I had that I really felt I'd learned something from, something beyond just textbooks and tests and things like that. Really, I can count them on one hand -- [laughs] -- the number of teachers. But yeah, those were the ones I valued, the ones that teach you something outside of just attaining a degree, something, learning more about yourself and about the world.

TI: And what would be an example of teaching or learning outside of the textbook? What, what type of thing did you, is an example of learning outside that?

EW: Well, the two teachers that I had, one taught political science, the other taught international trade and finance. And I think just going to the professor who taught international trade, all he had to do was just teach you maybe some macroeconomics and things about how trade, trade works in an international realm, and maybe some historical perspectives and things like that. But he, he used to work for USAID in the government, and he told us that he became so disillusioned that he left and decided to teach. And he used his real world experience and he also used a ton of historical example and perspectives to kind of define what America's role is in international trade and finance. And it was really mind-boggling just to know everything there was to know. And you, throughout your life when you grow up, you hear snippets here and there, but to tie it all together is another thing. And that, for me, was beyond just earning, earning an 'A' or passing that class so I could graduate.

TI: So it sounded like he really had a good grasp or a good knowledge of that subject and could go much deeper than just regurgitating what the book said, for instance.

EW: Uh-huh. And a lot of, a lot of the other students, before I took the class were like, "Oh, you're gonna get that professor? He's really strict, he's really hard." And he was; he was very demanding, but I learned a lot from his class. And you have to, if you apply yourself, then you learn. If you don't, then it's simply just another difficult class you have to get through.

TI: That's good. Yeah, I'm the same way, I love professors who do that.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: I'm going to jump forward now to September 11, 2001.

EW: Okay, I'm still in college.

TI: You're still in college, there's the attack, New York City, World Trade Center. Where were you when you heard about this?

EW: I was just waking up in Hawaii, about to go to work, when I heard about it and saw it on TV.

TI: And so what, what was your reaction? What did you do when you first saw that?

EW: It was just surreal. You know, to just see a plane on fire in the middle of a building, and then to see a second one come in, it's just, it's something, you have to double-check the TV and see that you're not watching some kind of movie or something. But I think after that, like many, many Americans, you really just, the whole world changes for you just to think that, that this kind of catastrophic event, a deliberate attack could happen to us, to Americans. Just changes you forever.

TI: So when you say "changes you forever," I mean, how, how did it change you? I mean, what, what would be an example of a change happening to you?

EW: Well, I'll give you an example of comparing what we have in America to what we have in Iraq is that people are so scared in Iraq to go outside of their house every day. Every day it's like, it's like playing roulette, Russian roulette, you know, you could be killed. And in America, people go out to the store, the grocery store, go shopping, Christmas shopping, and they have no other worries about their safety, except basic things like maybe getting into a car accident or something like that, and they just go about their own business totally oblivious to their safety or the events surrounding them. Whereas in other countries, people have to be aware all the time. And that's the thing. After the terrorist attacks, we just realized that we can't go on living oblivious and carefree, that there are threats in the world, no matter how they arise. That there, the world is not just some joyous, carefree place in which, in which the tragic events of the world, the devastation of the world does not affect us, we live in some kind of American bubble.

TI: So it sounds like there's, there's a couple things. So, one, there was this sense of appreciation for what people have in America, but also this, this recognition that it, it just doesn't happen; there needs to be certain things that need to take place to either retain those things or protect those things. Is that... I'm just trying to paraphrase and make sure I understand.

EW: Sure, yeah, that's a good way of putting it. Yeah, and I think I've come to the realization now -- and maybe I'm jumping ahead -- but why is it that we as Americans are privileged to, to live the way we do, without having to live in fear every day, when all around the world, there are people who live in fear every day. And I think, certainly, I love my country, but I think a lot of the things that the, that our governments have done in the past, has added to that sad fact that people in other parts of the world cannot live without fear.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Let's get to that later, because I want to just sort of focus in on... because it was about this time where you started thinking more seriously about joining the military.

EW: Uh-huh.

TI: So talk about that, sort of your thought process in terms of why you thought joining the military was the right decision for you.

EW: I think I always had this desire to serve, a duty to serve. And I think you can see that in the Boy Scouts, and the Boy Scouts has often historically been a precursor to military service. I think that after the events of 9/11, even before that, I was always thinking of joining the military, but certainly after the events of 9/11, there's just more of this urgency to, to serve and to want to do something to protect the country and to protect everybody else. And so I asked myself, what is it I can do? And knowing that there were a lot of people who were joining the military after 9/11, and there were people joining the FBI, the CIA, from all walks of life, before, when they haven't even, hadn't even thought about that kind of career. There were accountants and lawyers leaving six-figure jobs to take a $50,000 job at the FBI. And I thought about the same thing, I was like, "What can I do?" And so that's when seriously began looking into and talking to recruiters, and trying to figure out what I'm gonna do after I graduate.

TI: And so what did you decide to do after you graduated?

EW: That's when I decided, I decided to join the army. I wanted to be an officer because I wanted to be a leader, I wanted to try to hone or build those skills, and I wanted to really lead soldiers down in the trenches. And I think that's why I chose the Army as opposed to the Air Force or the Navy. I really wanted to experience that bond that officers have with their soldiers. And it definitely did help that the recruiter from the army was a lot more helpful than the other branches. And so I had to go through a selection process for Officer Candidate School, and I had to submit letters of recommendation, my transcripts, I had to take a test, and I had to go before a board of senior officers and explain why I wanted to join the military and be an officer.

TI: And how was that process for you? Was it, was it pretty strenuous, or how, I've never talked to anyone who's gone through that process. So explain to me a little bit more about that process, in terms of, like, what kind of questions would they ask during the interview?

EW: It was the, very... some were basic, some were in-depth, and I think, I remember there was a, there were three majors and a lieutenant colonel. He was kind of the chair of the board, and he kind of weighed in at one point and he said, "You know, from what it sounds like, through your life experiences and through your job, it sounds like that you have been a leader pretty much your whole life, and that this would not be a difficult transition, going into the army." And I said, "Well, yeah, I didn't really think about it that way, now that you mention it." So I don't know how selective the process is. I know that I received the list from that year's selection, and then there was about a third that was selected for active duty, there was a third selected for reserve, and a third that were not selected.

TI: And you were selected for active duty?

EW: For active duty, uh-huh.

TI: At that point, what were your hopes? I mean, what were you thinking when you were accepted as an officer, or for officer training school?

EW: I thought it was great. It was a tremendous opportunity. I think for me, joining the military was a, was a sign of joining something that was an honorable and noble profession, and definitely a great opportunity to serve my country.

TI: What about concerns? At this point, were there any concerns about you or joining the military that you thought about?

EW: There weren't many concerns. You know, joining the military, like I said, was a desire for me for a long time, and going back to the recruiters, the Navy and Air Force recruiters turned me down because somewhere in my medical records, the doctor at one point had wrote that I had viral-induced asthma, which means every time... it means every time I caught a cold, I would wheeze and cough, which most normal people do when they catch a cold. [Laughs] But because he had wrote that in my records, the other branches would not, they're all part of the same system, so they would not select me or allow me to join the army, because they said, "You have a medical, past medical history." And I guess I wanted to join so badly that the army recruiter told me, "Well, why don't you go take a breathing test, and then maybe they'll give you a waiver." So while nothing was guaranteed, I spent, I think it was close to $800 of my own money to get this breathing test, and of course I passed with flying colors like I knew I would, 'cause I was healthy and active and athletic. And then they gave me a waiver, and I got in. And so... I think this, for me personally, this was something that I strongly wanted to do, and it was a, it was a triumph to be able to do it and accept it. And of course, totally different story on my parents' side. My mother was very, very much against me joining the military, especially during a time of war. On the other hand, my father was very proud. He hadn't joined the military himself, but he said that they're, in his eyes, the military provides a lot of opportunity for teaching ability, leadership, and other segues into whatever you want to do in the army.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So let me back up just a little bit, so how did your parents find out? First, your mother. How did your mother find out that you were going to join the military?

