Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Toshikazu "Tosh" Okamoto Interview II
Narrator: Toshikazu "Tosh" Okamoto
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 11, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-otoshikazu-02

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so this is going to be the second interview we're doing with you, Tosh. And today is Thursday, June 11, 2009. On camera is Dana Hoshide, and interviewing is me, Tom Ikeda. And the first interview, we covered your early childhood life and your experiences up until you were, you were describing Tule Lake. And we had just finished talking about the school situation, but at that point you mentioned how you then kind of left to go work on the farm. So I thought we'd pick it up there. So you're in Tule Lake, how do you hear about things like working on the farm? How did that come about?

TO: Well, I think they were, actually, they were recruiting. Because if I recall, at that time, the Relocation Authority found that the farmers really need the labor to harvest their crops. So I think they were just posted on the bulletin board, different places you can go, and somehow we applied that that way. And, of course, a group of us, our buddies, we'd all go together. So the first time I went a very short time up in Montana near, in the Bitterroot Valley, and that was a late, getting quite late in the season. This farmer, he wasn't a very good farmer. Most of the farmers had already harvested their sugar beets, and this farmer, he was kind of late. And the ground was frozen, and the sugar beets were real dinky, you know, like a daikon. Big, sugar beets are usually pretty big, you know. And that was by the ton. So unfortunately or fortunately, my father had a heart attack in camp, and so somehow I got the word so I went back. but the guys that stayed, I don't think they made any money at all. And about time I was leaving, the truck broke down. This farmer had one truck so had to go to a neighbor's and borrow a truck to haul the beets into town. But it was a bad, bad situation. Then I went back to Tule Lake and my father somewhat stabilized. But following --

TI: But before we go there, so when you're in Montana, do you recall how you got word that your father had a heart attack?

TO: That... I was thinking about that the other night, and I assume that somehow through the War Relocation Authority, that they knew where we were and they must have... I think the agriculture department, Farm Security Administration or something, FSA is what they called it, maybe through them they got to the farmer and told me. But I really don't know how that came about, to be quite frank with you.

TI: And do you recall what your thoughts were when you heard that your father had a heart attack?

TO: I was very... I don't know how to best explain it... concerned. Very, very concerned, because he was, as I said earlier, he was an older man. He was fifty years old when I was born, so he was about seventy at that time when this happened. So very concerned. And he was, I think, a lot of the Issei, it was a stressful time. Even though, physically, they didn't have to do a lot, but mentally I'm sure that had some effect on his health. And, of course, in those days, I'm sure he had some high blood pressure along with the stress, so he had a severe heart attack. Thereafter, he was no longer able to do much, he was an invalid.

TI: So tell me, when you got back to Tule Lake, what did you find? I mean, what was the, kind of the situation?

TO: Well, he was, they didn't have him in the hospital. I'm really not sure the details. I don't think they took him to the hospital, I think they just treated him the best they could in the barracks, I think that was the case unless someone was, real severe injury or something like that. But I suspect that they just treated him at home, 'cause he was in the barracks at home. Of course, Mom was very, very concerned, she was real happy to see me, because like I said, I was the oldest, oldest son. But I was a kid then, so I didn't know what I could do. But fortunately, in the camps, you have a lot of support of neighbors and of course at that time, the medical situation throughout the world wasn't all that good, what it is today. But there were doctors right there, and nurses and whatever. So it was somewhat of a relief compared to if we had lived out in the farm. Still out in the farm, then, a different, altogether different situation.

TI: And during this time, which of your siblings were still at Tule Lake? So you had gone to the farm, how about your other siblings?

TO: My older sister, well, all of us were still there.

TI: Okay, so your older sister was there.

TO: Still there. And then my younger brother and sisters were still there.

TI: And they all still lived in that one room in the barrack with your father as he was recuperating? Okay.

TO: And my older half brothers and sisters, the three of them were in Tule Lake and one of my half sisters was in Minidoka at that time.

TI: So the ones, your half brothers and sisters at Tule Lake, were they staying in the same apartment or nearby?

TO: No, no. They were married and they had their own families by then. Except two of 'em did, one of 'em got married in Tule Lake.

TI: Okay. And you were commenting that in general, the healthcare, although it wasn't modern, was okay? There were doctors there, nurses, support.

TO: Yeah.

TI: And in terms of equipment, inside the room, did they have any special...

TO: Oh, no, nothing at all, nothing.

TI: So he was there just to essentially rest.

TO: That's right.

TI: How about diet? Did they give him special food or anything?

TO: I don't recall him having any diet.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So after you returned to Tule Lake, this was, I think, around the time when in all ten WRA camps, they circulated a questionnaire, a "loyalty questionnaire."

TO: Right.

TI: And I wanted to get your sense in terms of when that happened at Tule Lake, what your reaction was.

TO: Well, as you probably heard, Tule Lake was one of the real controversial camps, you know, there was rioting and things like that. And my particular family, it was a real stressful time because my older half brothers and sisters were all educated in Japan, and therefore they had different feelings than what we did. And they were older, so they were much more mature. They look after 'em, this is not, illegally were put into camps. And then my younger of the three siblings of the oldest half brothers and sisters, Takumi, he was drafted into the army just before the war broke out, and he was in Fort Lewis ready to take basic training, of course, when the war broke out. And being a Kibei, they kicked him out. So he was all the more violently against signing that "loyalty oath." And my oldest brother Shigeru, he somehow felt that he was still the head of the family because he was the oldest brother. And he was trying to convince my father and my mother, he dictated to them that they should stay with them because me and my sister, we had already made up our mind that we were going to sign that "loyalty oath" and do whatever. Of course, we were told -- I'm not sure whether we were told that we'd have to stay in Tule Lake or what the... I guess probably at the time we signed the "loyalty oath," we didn't know what was going to happen. Ultimately, we found out that we were going to be transferred out. And my father, he was not really sure which way to go. But my mother said, no, she was going to go with her children, me and my siblings. So my father figured, well, he better go, too.

TI: So going back to the discussion between Shigeru, who was thinking of, had a different viewpoint than you did, do you recall what the discussion was? Whether it was by answering a certain way that they wanted to go back to Japan, or whether it was just answering the questionnaire not knowing what was going to happen?

TO: If I recall, it was not knowing what could happen. But it was, you know, the confrontation between him and my, Shigeru was pretty, pretty violent. We actually didn't have fisticuffs, but, you know, it was almost physical, that there was no way that I was going to stay there, that I was not going to sign that "loyalty oath." He was just the opposite. And so ultimately we left Tule Lake, and we were moved on to Heart Mountain. We wanted to go to Minidoka, but by that time, Minidoka was all filled up and my father couldn't travel right away, so we ended up in Heart Mountain.

TI: And so when you said you had this disagreement with your older half-brother Shigeru, so he was about twenty years older than you?

TO: Yeah, at least that much.

TI: And you were, I guess, a teenager, probably sixteen, seventeen?

TO: I was probably seventeen.

TI: Seventeen, so he's in his thirties. And when you say... do you recall, kind of, the points that you tried to get across to him, why your parents should stay or stay with you versus going with him?

TO: I don't recall getting my parents involved too much. It was just a personal thing for me and my older sister, we both decided that we're Americans and we should be loyal to our country. And they, of course, felt violently different.

TI: Okay, so I get this. So he was trying to convince you to answer the questionnaire different than the way you wanted to.

TO: Absolutely.

TI: And that was the argument.

TO: And he said, "You're crazy to be signing that 'loyalty oath,'" that type of thing. And then we felt differently. So it kind of broke up the family at that time.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And when you think of your family, this discussion or argument was going on, how about the rest of the camp? Did you get a sense that similar discussions were going on?

TO: Oh, yes. For some reason, and I didn't know this 'til later, I had no idea what was going on the other camps, of course. But it seemed like for some reason, the people in Tule Lake, especially the Californians, were a little different than us northerners in the Pacific Northwest. And I didn't know why or what the situation was, why, but any event, there were more -- I think there was maybe some, there's quite a few immigrants, or inmates from the San Pedro area in Tule Lake. They seemed to be kind of the, if you might want to call them "rabble rousers." So there was a lot of groups that were going around. And, of course, they were the ones that were opposed to signing the "loyalty oath." The rest of us, we just kept quiet, you know. We didn't want to get beat up or whatever might happen to us, so we just kept quiet.

TI: Now, did you ever feel threatened by these groups?

TO: No, no. The person that I felt threatened by was Shigeru. [Laughs] He was older than I was.

TI: Now, was Shigeru part of these other groups? Did you note that he maybe went to these meetings and spoke out or anything like that?

TO: I'm really not sure. But Takumi, the youngest one, of course, he was married about then, already married. But he, after we left Tule Lake, he was put in, he was taken out of camp and put into a federal prison. So he must have did -- and I really don't know what he did to do that, but it must have been something that wasn't acceptable to the WRA or whoever was in charge of that.

TI: So do you recall where he went? When you say federal prison...

TO: I really don't know. But later on -- this was after we left camp, and I was already in the army by then. And so my sister-in-law asked me to write a letter to the attorney general saying I was in the army and my brother shouldn't be there. I did write the letter, I don't know if it did any good, but anyway, I did do that. And eventually he was released and he went back to Tule Lake to be with his wife.

TI: So I'm wondering if it was federal prison or some of them went to the Santa Fe Department of Justice camp, which was a federal internment camp, whether it was that.

