Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Robert M. Wada Interview I
Narrator: Robert M. Wada
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 19, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-wrobert-01

[Ed. note: This transcript has been extensively edited by the narrator]

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is July 19, 2011. We are at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo. We will be interviewing Robert Mitsuru Wada, and Tani Ikeda is on the video camera, and I will be doing the interview. My name is Martha Nakagawa. So, Bob, I wanted to start with your father's name.

RW: My father's name is Tamakichi.

MN: And what about your mother's name?

RW: It was Waki, she went by Waki Akiyo. Her maiden name was Nishida.

MN: Akiyo sounds like a very masculine name.

RW: It's spelled A-K-I-Y-O, so I think the Akiyo, usually a male is spelled A-K-I-O.

MN: Did your parents ever pick up an Anglican name?

RW: No, they didn't. Although, my father had a nickname in camp. This guy named Boner Nakashima nicknamed him Manila because he kind of looked more like a Filipino.

MN: He was dark.

RW: Dark, and because he was a gardener and took care of orchards, orange orchards were big in our hometown, so he was out in the sun quite a bit.

MN: And what prefecture did your parents come from?

RW: They were from the village of Etajima, right out of Hiroshima, the island of Etajima. The only thing I know about it is that the Japan Navy Officers, Naval Academy was there.

MN: Do you know if your family lived near the academy? I know that at Etajima they have mountains there, so there's different small villages.

RW: From what I understand, I believe they did live fairly close. Closer to the academy rather than in the mountains.

MN: Now, when your parents arrived in the United States, do you know where they first went to?

RW: Well, as far as I know, the first place they went to was Redlands and they raised nine children there in Redlands. In talking to my older sister, she was born in Redlands and she's now ninety-six, so they were pretty much there in Redlands, and according to my sister there were a lot of Japanese that came to that little town of Redlands near San Bernardino. It was kind of where the Isseis congregated, because they had about three or four Japanese-owned pool halls in that little town. And then just around World War I time, the Japanese all moved out and started moving towards Los Angeles, when they did that, then the town pretty much was left with only three or four Japanese families.

MN: Now, when the people were all going to Redlands, the Japanese people, do you know if they were mostly from Hiroshima ken?

RW: I believe so, because a lot of times they were friends. But then, according to my sister, they were just people that came to the United States and apparently they knew that was where there was work, orange orchards, picking oranges, the railroad, and then when they left, the Chinese came in and took over what the Japanese left in the railroad. In fact, they had a small area that they had made housing and we referred to it as Chinatown. It was kind of a threat to kids, Chinatown is where my mother said they're gonna throw us in Chinatown if we do anything bad, that type of thing. Most of the Japanese, by the time I started going to elementary school were gone, the Chinese too.

MN: Yeah, I thought it was really interesting because in your biography, or autobiography, you have a picture of the certificate from 1915 where the two hundred cherry trees were donated to Redlands.

RW: Yeah, it was a big group of Japanese, and of course my dad's name's on there and my next door neighbor and our friends are all on there. When I ran across that I was surprised as well. And then when I looked into what happened to those cherry trees, they said that there was a blight, but I'm not so sure that that's what really happened to them.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, talking about your family, you mentioned that there were nine children, your parents had nine children. Where are you in the sibling hierarchy?

RW: At the bottom, the last. And I think when I came then they got tired of me, tired of kids, so they stopped with me. But I'm the youngest of the nine.

MN: Were you delivered in a hospital or by a sanbasan?

RW: Well, actually I was delivered at home, but it was with this hakujin lady who helped her, or helped with it. And it's ironic that I was going to high school there and one of my good friends, a Caucasian asked me if I had a sister named Mary, and I said yeah, and he said, "I think my mom and dad know your mom and dad. Wasn't her name Mary and wasn't she named for Merry Christmas?" And I said I don't know how she was named. He said, "Yeah, my mother helped and father helped your father name her Mary from Merry Christmas," although her name is spelled M-A-R-Y. So that was kind of interesting 'cause all of a sudden I run into him and these are his parents from way back, I forgot what year she was born, but 1917 or somewhere around there, so that was a long time ago.

MN: That's really interesting that the hakujin ladies would come and, I guess, be midwives for the Japanese. This is the first I've heard of that. Mostly it's been like Japanese sanbasans helping the Japanese mothers.

RW: Well, from what I understand, especially from my sister 'cause most of my information comes from my sister because she was around at that time as a little girl, but my mother apparently was working for different families and our family and all the Japanese in Redlands were taken in by the University of Redlands professors' wives. And the University of Redlands, of course, is a Baptist school, so our family and all the Japanese belonged to the Baptist church, and they even formed what they called a Cosmopolitan Club which had all of the Japanese in Redlands plus a few Mexican people and just any race of people. And they used to have a bible class on Wednesday and then they had big parties at Mrs. Grace Nichols's house, who was the wife of a professor, and they would have a big Christmas party, Valentine's party, Halloween parties, dinner at their place and all the Japanese would come. And Christmas was a big production, costumes and scenes of the shepherds, and they had a big house so they had, like a curtain, stage and, not a true stage, but another room with a curtain, so the parents would sit there and really enjoy it too. And most of the Japanese parents didn't speak English, but they really got along well with those people. In fact, this Mrs. Nichols and her husband, they actually came to Poston, Arizona, to visit us, which was unique. They brought our dog with them.

MN: Now, you're talking about the Japanese Americans in Redlands. Were there other minorities in Redlands, like blacks and Latinos?

RW: Well, the blacks in those days were far and few, but there were a lot of Mexicans because they were sort of like migrant harvesters. The father would go up to Fresno, up northern and central California to do harvesting and to would pick the oranges and things like that, so it was a very heavy influx of Mexican people. Our town was pretty well segregated, so our school was made up of where all of our families went, the nine of us, it was called Lincoln Grammar School, and when I was there my class was probably eighty to ninety percent Mexican kids 'cause our whole area was Mexican. The other part of town, certain part of town was, was a little higher class, up in the hills, and then another side of town was not necessarily as heavy as ours with Mexicans, but it had maybe fifty-fifty. And so when I got to know them all, I saw the difference, in high school I could see the difference in who came from Lincoln, who came from this Lugonia School which was maybe fifty percent, and who came from Kingsbury, which was doctors' kids and stuff like that. But they were still all good friends. We all were good friends. There was no class difference, it's just that we lived in different parts of the town.

MN: So I guess once you got into high school all the grammar school kids went to one high school? Is that what I'm...

RW: At that time, yeah. There's three now, but there was one then.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Let me ask a little bit about your father before we get into your school. Your father liked to pick watercress and mushrooms?

RW: Yeah.

MN: Can you share about how he'd go about picking mushrooms and what you, what your responsibility was?

RW: Well, I didn't really have a responsibility, but he always took me and he had a little pistol, which we'll talk about later. He had a pistol in case of a snake or something that, that we could protect ourselves. And so we would go into San Bernardino, the riverbed of the Santa Ana River up there, and we'd look for the mushrooms that were on the logs, broken trees and stuff, especially during the winter, after it rains and we would go up there. And there were a lot of little streams in the area and they had a lot of watercress growing, and that he used to get for my mother who used to put it in the sukiyaki, so I really liked that. And then my dad would get the mushrooms, bring 'em home and I had heard that if you put a silver coin in the mushroom with it that the coin will turn black if it's poisonous and so I used to always stick a dime in there and never did see a black dime, so I thought, well maybe it doesn't really work. [Laughs] But then we never died, so I guess he knew what he was doing.

MN: Now at home, what kind of animals did you raise? Did you have pets or were they eating animals?

RW: The only so-called pet we had was a dog, and is the one that those people brought to camp for us. But everything else were animals to eat. We had a rabbit cage, raised white rabbits, our house property was divided by this big, deep concrete-lined drainage ditch that would, the water would come from the mountain. And so we had to walk around to the next street and go all the way around to get to our garage back there. Well on the garage, at the top, he had a little platform up there for pigeons, so he raised pigeons there so we had rabbits and chickens too. And when we went to the county fair, the Orange Show in San Bernardino, I would try to catch those little ducks and I would win a couple of ducks and bring 'em home, and we'd keep those, raise them and then my dad used to every so often kill something for us to eat. The thing that I remember most about doing that was pigeons, 'cause my dad would kill the pigeons, give it to my mom, and she would cut it up in little pieces and then I would take it and put it in this old hand grinder and grind it, bone and all with the meat, and then my mom would cook it in shoyu and sugar or whatever and then she would give it to us on rice. And you would eat it and you could taste the little, real tiny pieces of bone with that meat. It's kind of like a gritty hamburger is what it turned out to be, on the rice. I've always remembered that and it was always really good.

MN: Were these special occasions that you ate the meat?

RW: No, not necessarily. Just every so often he would just decide to kill something and so if he was gonna kill something then I'd call my brother and say, "Hey, Hank, Papa's gonna kill the rabbit." So we'd go over there and watch him. Now that I think about it it's kind of gruesome, but in those days it was just something that, I guess, had to be done.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Now, I know your mother was a really good cook. Where did she learn to cook?

RW: Well, she learned to cook like that because, according to my sister, she was doing housekeeping for a lot of the hakujins, the richer people in Redlands and the people from the university, the wives, so I guess she would go there and clean the house and then cook dinner for them, and I guess that's how she learned to cook all, all kinds of food. So I consider ourselves as being poor at that time, and most Japanese do, yet we always ate good. We didn't have a lot of spending money. If I wanted twelve cents to go to a movie, if I asked my mom she didn't have twelve cents. I asked my dad when he was laying on the bed singing and drunk, he'd hand me his coin purse and so we'd take out twelve cents for each of us and go. But we never hungered for food and she cooked for each day of the week, she'd cook something of a different country, so when we came home from school we knew what we were gonna eat that day. Like, I don't remember which exact days, but Monday would've been sort of like Mexican food, tortillas and beans. She used to make a big pot of beans, enchiladas and tortillas and stuff. And then Tuesday would be maybe some kind of food like Irish stew or curry, which was my favorite, and things like that, American dishes. And then Wednesday she might make Japanese food, and then on Thursday she might have spaghetti or ravioli or other things. And then Friday was, usually I think it was, it was one of the Japanese foods, and then Saturday we did just whatever. It was not an eat at home type thing. And then Sunday my dad, no matter how drunk he was, would make a meatloaf, so that was very unique 'cause, I learned that from him because I did the same thing. I used to bowl on Wednesday nights and have to make the turkey and stuffing, and I'd come home at two in the morning from the bowling alley and I'd be there stuffing the turkey, even if I was drunk from drinking at the bowling alley. And one night I was sicker than a dog, but I was making the turkey and the stuffing. [Laughs] So it was kind of like father like son.

MN: Now you're talking, your dad liked to drink.

RW: Yeah.

MN: Who were his drinking buddies?