EW: I simply just called her on the phone. My parents are divorced, so I talked to them separately.

TI: And at what point in the process did you, did you call your mother? Was it after you had been accepted, or why don't you first tell me where you were in your thinking.

EW: I think it was after I accepted, but before I had signed the papers. And, yeah, it was very difficult, 'cause she, like I said, she was very much against it. And she just implored me to, she was saying, "What are the reasons why?" And I told her, and she said, "You can gain those experiences in other jobs and things like that." And I said, but no, this is something that I wanted to do for a long time. So I think finally she was able to accept that, that it was really my choice, my life. So I think it's the same for any mother.

TI: So now explain your father in terms of what, how you told your father.

EW: I think, like any mother and any father, they're very different. The mother is very protective, and the father is very... he's protective as well, but he was more, very proud of his son as gaining entrance and being an officer in the military as a proud accomplishment. Whereas the mother is very apprehensive. My mother was very apprehensive, especially joining the military during a time of crisis.

EW: How about others, like friends or your brother? Any other... how did they find out, and any comments from them?

EW: They were kind of very, I didn't really get any strong indications one way or another, I think. I had a friend who was in the Air Guard, and he and his wife now, they were very, they told me before I left they were very proud of what I was doing, very happy for me. My brother... my brother and I always talked about joining the military. He was in Navy ROTC for a little while during college. He, he never finished, but... and I think he was happy for me, but he didn't really, he wasn't really that happy, I guess. I don't know. He didn't give me one indication, an indication one way or another. And I think for the most part, the rest of my friends were just sad to see me leaving Hawaii, they didn't want to see me go. But like I said, I think a lot of 'em said, "You know, if that's what you want to do, go ahead, have fun."

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So, so what happened next? So you're accepted, you've told your family, your friends, so what, what happened next?

EW: Well, I finished off the rest of my college year, my senior year, and I graduated in May 2003.

TI: Now, I'm curious, in that last part of your college year, was it different because you knew you were going into the military and you were accepted as, into officer training school? Or, yeah, did you just feel different because of that?

EW: Well, it was only, let's see, when I accepted, it was only about three months before I graduated. And I think, for me, it was, at least I knew where I was gonna go after I graduated, so there wasn't that uncertainty or unknown.

TI: Now, how common would it be for people at your college to do what you did? Was it a very common thing? If you walked around and talked to others, would there be others who would be doing the same thing?

EW: No, I think it would be uncommon. Certainly, the Hawaii Pacific University has an ROTC program in conjunction with the University of Hawaii, so of course you're going to have the seniors who graduate and are in the ROTC program, they're going to straight off to the military. But as for me, graduating and going into Officer Candidate School, I think it was very uncommon. I don't think there were any others from my school.

TI: Did you ever come across someone on campus who tried to talk you out of it? They thought that was a bad idea, and, "Ehren, you shouldn't do this"?

EW: No, there were -- Hawaii Pacific University has a lot of military, or former military who take classes, and there were, there were a couple of army guys who said, "Don't join the Army, join the Air Force," but I didn't really take into account what they said.

TI: Now, why the distinction? Why Air Force and not Army?

EW: I don't know, they didn't really explain why. I think they were actually working in the ROTC office at Hawaii Pacific one day, and I walked in, and I was asking them questions, but they didn't really go into depth why. They just said they had been in the army.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, so why don't you talk about the type of training you received once you joined.

EW: Well, I'd like to say I received some really advanced training, but most of the training I got on the job, the really good training. I went through basic training, which all officers are required to go through. I'm sorry, not all officers, but all officers going to OCS go through basic training. And that was pretty, pretty normal for most recruits as they go through and pretty...

TI: I'm sorry, OCS, I'm trying to figure what OCS --

EW: Officer Candidate School.

TI: Okay, Officer Candidate School.

EW: So I went through two-and-a-half months of basic training. That's, we were in this, we were just thrown in with all the rest of the recruits, all the rest of the enlisted. Once we graduated from basic training, then we went to Officer Candidate School, so we, so they flew us all the way to, I was flown all the way to South Carolina for basic training. And you know, they teach you the normal things, how to do a pushup, how to shoot the rifle, and obstacle courses, and how to use all the different weapons and things like that, military protocol, indoctrination, the normal things. And then, then you go to Officer Candidate School, which I thought would be --

TI: Now, before we move on, so basic training, you, because you had graduated from college, you were older than most of the people there?

EW: Right, and that was probably the most difficult thing, because I was twenty-five at the time. I think that there was a guy older than me who was twenty-eight, and we became good friends, he was from Texas. But the rest of the guys there, the majority, I would say, are eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, so the maturity level, there was a huge gap in there. And it's very frustrating because basic training is not hard, and you're not going to get yelled at that much by the drill sergeants if you do what you're supposed to do. But if you fool around, which a lot of these young kids do, because they just, they felt like it was, hey, summer camp, and they'd never been around a lot of discipline or responsibility before. And so the military is really into mass punishment -- [laughs] -- so these guys fool around, and then the whole unit pays for it. And that was the most frustrating thing, 'cause you just want to tell these guys, "Hey, why are you doing this? Just do what they tell you to do, and behave, and we'll all get through this." But for some reason or another, there were just five, six or seven guys who just didn't get it. I think towards the end they kind of understood, but it took a long time.

TI: So did you and the other older guys try to, try to advise them in terms of what they should or shouldn't be doing?

EW: Yeah, but it's, you know, it's difficult. It's very difficult. These guys come from all walks of life, from everywhere in the country.

TI: And yet these were the, the men that you would be, would be serving...

EW: In charge of one day.

TI: In charge of, yeah.

EW: Uh-huh, yeah.

TI: So that was kind of a, perhaps, an eye-opener for you in terms of what you were getting yourself into.

EW: Perhaps, yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Okay, so OCS, so what happened there?

EW: So OCS, you figure maybe you're gonna take a lot of classes on leadership. What it was, it was just a huge kind of hazing process, in which you're just made to do randomly stupid things for about fourteen weeks. [Laughs] And it's who can get through it, really, who can take it. And you know, not, the entire thing was not randomly stupid; they had some things that teach you basic leadership skills, and we did have classroom work, and we did have field time, and we did have basic infantry skills, infantry leadership skills. But a lot of it was physical and mental hazing, and trying to see who can make it, who can make it through.

TI: And so is that part of the process, because they are trying to weed out people, or why, why would they do that?

EW: They're trying to weed out people, is what they're trying to do. And the unfortunate thing is there are people who can get through it, and they might be really selfish people, or people who would not be good as leaders, but they're just able to get through it because they're mentally and physically tough. That's the unfortunate thing about the process. If it is indeed a hazing process, and a lot less emphasis is taught on what a brand new lieutenant is going to have to go through, the skills that they're gonna need, and what should be emphasized. It's, it's sparse, here and there. You know, you're gonna get taught some of these things, but the whole thing, the fourteen weeks, is just how much can you take before you just want to quit. And...

TI: So, does this process weed out some good people that you think would have made good officers, but they didn't, they didn't think that, they didn't go through the process? Because you said some people that you thought shouldn't be officers could make it, on the converse side, do you lose people because of this process?

EW: You may, but like I said, I think the biggest problem is that you're gonna keep guys who can just make it through that hazing. Yeah, you're gonna get through, you're gonna weed out some folks that aren't necessarily strong of mind or strong of body, but the ROTC program, which brings in the majority of officers, doesn't have that kind of hazing. The ROTC programs are designed to just get and retain who they can, and they don't go through the mental toughness, they don't have to go through the physical toughness. I mean, they have to be physically fit, they have to be able to do their book work for the, the ROTC leadership classes, and that's about it.

TI: So is there, is there like a hierarchy going into the military in terms of how you got in as an officer? Whether it's, I guess, the academies would be one way, ROTC's another, and then Officer Candidate School is another. I mean, is there like a hierarchy based on how you got in?

