Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim M. Tanimoto Interview
Narrator: Jim M. Tanimoto
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Barbara Takei (secondary)
Location: Gridley, California
Date: December 10, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-tjim-01-0021

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TI: So you said a couple times how serious this was. What made you sense that this was very serious? I mean, what happened?

JT: Well, you know, the soldiers, they had bullets, and they had rifles. They were ordered, I don't know if they were ordered to shoot or not, but they took their business very serious, 'cause they're soldiers. When they get something ordered to do, they do, they don't ask questions. But we were, I don't know, maybe... I don't know what the word is, but we weren't really worried about what is going to happen to us. Until one night, we were asleep, and middle of the night, maybe it was around twelve o'clock, two o'clock, something like that, the soldier comes running through our barrack and he's shouting as loud as he can, says, "Get your ass out of bed and get outside." And when we got outside, it was still dark, they turned this light on, and we couldn't see for a while until our eyes got accustomed to the light. And we could see a line of soldiers, and we're only ten, fifteen, yards apart. And these guys are standing right under the bright light and we're, the lights are shining on us. And we could see the expression on the soldiers' face. There were some of 'em that looked like they didn't give a darn if they shot us or not. And the line of soldiers, there was probably ten or eleven of 'em. One side, say there was five soldiers, they were loading their guns, they were loading their rifles. And there was a machine gun right in the middle of the line, and there was another five or six soldiers on the other side. And we're only ten, fifteen yards apart, and we're standing there, middle of the night in our nightclothes, and you start to wonder, man, this is going to be it. Anytime, and we can see their face, we can see their reaction, some of 'em, looks like, "Hey, let's shoot 'em. These guys are animals," or whatever. We're not humans no more. I mean, this is what I thought when I saw these guys, some of these soldiers' expression on their face. And then I guess this was the officer in charge, he came forward and he says nobody's going to escape while he's in charge. And he said that several times, real loud voice, then he told us to go back to bed. And next morning, we understood that some soldier thought he heard somebody planning escape, and that's why we got awakened that night. And then as the morning progressed, we did the routine stuff, the normal thing.

And my job for the day, I worked in the motor pool. We had to start the trucks, charge the batteries and start the trucks up and all that equipment. And I was in the motor pool, so we got the truck out, we loaded the garbage onto the truck, we got our guard, and we went out to the garbage dump which was a couple hundred yards away from the mess hall. And that, the mess hall is where we got our garbage. We went out there and we unloaded the garbage in the garbage dump. And we asked the soldier, "Do you know any Japanese people?" And he says, "Yeah." He says, "I'm from San Francisco, and," he says, "my best friend was Japanese." And he apologized for the way that our government was treating us, and he says, "I'm really sorry," but he says, "I'm a soldier. I have to do what they tell me to do." So we talked for a while, and we finally got the garbage unloaded, and asked him, "Do you have any bullets in your gun?" And the guy says, "Yeah, I got one bullet." This is, I call it a Thompson submachine gun. It's like the machine gun that the gangsters used during the Eliot Ness time, the Prohibition time. And I asked him, "Can I see your gun?" And the soldier says, "Well, we got to get on the other side of the truck, because somebody might be watching." So we get on the other side of the truck, and he takes his one bullet out and hands me the gun. I did a little hunting before I went to camp, so I liked the gun, first of all. Then I asked him, "Have you shot this gun?" And he says, "Yeah, I've shot a few bullets through it." And I asked, "How about automatic? Can you turn it to full automatic?" And he says, "You don't do that. You only shoot short bursts, two or three bullets at a time." And says, "Then you probably can't hit what you're shooting at, anyhow." Says, "This gun doesn't shoot very good, or I don't really know how to shoot this gun other than firing bullets." And we looked at the gun a little bit more, and finally handed the gun back to him. He put his one bullet back, and we went back to the mess hall and unloaded our empty garbage cans, and that was it for the day.

TI: Boy, just as you told that story, I'm thinking of the roller coaster of emotions that you must have felt in that day. You started off talking about how it was kind of like you weren't taking it seriously, and then at night, when you were lined up like that, you thought that might be the end. And then the next day, you find someone who, a guard who is sympathetic and willing to show you things and talk to you. I mean, how were you handling all this?

JT: Well, you know, at least we knew we had one soldier that was on our side. He couldn't do nothing because he wasn't the officer in charge. He's just following the orders to do what he had to do, what the order said. But at least he was reasonable. He knew what we went through, what we were going through. And he even apologized. Says, "My government doing these things to do is not right." But he says, "I can't do anything for you." But as far as this roller coaster thing, I think we just took it in stride. At least we had somebody that we can talk to, even if he was just a private. It wasn't the captain or some officer.

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