Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gene Akutsu Interview II
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-03

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so today is Thursday, April 17, 2008, and we're doing a second interview with Gene Akutsu. The first interview was done over eleven, or about eleven years ago, on July 25, 1997, with Larry Hashima and Steve Fugita. And I'm not sure if you remember that, but that was about eleven years ago. And when I went back and, Gene, we talked, we felt that there were some gaps in the first interview, and so we thought this would be a great opportunity to revisit some of those things. And so I'm going to start off with just some basic stuff that wasn't covered in the first interview. The first one was, what date were you born? What's your birthdate?

GA: September -- [coughs] -- excuse me, September 23, 1925.

TI: Okay, and where were you born?

GA: Seattle.

TI: And do you remember where in Seattle?

GA: Yes. About a block away from the Vets Hall. There used to be a Japanese hospital on Eleventh between King and Jackson.

TI: Good, okay.

GA: Since then, it's been torn down, and they got into the, Acme Poultry took over the whole area, but then I was born there.

TI: And do you remember where your parents lived when you were born?

GA: When I was born, let me see, that was on Ninth between Fir and Spruce. That was the Japanese community, basically, they were the Baptist church group that was close to the church, and we (lived) amongst them.

TI: Got it, okay.

GA: The first year. Then we moved and wound up going down to Seventh and Yesler, and then after I was approximately a year old, we moved to the, a four-plex that was up the alley on, between Spruce and Alder, between Sixth and Seventh Avenue.

TI: Good job, good memory.

GA: And I was there 'til 1938, when they tore down the, all that area to make room for the project, the low-income project. And so I had to move up to another place up there on Tenth and Alder, and that's when, where we wound up going to, taken to Puyallup (Assembly Center).

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So going back to when you were born, what was the name given to you at birth? What was the name that your parents gave you?

GA: Jin, that is J-I-N, Hitoshi Akutsu.

TI: And at what point did people start calling you "Gene"? From Jin to Gene, how did that happen?

GA: Well, that was, when I wound up going to high school, my brother had already changed his name to Jim. And two names with "Jim" is not right, you know. But the reason why they called him Jim was his name was Hajime, and the white people would say "Hi-Jimmy," and therefore he cut it short and he'd say "Jim." Me, on the other hand, people used to call me nickname of Whisky and all that because it's a liquor, J-I-N was more like a liquor. And so the, and also the teacher used to make a mistake and used to call me "Jim" anyway. So I changed my name to Jim.

TI: You changed your name to "Jim" or "Gene"?

GA: Jim.

TI: Jim, okay.

GA: Now, that was not official. I just changed it, and when we wound up going to camp, that's where the confusion came about where two names Jim in the same household, so we decided, well, okay, I will take the name "Gene" and he will take the name "Jim" officially.

TI: Oh, so that's confusing because some people in the community might say, well, "Jim Akutsu," they could be talking about you or your older brother.

GA: That's right.

TI: And so in camp you changed it to "Gene."

GA: Yes.

TI: And your brother stayed "Jim." So talking about your brother Jim, how much older was Jim than you were?

GA: He was five years older.

TI: Okay, good. And I wanted to ask, your father, what was your father's name?

GA: Name was Kiyonosuke.

TI: And do you know where in Japan, where he's from?

GA: The county Tochigi-ken, which is the entry to Nikko. Nikko, you've heard of, where they have, that's really an attraction for the tourists. But anyway, it was right there, right close to there.

TI: And how about your mother, what was her name?

GA: Mother's name was Nao, N-A-O.

TI: And where in Japan was she from?

GA: Same area.

TI: And how did the two of them meet?

GA: Well, my father came over to this country about 1907, '06, around there, and he worked for a while and made enough money and... made enough money to go back and ask for a bride. And so he decided to take a trip about 1910, around there, and see if she can find a bride, and went over to, naturally, where he was from, and by then they had go-betweens who would sponsor various people who's eligible to get married, to let them meet and see if they can get along. That's how she, they met.

TI: Okay, good. And your mother's maiden name, do you know what her maiden name was?

GA: Maiden name was Fukui.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Okay, so now I'm going to jump, that was just some basic information I wanted to get, and the other interview covered a lot of your growing up and the prewar. And so I'm going to jump to December, essentially, December 7, 1941, and the day after, on December 8th, in Seattle, your father was picked up by the FBI. And one of the questions I wanted to ask was, so this was the day after December 7th when Japan, the military bombed Pearl Harbor, and so he was picked up very quickly. And I was curious why you thought your father was picked up so quickly by the FBI.

GA: One of the reasons, I think, was that he was quite active not as a head of a Japanese community, but a member participating and trying to be a, what do you call, liaison between the Japanese community and the English. So that they would understand what is going in, going on the white people's mind and, Caucasians' mind, I mean, and also (translate) all of the, what the Japanese community was talking about, so that everybody concerned knew about what was going on. So the JACL was taking care of a lot of the names, all the people who participated in all that, and I guess his name being, starting with 'A' was one of the first names, and therefore, right away, they picked him up on the 8th.

TI: I'm sorry, back up a little bit. So when you said the JACL was coming up with lists of names, these were names that were, that the JACL felt were...

GA: Active in the community.

TI: Okay, so that's...

GA: I imagine they also had names of everybody else, too, so that they know who is in, living in the Japanese community. So I guess they had a, not a diary, but a directory as to who, where they lived and all that sort of thing.

TI: So when you say your dad was active as a liaison between, say, the Caucasian community and the Japanese community, what would that be? How would he kind of do that? What would be an example of him trying to either inform the Caucasian community or him trying to inform the Japanese community of what the Caucasians thought?