RW: Well, when he went out to the downtown he would drink at a bar and -- Redlands is a small town and I just found this out a few years ago from one of my classmates, his father was the Chief of Police, his uncle owned the bar, and it was kind of like a family thing there, and my dad used to go there and drink. And then if he got real bad then the chief of police would drive him home in the squad car. [Laughs] But he was always a good, good provider. I used to wait for him to come home from work, and he had a lunch pail and he'd always leave one nigiri with umeboshi in it for me when he'd come home he'd give it to me. Now, when I think about that today, and I've thought about this, it's that, gosh, he probably wanted to eat that, but he'd bring it home and give it to me, so that was kind of nostalgic to think about that. He used to make his own liquor. He used to make sake and he used make wine down in the basement, and he had these big Japanese vats, and so whenever he was unlocking the basement door I'd call my brother and say, "Hey, Hank, Papa's going down to the basement." So we'd follow him down there, watch him. He'd take the cover off of the sake and push the rice aside and he'd taste it, then he'd say, "Mada hayai, mada hayai." Then he'd cover it, then go to the next one."Ii, chotto ii." So then he'd take that one and he'd screen out the rice and bottle the sake, and to this day I don't know how he got rid of all that sake 'cause I know he didn't drink all that, plus the wine. He even had me walk on the wine. I don't remember if I washed my feet or what, but I was walking on the grapes for him. [Laughs] And he used to put it in a big gallon bottles and I guess he gave it to his friends. Kind of like what I used to do when fishing for tuna, come home and vacuum pack tuna and then go around giving fresh tuna to friends. So I imagine that's what he did with the sake and the wine.

MN: Now the wine, the grapes, did you grow that on your property?

RW: No. We did have some grapevines, but I don't think he had enough to make wine. I think he would buy the grapes.

MN: And then your father used to like to sing a lot when he got drunk. What did he sing?

RW: [Laughs] Well, I don't know if he was really singing anything, but it was just more like a hollering sing, so we'd close the windows because we knew the neighbors could hear, but then they were used to it. It was only on Sunday when he did that. The other days he was very serious and, well, he was just a good Issei father. Yeah. Didn't bother us, just left us alone. Well, my mother too, we were pretty much on our own.

MN: There is this peculiar habit that you have of salting your food before tasting it. Can you share with us how you got into that habit?

RW: Well, just to tell you what happened once, when we used to bowl in bowling tournaments we went to this place in Gardena to one of those clubs to have dinner, and we sat down and this friend of mine, Hiro Shinoda from Orange County, grabs the salt and pepper shaker, puts it in front of me, "Here, Wada. Here's the salt shaker. I know you're gonna want the salt." I guess what happened was when we were kids and we went to grammar school, we had to walk through orchards, and there was always orange trees, lemon trees, so we'd always pick a lemon and bring it home, bite off the tip of the lemon and pour a mound of salt, and I'm talkin' about a mound of salt, not just lightly but a pile of salt, and then we'd suck on that lemon. And I just assumed that must've killed my taste buds. Until later, and then once I got into this high blood pressure bit, I cut down on the salt, but I never got into any situation with a real high blood pressure from that before, but that's how, I think, I would salt my food before I'd even taste it.

MN: The city of Redlands held this annual arts and crafts show. Can you share that story with us about when you and your mother entered the floral arrangement contest?

RW: Yeah, I thought I knew it all, but I sure didn't. Every year all the grammar schools had a flower contest, and then each school would have a contest and they would pick the arrangements that the kids would bring. And then the winners of the blue ribbon and the red ribbon on whoever got a ribbon at the school, they took them all down to a train station in Redlands. There was a long building and they would display all the flowers. So when I went home and told my mother, "Mama, they're having a flower contest. Can we enter some flowers?" She said okay, and I noticed she had this big Japanese vase with all these designs on it. "Oh, Mama, that's a good one. I'll put that in." No, no, no, that's... "Yeah, that's okay," and I insisted, so she put flowers in it and then she says, "Take this one too." And so she had this kind of an oval, flat, white vase, and then she had one iris and a couple of leaves sticking out, and I said, "That's no good, Mama. That's not gonna win." She said, "Take it. Take it." So I took it, and I got an honorable mention for the big Japanese vase and she got a first place ribbon and also a first place in that final contest downtown for that single iris. So that goes to show you, I don't know flower arranging, that's for sure. But she sure did.

MN: Now your parents are from Hiroshima ken. Were they active in the Hiroshima kenjinkai?

RW: No, not that I know of. I think the only time they did anything was, San Bernardino used to have a big community of Japanese and I have to think some of 'em were probably from Hiroshima 'cause they were all good friends. So they used to have a picnic over in the Santa Ana riverbed, and I remember those picnics, that all the Japanese went there, but I don't know if it was necessarily a kenjinkai picnic. But they were very close knit, the Riverside, San Bernardino, Redlands people.

MN: What memories do you have of these picnics? Did you play, what kind of games did you play?

RW: Well, they didn't have that much. If I remember, as kids, we just got to know each other and got together and we just went off and played and did things on our own, and the parents, they were all doing something. I don't remember that any, anything really organized. They might've had some, but I just don't remember that much about what we did for activities. I was too young.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Now you had talked a little earlier about Lincoln Grammar School. Can you share with us what your first days were like?

RW: [Laughs] Yeah, well, my first days of kindergarten were days of just flat out crying, just crying and crying. I wanted to go home. I would cry so much that they had to go get my sister and bring her to calm me down, and the days she couldn't calm me down, then they'd have to get my mother to come to school. I guess about by the second half of my kindergarten days, as I got to meet, know friends, then I guess I settled down and didn't have that problem.

MN: Was it because this was the first time you were separated from your family? Is that why you were crying?

RW: Yeah, I guess so, but then my brother and sisters were there, older ones a couple of grades above me. I don't know if it's so much that, I was there separated from home, I just think I didn't like having to be there in the school and I didn't want to be there at all at the school. And most kids nowadays, they like to go to school. They really enjoy it, but I just didn't want to be there.

MN: So when you went to school and you had to bring lunch, what kind of lunch did you bring?

RW: We always took our lunch. I took a bag lunch, a sandwich and maybe a fruit, and my mom would make it and there was always a sandwich or something. It was never a, never a nigiri or anything because I was too embarrassed to eat a nigiri at school. But one day we were having lunch and my friend was, Bob Madrid, we were there eating and I told him, "Hey, you like rice balls. Why don't we trade? Why don't you bring a burrito and I'll trade you?" So about once a week or twice a week I'd take a nigiri, just a rice ball with umeboshi in it, and he'd bring a burrito and we'd exchange. Then we'd sit there and we'd eat it in front of the others, we didn't care what people thought. The only thing I remember about bag lunch was that one day when it was lunchtime I opened up my lunch and I started to eat the sandwich and I thought something was funny, and I opened it up, there's nothing in there, just mustard and bread. [Laughs] My mom forgot to put the meat in it, usually it was baloney or something, and she forgot to put that in the sandwich.

MN: You mentioned Bob Madrid, and you and him became good friends since the kindergarten? Is that...

RW: Yeah. We met, I think that's when I probably stopped crying, once I got to know him and some of the other kids, and then it was a little more fun to be there.

MN: Did he ever tease you about your first few days in school?

RW: No. You know, I went all the way through high school with him, except for when I was in camp, and we never talked about it. He never mentioned it and we never talked about our grammar school days, other than when we used to play sports together in the elementary school. They had a league of all the elementary schools, football and baseball, basketball, and so we looked forward to that, playing sports. It was always our aim to beat the rich kid school from the other side of town. [Laughs] That was our goal. I talked to some of the later high school classmates that lived over on the other fifty-fifty schools that were minority. They said the same thing, yeah, they always wanted to beat Kingsbury because that's where the rich kids came from, that type of thing. It was a little rivalry, but nothing serious.

MN: So was, like, Lincoln able to beat Kingsbury a lot?

RW: Well, if I remember right, yeah, I think we did beat 'em, but I don't think we beat 'em a lot. I think they beat us too, so it was sometimes yes, sometimes no.

MN: Now, when you were in the third grade you temporarily went to Emory School in Nestor, California. Why did you go down to Emory School?

RW: Emory school was a school down in an area called Nestor or Palm City, south of San Diego, right down at the border. My sister with her husband was farming there well before the war. And when her first baby was being born, then my mother went to help her, so of course, being the baby of the family, she took me with her and so I enrolled at that Emory School while we were there for about three months. And so that's where I met a lot of San Diego people. And then, of course, my sister and her husband were well known in that area as farmers, big time farmers, so that was why we were down there. The odd thing about that time was when we were coming home, and my brother-in-law -- my sister's husband was from Japan and was from Hiroshima too, from Etajima, so that's how they got married, because they had a baishakunin marriage -- so when we were coming back, when my brother-in-law's driving us back to Redlands, we were coming up through the back area of the Vista area, and the immigration stopped us and they asked for papers. He didn't have his papers, my mother forgot her passport in Redlands, and so they were detaining us and it started getting scary. I was asking, "Mama, Mama, what's gonna happen? What's going on?" She says, "Well, that's okay, that's okay," so she showed 'em my school papers, said, "This is my son. This is his school papers," and then of course they're not fluent in English, so it took quite a while. They finally let 'em both go, but it was kind of scary because my brother-in-law didn't have papers and my mother's passport was at home, and I guess the only thing that really solved anything was the fact that I was her son. I don't know how she proved that, other than the school papers.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now, you returned back to Redlands and then you're in Lincoln Grammar School. In sixth grade you had this male teacher, Mr. Silvaria. How did he influence your life?

RW: Well, he was always a real fair teacher. I mean, he treated everyone equal. He was in charge of the sports and stuff. And when World War II started and when Pearl Harbor happened on Sunday, when I went to school on Monday, I didn't know what to expect. I mean, I just learned the night before what a terrible thing it is and I'm a part of it, so when I went to school the next morning, the first thing he did was he announced to the class that the country was at war with Japan and he said, "I want you all to understand that Bobby is an American. He had nothing to do with the war, so you have to treat him as such, treat him as an American." And so I never had any question about it. 'Course, it was eighty, ninety percent Mexican kids and they could care less what I was, and then the hakujin people, they were all good friends. I was separated from Bob Madrid after kindergarten because Madrid went to low first and I was put in the high first so I was a year ahead of him. So I met these other boys, two of 'em, and before Pearl Harbor we were very good friends. I used to walk home with the one boy and stop at his house, his mother would give us a piece of cake. And this other friend, Floyd Johnson, was a good friend, but when I got to high school, when I came back from camp this one guy, Floyd, wouldn't talk to me. He didn't talk to me once in three years of high school. The other boy in high school we talked off and on, but, ironically, I understand he's a reverend now, back East. But, so he might be changed now since high school, but we did talk, but this other boy didn't talk to me once the whole three years. Yet in grammar school we were fairly close knit.

MN: How did that make you feel, your friendship like that breaking off in high school after you returned?