TO: I don't really know.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So after... so here's the situation. So your dad is ill after having a heart attack. He at Tule Lake has (four) children from a previous marriage, and they're older, they're educated in Japan, and then staying in his barracks is his wife, and then I guess at that point, four children, four other children from his second marriage. You're the oldest son, and I guess through the questionnaire, his family with his second wife are now scheduled to go to Heart Mountain you said?

TO: Uh-huh, right.

TI: Okay, so let's pick up the story there. So you're now scheduled to go to Heart Mountain but your father is ill. So how does this all work?

TO: I think by then he was able to walk and it wasn't a problem. I don't recall any particular problem going to Heart Mountain and going through the, whatever we had to go through to get there, and even in getting there. And I think, I don't remember what time of year, I think it was fairly cold when we got there, though. I'm not sure when that segregation was, date-wise. I don't have a very good memory for dates anyway.

TI: Do you recall, before you left for Heart Mountain, were other Japanese Americans coming from other camps to Tule Lake at that time?

TO: Yes. I think my youngest half sister, she was in Minidoka because she married a guy and they were living here in Seattle and so they went to Minidoka and then they came to Tule Lake. And I think that was about the time that we were leaving that she came to, she came to Tule Lake. So all four of the older half brothers and sisters were together.

TI: And so this was a real time of transition for Tule Lake. You had people, new people coming to Tule Lake, and some people leaving. Did you get a sense of the... what's the right word? I want to say tension or the feelings of the camp in these last couple weeks while you were there?

TO: I don't recall any, any feelings of that type. Of course, I was a young kid and I didn't see the big picture. But I don't recall any... I think my half brothers and sisters saw us off, so I do recall that. And other than that, I don't remember any violence towards us people leaving camp. Because, of course, there so many of them were leaving. I think by then, I think whoever was in charge, the FBI or whoever, pretty much had things under control as far as rioting or violence and that type of thing at that time. I heard later that they had riots there after we had left, but not when, not at that time when we were leaving.

TI: Okay. Any other memories? I mean, just, that transition period is something that, in some ways, hasn't been well-documented, so I'm always curious if there's memories that people have during this time period when people were coming and people were leaving. Or maybe one question would be, earlier you had this disagreement with your stepbrother. During the farewell, was it still a little tense between the two of you?

TO: Oh, yes, definitely. I didn't want to even talk to him. That's how bad it was.

TI: Was he still trying to convince your father to stay?

TO: No, by then it was too late, yeah. So he accepted that, because my mother with us and she kind of stuck up for us. And they, for some reason, they respected my mother because she cared for them when they first came back from Japan, so they had some respect for her.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So going to Heart Mountain, you said it was cold. What other memories do you have of Heart Mountain?

TO: I don't really... it's kind of a shame. I went through all that and I just don't remember anything. And maybe we just, it was such a shameful time that we didn't want to remember those things or whatever, but yeah. I remember shortly after we got there, I felt that I needed to go out of the camp. And there was a sawmill up above Cody, Wyoming, in a national forest up there and there's a little dinky sawmill, mom and pop type of sawmill. And those Issei men that, I think they were all Issei except me, they wanted a Nisei to go with them. I said, "Okay," because of the possibility of communication problems or whatever. So I went along with them, I think there was five Issei, and I was a Nisei. And we were logging up there all year around, and in the wintertime, it would snow up to hip-deep. It was kind of a fun thing. [Laughs]

TI: But that was a big difference for you. I mean, you grew up in the Northwest and there wasn't really, I mean, we get snow a few times a year maybe, but it doesn't stick around.

TO: But you didn't work in the snow. Of course, that wasn't too often. Because when we run out of logs to saw in the sawmill, then they'd send us up. He tried to bring as many logs down in the summertime when it didn't snow. And it was very interesting because the Forest Service had marked the trees that this owner could cut down, you know, and then we'd go up there and cut those trees down. But the owner would see a nice tree and he said, "Oh, that one is marked." We didn't see any marks on it. [Laughs] We cut 'em down. And because of the Forest Service, those logs had to be cut up and the horse would drag them out to a landing. We had a horse, there was a young hakujin kid that kind of towed the, logged all the wood. Because the Forest Service wouldn't allow them, allow tractors up there to do that kind of thing.

TI: And how was this time for you? Because you were the only Nisei with, what, five Isseis. How was that for you?

TO: It was kind of interesting. They were almost like my father, and I'd ask them different things, but I can specifically recall this owner's wife did all the cooking and she had two kids, you know. And I guess she was home teaching because there wasn't any school up there. They were way, way up in the woods there. But he'd go out and shoot a deer, and man, we had venison almost every night. And there was a lot of matsutake around there. And this Issei says, "Tell that lady that you can, that these are really good to eat, and if you cut it up and cook it with some venison, it'd be a real treat." And she was, this lady, she wasn't very comfortable in doing that. Anyway, I think we finally, I think he says, "If you put some silver in there while you're cooking it and the silver doesn't turn black, why, it should be okay." I don't know if that was the truth or not, but that's what they told me to tell her. So I told her and then says, "Okay. We're not going to eat it, but you people, we can all eat together," you know, the owner, she did cook it. And there was lots of matsutake. We ate quite a bit of matsutake up there, you know, and some of the Issei would show her how to cook it. But there was no shoyu or anything. [Laughs] But that was one particular incident that I recall.

But these guys were very... being a Nisei, and I was like their son, you know. They really looked after me. Of course, there was nothing that -- you couldn't get in any trouble anyway because there's nothing around there. There's no stores or anything, it was really, really out in the woods there.

TI: And when you said they were kind of like your father in terms of age, by being around these other Issei men, did you hear or learn anything different than you might have from your father? Like maybe a different perspective on Japanese culture or anything like that from these...

TO: It's interesting, these guys, I can understand enough Japanese to know what they're saying, talking among themselves, and they'd be talking about sex. And my father, of course, never talked anything about that. But that was one thing I definitely recall. But since I was Nisei and I could drive, I would drive the truck down into Powell, Wyoming, to the lumberyard in the summertime. That was fun. And I'd go right by the camp, you know, and I never went in the camp because, of course, we had to get there. It was kind of a long drive from where we were above Cody in a windy logging road down to the main road and then driving up to Powell to unload this lumber.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: I bet, going back to these Issei men, you probably did get this different perspective. Because, I mean, your father's your father, so he's going to be a certain way with you and the family environment. And now you're out with five Issei men, so they're probably a lot -- what's the right word? -- looser or more open about things.

TO: Oh, definitely.

TI: So did they do things like singing and storytelling or joking a lot more?

TO: Yeah, there was a lot of joking. For some reason, they were very compatible men. I think they kind of knew each other. Of course, most of them were from this area anyway. There was this Mr. Otani and I forgot what this other gentleman was. But he was a carpenter. But any event, they were very compatible and they joked around and laughed. And I know, I think they made a Japanese bath up there because we had no means of, you know. [Laughs] They had this cabin, but there was no way of taking baths. So I think they built that Japanese, typical Japanese farmers' bath that they all knew how to do.

TI: Well, I just want to -- 'cause later on we're going to talk about the beginning of Issei Concerns, but it seemed like this was a great opportunity for you to really get to know Issei men that perhaps a lot of other Niseis didn't have that opportunity.

TO: Probably, probably so. I never, I didn't realize it and to this day I don't look at it, but I'm sure it must have affected me in a manner that I don't really realize how much it did change my feelings towards them.

TI: Yeah, I was just wondering, just seeing the Isseis more as just people, as individuals rather than kind of more far away generation that spoke Japanese and didn't know them. That this seemed like it was just a rich opportunity for you.

TO: Yeah, yeah. I didn't take advantage of it, it just happened, I guess, if that's the perspective you're looking at, I don't recall any. But I enjoyed working with them, though.

TI: But you, so you did this, you said, about a year, you worked there?

TO: Yeah. And then the... I think his name was Mr. Nakatsuka, he was a farmer here in the Kent valley. But anyway, he was also a carpenter. And I don't know, they all decided that they were gonna quit and go back to camp. So we all went at the same time and went back to camp. And Mr. Nakatsuka being a carpenter, there was a dairy in Powell, Wyoming, that caught on fire, and they came to camp to see if there were some carpenters that could, that could help rebuild it. So this Mr. Nakatsuka called me and talked to me and says, "Do you want to go?" I said, "Yeah, but I'm not a carpenter or anything." Well, he said, "You're going to be a carpenter. I'll tell 'em you're a carpenter." [Laughs] Because laborers' and carpenters' pay was a little different. Well, I wasn't a carpenter. Most of the work we do, they wouldn't know whether you're a carpenter or not because we had to tear out all the burnt part of the building, it didn't take any skills to do that. And we did rebuild it. And it was interesting, I think the manager of that dairy, he must have been an alcoholic because as we were cleaning up the burnt part of the building, there was half-drank bottles of liquor all over that place. And so, of course, the Issei, I think it was essentially the same crew that was up in, up in the sawmill that we were together. And they all liked to drink, so they'd ask them to buy the liquor for them. And he knew the, manager knew the local liquor store or whatever, and so I think it might have -- I don't know if it was rationed or anything, but they got all the, all the liquor they wanted. So I thought, "Well, buy a few bottles and take it for my dad, you know, so he could sell it in camp." But I found out he didn't sell it, just called all his buddies over and they had a big party. [Laughs] So I never took any booze home after that to him.