GA: It's so far, long ago, I can't quite remember, but I guess one of the things might be, like, what... the Japanese, they had meetings and things, in the community, what they spoke about, and they may have had a play at the Nippon Kan Hall and things like that that the Caucasians didn't know what was going on. They thought maybe it was a secret party going on, and those kind of things he readily explained to the people of what was going on in the community to keep the interest of the Japanese.

TI: So was your father able to speak English?

GA: He was able to, but not really fluently, but well enough that he could express what he wanted. He's a university graduate and a teacher. Also, my mother was a teacher.

TI: Okay, so both parents were well-educated.

GA: Yes.

TI: In relationship to probably the other, many other Japanese.

GA: Yes.

TI: So given that, if you were to think back in terms of community, Japanese community perceptions of your parents, how do you think they would describe -- this is before the war -- how do you think they would describe them?

GA: My parents, I think that a lot of them looked at my parents as, "Oh, they were teachers in Japan." They thought they were well-educated and way above their heads because many of the Isseis that were over here, maybe graduated from, maybe not even the middle school in Japan. And now, my dad has a shoe repair shop, and they say, "Boy, you came down a long ways." Isn't that, as an insult, to let him know that they see how he came down to below the average citizen's level.

TI: So it's kind of interesting, so thinking about, so the shoe repair was a way for your dad to make a living, but his education within the community, it sounds like he was one of the leaders because he was able to be a spokesperson oftentimes. And so there was, yeah, this sort of... what's the right word? Imbalance almost in terms of what he had to do for a living...

GA: That's right.

TI: ...and his position in the community, especially based on his education.

GA: Yeah. There was a reason why he became a shoe repair, too. He used to work for Frederick & Nelson, and over at the Frederick & Nelson as a janitor. And when we, one night he was cleaning up the place, he found a safe open. And so he called the people of the company and told them about what had happened there, and so they trusted my dad and they decided to call him Charlie. And then they said, "Charlie, we've got a suggestion for you. Why don't you start your own business? And a good business to do is to get into the shoe repair business because everybody wears a shoe, and that wears out and it has to be taken care of." And so that's where he made up his mind that he will go into the shoe repair business at the suggestion of the people, heads of Frederick & Nelson.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, so I'm going to... so your father was picked up, and then you, your brother Jim and your mother go to Puyallup, "Camp Harmony," the Puyallup Assembly Center. And one of the things that you mentioned in your last interview that I wanted to follow up on was, I'm always curious about how things were organized at Puyallup in terms of how things got done. And you mentioned how your brother saw a need, that the elderly or the sick, it was hard for them to go get food, and so your brother helped organize this tray service where (the waitresses) would get the food, put it on a tray, and bring it to the people that had a hard time going to get the food. How did your brother come up with that idea, or tell me about how your brother did that, I'm curious how that happened.

GA: He was working in the kitchen, and, well, I guess he's monitoring all the tray, people getting the tray and things to serve themselves. And he started to think about, "Gee, there's some people that are sick who can't get out, and how are they gonna be fed?" And so he decided that there's a good idea, he'd go over there and see if he could ask them to set up a service. So he went over to the head, I can't remember, I guess the head was Jimmy Sakamoto, who was the head of JACL, a lot of the activities, whether it was him or anybody else in the upper JACL. He asked permission to organize a tray crew, and they ignored him completely. So he says, "Well, then I'm gonna go up to the head." And he went up to the head of the assembly center and talked to them.

TI: Before you continue the story, I'm curious, so you said he was ignored by the JACL, you mentioned possibly Jimmy Sakamoto. Why do you think he was ignored by the JACL? This seemed like a pretty good idea.

GA: Well, I guess, I don't know, really, it's just my guess, is that, "There are other things that are more important, we'll worry about that later." With that attitude, well, people get hungry and they gotta eat. And so on the other hand, my brother was thinking, "That is important, you've got to feed them, we have to pay attention to that right away." So there was a difference right there.

TI: Okay, so then your brother went to the, directly to the administration to present the idea. So go ahead and explain what happened next.

GA: Well, naturally, the JACL didn't like it, and he was more or less kind of a blacklist, where they looked at him as kind of a troublemaker at that time, 'cause he won't listen to whatever the JACL dictates. So...

TI: And at this point, how about the administration? Did they think it was a pretty good idea and so they let him do it?

GA: They did. So during the, when we were interned over there for about, what is it, about five or six months, we did form a tray committee, and the girls were, all the girls would deliver and take back the trays used by the sick people who were bedridden or unable to walk. So that was a very, quite a success, and all the people showed their appreciation, especially the ones that has the survivor, the wife or the husband that is in that condition.

TI: So when you say "showed their appreciation," who did they show their appreciation to? To your brother, to the administration, to the JACL, I mean, who got the credit for this?

GA: Really, it was appreciated with all the tray girls, they were, 'cause 'they' meaning the parents, they didn't know who to say who is the one to, for them to go show their appreciation so they told the tray girls, and also the tray girls told them that my brother Jim was the head of it. And therefore they thanked him for a lot of the activities that he started. He was one of those organizers himself. Ever since he was young, he would organize a lot of things, and this was one of the things that came to his mind.

TI: And in this case, it sounded like it caused some friction with the, with the other Japanese American leaders, in particular the JACL, who felt that, yeah, I guess they didn't like that he did this.

GA: Well, I guess they didn't like him going over their head. I think that happens all over, where people don't listen so they go above their head and then they become blacklist and anything that's troublesome, it's their fault. And since then, my brother was kind of looked at as a, kind of a troublemaker.

