Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Virgil W. Westdale Interview
Narrator: Virgil W. Westdale
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 21 & 22, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-wvirgil-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Friday, May 21, 2010, and we're in the offices at Densho in Seattle, Washington. In the room, we have Les Fotos, who's observing, and on camera we have Dana Hoshide, and then I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda. So the first question, Virgil, is, can you just tell me the name that was given to you at birth, and the day you were born?

VW: Virgil William Nishimura. And I was born January the 8th, 1918.

TI: Okay, and so can you tell me where you were born?

VW: In Millersburg, Indiana, on a farm.

TI: And when you were born on a farm, was that at the farm, or were at, like, a health facility, like a hospital?

VW: I was in, no, just in the house, yeah. And it was a horrible storm. And how the doctor got there, we have no idea, but he did make it. And I was born right at midnight, and so my folks had a discussion on whether to call it January the 7th or January the 8th. And so my mother thought January the 8th would be better because that's more of a forward direction rather than going backwards to the 7th. So it was officially recorded January the 8th, 1918.

TI: Virgil William. Do you know who you were named after?

VW: Yes. "William" was after my mother's grandfather. His name, (first) name was William, as I understand it. And they lived in Ohio at the time, and the last name was Hoffman. But William was his name. And so I was named in the middle as William.

TI: And how about "Virgil"? Where did "Virgil" come from?

VW: "Virgil," they, my mother had some idea about Virgil the great Latin poet. And so she named me Virgil from knowing somewhat about the great Latin poet.

TI: Good. So you talked about being named by your parents and the date of birth. Tell me a little bit about, first, your mother. What was her name and when was she born?

VW: Okay, her name was Edith Loy, and she had to be born in the 1800s, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure of the date, though.

TI: Yeah, in my notes, I have 1895.

VW: That's pretty close, I think, yes.

TI: And do you know where she was born?

VW: Ooh, probably, I'd guess, I'd guess in Ohio. But I could be wrong there, I'm not sure.

TI: Okay, and tell me a little bit about her background. Like where were her descendants from?

VW: Okay, well, she was a descendant, her mother was German, and her father was English and a little bit of French. And his name was Loy, Thomas Loy. And she was, they eventually got divorced, Tom Loy and her mother, and Mae Jackson, Mae was her name. She got married again, and her name was changed then from Loy to Jackson. And my mother, of course, kept "Loy," L-O-Y.

TI: Okay. And can you tell me just a little bit about your mother's upbringing in terms of what kind of work her family did and where she lived?

VW: Well, I'm not too sure about what some of her family background was, but I can say that she was a musician, and she played the violin, the mandolin, the guitar, and the piano. And she had a beautiful voice. She sang at clubs and things, too, after us kids were born. And, but did we adopt any of her talents with music? No, we didn't, I'm afraid. [Laughs] Unfortunately. Virginia -- that's the second-born, my sister -- she was, she learned how to play the piano through my mother's teaching. And it was so dramatic, and try and try and try, and eventually, and so nobody picked up any of the other attributes of being able to, to learn the guitar or the violin and so on. Although my daughter is a, played violin.

TI: Okay. So your mother was quite a musician, a singer, could play instruments. How about in terms of her upbringing in terms of the family? What kind of work did the family do when she was growing up?

VW: Well, my great-great grandfather, her grandfather... see, yeah. Her grandfather was fairly well-to-do. And he had, he made some money in property. And he could have purchased the property near, in Elkhart, Indiana, where all the railroads went eventually, but he thought maybe that wasn't a very good investment, and he, he missed that one. But he had, they had some money, yes. And, but, and probably where she got her training in music and all those instruments that she played. And eventually, though, she became a bookkeeper, and she had beautiful writing. My dad used to, used to talk about her ability to, her penmanship. And she was a good bookkeeper, and very meticulous type of individual.

TI: Okay, good. So that gives me a little bit of background on your mother.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Let's talk now about your father. What was his name and where was he from?

VW: Okay, his name Sunao Nishimura. And he eventually assumed the name Fred here in the United States. When he was sixteen, he did come to America when he was just a kid. But from what he had told us about his, his childhood, he, his mother died when he was two, and his father died not too long after that. So he didn't have much, much ability to be under his parents. And so he was raised by his older half brother, the way we understand it. And he used to take oranges sometimes underneath, and break open the crate and pull the oranges out and eat it, and eventually they caught him. [Laughs] And so he lost that ability to eat whenever he wanted to.

TI: So it sounds like he was, as a child, a little mischievous, the he would...

VW: He was, yeah. He used to pull the hair of his half sisters and so on, and he was, he was a little tough in, growing up. And so I think the brother eventually got kind of tired of that, and so he gave him a thousand dollars to leave and go to America, and that's how my dad got to go to America.

TI: Do you know, by any chance, what part of Japan he came from?

VW: I don't know really at all. I would certainly find out now, but, I mean, it's too late.

TI: No, that's okay. But it's interesting because for his older half brother to give him that kind of money, that's quite a bit of money during that time.

VW: Oh, they had, yeah, they had money. His parents were fairly well-to-do parents. And so I suppose his brother kept all of it except for the thousand dollars that he gave my dad to come to America.

TI: So he, you said he came to America when he was sixteen.

VW: Yes.

TI: So where did he go in America after he got here?

VW: Well, headed to San Francisco right after the earthquake, the horrible earthquake in San Francisco.

TI: So this was about 1906?

VW: Yep. And he, I suppose he got in the bread lines, and so he had ability to earn, places to eat. And so that was pretty important to him. And how he got, though, from San Francisco to Denver, I'm not sure, but that's where he met my mother, in Denver. And he was a, evidently, he got into the acting business a little bit, because he became, he played the role of Hiawatha, and he has a picture in the book of him being Hiawatha. And so then they met, and they had --

TI: So let me, let me slow down a little bit here. Because, so he's in the play playing the role of Hiawatha.

VW: Yeah.

TI: So at this point, his English must have been pretty good for him to be in front of an audience in a play.

VW: He never said much about how he learned English except that he did go to elocution in the churches and learn, probably, some good parts of the English language. And he spoke the language quite well, really. Quite well. And, but, of course, that's after he'd been here a while, but... about everybody could understand him all right.

TI: Now, do you recall him ever talking about, like, friends or groups that he traveled with when he went to Denver, or what he was doing in Denver?

VW: No, except that in Denver, he was, he was, I should say manager of a cleaning establishment. And then he'd keep track of the people on where they were and what they were cleaning and what they were doing, and he kept the books for 'em, for the company (and) the people that owned the company. And then I remember him writing my mother several letters and so on. And in those letters, I could tell that he was in the mood of trying to keep the business going, and yet still write my mother. I don't know if they ever called on the telephone, probably not. And certainly not like it is today. [Laughs]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Okay, so we're in Denver, and your father meets your mother. Do you know about what year this is?

VW: Well, it had to be, let's see, probably in 1910.

TI: Okay.

VW: See... does that sound right?

TI: So he'd be --

VW: I think so, because --

TI: -- about twenty years old? He'd be about twenty, and your mother would be, actually, about fifteen. So she was quite young.

VW: Yeah, she was younger.

TI: Okay. So, so do you know how your mother and father met in Denver?

VW: Except for they may... we think they probably met in the church through the elocution process maybe. I'm not sure why my mother would go there, but maybe it was the church that she went, she attended anyway. And so she may have just decided to go there and listen to the -- and maybe that's where the, where my mother found out about Virgil the great Latin poet maybe, too, I don't know. Through elocution.

TI: So 1910 you have a Japanese immigrant meeting a Caucasian female.

VW: American.

TI: How, what was, did they ever talk to you about the reaction people had?

VW: Well, they didn't have any reaction to our knowledge, or I think my mother would have said something. But they were in the paper, you know, about them getting married, but there was no animosity in any way that we knew of, anyway. That's a good question, 'cause people have asked me, especially Stephanie has asked me about that, and to our knowledge, there was very little discussion about them getting married.

TI: Yeah, just as a note, there weren't too many interracial marriages --

VW: That's right.

TI: -- during that time with Japanese. And so this is a little unusual.

VW: Yeah. But Denver, well, I don't know, I don't know why, but he lived kind of across the street and kind of down a little bit from where my mother was, and so I think eventually they recognized each other from being in the church maybe. And then, oh, he's a neighbor, and so that's probably how it developed.

TI: When you were growing up, did your mother ever share what attracted her to your father?

VW: Not, not that I remember, but she may have talked to my older sister, who is five years older than I am. And in that, in that stage, like I may have been like six or so, I wouldn't have remembered maybe too much. But my older sister would be eleven or so, and so she would remember, yeah.

TI: Well, how about the other way? Your father, did he ever share what attracted him to your mother?

VW: Not really, no. Uh-uh, he didn't say too much. But in the letters, I could tell that he was really in love with her, yeah, through his letters. And he wrote, he had the ability to write pretty well, the flow of the English language and so on. And whether he got help or not that for that, I'm not sure. But he would jot down these things to my mother and send it to Ohio if that was where it was going (...). I know they got separated for a while. She went to Ohio, evidently, with my sister, being pregnant, and then he stayed in Denver working for a while. And then the letters flew back and forth for a while.

TI: And do you know the reason why they were, they needed to be separated? So your mother was pregnant...

VW: I think, I think he wanted to earn money, and she wanted to be taken care of somewhat with her relatives in Ohio, who was her grandfather, grandmother, and her mother, too. They were all living with my, my great grandmother and grandfather.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So I want to talk about your siblings, but before we get to your siblings, tell me a little bit about, first, your mother. How would you describe your mother? I know -- we'll get to this later -- I know your mother died when you were quite young, but your early childhood memories. What do you remember of your mother?

VW: Oh, she was, she was a very nurturing type individual, and maybe that's why I have a good feeling about the female establishment. They're far more nurturing than what men are, in general speaking. I'm not saying in every case, no. But in general, they, they possess some very good qualities of helping people. And so that's quite attractive to anybody, really, much better than men, in general.

TI: So what would be an example, when you say your mother was nurturing, can you recall something she did that you felt was nurturing?

VW: Well, she was always very sympathetic if we got hurt or anything like that, which is very important. Or if we weren't feeling well, she would know... seemed like she always knew what to do, and that's a pretty good feeling. I remember once we were in a buggy accident, just my mother and I were. And we were, the horse was running with the buggy and the lines were dragging on the ground and so on, and he ran for about a mile and a half, and he turned in the driveway, and the buggy didn't tip over, which was a little unusual. But when he went around the house and the barn it tipped over and my mother fell out right then. And she wasn't hurt, but I stayed in the buggy until it hit a big root system from a huge tree, and then the buggy separated from the horse and I had a gash on my head. And I didn't even know there was any blood running down, but when my mother saw it, that's when she came right to my aid right away. And this was the type of individual she was. And she was very meticulous. If my dad walked in with dirty feet, she be right after him with a broom sweeping up the mess on the floor. [Laughs]

TI: Okay, good. So that gives us a little sense of your mother.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: How about your father? How would you describe your father? What was he like?

VW: Well, he had a good sense of humor, very intelligent guy, which was good. Sometimes he could help my sister who was in high school on tough arithmetic problems. And these are written problems, and he could figure them out his own way, and he always got the answer right. And she would take it to school and say that her dad helped. They'd say, "Well, how did you get this?' and then she'd explain how my dad had gotten it. And then they'd say, "Well, I don't know how he got this, but he's right, the answer's right, too." And so he had the ability to do mathematical problems pretty well, and he was just a kid when he came, sixteen years old. And so his schooling had to be pretty good already by then. And, but he was a, he was a tough dad. He expected a lot from his family, and I always figured that he, that he always sent a message saying... not verbally, but through the thought, that anyone who lived in the (family), was part of the family, all work was expected and not, not for pay or anything like that. And so when he would hire people to help on the farm, he'd pay them and thank them. But we would do the same work, maybe even more work, but he never paid us, of course. We didn't expect the pay so much because we were so, such a poor family. But a little "thank you" would have been great, but it never came.

TI: So it sounds like, so he was pretty hard on the children.

VW: He was.

TI: That he expected a lot, but he was, it sounded like, fair with outside people in terms of paying them and working well.

VW: Yes.

TI: But inside the family, had high expectations.

VW: Like my sister always said -- and she is the older sister -- she'd say, "Charity begins next door." [Laughs] And she's right. She was right about that. Charity begins next door with my dad.

TI: Well, how about the dynamics between your mother and father? You described your mother as very nurturing, and perhaps your father as more, more of a --

VW: Authoritarian.

TI: Yeah, authoritarian. So when, for instance, if your father was hard on the kids, would your mother try to make it easier for the kids in any way? How did that dynamic work when...

VW: Yeah, she would sometimes do that, yes. And so, although we never hid behind my mother, but she was always there, and we knew it. And, but my dad, we'd always kind of steer a little bit away. I never remember him ever coming up and putting his arm around me or anything, ever, or around any of the kids. He just wasn't that way. And I don't know why, but he wasn't. He wasn't that way.

TI: You mentioned earlier that you, one of the first things you said was he had a sense of humor.

VW: Yeah, he did.

TI: What would be an example of his sense of humor?

VW: Well, (...) he always liked Lincoln, our president, and he'd tell stories about Lincoln and how he used to split wood and things like that. And then he said, well, (...) somebody asked Lincoln how long his legs were, and Lincoln, he'd say, "And Lincoln said, 'They're just long enough to reach the ground.'" And so, and my dad always kind of liked that saying. And he had other jokes, too, that he would tell.

TI: And who would we, who would he tell those jokes to? Was it to the children?

VW: Yeah, quite often, and also to the neighbors, neighbor boys and girls and so on. And then he also played bridge. He learned how to play bridge, and he was pretty good at it, too. He learned how to play checkers, and he was pretty good at checkers, too. But his sense of humor was pretty good. If something funny happened, he'd laugh quite a bit about it. And yet, when things happened that were kind of a negative, he didn't have... well, he had kind of a quick temper, and that was kind of one of my dad's, bad things about him, certainly to the family.

TI: How about Japanese culture? Did he, did you grow up with your dad sharing any of his Japanese heritage or culture with you or the other --

VW: Very, very seldom, very seldom. He, he turned American pretty fast, and he was a pure American guy. And when I went off to war, he, he didn't say much, he just... he hardly said goodbye. That's just the way Pop was.

TI: Yeah, but as you were growing up, how about like, did you ever hear, like, a Japanese song or Japanese stories or anything like that?

VW: Yeah. Sometimes I remember him singing some Japanese songs. But one night we were coming home from work, and it was dark and it was cold, and I was sitting in the back of the wagon and freezing. And he'd say, "Virgil, come on up and I'll keep you warm." And I didn't go. You see, there's a, there was a feeling there. And then he called me again, and I still didn't go. And then later on, he'd call me again, and so finally I was so cold, I did. And kind of sat in his lap, and he kept me warm, which was quite different than normal. That was back, I was a pretty small kid then. But, and he was driving the horses on the wagon. But he used to sing a Japanese song. All I can remember is -- and this goes way back -- "Ekanamo wa kinkake," or something like that. Now, that isn't Japanese, I suppose, anymore, but it did come out that way to me.

TI: Okay, that's nice.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Let's talk about your siblings now. So I know you have sisters, so why don't you go down the order of your siblings, like the oldest to the youngest. Describe that.

VW: Okay, well, Lucile was born about 1912, as far as I remember. And she was five years older, and I remember, too, that my grandmother was pretty strict, too, from my mother's side. And I remember my dad saying that, when I wanted to hold Lucile as a baby, my grandmother wouldn't allow me to do that. Now, that could have caused some problems later on.

TI: Now, let me back up a little bit. So Lucile was the oldest?

VW: Yes.

TI: And so she was born 1912.

VW: Yeah.

TI: But you mentioned having you hold her? I mean, it'd be...

VW: No, when my father wanted to hold...

TI: I see, when your father wanted to hold, okay.

VW: ...his daughter, baby, my grandmother wouldn't allow him to do that. I don't know why, maybe she thought he might drop her or something. I have no idea why, but she was also pretty hard to get along with, too. [Laughs]

TI: Okay. So Lucile was born 1912, after Lucile, who was next?

VW: Then Virginia was the next one. And she was the, she's three years older than I am. And so it was two years later that she was born. And, well, I think during that time, my father had to go to Denver for some reason, and I don't know why. But maybe it affected the, the stability of my sister Virginia, as being kind of, a little bit afraid of things. I know that we had an outdoor toilet, and she'd have to go out to go to the bathroom, and if it was dark, one of us, mainly me, would have to, I would have to go out and wait outside while she did her business in the outhouse, and then we'd go back in. But, and maybe it had something to do with my dad leaving and going to Denver for some reason or other, maybe to work, I don't know.

TI: So that was one of, growing up, a memory you had that when Virginia needed to use the outdoor outhouse, you would go out there. And I imagine in the wintertime, at dark, it's pretty cold out there.

VW: Oh, yeah. Oh, it was very cold, very, very cold. Sometimes zero outside, and we'd have to stand out there, outside, I would, and wait for her. And, of course, it wasn't warm inside the back house, either.

TI: Okay, good. So you have Lucile, 1912, Virginia born 1915, and after Virginia, who was after...

VW: Then Elinore. Elinore was fifteen months, about, older than I am. And she was born on... we're all born on the farm. I think Elinore wasn't, wasn't born where we lived. I think we happened to be in another, in another rented house or something at that time. And then I came along, but I was born in the... I think I was born in the Marsh, what we called the Marsh. It was an old house, and we were farming and raising peppermint. And I was born then. So my mother had her hands full. 'Cause after I was born, then four years later, my brother was born. And he... let's see. I remember we were all born at home.

TI: Okay, and your brother's name was?

VW: Leonard.

TI: Okay, so let me just recap. So you have Lucile, 1912, Virginia, 1915, Elinore, about 1916, Virgil, you were born 1918, and then Leonard was born 1922.

VW: 1922.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So three sisters and one brother, you had. Okay, all born on the farm.

VW: Yeah. And we were poor. We were so poor, and then with five kids, it made living very difficult. For one thing, we didn't have electricity, we didn't have running water, we had a hot stove is all in the living room, and then a cooking stove in the kitchen and that was it. That's where we got our heat, from the potbelly stove in the living room, if we had that going. And then, of course, the cookstove did put out some heat for us, too, but we had to do it by burning wood.

TI: And what were some of the daily chores growing up that the kids had to do?

VW: Well, we had chores all the time. For example, we had to weed, weed the peppermint. And fortunately, the weeds were easy to pull up at the time. But they didn't get much work out of me at the, on the marsh because I was pretty young. I was nine years old when we moved to Michigan. But before that, I was also expected to weed and things, and I'd play with bugs and things like that. Bugs always fascinated me, especially the snapping bugs and things. And then I watched the dragonflies and how they would maneuver themselves around with those four wings sticking out. And then I'd watch the bumblebees, and they were so big and then their wings were pretty small, but they still flew. So these things fascinated me. And then we moved to Michigan, of course, and then the work started getting...

TI: And before we go to Michigan, so you, the family raised peppermint.

VW: Yes.

TI: Tell me, I mean, in your memoirs you talked about, there was one season that it was very lucrative, that the crops did really well. Can you describe that?