TI: Was that because your mother probably got mad at you? [Laughs]

TO: Yeah.

TI: That's interesting. When you were in Powell, what kind of living arrangements did you have in Powell?

TO: I think it was much better than at the, up at the logging camp. But I think it was more of a bunkhouse type of thing. I don't remember anything, not too much about it, and I don't remember... I think we must have, might have did our own cooking there. One of the Issei men did the cooking.

TI: Going back to the logging camp, how close did you get to the family that you were working for? Did you guys do much with them? You mentioned they had kids, was there much interaction?

TO: No, not much. Well, yeah, we worked during the days, and the nighttimes we went to the bunkhouse and that was about it. So the only time was, mealtime was the only time we had, talked to them or anything. And this owner, he was a pretty... I don't know. He wasn't a racist, but he felt that there was a place for us and a place for them. So we weren't to be getting too much involved.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So you're now working at this burnt down dairy. So how long did you do this?

TO: I think it was probably about three or four months.

TI: And then after that, what did you do?

TO: Then I went back to camp, and then my buddy said, "Let's go out. Let's go to someplace." So I don't know why we picked Cleveland, Ohio, but that's where we went. I think three or four of us went to Cleveland, Ohio.

TI: And before we go to Cleveland, what was, how was your family doing at Heart Mountain?

TO: Quite well. My father's health was stabilized and, of course, he was still somewhat of an invalid, he couldn't do too much because he ran out of breath right away and all that. So they were doing okay. My mom, I think, was working in the mess hall, and my younger brothers and sisters, they were going to school. And so everything was as normal as could be considering the situation and being in a camp.

TI: And your older sister, was she still at Heart Mountain?

TO: Yeah, I think she left, she left about the time, I think I was working in that sawmill, she went to, as a housegirl to St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri. And, but my younger sister and brother were still there.

TI: And the earnings that you made from all these sort of work excursions, how much did you keep, how much did the family get? How was that...

TO: Very, very little. I gave most of it to my mother. Because I had not much use for it, you know, there wasn't anything you could buy. You couldn't buy a car or anything, so I just gave it to her. As well as when I went to Cleveland and worked, I always send her, send her some money.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay, so let's talk about Cleveland. So you decided to go to Cleveland with a buddy, and what do you find in Cleveland?

TO: Well, I think it was, we stayed in a hotel, old hotel, it was on a place called Prospect Street if I recall. And we were working the night shift, and one thing I do remember, there was a maid, this black maid that come and knocked on the door, she didn't realize that we were working the night shift. And so I got up, and I had my pants on but no shirt, and I opened the door and she got very, very upset that I was, I wasn't dressed and I was inviting her in, you know, or something like that. [Laughs] I definitely recall that. I remember it was cold and those sidewalks were really slippery. There was a little Greek restaurant right close by and we'd have most of our meals there. And he was a real, real nice man, he didn't know what was going on, that we were Japanese, but he didn't know who we were, but we paid our, paid our... so he liked us and we liked him. One thing, he always had these hot dogs with lots of chopped raw onions on it and we always enjoyed that.

TI: And were there very many other Japanese in Cleveland?

TO: Yeah, there was some Japanese at that time. I think there was, I think they were just starting a JACL there. I think I might have gone to a meeting, but then I wasn't there long enough to get to know, other than my buddy that was there. Then I got drafted, and that was the end of my stay in Cleveland.

TI: Before we go to that, so what kind of work did you do in Cleveland?

TO: Oh, it was a defense, what they call defense plant that really was a plant that made these collapsible water tanks that they used on the army, or, I guess, out in the fields. They were this heavy canvas, rubberized heavy canvas and we'd cut 'em, cut it and sew 'em together and then that was... I was in the cutting room, so I was cutting this fabric up to a particular pattern with a big, I don't know, power knife, I guess. That's all we did all, all night long, night shift.

TI: So because this was defense work, did you have to get a special clearance?

TO: No, no. Absolutely not, I don't know. It wasn't anything real critical, it was just making these canvas, these collapsible water tanks.

TI: But before you went to Cleveland, did you know that you were going to be working at this plant?

TO: Yes, yes.

TI: Okay, so you had, they had it arranged.

TO: Yeah, I guess so, whatever. I don't recall any particular, having to go through the process of getting clearance.

TI: And before we go to draft, you mentioned a buddy. Do you recall the name of your buddy?

TO: Yeah, it was... hmm, boy, I don't... I know he lives in Spokane and I see him once in a while.

TI: Okay, that's okay. [Laughs]

TO: Norisada, Norisada. John Norisada, I think. It's kind of an unusual name, Norisada.

TI: Norisada.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Okay, so you get your draft notice, and what's your reaction when you see this draft notice?

TO: Well, I was kind of expecting it. You know, I wanted to volunteer but since my dad was the way he was, my mom said, "No, no, I don't want you to volunteer." So that convinced me... but of course, when we got the draft notice, had no choice. And by then, the 442nd had made a name for themselves and everything, so I thought, well, I should definitely... I had no particular problem. I was kind of relieved that... you're always waiting for that notice to come, and so when it came, I had no problems.

TI: And so about what time, what year, what month?

TO: 1945, I think.

TI: 1945?

TO: '45. This is when the war was all over and everything else, so it was a good time to go into the army. [Laughs]

TI: Okay, so where did you do your training?

TO: I was inducted in Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and then they sent us to Camp Lee, Virginia, for my basic training. And from Camp Lee, Virginia, they sent me to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, and that's where I trained as a heavy equipment mechanic, big trucks and tanks and those army ducks and that type of thing. And that was a great time because I think it was in the summertime, the sergeant that was doing the training, we were right on the Chesapeake Bay there. And for some reason, we spent a lot of time working on those ducks. We'd always go out and test them out in the Chesapeake Bay, he liked to do that. [Laughs] It was his call, I guess he can pretty much do what he wanted. But I thought that it was more important that we be doing, you know, getting training on trucks that were used more than these ducks, and everywhere didn't have ducks. but anyway, that was okay, it was a fun time for us.

TI: And describe what a duck is.

TO: That's the one that you see going out in the water and land in water. But it's a boat/truck type of thing.

TI: So it's those things that could kind of drive up on the beach?

TO: Right.

TI: And then they can load up and they go back in the water.

TO: Uh-huh, right.

TI: And so he just liked to kind of go around and test them out, just kind of cruise around?

TO: Exactly. [Laughs]

TI: And he brought you along?

TO: Yeah, well, all of us. I think, I don't know, there was five or six of us that were in this particular class, and yeah, we spent a lot of time out there in the water.

TI: I think you said earlier you were being trained as a replacement troop for the 442?

TO: Not really, not really. Camp Lee, Virginia, that was basic infantry training, and we didn't know what was going to happen, but for some reason, they picked my name to send me to, up to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So by the time you joined them, this concept of a segregated unit of Japanese Americans had, it sounds like it had kind of like dissipated a little bit?

TO: Little bit.

TI: That they were, you were being trained with, primarily, I'm guessing, Caucasians?

TO: Right, all Caucasians. I don't think there was any Nisei, or I don't... for some reason, there were very few African Americans or other people of color. I was the only one that I could remember around the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

TI: Now, so was there ever any confusion? Because the war was still going on with Japan, and here you're of Japanese ancestry. Any comments about that, or did you have to explain anything?

TO: Nothing. Well, yeah, I told 'em about this camp, you know. They just shrugged and they, the ones I told, they just, a guy I specifically remember, he was interested but he just shrugged and said, "Well, that's too bad," and that was about it. But there wasn't any racism or anything that I recall. I think by then the army, the 442 had made such a name for themselves that it was pretty much better on the whole. So whenever, whatever happened, you know, like we'd have Saturday morning inspections, and this lieutenant that was doing the inspection, we'd have to stand out there at attention and he'd look over at us and see if our hair was cut properly and our shoes were shined and all that, all that good stuff. He picked me out and says, "Private Okamoto, you look very good today." And I said, "Thank you, sir." But I don't know why he picked me, I don't think I was any better dressed. But I think they were just, somehow, he got the feeling that we were very special soldiers.

TI: And so you think that the Caucasian soldiers had heard about the 442 also?

TO: I suspect they did. I suspect they did. But I think this officer might have been a West Point grad or something, and maybe they got the word that way. I really don't know. But it was interesting that he picked me out among all the other guys that were standing out there at attention and all that stuff. And I don't know why he did that. I felt pretty good about it. I didn't see where I was any, particularly, better dressed or anything else than the rest of the guys.

TI: And so this was just a feeling you had? You never had anyone mention explicitly the 442 did this?

TO: No, none whatsoever.

TI: But you felt that you were treated really well.

TO: Yeah.

TI: So after this training with the heavy equipment, the ducks and trucks, then what happened?

TO: Well, we were waiting for a shipment. One incident that I recall that while we were waiting for our shipping orders, we had to do some... I was assigned to an MP, to MP duty. And I was assigned to this one sergeant that went to go with him to, outside of the camp and pick up these guys that were in the slammer because they got drunk or something. So anyway, we went to somewhere in Delaware, I don't remember the name of the town that, gee, I thought, boy, these guys really have it made. Because any restaurant we go, we'd have free dinner or free lunch or anything, just like, I guess... yeah, they felt that if they treated these MP sergeants good, well, if they have any trouble, they'd be taken care of. But anyway, that night we, had to bring a guy home from prison, we got him out of the local jail and take him back to camp. And he said, "You sit in the backseat and I'll give you this billy club. And if he gets out of line, well, whack him." This is a big guy, you know. And you know, jeep backseats are little, just enough for two guys. I was scared all the way back. [Laughs] The guy was so much bigger than me, that he could have taken that thing away and whatever. But we made it back, he behaved okay. He was kind of belligerent at first, so I was scared all the way, all the way back. [Laughs]

TI: That's a good story.