EW: I don't know. I think for the rank and file soldiers, for the enlisted, they value OCS guys because historically, OCS usually only brought in prior enlisted soldiers. So they would take guys from the enlisted ranks and say, "Do you want to be an officer?" And so they say, "Oh, sure," so they bring them in, and then they put them through this hazing process, and then they become officers. And so you get a lot of officers who used to be enlisted, so they know how it's been, and they know what it's like to be an enlisted soldier. Of course, it's been so hard to do that over the years that they've had to bring in people such as myself, who haven't been, who have no military experience, but just simply have a college degree, and who come in. Of course, we have to go through the hazing process, we have to go through the basic training, so we know a little bit of what it's like to be enlisted. Not so for the West Point guys that are ROTC. They have no idea, unless they were somehow in, were an enlisted soldier, and they went to college later on, through ROTC or West Point, but that's very rare.

TI: Yeah, because I didn't realize this. Because when you said you went through basic training with the enlisted, I didn't realize, I didn't think officers did that. So this was, this was different.

EW: Yeah. It's the OCS and even Army OCS is the only one that has their candidates go through, the trainees go through basic training, basic training first. The Air Force does not do that, Marines do not do that, nor does the Navy. And for the Army, West Point guys don't do that, or the ROTC. They go through their own kind of basic thing, but that's all the officers together, without any enlisted.

TI: Do you think then the -- just in general, this is kind of a generalization, but -- so officers who go through the OCS have a, perhaps a stronger connection with the enlisted men because of that?

EW: Uh-huh. Because of their, they used to be enlisted before. Or as in my case, I spent some time, at least, with the enlisted soldiers, being one of them.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So after you finished OCS, then what happened? Or was there, like, a ceremony when you finished?

EW: Yeah, sure, we had a ceremony, and we had to a parade march in front of the commanding officer, and then we had a graduation ceremony. We had a big dinner and things like that.

TI: Did any of your friends or family come?

EW: No, unfortunately, it was all the way in, at Fort Benning, Georgia, so very difficult for people from Hawaii, so even my parents did not attend. And from there, I came back home for a little leave, and then I went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I did my specific branch training, which was in field artillery, the field artillery branch.

TI: I'm curious, when you went back to Hawaii for a little bit, did people notice any changes in you, when they saw you after you had gone through this, this process? Were there any comments of, "Ehren, you're different"?

EW: Well, my close friends says that, "You just, you look agitated," or, "You look like, you don't look the same." And it's true. Because you have to imagine, for, if you take into account basic training and OCS, about six months, you're on the edge the whole time. I mean, you, you wake up to somebody yelling at you, you go to sleep to somebody yelling at you. You have to sleep the right way, everything has to be just right, so it's a hard way to live, and you are on, you're on edge, and you still feel it even going back. And you don't feel secure, you have to always be looking over your shoulder, pretty much, because you don't know when that drill sergeant or that TAC officer or that TAC NCO is going to come out and be yelling at you, so you're always on edge. It's, it's kind of like coming out of prison, you know. [Laughs] And so, yeah, some of my closest friends could pick up on that, and it takes a while for it to go away. And I think even being in the military, it stays with you, even when you're out of the initial indoctrination.

TI: And so when your close friends notice that, did that surprise you, or you knew that you were on edge?

EW: Yeah, I knew that I was on edge, 'cause, 'cause some of my other friends who had gone through basic training told me the same thing, that for a while, you just say, your body has to have a chance to relax. It's the same thing when they talk about soldiers coming back from Iraq. 'Cause even more so over there, it's, your life is in peril all the time, so when you come back, you have to, your body and your mind has to adjust back to a normal, a normal way of living again.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Okay, so let's go now to, you're at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, so what are you doing there?

EW: That was, that was more classroom work and a lot of instruction, because they're trying to teach us how to be field artillery officers. And field artillery is pretty much, it's the cannons, the guns, and you spend a lot of work on, on training on the technical aspects of firing the guns. There's a lot of math involved, and trajectory and elevation, all kinds of things like that, weather. Then you spend some training on the other side, where you are the guys directing the fire from the cannons or from the rockets or the missiles onto the targets, and so you are spotting for the guys up front, in front of the cannons. And so you train on the various aspects, and that was a six-month course. It's the longest course of all the branches, and by branches I mean, like, you have your infantry, your aviation branch, which is the helicopters, you have engineering, transportation, chemical, what have you.

TI: And how do you get selected for these different, different areas, or how, do you select or did they assign you?

EW: They assigned, they assigned. It's, and that's different from the Marines or the Air Force or the Navy in which you can actually pick before you go in. So you go in to the Army OCS program not knowing what you're going to be until near the end. And ROTC is a little bit the same, too. It depends, really, on your, your grades, your standing, your grades, how well you do in the ROTC courses and things like that, and then they're, then it's given to you. Yeah, so it was, field artillery was assigned to me.


TI: Okay, so Ehren, we just, we were just in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where you just finished your field artillery training. So from there, what happened?

EW: Let's see. From there I went to Korea, and I spent a year over there, did a year-long tour, stationed just north of Seoul. And that was an interesting experience. It was very challenging, very difficult, one, because you're a brand-new lieutenant, it's your first duty station, and we had a very demanding commanding officer, very strict, and of course, the mission is different. Unlike being stationed back in the States, you are on a real world mission, training for an actual invasion by the North Koreans. So the operational tempo, the training tempo, was very high, as opposed to back in the States. You're constantly learning every day. They say a year in Korea is worth three years back in the States, and so, so they say a lot of lieutenants that come out of Korea are a lot more ahead of those lieutenants who trained back in the States.

TI: So is it a common thing to send a new lieutenant to a place like Korea? That's a...

EW: Sure, yeah, they go there all the time. It's just the luck of the draw, I guess.

TI: And so, and other new lieutenants will be based in the United States, for instance, and they'll be, they'll get their training there?

EW: Uh-huh. Or you could go to, at that time, Afghanistan or Iraq as a brand-new lieutenant.

TI: So even as a brand-new lieutenant, they would send someone there also. So again, you say "luck of the draw."

EW: Just where they need people, yeah.

TI: Okay, so it's kind of like what they need at the time you're finished training, then you get assigned.

EW: Yeah.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Okay, so you got Korea. What were some of the things that... well, I guess one question that came up, so how many men were you in charge of when you were in Korea?

EW: The first assignment I got, because they needed somebody there, and they needed an officer, I was in charge of about 160 men. I was, I was second in command of, it was a service and administration battery or company, was the, kind of, name of the unit. [Interruption] So that was a pretty daunting task for a brand-new lieutenant who knows almost nothing about how the real world army works. So there was a very steep learning curve there.

TI: And so what does it mean to be in charge of so many men? I mean, so they come to you for, for directions and orders?

EW: Directions and... basically, it all lies on the commanding officer, but you are, I was basically assisting him in everything. And so it's, it's not what I expected my role would be first going into the army. But eventually there, the commanding officer said that, you know, I think your career needs to be more well-rounded, or your experience, so he was, he put me in a platoon, in charge of a platoon, which is optimal for a junior officer or brand-new lieutenant, to be in charge of anywhere between twenty and forty guys. I had eighteen guys in a platoon, and I was in charge of a missile or rocket platoon.

TI: And so what would be a typical day as a platoon leader like that? What would you, what would happen?

EW: Well, in the morning you wake up at six o'clock and do physical training for about an hour, running, pushups, sit-ups, obstacle courses and things like that, just to stay physically fit. We show up, we have our breakfast, we show up to work about eight-thirty, nine o'clock, we have a morning formation for the whole battery, in which the commanding officer gives out orders and things like that, announcements. And then we work on our vehicles for a little while just to make sure, those vehicles are always breaking down, there's a lot of, it takes a lot of repair and maintenance. And from there, then we'll go over, we'll go over the mission that we have, maybe visit the sites that we'd have to deploy to in South Korea in case of an attack, and then we go over some drills and things like that for the crews, launcher crews to go over. We might have some other administrative training to do and things like that. Then I'd have to do some paperwork, I'd have to go back to the office while my guys are training, and then... that'd be a typical day.