VW: Yeah. We... now, as I remembered, we raised peppermint, we'd take it to the distillery, and put the peppermint in the big vats, the huge vat. And then they'd clamp the lids back down and they'd heat it, and then squeeze the peppermint out of it, and then it'd come out from pipes and things. And it was very valuable. It was twenty-five dollars a pound eventually. It got that high. We sold it, I think, about eighteen dollars a pound. In fact, then, a dollar was really a dollar. It isn't anymore, but it was then. And I remember one day my dad forgot a shovel or something. He had to go back and get it, and when he went back, he noticed that the guy running the distillery put the pummy, it was called pummy once you got all the oil out of it, and you'd throw it on a big pile out in the yard. Well, he was taking this pummy back, puttin' it back in the vat and then squeezing the rest of the oil out of it. So he was making all kinds of money from that situation. Now, this... honesty was one of the forefront of my dad's thoughts on human beings. It had, you had to be honest, and if you were not honest, he didn't want to have anything to do with 'em. And then he found this guy out, how he was cheating on squeezing the oil out and then, not all of it, and then puttin' it, saying it's all done. So then he started unloading it, throwing it down on the pile, but then he'd, later on when the day was over, he'd put it back in and squeeze it. And this really, that was the end as far as my dad was concerned. He wouldn't take the mint over there anymore. He went to another distillery. And it's too bad that things had to happen that way, but the guy was a crook. Like we have a lot of people nowadays in the government that way. [Laughs]

TI: Now, I'm curious, when your father saw that, do you know if he confronted the man, or did he just sort of say --

VW: Oh, he confronted him all right, you bet. Right in front of everybody, and in fact, my dad happened to have that shovel that he had forgotten, and he was gonna smack him with that shovel. [Laughs] But people stopped him. But my dad was very, very much against anyone lying and cheating, and it's a good thing.

TI: But one of the years, the peppermint, you mentioned up to twenty-five dollars a pound, or eighteen that your family got?

VW: That's when...

TI: So with that crop, what was the family able to do with a good crop like that?

VW: Well, that's when we put a big chunk of money down on the farm in Michigan, and then we moved to Michigan when I was nine years old, around nine or ten, I can't remember. And it was right along the border, our farm ran right along the border of Indiana. And when I was a kid, I used to stand one foot in Michigan and one foot in Indiana and say, "Oh, I'm standing in two states at the same time. And in that, I've never forgotten that. Seemed like that was a pretty good thing to do, for anybody to do, stand in two states at the same time. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Growing up, let's talk about just some childhood memories. I mean, what were some, some fond memories growing up in, say, in Indiana, Michigan, right there, on this new farm?

VW: Well, in Indiana, I don't remember at lot of things. I wasn't old enough really to have things change my life in any way, but when I got to Michigan, we had so much work to do on that farm. We had 240 acres, and so, and we were trying to raise mint in, you might say, sand burr country. And sand burrs were, if you've never seen a sand burr, you haven't missed a thing. Because they stick in your fingers, and then they hurt for several days after that. The barb would come out and stay in your finger or your feet or legs and so on. So, and then those burrs would stick to your clothes, and you'd have to pull 'em out and you had to be careful not to have it go into your skin. And then we also had rattlesnakes, a lot of Michigan rattlesnakes were on the farm. And we had to be careful. If we walked out in the marsh, they always advised us to wear boots, hip or at least the heavy rubber boots. So that if we got struck by, if we stepped on a rattler, they'd bite you right away. I learned how to drive the Model T when I was nine years old, and I'd drive around the farm, never drove into town with it. And I had to look through the steering wheel in order to see the, see where I was going. And the Model T, if you've ever driven a Model T, they aren't easy to drive. And the clutch, you push the clutch in, and then that's the low gear. And then in the middle between the clutch -- well, if you let the clutch out completely, then that's high. But in the middle, it's neutral. But you've got to find that neutral spot, and you couldn't let your foot off of it, because if you did, it would either go into high or you'd push down and you'd go into low. So coasting downhill or something like that, you'd have to hold your foot right in the middle there, hopefully, and then you would coast down the hill. But Model T was our first mode of transportation at the time.

TI: Well, how did you learn how to drive at nine years old, a Model T?

VW: Nobody told me. Nobody showed me. I just got in, and I had watched people driving. And so it was fascinating. And I just got in and started driving. I'm not saying I was the best driver at that time, but I mean, I never had a wreck with it. But back then, there wasn't much traffic or anything. I wouldn't drive on the road very much at first. Then as I became ten, eleven, I became pretty good at driving, very good.

TI: What was the reaction of adults when they saw a nine year old driving a Model T around? Is that common, or was that unusual?

VW: Well, I don't remember anybody complaining about it at all. Farmers were a little different then, I think. Because they expected a lot out of their sons. And that was just one of the things that I could do, which I did. And I, of course, would drive the team, I knew how to drive the team very well when I was nine and ten, and cultivating and plowing and hauling manure and dragging and all those, and planting, too. And, in fact, we planted potatoes, we had a potato planter, and you'd, for two people, and then it would dig a furrow, then you'd drop the potato in there, this side and this side, so it'd end up about that far apart. And it was quite a, I felt it was quite a machine. And then the two wheels would come and it'd close that furrow up. And so it was a good way of planting potatoes, very fast, too. And I was always fascinated with that machine. Then we had the cultivator eventually. Before that, it was walking cultivator. You had to drive your team and cultivate the soil and so on. But eventually my dad got a riding cultivator. And that was quite an improvement, too, over and above. Walking plow, we never had a riding plow at all. Because you needed three horses for a riding plow, and so we always had, we had to walk behind and plow, and plow the furrows. And we had two horses. Once we got three horses, we didn't have the harness equipment for three horses to drive at the same time. And so we stayed with the walking plow. And then we got a Fordson tractor. Now, if anybody knows anything about a Fordson tractor, it was probably the most dangerous piece of equipment that Ford ever put out. Because it was so light in the front, that if you -- and you had these big wheels with the lugs on 'em in the back. And if you had a plow and you let that clutch out too fast, the whole front end would lift right up. And many people had been killed because their tractor had flipped over on, upside down on these guys. And so we were very... I never drove the Fordson tractor, never. And sometimes we put an extra wheel, so the wheels were, let's see... it'd be about that wide, and it'd be beyond the fender, the fender was about that wide and then these lugs were sticking out over here. And if we were in a, kind of a marshy situation, sometimes they'd pick up those rattlesnakes and flip right on the, right on the seat where the guy was driving. [Laughs] And they never liked that very well, I'll tell you, have a rattlesnake come right up and flip on your, on your seat. And so eventually we got rid of that tractor. Couldn't start it in the wintertime. We'd build a fire underneath the, underneath the tractor where the engine was, and heat up the oil, and then we could crank it and start it. But those were days that were tough. Those were tough days.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Well, I love these stories. I'm a city boy, so what amazes me, I'm just listening to you... so growing up as a young man, a boy, young man, you had to deal with lots of machinery, lots of gadgets, lots of, you know, lot of different things, innovative things to, to make farming easier.

VW: Yeah, that's right, yeah. And sometimes things were tough, and sometimes the machinery didn't work very well. I know that we had, we had a mower, and it was a five-foot mower. And this mowing thing would fall down and then you'd drive it, and it would go along and cut the alfalfa. And then when we got that all cut, and once it started drying, you had to know when to start raking it. If you raked it too soon, it might be too green yet. And then when you put it in the barn, you'd start a fire from internal combustion. And I've seen hay come in, I've been in a haymow, and trying to move it around, and you stick your hand in, into this big pile, you had to pull it out. It was too hot. It would just create tremendous amounts of heat. And so to rake it up, you had to know what to do, and only from experience. You couldn't tell anybody how, you'd tell a little bit, but you had to have that knowledge. And then we had a side-delivery rake, which would rake, rake and then it'd move this hay into windrows. And then with the hayloader and with the, with the hay rack, we'd go over this windrow, and it'd pick up on this hayloader, come up, and it'd fall on the, on the hayrack. And then another thing you had to do, you had to be able to balance this hay when it got on the hayrack, because if you put too much one side, didn't know how to stack it right, it would tip over when you took it to the barn. And then you'd be the laughingstock of all farmers when, if you were the loader. And sometimes they'd just laugh, "Don't hire him for being, for loading your hay, 'cause he'll dump it. He'll dump it on you." So...

TI: So there's a real skill in terms of knowing when to pick up the hay, how to load it.

VW: Yeah.

TI: And was this something that you would do with other farmers, or help other farmers with?

VW: Oh, yeah. Oh, sometimes farmers would exchange their help for our help, our help for their help, and with their help and so on. So especially in threshing and also hay, haying. When haying season came, I used to just not like it, because, for two reasons. One, it was a lot of work, it was like maybe fifteen hours a day because it was summertime, and you'd work until dark. And then you started as soon as the dew got off, and started haying. But the problem was the dust, and I had hay fever something awful, and, but I would just ignore it in those days. Nowadays, people complain about it and they have to go to the doctor's and all that stuff, and it's just kind of funny, really. We never did that. We never went, I don't recall ever having gone to the doctor ever. And being on the farm, too, you know, but I don't, I just don't remember that at all. We did go to have our teeth cleaned and fixed and so on, but I don't recall ever going to a doctor.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So, Virgil, I want to switch gears a little bit here. You mentioned your father was, was pretty smart, and I wondered if you can give an example of your, of your father kind of using his brains in terms of farming. Were there any innovations or anything that he did that, while he was a farmer?

VW: He was, he was kind of a... I don't say he was a leader, but he did, he was an innovator. For example, we had what you call low marsh ground, and you couldn't plant anything in it because it was always too wet in the spring. So my dad used to go to Purdue teaching in the evening. Purdue used to come and have farming sessions and teach people how to, or make suggestions and so on on how they can improve their farm. And so my dad always went, always went, and he wanted me to go, too, which I did sometimes. And he found out that if -- we had a creek that ran through our farm, and the creek was between, right in between the marsh grounds. And my dad learned from listening to people and so on that if you dug this ditch deep, it would drain the water from the marshland, and then you could plow this marshland and raise corn. And you wouldn't be bothered with a lot of water in the spring. And you had to plant the corn at least by May the 20th or so, 15th, something like that. So they're probably planting corn right now in, yeah, in many areas, at least in Michigan, I don't know about here. But then he tried to get all the other farmers, he had to get all the farmers signed up. And we used to go to farmer after farmer and I was driving, of course, I was fourteen, something like that, by then, and I had my driver's license. You could get a driver's license when you were fourteen then. And we went farmer to farmer to farmer and he'd talk, try to talk 'em into allowing -- I think each farmer had to put in so much money in order to have that ditch drained, (dug) through, whatever you want to call it. Finally, when I, I can't remember, I was out of high school already, and my dad finally got permission from all the farmers to dredge that ditch. They dredged the ditch, and he used to dig, we used to, in fact, I used to help him, we used to dig little ditches, maybe about two, three feet wide. Not three feet, two feet at the most. And it'd go to this creek. And so with those draining ditches, along with a big ditch dug out deeply, pretty soon you could get a bulldozer in there and he had, he had them plow it. And then we planted the corn in it, and we raised a hundred bushels to the acre just like that. No fertilizer or anything, just right on that soil.

TI: So it worked. So by, by dredging that creek bed or creek and making it deeper, it would drain the water faster.

VW: Yeah. And so all the other farmers were happy that they had done that. But it was my dad that really pushed it. But he knew. He seemed to know that it would work.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: I now want to go to the death of your mother. So when you were a child, your mother became ill and died. Can you describe what happened? What happened to your mother, why did she become ill?

VW: Well, I think she had what you call Bright's disease, which is almost unheard of now, 'cause they have medication that'll take care of that right away. But I believe that that, I believe that that was a kind of a kidney type disease. But going back, after Len was born, I think she had a hysterectomy and, because they said that she couldn't have any more children, it'd be too hard on her. And she was a very hard worker type individual. And so she became ill. And I was up in the bedroom sleeping, and pretty soon I heard the girls crying downstairs. And I thought they were fighting, and I yelled down, like all brothers might, "Stop fighting," or something like that. And then they yelled up, they said, "Mom died." And that was a huge shock. Kids evidently don't think that a person is near death maybe, I don't know. Or maybe we didn't go to maybe check on it, I don't know. But she passed away when I was thirteen, and I was in eighth grade at the time. And it was a very sad situation, very sad. And so then my dad had five kids, and his wife died and our mother. And I remember we were going to the funeral and I was sitting in the back seat on the left-hand side of the car. And, well, I noticed that a car had, was coming toward us. And the roads were so narrow that he pulled off on the side and then waited. And he took off his hat and he knew that that was, we were going to the funeral of my mother.

TI: Do you recall who this gentleman was that --

VW: Yeah. He was, he and my dad were estranged because he accused my dad of... my dad used to share farm, share farming with him along with the farm that my dad had, too. And then he, he was a Chicago man, that guy was. And he accused my dad of not dividing the corn right, and that my dad had taken more than he should have and so on. And, of course, my dad was so honest, he would never do anything like that. So they became very estranged. And so my dad never talked to him, and he never came to talk to my dad or anything. He wasn't a good man, but yet again, just because my mom had died and so on, he pulled off to the side of the road and took his hat off, and I thought that was, that was pretty nice that he would do that, even though he didn't like our family at all because of that. Because he had accused us of taking corn. And my dad would never, never ever do that. And so Dad... but that gesture was, I've never forgotten that. These are things that maybe young people remember and never forget.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So after the death of your mother, how, how did things change in the family?

VW: Well, things were so, so difficult, and (...) he didn't like my oldest sister. And my oldest sister was, she was the smartest one of us all, and she was pretty quick to comment if my dad told her to do something, she'd fire right back at him. And we knew that it wasn't a great thing to do, but she did it anyway, and then they used to get into fights, arguments and so on. And finally, he kicked her out, and Virginia went with her. And this was a very tough time. And felt like we were becoming a dysfunctional-type family, and that's hard on kids, really. And so when they left, then that left Elinore and me and my little brother the only ones that were home, the two other girls were gone. And so my dad wanted Virginia to come back, because Virginia was easier to get along with, of course. Virginia was a nice, very nice person, she always had been. And so he sent Elinore and me up to White Pigeon to get her back, and Virginia wouldn't come. She said, "No, he kicked my older sister out." Said, "I'm not gonna go back either." And so Elinore and I went home, and, but my dad said, "Well," he said, "you kids will have to quit school." Now, I was only fourteen at the time, and my sister was fifteen, and so we were both underage to be out of school, and we had to be in school.

TI: Now, why did your father want you to quit school?

VW: Because, and he said we had to work on the farm, and he had too much work to do. And then also he felt that maybe if Elinore and I were gonna have to (...) quit school, then maybe Virginia would come back, too, and, of course, that ploy didn't work at all. Because Elinore and I went back up to get Virginia again, but she wouldn't come. And so we went to -- oh, my oldest sister (already) had a year and a half of college And so, with a year and a half, you could teach at a country school at least one year, and then continue school. And so she was teaching in Marl Lake country school, and she saw us coming down the road and she wondered what happened now. And so when we got to school -- school was out already then -- and it was about four-thirty or something like that. And so Lucile said, well, she said, "We'll have to find a place for Elinore." And so she said, "Virgil, you'll have to go back to the farm because," she says, "I haven't got any place to put you anywhere." And so now, Elinore went back to school, but I'm out of school. A fourteen-year-old kid not being in school. And so I went back home and I knew that things were gonna be tough. So I didn't say anything, I just said that Elinore wouldn't come back. And so I went upstairs and went to sleep, or tried to sleep.

TI: Because at this point you went back, so it was your father, you, and your younger brother?

VW: Yeah, that was it.

TI: So all your three other sisters had left the house.

VW: Yeah. So things were very, very upsetting for everybody really. And Mr. Friesner, who was a 4-H Club member, tried to talk my dad into letting, being more reasonable and so on, but he wouldn't change. And I remember Mr. Friesner coming over twice. And then I was out of school, like, probably two or three weeks, and then he finally said, "Virgil, you can go back to school if you want to." So then I did. I went back, but in those days, you had to go to a bookstore, and if you quit school, you had to go to the bookstore and turn your books in, which we did, and then we got the money and we gave it to my dad. Well, then when I was sent back, I can't remember, I got my books back, but whether they gave 'em to me or whether I had to get some money for my dad for it, I can't remember. That I can't remember. But I know that I went through high school without a physics book, and I should have had a physics book, but we couldn't afford it. We were extremely poor. And when I graduated from high school, we were still without electricity, we had no running water, we were using a pump to pump water. And then two years out of high school, after I was graduated, we got electricity. And I went home, and it's funny, I had been at my grandmother's place and stuff, we had electricity there and so on. But I had to go home and I had to turn that switch on just to see the light light up in the room. It was that important to me. And then later on, it had to be 1957 or so, my dad got running water. And so it was, it wasn't easy on my dad, I know that, but he wasn't easy on us kids, either. [Laughs]

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, so Virgil, so the first hour we talked about your earlier childhood. So why don't we pick it up right when you're, about the time you're finishing up high school right now. So let's talk about your senior year in high school.

VW: Okay.

TI: What was that like?

VW: Well, I was driving, sometimes I'd drive up, with a Model T Ford to school. And I remember my principal, sometimes I'd be late because I'd maybe work on the chores and didn't get out of there soon enough. And then I'd get... some people got demerits, but I didn't because he knew that I was having a rough time trying to do chores in the morning and then get to school quickly and so on. So I just, he would just excuse me. And, but evidently, he seemed to think that I had a lot more ability than I showed in high school. My grades weren't very good in high school at all, and it was mainly... well, what had happened is, right as a freshman, I was taken out of school for two or three weeks, and then having the girls gone and so on. That affects people, and it affected (...) me. And, but the coach, when I was a senior, in the fall, he said, "Virgil," he says, "why don't you come out for football?" knowing that farmers were always quite agile and quite strong. And I said, "Oh, my dad wouldn't let me." And he said, "Well, ask him." I thought, "You don't ask my dad stuff like that." [Laughs] And so he said, "Well, just ask him." And so I went home and I was doing the chores and I did ask him, finally. And he said, "No, come home and work," and that was the end of that. So I went to school the next day and the coach said, "Did you ask him?" and I said, "Yeah." He said, "What'd he say?" (...) and I said, "Well, he said I couldn't, I had to come home and work." "Well, ask him again." I thought, "You don't ask my dad the second time at all." He said, "Oh, yeah, you ask him." So I talked it over with my brother. And my brother being only four years younger than I was, that was okay, but he had a way with my dad. And so he said, "Well, I'll ask him." And so I kind of stayed off to one side, and he asked him and he said, "No," he said, "Virgil's got to work." But then he, then my brother kept asking him and discussing it with him, and finally my dad says, "Well, what does he want to play football for?" Well, I thought, "Well, that's kind of interesting." So then my brother and he discussed it a little more, and finally he said, "All right," he says, "if he makes the first team, all right. If not," he said, "he comes home and works." There was no question that I was gonna make that first team, and I did. I made the first team, and so the coach was happy and I was okay, too.