TO: Yeah.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: And so after, so you did some MP duty, you're waiting to get shipping orders, and then eventually you get your shipping orders?

TO: Yes. I think they formed this whole unit of ordinance battalion. The guys that could fix, repair guns, big guns, all kinds of guns and equipment. We were battalion strength, and we came out to Camp Beale, California, with shipping orders to the Pacific. And we were there, I think, a week or something, getting ready to ship out. And my whole unit shipped out and they left me all alone. And it was kind of interesting, the battalion strength, you have, you're taking a pretty large area, number of units. And, of course, they had mess halls in these different areas. But once they shipped out, they closed the mess hall where I was at, so I had to walk about two miles to go to the mess hall. I was in this area all by myself.

TI: And why were you left?

TO: I didn't really know. I didn't really know at that time.

TI: So no one ever explained to you while why you were...

TO: No, no.

TI: And so did soldiers get individual shipping orders?

TO: No, no, the unit.

TI: So the whole unit, but then they singled you out.

TO: They singled me out.

TI: How did they single you out? Did they just call your name?

TO: Well, yeah, they just... I don't recall how they did, but apparently the guys that went, they called their names because my name wasn't called. I think that's the way it was. But then, I think it was probably about... quite a while there, probably maybe a month or so. And when these guys left and we went to the central mess hall, then I saw some other Nisei, couple, three of them. Then as time went on, there was more and more of us. I think there were about a dozen of us.

TI: That were essentially being left there.

TO: Yeah, just like I was. And then we got the, we knew what was gonna happen, we'd probably be replacements or sent to the MIS or to Italy to join the 442, which eventually that's what happened. But then from there, I think about a dozen off us, we were shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, all the way across the country. And that was kind of a fun thing, you know, on the train, and it was kind of boring, but we ended up in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And I think there was another group of guys there. And I think we were in Fort Jackson for possibly another month or so, I think. And then, by then, there was a couple hundred of us that came from different parts of the States and then they put us all together and shipped us up to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and they shipped us to Naples, Italy, to join the 442nd.

TI: So this group that was at Fort Jackson, they were all Niseis?

TO: Yes, all Nisei. Yeah, there wasn't any... I think there was one hapa kid from New York City. But the rest of us were all Nisei.

TI: And this is, the war in Europe had ended by then.

TO: Oh, yeah.

TI: So why would they send you to Europe if the war was over?

TO: Well, I guess they, the 442nd was still there and all the guys that were, had the points, they all came home. So they were in desperate need of replacements, and the 442nd had not come home yet. You know, the colors were still there, so there was still a unit there. I think I was with the 442nd before the colors came home, so probably, probably about six months.

TI: Yeah, so while you're going from, like, Fort Jackson and going to Naples, you're with other Niseis, what did you guys talk about in terms of the 442? What did you know about the 442 at this point?

TO: Well, by then, some of the guys' brothers were in there and friends, and we... but we didn't, other than they were really a great unit and all the bravery and things. But there wasn't that much publicity that, just word of mouth type of thing. There wasn't all these numbers of Purple Hearts, and that thing was never compiled at that time, so we didn't know too much about it other than we knew they went through hell, that was about it.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And so you go to Naples, and explain to me, this is your first time really out of the country.

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: What was, sort of, I guess, postwar Europe? What did Naples look like when you got there?

TO: Well, first thing, as we were pulling into Naples harbor, it surprised me to see all these half-sunken ships in the harbor and all the buildings around there bombed and destroyed. And this replacement depot that we were put into or whatever you might want to call it, it was some kind of a, some place that Mussolini had built. It was a real, real nice place, and the army had taken it over for a replacement depot. And by then, we were, I guess the, whoever was in charge felt very comfortable with the Niseis, so they told us, "Well, you guys can go out until you get your shipping orders." So we went into Naples town, and the first thing that struck us, all the people that -- of course, the buildings were all destroyed, and people outside begging. And the thing that really caught most of our eyes was, attention, was these fathers and brothers selling their sisters. Says, you know, "You want somebody to sleep with tonight?" And that was not too unusual, that was going on all through Europe while we were, all through Italy while we were there in these towns. That really grabbed you because I thought to myself, "Gee, would I be doing that if I were in their shoes, with my sisters?" But then it really makes you realize how terrible the whole situation was.

TI: And did you get a sense that people were starving or wanting of food?

TO: Oh, yes, yes.

TI: Was it pretty desperate for these people?

TO: Yeah, because on the chow lines, I think you probably heard this from many guys, GIs from throughout the world, but at the end of the mess line, when you're ready to dump your, whatever leftovers, there'd be somebody there with cans, asking you to dump it in the cans. So that, right away, that told you -- and people begging on the streets, too. And so, yeah, and then you could see some of them were, they're not dressed very nicely, they look like they're pretty raggedy. And I'm sure that wherever they were, their apartments or whatever must have been destroyed because it must have not had any place to stay because some of them, you could tell they were sleeping out in parks, that type of thing.

TI: And what was the reaction of the Italians, or the people in Naples towards Japanese American soldiers?

TO: I don't recall there was any, any reaction, we were just GIs to them, that hopefully they can get something from... that was, that was pretty much it, in Naples, anyway. Because we weren't there very long, long enough to... and one of the nice things, I think the captain or whoever's in charge of that replacement depot, they, he must have felt real good about us Nisei because he said, "You guys want to go up to Rome, you can go ahead and go up to Rome." So we got passes to go up to Rome for about three days. That was just wonderful. I think the 442 guys that were there all through the war, they never got to Rome. But here were us replacements, we got to Rome, look around. And it's interesting, we went into this famous Sistine Chapel. I didn't know what it was at the time. Had no idea, I looked around, okay, no big deal. And here, I think it was about ten years ago when me and my wife went to Italy, and I said, "Yeah, this place looks awful familiar." [Laughs] I had been there right after the war. At that time, the Sistine Chapel, the Japanese broadcasting company, I think NHK was paying for the restoration of the painting, you know, Michelangelo's painting. So you could see where it was half cleaned, and the way it was when I saw it. Because when I saw it, it was pretty dark, I guess, from all that smoke and everything over the years that, you didn't see, but it was just brilliant and beautiful, the part they... so, but it was kind of interesting, I had been there and I didn't realize it, I was in the famous Sistine Chapel.

TI: Well, as a GI, you probably went there, there were probably no lines, you probably just walked into this building...

TO: Oh, yeah, absolutely, yeah. Well, yeah, it was a lot different than when I went the second time, of course.

TI: And how would you compare Naples to Rome in terms of the destruction...

TO: Oh, Rome was, what we saw of it was, you know, especially around the Vatican, there was nothing destroyed. It was really beautiful, beautiful area. Of course, the Church took care of the, cared for the buildings very nicely and so it was, that part of Rome, what we saw, which, primarily we looked at was, it looked just great. You didn't know there was a war that ever happened.

TI: And what about the reaction of Romans towards American GIs?

TO: They weren't real happy with us. Of course, GIs being GIs anywhere in the world. Other than what we can give them, I guess, and what the American army could do for them was one thing, the big picture. But individual, I think the average Italian, other than being, selling you something or getting something from you, that was about it. I don't recall them, any, at least I wasn't close enough to any families that we appreciated what the 442nd had done at that time. Later on, it was a little... when we got settled more and got to know some Italians individually, then they really liked us, they thought we were great people. But at that time, there wasn't any particular, we didn't feel anything different.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So you were able to go up to Rome and things like that. But eventually you got your orders to go. Where did you go next?

TO: We went up to, near Leghorn. And that's where I was assigned to K Company.

TI: So describe meeting up with the 442 guys. What was that like for you and the others?

TO: Well, I don't know. I don't recall anything special other than... you know, of course, by then I was used to being with Nisei because we shipped over together. And the only thing that was a little different was... in the tents, there were some Hawaiians that spoke a little bit differently, but they never looked on us replacements as anybody that they didn't... it was very neutral. They didn't lord over us that, "We went through the war," and all that. I don't recall them ever, anybody ever doing that, you know.

TI: But could you see a distinct difference between the Niseis who were replacement troops and the Niseis who had fought through the war? Was there a difference that you could tell?

TO: Oh, yes, definitely. We all felt, really respected them and kind of honored them. We kind of felt that we didn't do our part and that we shouldn't be, you know, making a lot of noise, so to speak. So we were, kept a low profile around those guys.

TI: Now, could you just by looking at someone know that they were a replacement troop or know that they were a replacement troop or someone who had fought in the war?

TO: Well, by the time I got there, of course, most of 'em were replacements. But even the replacements, they had saw action, you know, and I didn't see any action, so there was an altogether different situation. I really respect them, and like I said, honored them and kept a low profile. I didn't want to make a lot of noise around those guys that went through hell, so to speak. And I knew that much, that part of it, because when you have your, every Friday I think we have a Beer Bust. Normally, the guys never talked too much about what happened. But when they have the Beer Bust, then they'd be joking and laughing, and said, "Remember this, remember that battle?" And then you hear some stories that I don't think they ever told their families when they came back. Then I got a little different picture of what they went through, personal type of thing that... "Remember when he got hit and his leg was half off?" That type of thing, you know. I don't think they ever talked too much to their family about those type of thing that they freely did when sitting around having a beer and feeling pretty good about, you know...