RW: I guess I just, I just accepted it and just felt, well, okay, in my opinion, if that's the way he is, okay. So be it. I've got my other friends. I've got Madrid, I've got other people that were there treating me good. I played varsity basketball for Redlands H.S., so I met and got to know most of the Caucasian kids in high school and I didn't have any problem with them, and in fact, some of my best friends are still, even today are Caucasian, except many of them have passed away. I have one that's still a real good friend today. I remember the first year I was there I was sitting having lunch, because I didn't know most of the Caucasian kids yet, but I knew the Mexican kids from Lincoln, so we were sitting there having lunch and this redheaded guy we used to call Red, came up to me -- he had a lot of nerve to do it too -- he came up to me right there while we were having lunch. I was sittin' with all my friends and he came up to me and says, "Hey, Wada, come on. Wada, let's tangle." He wanted to fight. So I stood up and I says, "What's up, Red? Hey, man, I didn't do anything to you. What the hell you want to tangle for?" Then about that time this guy named Nicholas Vasquez got up, big guy, walked over and said, "Hey, Red, do you want to tangle with Bobby? You have to tangle with all of us first." That was the last of that, so I'd say that's the only problem I had there, but that was in my early, first sophomore year when I just came back.

MN: Came back from camp.

RW: From camp, yeah.

MN: And then you mentioned basketball. On the basketball team, didn't Bob Madrid keep asking you to join the, was it basketball team or the football team?

RW: Baseball. No, it was baseball and he was a real good baseball player.

MN: Oh, baseball team.

RW: In fact, I understand from his brother that the Dodgers, when they were still back East, had even had a scout come by and look at him. He and my brother nicknamed him Bat for a baseball bat because he was also a good hitter too, but he was a good, real good player. But it all goes back to my sophomore year when they were having tryouts for basketball, so I went out for basketball because I played a little in camp and I thought, well, I should be able to hold my own. And so when we were working out for tryouts, after the first day the coach put up a sign called the cut list. I look at it and there's my name, the first day before we even really got to do anything. So I just knew that, "Hey, you are Japanese, man. I don't want you on my team." So I didn't play that year. Then the junior year they changed basketball coaches to Bob Chambers, who became kind of a good friend too, and so he was the new coach so I made the varsity team my junior year, even though I didn't play on the sophomore team. But this coach who was the sophomore basketball coach that cut me, was also the varsity baseball coach. And Madrid was playing on the varsity, but he kept telling me to come out, come out, they need a third baseman. They don't have a good third baseman and that's what I usually played, and he knew 'cause we played elsewhere. We played on the Redlands American Legion baseball team. In fact, that picture of the team is in my book. And so he kept telling me to come out, but I never told him why I didn't want to go out, because Simpson, this guy was the coach and I saw no point in going out and saying, "Hey, can I try out for baseball?" Why be subjected to a rejection? So I never did go, I never told Madrid, or Bat, why I never wanted to go out. So I just played basketball and ran hurdles on the track team.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Okay, we're getting a little ahead. We're in, we're talking about after the war, but I'm gonna go back to before the war now.

RW: Okay.

MN: And I wanted to ask you, you had a job before the war, when you were about eleven.

RW: You mean in camp?

MN: No, before the war, in Redlands. Were you working a newspaper, selling?

RW: Oh, yeah. You call that a job? [Laughs] Yeah, well, there were lots of things we did. There was a neighbor across the street had a big truck, and we'd go to some farms and he'd buy watermelon and we'd go out and sell watermelons in downtown on the corner, that type of thing. And then I sold magazines, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, the Women's Journal, I think, and just a bunch of magazines. I would take 'em over to front of this grocery store and stand there and sell 'em, and the newspapers. I remember one man came by with a camera and he saw me and he said, "Hey, come here. I want to take a movie of you." So then he had me take the Saturday Evening Post and kind of move it around and today when I think about it, he said he was visiting from back East, he probably went back there to show 'em a little Oriental boy looks like. [Laughs] Another guy I remember when I used to sell papers then was the Examiner and the Times, and I said, "Would you like an Examiner or Times?" He says, "Well, I'll let you know what her times is after I examine 'er." He was with his wife or someone. So it was just crude, funny comments, but that's what I was always subjected to as a kid selling things, but people buy, they bought the magazines and bought the papers from me.

MN: Were you selling the newspaper when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

RW: Yeah, but I didn't sell it that day because I pretty much, for the first few days stayed home and stayed in the house. I remember before that Sunday, Pearl Harbor, we had a big picture of Hirohito on a white horse in the living room above the doorway, and when I came home from school the next day after Pearl Harbor there's now a picture of Roosevelt up there and Hirohito's picture's gone. [Laughs] So when I saw that then as a kid, I realized what was going on. But of course, that night, December 7th, I saw my dad outside in the back, he had a fire going where my mother usually heated water for washing clothes, a big tub. He had a fire going there and he had a bunch of stuff, so I went over to see what he was doing. Well, he was chopping up all the heirlooms that they had brought from Japan, the Girls Day dolls -- my mother had a big display of dolls, every Girls Day. We had a big piano and she would set up big boards with a sheet on it, and then she would display dolls. And he was chopping that up, burning those. My older brother and sisters did kendo in San Bernardino and he was burning all that kendo equipment. Pictures, records, my favorite record -- I used to listen to all, my mother had a bunch of march music records from Japan and my favorite was the "Gunkan March." I could just hum that, I could just hear that in my head all the time. It was, and I think that's what put the military in me, was my mom had all these books about military, about Japan, and her brother who was killed in the Japan-Russian War, so she was pretty much into that. But my dad was just burning all that, all the stuff he had that was Japanese, anything had to do with Japan was being demolished. The little pistol I told you about, he stripped that down into little pieces and in that big drainage ditch behind the house, he was throwing the parts in different directions. They were living in fear. It wasn't so much I was living with that kind of fear because I didn't know what was going on. 'Cause I'm not from Japan, right? I just had the feeling I'm an American, so what, I don't have to go demolish any of what I have, but I guess they were afraid.

But they had reason to be afraid because there were a couple of older men, bachelors, single, that lived in Redlands and I think they had a little bit to do with the Japanese school in San Bernardino, well, on December 7th they were picked up by the FBI. The next day I asked my mom, "What happened to Nigo-san, Oka-san?" "Damatte," she said. "Don't talk about it." So that's why they were living in fear. And luckily my dad wasn't involved in the schools, and they had a big group in San Bernardino where we used to go -- and I went as a kid and that's where I met a lot of the kids from San Bernardino -- we'd go there to just kind of a big auditorium with a stage, and before the war they had big American flag, big Japanese flag, I don't know what they did because I didn't understand 'em, but at the end they would all stand up and yell, "Banzai, banzai, banzai," about two or three times. So those people were picked up overnight on December 7th.

MN: While you were growing up, you mentioned a Japanese school, did you, did you attend Japanese school?

RW: No. I did in camp. I went about two weeks and I just told my mom it's too hard, I can't learn. But it wasn't too hard; I didn't want to learn. My attitude then was, why do I want to learn Japanese? I'm not Japanese. I just had that feeling, why should I do that? Now today, of course, I'm, I wish I had gone and learned because most of the Niseis I know, friends, did go to Japanese school at one time when they were younger, so they'll look at something in Japanese and say, oh, that's something, this kanji, that. They'll ask me something and I says, I don't know, I can't read that. I can't even read or write my own name and I still can't.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: So we were talking about Pearl Harbor day. What were you, what did you usually do on Sundays, and what did, what were you doing that particular Sunday?

RW: Well, we either played some kind of sports, we played football out in the park. We'd just kind of hang around, but we always would spend our time at the movie, Tony Rodriguez theater in Redlands. That was kind of our home, the three of us, and sometimes Bat's cousin would come with us, but we'd go to the theater, same theater, and we'd sit in the front row. And in those days it was serials like The Drums of Fu Manchu, Buck Rogers, Lone Ranger, etc., and all those serials, so you had to come back to see how they got of the situation. So sometimes we'd go there and spend the whole day and evening. My mother used to come and they would let her into the theater just to come in and bring us something to eat, and then she'd come down to the front row, give us some sandwiches or whatever, and then she'd go home. She would do that and come all the way to the theater and bring that. That's what we usually did on the weekend. On that Sunday, Pearl Harbor, we were there, and while we were watching the movie, the movie went off, the lights came on, and a soldier came out on the stage and said, "All service, military service personnel here must report back to your base immediately." We didn't think nothing of it, just, probably just, "Hey, come back to the base, you guys don't belong here." Then when we came out and were going home, it was getting dark, so as we walked by the city hall, which was just half a block away, there were some soldiers standing out in front of city hall, helmet and rifle and everything. We didn't think nothing of that either. When we got home my mother was out there waiting for us on the sidewalk and I guess she was there all that time waiting for us. And then she told Bat to go home, "Go home," and then she told me, "Hurry up, get in the house. Get in the house." So I said, "What's the matter? What's the matter?" She said, "Don't say nothing. Just come in and get in the house." So then we went in the house -- it was now dark outside. There's a knock on the door so I went to the door, and it was the Chief of Police, the friend of ours. And he just said, told my mother, "Keep your children indoors at night. We don't know what's gonna happen or what to expect, but we'll have a patrol car here in the area all the time." So there was no problem. Nothing ever happened.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Let's go back before the war just a little bit, and I want to ask you about this time that your family, when you were about seven you moved into this new home and you found this toy popgun. What did your dad make you do with that?

RW: Well, first of all, it was not a new home. It was an old home. [Laughs] And it took a lot of fixing up, but my dad took me with him over there and we were looking at the house. It was empty, and I went over by the window and there was this little popgun that you stick the cork in the end, it's tied to a string and you shoot and the cork pops out. So I said, "Oh, Papa, look what I found. Can I keep it?" "No, no. That's not yours. That belongs to the people that lived here. Give it back to the boy." "Why can't I keep it? They don't want it." "No." He insisted that I return it, so as a kid it was kind of disappointing, but then it taught me, if it's not yours you don't keep it. You don't take something that's not yours.

So I learned a value there from him, and then I also learned, one day we were coming back from the movies and, Bat and I were coming back from the movie and my mother was out there on the sidewalk waiting for us, and she said that, "Junsa kita yo." "What for? Why? Why did the police come?" "They said you, you two stole some money from the service station," which is right around the corner. "We didn't do anything. We didn't do that." We'd never done anything like that. So then she said, "Well, come on. Got to go to the police station." So she took us to the police station and we went in there and there was a sergeant, the policeman was up kind of like a judge up above a big, high counter. And so my mom went up to him and she said, "My son, they steal something." So the sergeant says, "Oh, Mrs. Wada, no, it wasn't them. We caught the guy that did it. They're too small. They couldn't have reached that cash register, anyway. So thank you."

So then, again, I compare that to what happened in La Mirada, where we were living there when my kids were growing up, and the sheriffs came down half the block on this little street we lived on, they went over there, I guess, to talk to or arrest the kids there, and the father got in a fight with the sheriffs. And so I always think of that as compared to my mom dragging us to the police station and turning us in, whereas today people -- and I say today because it's been a while, but it's still today -- the parents fight the authority instead of making the kids understand that you don't do anything bad. And like my mother used to always use that, and I think that's gave me an inferiority complex with me that, "Oh, you're Japanese. Japanese don't do bad things. Redlands is a small town. They know who you are, so don't do bad things. Japanese don't do it." And she was always saying something like that, so I think that put that complex in me, that I'm Japanese. So we, even today sometimes I feel, like somebody's looking at me, I feel like saying, "What the hell you looking at?" you know? Because I feel like they're looking at me because I'm Japanese. But still, I think it had its drawbacks, but I think it had its values too, taught me what we're all about. And I think it goes, even like in camp, I think about camp, I never hear anyone talk about this, but I've always thought about in camp, how come we didn't have locks on our doors? Barracks weren't locked, nobody had locks on their doors. If they did then I don't know about it, but nobody locked their barrack and I guess they didn't see any reason to. Japanese don't do that. You know what I mean? So I feel like that's what my mother taught me, that... sure, we used to go around the camp and steal watermelons out of a patch and that type of thing, but it was not or never heard of anybody breaking into somebody's barrack while they weren't there.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Now, going back to the, after Pearl Harbor, and you had this incident one time where you went to this Sunday school picnic, and it was with the First Baptist Church. What happened when you and the boys, and the other boys went to go find something to drink?