TI: But in this case, I mean, you had this, this fairly tight-knit group that you were in charge of, and had to form a strong team with.

EW: Yeah.

TI: How long were you, did you do this?

EW: This was for about six months, and we had a, we had a competition at the end, and one of my crews won -- out of eighteen launchers -- the best crew. The other, the other crews I had were pretty, fairly new, so I had one that placed first, another placed fourth, and one that was like eighth or something like that. But overall, I had, like you said, a pretty tight crew. I think that I was at least respected as a person and an officer within that small unit.

TI: And how did you like this? Was this what you expected as --

EW: This is what you want, because this is what officers do. They work with, they train soldiers, and they, they serve their soldiers and they try to provide the most opportunities and education, and just, just, I don't know... a good standard of living for those soldiers you're trying to train.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Okay, so after a year, you were sent back to stateside? Is that...

EW: Uh-huh, then I was reassigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, in, let's see, June 2005.

TI: And generally when you're reassigned back to the stateside, so you're out in Korea, so you're, I think it's on the line, or I guess at risk, and then you come back stateside, what was your expectation in terms of how long you would be stateside?

EW: Well, at that point, I had about a year and a half left in my active duty service obligation, and I knew that units were deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan all the time, so I knew it was more than likely I would be sent to either Afghanistan or Iraq. And sure enough, as soon as I got back, they said, "In a year's time, you're going to go to Iraq," so I said, "Okay." And I talked to my commanding officer and I told him, "You know, I'm ready, I'm ready to train my soldiers to go, and I'm prepared." So he said, "Great, okay." And I think there was, let's see... a couple months later, I had gotten word, 'cause I had applied to the Hawaiian National Guard for a pilot position, and I had been accepted. I didn't think I was going to be accepted, because really, hundreds of applicants, or hundreds of people apply, they'll only take about sixty for interviews, and then from there, they pick six. [Laugh] Six pilots, or pilot slots, and I was selected. And I find out, I found out about September '05, and at that time that I was going to be getting out of the army, that would have been perfect in terms of timing. Because of, because of my age, I had to get into flight school at a certain age, and by the time I got out of the army, that would have been perfect to transition right over into the Air Guard. But because I was going to Iraq with this unit that I was currently in, I would have been stop lossed, and that would have posed some problems.

TI: But let me back up just a little bit. So you, you had a plan to really make the military a career. I mean, to finish your time in the army, go to the Hawaii National Guard, become a pilot, and actually make this a long-term commitment.

EW: Right, 'cause the commitment for pilots is ten years, and so by that time I would have been in for thirteen years, fourteen years, so might as well just stay in -- [laughs] -- for the last six, twenty-year career. But there was going to be some kind of problem, so I went up to my commanding officer and I said, "I'm willing to volunteer to go with any unit," I knew there were a ton of units, National Guard reserve units who were short of junior officers. And I said, "I'll go with any unit that's going because I just need to get out of the active duty at a certain point so I can make it to flight school." And they said...

TI: Because the stop loss would have, would have extended --

EW: Would have extended me beyond, and that would have posed some problems. And so he said, "No, we can't do that. You're already in this unit, we can't take you out, there's going to be too many administrative difficulties." So, so at one point I had actually wanted to volunteer to go earlier into Iraq than the unit I was with, but they turned me down, and I was able to work it out with the Air Guard. They talked to the commanding general, and he, he said that they would grant me a waiver in order to go to flight school beyond my, beyond the date.

TI: Okay, so that's on the back side, the option was still there for you.

EW: Still there, yeah.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So you wanted to, you volunteered to go early, but then your unit wasn't, so continue. What happened next?

EW: And so that was September of '05, and then so when I... so the Air Guard said, "You're still, you're still okay, you can still get in," so I said, "Okay, that's fine." So I decided to, that's when I think I started to read about what was going on in Iraq. I really felt that -- back in Korea, I told you we had a strict commanding officer. He wanted us to be well-rounded officers, learn everything there was to know about our profession. Every manual out there, every technical manual, every field manual, be well-rounded in current events and historical war events, and things like that. And so I began to read and try to find out everything there was to know about the Iraq conflict, why we had gone into it in the first place, and what we could look forward to seeing in the future. Not just my, not just the technical aspects of my job, and certainly I could have just looked at that and said, "All I need to do is know how to call in fire, call in the artillery support and that would be it, and at the end of the day, let's go home." But I think for an officer, there's a lot more that you have to educate yourself about, because you owe that not to just yourself, but to the soldiers as well. Not to just be, not to just say, "Okay, I'm just gonna do my job and that's it." You have to know everything there is to know about your job, not just the, like I said, the technical aspects. So I began to read about how we got into the war in the first place -- and this was after I had read, I read several books on the accounts of the units that had gone in in 2003 during the initial invasion, 2004. And then I just, by chance I started reading about what had happened to lead us up into that point. And I think it was very shocking.

TI: Now, were there particular books that you recall that you read that really had an impact on you?

EW: Sure. Like I said, the first books about, there was a story about the 3rd Infantry Division when they invaded Baghdad and occupied Baghdad. A story about the 101st Airborne Division, and just, you know, it's important to read about that because you can, you know what you can expect when you go to the country, and you know what you can reinforce upon your soldiers to expect when they go there.

TI: Now, were other officers at Fort Lewis doing the same thing? Were they reading some of this?

EW: I don't know. It's really up to the, the personal motivations of the officer. But in any case, I just happened to read upon, or happen upon a book that kind of detailed what led us up to the invasion in the first place. And it was very shocking to me, and almost devastating to find out that not only were there no WMD, which practically everybody now knows, but that those who had tried to justify the invasion knew there were no WMD, and in fact, intentionally manipulated, strong-armed intelligence analysts to bring forth evidence that did not exist in the first place. And that, to me, is just, you get a sense of betrayal, and that you had placed your life, your trust, in your leadership and these people who really have their, have your life in their hands. And to find out that over something as serious as war, for all those soldiers who have died, and the families who have just been torn up by this, to think that it was all for, really, it was based upon a lie, many lies, a deception of the American people, and the other people within our government. And that, for me, just really turned me on my heels. Before, I had doubts about, you know, there's always shady things that go on in government, there's always corrupt politicians. But when I joined the Army, I really believed when the administration told us that there were WMD in Iraq. I really believed that Iraq or Saddam had ties to al-Qaida, and that at any day now, my family and friends were, could be attacked by terrorists with chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons.

TI: So it sounds like, I mean, so what I hear is you don't think of yourself as naive. You realize that there's this gray area, that certain things can happen.

EW: Sure.

TI: But when you read this and other information, you felt that it went over the line, that this was beyond what you would expect or hope for, for our country.

TI: Right. I mean, we had a President, past administration, who lied about his personal sexual conduct, and he was impeached for that. That, that certainly has moral implications, but who does it really affect? What impact did that have on the national security or the lives of American soldiers? And then you look at this, and now have almost 3,000 soldiers -- I think at that point it was probably about 2,000 soldiers who have been killed, 30,000 wounded, etcetera, etcetera, all those Iraqis who have been killed. And then you think, this definitely, it crosses the line. It's a lie that is so much beyond just lying about your personal and sexual conduct, and nobody was owning up to it. And not only that, but there were no investigations that were taking place to find out what was going on, and find out if we in fact had been lied to.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So during this period, when you're being confronted with all this information and the way you feel about this, were there any other people that you were talking with about this and asking questions?

EW: No, it was very difficult, especially in the army. There's so much, not only in the military, but even the current events of that time, to dissent or speak out against the policies of the administration was considered unpatriotic or disloyal.

TI: So even off the record, just trying to talk to someone would be viewed as, as not a good thing to do.

EW: Right. Even close friends I had, I didn't feel comfortable talking with them. And beyond that, maybe some casual friends among the officer corps, or even the enlisted corps, you don't know who, where people are coming from. And I'll give you an example; there are a lot of guys in the military who would be, are very personable. Beyond the political realm, they'd be great people to... and they really are great people. But when it comes down to personal beliefs and political opinions, people would just, they can turn on you in a heartbeat.