So I graduated from high school, but my grades were so poor, I was pretty sure I'd never try getting into college. But my sisters were pushing it for me to go to college, and my brother, when I was about twenty then -- I graduated when I was eighteen -- when I was twenty, my brother says, "Virg," he says, "I'm gonna apply for college, and," he says, "why don't you come along?" And I thought, "Well, I don't know." So I tried, but I couldn't get in. Well, then the principal of the high school, Mr. Hanchette, drove up, evidently, to Kalamazoo, Western Michigan College at the time, it's Western Michigan University now. He said, he told the registrar, "If this guy's given a chance, he can make it." And so I got a, I got a letter saying I should come up and take the exam, entrance exam. We had to go through an entrance exam, and I did, and lo and behold, I passed it. And so that surprised me, but that was okay. And so I went into college in 1940. And first, the first year was kind of tough, 'cause I didn't have any background. I lost it all in high school. Then, finally, went, and I kept studying and so on. I went out for football in college, and that was fine, except that I wasn't getting any sleep. About four or five hours a night, and a student can't keep that up forever.

TI: Well, so part of it was because you were working also at the farm?

VW: And I was working (...), I had two hours of work right on campus, which gave me a little spending money.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

VW: And then studying, I'd try to study, but I had four hours of football practice every day, and that just took too much of a chunk out of me. And so I had to quit. I had to make a decision on whether I was gonna do my studies or whether I was gonna play football, and I decided study was more important so I quit. And then the coach came up and saw me, like, two weeks later or so and said, "Virgil, you quit football?" He said, "You were in the starting lineup against Michigan State." And I thought, "Oh, no. That would have been great." But that was the way it was.

TI: And Virgil, what position did you play?

VW: I was playing left guard at the time, which was a little unusual because I wasn't real heavy at all, but I was so fast. I was very quick. And I had figured that out in high school playing football for one year, that if I hit the guy before he even got started, it was so easy, much easier. But you had to move quick. And so that's the way I implemented the movements. I used them instead of, instead of the weight that some people had. So I would sometimes play both sides of the line, even when I was in the backfield trying to get the, the football carrier. And often people wondered what I was doing on the right side of the line when I was playing on the left side of the line. Well, the reason was because the ball was going over in that direction.

TI: Because you were pulling, or because they actually took you --

VW: I was also a pull guard, too.

TI: A pull guard, and you would also play, oftentimes, on the side that the run was going to be on, and they'd put you on that side?

VW: Yeah, sometimes I'd go through so quick --

TI: I see.

VW: -- that I was in the backfield of the opposite, opposition. And I'd tackle the guy on the right side over there, and that was somebody else's problem, but I would go after him and get him.

TI: Oh, so you'd play both offense and defense.

VW: Yes.

TI: I see. So, okay.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

VW: So then I was in college, and so I quit football and I went one year, I was in college, and then I became pretty well acquainted with what I had to do to study and so on and so forth. And I developed my studying habits. And then the next year, which was 1941 in the fall, they had a program called War Training... no. They had a program that you could get a pilot's license if you paid forty dollars, and it was subsidized by the university. And I thought, "Forty dollars, that's pretty inexpensive for a private pilot's license," but I didn't have forty dollars. And so I went home one weekend, and I happened to run into my friend, and he said, "Virgil, I'll loan you forty dollars." He wasn't in college, though, he was working. And so I said, "Wow, that's pretty good." So he gave me forty dollars and I paid forty dollars, and I started, like, in the fall of '41, I was in the process of flying, learning how to fly, and then war broke out in December the 7th, 1941. And that's when I became very quiet about who I was and so on, because it just was easier that way. Human beings tend to take, usually, an easier way if it's a legal and honest way, so we just kept quiet about who we were.

TI: So let me explain this, so who you were, meaning your Japanese background.

VW: Didn't say anything about it.

TI: So up to that point, your last name was Nishimura.

VW: But I ended the college under "Westdale," but you're right...

TI: But up through high school --

VW: Legally, it was, legally it still was Nishimura. I graduated from high school Nishimura. But when I went to college, I just went with the alias Westdale, although my name wasn't changed in court yet. That wasn't until 1942 that I changed. So, but I put Nishimura and then I put Westdale underneath it. So they knew my name was Nishimura, but they also knew that I went by Westdale.

TI: So how did you, explain how you chose the name Westdale.

VW: Back before my mom died, Nishimura, speaking I guess the Japanese way is "Nishimura." But we always called it "Nishimura." And "nishi" means "west," English translation of the name. "Nishi" means "west," : "mura" means "village." Well, you couldn't say "Westvillage" for a name, 'cause it sounds like a city. And so we thought about that, and then we, somebody, I don't know who in the family thought of "dale," like "hill and dale." And so "Westdale," and so that's how Westdale came about. Kind of an, it was really an English translation of the name. And it was easy to spell, but we never changed it then, yet. But it was easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and people didn't ask us, "How do you pronounce that?" We were born and raised in a Caucasian area in the Midwest. And so we had no Japanese American friends of any kind. And so we were just plain old Caucasian type people. And when they saw the name "Nishimura," "How do you spell that?" and so on, and, "What kind of a name is that?" And so we got kind of a little frustrated about having to explain all that all the time. So we thought changing it to Westdale was easier. And so, but we just kept that in mind, that's all. And then not until 1942 I changed it when I ran into all kinds of problems.

TI: Sure. Now, did your siblings also change it to Westdale?

VW: They didn't at first, no. But my brother eventually changed his, but quite a while afterward. And then my sister Virginia changed hers, and Elinore... well Lucile got married, and so her name changed anyway. And Virginia, she thought about changing hers, but she didn't really do that, she didn't change her name legally, but she did eventually change it to Westdale, knowing that it was kind of an English translation of the name.

TI: Okay, good.

VW: But I changed mine through the court in 1942.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: But let's, let's go back to December 7, 1941. Where were you when you heard about the bombing?

VW: I was in college, and my brother and I were, I think, in the house that we had rented. There were... there were five of us upstairs, five guys from the university. One guy lived alone, two guys lived in one room, and then Leonard and I lived in one room. And so when we heard about the war, we never told anybody that we were part Japanese anyway, and they didn't ask. So that was fine. But when the war broke out, then they thought the war would be over in two weeks.

TI: So they thought that it would be a fast war, the Americans would win in two weeks.

VW: Yeah, right away. They thought Japan was pretty backward, which wasn't true at all. And the newspapers and the radio and so on, they were all extremely prejudiced. And so they, I remember the guy in the radio saying that war'd be over in two weeks. And also that the Japanese were climbing trees yet and things like that, just ridiculous, you know, type propaganda. And so, but I kept quiet.

TI: Well, when you saw those things, like the war, when you heard your friend saying the war's gonna be over in two weeks, what were you thinking?

VW: Well, we knew they would, my dad knew also that it would be a long time. And we knew that, we knew that Japan would not be defeated in two weeks, no way. But we didn't say anything.

TI: Did you ever, did you or your brother ever talk to your father and what he felt about the war?

VW: Well, we did a little bit, but see, we were already in college, and so we didn't, we just went home on the weekends once in a while. Which was okay, but my dad said that it'd be a long flight, we knew that, and we believed him, too.

TI: Now, because of the war, did your father come under more careful scrutiny?

VW: Not at first, no. But that came a little later on, yeah. It was about... well when Roosevelt signed the order -- now, I didn't know about this, this executive order by the President at the time. I learned that about six years ago, if you can believe that. But this Executive Order 9066 was, was a very bad executive order. And so to this day, I worry about when a President's gonna sign an executive order. I really look at that and wonder, you know, I just shake my head that, you know... and Obama has signed a few of those, at least one that I know of. And I don't like executive orders, but you can understand probably why.

TI: Right, certainly.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So going back to your father, so what kind of scrutiny did he come under, or attention?

VW: Well, let's see. It wasn't until about late 1942, like late, I mean like maybe July, something like that, 1942, that the state police called me. I don't know how they decided that I was in South Bend, but they finally found me, and I was already flying out of South Bend at the time. But maybe before we get into that, I'd like to explain that I did get my private pilot's license in late February. And little did I know that the executive order had been signed or anything, I didn't know anything about it. And, but I graduated, and then I had to make a decision. Would I continue flying, flying? They did have a program, the government did, called War Training Service. They needed, they needed pilots, and that was a pilot training program, so either I had to go there, or I had to, I could stay in school and be drafted to the army or whatever. And so I chose to continue flying because I felt I was pretty good at it. And so I went to, I joined the War Training Service called WTS, and I quit, I resigned from college. And my next flight, the next program was in Bendix Field, Indiana, (...) South Bend, Indiana, at Bendix Field, and that's where I went for acrobatic flying. And I, that's where I really excelled in flying, I really did. And I could tell that I had a gift of knowing how flying felt. I knew how to maneuver that plane to get the most out of it, and to never stall it. I knew when we were approaching a stall, and I could feel it. I knew. And so I felt that God had given me the gift of flying. And so I utilized that in acrobatic flying, and became the top student in acrobatic flying. And then things started happening. I graduated from that program...

TI: And about what time was this?

VW: It was about in July 1942, and maybe the end of June, something like that. And someone, I went to go into the next program and I was already starting into the next program on two flights two different days of flights. And I went out for the third day, and the manager of the office said, "There's a CAA inspector here that wants to see you," and I wondered why. And she didn't say anything, but I could tell that there was something wrong. And she said under her breath a little bit something about a license or something. And I thought, "This is funny. Wonder..." and she said, "He's over at the tower, and, he asked that you come over to the tower." So I walked across the field and I knew that there was something going on. I wasn't sure. I knew it wasn't because of my poor flying, because I was the top student. And so I climbed the stairs, and Mr. Humphrey saw me coming. And I opened the door, and he was there and shook hands with me and said, "Thanks for coming over." And then he was embarrassed, I could tell. But he says, "I have to ask you for our license." And I waited for him to explain why, but he didn't say anything. And so after waiting a certain length of time, I reached in my pocket and pulled it out. And I didn't ask. You know, we weren't... he was an authoritative person from the federal government, and he was an (experienced) flight inspector, and so I didn't ask. I should have, but I didn't.

TI: But what did you think, though? Did you suspect that it was because of your Japanese father that they were taking the license away? Or did you know?

VW: Well, I didn't know.

TI: Did you have any suspicions about what that might be?

VW: I did have suspicions, yes, that probably because of my Japanese background, but I wasn't, I didn't know for sure. So I reached in and I gave him a license, and then he said something about, "I'm sorry," or something like that. And I descended the stairs and went back across the field. I just hated to go back into the terminal office again, but I did, because I wanted to say that I was through with the program.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Do you recall what you were thinking when you were going down the stairs and walking across the field?

VW: Well, I was... I felt, it was enough, I felt, (to) practically (destroy) my soul. But I knew that that couldn't happen, shouldn't happen. So I hung in there, and I walked across the field and walked into the office, and they already knew. Because he had called over and told them that I wouldn't be flying with the program anymore. And so I looked and all my instructors were there and so on. It was a very embarrassing moment. But they just, the flight instructors couldn't understand it, and especially my instructor. He said, "I just, I just can't understand it. It's just prejudice," he said. And he was right, but I said very little about it.

TI: Because, did your instructor know that you were half Japanese, and that was maybe the reason why they took your...

VW: Well, he knew, he knew something about it because I had entered my name as Nishimura, and then, so he knew that the name had to be somewhat Japanese or something, and probably Doris and all of 'em had talked about it, probably knew that I was part Japanese. But we never, they never said anything about it, and I didn't say anything to them. And so, but I used the regular name, Nishimura. And then they kept my license for five months, I was out of flying.

TI: This was the CAA kept it?

VW: The CAA, it was the forerunner of the FAA. And in fact, it's in my log book, I mean, my dossier in Oklahoma City. The FAA has all that. And that's how I got some information, from the Freedom of Information, and I sent for it. In fact... well, I'm getting ahead of the story a little bit. Maybe I should skip that for the moment. But I went to the... well, first I went home. Not home, I went to the house where we all lived. There were, there were nine of us fliers that lived in this house. And I packed up my things and, of course, some of the people were there, some of the pilots, and they wanted to know what was happening. And I said, "Well, I don't know. The CAA inspector took my license away. And, "Well what did they do that for?" And they didn't know that I was part Japanese. And I don't remember the exchanges at the time too well, except that... and they had some suspicion that something was going on, 'cause they knew I was the top acrobatic flier. And so, but I left and went home. A drunk had hit me going home.

TI: Just right after that?

VW: Yeah, as I was driving home. And so it destroyed my car and everything. And I was in the hospital for ten days after that trying to recover from brain, brain concussion. And I didn't have a fractured skull, though, but I had a horrible brain concussion. And I had lost my memory a little bit for a while. And the drunk that hit me, he wasn't hurt at all.

TI: So this has to be one of your low points of your life.

VW: It sure was.

TI: To be, to take your license away from something you loved to do, to be hospitalized with a concussion.

VW: Well, then I'd say that I used complete perseverance and determination to not pull me down. And so evidently, my background worked, worked well in that period of time, because it was, it was a very, very difficult period in my life. And so during that period of five months, after I recovered from my accident, I went to court. Changed my name, translated my name, not changed it, but translated it into English. I also...

TI: But this was the time you --

VW: ...I joined the Air Corps.

TI: Right, but you legally changed it to Westdale also.

VW: Yes, I did. And then I joined the Air Corps under Westdale.

TI: Now, this, in terms of your, so the United States is at war with Japan. Was there, what were your feelings about your Japanese heritage at this point? Was it difficult to, how did you feel about it?

VW: Well, I felt like maybe I was kind of a second-class citizen at the time, because I was half Japanese and half Caucasian, and I wasn't sure which one I was, really. In a way, I was just as much American as I was, I mean, I was just as much Caucasian as I was Japanese. But, and they were coming down on me because I was, because of my nationality of being half Japanese. And if it would have happened... well, it wouldn't have happened now anymore, ever. But it did then. And the propaganda was all against the fact that the people were, were Japanese. And I often wondered, "What happened, what would happen if I were a quarter Japanese? Would they still stomp on me? Or what if I were one-eighth Japanese? Would they do the same thing? They didn't want me flying, and that became very evident later on. But then after, after that, after I was in the Air Corps and I had translated my name, they gave me my license back. That was five months...

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Okay, so before we go there, because I want to talk about that more, we started this whole sequence talking about your father and how the government or state police, somebody came to talk to you about your father, and then you wanted to talk about this first. Why don't we go back to that, so we finish that up.

VW: Okay.

TI: So what happened?

VW: Well, I was flying in acrobatic flying at the time, and I got a call from the state police who were near, probably about two miles from my dad's farm. And he, he said he wanted to talk to me. And so I drove all the way from South Bend up to White Pigeon. At the post there, they had a state police post right there, was one mile west of White Pigeon, and two miles from the farm. And so I went in there and I talked to him about it and he says, "Virgil," he says, "why don't you, you're gonna have to take the radio away from your dad. But," he said, "you can give him an AM radio, just a little AM radio." The one that I had for him was a kind of a nice, oh, you could get real shortwave a little bit on it and so on and so forth. But he said, "Just take that radio out." And I said, "Well, can he have a radio?" and he said, "Sure. You can get him a small AM radio," which I did. But... and I said, "Well, why?" And he said, "Well, it's because they're clamping down on the Japanese Americans." And so he said, "Some of the people in town, a few of 'em, wondering why I wouldn't go out and get Fred and take him to the internment camp." And he told 'em, he said, "I'm not gonna go out there and get Fred and put him in a concentration camp." He says, "I know Fred," and he used to go out and buy things from him like eggs and watermelons and muskmelons and potatoes and things like that. So, and he knew Pop pretty well, so he wasn't gonna do that. He said he wouldn't do that. And so I took the radio away and I gave him an AM radio. And then they were satisfied, and that's all that happened to my dad.

TI: What was your dad's reaction when you had to take away his radio?

VW: Well, he kind of expected something to happen. I told him, I said the state police wanted me to do that. But he, and, but I said, "I'll get you an AM radio that you can listen to." 'Cause he used to listen to the White Sox a lot, and the Detroit Tigers.

TI: How about other things that he had on the farm? I'm guessing that he might have, like, dynamite to blow up stumps and things like that?

VW: No, we didn't. We didn't have that. I used to buy dynamite, though, in order to haul marl. I had a trucking business when I was sixteen years old, and I used to haul marl for farmers, which is like lime, similar to that. And then we used to buy sticks of dynamite to blow up the, some of the materials out of the hills. But that was all.

TI: So normally you wouldn't have that.

VW: No, no we didn't.

TI: Okay. So let's go back to your life now. So you talked about how the CAA gave you back your license after five months.

VW: Yes. And I don't remember how I got it, but it was probably in the mail.

TI: And do you know why they, they changed their minds and gave it back to you?

VW: Yes. I found out years later, it was in my records at the FAA. And it said that I was investigated by the FBI. I was also investigated by the Navy Intelligence, and I was also investigated by the War Relocation Authority. And none of 'em found anything of interest, and so there wasn't any reason why they should hold my license back. So they did give it back to me.

TI: But you didn't really know, this was years later that you found out all this.

VW: Yes, that's right.

TI: And so this paperwork confirmed that they took away the license because you were half Japanese, they investigated you, and then when they found nothing wrong, they gave it back to you.

VW: They did give it back until later, and then things happened, you might say, worse than that. But that's some time later.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Okay, so let's continue the story. So at some point around now you actually enlist into the Army Air Corps.

VW: Yes, I did.

TI: So why don't you talk about that.

VW: During the five months that they held my license, I was Virgil Westdale then instead of Virgil Nishimura. And I went to Romulus Field, which was in Detroit area, and I joined up like all the rest of the guys. Held up my right hand and went to the physical and so on and became an Air Corps, Enlisted Reserve Corps in October, that was in October 1942. And so, and then I got my license back, well, let's see, it was five months later, which was between when I joined the Air Corps and November the 20th or something like that. Somewhere in that area I got my license back. And so I went to Bendix Field and told them that I was ready to fly again, so they put me in the next program. And I went under the name "Westdale" then, so all the pilots at the time then, the new ones that came in... the other people who were with me during the, before I got my license taken away, they were all gone on to other programs in the area by then. And so I lost track of them. But...

TI: Okay, so you're back flying, you're back learning, you get your --

VW: Cross-country.

TI: -- you have your pilot license, you got your cross-country, you become instrument trained.

VW: And night flying and then instrument flying, and then commercial. And I took instrument flying at the same time that I was taking commercial flight. I don't see how I did that, really. In fact, my daughter was getting all this stuff together in kind of a little family program, and she said, "Dad, you took the, you took your license, you took your exam for your instrument flight the day, the next day, you took your commercial flight." I said, "No, Cheri, I couldn't have done that. That was impossible." She said, "Dad, that's what you told me." And so I went and pulled my logbooks out of my drawer and started looking through them and she was right. I took my instrument flight (...) exam in one day, and the next day I took my commercial flight exam. And I says, "I still can't believe that I did that, but I did it, 'cause all the logbooks are all witnessed and everything. So it happened. And that, that's how it was done.

TI: And you're doing this all while you had enlisted into the Army Air Corps.

VW: Yeah.

TI: So it was, it was like this, they let you do this extra training while you were there? Okay.