TI: And what kind of things went through your mind as you started hearing, when they started opening up and telling these stories at the Beer Bust? Do you recall what you were thinking?

TO: Yes, I felt that while I'm very fortunate that I didn't have to get their earlier to do it, and I think that there was a real sense of, I don't know, of guilt in not doing my part, and being assigned to the 442nd and people looking at me and saying, "You're a 442nd veteran." This is after the war, of course, but at that time, I felt that very strongly, that I didn't do my part. I should have, you know, maybe been there earlier. But they, the guys that... of course, by the time I got there, all the old-timers, they were already home. I didn't get to meet some of those until we come back after the war.

TI: While you were in Italy, did you see any Seattle area Niseis?

TO: Oh, yeah, uh-huh.

TI: And then were they a little more... what's the right word? Were you able to connect with them a little bit more because of that local connection?

TO: Somewhat, if you're close before. But like George Iwasaki, he was... well, at that time, he was E Company, but E Company and K Company had got together because the 1st Battalion was no longer there. The 1st Battalion joined the 2nd and 3rd Battalion, so he was, he was there. There was Bob Akimoto -- I didn't know these guys other than George Iwasaki, I knew who he was. But I wasn't real close to him, so you form your own guys in your own squad. So, yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Well, during this time, this is after the war, what was the 442, what were your duties there?

TO: Guard duty. We were guarding these German prisoners that was kind of like a joke. There was a compound -- K Company was assigned to be guarding a quartermaster depot and an ordinance depot where they kept all the trucks and stuff, near an area called Tumbelo. And one night I was assigned to guard duty, go up in the towers for this German prisoner compound. And all the old-timers said, "Well, you just take your sleeping bag and go to sleep up there," because these Germans, during the daytime, they're driving their trucks, delivering supplies all over the area with no American GIs with them. And they'd come to our barracks or our tents -- not barracks, tents, six-man tents. And they'd clean the tents for us, they'd clean our shoes, polish our shoes, clean our rifles. And the guys had no, felt there's no reason why we should even be guarding those guys, you know. So anyway, I took my sleeping bag and the Sergeant of the Guard caught me sleeping and so he turned me in. And my sergeant really got upset. "God," he said, "everybody else does it, why are you picking on this guy?" "Well, I felt this guy's a replacement, he needs something." [Laughs] So anyway, I had to go see the first sergeant and the captain, and they were both very grim about all that stuff, but nothing was ever done. And the sergeant happened to live here in Seattle, the guy that turned me in. And the guy that was my sergeant happened to be Kunio Sasaki, my platoon sergeant, that he grew up in the Kent valley, and I knew him quite well. But he was really, really upset with us, the guy that turned me in. [Laughs]

TI: So after the war, when you come back to Seattle, do you guys ever talk about it, or about the sleeping bag incident?

TO: Once in a while.

TI: Okay.

TO: But that was a common thing, everybody did it. But I guess because I was a rookie or whatever, new guy, the sergeants felt that I shouldn't be doing that anyway. And then, from there, my platoon was assigned to go to Pisa to guard a laundry. There was a big laundry facility, Italian laundry facility that the army had taken over. And so we were supposed to be guarding that laundry, which was kind of a joke, too, but it was good duty for us. We were in the town of Pisa and we can see, walking distance to Pisa tower and all that stuff. While we were Tumbelo, that was kind of away from Leghorn. But Pisa, we were right, right in the middle of town.

TI: So you were, so while you were in the service, you got this... oh, what's the right word? Kind of this great visit to Europe.

TO: Oh, wonderful, wonderful. My sergeant, Mukai, I heard he passed away after, not too long ago. But anyway, he was going to college and he, for some reason, he had a real interest in the history of Italy. So he knew a lot about it, his time, his schedule was the same as mine. So we'd go to Florence and he'd point out this and taught me a lot about -- you know, he did some studying, too, of course. I didn't know anything about any of that stuff. And so it was a wonderful, wonderful time for me. Really, it was a really a wonderful time, just like a vacation.

TI: Wow, for a kid who grew up in these, sort of, woods of Renton to be in some of these major, sort of art and cultural centers of Europe is pretty amazing.

TO: Oh, it was amazing. Believe me, it was really a wonderful time. Especially now that I look back on it, more so. At that time it was, "Well, that's great," you know, but now that I look back on it, what a wonderful experience that was for me.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So any other memories while you're in Italy or Europe that you want to share?

TO: Well, when the 442nd prepared to come home to parade up Pennsylvania Avenue for President Truman. And so we all headed to go and do what we call the close order drills, you know, to march properly and all that. And if I recall, they wanted as many men as possible to do that. So they had the doctors and dentists and those guys, they never took any basic training, and they had a heck of a time keeping stiff and all that. But I had some hopes of coming home, but no, the colors came home, but we didn't. There was quite a number of us that just were late replacements, we didn't have enough points to come home, so we were left in Italy.

TI: Oh, so that's unfortunate. So you didn't get to march in front of President Truman.

TO: No, no. But then I was reassigned to what they call the 88th, 88th Division, and they shipped me up to Northern Italy. I think there was probably another dozen Nisei that was assigned to this particular company, and we were doing guard duty up there between the, seemed to be the piece of ground between Italy and Yugoslavia, and each country claimed it and they were fighting, so we were supposed to keep peace up there. And that was -- by then, I was no longer infantryman, they saw that I had trained as a mechanic, so they put me in the motorpool. And so that's what I ended up doing.

TI: And as you went to these different areas like the 88th Division, were people aware of the 442?

TO: Oh, yes. Definitely, oh, yeah.

TI: And how did you know? What would be an example of them letting you know about, that they knew about the 442?

TO: Well, I think like the, you know, the merchants, the only people you really got in contact with was merchants, buying something or something like that. But they all made a comment, "Thank you," or whatever. Somehow you got the feeling that they really were thankful and respected what we did, yeah.

TI: Now, did you retain the 442 insignia?

TO: No.

TI: Okay, so you're now 88th, and so you have...

TO: Yeah, right.

TI: Got it. So any other memories of...

TO: Well, we were near a town called Trieste, Italy, and we were close enough to go on a three-day pass to... oh, what's that town that's out in the water? I should --

TI: Venice?

TO: Venice, yeah. We spent three-day pass there, that was wonderful, really, really great. By then, the restaurants, the food was getting, getting better and so we ate pretty good there. The army had taken the resort town called Lido Beach, I think, very famous resort area and we stayed there. Of course, it was the wintertime, so we didn't enjoy the beach. But yeah, that was good, wonderful. I took my wife there later, but it wasn't the same. [Laughs] But it was okay.

TI: That was probably a lot more expensive when you went back. [Laughs]

TO: Yeah.

TI: Okay. So anything else Europe?

TO: That was, that's pretty much about it. And I don't, I think we were shipped back to (Naples), I think we got on the ship in Leghorn and we came back to New York, New York City. And when I got back to New York City, I was discharged, in Fort, I think it was Fort Dix. And the very interesting thing at Fort Dix, when you're on your discharge process, this officer, I think he was a captain, he asked me if I would like to stay in the army and go to the OCS to become an officer. I almost had to laugh. I says, "I'm only a PFC." Why would they want, there was lots of guys that had a lot, combat experience and that. And anyway, I said, "No," I said I had enough of the army, "I don't want to do that." Anyway, I got to thinking later, why would they do anything like that? And I found out later that a lot of the Nisei were asked that because the 442nd, their record was so highly respected that they wanted more of the Nisei to stay in the army and become officers. But at that time, I thought was a joke. I'm only a private first-class, why would they ever want me to be an officer? I had nothing, I have nothing here, I could have done anything at all. But I found out later that that was, that was what it was. They wanted some Nisei to stay in the army. That was one of the real... I don't know how to best put it, but respect that the 442nd and the 100th had earned in the army.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So Tosh, let's get into the second hour. So we had just finished up where you were now discharged at Fort Dix. And so after that, where did you go after you were discharged?

TO: Well, ultimately ended up in Seattle, but it was kind of interesting in that my sister was in New York City by then. And so at the time of discharge, the sergeant there says, "Where do you want to be discharged?" And I said, "Well, my sister is living here so I want to visit her before I go back to Seattle." And he said, "Well, you have to pay your own way back if that's the case." And I said, "Well, okay, that's the way it is." But in any event, I went up to the next guy and he says, "Well, what's, how come you're being, live in Seattle and getting discharged in New York City?" I said, "Well, the sergeant back there said, 'Well, you have to pay your own way.'" Said, "No, you don't have to pay your own way, we'll pay for it." So I said, "That's wonderful." So I visited my sister and then I went back to Cleveland, Ohio just to see some guys that I was working with and then I came back to Seattle. But from Cleveland I had enough money that I could fly home, and that was the first time I ever was on an airplane and that was a wonderful experience. And that was, I think, a DC-3, the little... but you know, the stewardess at that time I think were nurses. But anyway, I was sitting there and I felt asleep and I woke up, and they had this blanket over me, and I thought, wow. [Laughs] But it was a nice experience in flying home. And we made a lot of stops, of course, because of the propeller plane. And so it was really a thrill for me to fly home at that time.