TI: Meaning that if they heard you dissenting or saying some things that, that were against the government, they would turn you in or something like that? Is that what you're saying? Or I'm not quite sure what you meant by that.

TI: Like there was this one enlisted guy, and he was a platoon sergeant, so senior enlisted, and he was very personable to me, he liked me a lot. But after I came out publicly, he gave me stares that were like daggers, like he just wanted to kill me. And I'll tell you, in the army back then or even now, it's okay to talk about how much you love the war and love the administration -- maybe not so much now -- but back then it was okay, fine, talk about how much you like. I mean, we don't really talk about politics in the military, or beliefs about the policy, but it's okay. But to talk about, if you were to say you were against the administration or against the war and you said that publicly or in front of other soldiers, you'd better watch your back. And I was walking up through the, through the barracks one day, and on the door of the platoon sergeant, one of these platoon sergeants and the platoon leader, the officer, was a poster and it said, "Get out of the way, all you F-ing liberals. We'll protect the country," something like that. Kind of implying that liberals and people who think that way don't have a right or can't protect the country because of their beliefs, and that only conservatives and people who are on the right wing spectrum, political spectrum, are those qualified to protect this country. And I had a problem with that. I told, I told the commanding officer and the first sergeant, because they had a problem with me. I brought it up really quietly to the platoon leader, and I said, "You know, I just would really appreciate that, if you'd take that down. I find that offensive, and I think you're sending a bad impression to other soldiers." And it really, it turned around on me, where the first sergeant was saying, why did have I have a problem with that, why was I talking with his platoon sergeant, which I wasn't, I was going through the proper channels. And I told him straight up, that I said, "This is the same thing as discriminating against people of race or religion or nationality. What you're saying is people of a certain belief or ideals are not allowed or not qualified to be able to protect this country and they should be thus discriminated against, or ostracized or hated." I said, "That's not what we should be teaching our soldiers."

TI: And so in this case, what happened, what did the CO or the other superiors do in this situation? Did they, did they make them take that sign down?

EW: I don't know, and I didn't even go back up there to check. I know that the commanding officer, he didn't even want to get involved. I was primarily talking about the first sergeant. And I got very angry. I said, I was just about to say, "Officers should be talking with officers." And I said, "If the CO has a problem, then he can talk to me." That first sergeant and I did not get along very well. [Laughs]

TI: But your sense is that if you're, if you're, have a particular perspective, that's okay to do things like this, but if you deviate from that, then you're, you're ostracized or you're...

EW: Yeah. If you do something that's unpopular, if you go against the unpopular decision or policies, which in the army, it's okay to be, to go along with the war, but it's not okay to be against it.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: I want to go back to, at what point you decided in your mind that going to Iraq was the wrong thing for you. So can you talk about that and when that was, or that moment when you decided?

EW: I think there was, there was still a point where I was willing to go, even though I was just so dismayed about what was going on, and disenfranchised, and really felt that we had been betrayed. I still was thinking, you know, my duty as an officer and a soldier is to my fellow soldiers, my fellow officers in the military, and I need to go despite my personal beliefs. But for me, the greatest threat that I saw, and the reason I needed to stand up is because nobody was holding those responsible for this deception accountable. And because of that, those in power said, "Well, we must have a mandate from the people, we must have a mandate from God. So we're going to continue to do this," continue these actions, continue what they were doing in Iraq, on Iran and Syria, and all over the world. And the only, they were only just paying us lip service in terms of changing course, and they were not going to change course. They were, in fact, staying the course as they have said, and nobody in Congress was willing to hold them accountable. None of, very few people were willing to stand up against them. [Interruption] For the most part, as I say today, the vast majority of the American people are so disinterested and detached from the war because it doesn't affect them personally. And that, I believe, is a disservice to the American troops.

I am jumping ahead again, but one of the criticisms when I came out publicly and made my decision to refuse, people say, "Oh, well, he, he signed up, he volunteered, he should go." And a lot of people view the army as that, that it's, the army or the military is something exclusive from American society, that they volunteered, so that's "their thing." And then the same thing happens with people in the military, say, they kind of view themselves as the protectors, as some kind of elite class beyond American society, so they are excluding themselves. So you have this detachment from the war that the soldiers are fighting. And that, in a democratic society in which the military serves the people, is very dangerous, and it's a disservice to both the soldiers and the American people.

TI: So, so what I'm thinking is, I'm going back to the factors. When you... I guess, yeah, at the point you were thinking about this and deciding, it sounds like you, you wanted to make big changes, you wanted people to take notice. I mean, was that your intent? Did you think that by, by refusing and being the first officer to do so, that it would cause the effect that it did?

EW: No, that was not my initial goal. My initial goal was I decided that I cannot be silent about this. [Interruption] And neither as a member of the military would I enable it. So I wasn't going out and trying to make this big statement, I just said, "For my part, I will not be a part of this, and I will get out of the military and I will speak out against it." So that's when I submitted my letter of resignation, and I said basically the same things, that we have members of our government, members of this administration have committed a crime in Iraq. What we're doing in Iraq I believe is illegal and immoral, and I as an officer who's sworn an oath to the Constitution and the people, will not condone or enable this, and I respectfully ask for my resignation, or ask to be resigned. And that's pretty much what I said, and I knew just for saying those things, I would be going, maybe I would be going to prison for that. [Laughs]

TI: Just for, for, but just trying to resign. I mean, that...

EW: Just stating those things in my letter of resignation.

TI: Got it.

EW: Which was kind of like an informal communication to my commanding officer.

TI: And what was the reaction from that letter?

EW: It was like, whoa, this is out of left field. Who is this officer coming up to me and saying these kind of things? He is apparently very misguided. And so they tried to talk me into staying, persuade me and saying how much of a stellar officer they thought I was, and that we're, "You, Lieutenant Watada, have a duty to your soldiers and a commitment to the people to go, and you can't refuse that commitment or turn it down." Not even really addressing the things that I was talking about. And when I finally did say, "You know, for me, our system of checks and balances do not exist anymore," and my commanding officer looked at me and said, "I don't believe that." He said, "I think things are going just fine." And so for me, you know, that's where he was coming from. For him, there were no problems. It was a policy of orders, going to war, and those reasons were justified. I mean, he strongly felt that we were going there because of 9/11.

TI: And so when you talked to him about the things that you, you researched and read about, how did he respond?

EW: He just said that, "You're listening to too many liberal talk shows." He says, "You're only," I told him that I read, I read both sides of the political spectrum, and he says, "I do, too." And I did not believe that because I just think that, unless you already have a preconceived notion in your mind, and you're just gonna go through denial. I cannot see just the facts alone, not the commentary or the op-eds, just the facts alone, how anybody could not see there was something wrong in our government, in our country. And to not at least give me the benefit of the doubt, I mean, there was no benefit of the doubt. It was, "You are wrong, Lieutenant Watada, you're misguided. And unless you come around, or just simply say, just get rid of your personal beliefs, you're gonna be punished for this."

TI: So, so he denied your request, or would not accept your letter of resignation. And so then what happened?

EW: He at first said that, "I have talked to my boss," his commanding officer, and, "I told him that I don't want you in my unit anymore. I don't want you coming, going to war with me." And this is all very strange, because he changes his tone almost every time that I talk to him. First of all, he, he believes that I'm sincere, and then he tells me, "I don't want you in my unit." And then we go on this month-long pre-deployment training in California at the National Training Center, and I say, "Well, what's going to happen to me?" Obviously, as an officer, commanding officer, you're training your soldiers to go to war, and you have this officer who doesn't believe, and for some reason or another you don't like him, you don't want him in your unit, but you tell him to come with you anyway, to train your soldiers, to train with you. And so here I go on this month-long, very important exercise, and I'm training with them. Which I said I would, I said I would do anything it takes, "I will train my soldiers up to that point, but if you force me to do something that I believe is immoral and illegal, I will have no choice, and it is my oath to refuse that order." But they still wanted me to come anyway. So I went along with them, and I went to the National Training Center in California, and then we came back, and I didn't have any communication for about two weeks on what was going to be done with me. Finally, when I did find out, they wanted me to stay in the unit and move into a, kind of like a safe position in which they said, "You wouldn't have leave the wire, you wouldn't have to carry a weapon." I said, "Whoa, I'm not a conscientious objector, I'm not a pacifist." I said, "It's this war itself that I'm against, and you're still asking me to come along and take part in this war." I had even referred to it as an administrative position, and which, one of the majors got mad that I had said that and said, "You are in a combat position, a combat arms position," so there you go. It's not even, what they were trying to do is label me as a conscientious objector and kind of pacify me and say, "We'll you're going to be safe. Don't worry about getting killed."