VW: Yeah, they did. And these were rigorous programs. They were really rigorous programs. And instrument flying, I don't know if you know anything about it, but it is not easy, and at that time especially. Because we went on the bare minimum, you couldn't see out at all, and you did everything on instruments and the radio. And I missed the, when I took my final exam -- well, one of the... every now and then they would come and they'd choose a student to fly with, and want to make sure the program was doing the right thing. And one day it was all, horrible day, stratus clouds and there was a lot of wind and rain and things. And I went to the airport thinking, "This is gonna be a rough day." So my instructor came out and he said, "Virgil," he says, "somebody else is gonna ride with you today." And I said, "Oh," I thought it was one of the instructors, which I didn't mind. And he said, "It's a CAA inspector." I said, "No," I said, "why don't they fly with somebody else?" He said, well, he said he looked over the logbooks and he said, "He looked at yours and he said, "You're giving this guy a lot of ones." And that means, ones means perfect. Perfect maneuver. And he says, "And he didn't like the fact that I'd given you so many ones and he wanted to ride with you." And I thought, "Oh, no, this is gonna be a horrible thing." So those inspectors, I don't know if you know anything about, but I'm telling you, they don't say anything to you. They hardly say hello. But this guy, he said, "Well, let's get going." And so we got on the plane and he took off because I couldn't see anything, you know, you're all blind, you're blinded. And so we're up there and he said, "Make some turns," and so on and so forth, and you got to do that all on timing and the banking, and you got to look at the turning bank indicator and all that.

TI: Because when you say "blind," they actually cover the...

VW: Oh, yeah. You can't see anything.

TI: ...the windshield or the...

VW: Can't see anything out at all. You don't fly by contact at all. You have to fly by those instruments that are in front of you. And if you don't believe 'em, you're in trouble. So, and you don't fly by the seat of your pants on this, you know, you go by instruments. And so we went up, and then he says, "Okay," after we did a whole bunch of maneuvers, he said, "Let's go to the airport now." And so now you got to figure out how to get to where you took off. And you haven't seen anything, you don't know where you are, and so you got to find yourself. So by listening to the radio and so on and tying down the beam and making the moves around, you hit the high cone, the high cone is spread out like that, and it's easy to hit the high cone. But when it came to the, to the low cone, it's so narrow down there, and if the plane jerks a little or something like that, you might miss that low cone. And that's exactly what happened to us. And the plane was moving, oh, it was joshing up and down and so on, and I missed the low cone. And I thought, "Oh-oh." So I grabbed the radio really quick and I turned it just so I could barely hear it, and it faded and I knew already I had taken all the memory of the time and where I was and so on, and I started letting down. But I checked that radio one more time, I turned it up where I could just hear it, and it faded, and it's same as it did with the other, faded twice, and I knew that we were past the station. And I had already figured out the time, and the airport was three and a half miles away, and I knew that the, that we were traveling so many miles an hour and so many air speed, the air speed, and I grabbed the... of course, I had already taken the time and so on, and reading all the instruments, and I was letting down at so many feet per minute. And we got to the airport I says, "Over the airport." He says, "Okay, you can look out." I looked out and I was right over the runway.

TI: Wow.

VW: I just, I just, oh, man, I was really happy.

TI: That was pretty impressive.

VW: Yeah. And so we, we landed. He landed, of course, I couldn't, I still couldn't see out very well. And when he landed, do you think that he said anything? Not a thing. He just walked out of there, walked out of the airplane and he was gone for a half hour. And I thought, "My (gosh), what's going on?" And finally my instructor came out, and he held out his and shook my hand and he says, "That was a job well done." And he says, "He gave you one more one than I did." And I thought, "Oh, what a nice thing." It was great.

TI: So after you finished your, your flight training, so now you have a commercial license, what happened next?

VW: Well, I, the next day, of course, I had to go through the commercial flight, which, and that was another thing, that this guy that came, he had a bad reputation. They said he washed people out like nothing, and I thought, "Oh, no." And he name was Unabaker, and he was a big guy, and so he, he was no-nonsense type guy. And we went up and we did all kinds of maneuvers. Then when I went up to three thousand feet, which you're supposed to start your maneuvers at, and he said, "How high are those clouds?" And I looked up and oh, no, we were about a hundred feet from 'em. He said, "How far are you supposed to be?" And I told him, and he said, "Well, what are we doing up here?" And then I thought he was gonna wash me out right away. I took the throttle and dropped it back and started going down. "Wait," he says, "we're up here, let's do some maneuvers first." So we did, and of course, I hit all those maneuvers right on the money, right on the money. And so when we got down, he just walked away again. But about another half hour, my instructor came out and shook hands with me and said, "You did a good job." He says, "You got your commercial license." So I was happy about that, too.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: And so now that you have both licenses, what happened next?

VW: Well, then, I could have gone on to other things, but the contractor, he liked the way I flew. And being the best, top pilot of the instruments and also of the commercial, he offered me a job to be an instructor, an instrument flight instructor. And so I thought about it and then I said, "Yes, I'll accept that job."

TI: Now, how does that work with the, being in the Army Air Corps? So you were, you could work for, you could work for the contractor as a, while you were with the army?

VW: Right. I was in Enlisted Reserve in the Air Corps, and I became a commercial instrument flight instructor. And that went on just fine, because I was training cadets, and after about three or four months, things started happening again. I got a notice from the, from the War Department, and it said, "By order of the President, you are transferred from the Air Corps to the Army as a private." So I went from being an instrument flight instructor, commercial, down to a private in the army, that's the lowest rank you could get. And it was just unbelievable. I was making nine dollars an hour at the time, but the money didn't, wasn't that... I went from nine dollars an hour down to thirteen cents an hour. That was the difference between the two. But that wasn't the big thing. The big thing was being transferred from the Air Corps to the, to the Army as a private.

TI: Because here you were a highly skilled pilot, training other people to be pilots.

VW: Yes.

TI: Really helping the war effort, and they were gonna change you to becoming just a, a private in the infantry.

VW: Yeah. They needed pilots, too, but they were so prejudiced. Coming from that Executive Order 9066, which I didn't know about at the time, but that's what transferred 120,000 people from the West Coast into internment camps, too.

TI: Now, how did they know that you were half Japanese? Because now your name was "Westdale." How did they know?

VW: Well, the FBI knows a lot of things that you and I don't know. [Laughs] And, well, it took them a while, though, because they didn't, they didn't connect that right away at all. When I joined the Air Corps, I joined as Virgil Westdale, and they thought I was an English guy. And my looks, I looked Caucasian, and they had no questions about that until somebody, somebody must have eventually notified them or something. Maybe... I don't know, maybe somebody, somebody indicated to them that I was part Japanese. And then they put, they went... now Mrs. Roosevelt didn't go along with her husband on this evacuating people from the West Coast and so on. And she tried to intervene, but he wouldn't listen to her. I found that out from reading Greg Robinson's By Order of the President.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Okay, so Virgil, we're gonna start the third segment. And where we ended was just when you got new orders. So here you were a flight instructor training cadets, and now you got this order transferring you as a private to an infantry unit. So let's, let's pick it up there.

VW: Okay. Well, I know that the contractor was, had a friend, Senator Brooks from Illinois. And he said Senator Brooks owes him a little bit, a favor. And so he asked Senator Brooks to find out what was going on and keep me in the Air Corps. And Senator Brooks came back, in about a week or two, and saying that there was nothing he could do about it. And I believe that Senator Brooks was correct when he said that, because they weren't gonna budge up there in the, in D.C. And so then ten days, ten days, I was cleaning hoods up above a hot stove in Fort Custer in, near Battle Creek, Michigan. And for two days I cleaned hoods up above stoves, and that was just KP duty that they just gave me to do. And then the corporal or somebody, somebody found out I was a pilot, I suppose my record showed it. And so the corporal said I'm not gonna, evidently, he didn't send me to KP duty anymore, and so he wanted to talk about flying. And so we spent the, we stayed in the barracks and talked about flying for a long time. And then I got ordered to go to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. And we didn't know anything about it. Knew nothing about what Regimental Combat Team even meant. I wasn't sure. And in fact, the corporal thought maybe it might be flying in combat. He didn't know.

So I reported and headed for Mississippi from Michigan. And it was in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, is where I had to go. And I got on the bus after the train ride down south. I got on the bus to go to the camp from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and I noticed that the, all the black people were sitting in the back, and I wondered about that. But I sat down and we, and then when we got to the camp, I stepped off the bus, and I looked, looked around, and I saw GIs around there, but they're all Asian. And I thought, "This is strange." And I didn't know that there (were) any Japanese Americans in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. I had heard something about them being in McCoy... in Wisconsin.

TI: Probably Minneapolis. There's an MIS...

VW: Well, there was also a training camp in...

TI: Wisconsin, that's right.

VW: Yeah, in Wisconsin. But I never knew anything about it being in Mississippi. But that's where the big area was, of the Japanese Americans. And I'm sure they looked at me and wondered what I was doing there, and I'm in uniform, private, walking toward the Company F. And I walked in the office and the sergeant, First Sergeant was in there. And he looked up at me and he says, "Yes sir, what can I do for you?" And I said, "Well, I'm supposed to report here." And he, he thought I was in the wrong outfit. And after a period of time, I don't know whether he talked a lot about it to the officer in charge, Lieutenant Aiken, or whether he didn't, but evidently he decided that yes, I guess I am in the right outfit. So he gave me whatever materials I'm supposed to have and told me what barracks to go to. So I went there and put my stuff in the footlocker, and I had a bed, a cot, a cot, and so I didn't know anything. I felt so strange because I was with people that I'd never been with before.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Now did, when people would look at you confused, did people eventually find out that you were half Japanese?

VW: Eventually they did, yeah. Because they wondered what I was doing there, and so I told 'em. I says, "As far as I know, I'm part Japanese." And so they just didn't, it was hard for them to even understand it, too. But I think one of the hard things was -- there were many things, but the hard thing for me was to eat the food. Because the people from Hawaii made food that was different than what I'd been used to eating. Remember, I'm a farmer, and I'm from the Midwest. That's meat and potatoes and gravy and stuff like that, you know, and some vegetable. But this food that they came from Hawaii was completely different than what I had been used to. [Laughs] And I just, it was very difficult for me to eat it. But eventually, I learned that it wasn't too bad after all. But it took a while.

TI: Well, what were some of the foods that were hard for you to eat?

VW: Well, it was kind of like ratatouille. Have you ever eaten ratatouille? You know, it's not my favorite foods by any means, but it's all vegetables and things, and I don't know if there's any meat in it or not. But I didn't recall that there was any meat in the so-called vats that they used to make the food in. And, but, you know, to each his own, you know. If you grow up eating vegetables like that, that's okay. But if you're not used to it, it's got to take some time to train the palate to accept food like that.

TI: And how about things like just in terms of language? I mean, here you grew up in the Midwest, the Hawaii guys would often speak with a heavy pidgin accent.

VW: Yes, they did.

TI: And how was that for you?

VW: They, they called it kind of pidgin accent, I guess. But, well, back a long time ago, we had what we call pidgin English. Us kids in school would use it and so the teachers couldn't understand us. [Laughs] And sometimes we would speak it so fast that nobody could understand it except just a few, our little group, you know. But pidgin, but the Hawaiian pidgin English was different. And they're more difficult to understand sometimes. That's true, yeah. And, but I learned some things of which I didn't know about. And it was, it was good things about the Japanese Americans. Now, being raised Caucasian, well, I'm just Caucasian, you know, only. But I found out that I learned a lot being with the Japanese Americans. I was with them for, well, about, I'd say, I think it was like twenty-eight months or so that I was with 'em. And, but I had the feeling that, eventually, that if I were ever wounded or needed help, I would never be alone. And I think that was one of the things that I learned. And also trust. They had a lot of, they had a lot of trust, and also to be quiet about things. When I got there and I would know a fellow, say like I knew you and you were in the army with me and so on, I wouldn't know a thing about you. Whether you were educated, whether you weren't and so on. But other people would tell about this guy, you, on, that you had been a graduate from chemical engineering or whatever. And this fascinated me. They never talked about themselves, never.

TI: Oh, I see. So someone wouldn't talk to you directly, like, "This is who I was," you had to find out from somebody else.

VW: Yeah. They'd never talk about themselves. And maybe that's why I got so quiet about myself, too. Maybe that's what I really learned from them, you know. I felt that you don't go around talking about yourself at all. You can talk about other people and the good things, but not about yourself. And so that later, in later life, when I was out of the army, then I became very quiet about who I was, which you'll learn about later on.

TI: Now when you were at Camp Shelby, did you ever see... I've heard about friction between the Hawaiians and the Japanese Americans who grew up on the West Coast. Did you see any of that happening?

VW: Yes. But I usually tried to stay away from 'em, because it didn't involve me anyway. But there was friction between... they even dressed different. They were, how shall I say it? So casual. Not dirty, no, but so casual. Well, they'd leave their shirts out, things like that, except when it came to standing in for inspection, they had to be dressed up neat and clean, neat and socks not showing and things like that. Whereas if there was no inspection or anything, they'd come with their socks hanging out and stuff like that. But sometimes the officers would get after 'em. And then they'd have to dress up and things like that and look respectable, you might say. They were all, they were good guys, though. They were really good guys. I learned to really like those Hawaiian guys. And they used to joke with me, they used to call me haole, and then used to call me, "Haole, come here," and we'd both laugh. [Laughs] And then they'd laugh back, you know. So they were, they were really good guys.

TI: And for the people who watch this and don't know the term "haole," what does "haole" mean?

VW: It means white or Caucasian, you know. That's what... since I looked Caucasian, they would kid and kid me and so on, having to be in a Japanese American -- I didn't look Japanese American, that was their, and then they'd joke about it, which was fine, no problem.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: Now, how about the mainlanders? Especially the ones on the West Coast that came from camps. Did they ever talk about their families and where they were?

VW: Yeah.

TI: So tell me about that.

VW: Well, they'd talk about their dad. I remember Sadataki, Bill Sadataki talking about, they, the government wanted a man to be moved, and the insurance company didn't want him to be moved because he was insured by the Metropolitan or one of these companies, big insurance companies, on his health. And they said, "You can't move him. He might die if you move him. Well, they made 'em move him anyway. And when they moved, he did die. And I'll, I always remember that. Bill Sadataki'd tell me about that. And I remember, too, that he said that a lot of the people put their furniture in a church to preserve it, and take it out of the house, and so people would break in and take the furniture, and then they'd burn the church down. You know, that's hatred. That's so bad. And this just should never have happened, really. But the newspapers and the government were, were all for that at the time, at that time. And I remember James Michener talking about it in a, in the introduction of a book that was written called Years of Infamy, and that's where I learned that certain names in the government, like Stimson and Knox and all those guys, they were, they sure had a prejudiced viewpoint, completely prejudiced viewpoint of, of the Japanese Americans.

TI: So I'm curious, did the men ever learn about your background, the fact that you were a pilot, a flight instructor?

VW: Well, that must have gone around some because what happened was that my sister was so distraught about, about me being trained as a pilot, and being a good pilot, too, and still being demoted down to a private in the army when I couldn't use the piloting skills that I had, of which I was trained. And so she wrote a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt and, telling her about it and sending a picture of me in my uniform as a pilot. And she said in her words saying, "Isn't it a shame that, that my brother was a trained pilot for the Air Corps, in the Air Corps, and now he's, he was pulled out and sent as a private in the army. And within two weeks, a letter came back from the War Department saying that they were transferring me, that they had received her letter. So Mrs. Roosevelt must have sent it to them. And, "You are being transferred to the artillery," because they have two observation planes there of which I can fly. Well, I was transferred, yes, but they wouldn't let me fly. They still would not let me fly those planes. And so I was selected to go to the Fire Direction Center of the artillery.

TI: So I'm curious, who would fly the planes in the artillery?

VW: They were officers that had been trained to fly observation planes. And so you had to be a pilot, I suppose, in order to be, in order to fly. And, of course, I wasn't an officer. I had applied to be in Officer Candidate School, but they weren't allowing anybody of Japanese American descent, Japanese descent, to go to Officer School either. And the 442nd had all Caucasian officers; they weren't allowed to have Japanese Americans as officers.

TI: So although they transferred you to artillery to possibly fly with these, they didn't let you fly?

VW: That never materialized.

TI: So before we go to the, to the, what you did in the 522, I want to go back to the infantry unit. Because you were a big farm kid. You were over six feet tall, strong, I mean, did they have you do, compared to most Japanese Americans who were much shorter and lighter than you, I mean, because you were such, bigger than them, did they have you do things that, that were special projects or special jobs because of your size?

VW: Well, they, first thing they do is handed me the BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle. Now, that, that rifle weighed about twenty-one pounds with the tripod on it. And now, if the M-1, for example, weighed about 9.3 pounds, and, of course, that was the rifleman's, they carried that weapon, the M-1. But it was only 9.3 pounds. And, but the BAR, they gave it to me, and they also gave me the flame thrower. Now, the flame thrower was something you strapped on your back, and that was all the volatile material that you carried on your back. And you push that button and it would shoot out a flame seventy-five feet, just engross it in flames. And so if you saw an enemy, you push that button, and he would just be gone. He'd be all full of fire right away, and wouldn't have a chance. But the flame thrower wasn't used very much in combat. But the BAR was used a lot in combat because it was such an accurate weapon, and a very vicious instrument. And lot of firepower, very straight-shooting weapon. And, but, of course, when I left, then somebody had to be the BAR man, and I don't know who took over, but somebody must have.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: So let's go to the 522. So because you couldn't fly the airplanes, what job did you have in the artillery unit?

VW: Well, at first, I was just the maintenance guy maintaining the aircraft and so on. But then within about a couple of weeks, they transferred me into the Fire Direction Center. And that was... all those people in the Fire Direction Center were selected as being people that could really do the job in the Fire Direction Center, and I became a computer operator.

TI: And so when you say "computer operator," what does a computer operator do?

VW: Well, what that was involved, the target would come into the, to a board man who would layout on the board. He had all the maps, and he would layout the position of where they wanted to fire. And then with those, with those data, they would take (them) and give (them) to the computer people. There were three of us, one for each battery. There was A, B and C. And at first I had to be trained because I wasn't in the artillery. Only about a month and maybe a month and a half before we shipped out. So I had to be in the Fire Direction Center when we left Newport News and went into the artillery position as a computer operator. And Kagawa, guy by the name of Shoso Kagawa trained me on how to, to do the job as a computer operator. Taking the data, these data from the board man, and put (them) into the Fire Direction Center called "fire for effect." And when we said, "Fire for effect," we'd better be right, which we always were. And no friendly fire accidents ever.

TI: Okay, because as I understand it, so what you did was you had to make the calculations in terms of how to set the guns in terms of the altitude, you had to take things like altitude, wind, all those things into effect.

VW: Yeah, and deflection and so on and so forth, yeah. And then decide, and then they handed the, all the data to them, and then we made the decision of "fire for effect," and then it went to the operator, the radio operator, and he sent it to the guns. And you had to be right on that, and we always were.

TI: Now, when you say, "Fire for effect," I've heard some people say that the first round might be long, and then another one would be short, I mean, they would try to --

VW: That wasn't "fire for effect," though. That was location.

TI: I see.

VW: And there might be a smoke, a smoke shell, and then you go from there and you'd move it, and eventually you know right where the target was from the smoke shell. And then the next one had to be "fire for effect."

TI: So they would give you all that information. They would give you first a fire for a location and how far off it was, then you would make the calculations.