TI: And do you think that caused him problems later on at Puyallup and then later on in Minidoka with this group?

GA: Not this group. He didn't pinpoint down to any one particular group, but he had seen some activities going on after we were evacuated to Hunt, that some activities were being done that shouldn't have been, namely, black marketing, using or taking all the sports equipment away and either giving it away or selling it to people outside. And so the inmates there, the kids, had no equipment to play baseball or football with. And that was one of the things that he tried to tell the administration, and the administration kind of ignored him. So he wrote a letter to Washington, D.C. to explain to them that that is one of the reasons why the people in the internment camps, their food is scarce, a lot of the meats was cut short, and sports equipment, that kids would need for everybody, the activities were gone. And so he wrote to them, and apparently they came down, and the administration didn't like that, either. And so he was pretty much getting into the blacklist, known as a "troublemaker."

TI: And the reason he did this was 'cause he saw something that was not working or was unfair, and then he would try to fix it working with the people that were in charge, but when they didn't do it, he would go above them to the next level to get changes.

GA: That's right.

TI: And then those people didn't like it, so they would then, sort of, label him as a "troublemaker," someone who didn't work together to solve the problem.

GA: Perhaps that may have been, or something else, maybe it's my dad, but our family was kept in the camp. We couldn't leave camp, so...

TI: So I've read about this, so it's called like a stop-order?

GA: Yeah.

TI: Or some kind of, you're put on a list where you're now allowed to do, like, those temporary leaves to go into town to shop.

GA: That's right.

TI: So your family was on that list?

GA: We couldn't get out, therefore we were there the duration.

TI: And so how did you know you were on that list? I mean, was it, did you just...

GA: Applications were made to see if we can get out toward, I think it was toward Salt Lake where they had the sugar beet farm and all that, and we wanted to get an application to get out there to earn a little bit of money, and our request was, we were told that we were on a (stop order) list, that we couldn't get out. So during all that time, we really officially didn't get out of camp. We did sneak out here and there to, well, go out rattlesnake hunting or something like that, but officially, we couldn't get out.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So now I'm going to jump ahead to something else. So we talked a little bit about Puyallup, from Puyallup you went to Hunt, Idaho, or Minidoka. And you went there in the fall, and then a few months later, in January 1943, so just a few months after being at Hunt, the U.S. military decides to form a segregated army unit, and they started calling for volunteers to join the army, to join this unit, the 442. As part of that, a month later, they come out with a "loyalty questionnaire," a questionnaire that was designed to determine how loyal people were to the United States to help determine whether or not they were suitable for military service, or also if they were suitable to be eventually released from the camps to go work. On this questionnaire, there were two questions in particular that were somewhat controversial. And what I want to do is, one by one, read the questions, and then I want to ask you how you answered these questions. So the first question is called Question 27. And the way it's worded is, it says, quote, "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?" end quote. So when you saw that question, how did you answer?

GA: Thinking it over, I thought to myself, "It sounded like you're gonna volunteer." Well, we'd been pushed around quite a bit, and I didn't like it, and so I said, "I don't want to be pushed around anymore, so I'm going to answer 'no,' I'm not going to volunteer."

TI: Okay, because yeah, you heard about this new unit, you knew they were gonna ask for volunteers, and so you thought this was the question that was saying, "Would you volunteer for this unit?" and you said, "No."

GA: That's the opinion I had.

TI: Okay, good. The second, the next question, Question 28, goes, "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?" How did you answer Number 28?

GA: I answered, on 28, I said, "Yes," because that was three questions all put into one. The first one was, what was it?

TI: The unqualified allegiance to the United States.

GA: I said "yes" to that one.

TI: And then the second one was defend the U.S. from all attack by foreign...

GA: Yes, I said "yes" if our forty-eight states -- at that time we had only forty-eight -- were attacked.

TI: And then the third part, and the third part was forswear any allegiance to the Japanese Emperor.

GA: I never, I never swore any allegiance to Japan, I've always been an American, and pledged allegiance to our flag all my life. Therefore I said "no" there.

TI: Because you never had allegiance to the emperor, so you couldn't "forswear" allegiance.

GA: That's right. If it, if I was, I was too young to know what the heck I was saying, especially in, trying to speak in Japanese. So anyway, I said "no" to that question. And two questions out of three was "yes," therefore my last answer to the whole question was "yes."

TI: Okay, so let me make sure, so Question 28, what you're saying is that, actually, they're asking you three things. Of those three things, two of them you were "yes," and third one where forswearing any allegiance, you said "no" because you never had allegiance. But based on two out of three being "yes" and one being "no," you decided to answer "yes" to Question 28.

GA: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Okay, so Question 27 was a "no," Question 28 was "yes." And in general, what they were using this questionnaire to do was to, it was the government's attempt to try to determine how loyal Japanese Americans and Japanese were to the United States. And one of the outcomes from this questionnaire was that they formed a, one camp, Tule Lake, as a segregant camp, or segregation camp, where people who the government thought were not loyal or as loyal, they would send to Tule Lake. And then people in Tule Lake who they, the government thought were more loyal to the United States, they would move them to another camp, back to Minidoka. And they started doing this in about September of 1943, so this was kind of early fall. Do you remember any, like, Tule Lake people coming to Minidoka during this time period?

GA: Yeah, a number of them came, but they're scattered all over the forty-four blocks. But in my block, which was Block 5, we did have, I think, three or four of 'em that came and wound up residing in our block.