TI: So they're trying to, like, sweep it underneath the rug a little bit. Like, "Don't, we're going to put you in a place where you won't have to worry as much, and just be quiet."

EW: Right. Because they didn't want to go through the work of trying to relocate me to a different unit, which I don't understand. I mean, you have an officer in your ranks who is strongly against what you are trying to do, who does not believe in what you are trying to do, yet you want him to come with you anyway. Even at one time before, you said, "I don't even want you in my unit. You're kind of like a disgrace," something like that. You want him to come with you anyway. So getting all these mixed signals, and then the whole brigade, about 3,500 soldiers were going to go on this thing called block leave where they, everybody takes two weeks off at a time. It was just before our deployment, so that's why they were giving this time off to the soldiers. And they said, "No, you're not going to get any of your leave, you stay here with the unit, with the rest of the guys who aren't going to deploy to Iraq, and you think about what you're going to do. If you still decide that you're not going to go, we're going to start legal proceedings against you." And when I heard that, that's when I got civilian counsel, civilian legal counsel. But that's what they told me. It's very mixed signals. At one point they say, "We don't want you in the unit," and the next say, next day, "Stay in the unit." And at the next point, "You're not going to get your leave because you're not going to go to Iraq," and then at the next point they're going to say, "We still want you with us and you're sincere," and all that.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: And prior to getting civilian counsel, legal counsel, was there anyone that you could talk to about this?

EW: I talked to the unit chaplain for a little bit, and he was a man who was in Tiananmen Square in China, and so I thought he would kind of understand. And when I talked to him after this whole incident, he did understand that what I was standing up against was the same thing he stood up against in Tiananmen Square. But in any case, he was imprisoned after Tiananmen, he was reeducated.

TI: So he was Chinese?

EW: He was a Chinese national who became an American citizen.

TI: Oh, interesting.

EW: He came back to, he was able to come to America, joined the army and he became a chaplain. But initially when, initially when I talked to him, he did not understand, I think, where I was coming from. He just simply said, "Well, a long life, you have all these different things that come at you, and you just have to think about what your goal is." And I did talk to one of the base counselors, and they weren't very helpful at all. They said, "Well, it appears you have some kind of dichotomy going on here, and that you have a choice to make," and other than that, they didn't offer much of a solution. And I'd even talked to one of the JAG officers, and he strongly recommended, he said, "They're going to hit you hard because you're an officer, and you can try to be a conscientious objector, but you have to be really strong in your beliefs and you have show a history of being a pacifist or being part of a religion, a pacifist religion." I said, "Well, who would join the military if they were?" So he didn't really offer me other solutions either.

TI: And so when you got civilian legal counsel, what, what kind of advice did you get then?

EW: He said that he would talk with the, the unit commander, my commanding officer, and he would talk to the JAG lawyers and try to negotiate something short of this confrontation that we would have. And this was back in April of '03, three or four months, about three months before I came out publicly.

TI: So not April of '03, it'd be April...

EW: Oh, I'm sorry, April of '06.

TI: '06.

EW: Sorry.

TI: Yeah.

EW: And so he talked with them, and they were very defensive, very adamant that they weren't going to negotiate anything. They said simply, "If he's not going to go, then we're going to prosecute him." And so they took that pretty hard line stance almost the whole, well, up until now.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: And then at some point, you decided to go public with this, I mean, to, yeah, to publicly tell your side. Was that something that you wanted to do, or was that something more that the lawyers thought you should do?

EW: Both. He, he suggested, and I thought about it, and I felt that it was something that I had to do, not only for myself, but for all the other soldiers out there who felt as I did. For a long time, I was very depressed, and I felt very hopeless and helpless. And it was only when I had taken solace in history, and that there have been others who have came before me, who felt as I did, that it gave me hope and inspiration to go on.

TI: Now, is there a particular person that comes to mind when you said that, in terms of someone that you read about that...

EW: Well, there was a captain named David Wiggins, he was a medical officer during the Persian Gulf War. And that's an entirely different story, but he, he strongly felt that he could not take part in the Persian Gulf War, and asked for conscientious objector status, he was granted it, and then it was taken away, then he was forced to go to Saudi Arabia, he went on a hunger strike and he was force fed. And he, he wanted to -- even though he was a doctor -- he wanted to show that he was there for, not just for military purposes, so he was treating Red Cross victims, and he was also treating the American soldiers, even though he was ordered not to.

TI: And so when you read about Dr. Wiggins' story, what feelings did you feel, feel after reading that?

EW: Well, one, you feel that you're not alone, and two, you feel you can empower yourself, that you still have a choice to do something. I mean, he, before, prior to the invasion, Desert Storm, he stood out and put his hand out in front of the tanks, like Tiananmen Square, and he held up a convoy for hours, that was supposed to go out. And of course, he was court-martialed for that and all kinds of other things. But basically, he was saying that you, you have a choice no matter what. And I told myself that. Yeah, really in life, you're granted one inalienable right, and that is the right to choose, free will. And once you take that away from yourself and you say, "Oh, well, because I'm in the military, or because I wear the uniform or I have a duty to my, to other people or to an institution," you say, "I don't have a choice." But you do, you always have a choice. And no matter what the consequence is, only you can take away that freedom that you have. And when I realized this, I gave myself back that freedom, that choice, and it was, it was an overwhelming feeling.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So tell me now about some of the reactions of people, now that you decided to publicly come out and talk about your position. First, let's talk about on the military side. What happened?

EW: Well, initially, initially, when I came out, there was a lot of hostility, and there was lot of hatred, and there was a lot of just questions. People didn't know why I was doing what I was doing. It was like it was unprecedented.

TI: What would be a typical sort of example of that, of that sort of hostility towards you?

EW: Well, there was one kind of officer friend that I had, we weren't very close. But I had told him a couple months before that I was planning on refusing to go to Iraq, and he was okay with that. He thought that maybe there could be some kind of solution that came out of that. And when I, just before he learned that I was going to come out publicly, he was very angry at me. He himself just believed so strongly in the war, even though for him it was a little weird because he said after he did his tour, he's going to get out of the army. And I just felt, for somebody who felt so strongly, that you would stay in as long as it takes, but that's another story. But for him, he just felt so strongly, and I tried to talk to him and say that these are the reasons why, and he would not listen to anything that I was saying. But on the other side, the day after I came out publicly, I was in a crowd of people, and I was very apprehensive, because I don't know who was gonna start recognizing me or come up to me and be hostile towards me. But there was a sergeant who had been to Iraq, he said he was a medic, and he came up and he shook my hand and said, "I agree with everything you're saying." And even in my own unit, where there was an extreme amount of hostility --

TI: But going back to when he shook your hand, how did that feel?

EW: It felt great. Hey, this one more person is out there. Even though I was the one on the line, I was the one where all the focus was being put on, here, at least somebody who supports what I'm doing, somebody who's been there, to Iraq. And willing to stand up in front of everybody and say that, even though everybody, everybody's eyes weren't on me, but in public, he was willing to do that.

In my own unit, there was a lot of hostility. Even up to this day, nobody has ever approached me, except for that officer friend that I have, and really been hostile towards me. I know there's a lot of it out there, and I'm saying even in the military, even walking around base, being in the crowds, and everybody knowing my name and knowing what I look like, in fact, it's been the total opposite.