VW: Yes. And then it had to be "fire for effect." And then the gunners would adjust their, their guns so that it would be exactly on the target which we had, our board man had picked, (from) the forward observers, and then it would come to us. And then we'd take these data that he gave us, and we'd, we'd calculate it, and then send the "fire for effect." And it was always on the target.

TI: And how many location shots would you do before the "fire for effect"?

VW: Usually not more than two is about maximum, I'd say. But quite often we'd go just from one smoke shell. Or maybe even we didn't have to do that. Maybe from the previous target we would go to the next target. Maybe they were that close together, and we know how to maneuver that and get it onto this target and so on.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: From what I've read, I read the book Fire for Effect, I've talked to other men in the 442, and across the board, people have, have praised the 522, the artillery unit, for what people have called the best artillery unit in the army. Can you talk about, why were you guys so good?

VW: Well, I think we were good because it was our outfit in the first place, the Regimental Combat Team. We were all in one. We had the infantry, and then we had the artillery, and then we had the 232nd Engineers, and we had the supply, we had the medics, we had the cannon company, we had everything. And so we could operate all by ourselves if necessary. We weren't a very big outfit, not like a division by any means. Because a division usually held maybe three or four regiments, and we were the regiment, one of the regiments. For the 34th Division in Italy, we were a regiment in the 36th Division in France under General Patch, who was head of the army, the total army in France. And then we were in the, we also went into Germany under the 45th Division of the 36th Division -- 36th... yeah. We were in the 45th Division under the army of General Patch. We went into Germany.

TI: So going back to why you were so good, one was because you were such tight unit...

VW: Yeah, we were a very tight unit.

TI: Small, but you had the infantry, the artillery.

VW: They're all selected men to do these things, too. That's another thing. The gunners were very good at what they were doing. And perhaps maybe if they hadn't been, they'd have been replaced with somebody that could do the job. They were all very, very active type young people. They would, they had the thought that they had to be right, they had to do things right, and that was instilled in 'em. Otherwise then it might reflect onto our whole, our whole unit if they were wrong or didn't do the job like they should have been doing. And so that made 'em different. We were so good at what we were doing that if they ran, if the supplies in the army would run a little bit low, we would get, we would be favored in the, supply the ammunition supply over other regiments, and I thought that was pretty good.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: Now, when you, when you were moved to this position, you mentioned how it was just like a, a week before you were shipped out. So I'm thinking that this unit trained at Camp Shelby for months and months, then here they bring you in almost at the last minute before you go to Europe. Why did they do that? Why did they bring you in at the last moment? It seemed like, you know, a sports metaphor is like bringing in a new quarterback at a critical time. So what happened?

VW: Well, I trained in the infantry for about eight months, and I was a BAR man and so on. We went through maneuvers, and our little regiment beat the 69th Division in maneuvers. And they had inspectors around watching, and we beat the 69th Division if you can imagine that.

TI: So a much larger unit.

VW: Oh, much, yeah. They had like three or four regiments against one. We were just one regiment. And so, and then when I was transferred into the artillery, they wanted, they found out that, I suppose the colonel studied my record and so on, that I was a pilot and an instrument, commercial instrument pilot, and trained cadets and so on. So he selected me to go into the Fire Direction Center, I'm sure. And so that's the way it happened. Now, then, I had to be trained, 'cause I didn't know anything about, about what the operator did. And so Shoso Kagawa, who was over at Battery C, that was the, usually the best battery, and supposed to be the one that would kind of set up the smoke shell and all that stuff. And he's the one that trained me to be a computer operator.

TI: So I'm curious, what kind of training did this gentleman have? Was he like a college graduate or...

VW: I don't remember if he had graduated already, but he was, he became an architect later on in New York City, but, and then later on into L.A., and then later on into Hawaii. But he was a, he was a very calm and intelligent fellow, and I was fortunate having him train me.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: Okay, so we just took a nice little lunch break, and so we're back for the, I guess, the third, or maybe fourth segment. So where we last were talking about was you were explaining the Fire Direction Center, the, kind of your role as a computer person to help calculate where or how to adjust the guns so that they fire accurately. And so why don't we talk about, pick it up where you now are going, arriving at Europe. So why don't we talk about that, going from the United States to Europe and what... why don't you pick it up there?

VW: Okay, we were on a small liberty ship, kind of, but ours was little bit smaller than the liberty ship, I felt. I just can't remember the name of that anymore. But one of the things, it was the biggest armada that had ever left Newport News. And the message was that if any, any of the boats or ships that were disabled, the whole armada would not stop for it, they just kept going. And so then you'd be prey to the U-boats from Germany to sink you. So one thing that did happen was that when we were out there, it took us, if I remember, May the 2nd 'til May the 26th, we landed in Brindisi, Italy. And so that's like twenty-four days on the ocean. And when we were about halfway there, something happened to our ship. I don't know what, but it lost power. And so what the sailors did who were on the ship there, they unloaded their, unwrapped their, well, guns if you wish. And I can't tell you which ones they were, but they were ready in case any U-boats came, they have to fire. So the big armada kept on going, and we were sitting there all alone. And we were wondering whether we were gonna ever get to Italy or not. And then after a period of time -- oh, and they shot this gun off a few times, and then it made a heck of a noise. And, but eventually they got it going again, and then we hurried and caught up with the armada again, and we were okay. But it was the biggest one that ever left up to that time. I can't tell you what happened after that. And number of boats, and so our whole outfit went into that, went into Italy with that big convoy. And we ended up in Brindisi, Italy. It was very peaceful down there, everything was fine. We had a few days while they unloaded the ship, and the Italians would sing way early in the morning or way late at night, we could hear 'em singing. And after a while, I got used to it. Without it, it seemed like something was wrong. And, but we really enjoyed their singing while they were unloading the ship.

TI: How about the other impacts of the war? When you went to Italy, what were the living conditions for the Italians when you got to Italy?

VW: Well, in Brindisi, Italy, it was pretty good. And the girls would come out in the evening, families would come out in the evening and walk the streets a little bit. A small town, rather. And so we rather enjoyed it there. But we didn't stay there very long, maybe, I don't know, I'd guess a week, maybe. Then we were heading north toward Naples and toward Rome. We went through Anzio. But Naples was a very, seemed like a very poor city. And they were starving there; we had kids that were eating out of the garbage can, if you can imagine. So what we'd do, we'd give 'em some food if we could, and, but we had to eat, too. And so, but it told me right away that Mussolini, who was the dictator over there, he should never have been in the war, period. Should have stayed right out of it. He'd have been much better off. But he had to show his muscles, and so he got into the war. And it was costly. And, of course, eventually caught up with him, too. But we went, from Naples, then we went... and there was prostitution all over the place. But we went on to Anzio, and they had the big Anzio gun there, which was on a railroad track, and when they'd fire, I'm sure the recall would send the carrier, if you wish, it was on these tracks, railroad tracks, send him way back. And then it was a huge gun. And it was, it was a German gun, but it certainly was too big, too wieldy, to be, really do any good, really. And so that was abandoned later on.

TI: So the Germans had left that there and the Allied forces were using it?

VW: Yeah. We weren't using it, no.

TI: Oh, I see. So you just saw it.

VW: It was just too big. The best weapon that Hitler had, in my opinion, was the 88. That 88 was a death... it was a vicious instrument. And later on we'll get into that 88, I'm sure.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: So let's, let's go. So from Naples, where did you go?

VW: Into Rome.

TI: Into Rome. We headed for Rome. And the short time before we got there, the 100th, which was the 1st Battalion of the 442nd, the 100th had been in, fighting already. They were a veteran outfit almost. And they were so good that, but then they had a lot of people who were wounded, lot of soldiers that were wounded. And so the other outfit started calling 'em the Purple Heart Battalion, and rightfully so. And they were the best fighters. And Mark Clark was asked by General George Marshall, who was the big general at the time, he said, "Let me know how they do," when he first, when Clark first got the 100th and put 'em in. And they were just, they were flabbergasted the way they were, the way the 100th was moving ahead and moving the Germans out of it and pushing 'em back. And Mark Clark says, "Send me all you've got." And at first, there were generals that didn't want anything to do with the 442nd or the Japanese Americans in any way, shape or form, but it didn't take 'em long to change their mind once they found out what kind of fighters they were. And they were American of Japanese descent.

TI: And one of the stories I heard about going into Rome, so the 100th was actually leading the march into Rome.

VW: Yeah.

TI: And what happened with that?

VW: Well, what happened was -- and this is not publicized -- but they were asked to step aside, not go into Rome, but step aside. Rome was off limits; you couldn't bomb or fight in Rome. In the Vatican area, they wanted to save all that area. And so when the 100th got in, they were getting ready to go right into Rome, and the generals pulled 'em aside and moved 'em over and let the, another outfit go in. It should never have happened. They should have let the 100th go in. But they said something about, they wanted the 100th to rest or something like that, which was a poor excuse, I thought. But there were some thoughts of, from the 100th soldiers that they were pulled aside because of political reason. When, you know, the freeing of Rome was a big thing then, really, because you know, here the soldiers were, and there were just the Caucasian Americans, not the Japanese Americans. Propaganda all the way. It didn't hit very well with the 442nd. We seemed to be people who didn't complain a lot about anything when it came to the war.

TI: But to the 442 and the 100th, it felt like a slight because it would have been an honor for them to have been the first unit to March into Rome.

VW: Would have been, yeah. Yeah, would have been. The 100th was basically, yeah, 'cause they fought their way right up there.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

TI: So the 100th was, they fought first in North Africa, and then they went to Rome. At what point did the 442 connect with the 100th?

VW: Okay, in Civitaveccia, Italy. And that's where they joined and became the 1st Battalion of the 442nd. We furnished the 2nd and the 3rd, but then they came in with the 100th, which was the 1st Battalion. And really, it was the total of the 442nd then. And of course, then they were very independent. We were capable of doing the whole thing for our regiment. We were small, but we were very well-organized if you wish to call it that, by the infantry, the artillery, the canning company, the 232nd Engineers and the supply company. The supply company was very important because they had to keep the supplies right up with the, as fast as we would go. They had to keep up. We needed the ammunition, we needed the food, we needed the medical and all that. Then the medics, of course, were with us all the time. And so we were a Regimental Combat Team.

TI: And how was it when the 100th joined the 442? Was that sort of integration pretty smooth? Here you had a, sort of, battle-hardened unit joining a new unit.

VW: The new unit, the 2nd and 3rd battalions and so on, we really, it was nice to have the 100th, battle seasoned battalion alongside of the 442nd. And, 'course the 100th was wondering what, what kind of an outfit we were gonna be, kind of, and we were from the States, mostly. Mostly. And they were from Hawaii. And so we didn't know how that was gonna go, but it melded right together very nicely, yeah. And we often wondered, the 100th had the name already and so on, so they were a battle-hardened unit. And so when they blended with the 442nd, and I remember guys from other outfits coming over and talking to us in the darkness. And when you couldn't go too far, because you couldn't see anything. And they'd come over and they'd say they know that as long as the 442nd was on their flank, they never worried about that flank, they're worried about the other flank, but not with the 442nd on their flank.

TI: So other, other units really trusted and knew about the 442 and 100th.

VW: Oh, yes. Yes, they did. Yeah. In fact, the Germans even knew. And they, they did not like fighting against the 442nd, really. [Laughs] And that's understandable. The 442nd wasn't gonna back down. That is, when I say the 442nd, I mean the 100th and the 442nd together.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

TI: So let's, let's talk about your first experience with battle.

VW: Okay. Well, I remember we were... from Rome, well, in Rome, I was in a courtyard. And there were tens of dozens of other GIs there, along with maybe some of our guys. And I wondered what they were doing in the courtyard of the Vatican. And there was the Sistine Chapel right there, and then I'm wondering what people were doing there. And they didn't know... nobody seemed to know exactly what was gonna happen. And then pretty soon, out on the balcony came Pope Pius XII. And he blessed, and held out his hand. I felt pretty good about that, although I'm not Catholic, but I felt pretty good about that. He blessed us before we went into battle. And so that was rather significant, I thought. Pope Pius XII.

TI: And when you said you felt pretty good about that, I mean, did you feel anything spiritual?

VW: Spiritually, yes. Yeah. And it just seemed like, you know, that would help if we ever got into a bad situation, and which it did. I can't say that that was the purpose of it, but being close to God is always, I think, pretty important. I don't care where you are or what you were doing, it's important.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

TI: Okay, so after that experience in Rome, what happened next?

VW: Then we moved on into, you might say, the combat area. And then they said, "Dig a subtrench but don't stand up." This is at night, too, now. Well, did you ever try and dig a slit trench lying down? It's almost impossible, especially if the ground is hard, which it is hard as a rock. And so I just stopped digging 'cause there wasn't any use in digging. And we'd be all night digging and then there's, we weren't getting sleep anyway. So I just lay on top of the ground, and hopefully -- and I could hear the, Long Toms, the shells going over. [Makes sound effect] And you could hear 'em, and they'd be firing way back and then they'd go over our head. And those were called the Long Toms or the 240s maybe, for all I know. And so then we moved into a, kind of a small city. And the buildings are made of hard material, like maybe, I don't want to say granite, but made out of ceramic or something, or brick or stone. And all of a sudden, the 88s started flying in on this building, and it was blasting the building around, and I was hoping it wouldn't come in the big windows that we had. It didn't, which I was a little surprised. And here it was, blasting off the corners of the building and so on, and, but it didn't come in the windows. [Laughs] And if it had, I wouldn't be here talking to you. And so that's when I asked the Captain Feibleman, I said, "When are we gonna get into the fighting?" And I said, "Before long," I said, "the war will be over." And he said, "Oh, no," he says, "it's gonna be a long time," he said, "Virgil." So he was right, too, I'll tell you. Yeah, long time. And then we went on, we set up and things like that, we fired at Leghorn and all that.

And then we fired at, we got a call from the 442nd, and they needed help because they were pinned down. And the Germans had 'em, they were up on the hill, and our unit was down below trying to get to them up on the hills, and they got pinned down. They were firing artillery and throwing grenades down there and so on.

TI: And was this at Hill 140, we're talking about?

VW: Yeah, yeah. And it was Hill 140 that the Germans were on up there. And so they asked artillery support right away. So we had to hurry up and get organized and get in there. And we did. And we also were the first unit to use the proximity fuse in Europe. And so the proximity fuse being that we would set the fuse on the, on the shell so that it would explode when it got around twenty to fifty feet in the air (above) the target, and then it would spray the artillery, shrapnel, all over, maybe about a hundred yards. And we fired on a bunch of (Germans) there. And I was instrumental in setting some of that stuff up, and it really affected me when I talked about it the first time, because we slaughtered that hill, we really did. Killed 120 Germans right up on that hill, and in about five minutes, six minutes. And they were the enemy, and, of course, we were the people who were trying to get him out of there. And in fact, it was, we were, we were scheduled to go right by that hill after, after they got it loosened up and softened up where we could go. They would not allow us to go by that hill. They said, "Don't let the artillery people go by that hill because it was slaughter." And so we were, we were, our route was changed to go around where we couldn't observe the devastation that we had put on the Germans there. They didn't want us to see it.

TI: So let me, let me make sure I understand this. So these proximity fuses were designed so you would shoot a barrage, and they would explode in the air above the enemy, that was the idea, and the shrapnel would hit them. And so this was really the first time used in the field?

VW: It was the first time used in Europe, that's the report that we got.

TI: And, and so you not only had to set the direction and altitude and all that, but --

VW: Also the timing.

TI: So you also did the timing, too. So you knew how long it would take before, then you'd calculate a few seconds before.

VW: It was a perfect situation. And we slaughtered them. I read later on about that hill, that was a message that my grandmother had put in her trunk from the hometown paper in Michigan from the Sturgis Journal, and it had an article about so big in it, and my sister found it in the trunk, grandmother's trunk about four or five years ago. And she passed that on to me, and it's in the book, by the way, somewhere. And talks about the artillery in the 442nd, and it said that the artillery is usually, creates about, or forms about seventy percent of the casualties to the enemy, that's inflicted on an enemy in a war. About seventy percent, that's pretty high. And so, and I have to believe 'em because that can be done.

TI: And so as the artillery person, you recognized how, how devastating your work was.

VW: Yeah.

TI: And yet, I've interviewed men who were infantry trying to take that hill, they were taking incredible casualties trying to take that hill. Because as you say, they had, they were on the low ground, pretty much pinned down.

VW: Pretty much pinned down, yeah.

TI: And they were taking heavy losses.

VW: Oh, they, once we fired, they were jumping up and down. They just couldn't believe that we had devastated that whole hill. So, in fact, one of the, I think it was the lieutenant colonel, he was just ecstatic about the devastation that we had sprayed on that hill.

TI: And so it sounds like you have mixed feelings. In one sense, you saved a lot of lives of the 442 guys, and yet, the devastation of killing, helping to kill those 120 men weighs heavily on your mind.

VW: Yeah. And it didn't hit me until, until Susan, the police officer, started asking me questions, and over a period of time, we came upon Hill 140. And that just broke me up because that was many years afterward, but it hadn't, I hadn't even thought about it much before that. Just didn't talk about the war.

TI: Now, if they, if they directed the artillery unit away from, I mean, so you didn't go by it, how did you find out later about what happened, what you did?

VW: Oh, they told us. They told us that we're advised not to go by the hill. That came right through to all of us. And we were not gonna go by that hill. We knew what we had done at the time, but you know, it was victory, so to speak, at the time. But I didn't think about it affecting me later on.

TI: And the command came through because they knew that if the artillery guys saw that it would, it would affect you?

VW: It might. It might, we might lose some of the guys.

TI: That they would maybe perhaps not want to do that anymore.

VW: Right.

TI: I see.

VW: Yeah, so devastating. It was really bad. But that's war.

TI: And then later on, the people just told you what, what happened? I mean, again, you didn't see it, but other people sort of explained to you?

VW: Well, the infantry knew right away that we had stopped all the enemy fire from there. And so they, they were ecstatic. They were jumping up and down really happy. But, of course, it probably saved their lives, somewhat, too. So that's war.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

TI: So let's, let's keep moving. So you're going up, up Italy, and so what happens next?

VW: Well, we got all the way up to, well, we went through Florence, but very quickly. Then we went over, we were on the mountaintop, and we were looking down at Pisa, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And we saw the Germans down there moving back and forth, running around with their jeeps and stuff, and we could have had a pretty good kill there, but that was off limits. They didn't want to wreck the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So the Germans knew that it was off-limits, too, so they weren't afraid of doing anything around the town there. I used to see 'em driving their jeeps and stuff, walking around down there and so on, but couldn't do anything.

TI: Now, I'm curious, this kind of off-limits area like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you mentioned the Vatican in Rome, was that also followed by the Germans, too? That they wouldn't destroy these sort of, these historical treasures?

VW: Yeah, it was pretty much so, yeah. And they respected that pretty well. It's funny... during the war, quite often, sometimes there's be some kind of a lull, a peace, for the medics to move in and move the wounded out, bring the wounded out. And so once in a while, though, there was some SS or something, they might kill the medic, which they weren't supposed to do in war. But sometimes they would. And then that'd really make us angry. And, in fact, one, we were moving a GI out, one of our, some of our guys on the stretcher, and some sniper killed him on the stretcher. That made them so angry that they put the, they knew the guy was gone, and so they, they formed a bonanza, a banzai, and they rushed, they rushed the Germans right there. And the Germans saw 'em coming, and it was near, getting near dark, and so some of the Germans ran; they just left. And then the others were, some of the others were captured because they were so afraid of the 442nd. Some of the guys who were captured, we talked to them, and they said -- oh, that was another thing. They wanted to see the automatic artillery, but we never had any automatic artillery then at all. [Laughs] But they wanted to see the automatic artillery, and we laughed at 'em and we said, "We don't have any automatic artillery." But we were so fast, it sounded like, sounded like... we were jamming those shells in fast, and they were going out, and it sounded like automatic artillery.