RW: Well, we were there in this little town of Mentone, which is on the eastern part of Redlands, and we went on a Sunday school picnic, kind of like a riverbed there, the same Santa Ana riverbed. And somebody said, let's go get a drink of water, so the whole little class went to this house right nearby. It was an older man there, and as we asked him for a glass of water he said, "Sure, come on in." So we all went in the house, and he took a look at me and then he went walking over to the kitchen and started to open a drawer, and whether he was serious or not I wasn't gonna wait around to find out, but he said, "Hey, you little Jap, I'm going to cut your head off." And he was rattling the drawer, so I just took off. It must've been a good seven to ten miles away and I just ran all the way home and never went back to Sunday school. It's kind of ironic too, because when I came back to Redlands and went to high school I ran into a couple of kids, one girl and one guy that said they were in that Sunday school class. They remembered that. So I was surprised 'cause I didn't remember the kids' names at that time because after going to camp for three years it's kind of hard to remember who was in that Sunday school class. But they did say they remembered that happening.

When they were evacuating us the Baptist church baptized us all. They wanted to baptize all the Japanese before they left for the camp, so as we were walking down the aisle to get baptized the Sunday school teacher came, just scooting through the pews there, then came out to the aisle just holding me and just telling me not to be angry and that man didn't mean it. She was apologizing and walked and kept going with me all the way right up to where they had, I guess it's a tub or whatever, the baptismal place. And she was just trying to get me and I distinctly remember her saying, "Don't go away with hatred." She was very, very apologetic, so that was something that brings tears to my eyes 'cause I just, I remember that and I remember how I felt as a kid. I just didn't acknowledge her. I just kept walking with the family, so that was the one bad experience for me.

MN: You mentioned about how you felt. How did you feel when she came up to you and said that and walked with you?

RW: I didn't want to talk to her. I didn't want to answer, I didn't want a conversation. It was like, go away, leave me alone. I was too hurt and I didn't want to talk to her, I didn't want to acknowledge her apology. I think that was probably the only hurt that I really had. I think it's more of a hurt than my being put in a camp, because that was totally unexpected and totally out of context. My brother's in the army; why am I a Jap, you know? My brother was already in the army at that time. Even when we went to camp he was in the army.

MN: Did you ever see this man again?

RW: No, he was much older so I would assume he's probably long gone.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Now, once the government announced that you had to go into camp, how did you learn that you would have to go into camp?

RW: Well, at first it was hearsay. We knew that we were going to have to leave. We didn't know how, when or what. And the rumor was we were going to go to a place in Owens Valley, so we just thought that's where we were going to go. Then this one day I was coming home from school, and I was walking down the street and I saw on this telephone pole a big, big white sign and the first words were something like, "to persons of Japanese ancestry," or something like that, whatever that poster said. So I looked at it and even in sixth grade I knew what that was all about, so I just read a little bit that we were supposed to go to Riverside, to the train station a certain day, and then I ran home, told my mom. So then she had my brother or sister go back and find out what all it said, and that's how we found out, just by this sign. And I always said, there were only three or four families at that time in Redlands, and I always wondered why that had to put a sign on every telephone pole in the city. All they had to do was come to four houses and just give 'em a poster, but they posted it all over the city and on all the telephone poles. But that's the only thing that I was disappointed in what they did. Then they just said you had to be at the Riverside train station a certain time, you could only take certain things, and meantime we were disposing of everything. And my older brother and my father did most of the stuff, so we stored a lot of our furniture and carpeting and things in the basement at the Baptist church. 'Course, when we came home it's all gone, most of it, and the carpeting was all moth-eaten and stuff. But we sold the big piano, if I remember, for like ten dollars or twenty dollars. There were people coming around. It was like a garage sale, major garage sale at the Wada's, that type of thing. So we just emptied out. Let some Mexican friends live there while we were in camp, so fortunately my dad had bought the house years before so we just kept it. I think he had it in my brother's name, so it was not much they could do about trying to take it away or anything.

MN: I know you were really young, but do you know if the Mexican family lived at your house rent free or did they pay rent?

RW: They lived rent free. They lived there with the idea that they would take care of the house. 'Course, when we got home it, it was really in poor shape, but a little elbow grease and paint makes a lot of difference. It was an old, old house in the old, old part of town. But a little bit of fixing up and it was, it was good, livable home.

MN: How did you feel about having to go into camp?

RW: Well, I guess at my age it was a new experience, new adventure. The only thing is, like I say in my book, we didn't know where were going, we didn't know how long we're gonna be gone, and we didn't know what it was gonna be like. And then when we got on those buses. There was a whole string of buses 'cause all the Riverside, Redlands, San Bernardino, a lot of the surrounding areas were all there -- and when the buses headed out, I guess I'm not an ill-informed person, so the buses were headed into the sun, early morning, so I knew we're going east. We weren't going north, which is where Owens Valley was. And we kept going east, and then I thought, we're not going to Owens Valley. Where are we going? We had no idea. We never heard of Poston. Then finally we get there and the buses unload and we look around, and, wow, look at those barracks. This is where we're gonna live? It's a new experience for a kid. Wow, look at that barrack. Then we, they drop people off wherever you were already assigned. Then you had to fill these bags with hay for our mattresses, so we start breaking open the bales of hay to make mattresses. And of course there's a gopher snake. "Hey, there's a snake." Just kid stuff. It was all kind of a new experience for a new kid in a new block, new neighborhood. That's what it was. The only difference was we didn't have any neighbors 'cause they took the Redlands people, there were three families, so they took the Redlands people and put 'em in one barrack, in three rooms in one barrack, and then this John Fukushima was assigned the block manager. We pretty much started the block. Then about a few days later my mother said, "You got to watch out. These real bad people are coming in our block." I asked, "Who?" "Pachuco people coming," was her reply. It was all the Boyle Heights people. And when they came and I'm looking at 'em and thinking, well they don't look like bad people. Then I got to know some of 'em, and I still know 'em, I'm still friends. And so it was, that again was a new experience. Never seen so many Japanese in my life. Didn't even know they existed. I thought we were the only Japanese in the whole world, here in the United States. So it was a new experience, only this time they came in as neighbors, new neighbors in the block, and to say the block is truly a block.

MN: So these pachuco people that your mom referred to, did actually any of them come in with the zoot suits?

RW: Yeah. There were a lot of guys who had draped slacks but they weren't as exaggerated as the kind that they had in newspapers, but later it became a fashion for the guys. I'm telling my mom make this tight right here [pointing toward the ankles]. Guys were even doin' it to Levi's and so... even after coming out of camp we wore a modified kind of a style, just a slight, slight narrowing from the knees down. That was what we wore as the style. There were some certain things in camp that you wanted, but you couldn't have because you couldn't afford it. They used to call 'em engineer boots, shoes, they were kind of high top shoes like a boot, and it had a buckle. That was what I wanted, but I could never buy it, couldn't afford it from Sears. They had certain style of clothes that was in the camp, just the draped pants, but we didn't see anybody with a wide brimmed hat and coat and the baggy pants with the tight ankles. It turned out they were all nice people. They are all my friends right now. So it was just something that parents just heard about, rumors were rampant in those days.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Did you learn to do the jitterbug?

RW: Yeah.

MN: All the different dances?

RW: Most of them.

MN: All the other different dances?

RW: Yeah. Yeah, but most of it was the jitterbug, the swing. It was one or the other, swing, jitterbugging or slow music. Like the slow music, then you can hold on tight, you know? [Laughs] But the funny thing was when we had a block dance there was everybody in the block. They were older, so you danced with them and it was nice. But when they had a school dance then the boys were on one side of the whole auditorium, the girls were on the other side, and they didn't dance. One or two would go who would have the nerve to go. They used to have the program dance where they get the boys and girls to sign, and I don't know why, but I have mine displayed on a board at the office I used for when I talk at times, and all my programs are empty. So what does that tell you? [Laughs] But then towards the end of the dance, next to the last dance, then everybody starts dancing or during the designated program dance.

MN: For us who grew up later, I want, can you explain to us these little, the programs, the bids that you're talking about? Why are, why are they empty, and what does a girl do once they dance with you?

RW: Well, what it is, it's like a promissory note that they'll dance with you at the certain numbered program dance like number three, or maybe number one, if you like the girl and you had the nerve you would get as many filled out from her, and some guys would probably get the same girl for all, but you go and get different girls and they sign up on this program, one, two, three, four, five, and then during the dance they'll say, "Okay, this is program number one." Then it was a way of getting people to dance, and it worked. It's just a matter of if you were shy enough to not want to go ask them, then you get an empty program. That's what happened to me. I liked this one girl in camp, but I thought she was going with this guy. I went to her barrack and started to go and knock on the door and I just chickened out and left. That was the way I was in those days. I was very insecure, introverted kind of a person those days in camp. I couldn't speak. In grammar school I had to read something in front of the class and I broke down; I couldn't read out loud and I just hated it. I almost flunked English in high school 'cause every time it was time for an oral report I ditched school. So no one can believe me when I tell 'em that, but after I came back from Korea I went to L.A. City College and I don't remember if it was City College or at Valley College, but I took a course of psychology and I had to make a speech, so I wrote a speech on the nutritious value of a banana and I guess I gave a pretty good speech. The professor said, "Well, that was an excellent presentation. Hope your line of work is in appearing before the public." That's the first time I ever spoke in front of anybody without getting rattled. So I guess you have to say maybe serving in the Marines, going to war, just put some confidence in me, and so after that I haven't had any trouble speaking.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Bob, I just want to skip back just a little bit to the day you are leaving for camp from your departure point in Riverside. Did any of your friends come and see you off?

RW: No. Well, the only one would be, if I remember, it was the professor and his wife that took us to the train station, but other than that nobody knew. I never told anybody we were leaving on such and such a day. In fact, this one family, the girl that lived in Redlands who was a little younger than me was Terry Hirota. She was married to Edwin Hirota. I ran into some people at a high school reunion that knew they had a little store, a little Mama Papa store, and so all the Mexicans went there because Terry's family gave 'em credit. They could go and get a sack of beans and they could get food, and they would just sign one of those little receipt books. And so a lot of kids knew who she was, and then most of 'em just say, "Oh yeah, I remember Terry and we used to play this and that, then next day she was gone." And somebody told me once about me, he said, "Yeah, Bob, we used to, we used to do a lot together, but all of a sudden one day in school you were gone. You didn't come to school and you were gone. No one knew where you were and what happened." So that's the way it was, so I don't think there were hardly anybody there saying goodbye to people other than probably the curious people in the area, maybe the neighbor or whoever near the train station, just happened to be there watching and wondering, "What's going on? What's going on?" But most people just didn't know when we were leaving.