TI: So did that surprise you? It surprises me that there hasn't been more confrontations by other people.

EW: I just thought I was either lucky or I was doing a good job of just staying out of crowds. It could be a combination of that. It could be, maybe, even though it's unlikely, that there's a lot more support than we, or I realize. The, the day after I went out in public, there were two African American enlisted soldiers, sergeants, who just came up and, they saw me, and I thought they were going to say something to me, and they walked over to me and they just shook my hand, and that was it. They looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and then walked away. And when I was in, they even made me go through the process of, there's a pre-deployment thing where you have to check off all these things and make sure that you're eligible to be deployable, so I was in a crowd of people and I know there's people who know who I am already by this point. And a captain tapped me on the soldier and he said, "Hey, Lieutenant Watada," and I was like, "Oh boy, here it comes." And he's like, "I wanted to let you know that on the record, I don't support what you're doing. But off the record, I'm behind you one hundred percent." He couldn't, I guess he was saying he couldn't say that he supported me in public, but that's a pretty powerful thing to have there. And ever since then, there have been members of the military who approached me, military, members of Fort Lewis have approached me, persons of all ranks, and really said they either support me or respect what I have done. I have no illusions; I know that people who feel the way I do are not in the majority, but they're certainly not far and few between either, there's a lot of 'em out there.

I've received a lot of correspondence via e-mail or letters of people within the army who are very supportive as well, guys who have been over there, too, dependents, as well. I was at the medical center the other day and this woman just walked behind me and just said, "I want to thank you for speaking out for all of us." I was on the radio the other day, and a woman said that she was in the army reserves, she's a captain, her husband was a major in Afghanistan, they both had been activated, and she said, "We both support you." And I think there's a growing opposition within the military to this war, and I think the vast majority of those in the military just do this because it's their job, despite their personal beliefs. But I think there is a growing number who are supportive of my position, but there are also those within the military who are very against what I am doing.

TI: Do you think there'll be others who will come out and also voice their opposition because of what you've done?

EW: It's very difficult to say. Members of the military, without the support of the people, have a lot to lose, not knowing if they have that support. I'm trying to, trying to get that support publicized and visualized so that people in the military know that the American people support them. But without it, how can you ask an eighteen, nineteen year old soldier who is married and has two kids to go to prison for what is morally right, or what is even their duty? They'll go to prison, their family will starve, they'll be out on the streets, and they get out of prison two or three years later and they have no job, and they have a dishonorable discharge on their permanent record. How can you ask a soldier that young to do that?

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: There's something, I heard you speak a couple weeks ago at the University of Washington, and there was something you said that was very powerful about, it actually had to do with this concept of a volunteer army versus a draft. Where I think the comment you said was, in some cases, if there was a draft, and so more people were impacted in terms of having a relative being drafted, that there would be much more protest on the streets of America than there is now. Because now, we have a volunteer, so it's actually much more segmented in terms of who is in the military, and doesn't impact the vast majority of Americans. Because whether it's socioeconomically or whatever, they're not, they don't know people in the military because we don't have the draft. Can you talk a little bit about that? I thought that was a powerful concept.

EW: Sure, and I'll just start off by saying the concept of an all-volunteer army is very intricate and complicated as opposed to a draft army. These days, the army human resources, they know that married soldiers, soldiers with kids, are more responsible, more stable than your eighteen-, nineteen-, twenty-year-old draftees. So they encourage soldiers to join the military, they encourage them to get married and have kids and be more stable because they give more money to them. So that's, that's an enticement. But in doing so, you have soldiers who have a lot more to lose by doing things that are outside of the, going against the system. Whereas opposed to a draft military, like they had in Vietnam, you had a lot of single soldiers, you had a lot of soldiers from all walks of life who had different ways of thinking or histories and things like that, education. You had a more diverse segment of society. Whereas in today's all-volunteer army, which they, they call it the "economic draft" in which they go into low-income neighborhoods, and they, they recruit these kids and these kids with families who have little choice but to join the army, because the army offers so much in terms of a stable job, a stable salary, health care and benefits, housing, food, what have you. And so a soldier has a lot more to lose in today's all-volunteer army.

Now, what I was saying to the University of Washington is that when you have a draft, everybody instantly in America becomes involved in what's going on. Everybody has something to lose or gain, as opposed to nowadays, where you have less than one percent of the American population who is enlisted or is in the military. With a draft, if you have a war, automatically you have about eighty to ninety percent of the people in this country -- or, I mean, eighty to ninety percent of the people who have some involvement in the war. Because at any point, they or their loved one could be drafted into the military, and that is a lot more, I believe, democratic than having an all-volunteer army. Because when people have something to lose, they're gonna find out what it is, why they're gonna lose that. If they don't, they're not gonna be involved.

TI: Yeah, I thought that was interesting, because you're, what struck me was you thought that people would be questioning the war more if there actually was a draft, versus the volunteer army.

EW: Right. I mean, I equate an all-volunteer, what they call a professional army, with a mercenary army. And in some sense, an indentured servant army, because they have no other choice but to do what they're told. I equate a draft army with being really what it means to be a democracy.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: I want to move on the reaction of the Japanese American community to your decision, because I've, I've read a lot of the newspapers, the community newspapers, and your decision has been very controversial in the Japanese American community. So what kind of reactions have you personally received from the Japanese American community about your decision?

EW: Well, I'll give you an example. When I went back to Hawaii the other week to speak at a Company K, 442nd. And there weren't many surviving members left, but there was a good number, and a lot of wives and widows and friends. And you know, a lot of the wives and the widows were very supportive, and came out to thank me. And there were about four or five veterans who came out, and were almost tearing, and they were very thankful and supportive. And then there was a good number who, of veterans, who just simply turned and walked the other way after the event and they didn't come up to me at all. And so you're right, the Japanese American community is very split, and I don't know if it stems back from what happened in World War II or if it's just the nature of how people think, and the facts behind this war. A lot of soldiers, or a lot of people just say, "Well, if it's your duty to go, you go." And there's a lot of people who say, "Well, it's not a draft, you volunteered for it." Well, there were people during Vietnam who were saying, "Once your drafted, that's your duty to go." So people change it as a, to fit their beliefs. And the fact of the matter is, it doesn't matter whether you volunteer or that you're drafted, we all take an oath to defend the Constitution, and when we have leaders in government who are betraying their oath and deceiving and betraying the American people, it becomes the responsibility of all Americans, whether you swear an oath or not, to stand up to that and speak out against it, especially when the vast majority of Americans aren't doing so. But going back to the Japanese American community, a lot of them say what I've done is shame them, or that I'm being, I think one Japanese American man said that I was acting like a spoiled brat. [Laughs] But it all, it's, to me, it's not looking at what the issue is, and the issue is of the war. Do you believe the war is wrong, and if you do, what are you doing to put an end to it? Are you just relying on those within government, who are not fulfilling their responsibility?

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So we just have a few minutes left on this tape, so you're literally just weeks away from your court-martial.

EW: Uh-huh.

TI: And I just wanted to ask you, during this time, what are your hopes for the trial? I mean, what are your, what would be the, the most positive thing that could happen from this whole process that you're going through?

EW: Well, my dream would of course be an acquittal, because the military views that as dangerous, because then every soldier in any war could say, "This is immoral and illegal, and I can't take part in it." There does have to be some accommodation, though, for soldiers who really believe that what we are doing in this particular war is so morally wrong that they do have a duty to disobey and refuse, and they should not be punished for that, or made to be viewed as cowards and traitors. Has to be some accommodation there.

TI: So one hope is that this, this trial will be a discussion of this, and that, and that accommodations will come from that? That would be one hope?