TI: Oh, that's funny. So not only were you accurate in, in finding things, but the teams on the guns were very fast and efficient.

VW: Oh, very much so, yeah. Fast. And our, our calculations were fast, too, so that made a difference, too.

TI: Well, in fact, I read someplace that in some cases, your calculations were so fast that they sent sort of like inspectors saying, "You must not be following official, sort of, specifications or steps because you're doing too fast." Do you recall anything like that?

VW: I do remember them talking to some of the officers about it, yeah. But I didn't hear the conversation, no, myself. But yes... and also, some inspector came... I don't know whether he was inspector or whether he was high up in the artillery of another outfit. He says that his artillery were, were the best you know. But we went and saw the records, he had to walk away because he couldn't possibly match the 522nd artillery because of the record that we had. And I remember reading about that, in fact, too.

TI: Well, because of that, did the army ever send more people just to learn from the 522 in terms of their technique?

VW: I don't, I don't recall that, no. No. Not in war, it's pretty hard to do that.

TI: Now, how much contact did you and other people in the 522 have with the infantry, the 442 guys, the guys fighting?

VW: Well, sometimes in a rest area, we would, I'd go over and talk to some of the guys and so on. And some of our 442nd guys had volunteered earlier and went, and joined the 100th when they were the only ones in Europe at the time. And his name was Nishimura, and, but he was later killed, shot in the head. I often think about that, but that's the way it is sometimes. 'Cause war is, war is pretty cruel. But if you talk with the Bruyeres people in France, those French people, I have a real story to tell you about that.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

TI: Well, let's... we'll get there, but, so anything else in Italy before we go to France?

VW: Well, pretty much after watching Pisa and, down below, and not being able to fight in it, That's when we, that's the Po Valley in general. And so we were pulled out and went down to Naples, and then we shipped out to France. And it was dark, rainy, and cold. And I remember standing there around in Naples there, waiting to get on the ship to go to France and fight some more in France. And France was probably more, probably more demonstrative than it was in Italy. Although Italy was a bad one, but still, I think in France, things were even worse. The Vosges Mountains and with all the trees and everything around and so on, it was hard, and saving the "Lost Battalion."

TI: Well, so as an artillery unit, when you're going through the mountains, heavily forest, how does the artillery do this? I mean, how do you get, find positions to place the guns?

VW: Well, that was up to the S-2 and so on, you know. He had to, he was a good map reader, by the way, actually, he was a lieutenant at the time, Lieutenant Taylor, Billy Taylor, and he was a very good map reader, and he was admired by even the GIs under him. And he knew pretty much the land and so on from reading the maps. And so that was good. And if the map was wrong, then he'd make little notes so they wouldn't forget that it was wrong. And then he'd place, tell where to place the guns and so on. And, of course, the guys were so fast in setting up, too, that made a difference, too. And everybody knew what they had to do. In fact, sometimes they fired so often with the shells that the breach got too hot. They had to throw blankets over and then keep watering the blankets to cool off the breach of the big guns, the 105s.

TI: Now, so lieutenant and later on Captain Taylor would find out where to place the guns. How would they place the Fire Direction Center? Where would that be placed in relation to the guns?

VW: Well, not too far away, but some, yes. Usually we had, that's where the colonel was and then the two majors and some of the captains and so on. And we always had the major behind me, behind us, always hoping that everything was fine, and that's good because that made us always alert, you know. And if you were getting tired and sleepy, we became alert the minute things had to be poppin'. And we'd take off our boots and let 'em dry because they were so wet and muddy and so on. And we had to dry our feet, 'cause if you didn't dry 'em, pretty soon you'd get trench feet, and that's no good.

TI: But, so the Fire Direction Center was really the brain center of artillery.

VW: Yeah.

TI: You had the officers there, you had the computer people, and then, and close enough to the guns so that radio could (speak) quickly to the, to the guns.

VW: Yeah. And then we had the radio transmitter guy transmit to the guns on what to do, when to fire and so on.

TI: So in the, in the, the battle to liberate Bruyeres, what role did artillery play in that battle?

VW: Well, when we went to France and we went into Marseilles, that's where we landed first, we were worried, they were worried a little bit because the Germans were pretty powerful right up, not very far from there. And we weren't ready to fight because when you get off the ship, you got to be able to know where to set up and all that. And if they would have stormed that area, they could have probably wiped us out, for all we knew. But fortunately, some of the other artillery units were firing over there to keep 'em busy so that they were pretty busy, the Germans were trying to protect themselves and so on from the artillery that was dropping in there at the time. And so they didn't try anything as far as we were concerned. Then once we, about two or three days, we were ready, and then we moved on toward, toward Bruyeres and Biffontaine, and Belmont and all those areas.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

TI: And so I've, I've interviewed infantry guys, and so I kind of understand what was happening on the ground, but I'm curious, as you went through Bruyeres, Biffontaine, and later on for the rescue of the "Lost Battalion," what was happening with the artillery unit? I, it's not really clear to me how that was coordinated with the ground forces.

VW: Well, we had forward observers which went with the, sometimes they were ahead of the artillery, head of the infantry, and they would spot the target, and then they'd call that in and then we'd start working on that and start throwing in artillery in these certain pockets of danger areas like machine guns and so on and so forth. Or maybe tank, a tank or two, and we'd fire on them, too. And so in that way, we kept the enemy softened up a little bit. And sometimes what'd you call "creeping fire," some of the observers were so, had so much confidence in our artillery that they would start the firing behind the enemy line, and then it'd start creeping toward the front lines, and then the artillery would keep coming toward... and the minute they get to the front lines of the enemy, they were very close to our guys, too. And, they called that creeping artillery, and then it'd just play havoc with the, with the line, the enemy line. So in that respect, it was pretty good.

TI: Because the creeping line, then, the enemy really couldn't retreat because the guns were coming...

VW: That's right, yeah. And it was hard for 'em... so they were really softened up in that respect.

TI: Now, was that a common tactic, or was that something they'd...

VW: No, it wasn't common, but they'd use it every once in a while, yeah. They had that much confidence in us. They never used it as, to my knowledge, they never used it with any other artillery group. But I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

TI: Now, how frequently did, were the guns moved? I mean, when you went from Bruyeres to Biffontaine...

VW: Oh, sometimes like two or three times a day. Depends on how fast you were moving, you know. And Bruyeres and that area, we didn't move real fast. When we got into Germany, we had to move fast. We had to move very fast, because the front was moving fast in Germany. But Bruyeres, it was, that was a vicious fight. And the townspeople were all pretty much hidden in, in the building down below and the basements and things. And they knew the Texans were, the 36th Division was a Texas division, and the 442nd was attached to that division. And we were very instrumental, our 442nd was very instrumental in freeing that town. And we pumped a lot of artillery in there, just a lot. And then... but the SS was with the group that was in that town, and they were a mean bunch of guys, they really were. They were Hitler's elite, and they had the lightning streaks under their arm, two of 'em, and they were parallel. And if, later on when we'd capture any of 'em, we'd make, make sure we looked underneath each of their arms to make sure that they didn't have lightning streaks under 'em, 'cause we treated 'em differently if we caught them.

TI: And, so these were tattoos underneath the arm. If you did find one, how would you treat them differently?

VW: They would go, they wouldn't go where the regular captured German army was, we'd put them in a separate situation. And what happened after that, I'm not sure, but we never trusted those guys at all, ever. Ever. But like, to show you how mean they were, the mayor of Bruyeres was standing, and he noticed a German was talking to a young girl, and this German wanted this young girl to go with him into a private area, and he, she didn't want to do that. And so the mayor walked up beside her and then this German pulled his gun and just shot her, killed her right in front of the mayor, and the mayor never forgot it. And that's the kind of SS people they were. Just unbelievable. So it never bothered me much in doing what I could to stop them from doing the things that they did. But when the Bruyeres, that was a horrible fight in Bruyeres. And finally the SS had to leave, they had to get out of there, finally. And then all the firing stopped, kind of, and so they, the residents who had been hiding and so on, they kind of -- now, this in the, the Pierre... let's see... Moulin, I think Pierre Moulin, he's a historian, French historian. He said that when the population came out and started observing the people who were taking over, he saw 'em coming down the street, and they were so amazed. They expected big tall Texans, and here's little five-foot-five, five-foot-six guys coming with hand grenades and bazookas and BARs. [Laughs] And he says they just didn't understand it, but then they heard that they were the iron men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. And that, and they've never forgotten it. They still, in 1996, I know, guy by the name of... oh, I can't remember his name at the moment. But he took a picture, and the flag is flying, the American flag is flying right in the city, right up, way up high, and it's the American flag. And they have a, he took a picture of the street called the 442nd Street. 442nd Regimental, RCT Street, and that's the 442nd Regimental Combat Team Street. That's what they think about the 442nd.

TI: So they were incredibly appreciative of...

VW: Oh, they really... they think, some of the guys went back there, he says they just treated 'em like they were sons and daughters of the, of the French people. So that's quite a compliment.

TI: But it was, you said, a very difficult and brutal battle to liberate Bruyeres.

VW: Oh, yeah, yeah. And they couldn't imagine such small people driving those big SS troops out of Bruyeres. But the 442 gained a lot of respect not only from the people, but even from the German army.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

TI: Okay, so now from Bruyeres, what happened after that?

VW: Then they went on to Belmont, and then pretty soon they got -- I heard the rumor that something was going on. And it was night, I remember, and I remember we knew that something was happening. We didn't exactly know what was happening, but pretty soon we did get the rumor that the 141st Regimental Combat Team -- not the 442nd but the 141st Regimental Combat Team, one of them, one of the battalions was "lost," surrounded by the Germans. And General Dahlquist was looking for help. And he had sent in one of the other 141st battalions to relieve 'em, they couldn't do it. They had to back out, they had too many casualties and things were going bad. They pulled them out, so he sent the third time, another regiment of theirs in to rescue 'em, couldn't do it. So the 442nd was sitting there, and they were supposed to get relieved because they had just been at Bruyeres and Belmont, and so they were in a rest area, supposedly being, resting for at least a week, but they had rested, I think, for one day, is all. And General Dahlquist said, "We got to have the 442nd." And so he sent for the 442nd, and General Patch walked in with General Dahlquist, and the order was to take the 2nd Battalion of the 442nd and place 'em in the dark and get 'em set ready to go in the morning. And then the 3rd and the 100th were ready to, had to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. That was the order, those were the orders. And when daylight broke, daylight broke, the 2nd Battalion started moving, and of course, that started drawing fire right away from the, the dug-in Germans right up on the hills and in the woods and in the Vosges Mountains. And that's where the slaughter started, too.

And we started firing, of course, the artillery did, and then during the heat of the battle, we had four days of which to rescue the "Lost Battalion." They had been lost already for two days, and so when the, when General Dahlquist called for the 442nd, it was in the heat of the battle. It was about the third, no, it was about the second day that the 442nd was driving in. General Dahlquist called for artillery firing on a certain spot, and Captain Harris said, "Wait a minute, you better check those coordinates carefully." We would have anyway, and we did, and it was right in the middle of the "Lost Battalion." And so if we would have listened to the general, we'd have killed the "Lost Battalion" right away.

TI: Well, more than listened, that was an order from General Dahlquist to fire there.

VW: Yeah, it was.

TI: And you, and you recognized that that would have been fatal to the "Lost Battalion."

VW: Yeah. So the "Lost Battalion," probably unknownst to them, we saved them then, right then they were saved once. And then later on, later on we saved 'em again. But it was a terrible battle. And at the end, then finally the Germans had to, had to abandon. Hitler had sent seven hundred more troops in to fortify that, and he said, "You don't let any of the, any of the Americans break through at all costs," he said. And "all costs" didn't last forever.

TI: You mean "all costs" in terms of, of keeping the "Lost Battalion" trapped?

VW: Right, yeah, then eliminate as you squeeze 'em in. They were just being killed. And they sent a tank in, and then we're firing back at him, you know, the "Lost Battalion" did hold there. They had enough ammunition to fire, but they were running low on ammunition, that was another thing. They were running low on food, on ammunition and on medical supplies. And they needed help, and they needed help fast. And so that's one of the reasons why General Dahlquist... and he knew it, and it was his fault in a way, of pushing them so hard without actually knowing and organizing, planning, a good forward push, and they got trapped. And we saved 211, and we had 800 casualties. That's been studied in the hierarchy, and they said the 442nd should never have been sent in. So it was mistake, they said. But you talk to the people who were saved, they have a different story.

TI: Now, you had the benefit of being in the Fire Direction Center around other officers. When, when you get orders from General Dahlquist to, like, fire at the wrong coordinates, or you understand that perhaps the "Lost Battalion" was advanced too quickly and too far and they were then surrounded, I mean, did you overhear the officers at some point... I'm not sure the right word, questioning or maybe disputing some of the orders that...

VW: Well, some of the 442nd guys really barked back at him. In fact, one of the guys, he yelled at the general, he said, "You can court martial me if you want to, if you want to," he said, "but I'm not gonna just take my platoon and just, you know, go into a suicide pact and be, have 'em all killed." And he said, "You can court martial me if you want to," but he says, "I'm not gonna do it," so the general just kind of walked away. But he was talking to a guy that was decorated with a DSC and some of those, and so he wasn't about to be too demanding of a guy like that. But I know that they were, they were so happy, those guys that were saved, that when, when Governor (Connally) was governor of Texas, he made the Regimental Combat Team, the 442nd, members, honorary members of Texas. And I thought that was pretty good, really, honorary members of Texas, and it was the 442nd. And they still have reunions and things with those guys. And one of the things that was quite nice was that back about four years ago, they found a note and a picture at the, at the memorial of the 442nd in Washington, D.C. I don't know if you've ever seen it, but yes, it's there, 'cause I was there and I saw it. The memorial of the 442nd -- not the World War II one, but 442nd -- and there was a letter there, I didn't see the letter but somebody else did, the letter and a picture. And the letter said, "My father, thank you 442nd for saving my father. And he always said that the only outfit that could do it would be the 442nd." And then there's a picture of him, and he was in the "Lost Battalion." And so then they just recently wrote a letter to, to Senator Boxer of California, and they said something about the 442nd should get the Congressional Gold Medal for their heroic efforts in the battle of Europe. And I don't know whether that'll come to pass or not, it did pass the House almost a hundred percent. But now the Senate is holding it up for some reason or another, I don't know. Got to have so many, so many sponsors in order to get the gold medal complete from the House and the Senate.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

TI: Okay, so we're going to get started again. Today is, you know, our second day of the interview, and today is Saturday, May 22nd, and we're back at the Densho studio, and Dana is still on camera. [Coughs] Excuse me. Where we ended up yesterday was we had just, we were talking about the rescue of the "Lost Battalion." And before we move on, you were a pilot. And I think I recalled in your memoirs about you seeing a German plane flying. Why don't we talk about that a little bit?

VW: Okay. Well, I was standing on kind of a hill, and most of our unit was under camouflage so that the air, air traffic wouldn't be able to spot us too easily. And I was standing there and pretty soon I heard a noise, and I looked to my right, and a Messerschmitt was flying by at about, well, it had to be doing at least two hundred miles an hour, and maybe even more than that. And I saw him, I looked at him, and he's so low I could see him right in the cockpit. And before I could get my rifle around, of course, I couldn't shoot at him, and he was already past me. And I was watching him, and, of course, being an acrobatic pilot, that interested me because he was, he was in around the forest and trees, and he was emptying his arsenal right at our guys, right out ahead of us. And then I knew that he wasn't going to stick around very long, 'cause artillery fire was going in there, machine guns were flying around. So I heard him jam the throttle ahead, and he, after he emptied his arsenal and he pulled back on that stick and hung that Messerschmitt right on the propeller, and he went right out for the clouds, which (were) about two hundred feet up, those stratus clouds. And it was raining a little bit, which was bad, too, for him, and a little bit of snow at times, different times. And he pierced right into those clouds and he was gone. So I thought, well, he knew what he was doing, he was a pretty good pilot. But it really infuriated me that he was firing on our guys, but that's the way things go sometimes in the war. And so there was nothing I could do about it, but I did admire his ability to fly. I questioned his judgment, being in that area, though.

TI: But, you know, when you saw that, did it remind you or did you have any regrets about your not being able to fly like that during the war?

VW: Well, it had been great, yeah, but that wasn't my job now. So I was with the 442nd, and that's where I had to be, and I was doing my job.

TI: Now, any other thoughts about the rescue of the "Lost Battalion"? We had pretty much described what had happened. Any other thoughts before we --

VW: Well, I thought it was rather interesting because when our guys broke through, it took us four days to break through. And Sergeant... I can't remember his name at the moment, but he was weaving his way through, and [inaudible] a little bit open, so, and talking to the guy later on, I didn't talk to him personally, but the, but the feedback came that he saw him, one of our guys, the sergeant, and he looked and he thought, "Wonder who that is." And then he noticed that it was American, but he thought he was awful small. And then he realized that it was the 442nd that was coming. And then according to a number of officials, the exchange of information there, the guy just, he was so happy to see the 442nd guy. And like our guys, they're always pretty humble, and so they were a little, he was a little embarrassed that he was so happy that he just asked him, he said, "Would you like a cigarette?" That's about all he said. So, but then come to find out we saved 211 and we lost to casualties over 800.

TI: Now, what was the mood of the unit after the rescue? I'm thinking it was a great achievement, and yet, as you say, the casualties were really high. How would you describe the mood after the...

VW: Well, the mood was, it was one of the jobs that we had to do, and so there wasn't too much, there wasn't too much discussion of it at all except that, as later on, the days flew by, we began to realize what had actually, really actually happened, and how it was instigated into the, to pierce into the enemy lines. And I know that some of the guys, some of the Germans that we captured, I know that some of 'em wanted to know where our automatic artillery was, which I may have mentioned earlier, I don't know.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

TI: Okay, so Virgil, I'm going to now kind of jump ahead a little bit, because at some point, there was a decision to break off or split the 522 from the 442. Can you describe why that was, that was done?

VW: Sure. Well, General Mark Clark, who was the head of the army in Italy, and of course over the 34th Division which was an Iowa division, he wanted it back when he gave us over to France to help them get rid of the Germans in the Vosges mountains, he says, "I want 'em back now." And Patch didn't want to let us go because he needed us and he wanted to keep us when we went into Germany, too, to infiltrate the Siegfried Line, and Mark Clark and General Patch, according to Lyn Crost's report, they had quite a discussion about that. And the reports say that it almost went all the way up to Eisenhower almost. But I think General Devers, who was right underneath Eisenhower, made the decision that, that Patch would be able to keep the artillery part of the 442nd, and they let Mark Clark have the infantry back. And so therefore we were split. And some of the guys in the 442nd, the infantry didn't like that very well, 'cause they really liked our artillery backing them up, but that's the way it went. So we're the ones that went into Germany, and we were the only ones from the artillery that went into Germany.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

TI: So let's pick it up there. So you're with the 522, and you now are continuing with General Patch, and you go into Germany. What happened next?