TI: And sort of conversely, there would have been people at Minidoka who in general would have, those two questions asked, would have actually said "no" and "no" to both of them. And probably, in the questionnaire, maybe had indicated other things that would have shown them as perhaps not as loyal to the United States. And so these families or individuals were moving from Minidoka to Tule Lake, and I think some people have labeled this group, or the people that went there as sort of "no-nos," because generally they went "no-no" to these two questions, and then were sent to Tule Lake. Do you know anyone that left Minidoka under those circumstances?

GA: Well, what had happened was they kept these things under cover, so all I know is one day they were there, and the next day they were all shipped away, and you figured, "Where in the devil did they go?" Then the news drifted in as, oh, they were sent over to Tule Lake because they wanted to, many of 'em wanted to go back to Japan, repatriate, and things like that. And therefore they were all sent out without most of us knowing, especially me and the fellow kids like us, we were busy playing around, and because there's a lot of kids our age. And so our time was spent actively playing sports and things and going to school.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Well, the other thing I wanted to mention, I mean, to make it more confusing for you and your family, your father in this time period, September of '43, was at that point at Santa Fe, the internment camp, the Department of Justice internment camp. And there was, there were opportunities, and I think your family considered this, of possibly moving to Crystal City, because there, there was a family internment camp where families could join, say, their fathers and live together as a family unit, but still in a Department of Justice internment camp, so it'd be higher security than the concentration camps at Minidoka and places like that. Do you recall any discussions about possibly going to Crystal City?

GA: Yeah. The news got around to us that we may not see our (dad) for a long time, and the only way we can get together soon is to get together and make an application for Crystal City. And so I believe they did, my mother made application for us to go to Crystal City so that our family would be together. But not knowing that that was the plan of the government to send all these families to Japan, that was their intention, and how they got the family together. So a number of them were sent to, back to Japan, or not to Japan, on the first, I think, first and only ship that they had, and they wound up going to Japan sometime in '43. And there's detailed story about how they made it over, I don't know. They hit different, they didn't go directly to Japan but went here and there as they made their way towards Japan, and eventually they wound up going to, I guess, the original Japan that they were scheduled to arrive.

TI: When you say the government sent these families from Crystal City to Japan on this ship and this journey, was it with the family's, because the families want to do this, or do you think it was, they were sent against their will from Crystal City? Do you have a sense about that?

GA: (I don't know). Our family was assuming that the family will be brought together, not to be sent anywhere (but interned there for the duration of the war). Well, we were not a hostage, but that's what we wound up being. Just like a lot of the Japanese that were in Brazil, Chile, and all along the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. gathered 'em all up, brought 'em in, and they wanted to use them as well as us as hostage. So whenever they exchange the prisoners of war, that (the inmates) will be sent over to Japan (in exchange).

TI: And when you say you were, as a hostage, did you feel like, 'cause you never went to Crystal City, or your family...

GA: No.

TI: ...did you feel like you were potentially hostages while you were at Minidoka? Or is this just, you thought, more the Crystal City families who were part of that hostage exchange program?

GA: Well, it was very obvious that we were held in Minidoka as... I guess you might say hostage. They didn't trust us to go out to relocate anywhere. (Our family was on stop order, and restricted from relocating).

TI: So let me sort of summarize some of this, because we just talked about three different types of camps that would hold families. We had Hunt, Idaho, or Minidoka, where most families were held, most Japanese American families were held in camps like this, so there were ten WRA camp, nine were like Minidoka. Then at the end of 1943, Tule Lake was set up as a segregation camp, and those individuals and families who were viewed as perhaps less loyal were then sent to Tule Lake, and so it was then called a segregation camp, but you also have another camp for families like Crystal City, an internment camp, that held generally "enemy aliens" viewed as perhaps more dangerous, of which your father was in that category, where families could join them, and this was perhaps of the three camps, the highest security. So there were these three, and you mentioned earlier there would be, like, Japanese Peruvians also there that were actually kidnapped from Peru and brought to places like Crystal City. So you get three different camps that, in some ways, you were impacted by, possibly you could have gone to Crystal City. Was there any discussion by your mother, your brother or you about possibly going to Tule Lake during this time period, or the chances of going to Tule Lake?

GA: No. The main thing was that we wanted the family to get together, not being exported or anything like that, and we want the family together again because my dad was already gone close to two years in hopes of him getting released to come to Hunt, why, that was getting very slim. That's the reason why my mother made application, I believe, to go to Crystal City.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: But eventually, at the end of 1943, December 1943, your father joins the family at Minidoka. So do you remember when your father joined the family and what that was like?

GA: Yeah, that's kind of a sad story. It's that I was, I can't remember what I was doing, but I was in my barrack, and I stepped out to, I guess, head out to the laundry room where we do laundry and various things, it's a utility room, and there was an elderly old man come walking over and he asked, "Could you tell me where the residence of Akutsu is?" And I said, "Well, it's over there," and I showed him where it was, and he went there and I didn't even think it was my dad. But anyway, I sent him over there and he introduced himself and went inside. And when I went back in there, I found out that it was my dad, that he had grown so thin that I couldn't recognize him. He was approximately 140 pounds at that time, but I think when he came home, was approximately ninety pounds, and so he was just skin and bones. And I believe he had some beard, so whenever a person has a beard, you can't recognize him. Now, anyway, we got together for the first time since his departure to Missoula, which was some two and a half years prior. So it was, we were finally together and had time to get to acquaint ourselves with our parents, my dad. But the thing was, that was kind of set aside with us younger people, because what we were looking at is activities going on in our camp, and try to get involved there.