EW: Right, but I know it's not gonna happen. I mean, an acquittal won't happen because an acquittal will end the war tomorrow. You would just have so many soldiers who will use this as legal precedence, an acquittal is legal precedence to refuse to go to Iraq, and no soldier nowadays wants to go to Iraq, for whatever reason. Either because it's too hot, or because it's dangerous, and they don't want to go, they don't want to be separated from their families. But they will use this as legal precedence to refuse orders then, and probably be protected by it. So the military would never, even if I, even if the war was illegal, or is illegal, and it could be proven, the President himself would come out and say it's illegal, the military would never allow this to be used as legal precedence, this case. So therefore they would never allow me to be acquitted.

TI: Well, so you're facing at least three charges.

EW: No, two charges, a total of five counts.

TI: Okay, two charges, five counts. One has to do with your decision not to deploy. The other one really focuses on your speaking out publicly about this. You just talked more about that first charge of refusing to deploy based on the grounds that this is an immoral, illegal war, which you said that you don't believe the military will allow that acquittal to happen. How about the other side, the fact that you spoke out? Do you have hopes of being acquitted of those charges?

EW: Sure, and I think we, the motion to dismiss those, or our chances of defending against them are a lot more stronger than the missing movement charge, the refusal to go, which is basically because of the nature of the article which they used to charge me with, is virtually almost impossible to defend against, or even appeal if we lose. But certainly the "conduct unbecoming," because it deals primarily with free speech rights, because of the vagueness of the article itself is unconstitutional, we have a lot more chance to defend this court-martial and to appeal probably all the way up to the Supreme Court. And so I think the chances are for winning this in any number of ways, the "conduct unbecoming" charges are a lot better. I mean, certainly the chances are very low for both, winning both, or either one of them. And I think in a larger sense, beyond the scope of the legal, the legal proceedings, I think for me, what would give me a sense of satisfaction is to once again see accountability in our government, to see the investigations into the prewar intelligence, and to really determine and say to the American people that there has been a wrong committed, and that those responsible are now going to be held accountable. Because the important thing for me is that this, this tragedy, the war in Iraq has already happened, and it's unfortunate, but it should not happen again, ever. I thought, a lot of people thought we had learned that lesson after Vietnam, obviously we didn't. Another war that was started on false pretenses and carried out for how many years, the conduct of it violating the Geneva Conventions again and again. When John McCain and a lot of people talk about how they were tortured by the North Vietnamese, and certainly American GIs and pilots were tortured by the North Vietnamese, but nothing is ever spoken about how the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong were tortured by the American and South Vietnamese military.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: So when I hear this, so a lot of the people who come to our website are high school kids, both men and women. And what would you tell a high school student who is graduating, and is thinking of volunteering for the military? What advice would you give them at this point? If they were doing it, like, right now in this, sort of, this time period, where the Iraq war is going on. What would you tell them? Because on the one hand, I know you have this strong sense of duty and wanting to be part of something, yet you're in this tough situation and you have all these young people who are faced with this decision right now. What would you, what advice would you give them?

EW: Certainly I do believe in the nobility of the military, and that it can do good things. But certainly it's a tool, it's a weapon of the United States government, and it's often used for, for reasons that are not honorable or noble, or righteous. John Murtha was in an interview a few months ago, and he's a combat veteran, and he volunteered for the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and reached the rank of colonel, and has been strongly influential within the military circles throughout his political career as a congressman. He was asked, "Going through what you have, what you had, going through all that, would you join the military today?" And he said, "No, I would not." And I want to convey that to those high schoolers, and I also would say that I agree. That, in essence, you are going to be putting yourself in a position of being part of an administration, to be used by an administration that is corrupt, that has broken the law numerous times. You're going to be used by them, and you will not have a choice. You can do what I did, sure. You can refuse and you can speak out and say how wrong it is, but like me, the odds are going to be horribly against you. You are going to be fighting for your life and for your future. And I think it is noble to stand up, and honorable, but you have to ask yourself, "Do you want to be put in that position, in that situation?"

That's the same thing this officer candidate wrote to me, and said she was being told by her instructors that she had to write about me and my views on the war, and so she did after speaking to me. And they told her that she didn't get the point, because they wanted her basically to slam me. But I, I told her many things and trying to give her a brief history on Iraq war and pre-Iraq war, and how the American government had supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons long before 1991, and intelligence, and things like that. We had basically built up Saddam Hussein, and then when he became inconvenient, then we wanted to get rid of him. But I was telling this officer candidate, I said, "You know, you have to look about, look about all the things that you are going to be, and that you will be forced to do." And I said, "You have to be willing to do the right thing all the times. You have to be willing to give up your own freedom, your own life, your family, your family's welfare, to do the right thing. That's what being a soldier and an officer is all about. If you're not willing to do that, then you need to think twice about joining the military." Because I'd tell the same to, same thing to these high schoolers.

TI: But then, so, you're, I'm trying to think this through. So you're, in some ways, do you think there needs to be changes in the military before you would, you would tell any high schooler? Because this thing I see is, "Well, once you join, you have to sort of give up your life and do whatever's told to you." But you're also saying that currently, what you're being told to do is illegal and immoral. So in that case, I'm, I think what I'm hearing is that you would not at this point advise any high schooler to go in? Is that, would that be fair to say? I'm trying to paraphrase.

EW: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. I would not advise it. But if you do, if you strongly believe in joining the military, which is -- I can understand that. But you have to be willing to do the right thing...

TI: Once you're in.

EW: ...once you're in, regardless of the cost. You can't join and say, "Well, I don't want to go to prison, so I'll just do whatever I'm told." No, you have to do the right thing regardless of the cost. If you're not willing to sacrifice that, if you're not willing to go to prison, if you're not willing to die, if you're not willing for your family to suffer, then you should not join the military.

TI: And so in the same way, now, if a soldier, whether officer or enlisted, came to you for advice because he or she believes that, like you, that the war is wrong and has to look at this, then what would your advice be? Would it be, again, to speak out? Or I should ask you, what would your advice be.

EW: I'd say you just need to do what you feel is right in your heart, and that's all there is to it. I'm not going to encourage them to follow the same path I have, or to keep their mouth shut. They just need to do what they feel is right. Because the circumstances are different. I certainly would have to have thought twice if I had a family to support, think twice about what I was going to do, and how that would affect them. And that's why I say, you have to think about all these things when you decide to join the military. Because what if you are put in a position where you have to decide between doing the right thing and taking care of your family? Don't put yourself in that position knowing that you might have to do that.

TI: You've been very generous with your time. So I guess I'm going to end it here, although I have lots more questions, I would love to spend more time with you. But just one last thought. Earlier you mentioned how the likelihood of the military acquitting you on the charges are pretty low. When you think about that, what are you looking, I mean, what's in front of you in terms of the, the possible sentence? What are people telling you in terms of what to expect in terms of a prison sentence for your decision?

EW: I talked to one of the JAG lawyers that I have, the JAG lawyer that I have, and he said that, "Look at between somewhere, two and four years. Six years is the maximum, probably not going to give you that because of the public ramifications, and that it would really look like they're just trying to make an example out of you." Certainly, that's what they're trying to do, they're trying to make an example out of me, which I think is, is a huge mistake. Not just because I'm trying to defend myself, but what you're doing, in essence, by setting an example out of me is sending the message to all active duty soldiers, or all soldiers, all members of the military and all potential members of the military, is that it doesn't matter what your personal beliefs are, you do what you're told to do. And who wants to stay in the military like that, and who wants to join the military? Only those with no choice, right? Again, it goes back to what I talked about, the economic draft. And certainly, like you said, I can, I can convey my advice to high schoolers, I can tell them what they should think about, but for a lot of them, it's a choice between going hungry and having a job, and a lot of them don't have a choice. And those are who the recruiters in the military know they have to target, and that's who they target, is those with no choice. Certainly, like I say, people in the middle class or lower-middle class, upper-middle class, we have a choice of going into the military. Some don't have a choice. So I think that those are the kind of things that we need to fix; we need to fix the fact that kids don't have any opportunities for education after high school, kids don't have jobs, people don't have jobs. We need to fix those things, and then we need to fix the rampant lawlessness within our own government. And then, then people who join the military will have a real choice.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.