VW: Well, okay, it was at night, I know that, and we were near Worms, Germany. And our major, who was one of the S-2 officers, walked into the command post right there and he spotted a general, a brigadier general. And the two had been in the same training area back in the States, and so they knew each other. But the general says, "Now," he says, "we're going to send you across the, the new pontoon bridge," which crossed the Rhine. And that, "You'll be the first ones across, and you'll be going around midnight. And no, and you'll have only blackout, blackout lights." And so that's almost no lights at all. And so we had to get lined up and get ready to cross on the pontoon bridge. And I remember it's kind of bowed because the current took the pontoon bridge and bowed it in the middle. And I was hoping that none of our guys would run off the track, 'cause if the, one of the people ahead of us got stuck, there wasn't anything we could do. We couldn't even back up because it was too narrow, and we had all this equipment behind us and heavy equipment, too, and the artillery pieces and so on. So I was just hoping that the, no one would run off because they couldn't see where they were going. And they didn't, though, they were good drivers.

TI: Now, the significance of being first, was that a good thing for the unit, or was that a more dangerous thing? To be the first one across those pontoon bridges?

VW: Oh, well, I was often wondering why they sent us, sent us through first. [Laughs] Why didn't they send somebody else through? I didn't know why they didn't, but there were two reasons, maybe. Maybe one was, "Well, we'll let the 442nd go first and see what happens." Or, or they thought, "Well, we better get them across while it's dark and get them set up as soon as they can, 'cause we'll need 'em to penetrate that Siegfried Line," which they did. So we made it, and so things are, things were okay then, since we made it.

TI: Okay, so you crossed the Rhine, and then what happened next?

VW: Well, I remember going through the Siegfried Line, they had a bunch of concrete pillars sticking up, maybe about three feet high, and that was to stop the tanks or the, or the mobile units bringing supplies and equipment in. And I'm not sure how, how we maneuvered around that, but we did. I remember I walked around it and so did all the other, lot of other guys, but you couldn't drive the truck through. And I'm not sure how they made it, whether they built quickly a ramp to go across, I'm not sure. Maybe they did. But we were gone by the time they had to pull the trucks through and I suppose the tanks, too. But we didn't have any tanks, but other outfits had to get their tanks across some way or other.

TI: And in general, how heavy was the fighting after you went to the Siegfried Line?

VW: Well, I know that they were fighting when we were going across the pontoon bridge, that I know, in a town not too far from where we were. And now, if the Germans had been pretty, a little bit more agile and known, knew what they were doing, they would have attacked that end of the bridge that was over on the other side of into Germany. If they would have broken that through when we were on that bridge, we'd have been dumping into the Rhine River. I don't know why they didn't do that, but that would have been a perfect thing to do. But they didn't do it. And whether they tried to get over to the pontoon bridge and they met some resistance there from the infantries that were ahead of us a little bit, maybe that's why, I'm not sure.

TI: So, so what I've read is that after the breaking the Siegfried Line, pretty much the Allied troops sort of overran the Germans. I mean, the Germans were in heavy retreat.

VW: Yes.

TI: And so that oftentimes, the 522, I mean, they were advancing ahead of infantry, I mean, it was just like a...

VW: Sometimes we got ahead of the infantry.

TI: And things were just moving very rapidly.

VW: In fact, we had direct fire on our Howitzers, if you can imagine that. I remember, I remember walking around them, and they were pointin' right at, direct fire. Didn't have to use 'em that way, but they were ready in case the infantry had, all of a sudden, the enemy infantry would maybe want to counterattack or something. And so our Howitzers were pointing direct fire. We were, we were quite a bit ahead of, lot of times, on the infantry. In fact, the 92nd Division said that they had a hard time, their tanks and so on had a hard time keeping up with us at the time.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

TI: Now, was it during this time when you came across, you know, the Dachau camp? Can you describe that whole incident?

VW: Okay. Well, we went through Augsburg and so on, and when we were approaching Dachau, none of us knew what Dachau meant, really. We figured just another town, at least I did, but maybe some of the map readers might have known that that's where one of the concentration camps were, I'm not sure. But we noticed there were about four or five guys up ahead of us, kind of on a small hill with some trees. And we wondered what that was, and we weren't sure. But as we approached, we could see that they were in striped clothes, vertical striped clothes. And we got up near there and they were tearing meat out of an old dead horse and eating it right out of the flank. And out of his hip area, they had torn that, that skin off and hair, and they were pulling that meat out and eating it. And okay, it wasn't real hot weather, no. In fact, we had a little snow on the ground yet and so on, so that helped maybe preserve the horses that had been killed by our artillery. So that way, I don't know what happened to those guys whether they died from eatin' it or not, I'm not sure.

TI: But when you first saw that, what were you thinking?

VW: Oh, it was, it was bad. It made us, I remember our comment to one another, we were saying how sickening that was to see that happen. But that's the way it was. Then we approached Dachau. And as we were approaching, two of our guys who were probably in maybe the scout area, they shot the lock off the compound, and the guys wouldn't come out. They were afraid that, afraid that when they looked at our two, three, four 442nd guys, they thought maybe Japan had come to help Hitler, and they were afraid to come out. But then it didn't take too long to, to eventually convince them that we were Americans, and so everything was all right. Now, I talked to a bunch of 'em, and in the evening, before we saw too many of them, we roped off the area where we were eating for that night.

TI: But Virgil, before we go there, can you tell me your first impressions? When you first got there, describe what you saw, what it smelled like, what you heard, as much as you can tell me about this.

VW: There was a rank smell in the area, and the extermination furnaces were still warm. So they had been used by the SS already that particular day. This is in the evening, now, and so, and then the guys with striped clothes, they were all around, and they wanted to come real close to us. And their breath was just unbelievable. Just unbelievable. And they wouldn't, they kind of forgot about personal space and so on, you know, they were so anxious to get, they wanted to be comforted, they wanted the comfort from kind people. And, of course, we were military, and that even made it even better because they felt protection kind of from that. And so I talked to him a little bit, but not very long. And sometimes I'd turn my head to the right in order to take a deep breath, 'cause we weren't backing up, we didn't dare back up and take a backwards step, 'cause we were soldiers. And then we talked to 'em some more. And then we were instructed by the, by the officers not to feed 'em, 'cause there were two reasons. One is that we were short on rations ourselves because the supplies hadn't been able to keep up with us. And so, and then also the other part was that they might die the next morning if they ate too much food. Well, they didn't, that order didn't last very long because you can't, you can't not feed a starving person. You just got to feed 'em. So that's what we did. And a lot of the guys pulled their blankets out of their pack and wrapped 'em up, wrapped up these prisoners 'cause they were freezing. Very cold.

TI: And what was going through your mind when you saw them, when they came up to you and you saw their condition? What were some of the things that you were thinking?

VW: Oh, just knowing right away, our thoughts went to Hitler and how he, what kind of an individual he was to treat people like that. Even if they weren't the same religion or the same, the same nationality and so on, it shouldn't matter. It shouldn't, it should never be, you wouldn't even treat an animal like that. We wouldn't. And here he was treatin' human beings like that. And just, just unbelievable cruelty from Hitler.

TI: Now, was it, was it, when you first got there, did you know who these people were that you were liberating? Was it, did someone tell you or did you figure this out?

VW: Well, we, when we saw the striped clothes, we knew that they were prisoners and that they were being persecuted by the German hierarchy, yes. We had heard lessons, or heard rumors about how the concentration camps were, but I didn't know they were Dachau at all, or what it meant when they said Dachau. Buchenwald was a little different. I remember hearing about Buchenwald, that was another concentration camp, but I didn't know about Dachau.

TI: Well, you mentioned when you got there, towards the evening, the ovens were still warm.

VW: Yeah.

TI: Did you witness or see, like, bodies and things like that in the camp?

VW: Well, a lot of the guys took pictures of, especially the ones that were just, just ahead of us, for example. They went into different areas of the camp and took pictures of "stacked wood," bodies stacked up, and just like cordwood. And in the, in the boxcars and on piles and so on. And I looked at, I was there looking at a burning pit, and I picked up, I saw little round discs in the soil, and I wondered what they were for. So I picked one up and looked at it, and it had a number on it, four numbers. Fifty-three eighty-one or something like that. And they were about, oh, a half-inch thick, little less than a half-inch thick, and about two and a half inches around. And evidently that must have been some crushed... what do you call it? Well, the cremation material from these ovens. And maybe that's how they kept track of the ones that they got rid of, the Germans did. They put a number on it. And so that would be a number of a, probably some Jewish fellow. And I did call up one time to a Jewish organization and ask if they wanted, would want to look at that and maybe keep it, and they didn't answer back. I left a message on the recorder, but they didn't answer back, so that's as far as I went with it. I still have it with me at home.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

TI: So any other, any other thoughts or memories of Dachau when you went there? Did the men ever talk about what they had seen and what was happening?

VW: Oh, yeah, and a lot of guys did, during that time, they talked a lot about it, and how... and I, sometimes you wondered, you could hardly believe the pictures that they had taken, and they quick-developed 'em. It was surprising. And, but it was pretty rugged, but there their pictures were. They were all right there. And to have somebody here in the United States say, or from Iran or somewhere say the Holocaust never happened, well, that's a big laugh because I was there. I saw it.

TI: When you think about doing this, so you're one of probably a few individuals who actually really were able to witness this, the liberation, how has that changed you?

VW: Well, it shows that you gotta watch what people do to people. And it kind of reminded me a little bit about our people being, the Japanese Americans, or people of Japanese descent having to go on internment camp. Now, we were, they were treated better, of course, but still. They had to leave without taking anything with 'em, whatever they could carry, and that's an awful way to treat an American or anybody really. But, and they found absolutely nothing of any sabotage work or anything from the Japanese Americans, none whatsoever. And they've never had, they've never been able to find anything. So they had no reason to do that at all, other than just prejudice.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

TI: So you saw there was some similarities between what the Germans were doing and what happened to --

VW: Yes, I did. Oh, yeah, yes, I did.

TI: -- people of Japanese ancestry.

VW: And to this day, I worry about when the President signs an executive order. That is, you got to watch those executive orders, because the Roosevelt Executive Order 9066 really affected a mass, 120,000, if you will, of people who were of Japanese descent, and who had done nothing. Who had done nothing; it was just prejudice.

TI: Now, how long did you stay around Dachau in terms of...

VW: About, seems to me like it was around three days, something like that, and then we had to leave. But in the meantime, I took guys, like three and four guys and I'd... who were prisoners, and we go, and I'd go knocking on doors and seeing if I couldn't get 'em some food and maybe some clothing, too.

TI: Oh, so let me, let me set this up. So you took several prisoners from Dachau and went into the German town and tried to get more food or --

VW: It was almost right there within walking distance of the extermination ovens and all that.

TI: Okay, so now, so describe what happened.

VW: Well, I knocked on the door, and, of course, I unzipped my combat jacket 'cause I had a, I had a Luger sitting right here underneath my left arm in case a firefight came out. I wasn't sure where the SS troops were. Supposedly they had left, but (I) don't know if they did or not. Maybe they had some ties in, in that area there or some real close friends, and they may have just hid in the houses right there with 'em and changed clothes. And then I wasn't sure what kind of individuals they were. What if they opened the door when I knocked, and then stick a gun out and fire? As I think about it now, it was probably far more dangerous that what I thought it was at the time. But nothing happened, thank goodness, but it took them some time, a long time to come to the door. But maybe you can't blame 'em, I don't know. I don't really know what was going on in their minds. But when they saw me standing there with these three or four guys behind me in striped clothes, I suppose it did frighten them a little bit. And, of course, they had all their doors locked, I'm sure, when the SS left.

TI: So after they opened the door, they saw you and the prisoners, then what happened next?

VW: I told him that they had to give 'em food and maybe blankets, and I went like this, and they knew what, they knew what I was asking for. And they would go and try to dig up something to give 'em. And they had food, they did. It was the people behind me that had no food. And so, and they would, they would tend, they would do what I asked them to do, which was... thank goodness they did. Then I'd go to the next door and do the same thing.

TI: Now, what made you do this? This is sort of out of the ordinary. I mean, the other soldiers weren't doing this.

VW: Yeah, it was. I just decided I had to do something, so that's what I did, yeah. And they were looking for food, and I said, "Come on, come with me." And so we'd go knocking on doors. And I didn't speak much German then, but I knew a few words and I'd say, "Kommen Sie." And, now, later on I could speak pretty well. And I would say, "[German]," which means that, "You come with me and we'll take a walk down here." But I wasn't quite that fluent with German at the time, yeah.

TI: Any interesting exchanges between the Germans and the prisoners that you observed during this time?

VW: No, I didn't hear a word difference. Because sometimes I would leave as soon as they decided they would go get 'em something and so on, then I'd go to the next house and take some more people with me and knock on the door, do the same thing again. But you never know how that was going to turn out for sure. But, you know, war was still going on, and it was April 29th, and April 30, and then May the 1st. And so the war was still going, yeah. So they had a right to, I guess, to defend themselves, and, of course, I had a right to ask for food, too. So that's the way it came out.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

TI: So after three days, Dachau, then what happened?

VW: Then we left and we headed toward, toward the Austrian border, Austria border. And that's where we ran into the Eagle's Nest, which was Hitler's hideaway. Huge house. And I remember when we went in there and looked at it, it was pretty well stripped completely. And the SS had probably taken all the furniture and stuff and everything that way when they left. And then the other soldiers probably were there and they picked up doorknobs and things like that. When I got there and I looked, I went upstairs, and there was a number of bedrooms upstairs, and I saw the bathroom and I went in the bathroom, looked around, and there were no... I thought it'd be nice to take a souvenir from this house, Hitler's house. And so I took the lid off the, the water tank, and I looked in there, and there was no water in there. But I looked and there was a brass fitting in there, and I thought, "Well, maybe I can just take that brass fitting." It was angle iron, kind of. And so I tried to get it off, and I had no tools with me except my gun and I wasn't gonna use that. And then I worked very hard, because the sergeant yelled, "Come on, we're leaving." Oh, man, and I hurried, and I hurt my hands and stuff, but I finally got that off. And I got it as a souvenir, and I got it at home along with that round cake that I got. And I have two iron crosses, too.

TI: Okay. So after Hitler's, sort of, house, then what happened?

VW: Then we went down, I looked at the streams and stuff, and that would have been a beautiful area to take a vacation and go trout fishing or something like that, you know, because the water was really nice and white and blue as it came gushing down the river there. Actually, it wasn't a river. It was larger than a creek but smaller than a river. But we, but I never got back, no. And then we, after that, we, I think we eventually went back to near Augsburg and ended up at Donauworth, Germany, and that's where we stayed for quite a while, being in the occupation, 'cause the war ended. Now, when the war ended, I didn't even remember when we were told the war ended. Because when you're in the, when you're in... you know, you're moving fast and things like that, and the war's still on, you don't know, you don't get these words that, "Hey, the war ended, yay." We didn't celebrate at all, but we were happy when we heard that the war had been declared unconditional surrender. So that was fine, we thought. And then we went back, went all the way back into Donauworth, Germany, and that's where we stayed, at the hotel there.

TI: Now, did they, did they reconnect the 522 with the 442?

VW: Never.

TI: So you always stayed separate from the 442?

VW: Yeah, yeah. They were in Italy there, yeah. And so we were two countries apart now, we were in Germany and they were in Italy, which is quite far away. And when we went into, into Italy, that was a very quiet, one of these secret type maneuvers. They didn't want the Germans to know that the 442nd had come back to Italy. And then they assaulted this hill that they couldn't take, and the 442nd had to go up there. I read about that.

TI: Yeah, so I've, I've interviewed men about, that's called the breaking of the Gothic Line, so we have that.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

TI: So going back to the 522, so the war's now over, you're waiting, at some point, men start getting their orders to ship back to the United States.

VW: Oh, yeah. And finally the orders came that we were gonna meet in the field in Germany there, maybe a half a mile away. And so I was so happy 'cause I thought, "I'll be home in time for Christmas." This was in September. And so the sergeant yelled out the names, and they were all the names except mine wasn't on that. And I said -- Ishii was his name, he was the first sergeant. I said, "Why isn't my name on that list? You didn't call it that I heard." And he said, "Well, your name isn't on the list. And why my name wasn't on the list, to this day, I have no idea. And so as a result, I, they loaded up, and I waved goodbye to 'em, and that's the last I saw of my outfit.

TI: So all the men that you, you served with that were there about the same time, you probably had the same number of points that they did in terms of being shipped back, but your name wasn't on the list?

VW: No. I had more points than my buddy who had fifty-nine. I had sixty, and he was on and I wasn't.

TI: So you say you don't really know why you weren't on this. I mean, why do you think you might have not been on?

VW: Well, I often kind of wondered, and maybe this is not correct, but the first sergeant never liked me. Why he didn't like me, I don't know, really. But it wouldn't surprise me that maybe he made a selection that I, that he'd just leave me off the list. But that's not... that might not be true, I don't know. I did see him after the war. [Laughs] I thought he might mention it, but he didn't, and I didn't mention it to him because I wasn't sure that that happened, but it did cross my mind.

TI: You know, when you were with the 522 and the 442, did you ever feel like there might have been times when there was almost reverse discrimination against you?

VW: No, not from my buddies, and not from the rank and file, you might say, but I often wonder a little bit about maybe from the first sergeant and maybe he had one guy, and maybe that was, that didn't like me. But mainly, mainly the first sergeant. I felt that he had some reason to not particularly like me. But I had, like staff sergeant and things, they really thought I was okay. And they didn't like the first sergeant anyway as a rule. How he got that job, I don't know, but he did.

TI: Well, so going back to, so your buddies are all leaving, they're all happy and you're stuck alone...

VW: Yeah.

TI: What were you thinking at this point?