TI: Going back to these first impressions of your father, so about two years you haven't seen him, he's lost a lot of weight, the facial hair, so you really did not recognize your father. Did he recognize you after looking at you?

GA: Well, it's been some two years since he saw us, and that meant that I was about (fifteen) years old. I have grown taller, have put on more weight, I had matured, and maybe he did have, but I think his, he couldn't remember us, anyway. So we were at a loss as to recognize each other. It may seem funny, but that's how it was.

TI: And when you spent more time with him, did you notice any differences about him as a person?

GA: Well, as I said, kids activities came first, and spending time with my dad to find out whether his personality has changed, I didn't notice. In fact, I didn't even know where he was transferred, from Missoula to various other camps (in Louisiana and New Mexico), and that I didn't even know. And one day, I figured I will find out, but that day never came.

TI: How about your mother? Did you see any differences in your mother after your father returned?

GA: Well, not very, because also, since the parents were together again, all the more reasons why we were away from home enjoying ourselves as much as possible. But prior to my dad coming back, yes, my mother had a lot of worries, she looked depressed, tired, and not sickly, but then she had a lot of worries that bothered her. (But with determination and courage, she kept moving forward).

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Well, shortly after your father returned to Minidoka, so we go now to January 1944, the U.S. military now decides to impose a draft on Nisei men to try to get more people into the army. And so January 1944, so this is about a year after they let the volunteers in. And so they needed, essentially, I think, more replacement troops for them, so they imposed the draft. And a few months later, they actually started drafting men out of Minidoka, and you were in that first group. So what was your reaction when you were drafted?

GA: Well, I recalled things that I had thought and expressed in the past two years, was that two years? From '41 through '43, and thought to myself, one of the things that I learned in my civics class and while in high school was you are free until you are found guilty. Well, I felt that I was not guilty, and I wanted to express that point that, well, we haven't been given our rights, so I'm, just like on the Question 27, I said to myself, "I'm not going to be going." Not until the day that the FBI came to pick me up, my parents didn't know which way I was gonna go. All they said was, "It's up to you, this is your life, your country, so you do what you think is right." But my mother said, at the same time, "Would you give me a crop of your hair and some fingernails, that if in case you're taken away, and we may never see you again, to, that we could have some service for you with what remains of your clippings," in the envelope that I enclosed right here.

TI: So what action or inaction did you do that let the government know that you were refusing the draft? I mean, how did they know that you were gonna refuse the draft?

GA: Well, they were, we were supposed to assemble together at the administration area at a certain time to get the preinduction pledge and all that. And I didn't go to that.

TI: And so it was after that that the FBI then...

GA: Yeah, they came around one o'clock, one of 'em came and said that, "You're under arrest, that you didn't go to the service, so you're coming with me." And so they put me in a car. And when I got in the car, there was another fellow, a fellow Nisei in the car, and I thought to myself, "Oh, this is great. At least I'm not gonna be all by myself, I have somebody." Otherwise, I thought I'd be all by myself. But yeah, we wound up together, and at the entrance, they checked us out and they checked us out as "indefinite leave." So thought, "Well, don't know what's gonna to me now." And the trip, the three-hour trip to Boise (County Jail) followed.

TI: Why do you think you were in that first group? I mean, here you were younger than other draft-eligible men, you were, this was 1944, so you were what, eighteen years old when this happened. So you were barely draft age, and there were other Nisei men in camp who were nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. But they, but you were chosen in this first group. Why do you think that happened?

GA: I had no idea, excepting that they must have thrown all our names into -- excuse me -- into a bowl or a box, and just pulled out names, and mine happened to be it. Or could it be that, "The older Akutsu was a troublemaker, so maybe the younger brother, let's see what he does." I don't know.

TI: So that comment at the end was that because your older brother was viewed as a "troublemaker," they thought, "Well, let's take his younger brother and see what he does, 'cause that'll be an indicator of what his older might do"? Is that kind of what you're thinking?

GA: Well, I think they thought possibly -- this is all guessing -- that there's an organized resistance group in Hunt, and if so, let's find out. But if they put me in, called me in and I refused to go, then they would start thinking, oh, could it be that there are others that's being influenced by my brother not to go. (This was only my guess).

TI: Okay, that's interesting. And later on, your brother also was drafted.

GA: In July.

TI: And decided to resist, okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well, so at this point, your other interview goes into more detail about your trial, McNeil Island, all those things, so I'm not going to cover that. I'm now going to jump postwar, so after you returned from McNeil back to Seattle, I just wanted to, and actually even jumping to decades after. Because during this whole time period, the Japanese American Citizens League, during the war, tried to persuade draft resisters to not resist and to actually be inducted into the army. And then afterwards, pretty much turned a cold shoulder when draft resisters asked the JACL to help them, they would refuse, they wouldn't help. And it wasn't until 2002, May 2002, that the JACL acknowledged that they had made a mistake in how they treated draft resisters back during the war, and they had a ceremony in San Francisco in 2002 where they acknowledged the resisters of conscience. You were able to attend that ceremony, and I want you to sort of describe sort of the sequence of events on the day of the event, how did it all happen? I'm curious to get your perceptions of that.

GA: The JACL had gotten together each year at a meeting to decide whether they should apologize or not, and I guess consecutive three years or so, that was turned down, refused, and the JACL was adjourned. But the last one in, what's that, 2002, the person who represented as the president of the JACL happened to be a Sansei, the third generation. And he pushed and pushed and got this through. There were people who had, were diehard, definitely said, "These 'no-no' people, I am not gonna give any apologies to," and unfortunately, they probably wound up going to the grave with that idea in their head. But....