MN: But how about your best friend, Bob Madrid? Did you tell him?

RW: No. We just left without saying anything. In fact, I remember he told me, "I didn't even know you left." I didn't have his address, he didn't have mine, so for three years we didn't correspond.

MN: Did you correspond with anybody from Redlands?

RW: No, except for Ms. Nichols.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: And just so we can clarify it, you went to Poston, which camp were you in, Camp I, II or III?

RW: We were in Camp I.

MN: But your entire family didn't end up in Camp I.

RW: No. My sister was farming in San Diego and they all, one of my brothers and one of my sisters was living down there with her, so when they got evacuated they all went to Santa Anita first. In fact, my sister didn't go right away because she was expecting, so the doctor who was a friend of theirs told the government she shouldn't be traveling so she can't go. He kept her in San Diego, Chula Vista area, but then she finally went to Santa Anita and then I guess they were given a choice to go where their families were. I had another sister who was married and while in Santa Anita being from Los Angeles, they all said my family's in Poston, so they all came to Camp III. That was the closest we got to them was Camp III. And then I used to go there almost every weekend or, during the summer, no school, I would just go out hitchhiking and go down to Camp III and spend my days with my sister's family. I was telling somebody about that just the other day and they said, "What do you mean you went out of camp and hitchhiked? You could do that?" And I said yeah, we didn't have to get permits, just go walkin' out the front gate area and go on the main road, and there's trucks goin' back and forth taking food and stuff to different camps, and you were out there they'd pick you up and take you to wherever they were going. Or if you went to Camp II you could just catch another truck going to Camp III. It was pretty loose in Poston.

MN: And I guess for, just to clarify for people who don't know the layout, the different camps were not very close to each other.

RW: They were about three miles apart.

MN: So when you got to Poston, how did your family make your room livable?

RW: Well, my dad was, I guess, kind of ingenious in ways and made little pieces of furniture out of boxes or whatever wood he had, and then my mother hung sheets which kind of divided the beds with a sheet hanging, and the beds were pretty much right next to each other. Let's see, before my father passed away there was my mother, my father, and my brother Hank, my sister Helen, and myself, so there were five of us, and my brother Jack, but he became a fireman across the street, so he just stayed over there all the time, even if he wasn't on duty 'cause they had living quarters in the fire station. But there was five of us there with just sheets divided by the beds, when I think about it I don't know how we did that. I know some bigger families got two rooms, but we had five of us in that one room, it was livable. My dad made an air conditioner. It was a, just a box with wire and this thing, I don't know if you know what excelsior is, it's like a shredded material and that was between the wires, and they had water running down through that excelsior. Then they had a fan sucking air, so it was kind of moist, damp air, but it was cool. It was not a true air conditioner, but it was just a homemade fan drawing through dripping in water going down the sides, and it made a big difference.

MN: I've heard of people also sleeping outside because it's so hot inside.

RW: Oh yeah.

MN: Did your family do that?

RW: Well, our family didn't do that, but we did as kids we'd go and stay up all night or with a couple of my friends, we'd go where they had a big oil tank on a platform for the kitchen, the big fuel tank. We used to go up on that platform and sit up there and stay there all night when it was warm and hot. And about five o'clock in the morning we'd see people leaving the camp so we'd say, hey, let's go see who's going out, go over there and say, goodbye, bye. We didn't even know who they were, but there were people leaving the camp all the time, going back east. They could go east; they just couldn't go west.

MN: So I take it your mother wasn't worried about where you were?

RW: No. She never worried and it was the same in Redlands and the same in Poston. We stayed out all night, or we went camping with the Boy Scouts and stuff. It just, we'd just go in and she never seemed to be concerned. I guess she just had faith in us, in the fact that I was not doing anything bad or that nothing was gonna happen to me and she never worried about it.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Now, you saw your first geta at Poston.

RW: Yeah.

MN: What were the geta used for?

RW: Well, they're kind of elevated shoes. We used to wear to go take a shower, and then you could just wear it right into the shower and stay on it instead of walking on the floor barefoot. Although they did build some wooden platforms people could stand on. But when it rained and stuff like that, if you wore those then it would keep you above the mud on the ground.

MN: Did you make your own geta?

RW: My dad did, but that's the first time I ever got exposed to it 'cause we never wore 'em in Redlands. In fact, I guess it's one of those things that you wouldn't do in Redlands. You wouldn't be caught dead wearing getas in Redlands since there's no Japanese. If you're in an area where there's lots of Japanese it doesn't matter, but in Redlands, I didn't even like to go to the store with my mom because she would speak in Japanese and I was always embarrassed about that. Back to what she said, you're Japanese, you're Japanese, you're Japanese. So I used to be embarrassed just to be there with her, I'd usually try to pull her aside or quietly say something.

MN: So what is ironwood?

RW: Basically ironwood is petrified wood. It's just like a piece of iron, or it's more like hard tile, but it's wood. And we would go to the mountains east of Poston, and of course you couldn't carry too much back, but we'd pick up some, bring it back, and the older men wanted it. Some of 'em would mold, cut 'em up -- I don't know how they cut it, but they'd make stuff out of it.

MN: So you, you went out of camp and then you found these ironwoods and you'd just give it to the Isseis?

RW: Yeah. I mean, we didn't go every day or anything like that, but we'd, every once in a while, 'cause it was pretty far to those areas. It's like a big, big wide riverbed, and then you go to the mountains, then on top it becomes a plateau and up there is where all that ironwood was. It wasn't just all over, but there was quite a bit around there. And as we went over there, as you're climbing that mountain, I remember you could see layers of shale, so we'd go over there and dig around, and it was interesting 'cause we used to find clam shells in that side of the hill, so it was like a river at one time or must've been water, even from the ocean maybe. Then the water receded down from hundreds of years, thousands of years, but it was some petrified clam shells and so I'm thinking, hey, this must've been water here at one time. It was interesting, educational for us to do that, to go up there and look around, find things. I was talking to a couple girls from camp and now ladies, and they said, "Yeah, we used to go up there," so I guess a lot of people used to go. So there was quite a contrast between Poston and probably, like, Manzanar, which was still in California. I understand, even Heart Mountain had a fence and stuff, whereas we didn't. We had a two or three strand barbed wire. That's all. Was to, probably to keep the cows out that were roaming. We could just go out and go fishing and do anything.

MN: 'Course, you are in the middle of the desert too.

RW: Yeah, so where can you go? When I give speeches at schools, elementary and middle schools, that's one of the first questions they ask, is, "How come you didn't try to run away?" And so you just answer, "Well, there was no place to go, and my family's there and I'm not gonna run away from my family. If I run away and they catch me, then they're gonna just bring me back." I think the most logical answer, is there's no place to go. Where would you go? And besides that, if you wanted to go you just go to the administration office and get a permit to leave. You could go east anytime. Besides if you run away, you are breaking the law.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Now you are in the desert. Did you ever get bitten by a scorpion or rattlesnakes?

RW: Never got bitten, but I think I got very close to getting bit by a scorpion and I'm sure that I wouldn't be here talkin' to you if I wasn't lucky enough, or God wasn't watching over me. I was out there fishing in the tules -- what they call tules is kind of like heavy bush, kind of like vertical sticky thing -- and I was just fishing along this one little creek and I felt something crawling up my leg, so I shook my pant leg and a live scorpion fell out. I just took off, went home and never went back fishing out there. I don't even know how he got up my leg. I guess because I was standing there for a while. When I shook my pant leg, he could have just spun around and bit me, and being where we were, we were far away from camp.

MN: What about swimming? Where did you go swimming in Poston?

RW: Well, there was a canal going through the camp, and what they did, the powers who may be, in three locations within the camp, they opened up, made a large pool at three locations in the camp, and then they built a platform with a diving board. And so that's where we used to go swimming. But the thing was there was always trash coming through, sticks and things and stuff like that. One time an AIDS protector came by, and we didn't have AIDS in those days. We just filled it up with water and were throwing that around for fun. [Laughs] So we'd do anything. Anything you could do to entertain yourself, I don't care what it was. You always found some way of making, taking something that was useless and make something to just enjoy or have fun.

MN: So when you say AIDS protector, you're talking about a condom?

RW: Yeah.

MN: Did you know what it was used for when it came floating by? Did you boys know?

RW: At that time? Yeah, we knew. You listened to older guys talkin' and so we knew what it was, so then that's why we filled it up with water and tied the end and we're throwing it at each other and stuff like that.

MN: What about the food at your mess hall? Can you share with us some of the food you ate there?

RW: Well, I only remember certain dishes because, it's funny, I only remember the odd dish. One thing that they had on every table, every meal, was apple butter, and that's a big joke with people that were in camp. If you ask 'em, do you know what apple butter is? Oh yeah. [Laughs] It was for everything. We had good food in our mess hall because our cook was a man named Mr. Okada, who was one of the chefs at Clifton's before the war, so he knew how to fix things. One time they had beef tongue, and they made it real thin sliced, you could see the taste buds on there, they cooked it in tomato sauce and bell pepper and onion, and I really liked it, but most of the people wouldn't eat it. The guys I was with said, "Oh god, how can you eat that?" But I just liked it because its taste was good. 'Course, hungry too. They had pancakes and things 'cause when we would go to the Colorado River with the Boy Scouts camping, we would just go to the mess hall and tell 'em we're gonna be gone for two, three days, so they'd give us some pancake mix and milk and stuff that we needed. They'd give it to us and we'd take it with us to the river.

MN: You know, you're mentioning Boy Scouts, can you tell me what your Boy Scout number was and what the significance of that number?

RW: Yeah, when we were forming the Boy Scout troop we had the option, they were gonna either assign a troop number to us or we could pick a number. And at the time the 100th Battalion from Hawaii was in Europe fighting, and so we knew about them so we requested Troop 100 in honor of the 100th Battalion that was in Europe. So they gave it to us. I have that Boy Scout uniform at my office with the 100 on it. It has Poston up on top of the sleeve and then it has 100 underneath.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Now, you talked about going camping, and what other ways did the Boy Scout Troop 100 contribute towards the war effort?

RW: Well, one of the things we did, which took a long time, was we had a paper drive. The government brought in large semi trailers, open trailers, and we went all over camp for months and months collecting paper, newspapers, and then after we got the big truckload we took it into Parker and loaded it into a boxcar there. I don't know where they took it, but they took it someplace for their, recycle it, I guess.

MN: Now, you had this one incident when you were taking the recyclables and after you worked really hard you went to a restaurant in town, I guess this is at Parker? Was it in Parker?

RW: Yeah.

MN: What happened at the restaurant?

RW: Well, it was right across the street from the train station where the boxcar was parked, so once we loaded up the boxcar we said, let's go get something to eat and drink, so we went right across the street and it was a little restaurant there, so about six of us went in there. We had our Boy Scout uniforms on, and we sat there and the waitress kept going back and forth, just ignored us. So the scoutmaster said, "Ma'am, can we get some service?" She just came right out and said, "You know, I'm sorry, I can't serve you. Why don't you people just leave?" So one of the guys cursed and he grabbed the saltshaker or something, but the scoutmaster said, "No, no, no. Don't cause any trouble. We don't want any trouble." There were some other adult men in there, so he actually caused a lot of trouble for us, so we left. They didn't want us there, even though we were helping with the war effort. And I'm sure they knew what we were doing there. They're not blind.