TI: And the reason you flew, you said you could afford it, but you could have also taken a train.

TO: Oh, yes, definitely.

TI: And was it just because you were really curious about air flight?

TO: Yes, yeah, I wanted to fly. Yeah. That's exactly what it was, yeah. I wanted the experience of flying.

TI: So you make it back to Seattle, and then what's in Seattle? Are your parents here?

TO: Yeah, my parents lived out in the Renton Highlands. That was kind of a, I think it was housing that they built for defense workers at that time. I think they were working down in Boeing and Pacific Car and Foundry, I think, at that time, in Renton.

TI: And approximately what's the date now when you're, you come back to Seattle? About what month...

TO: 1947, I think.

TI: Okay, '47. Do you remember what season this was?

TO: Boy, I don't. I should have looked at my discharge papers, but no, I don't.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Okay. But 1947, your parents are in Renton, and so what do you do when you get back to Seattle?

TO: Well, you know, at that time, we had that GI Bill, so I decided that... at the time that I went to high school, they had two programs, one for college preparatory and one for business or farming. And I took the business course instead of the... so there were some classes that I had to take to get into college. So I thought, well, I had some thoughts about going to college at that time, so I went to Broadway-Edison at that time to take some classes, and I think I had, I don't know, English or History or some boring classes. And I said, "If this is what college is, I'm not going to make it." So then right across the street was that mechanic's... so I had some experiences in the army, so I thought, "Well, I'll go over there and take the mechanics course," which I did.

TI: Okay, so you went to school. And then after that, what did you do?

TO: Oh, that was, that was where things got a little different. You know, the hakujin guys, the Caucasian classmates, when we graduated, they all got jobs right away as apprentices. Because at that time, to be a full-fledged mechanic, you had to have two years of schooling and I think a couple years apprenticeship. And all the dealerships and the shops were crying for help because the economy was turning around. And so they tell me, "Hey, come on down to my shop. They're crying for mechanics," and I did that twice. And they said, "Well, we'd be happy to hire you, but do you belong to a union?" "No." "Well, go join the union." So I went down to the union and they said, well, they told me twice, two different guys, "Well, we got a lot of guys on the waiting list, so when that waiting list is depleted, then we'll let you join." So I got the message.

TI: So which union was this?

TO: That was the 289 International Association of Machinists, I think, Local 289. It was the International Association of Machinists, is what it was. And you know, all the major shops were union shops at that time because Seattle was a very strong union town.

TI: And so if you look at this union, 289, were there any men of color in this?

TO: No, not at that time, yeah. So then I went to work right here on Fourteenth and Jackson, Sid Katayama and Kaz Nakano, I went to work for them. And they didn't have a, between the union and the shops, in those days, they had a formal, somewhat formal apprenticeship program. They called it formal, but what the heck, the apprentices, they got as much work out of the apprentices as they could. [Laughs] And paid you less money until you became a journeyman, is what it amounted to. But anyway, I worked for them about two years, then the Korean War broke out, so the army and the navy were crying for mechanics as civilians. So first I went to the army down here. I think it was Pier 30 or 31, but they were working on forklifts and stuff. But the way the army works is they have different levels of mechanics. And even though I had passed the, graduated from... at Edison, they started me at the lowest rate, and you're only allowed to repair it to a certain (level), you weren't allowed to take a carburetor apart or engine apart, and that wasn't for me. So as soon as I heard that the Navy wanted mechanics, I went over and worked at Pier 91. And I think I was there for, I think probably about a year or so. But meanwhile, I had taken an exam with the city as a mechanic, and they had called me and they said, "You know, we'd like to have you come and work for us, but you have to come work at night." So I said, "No, I'm not going to work a night shift." "Well, then you're not going to, we're going to take you off the list and you'll no longer be..." I said, "That's fine, I don't need to work nights." Well, then I got a call later on from the fire department, says, "We'd like to have you come interview." I said, "Well, I don't think I'm still on the list." "Well, as far as we're concerned, you're on the list." I said, okay. So anyway, that's how I got on the fire department. But there was a, I was working for the navy, I got an award for, I forgot what it was, some idea that they (...) accepted. And I think the, someone, personnel, a Ms. Jones, I think, her brother was the supervisor of the fire department shop. And so that was the connection. I found out later how I got that job.

TI: Oh, so probably through this Mrs. Jones, her brother, that you got this.

TO: Right. And then...

TI: And so I'm curious, at this point, joining the fire department, the city, how many, were there any other Japanese at the fire department at this time?

TO: I think there was, might have been a couple of girls that were working at the headquarters, one or two. And I think, for some reason, I think that was because of Chief Fitzgerald, he lived right down here by Franklin High School, so he might have gone to school or daughter had gone to school with Japanese or something. But anyway, there was a couple of girls, I think, that was working at the headquarters.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Now when you worked in shops like this, I tend to think of these areas as kind of blue collar. Did you face discrimination or prejudice in these shops when you first would go there?

TO: Not as the other mechanics or machinists in the shop itself. But after you got some experience with the fire equipment, working in the shops, then they send you out and service fire trucks in the stations, which I did. But it was very cold. Some of the guys were very cold towards me, and I assume they were veterans from the Pacific. Because at that time, almost everyone was veterans because they asked the guys, old timers to stay in the fire department until war was over. So that was a big influx of younger guys like me that were veterans. But they didn't know I was a veteran. But then they found out that, the word got around, "Oh, he was part of the 442." And then they got real friendly, and it was a wonderful experience. I still have lots of good friends in the fire department, of course, they're all passing away like my Nisei friends. But yeah, it was a wonderful experience. They played jokes on me, and we used to have a good time.

TI: What would be an example of a joke that they -- I'm thinking this is out in the station or something?

TO: Yeah.

TI: So what would be a joke that they would play?

TO: Oh, you know, I had to change the oil in the trucks. And the trucks, you have to, you can't keep 'em out of service too long, they gotta be ready to go all the time. Change the oil, you take it out of service, and tell the operator that it's going to be out of service for... and you want to get it back into service as soon as possible, so you crawl under the truck, and big pan, because it took five gallons of oil to change the oil in those. And so you'd take, put the plug back in and pulled the pan out, then get up on top and start putting oil in the engine. And then you step back, and one of the guys took that big oil pan right where I was gonna step. [Laughs] Of course, I stepped right into it. But anyway, that was some of the things that they used to play. But it was all in good fun, it wasn't because of a racial thing. Well, they did that kind of thing to each other. The firemen have a lot of time to think about doing different things. So it was a wonderful experience in working with those guys. And you know, firefighters have a little different attitude towards life. They're different kind of men. The reason I say this is because later on I became the supervisor of a fire garage. And the new fire garage down here on Ninth and Dearborn, we had lots of room in there, so they didn't know where they wanted to service the police motorcycles, so they assigned that to my shop. So we were maintaining the police motorcycles. But you know, the cops would come in and they'd sit around having a cup of coffee or something while they're waiting there for whatever minor repairs. But you get a feeling those guys are a little different than the firefighters.

TI: So how would you compare firefighters with policemen? What were some of the differences?

TO: Well, I think the firefighters were a little bit more kinder. They're... and I guess as a police officer, you just become that way, the kind of people that you had to contend with, making arrests and things like that. Well, firemen, they're out to save and help people. So I think it just kind of grows on you, and that goes through the whole department, that it's a different atmosphere. And I can understand that, I'm not putting down the cops, but that just comes with the territory, so to speak. When you have to deal with drunks, and people that are just not easy to deal with. The firemen there, they're always the heroes, they're never the bad guys, and the cops are the bad guys, you know. So that's, that's the feeling I see.

TI: That makes sense. Any other stories about your work with the fire department that you want to share?

TO: Oh, yes. This area right here, this was... when was it? I guess that must have been the '70s, when black citizens burnt a lot of places down like they did in Watts, and this area, they burnt a lot of buildings down. And they had, since I lived in the Central Area, so to speak, they had assigned territories. So whenever there was a big, big fire, they'd sent a mechanic out to make sure that the equipment was running okay. So they'd call me and said, "We got a big fire up in Twenty-third and Jackson or Yesler or something and I'd go up there. That time, they were shooting at the city employees, shooting at cops, shooting at firemen, and I'd be walking around there at nighttime in the dark going from one fire truck to another to make sure that everything was running okay. I had chills up my spine, you know, that somebody was going to shoot me. At that time, we had to put shields around the windshields of the fire trucks, big, think, plastic. There wasn't anything bulletproof in those days. Around the station at Twenty-third and Jackson -- I mean, Twenty-third and Yesler, that Station 6, they put the big, thick stainless steel on all the windows. And so that was kind of the situation, and so that was my experience in servicing the trucks when they were, had the big fires in the Central Area here. So that was quite an experience. I had no problems, but I was scared, though. [Laughs]

TI: And, Tosh, how long did you work with the fire department?

TO: Thirty-two years.

TI: And so when did you start?

TO: 1953, May of 1953.

TI: So you went through about 1985?

TO: Yeah.

TI: And when you retired after thirty-two years, what kind of ceremony did you have?

TO: I told 'em I didn't want anything. They gave me a badge, because being a civilian, you don't normally get a badge. Firefighters all have a badge, but being a civilian employee, you don't get a badge, but they awarded me a badge. And the chief and some of the higher-ups, they took me out to lunch. But I told them I didn't want anything, I didn't want a big party or anything. I just enjoyed what I did and I didn't want them to go through that.