TI: And just to clarify, when you said "those 'no-nos,'" they're really talking about the draft resisters, not the ones who went to Tule Lake.

GA: At that time, we were referred all as "no-no." (Narr. note: Anybody who refused to go into the service, the Heart Mountain boys excluded, were considered disloyal and included with the 'no-no boys.')

TI: Okay, so what's interesting, so there was a lot of confusion in the words or the terminology that they would confuse those men who said, "no-no," went to Tule Lake, with those who resisted the draft, and the draft resisters, they would sometimes confuse the two.

GA: Yes. In fact, the Heart Mountain refusal, the group, they were, the JACL and the other people thought that it was because they wanted their citizenship back. But us up in the north, the "no-yes" group, were all grouped together as "no-no" and we were grouped together with the Tule Lake people, and they were pretty diehard "no-no," where many of 'em probably repatriated to Japan and all that, and also said that if they, would they participate in the war against us if you're over in Japan, and they must have had, said "yes."

TI: So I'm curious, so when you think of the JACL and, say, some of the veteran groups, you have these two distinct groups. You have the ones who say, the group that went to Tule Lake, some of them even trained thinking that they would go back to Japan and fight against the United States, so they were very, some of them were pro-Japan, and perhaps thought their loyalties were more to Japan, and then you have a group of men who perhaps they might have said "no-yes," or even "yes-yes," but decided to resist the draft because they felt that it was wrong to be drafted out of a concentration camp. So you have these two different groups, they're sometimes confused. Who do you think the JACL and the vets opposed? Was it both groups, or was it one group and they just confused the two, do you have a sense about that?

GA: I think at that time, during '43, '44, anybody who refused, without asking any questions, they would say they are no good, "no-no," unpatriotic, disloyal and whatever. Let me get you back to, a few minutes ago where you said that these people would, who had said they will repatriate to Japan and serve in the Japanese army, I think many of 'em were so peeved, so mad and disgusted that they said anything just to agitate the government. Not that they were real disloyal, but just to let the government know that they didn't like what was going on. And to gain attention of the government so that they would pay attention, that's what, I think, was a lot of it. And people, the Caucasians over here took it as, "Oh, they're real disloyal." So that's why they were labeled.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

GA: Let me take you back to 1937, '36, around there. When we were young, we used to have a block gang. There was a lot of Japanese kids within our block, that each block would have a football team or baseball team, and we would play against each other. One day, we decided, let's have this, what we called slingshots fight, which is referred to right now as spitwads. And we decided that, "Let's have a war against the next group and see who comes out ahead." And this was held between Fifth and the City Light substation on Yesler Way between Yesler and Jefferson, that was an area, it was a slide area, and it was kept wild. We decided we'll have a war in there, and somehow or another, I don't know which paper it was, but the, whether it was the Seattle Star or Post-Intelligencer, but there was a reporter there. And we started and they called us together and we all lined up on Yesler Way, and they took pictures of us. And we thought, "Oh, boy, this is good. We're getting in the papers." Well, the caption read that the Japanese Imperial Army has sent over soldiers to instruct us how to run a, fight a war. Now, this is back in 1936 when they said that, and why they picked Japan even at that time as an enemy is beyond me. But checking back on that, I found that all the comic books they used to have, they had comic books on war, and every time it was either Japan or Germany, and how bad the Japanese were. So when the war broke out in '41, all the kids in ten years had read up a lot about, bad things about the Germans and the Japanese, therefore they were ready to volunteer to go to the service. So when Pearl Harbor happened, there were many, many volunteers who were ready to go out there and bomb Japan and wipe 'em off the earth. Just to let you know that it was, that kind of a sentiment was going on for a long time.

TI: So that there was this bias, you mentioned the media, in this case, thinking that Japanese Americans would be predisposed to fight against the United States, that they were being trained to fight against, in some ways, the United States, from a very young age.

GA: That's right.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And so when we think about Tule Lake, there was, perhaps, this bias thinking that many of the men there would end up in Japan fighting against the United States. So again, that's sort of that same thinking. So I'm curious, when you think of the two groups, I'm trying to think what's the right way of saying this. You were in the draft resister group, and you mentioned earlier, resisting because of, sort of, these democratic feelings, that it's not right to force men to fight while you're being incarcerated. And then you have this other group that, perhaps, were thinking they were treated wrong and they were just making things, perhaps, difficult for the United States and even were saying things like, "We'll go back to Japan." Are they similar? Do you think there was, when you think about how the men in that group thought and how the resisters thought, were there some similar thinking, or do you think they were very different thinking? I mean, I'm trying to get a sense...

GA: Quite different, quite different.

TI: So talk about that. How do you think they were, how would you characterize -- again, this is just generalizing. I know that it's hard to say that one resister, or all resisters thought the same way, or all the segregants all thought the same way, but in general, what do think, how would you describe the differences in thinking?

GA: Well, I tell you, I can't speak for everybody, but I'm just speaking for myself. And my thoughts were that I resisted so that it could be, my story will be in the court, my trial and all that would be in the trial, and how I was treated, thinking that well, you can't go around with the government, especially in the judicial area where they're gonna be fair with you. And I wanted all that put into the... because being poor, we didn't have any money to put out to get a lawyer to have this taken care of. So this way, at least, there's something about our or my reason for not going, and it'll be in the government report. That was basically what I wanted to do, but the only thing was, the judge was very much against the Japanese.

TI: Okay, so I sort of understand that, how would you think the ones who went to Tule Lake, how do you think they were thinking? How would they think, perhaps, differently than that?