MN: How did that make you feel?

RW: Well it didn't make me feel good. I mean, we were all pretty upset over it because we thought we were doing something that would be acceptable to the people, to the white people. We are doing something to help them, but apparently it wasn't enough. And then not too long after that I guess the farmers there were having labor problems, so they took all the kids from school to their cotton fields and we picked cotton for them, and I don't remember if we were supposed to get paid or the school was getting paid, but we never got paid for it. But the boys and the girls all went there and we picked, we had the big, long cotton picking bags that you drag, and we picked a lot of cotton that couple days. So we, again we helped them, but they didn't help us by having that attitude. I was very disappointed, very upset with them because I thought I was doing something right. But you think, well, maybe I wasn't doing something right. Maybe I didn't have to do all that.

MN: This cotton picking, was, were they making you pick cotton during your school time?

RW: Yeah, I think it was during school time because there was, the whole class was there picking cotton in the daytime.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: So how would you compare the education you got at Poston to the education you were getting at Redlands?

RW: Well, how do you compare night and day, you know? I shouldn't say that, because there were some good teachers, okay? But man, there were some god awful teachers there. There was one that just seemed she wasn't all there, and so it was just kind of ridiculous the way the kids were. The girls were perfect angels in class, but the boys, it was chaos sometimes. I'll give you a couple examples. This one boy, I guess it's okay to name him 'cause we all knew who he was, this boy named Hiroshi Marui was always kind of talking Japanese stuff. I don't think he was really pro-Japanese; he was just a school kid messin' around. And he'd jump in class sometimes and, "Hey, Tennoheika, banzai, banzai," and the teacher would just get all rattled. And then one morning this teacher had her head down on her desk kind of resting, and this is like nine o'clock or something in the morning. So Hiroshi gets up and says, "Hey, Miss Powers, I know where you were last night. I saw you going to the MP camp." So this is the kind of person that was our teacher, and so she's half sleeping there, and so what are we gonna learn? We were in another class and there was a fire in the camp and John (Homer) Kinoshita, this friend of mine said as the fire truck went by. I'm gonna yell it's my house. Let's go." "Okay?" So he yells, "Hey, that's my house," and five of us just ran out. I mean, the teacher had no control what we did. We did whatever we wanted to do. Yet there were some good teachers. There was a Miss Moran who was our math teacher. She was really a nice controlling teacher that knew what she was doing, and she was trying to teach us something. So I guess as kids you just recognize which teacher, you show respect, which we did for her. Then the others you don't show any respect 'cause they didn't earn the respect so to speak.

MN: Now, were all your teachers hakujin?

RW: Mine were, but there were a few Nihonjin teachers, Japanese teachers, like this Tad Ochiai was a teacher, Ben Sanematsu. There were a few that were older guys that were teachers, and some women teachers. Not very many, but there were a few.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: Okay, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your father now. What kind of job did he do?

RW: In camp?

MN: Uh-huh.

RW: Most of the time I guess he was working in the mess hall. I'm not sure whether he was cooking or dishwashing or whatever, but he was working in the mess hall. Until one day he fainted, and then that was the beginning of his problems.

MN: So how long was he in the camp hospital?

RW: I think it was after we were there about a year, that he got sick. And then he died in '44, so I think he must've been in the hospital at least a year. They brought him back to Los Angeles. I guess they found out he had leukemia, so they brought him to Los Angeles and they supposedly gave him a transfusion of blood, enough to replace all the blood in his body, and then he came back. They asked for donations of blood from all the people in the block who donated blood to replace that blood. He was doing fine. He came home, went back to work, but it wasn't very long and he got sick again, and then he went to the hospital and then he went into the ward, then he went to a two-person room, then he finally was in his room by himself, and that's when you knew he was seriously ill.

MN: When he came back from Los Angeles and he had the blood, blood transfusion, he was doing okay for a while, and he had asked you to go down to the river and bring some carp. What did he do with that?

RW: I was surprised because I didn't know why, but he did ask me to go to the river and catch some live carp and bring it back alive. So I went down there to catch these carp, 'cause there're big carp there and easy to catch. I bring it back in a bucket of water, kept it alive and brought it home and gave it to him. He took an ice pick or a knife or something, and he cut a hole in the top of the head and then he drank the blood. I would assume he thought that that would help, but that's what he did. He was drinking the blood out a live carp.

MN: But your father eventually had to go back into the hospital. Were you there when he, when your father passed away?

RW: I went to see him every day with my mother, every single day, and the last night he was on oxygen, but we had gone home. And then apparently he died during the night when we were back at our barrack.

MN: After your father passed away, what happened to his remains?

RW: He was cremated. They put the ashes in a marble box and then they gave it to us and we kept it in the barrack and then we brought it back to Redlands with us, and we had it in Redlands in our house for a long time. And then we finally, I think just before I went to Korea, I guess right after high school, we had him interred in the Evergreen Cemetery. We bought a plot for my mother. I know my, one of my sisters, the second oldest in the family and her husband are buried next to my mother and my father, even though my mother was still alive at the time. They're both there now with my sister and her husband.

MN: Now, when people got cremated in Poston, were they cremated at Parker?

RW: Well, I would have to assume so because I'm sure they didn't have a crematorium there in Poston. I, 'cause I knew pretty much what was in the camp, where everything was, 'cause we were always roaming around. I may be wrong, it might be somewhere we didn't go or we missed, but it's something that you don't just expect to find.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: Before your father died, you mentioned earlier also, but the University of Redlands professors, Professor Nichols and his wife Grace came, and can you share with us again why they made this trip?

RW: Well, they were very close to us for years, to the family and to all the kids, and so I guess they just wanted to come and see us and visit us. They brought some furniture with them for us. They brought our dog. I know Wimpy Hiroto in his column in the Rafu said we weren't allowed to have dogs in camp, but I wrote him a letter and said we had a dog. Never bothered anybody, followed my mother everywhere she went. People would say, "We know where your mother is all the time because the dog is there waiting for her." It was amazing, the dog would follow her to the shower, wait outside for her, go to the mess hall with her, when she went in the mess hall, he'd run around to the exit and sit there and wait for her, and followed her to go to the hospital every day and he would wait at the foot of the stairs of the little short steps, just lay there. And nobody ever complained. Nobody even worried about him. He was just a resident of the camp. It was amazing. So, he was really devoted to her.

MN: What kind of dog was he?

RW: He was part chow. He had a curled tail and looked like, I don't know if you know what a chow looks, but it's brownish and not a big dog, but middle size.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MN: Now, your brother Ted, when did he join the U.S. Army?

RW: He was drafted in early 1941, like February of 1941.

MN: So he was already in the army when you went into camp?

RW: Yes. That's how I have, the pictures I have were taken by him when he came to camp. He brought a camera because soldiers were able to bring cameras into the camp. Other people did not have 'em, although some people had cameras or like in Manzanar.

MN: So Ted is already in the army, and then when the government started to ask for volunteers, how did your parents feel about your brother Frank volunteering?

RW: Well, my parents were not about to tell any of the boys not to go in the service, so when he said he's gonna volunteer, well, they're not exactly jumping up and down with joy, but they, in a sense they are. They are feeling a sense of pride. They're happy that they're gonna go do their share. My mother told me at one time not to say anything, and I know it was true because she'd never say if it wasn't true, she said that some people had come to her and told her that, don't let your son go or something's gonna happen to your family. It was a threat to her. Now I don't have any proof of that. I just know that she told me, and I know that she would not tell me something like that if it was not true. But it did not stop her. My brother Hank, in 1947 wanted to join the Marine Corps, but he got turned down the first time because he was Japanese. When the Korean War started and I decided to go and told her I'm going, she didn't say no. A very stoic woman for having so many boys in the service in the wars.

MN: How did you feel about having two brothers in the military?

RW: Oh, I was very proud of them, especially they were in 442nd. And I wanted to be like them, but after the war, after World War II there was no more war, so it was kind of a disappointment, but I didn't think much of it. Although, I did decide to join the Marine Corps reserves in high school because I always wanted to be a Marine, but then there was no war so I didn't see any reason to join.

MN: Poston had a parade for the 442nd men. Did your Boy Scout troop participate in it?

RW: Yeah, we had a little drum and bugle band, and it was a small band. They had a parade in the camp for those who were leaving for the 442nd, and so they had a parade and we were leading the parade with the "colors," and the Girl Scouts marched in the parade. They had a ceremony and a send off to them. There was a lot of pride in the camp to be having those guys going to the service, going to 442nd, volunteering, 'cause they were all volunteers.

MN: I know Poston also had over a hundred draft resisters. Do you know any of the draft resisters, or was that an issue?

RW: Yeah, I knew a few of 'em. One of 'em was in our block, and when that came up then they were arrested, I think they were taken to Phoenix. They were jailed in Phoenix for a short time, and then they were back again, and then when they appeared before the judge I think he fined them all a penny or something like that and then they were back out again. The judge didn't feel the government had a right to draft them if they'd taken away their citizenship rights. Today there's a lot of discussion about it, and in my opinion I think they did what they thought was right, back in my mind years ago I used to think, I wonder if those guys really kind of regretted doing that, not because of what's happening today, but I wondered if they regretted it because all the other guys that did serve, they came home, got their GI Bill, went to any college they want, went to USC. And so I really think, personally, that's what helped with the success of the Japanese Americans, was they served, got the GI Bill, and were able to go to college, get degrees. I know guys like Edwin Hiroto and Hank Nakabayashi who become an architect, and all through the GI Bill. To me in those days too, I was just out of high school and, oh man, I can't afford to go to college. But then when the Korean War started was a chance to get the GI Bill, and so I think the GI Bill was responsible for a lot of the success of Japanese Americans.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MN: Now your brother Jack, he was, I guess, a musician of the family?

RW: Yeah.

MN: What did he, what instruments did he play?

RW: He played the guitar and he's pretty much a self-educated musician and he used to play the guitar at home all the time. And his friend from San Bernardino, guy named Frank Oshima, who was also a guitar player, he used to come to Redlands and they would sit in his room and play the guitar all the time. And when they went to camp, then I guess they formed a band called the Music Makers, and George Yoshida was, I think, in charge, and anyway, they would practice at the fire station where we hung out. And my brother played either the guitar or the piano for the band, and then they would, they would play at the dances and stuff like that, but they always practiced there at the fire station.

MN: Did you play any musical instruments?

RW: Well, yeah, I played the drums in Poston High School band, in my third year, and played the bugle and drums in the Boy Scouts.

MN: Did you get involved in sports teams at Poston?

RW: Well, I would play a little bit, most of the guys were a couple years older, so I was kind of like a beginner, just didn't really get to play that much with them, although I did play. Then I played some with my own age kids too, but the camp organized sports were more for older guys. And then we would go watch the much older guys, in their twenties, at least I think they were around there, eighteen to twenty, those ages.