TI: As a retired employee of the fire department, are there any perks that you get? Do you still stay in contact with the fire --

TO: Oh, yes, definitely. We have lunch the last Friday or every month out in Renton. Well, this, you have to understand, the fire department is probably nine hundred to a thousand men, nine hundred men that work in different areas of town. If you worked in a particular battalion, those guys get together. So there's various groups that get together, but for some reason, I go out to lunch with the guys that worked in the south end here. Because, not that I was any closer to them, but I just... I don't know.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So you started in 1953, I want to back up a little bit more to the time you met your wife. Because I think you, shortly after you came back to Seattle, you met your wife. So can you describe how you met your wife?

TO: Well, our neighbor, one of the neighbors up in the Renton Highlands, there was quite a few Japanese families, and Art Susumi's family was one of 'em. And Art and I were both veterans and wondering what we were going to do with our life. And we got pretty close, and he was working as a night clerk at the hotel, what they called the Glen Hotel in downtown Seattle, and he was working for the Akagi family and they had three, three daughters. And so Art says, "Well, let's have a double date with the girls." I said, "Okay," so that's how, that's how I first met my wife. And I think shortly after that, Art, well, I'm the only the one that had a car at that time, says, "Let's go to Mt. Rainier, let's take the girls up to Mt. Rainier and we'll have them make the lunch." And so that kind of did it for me, I said, "Well, I gotta marry that gal." [Laughs]

TI: Well, so what were some of the impressions or characteristics of your wife that attracted you to her?

TO: Well, she was a good-looking girl, pretty. She kind of reminded me of my sister in some ways or other. And I don't know exactly what it was, but something... and I think those were the two things. I don't know, there wasn't... I never did figure out what really attracted me, I guess, what they say, love is kind of an interesting thing. I just fell in love with her, I guess.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: The other thing I wanted to touch upon was the Issei Concerns, Keiro. And you were one of the founders of this. And I wanted to ask you, what made you get involved with this, with this effort?

TO: Well, for me personally, of course, my wife said, "Gee, these Isseis are having a tough time." That kind of put the idea in my head, but several things. I think I was at the Blaine Methodist Church, I was representative to what we called Nikkei and Christian Community, and that was a Christian community, Japanese Christian churches that got together to talk about different problems. And I think that was about the time that the Boeing company was laying off a lot of people, and a lot of our people were getting laid off. So that was one of the common issues that we talked about. But then, Reverend Kono, he was a counterpart organization that, I don't know what they called it, but Japanese-speaking group, they met, they were meeting periodically. He was the president of that organization and he came to our meetings. He said our Issei, we'd have a problem, so we should do something about it. That kind of got the idea in my head, yeah, okay. And then it was, for some reason, when I was Commander of the Nisei Vets, we decided that we should go visit our (gold star) parents and do whatever we can for them. So at that time, Mark Fugami was my First Vice and I was the Commander, we went to visit this gentleman that was in a nursing home. And I don't remember what the name of it was, but right across, north of Virginia Mason Hospital there's a nursing home there. It was a three-story building, the first floor was offices and the upper two floors were nursing home beds. But when we went, got there, we just, was ready to go up the elevator and this guy came down and asked if we had some change, this Nisei. And we all dug in our pockets and gave him whatever we had. And we went up to see his dad visit him. And he said, "Well, when my dad hits that call button and holds up a coin, then the staff might to see what his problem was. Oftentimes, they just ignore him." And that really upset me. Here's a guy that gave his son to his country and that's the way we're treating him? We got to do better. So that's what inspired me to do something.

But I kind of, I'm somewhat religious in some ways. And I think what happened thereafter was I think the Lord had something to do with this. Because it just so happened my daughter in Los Angeles was working for the Keiro nursing homes there. And she introduced me to her bosses, Edwin Hiroto, that's the CEO of the Los Angeles, and I got to talking to him and he said, "Well, yeah, I'll help you if you guys want to do something." So I came back and I talked to Tomio, Tomio and I got together for a few drinks. And we had gone to the Imperial Drum and Bugle Corps, they would have their banquets, and they'd invite the JACL president, the commander of the vets, and that's how I first got to meet Tomio. And after the banquet, we went in the bar and we talked about this a little bit. He agreed, "Let's do something together."

TI: And about what year was this?

TO: That would be about 1970 or '71, '71 or '72.

TI: Okay.

TO: That was when I was Commander.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So you and Tomio went to the bar and talked about this, agreed something needed to happen, and then what did you guys do next?

TO: Well, then we thought we should at least see what the community feels about it. So we called two, we had two community meetings. And the first meeting, I think, was at the Nisei Vets', and we had a pretty good turnout, but we didn't get to do a lot of PR calling the meeting. But there was people that were interested. The second meeting was at the Nichiren Church, community meeting. And at that meeting, Dr. Ruby Inouye, she came and said, "Well, we're trying to build a nursing home, we're trying to put together a nursing home." "Oh, that's wonderful. We'll just support you and whatever we can do." And by then we had an informal organization, we decided we'd call ourselves Issei Concerns because we had to identify ourselves. And so we went to, the way the state works was they have to award nursing home beds, and they, she, I think she asked for eighty or a hundred beds or something like that. And they turned it down, they only would give her fifty beds. And she said, "Well, fifty beds financially is just not going to work out. You just can't survive with fifty beds," so she backed off. And so there was no nursing home. But it was shortly after that, one of the guys that was also interested in the nursing home was a guy named Glen Akai, and he was dabbling in real estate, and he ran across this old nursing up there on Twenty-fourth and Massachusetts, and he said, "Why don't you go take a look at it?" So we went and took a look at it, Tomio and I, and we didn't know anything about nursing home. But it just so happened that Edwin Hiroto, the CEO of the L.A. Keiro, came up here on vacation. And he walked through it and he said, "Oh, you better buy it." But it didn't meet the state standards or anything, so we got the, before we bought it we asked the state if we could go ahead and buy it and get the exceptions. And so they said okay, so that's how we got started in the nursing home. Then when we decided, well, we're going to buy it, I think by then we had about another half a dozen guys, people that were with us that was very much interested in getting started. Harry Kadoshima was one of the real active ones, Sally Kazama, she was also with us. I think we talked Ben Uyeno, Dr. Ben Uyeno, too, and that was another issue. He didn't want to join us, but once he got enthused about doing it, then we couldn't shut him off. [Laughs] He worked like the dickens.

But anyway, then we needed an organization to umbrella under to do this. And so the logical organization was the Japanese Community Service, the Nikkeijinkai, because they were already an organization. The other organizations, like churches, we couldn't go to them because that was religious connotations, as well as the JACL, their focus was on civil rights and that type of thing. So, but the Japanese Community Service there, the old timers there were kind of reluctant to -- first of all, they felt very uncomfortable, I'm sure, because they wouldn't give us an answer as to whether we could umbrella under them or not. So we finally decided, "Well, we better form our own organization, because we can't wait for them. The owner of that property isn't gonna wait forever." So that's how we started our own organization. But I think the, Richard Ishikawa, the judge, he was an attorney at that time, but we talked him into helping us write the bylaws and get all the state and federal government, the exemptions and the formal organization. And that's how, some of the people that were involved. Harry Kadoshima, since he was working for the IRS, and that was his specialty, I think, of a nonprofit organization, so he knew all the... so he practically wrote the things for Dick Ishikawa in a way. And Dick always kids and he says, "You took my job away from me." But anyway, I think even though you're an attorney, there's a lot of things you don't know. But between the two of them, that's how we got the organization, the formal organization registered and all that.

TI: And that was formed as Issei Concerns?

TO: Issei Concerns, yeah. And that was what we called ourselves informally before that. But I think the, the negotiation, I think the nursing home, we negotiated to the price of $350,000. And so but Edwin Hirota advised us, "You're gonna have a lot of startup costs, so you should go after, at least have a goal of $500,000," half a million dollars, which was a big, big chunk of money at that time for us. "How are we gonna do this?" But Edwin gave us some good advice. He says... we had no credibility, you know. Some people would kid us and say, "What the heck does a grocery store guy and a mechanic know about nursing homes?" [Laughs] Obviously we didn't know a damn thing. But anyway, by then we got Dr. Ruby Inouye and Ben Uyeno and there was a guy named Russ Akiyama that got interested because he was working for the state at that time. He was an inspector, nursing home inspector, and so he helped us get a lot of the state regulations straightened out so we can operate. And as far as the organization, to get some credibility, Edwin advised us to invite all the viable community organizations to have a seat on the board of Issei Concerns, which we did. And that was another big job, because they, the liabilities that we might be putting on these various churches, they were kind of reluctant to step right up. But finally they decided, well, something has to be done, so all of 'em joined. And then they, once we got going, they were very enthusiastic about supporting it. So that's how we got started. But in part of the study to present the state is the need, to get the Certificate of Need, so to speak. Reverend Ken Miyake, he was visiting nursing homes, and we asked him if he could give us a head count of how many Issei were in nursing homes around the area. And I think he came up with a figure of about 125. And the reason Keiro was only a sixty-four bed nursing home, so we thought, well, gee, that would be a good start anyway. Because Edwin says, "If you don't buy this old nursing home, you're never going to get started." He was right. In any event, we thought, well, we wouldn't have any problem. As soon as we opened a nursing home, Japanese nursing home, we'd be overwhelmed. But that wasn't the case.