VW: Well, I went back to the hotel and evidently somebody had given my papers maybe to somebody else to take care of something, the first sergeant probably did, 'cause he knew I wasn't on the list. And so I went back to the hotel, and I didn't really know who had my papers at all, nothing. And I was there, I didn't leave until about November the 25th or something like that. And so, and I thought, and it was on the back of a truck, bigger than a weapons carrier, but the back end of it was open, it was covered, but the back end was open and it was cold, it was very cold. So we froze, but for nine hours we were driving through. And finally it was night, finally we stopped at a small town. And I don't know how they found out, but they found out that there was a warehouse where we could stop and eat our k-rations and sleep. And I went through this cold building, no heat, of course, and it was concrete floors. We were gonna sleep on concrete floors. And I said to the fellow I had sat beside, he was from Ohio, and he and I... since he was a Midwesterner, we became kind of friends over the nine hours. And so I said, "Rhinehart, would you like to go with me? I'm not gonna stay here all night, I'm going to find a place to sleep and eat, something to eat." And he said, "Yeah, I'll go with you." And so we walked out of this town, it was dark, no lights, no lights at all. And we're walking, and pretty soon I said, "Let's stop at this house." So we knocked on the door, and a guy came from around the house. And I said in German, which I spoke pretty well by then, I said, "We want a place to eat and sleep." And he said, "Well, I don't have any place for anybody to sleep, but," he said, "come." He says, "I'll show you where you can go." And so we followed him, and he said, and as we approached, he says, "This house right here." He said, "They're Nazis." And so I thought, "Nazis?" I wasn't ready for that. So he knocked on the door and then he runs, and he's gone. And so I stood there in the dark, Rhinehart right behind me, and pretty soon the door did open, and I stuck my foot in the door so it couldn't close, 'cause it's about our last chance. And I told the German, I said, "We want something to eat and a place to sleep." And so he looked out and then he, he can't close the door 'cause my boot's in the door, and so he talked to somebody in there. And everything got real quiet, and then pretty soon he opened the door and he says, "Kommen Sie." And so we went in, and there were about a dozen people in there, and they're just getting ready to sit down at this big table. And I thought, "Whoa boy," and everything is quiet. All those people were all looking at Rhinehart and me. We were the intruders if you want, uninvited. And so I didn't quite know what was gonna happen then, and so we just -- and the war had just ended, you know, maybe three or four months earlier, four, five. And they were enemies at one time, of course, being Nazis, if they were Nazis. I was a little bit concerned about it. And so pretty soon, the woman, the German lady, she grabbed two dishes and she sets 'em down at the table, pushes the guys, opened up there, and sets those plates down on the table, and she says, "Sitzen Sie bitte." And so we did sit down. I think it was still very quiet, and all those Germans are looking at us. There was one guy over there, I didn't trust him at all by looking at him. And all that whole evening, he never said one word. And I figured he probably was an SS, but I wasn't sure. I sure would have liked to look under his arm to see if he had those lightning streaks under there. And so I'm sitting there, and we started, they started asking questions, and then things warmed up a little bit. And then pretty soon we started singing "Lili Marleen," which was a song... and he was surprised, or the Germans were surprised that we knew the song, at least I did. So that loosened things up quite a bit, too. But that guy over there, he sat across from me and to the right. And I was glad he sat over there, because if he sat straight across, if he really wanted to kill me, he could shoot underneath the table and get me, it'd be no problem. But if he's over there, now, he might get this guy here next to me, you know, right outside on my right. And so it wasn't easy for him. And I'm sure if he'd have aimed, he'd have aimed at me first, because I was the instigator. [Laughs] But he didn't. He did not do that. But I sure... and to this day, I would love to have looked under his armpits to see if he was SS, and I'm pretty sure he probably was. Looked like the type, too.

And then at about eleven o'clock, the lady said, "Would you like to go to bed now?" And Rhinehart and I, "Yes," because we were so tired and cold, we were previous. So we went up, she took us upstairs, and there was a feather bed there and a feather blanket, and it was just great. The first thing I did was stick my gun underneath the pillow to make sure I had that. Then she says, "I'll call you in the morning," because right across the street was the warehouse. And so she was watching, and she said, "I'll call you when they start stirring over there." And she did. She woke us up, and, of course, I had kind of, off and on I woke up myself, just to make sure everything was all right. And then, so we got up when she called us and dressed, and we were gonna go out, but she had breakfast for us, a little bit of meat, and can't remember exactly whether she had eggs or not, just can't exactly remember, but probably she did. And then when we left, she handed us each a bag for lunch. Sandwich with a meat in it, and I thought, "How wonderful this lady is." And if I would have had the address, certainly I would have written her and thanked her for her hospitality to her uninvited guests that evening. [Laughs] So she probably talked about that for a long time, probably all of 'em did, maybe, I don't know.

TI: Wow, what an adventure. [Laughs]

VW: Yeah, it was scary a little bit, it really was.

TI: And when you went back to the warehouse and met the other guys, did you tell them what you did?

VW: Oh, yeah, and they were so, they were jealous, but they thought we were a little bit stupid, too, for taking such a chance. But you know, when you're miserable and when you're hungry and you're tired, you do things that you might not do normally. And that was how that came about. And there was no place to sleep except on that, in that cold building with the concrete floor, and I wasn't about to do that if I could help it. So that's why we did it. And they said, they questioned our judgment, but it turned out all right. But they were jealous 'cause we had bags to eat, of lunch to eat. [Laughs] It was pretty good, I thought.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

TI: So, Virgil, I'm looking at our time, we have about fifteen more minutes before we have to end. So I want to get us back to the United States and talk about that. So why don't, so the war is over, you finally go back to the United States. Let's start with reuniting with your family. What was that like?

VW: Okay. Well, after that, well, first -- it'll only take a minute, maybe -- but riding the Wasp, we left Southampton on December the 26th, which was day after Christmas, so I missed Christmas. And we ran into a vicious storm. And we heard over the radio from the bridge that the winds were 80 knots. Well, 80 knots is about 92 miles an hour for the wind. And it knocked the flight deck down in the front and so on, and so the captain, when he left, he said, "I'll have you in New York in four days." He was out to beat the Queen Mary record, but it didn't, that didn't last very long. He was told to go around the storm but he didn't, he tried to drill a hole right through that storm. It didn't work. Took us nine days to get home. And you know, when this, when you're gone for twenty months, and you move into New York harbor and you see the piers lined up with people waiting to say hi, and then I saw the Statue of Liberty. I looked up at that lady and I thought, "Hmm." I said, "America is still free." And I looked at her and I saluted her -- this is the honest truth -- I saluted her. And then I thought, "Gee, I can see her with my imagination saying, 'Welcome home, Soldier.'" And so the war was worth fighting for.

So then I hitchhiked home -- oh, the first thing to happen was I got off the ship after five thousand GIs got off with me. And somebody handed me a, the Red Cross handed me a bottle of milk, and I drank that down as I was walking, and then somebody, there was another down there, and I grabbed another and then drank it. That's the first milk I had for twenty months, which was a little unusual. I hitchhiked home, got home, and the first day I was home, I got a call that I could, I had a job flying in Texas if I wanted it. And my grandmother said, "Virgil," she said, "you got home and you're, you're not hurt, don't fly." And so that sentence drilled, it went through my brain, and so I went back. I turned the job down of flying and I went back to college.

TI: Well, that's interesting because you loved, you loved to fly.

VW: I did.

TI: And that a passion, and because your grandmother said, "Don't fly," you agreed with that.

VW: Yeah, she had a lot of influence. [Laughs] And my grandmother being on my mother's side, I guess, and she said, "Don't fly," and I didn't want to disappoint her. And it's turned out, I think, my life has turned out just fine after that.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 46>

TI: I want to talk about your father when you came back. What, what communication did you have with your father?

VW: Well, I went over to see him, and I guess he was happy to see me, but I'm guessing, 'cause he didn't say a whole lot. And I asked him how the farm was doing and he went on, he showed me a new tractor that he had, a Ford tractor now, not Fordson, but Ford tractor. And you push a lever and the plow goes down, you push another lever and the plow comes up. I thought, "Wow, things have sure changed a lot on this farm." And so it always kind of made me think that, "Well, I'm glad that it's that way now instead of back when I was walking with a plow and plowing back with horses." And there were no horses anymore.

TI: But what about any conversation about the war and what you had done in Europe?

VW: Never, never discussed it with my dad, never.

TI: Did he ever know that you fought with other Japanese Americans?

VW: No. I never told him. I was, I was very quiet about who I was.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 47>

VW: And when I, after I graduated from college, I went to work for two corporations is all, throughout my whole career of corporations. I worked for the first one for sixteen years, and nobody there knew I was part Japanese, nor did they know I was in the war, 'cause I never told 'em. Some of 'em did find out that I was a pilot, but I don't know how they found that out, 'cause I never talked about it. And then my last, my last day there was 1966 in March, and I was transferring over, I was leaving and going to another corporation. And that was my last flight. I flew a small plane, and it was so nice being alone, looking around, and seeing all the fields pointing north and south and east and west and so on. And I came in, I thought, "Well, we got a crosswind coming in," so I came in on the runway and dropped the wing and held the top rudder and came in power. And it was so smooth, I landed on one wheel, and it was so smooth I didn't even feel the wheel touch. And it was, it was a great way to end my flying career. That was it. That was the last time I flew, in 1966. But it was wonderful.

TI: And no regrets that you never became like a commercial pilot?

VW: Well, I've had curiosity often, many times, but no regrets, no. Because when I went to, when I went over to AM International, which was the second corporation, I thought that, well... oh, and I continued schooling, by the way, and I picked up another degree after my first degree. And then I went to AM International. And when I worked for Burroughs before I got to AM International, I only had one patent and a copyright, I think I had. But when I went to AM International, I knew that I had a better chance of being able to research and do the things I really wanted to do. And so as it turned out, I developed a... let's see, I developed twenty-four more patents. And so as I look, as I look back, no, I'm just fine. Everything turned out just fine.

TI: Because you were a, you were an excellent, accomplished scientist. You had, by my count, twenty-five patents.

VW: Yes.

TI: You were honored several times in terms of awards for your achievements. So when you think about that, you felt that that was a good life, a good career.

VW: It was, yeah. Yeah, I'm very satisfied with how I, how I turned out. [Laughs]

TI: Well, especially when we talked about it earlier, you barely got through high school. [Laughs]

VW: I know. That's right. And that's what I instill, I like to instill on younger people. That if you have, if you have perseverance, and if you have determination to pull yourself up and rise above all the... maybe you don't have all the gifts that you'd like to have, but if you enhance those gifts by education and by experience and work and perseverance and attitude, attitude means a lot. And as you pull yourself up, you can accomplish things that you would never have dreamed that you could do. And if you would have asked me when I was in high school that I would be an inventor and a pilot and so on, I'd think that there was something wrong with your thoughts. Because I never thought I would ever have... I only wanted to get a, get my diploma from high school when I was in high school. And my sister kept telling me, you know, "If you don't study, you won't get your high school diploma, even." And then when I got that, finally they influenced me. Because there were three sisters and they all had graduated from college and became teachers. And so out of a family of five, with my mother dying when I was thirteen and my dad not being -- in my thoughts -- not a very good father. But as it turned out, I guess he wasn't too bad after all. [Laughs]

TI: Because the kids all --

VW: Making things so hard and difficult for me, but that was okay because I turned out all right, you know. So I have, I don't have bad feelings against my Pop.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 48>

TI: So I want to go back to something. You said earlier, in the first corporation, you were there for sixteen years, in that people didn't know that you were half Japanese, and yet, you're part of the 442 now, I mean, you were part of the 442, perhaps the best-known Japanese American fighting unit in history. How is it now? Do people know now of your Japanese heritage more? Do you talk about that?

VW: Well, the people who are in the Burroughs Corporation, they don't, they still don't know, probably what happened to me, unless they happen to pull me up on the internet and all of a sudden, "Hey, I knew that guy," yes, then they would know. I went in about, well, let's see, about two years before I left that corporation at Burroughs, I had to, we had some NASA work. And to do NASA, you have to have a top secret crypto-clearance. And I, and my boss said, "Virg, you have to get a top secret crypto-clearance." Well, I filled out the forms and all, and as I handed 'em in, I said to him, I said, "Bob," I said, "I might not get top secret crypto-clearance," 'cause I'm thinking just a short time ago, they took my license away. And he says, "Well, why not?" And I said, "Well, because I'm part Japanese." He looks like that and he said, "I don't want to know anything about it," he said. He held up his hands like that. He says, "Let's just wait." Well, we waited about two weeks or so, and pretty soon it came through. It just surprised me, but okay. And so then I felt that things had maybe changed some. And then I went to AM International, and I talked to somebody about a month and a half ago who had been my technician, and it's in the book, I think, somewhere, about the technician. And I said, he called me up 'cause I gave him my number in a Christmas card. We were always exchanging Christmas cards, but never on the phone. He worked for me like twenty years or so. And I said, "Jim," I says, "I'm surprised that you called me, that's great." And I said, after we'd conversed for a while, I said, "Jim, can you tell me," I said, "did you know anything about me?" He says, "I didn't know a thing about you," he said. I said, "Did you know I was part Japanese?" 'Cause he had the book now and he had read it. And I said, "Did you know I was part Japanese?" he said, "Never." He said, "I thought you were maybe Italian or maybe a little bit of Indian, maybe," he didn't know. And I said, "Well, did you know I was in the war?" And he didn't know that either. He said, "I thought maybe you were, but I didn't know it." I just never said anything. And if war or something came up, I'd just walk away or I'd change the subject. And he worked for me. And then another guy called me from Ohio because Jim had called him, and he had read my book already. And he's getting pretty old, but he worked for me for seven years, he didn't know I was part Japanese or anything until he read the book.

TI: So this book that just came out this year --

VW: January.

TI: -- has really changed what people know about you.

VW: Yes, oh, yes. Quite a bit, a lot.

TI: And how has that been for you? I mean, it's, all of a sudden, it's almost like this, this curtain has been removed and people kind of know a lot more about Virgil Westdale.

VW: Yes, they know a lot about me now. [Laughs]

TI: So how does that, how does that feel for you?

VW: Well, it's okay now, because I'm getting used to it now. And, well, it turned out all right. And the prejudice, of course, is gone, which helps a lot. And, but I did surprise a lot of people, I'll tell you, a lot of people, 'cause they had no idea who I really was. And the people that started probing, there were two girls, one was being a police officer, and the other was Stephanie Gerdes who helped write the book, and they're the ones that really opened me up, and I became Virgil Westdale, finally. [Laughs]

TI: Well, how does that feel -- again, or what has changed for you since January? So it's just been a few months. Do you notice any changes in you by, by having the book out there?

VW: Well, it seemed that people, people recognize me more. Of course, I've been in the paper and things like that. In fact, some people at McDonald's used to come over and they'd recognize me, and they'd stop and want to talk and so on. And then I'd tell 'em, some of 'em didn't remember that I wrote a book, and so sometimes they'd buy it right there.

TI: It's so interesting to me because in the few days that we've known each other, I've seen you in downtown Seattle like at the hotel, and you're almost like a mini celebrity. Because, because you so easily share a little bit, people want to know more.

VW: Yeah.

TI: And, and all of a sudden I see people around you asking you questions, and so I just thought that was normal for you. But I've come to realize, this is something fairly new for you.

VW: It's quite new, yeah. And in fact, they say, "Well, what did you do during the war?" Oh, now, that gets complicated, doesn't it. "Have you got an hour and a half or so?" [Laughs] No, they don't. And so yes, it makes a lot of difference, it really does.

TI: Well, so I want to ask you this. This might be a hard question, or you're not, maybe have answers, but in about an hour and a half, we're gonna have a room full of mostly Japanese Americans who want to hear your story. How is that gonna be for you? How do you feel about that?

VW: That's different because I haven't talked to... almost no one I've talked to that was of that nationality. I've talked to, of course, a lot of Caucasian people, and then they want to know all about it. They're very supportive of people like that, they really are, which is good. That's good, the way it should be. And, of course, everybody says, "Well, that's a story that should be told." In fact, I've been told that so many times. And so I say, well, you know, nobody seemed to know who I was until they started asking questions and I finally started talking.

TI: And how about now that you've written the book? Are there any thoughts or plans of maybe trying to reconnect with some of the old 442 guys?

VW: Well, I talked to a Hawaiian guy, Fred... (Hirayama), and he wants me to come to Hawaii and see him. Yeah, that's a big trip and costs a lot of money to go over there. [Laughs] Someday maybe I would really like to go over there, yeah. And then I talked to Ted (Tsukiyama), who wrote the article "Fire for Effect," he's one of the guys, and that's how I got a hold of Fred. Ted gave me Fred's number and he says, "He can't hear very well." Well, he was right. He wouldn't... but I was yelling, and he could hear me. He could hear me. And that was good. So, yeah, they would really like to have me come over. They remember me because I looked different, you know. And they knew I was in the Fire Direction Center, of course, and that helps a lot that they know, they remember me.

<End Segment 48> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 49>

TI: So Virgil, at the very end, there's so much more I want to ask you, but we're almost out of time. The other piece I want to touch upon is after you retired from your, your scientist career --

VW: Oh, yeah.

TI: -- you, at a later part of your life, you joined the TSA. Can you tell me a little bit why you wanted to do that?

VW: Well, I got very, very tired of sitting at home and seeing my neighbors all going to work, you know, backing their cars out of the garage and going to work. I just, I just had to do something. I had to contribute something. So I was looking at the paper and I saw an ad for security people. And so I thought, at the airport, and I thought, "Well, that might be interesting." So I did apply and, and then they, I said, when I went over there, I handed him this application. And he said to me, he said, "Well, we're starting a program right now." I said, "By the way," I said, "what does it pay?" And he said, "Four dollars and seventy-five cents an hour." [Laughs] This is before TSA. And he said, "We're starting a program right now. Just step right in there." So I, well, I thought, well, I'll see what it's all about. Well, three hours later, I walked out, and I was hired already. So okay, so I thought, "Well, I'll work for a while and we'll see what happens." So I liked the job and I liked doing that and so on, and two years later I became a supervisor over there. And then TSA came because we had that 9/11, and so I had to go through the test again. And a physical and eyes and hearing and so on. And we had to carry a box, a heavy box, twenty pounds, I think it was, which was kind of heavy. You had to run with it, and then in between, around pylons and so on and then get back. Then they told you, then after that you had to do it the other way, and you had to remember these things, see. And on the, the first thing they told you about, you had to go to the computer. And I went to the computer and I was four hours on that computer, and picking out things that looked dangerous and so on. And I made that. Lot of people didn't, lot of people didn't, didn't make that. Young people, too. And, but I made it. And then I was hired. And I worked there fourteen and a half years.

TI: Now, because of your background, your experience, at TSA you worked with a lot of younger people. What, what advice do you give them? Because I'm guessing that many of them looked to you as a role model at TSA when you were there. So what sort of advice would you give the younger people at TSA?

VW: Well, I was, I was the oldest person in TSA all over the United States, I was the oldest one. I started when I was seventy-seven, and I retired when I was ninety-one, but that's okay. But I would, they knew that I was kind of, I had a good attitude, and I think that helped a lot. Because you have to have a good attitude when you're meeting people. We'd meet over a thousand people a week, well over a thousand people, sometimes like, as many as, like, six hundred a day. And so as a result, you became, you had to be friendly with them because they've been harassed. They were coming and hurrying and had to wait and check their luggage and then go through the security, had to take off their shoes and all that stuff, and they weren't happy people, maybe. But some of 'em are great people, though. As a rule, almost all people are happy, usually, if they're met by someone who smiles at 'em and says, "Good morning," and that's what I do. In fact, one time, a woman came, and she said, "There's a celebrity." And I was wondering, she was looking at me. And she said, "I saw you on TV and I saw you in the newspaper," she says, and she throws her arms around me and hugs me. [Laughs] I'm standing at the walkthrough, and I stood there, I didn't dare hang on to her very long, 'cause I got to watch that walkthrough. And the people behind, there's a lineup behind her, and they're waiting. And finally she says, "I want your autograph." And I says, "Well, I don't have anything to write on." She said, "I do," and she opened her purse up and grabbed a piece of paper and had me sign my name. [Laughs] Which is almost unbelievable. And then she picked up her things and she was gone, she and her husband. And that's, that happened a number of times.

TI: That's a good story. Virgil, unfortunately, we're out of time. This has been a wonderful exchange that we've had, conversation, so I just want to thank you so much for coming from Grand Rapids all the way to Seattle to do this interview.

VW: Well, it's been a pleasure really.

<End Segment 49> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.