MN: And this is mainly baseball, or was it football?

RW: Baseball, softball and basketball. They had quite a basketball program there because, and then every time a real good player would come into camp he always seemed to play for the team called Bakersfield Oilers. Danny Fukushima came into Poston, and he was related to someone on our block, and right away he's on that team. And so it was always the best players are on that one team, so it was, it was very competitive.

MN: I know you were really young, but what kind of jobs did you have at Poston?

RW: Well, when I think about it, in the short time I was there I worked at a lot of different things. I worked at what they call the personnel mess hall where the administration people had their meals. I worked there, and then I worked at the camp newspaper called the Poston Chronicle. I worked there in the printing and mimeographing the newsletters. And then I got a job working what they call a swamper for a while, delivering foods to the mess hall, and then I worked as a carpenter, helping build the school and help build the auditorium for the schools. I couldn't believe that they had us work on the roof of that auditorium 'cause it's so big and so high and we're young, very young. In fact, this older man slipping grabbed a wire and he got electrocuted up there on that roof. They still didn't take us off the job because I guess they needed to get it done. So there was a variety of things, there was always different kinds of jobs if you really wanted to work at it, and then I didn't mind.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MN: Now, what year did you leave Poston?

RW: I think we left in the end, about the end of '45, probably around August, I think, because I started Redlands High School in September and I started when the year started, so I was home by then, back in Redlands.

MN: How did you hear about the end of the war?

RW: Well, are you talking about with Japan. I was there at Redlands already at that time, at Redlands High School. And it was just on the news and everything, but I just took it as just an expected event and I didn't have anyone in school say anything to me or comment or say anything like that. I was just gonna say, in fact, later year, maybe in my junior year, I think it was, I'd be walking around school and people would say, "Hi, Captain Wada. Hi, Captain Wada." And I didn't know why they were calling me that, so I asked a friend of mine that was in my class, Louie Moreno, I said, "Hey, Louie, how come they're calling me Captain Wada?" 'Cause even the girls that I knew would say, "Hi, Captain Wada. Hi, Captain." So he took me to the library and showed me the Saturday Evening Post, and there was a big ad in there with, you know, "Buy Bonds, Sink Tojo," and there's a picture of an admiral, or I guess it was Tojo with his horn-rimmed glasses, buck teeth, and this friend of mine, Jimmy Martinez, a good artist, put Captain Wada and arrowed it to that picture of Tojo, that was in the library so all the kids were seeing it. So it was not a derogatory thing, it was kind of a big joke. And then in my annual, next to my picture it says "Captain Wada, if you please." It was just a nickname that stuck with me in high school.

MN: So when you got back to Redlands -- actually, did you immediately go back to Redlands? Or did you go to San Diego for a while?

RW: No. Well, I went to San Diego while my mother was still in Poston to help my sister and brother-in-law start his ranch down there. My brother Hank and I went down there to help him do that, and then I went back to camp and then I went to the administration office to see if I could get a permit to go back to Redlands, and most people can't believe I did it, but I went over there and, what, I'm fifteen years old, told 'em I wanted to go back. And they said, "Well, why are you going? Don't you have an older brother or something?" I said, well no, they're gone or whatever. And so they said, "Well, you're awfully young to be going back by yourself," and so I guess I kept talking a big story, so they said, "Well, you seem mature enough. Okay, we'll give you the permit and the ticket." So they gave me a ticket and I took the train from Parker to San Bernardino, took the bus from San Bernardino to Redlands, stayed with Madrid for a while and went to the house to check on the house, and then I went back to Poston. And I think about that today and I think, how in the world did I do that? [Laughs] Where'd I get the nerve to even do that? Can't believe I did that.

MN: How did Bob Madrid and his family react when you returned?

RW: Well, they were surprised because I wasn't in contact with them, and I just went to Redlands not knowing where I was gonna stay. I figured I'd stay at the house, our house, or I could find some place to stay. Obviously I probably wouldn't be able to just go to a hotel and get a place in a hotel, didn't have the money for that, anyway. But they were just surprised at what I told 'em, where I was at, where I'd been the last three years. They knew our whole family, so my brother just above me, he was in the same class with Madrid's older brother, and then the sisters were same age with my sisters. We're all at Lincoln Elementary School, all the kids all the way through. They were just surprised when I told 'em where I was all that time.

MN: Did you encounter any hostilities when you first returned?

RW: No, nothing. Nothing at all.

MN: Now the next --

RW: Go ahead. I'm sorry, I was gonna say that, again, being in the Mexican neighborhood, I didn't have anything to worry about. They didn't have any ill feelings of any kind.

MN: You had a Mexican family living in your house. Did they willingly move out once you returned?

RW: Yeah. They left. Didn't leave the house in real good shape, but, well, they weren't gonna do anything to fix it up either. They just wanted a place to live.

MN: Now, when you and your mother came back, did Butch come along, your dog?

RW: Yeah. We brought him home. And then it wasn't too long after we were home, I guess I had moved to L.A., and when I came home I guess the dog got in a fight with another dog and died.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MN: You returned in '45, you started Redlands High School. You kind of shared about some of the incidents when you first returned, about Red. Tell me about Robert, is it Lage?

RW: Yes.

MN: Tell me how he made you feel when you returned.

RW: Well, Bob was probably one of the first Caucasian guys that really made me feel welcome. They had what they call a Hi Y group at high school -- you know how they have different groups. The Hi Y was affiliated with the YMCA, and he was very active there and he was in the Hi Y, and he got me to join them and we used to spend all our free time at the YMCA playing sports, playing basketball. When they used to have a dinner at the YMCA, big dinner for something like Thanksgiving or something, we went and worked in the kitchen or the mess hall, we cleaned up after the party and stuff like that. So we were always doing something together. We would play basketball at the YMCA. That's really where I became a little better player enough to get on the varsity, because maybe I wasn't that good as a sophomore and maybe I deserved to be cut, but I just took it that I was cut because I was Japanese. But Bob Lage made me feel very comfortable, and he and I are still close today. I visit, talk to him every few weeks on the phone. Retired as a Navy Captain and was a graduate of the University of Redlands.

MN: Now what year did you graduate from Redlands High School?

RW: 1948.

MN: At your fiftieth year reunion you were asked to be a speaker at your high school reunion. Can you share some of what you had said at the speech?

RW: Well, I told them that this gives me an opportunity to thank them for treating me as one of their peers, treating me equally. I mentioned to them that just after Pearl Harbor, I told them about the man in Mentone threatening me and I told 'em that that the fact that as a kid we couldn't go swimming in the city Plunge except on one day a week when it was for the minorities. And the next day they were gonna drain the pool, I told 'em a lot of those prejudices that happened, and then I just, I pretty much capped my talk telling them that I really appreciated after all these years to get a chance to thank them for treating me so freely, openly. I did tell 'em a little about Poston so that they would know what it was all about -- then I told 'em when I first came back and started school in September, I said I thought I was gonna have to fight with everybody and nobody was gonna talk to me and I was very insecure, but I said when I came on campus, I said I didn't have any problem making friends and not just the ones that were already my friends, but I made new friends, went out for the track team and made a lot of friends from that, and my varsity basketball junior, senior year, made a lot of friends from that. And it turned out to be the best years of my life when I went to Redlands High School.

And the funny thing is I take a mechanical drawing class and Mr. Hardy, he's an older man by then, but when I was taking the class he says, "Come here, Bob. I want to show you something." Takes me over to his displays along the wall within glass cases, and there's a drawing in there had Bessie Wada on it, and he says, "This is your sister." Through my different elementary school and high school I'd run into different teachers that would say, "Oh, are you another Wada?" Are you So-and-So's brother? And as the older teachers got older, the more they knew the kids, which was probably one of the fun things about growing up in a small town like that.

MN: Now you kind of briefly mentioned earlier about your brother Hank, or Henry, how he tried to enlist in the Marines and he couldn't enlist the first time around.

RW: Yeah, 1946 he went down to try to join the Marines and they turned him down solely because he was Japanese. And then in '47 he went back and then this time they let him in, and then in '49 he got discharged after two years. And then in the meantime, in '48, I had joined the Marine Reserves in high school 'cause they came kind of like recruiting and I though yeah, I'll just join -- and so then when the Korean War started, then Hank reenlisted in '50, even though he was discharged in '49. And I was discharged in '50, May, and the war started in June, so then I decided to join too.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MN: But around this time you also got reacquainted with Jo Ann Itsuko Ikeda. Who was she and what happened between you too?

RW: Well had a sister and originally her family was from Orange County, way before the war, and her sister lived in Riverside, was married to this trucking company guy, Tek, one of the Nishimoto Brothers. And I was playing sports with the guys in Riverside and I was always in Riverside. We always went to Dr. Harada's house, the famous house, that was our hangout.

MN: Harold Harada.

RW: Huh?

MN: Harold Harada?

RW: Yeah, that was our hangout, his house, and we would always go there or the Japanese church there, so I had met her at the softball games, and then I had also met her through some friends here in L.A. 'cause she was going to L.A. High School with a friend, Roberta Shiroma. They were both going to L.A. High School and were working as housegirls in that area. So I got to know her, and then I didn't see her for a while, maybe a year, and then just happened to run into her on First Street right here in Little Tokyo, at the P Car line, and she was in the waiting zone there, and funny thing is I rode with her all the way back to her stop and then we started seeing each other after that. And I remember after that we did eventually get married, and then I mentioned to her, wow, that was really a coincidence we got together there at that, the P Car line stop, and she just seriously said, "Do you really think that was an accident?" So she had, she had found out from Roberta, 'cause I was working with Roberta's boyfriend, so they knew exactly where and when I would catch that P Car to go back to where I was staying in a boarding house at the time. So we got together. I don't know if you want to hear all of her story or, is that all you wanted to know?

MN: Well, she plays a real significant role in your life. You got married.

RW: Well, what happened was when the Korean War started I didn't get called up in the reserves because I was discharged a month before. That's ironic. I mean, I'm discharged one month before the war starts. Now if I were still in the reserves I wouldn't be here talking to you. I would've been called up, and the guys that went to Korea in the first four or five months, it was just pure suicide because they were over there ill trained, ill equipped and not ready for what, they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. So anyway, when the war started I told her I'm gonna reenlist, and she didn't want me to right away, so I said, well, I don't want to get drafted in the army so I want to go in the Marines. And she said, "Well, why don't you wait and let's get married first and then wait for your draft notice?" I said, well, okay. I didn't want to, but I said okay, and so it took a little while to set plans to get married. We got married and within a month after we're married I got my draft notice. I called Bob Madrid right away in Redlands and asked him if he wanted to join with me, and so he said yeah, so he came to L.A., we joined and I moved Jo Ann to Redlands to live with my mother and to stay with her.