TI: Well, and before we get to the operations, was raising that half a million dollars, was that hard to do?

TO: Very hard, very hard.

TI: And how did you do that?

TO: Well, we, I think we used the JACL mailing list to send the letters out, and I think... well, Edwin, they had just, Hiroto, in L.A., they had just purchased this old Jewish community center. That was a million dollar fundraising. They just had finished, and my daughter had worked on that project. They had hired a professional fundraiser, and Edwin said, "You don't have to hire one, we'll just give you all our papers on how to do it." And they'll send my daughter, Joyce, "to get you going." So that's how we got started. And of course, in any fundraising as you probably know better than I do, you gotta get the big deep pocket people to start with, which was a job because they were like anybody else, they didn't know what, we knew what we were doing, and how it was gonna survive, and they were willing to do it, but the concern was whether we can survive or not. But we did get enough people, big givers, so to speak, to get it, and then we went out into the community. And the money came in very slowly, and it was, for a while there, like I said earlier, the numbers of patients that were willing to come in, you have to be fully staffed before you can open, and so we were fully staffed, but we didn't get the patients and we were running out of money.

TI: And why didn't the patients come?

TO: Well, they were uncomfortable, the families that had their loved ones in nursing homes, they were somewhat reluctant to do that because they felt that, "Well, maybe, what if it doesn't, if it fails? Then what's gonna happen?" And just to move an elderly, that's another issue. That was another issue, and so those were the two issues. "And how much are we going to have to contribute?" And there was various reasons, but it didn't fill up right away, believe me. We were, almost went broke. We were even kidding each other, "What are we going to do if it goes broke? We gotta find another job out of town someplace." [Laughs] But in any event...

TI: And that was, like, you and Tomio having that conversation?

TO: Yeah, right. But any event, we did finally get enough money to, just barely. But it was, Harry Kadoshima kept saying, "Hey, we're gonna go broke, we're gonna go broke." But we did make it okay.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Well, it's one of Seattle's big success stories, when I think of that... it's great to hear the beginnings, but now they went to a larger, newer building that you built, and it's now a large institution in Seattle.

TO: Right, yeah. I'm very proud of my... that's, I think in my lifetime, and like I said earlier, I felt a certain amount of guilt during the war that my buddies, so to speak, didn't. I didn't do my part in making our community better, but that was my contribution and I feel good about my part in what we accomplished and how we took care of our community. And that's also one of the reasons that I got involved in the Nisei Vets, was the Issei, of course, and that we need to help them in any way we could. So I was very much involved in getting the nutrition program established, me and Tomio, and I think Sally Kazama was, she was working for the state at that time, and she's the one that said there is a program for seniors, nutrition program. So she's the one that helped us get that going, too.

TI: This is the seniors program at the Nisei Veterans?

TO: Yeah, what became the, ultimately became the Meijikai, and now it's at the Kawabe House, as you know.

TI: And so that got you more involved with Nisei Veterans? Is that how you got involved?

TO: Well, I was involved before that, yeah. Because, well, as far as the Nisei Vets, as you know, when we came back with the discrimination, we hadn't, socially, we didn't have any place to go other than the churches. Of course, the Nisei Vets was kind of a natural for us because we knew a lot of the guys from camp and grew up, in the army and that type of thing. So that's what, socially, that was one reason that I joined. Then with the organization, being with the organization, I think the organization felt that we needed to more than just being a veterans organization, we should be doing more things in our community. So that kind of turned me on, said, "Yeah, that's great, so I'll work with you guys." [Laughs]

TI: Well, so there are two real key legacies. So not only Issei Concerns, which is now called Nikkei Concerns, which is thriving, but then your work with the Nisei Veterans, and they recently went through a remodel of the clubhouse. So there's going to be this legacy that will go to the, go on in the future. And I recall earlier you were talking about wanting, in some ways, to make sure that the men who fought in the 442 would be remembered.

TO: Right.

TI: And can you talk a little bit about that and your efforts to leave a legacy with the Nisei Vets?

TO: Uh-huh. I think that, along with my involvement with the National Monument, those two, I think that it's very important that we remember what the Nisei veterans did. But the bigger picture is what, as you're doing the same thing as what we are -- we should be supporting each other, by the way, we are -- not as much as I like. But in any event, that we, somehow we have to let our fellow Americans know, to tell them what happened. Not to be boasting about what the Japanese Americans did, but to make damn sure that our country doesn't go through something like that again. I think that this is a great country and I sound like I'm a flag-waver, but I think it's very important, especially as I get older, that these things don't happen to other fellow citizens. So that's my role in this.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Well, yeah, I forgot about that, but yeah, you were very active with the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation also.

TO: Right.

TI: So there's, it seemed like this there's this pattern where you really are trying to put these -- what's a good word -- anchors or these strong markers for the community so that there is a legacy going into the future.

TO: Yeah. And I can't put it in nice words like you can, but I guess that's pretty much it.

TI: Well, so on behalf of the community, Tosh, it does make a difference, and so thank you for doing that.

TO: Well, you're... I got more satisfaction out of it than you would think. It's been very rewarding. And I think the most rewarding part of it is meeting all the good people that think the same way you did. It's just been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me and involved in all these things. But as you know, the original thoughts of the memorial in Washington, D.C. was for the veterans. And, of course, Congress wouldn't go for that, they said, "We've got enough veterans memorial in Washington, D.C." But fortunately, the redress bill had just passed, so Congress was very aware of what happened to Japanese Americans, so they bought the picture of the loyalty of all Japanese Americans during the Second World War, so that's the way it started. But I was very much involved in helping the, we call ourselves the Go for Broke Veterans Association, getting the bill passed through Congress to get a memorial in Washington, D.C. And then when it became a, for all Japanese Americans during World War II, then we turned it over to another organization because we didn't have the resources to do the big, big fundraising, as you know. And they did a great job in that. But we were, I was very much involved with Bob Sato in raising the funds here in the Pacific Northwest, which, just very thankful to the community that they supported the way it did. We were assigned $500,000 for the Pacific Northwest, to raise. And then, of course, the cost went up so they raised it to $700,000. But eventually we came out with about $1.4 million, so that was really, really rewarding to see that kind of support that we got. I think that Bob Sato, he had a lot to do with that. He was a great, great guy that, really a good fundraiser and a good leader. When you're assisting him, you're busy all the time. Because he says, "Tosh, how about this? How about that?" [Laughs] I said, "Okay." Anyway, he was a great guy to work with. And I'm very elated that we did what we did in that respect.

TI: Good. That was a nice acknowledgement for Bob.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: My last question had to do, just to mention your family. So you married your wife in the late 1940s.

TO: Yeah, '49.

TI: '49. And how many children did you have?

TO: We have four children.

TI: So can you tell me the names of your children?

TO: Joyce...

TI: Who you mentioned, she was the one who worked at Keiro down in Los Angeles.

TO: Uh-huh. And then Susan.

TI: And she's still at the college?

TO: Yeah, San Francisco University. And then our son John

TI: And John used to be with the Port of Seattle, sort of like their Chief Operating Officer, now is with the Teachers Union?

TO: Yeah, right. And Sheila, she's the youngest.

TI: And what does Sheila do?

TO: She's an accountant. She works for various organizations, she's a mother first, and so she does, working part-time. I think she works for the Vista, what's the name of the big nursing home up in the north end? Crista, Crista. She'd doing part-time work there, and she's doing some private accounting work. Busy, busy gal.

TI: Okay, so all your children did very well.

TO: Yeah, I'm very proud of them. Very, very proud of them, yeah.

TI: And any last comments about your family, your wife that you wanted to say?

TO: Well, yeah. I'm very, very fortunate that I married this woman. She's been very supportive in all the things I've done. She's had to put up with a lot of my away from home, lot of times I'd be in the bar making these big decisions and she put up with that, and she supported me all the way. So she's just, been very fortunate that I've had her all these, sixty years in November.

TI: And you know what, I've been remiss, I didn't have you say her name. I know her maiden name was Akagi.

TO: Akagi, Toshiko. Toshiko Akagi.

TI: And '49, so you've been married almost sixty years?

TO: Sixty years in November.

TI: Wow, that's good. So Tosh, that's all my questions. Is there anything that...

TO: Well, one thing, I'm also on the Board of Directors of the Kawabe House here, and that's been a very satisfying experience, that we've made, along with my fellow board members in the last twenty-five years, we've really improved that facility and got it stabilized financially. And I recruited most of the board members, which are always telling me that, and I want to retire. [Laughs] But anyway, I'm very proud of what we've done there.

TI: Wow, another institution in the community. Very good. Well, so Tosh, thank you so much. We went another two hours, so I think in total, over four hours of interviews. But this was just chock full of information.

TO: Well, first of all, I want to thank you for what you're doing for our community. Four our country, really, not just for our community, and I think that's something that I really support. And I can't do a whole lot about it, but I'm glad that you're taking the leadership in doing it for us. Because we have to do it before it's too late, as you tell us.

TI: Well, and like you, it's a privilege. I mean, I get so much out of this work, and I think you would appreciate and understand when I say that.

TO: It's been very satisfying. You've got a ways to go yet. [Laughs] Very good. Towards the end, especially looking at my fellow Nisei, but it's been a good life, believe me. Really been a good life, very thankful for where I'm at today.

TI: Very good, thank you.

TO: Thank you.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.