Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Min Tonai Interview I
Narrator: Min Tonai
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 2, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-tmin-01-0029

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: Okay, so I'm gonna switch gears because when you're at Amache, your father, your family's reunited with your father, and so I kind of want to pick up the thread in terms of, at this point the last time you saw him was December 7th, 8:30 at night when the FBI picked him up and, and then now you're reunited at Amache. But I wanted to just kind of quickly trace his path, because he, he was, he went to a lot of different camps. I just want to kind of document that.

MT: He was first taken to San Pedro City Jail. And then he was transferred over to Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary, in Terminal Island. From there he was taken to, to L.A. County Jail in Tajunga. It was a former CCC camp. All the fishermen were there and everybody was there for... they went to Terminal Island, then they went over there. My father was in that same group. From there he went to Missoula, Montana, and then went to Fort Lincoln in North, North Dakota. From there he went to...

TI: Was it Fort Sill?

MT: Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Then he went to Livingston, Louisiana, then finally to Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Narr. note: I also have a document that says my father was also detained at Lordsburg, New Mexico.) And, and so the reason we traced it is because the letters would come from those places. And being a A prisoner, he was kept a long time. When there were the, the Gripsholm, the ship exchange, we got a letter from him to my mother, of course, and saying that he has an opportunity to go on the exchange ship. "Do you want to go?" And my mother talked to us, and I said, "No. I know where the war is going and going to Japan is not the place to go." And I felt American, anyway. I didn't want to go to Japan. And my experience in Japan wasn't too good, anyway, in the first place, so I said no and then my brother and sister also said no after that. So my mother wrote to him and said the children don't want to go, so my father said, "If the children don't want to, I don't want to go." So he declined. And then we got another letter later on saying that they're adding another camp, which was Crystal City, where we can go as a family together, and so, "Do you want to go there?" So my mother talked to us and I said no. You, by then you could really tell where the war was going, and I said, "No, no we don't want to go there." And I had a suspicion that, it seems strange they would have a camp like that. And prisoner exchange, what it ended up being, what it was was a prisoner exchange camp. And I said no, and my mother was glad and she said no. So, so and then in early part, January, February of '44, it was after Mr. Meechum, our next door neighbor in San Pedro had, we had asked him to write some affidavits for him, saying he was a good man. Wrote the third affidavit, after he wrote the third, then is when he came out of Santa Fe and came to our house. And his hair had turned all white, but --

TI: And so prior to that it was just more graying, kinda?

MT: Well, he was gray already, but by then it's all white then. And I don't know if it's the stress on him or probably genetically he would have gray hair anyway, 'cause my mother, when she got married, found him gray hair, thought he was an old man, surprised he was grey already, started in the temples.

TI: So what other changes did you notice in your father?

MT: Well, he would not talk about camp except for his hobbies that he had, and he was surprised. He was not surprised how big I was 'cause my mother kept telling him how much I'd grown. 'Cause I was five foot by the time I went to camp. By the time I left Santa Anita I'm five, four and a half, four and a half months, I was five three and a half. And then in Amache I grew to five seven and a half, five eight, so by then I was about five seven, and so he was not surprised how big I was. Surprised my younger brother, how tall he had gotten, 'cause he had not heard, and he was, he was not tall, but he was one of those guys that -- I spurted; he slowly grew. Ended up being five six, but he, he was taller than he had expected. And of course he was very glad to get out of there and be with us, and he became boilerman for our block. One time heated up so he, he broke the boiler. [Laughs] He wanted to keep it hot for everybody. Overwhelmed, type of thing, but... and he started picking up hobbies and stuff in the camp. He was good for... he was artistic, even from before, so he would like to draw and things. He was not an expert, but he was, he was pretty good.

TI: Did you notice any changes in him, any, you mentioned he didn't really talk about the camps, but did you notice any changes?

MT: No. He was not bitter. He was accepting of his fate, surprisingly. Never would complain.

TI: So even about his businesses, I know he had worked so hard to build up the business and then it was all taken away.

MT: I think at that point also he had hopes of getting back into the business again and doing well. But, you know, he, I never heard him complain about losing his business or anything like that. He would talk about funny incidents that happened or something happened, but he'd never talk about that. He, he had that, I guess, that fatalistic view on it, what happens what happens and you just have to accept it. It's amazing. I would've been just the opposite. I'd be screaming to high heaven. He would not do those things.

TI: Yeah, it must've been hard, especially when you, he had to work so hard to build something up.

MT: Yeah. He was just at the crest of starting to feel as if he could, he would make it. When he was, he was getting his car overhauled, his engine overhauled on his old Plymouuth, '39 Plymouth in 1940, '40, '41, he had already, he would travel to the home office all the time, but he also would travel to every store, half the store one day, another store the other day, so that's when we used to go with him in the summer time. And he would do that, so he would travel a lot. And then he, also we used to go twice a day fishing to Lake Arrowhead from L.A., from San Pedro, so we'd take these trips. So life was getting a lot easier for him and, and he travelled a lot, and so I tried to persuade him, since he was overhauling the car, I said, "Don't, why don't you buy a --" They lent us a Chrysler. I'm sorry, the dealership lent us a Chrysler and it was great, right? Big car. So I was trying to, "Papa, Papa, you ought to buy this car. This is the car you ought to buy." And he'd just laugh at me. He'd smile and laugh. He wouldn't say anything about it. So we get our old car back.

TI: You mean, though, he could probably afford the Chrysler, he just stayed with...

MT: Yeah, it's a company car. It's a company car, so you know. And he would, he didn't want to be ostentatious. He didn't need to be, he felt. So he had no regrets. At least, he didn't show, outwardly show his regrets, and he would talk about funny things that happened, amusing things that happened while he was working and how things were happening and things that happened to somebody else or something like that. Just really never complained.

TI: Okay.

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