GA: Well, there are people who are short-tempered, and anything done to them, they'll retaliate real quick. And I think a lot of 'em are short-tempered, and it just flared up and said anything they want. Now, you yourself probably run into a lot of people like that where they're short-tempered and they'll come out and say anything about you, and then forget about it. But the government don't forget those people.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So I want to go back to the JACL ceremony. You talked about how it took them years of discussing, finally under, when the JACL president was a Sansei that this finally got passed. And so one of the things that came out of that was a resolution to acknowledge, having an actual public ceremony to acknowledge the resisters of conscience, of which you were one and you were there. So describe the event for me. What was that like?

GA: Well, it was quite a big event for the resisters, because now we finally got recognition, and that they, what we had hoped for had finally come true. So it was a big event for us, and they had all the dignitaries, I think the representative of the government, Japanese, his name was Honda, he was, gave one of the main speeches, and there was a judge, a Japanese judge who was up in... well, in the judicial system, and he was going to come and give a speech. So with all them giving the main speech -- oh, as well as also the author of the book Free to Die for America... for their... Free to Die...

TI: For Their Country.

GA: ...for Their Country. In fact, it's been so long, I've forgotten. [Laughs] But anyway, Eric Muller was there, and he also spoke, too. And we all wound up giving, oh, roughly, maybe ten to fifteen minute speech as to their experience, what they thought of the fifty years prior to the apology. And my story was all the trials and things I went through, and it gets to be kind of routine, but then a lot of the people didn't hear about it, and found out that what had gone, gone wrong, and then they found out, "Say, these resisters, they did go through a lot of their trouble." And, well, let me see. Was it Daniel Inouye was there? He wrote the forward in that book, Free to Die for Their Country, congratulating the resisters, said they were heroes as much as the soldiers who went out there because they fought their own battle. And I thought that was a real heart-touching comment that Daniel Inouye had made.

TI: And besides, in addition to Senator Inouye and his comments, were there any other speeches or comments, whether public or even personal, that you recall from that day that meant a lot to you?

GA: Yeah, I think there was a number of presidents in the JACL divisions, say, the eastern part of the country, the southern part. Anyway, they all spoke up and their comments were to our liking, it was real nice. And these people had relatives in the service, some of them, they had relatives that are dead due to the war, but they all felt that everybody was, had the privilege to speak their, do what they wanted to, that they felt comfortable in doing. And so they were all complimentary.

TI: And so when you think about, I guess you mentioned Eric Muller, Professor Muller from North Carolina, so he wrote a book that focused on this issue, you then had this event by the JACL. Has that made a difference in how the people perceive the resisters of conscience? Do you think in the last, so it's been... 2002, so the last five or six years, have you seen a difference in how the story of the draft resisters have been told and how people think about it?

GA: Well, I haven't really been confronted with this, but I feel that more and more people have realized what, why a lot of us are, myself, I did what I did. And they made comments that, "Oh, yeah, you were brave, you did what you thought was right." In fact, I was going golfing with some of the fellows, the vets, and they had brothers that were killed. But the one in particular that I used to go golfing with, we used to go, oh, I guess I went with him golfing for about ten, fifteen years. And that subject came up, and we were talking, and his comment was, "You did what you thought was right, and I did what was right, and I got nothing against you." And I thought that was real good, and my thoughts about that were the same thing, that everybody's privileged to think and do what they want, and the consequence? You gotta either suffer or be happy about it. And so we were together for a long time.

TI: So what I'm trying to understand is after it becomes more public, what the JACL did, Eric Muller's book about the draft resisters, do you find that more people are able to talk about this issue and just, and make those comments to you, that, "You did what you thought was right, I did what I thought was right," and it's come out more?

GA: Yes. Even to this day, I have people call me and say that they read about the book, and they were really surprised that anything like this happened. This is something that happened just yesterday, and this was a lady who was a freelance photographer, and she wanted to make a photo album about the resisters because she never heard, she's from Idaho. In fact, her parents were some forty, fifty miles away from Twin Falls. But she heard about this and read about it, and then somehow she got a hold of me and wanted to interview me, which was done yesterday. And the day before, she asked me to go out to McNeil Island where I was a resident for three years. So I agreed and we went out there two days ago, and took back a step in time to remember what had happened over in McNeil Island. A lot of it has changed, but then, still, the memory is deep in my mind that I wouldn't forget. (I'm looking forward to seeing her album.)

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So what were some of the feelings? Two days ago, I didn't know about this, so two days ago, you revisited McNeil Island, and is this the first time you've been back since you were incarcerated there?

GA: Yes.

TI: So it's been...

GA: Fifty, a good fifty years.

TI: Yeah, almost sixty years since you've been there, you were incarcerated for three years. And so two days ago you returned there for the first time. What kind of feelings were going through you when you did this?

GA: Well, before I approved to go, I didn't, I thought this lady was just a school, maybe a student trying to write a thesis for her graduation or something. And I took it very lightly and I said, "Oh, no, I don't think I'll go because it'll bring back memories and all that stuff." But my son, Jeff, had pulled up some story about her, what kind of a person she was, and she had gone, won all sorts of awards, she had been invited to the National Geographic, she had been photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle, and she also worked for the Seattle Times, so I thought, "This is not just a little student, she's somebody, so I better pay attention and go ahead and go." And so I swallowed my thoughts and said I will go. And we applied for an application to visit McNeil Island. And all we can do is to go to the dock and take pictures of the island, the administration area and things like that, but we couldn't get inside. You had to have a special permit to get in there. That's what I think would have really touched my heart, 'cause it would be really getting in to find out or show where we were for three years and what we did within the mainline, which she referred to as the main institution where they kept all the criminals, the real criminals. And we spent some two-and-a-half years there, amongst them.

TI: So you weren't able to go to those areas, but thinking back two days ago, just things like when you're taking the boat ride from Steilacoom to McNeil Island and on that dock, did that bring up any memories or feelings?

GA: Oh, yes. Yeah, as the boat was heading toward McNeil Island, I thought to myself of the time that we were sentenced to McNeil, and my thoughts were that here it is, I'm here at Steilacoom, which is some fifty miles away from Seattle. And a good three years ago, because we were Japanese, they interned us and took us to Puyallup, over to Hunt, and now where am I? I'm here going to a penitentiary that's only 50 miles away from where it originated, all this trouble. It was a real sad day in my mind, and it takes back memories. But then I swallowed any tears that would come to my eyes, 'cause I didn't want to cry in front of people. And yeah, I guess I kind of enjoyed going back there, too, although that's not a nice thing to be saying, to go back to the prison where you spent time. I talked to the guard that was on the Steilacoom side, to get a permit to go to the McNeil Island, and I told him, "I was one of the resisters that wound up going to, being an inmate at McNeil Island," and he was quite surprised. But he said he heard about what had happened to us, and well, we got to talk to each quite a bit, each other quite a bit. And I told him that, that was 1945 or so, we had come up with the baseball team and we took the championship, too. That was to show that we are, that we are humans, and we are not bad. And so that was the icebreaker for us to get to know the prisoners, and the prisoners, the actual convicts, they themselves were real people after all. They're not different.

TI: Wow, again, that must have been a very emotional sort of journey.

GA: Yeah. In fact, the guard shook my hand, he said, "Well, I'm glad to have met you," and we exchanged our comments, yeah.

TI: Did this photographer have any comments to you about what it meant for her to go with you to McNeil Island?

GA: Yeah. I talked to her and said that, "Gee, we wound up spending the whole day going over to get on the boat to take us to McNeil, and all we did was just get off the boat for a few seconds and get back on again. I know that you were taking a lot of pictures," but I said, "Do you feel that was worth it to you to go there and take pictures of me sitting in the boat or on the dock on the opposite side?" And she said, "Yeah." She said, "I took all these pictures, but there must be a good one out of there that I want to post in the book."

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So, I kind of went through all my questions for this one, and I wanted to give you an opportunity just to kind of reflect or talk about anything else that you wanted to mention about this issue, if there's anything you felt like we didn't cover or if there's anything else you wanted to say about maybe the issue between the resisters versus the people who went to Tule Lake, the segregants, or any other topic. It's been eleven years since we last talked, and a lot has happened. I guess there's one thing I wanted to ask you. In the first interview we did with you, this was 1997, you mentioned the importance of the Niseis to speak out because you never know if something like this could happen again. And then 2001 we had September 11th, where there was a terrorist act in New York City, the twin towers came down. And after that, there was hate crimes against Muslim and Arab Americans, and to some Niseis, it was reminiscent of after Pearl Harbor and what happened to Japanese Americans. Did you think about that at all after 9/11, what was happening in our country, and did that bring back any feelings for you?

GA: Yeah, it brought back memories of what had happened. During World War II, it was Pearl Harbor, right now what had happened was the bombing, or the plane crashing into the towers. Basically, they were kind of, there's a connection between that, to me, that there may have been something done, that our government may have kind of slackened off and that's why they had found it, to be able to fly into these towers and cause all this havoc on 9/11. And yeah, true, that right after that, all the Arabs and the Muslims, and many of them were taken in and they were taken in for indefinite reasons, or even without reason because of suspicion. And so there's a lot of resemblance of what had gone, gone wrong. But I don't think they'll, hopefully it would never happen, but I don't know that it will, because people, when they get excited, they get mad, they do things that normally they don't want to do. Referring back to some of these "no-no" people who made all sorts of comments, but then they really didn't mean it, it was just verbally to register to the government that they were dissatisfied with what was done. Hopefully, or unfortunately, we wound up getting into the Iraqi war, and they're still going on. And hopefully, that our, the new president would put a stop to it somehow, 'cause we've been at war for some five years now, going on five years, and there's a lot of casualty and death due to that, really, unwarranted war.

TI: Going back to the issue of being a draft resister, any other kind of reflections or comments that you'd like to make?

GA: I think the main comment was I wanted to have people know the difference between a resister and draft resisters who were considered "no-no," that we were all grouped together as a "no-no" group, and we were considered very unpatriotic, and draft resisters and all that. And really, what the reason of my resistance was not to go against going to the war, but refusing to go unless they give me my citizenship back. Then I would go. And I wanted to make it clear that people would know about that, that I am not to be considered as a "no-no" boy, which is a bad word in the Japanese community. But during the war, all the news media, the reports were all against us as being included as the "no-no" group, and we were sure labeled, and they treated us, all of us as such.

TI: And I think this interview has done a good job of distinguishing the differences between those who went to Tule Lake, the segregants, and the draft resisters, and I think you did an excellent job of clarifying that for us.

GA: Yeah, I hope so. I kind of took the liberty of talking extra, but then...

TI: [Laughs] That's fine, Gene.

GA: It's gotta be documented. [Laughs]

TI: That's always the good part. So thank you so much, Gene, for doing this.

GA: You're welcome. (Narr. note: If you stick to your convictions, the truth will come out.)

TI: This was excellent, thank you.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.