And then Bob and I went down to San Diego to boot camp, and we went through boot camp together, came home, and while I was home we were visiting her sister living in Thermal with her husband's family, brothers were all produce truck drivers. Jo Ann and I went to Thermal to visit her sister Yoko. While we were down there, the second day she got sick. She wasn't feeling good. So we took her back to the house, and then that night she wasn't too comfortable, but anyway, we went to sleep, and then her sister woke me up about three o'clock and says there is something wrong with Jo Ann, we have to take to her to the hospital. "What's the matter?" She's got all these red spots all over her and she's not feeling good. She's hemorrhaging. So we took her to the hospital and they looked at her, checked her over, then they said, "Well, we'll check her out in the morning and have a doctor check her." So I thought okay, they know what to do, so I helped put her in the bed, and then I noticed she wasn't crying, but had little teardrops that were pink. I said, "I'll just stay here with you." She said, "No, why don't you go home and wash up and get some rest and come back when the doctor's here." "Okay." Well, we went home, but she died a couple hours after that. Then the Red Cross gave me another couple of weeks to stay home and I, if I'd known I never would have stayed home. I didn't know I was gonna get separated from Bat. I thought we'd still get together when I went back to Camp Pendleton, but we got assigned to different units.

Anyway, the thing about Jo Ann was she kept wanting to have a baby and I kept saying no, I don't want you to have a baby. She said, why not? I said, "If I don't come home, then you'll be stuck with a baby and you won't be able to get remarried or something." She said, "No, but that's why I want the baby, if you don't come back, I will have a part of you." I guess only, a woman thinks that way, not the man. So anyway, I guess she fooled me because I was going through some of her things recently in the last few years, 'cause I hadn't looked in that box for a long time, and I found one of these little Hallmark calendars that you carry, and she had it marked on one day she had "missed" and then she had the days numbered up to a certain number. I thought about the lady she used to work for, when I went to see her after she died and she said asked, "Was Jo Ann pregnant?" And I said, "No, I didn't want her to be pregnant." She says, "Well, there's that tubular pregnancy. Sounds like that could've been, sounds like that's what it was." I said, "I don't know." So that's always in the back of my mind, so just a few years ago I checked the computer and looked it up, and it had the description and it was pretty close so I figured that's what happened, that she was pregnant and didn't tell me about it. And then, of course, I think if I'd have known she was pregnant maybe the hospital would've known something, but at three in the morning I think they don't know what they are doing.

But the ultimate thing about all that is I just figure that that was God's plan. I wasn't supposed to be with Bat. He took her life to separate us. That's the hardest part. But then there was a purpose, I guess. There was a reason for it. And it was a hard, hard way to learn, but then after that, other things happened that are just mind boggling. We go to Korea, my brother's there, Madrid comes over, we get to visit while we're in reserve and take pictures and just enjoy it. We're here for a war just for the experience. We're gonna go home. We'll see you when you get home. One day this battle is going on and I was there on that hill and coming back with a captain, and as we're coming down the road in his jeep, then I see this unit of guys walking along the side of the road, they're gonna go attack that hill next. And out of hundreds of Marines along the side of the road I see Madrid, and I just yelled at him, "Hey, Bat." And captain said, "Who's that, your compadre?" "Yes, sir, my buddy from back home." He slams on the brakes, then says, "Go talk to him. I'll wait for you. They're gonna hit the hill next." So I got off to go talk to him and ask him how he felt, and he said, "Well, I wasn't scared 'til we found out we're gonna be the point platoon," which is the guys that go first 'til the enemy shoots at you, then you know where they're at. So then I asked him where my brother was. He said, "Oh, he's back there, coming up." I said, "Okay, well I got to go, so keep your head down." I said, "Don't forget, we got a big beer bust." He says, "Yeah, okay. I'll be there." Then he was killed a few hours after that, so my feeling is, well, did God take Jo Ann's life to save mine? Is that a coincidence? Why did I get that chance to see him? So, yeah, it's a lot of...

MN: So if Jo Ann had not passed away and that you had not been given an extra time to be with your friend, your family, you would've been in that same unit as Bat.

RW: With Bat, yeah. We're gonna go back to Pendleton. We were gonna train in the same unit. My brother was in another company, but he was in the same unit, and my brother got wounded right after that for the second time too. And then, again, if it wasn't for Jo Ann I would've joined the Marines back in June when the war started, but she convinced me not to, and so she was here to keep me from going. I mean, God kept her here then and put us together for that reason. He put us together and then she actually saved my life in a couple of ways, by holding me back, not letting me go right away, and then, I guess she held me back, but that wasn't enough, so God had to take her life to separate me from Bat. And that did separate us...

MN: After you came home from Korea, you found out later that your friend, Louis Moreno, became a motorcycle police officer, and while you were out fighting in Korea what did you find out that he was doing back at your house?

RW: Well, when I came back he was one of the first guys I ran across because he was the guy that showed me that picture about Captain Wada, he said, "You know, while you were gone I used to go visit your mom all the time." I said, "Oh yeah? Well that was nice of you." And he said, "Yeah, I figure if I go there and people around see a police motorcycle out there in front of the house all the time then they won't mess with your mom," 'cause she was alone. I said, "Thanks, Louie. That was great of you." He did that just to kind of protect my mother.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

MN: I'm gonna move forward a little bit, just because of the time, but I wanted to ask you, in 1990s when the Japanese American National Museum was gonna put Bruce Yamashita in as part of the, the soldiers exhibit, and he had filed a lawsuit against the Officer Candidate School, Marine Officer Candidate school, and you were very outspoken about that. How did you feel when actually Bruce won that lawsuit?

RW: Well, I don't think he won the lawsuit, okay? And I haven't really given it much thought anymore as to what he's doing. People have asked me in the past what's he doin' now, and I don't know. I know he got his rank and he's got promoted, but I heard he asked for discharge, or he got out. And I just feel that he had his intentions, but I don't think they were the right intentions. He said he had met an officer in the Marine Corps, an officer had talked him into joining the Marines, and then he said, "I think it would be a good opportunity to meet people and to travel, so I joined the Marines." Well, you don't join the Marine Corps to meet people and travel. You can do that in the navy, but you can't do that in the Marine Corps they train you, their first thing that they train you is to protect yourself in combat and to protect your fellow Marine. The fellow Marine's life is more important than yours. Then your occupation in the Marine Corps is second. If he's gonna be a lawyer in judge advocate's office, he can do that, but he has to be a Marine first, okay? And they really stress that. A Marine is trained to fight and to protect themselves from getting killed and protect their fellow Marine. That's why there's a camaraderie of Marines. I can see a guy on the street and he'll see my shirt and say, "Hey, Semper Fi. You in the Marines?" "Yeah. Oh yeah," and you talk and you're friends. It's just that everybody knows there's a big camaraderie.

There's this guy that was killed in Afghanistan and he, his family said that he told them that, "I'm sorry, I have to go back to, back to Afghanistan." They said, why? You already went. You don't have to go. "I have to go back for my fellow Marines." That's what it's all about, and so Yamashita joined for the wrong reason. He used this reasoning of being prejudiced, but I know a lot of Marines that were officers in the Marine Corps. Dave Miyoshi was a captain in Vietnam. Cliff Ishii, Reverend Cliff Ishii was a Marine officer. In the late '50s when I was bowling at the Old Vogue Bowl downtown L.A., that's quite a while back, there were two young Marine officers standing there watching, I think they came to see somebody they knew. So there's been a lot of Marine officers and they all went through a lot. They went through something that's kind of questionable, but Miyoshi went through it being dressed as a Viet Cong and stuff like that. Some people chastise him for that, but I don't. He took it. But if you don't learn to take that stuff, if you get captured, say you were in Vietnam, you got captured and you got no chance once they start, once they start punishing you. You got no chance to not say, "Oh, I'm here by mistake," this and that. [Interruption] My last comment is if somebody wants to have the camaraderie and the pride of being a Marine, you have to earn it. You can't just expect 'em to give it to you and then you go around saying you're a Marine. It doesn't work that way. And I'm not saying there's anything more special, but they train you in such a way that you really respect other Marines. You got to earn that right. I don't have anything against him. I'm not sure if that's the right way to go to sue the Marine Corps for something like that.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MN: And I'm gonna ask you a question that everybody asks you. The Marine is the toughest branch. They have the reputation as being the toughest branch in the military. Why did you pick the, pick to join the Marines?

RW: Well, I regret it now because I got my friend killed, but from when we were kids he and I used to talk about wanting to be Marines, and we'd get brochures from the recruiting office and it always said "first to fight." Okay, that's one of their selling, first to fight. And I guess that's what intrigued me. I know it sounds corny, it sounds kind of braggish now that I'm home safe, but I wanted to experience a war. My brothers did. I didn't want to be the one to be here and not be able to say I experienced a war. So we were doing what Bat's brother said to me, "You don't have to feel so bad that, you guys did what you wanted to do since you were kids." And he said, "Heck, he would've died in a car accident if he was home." That's consoling, but I still put him in harm's way. I'm the one that asked him to go.

MN: Well, Bob, Madrid could've said no. I mean, that was his choice too.

RW: He wouldn't have said no to me. I mean, he'd go where I went. And what was good, we went through boot camp together and we struggled together and got through it together. Only when we went to Korea I wasn't with him to help him, and that's the part that hurts, is that I wasn't there to help him this time. It's... well, I wanted to experience war, so here I am over there, and when I first got there I'm assigned to headquarters. That's why I was in a jeep with the captain. We had gone to the front line and were in the trenches. He was there for some reason with our tanks firing over there, so as we're coming back is when I saw Bat just before he was killed. Then when Madrid got killed, I went to the commanding officer and told him I want a transfer. I wanted to go to Madrid's unit, or my brother's unit in the infantry. And they said, "Well, we don't really want to transfer you out of the tanks, so what about if we put you in a tank?" "Yes, sir, fine." 'Cause that's what I was trained for, so then the second three-quarters of my time there they assigned me to a tank. I was with that until I came home. But then I didn't get my fill. I didn't get what I wanted, to really do my fighting. We did do some fighting. I did get shot at. I went through a lot, but, I mean, I didn't have enough.

So when we were supposed to come home, I asked this new lieutenant that had just come in, I said, "Lieutenant, could I extend over and stay longer?" And he said, "Sure. Go check with the CO, (Commanding Officer)." So I went and talked to him. I went into their tent and the CO says, "What is it, Wada?" I said, "Sir, I understand I'm supposed to go home." He says, "Yeah." And I say, "Well, we're over here in this new area. Can be some new fighting over here." He says yeah, and I said, "I want to extend over and stay another six months. Can I?" He answered, "What's the matter with you, Wada? You cracked up or something?" I said, "No, sir." Well he says, "You know, if we send the transfer orders back to Division and tell 'em you want to stay, you know what they're gonna do?" And I says, "No, sir." He says, "They're gonna take you back there and use you as an interpreter. You want that?" And I said, "No, sir. I just want to stay with my tank." "Well, I think you better just go home." So I came home, but in answer to your question, that's why I joined the Marines. I wanted to experience the war, and at times I feel I like didn't, I didn't get enough. And I'm not sayin' I didn't get any, but I got shot at and saw a lot of guys killed and stuff, but I wanted to stay, but not if they're gonna take me further back and be an interpreter.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

MN: Okay. Bob, I know you were really athletic, you were involved in a lot of sports, and you founded SEYO. Can you tell us what SEYO stands for and what it is?

RW: Well, SEYO stands for Southeast Youth Organization, and way back in '63 I got together with a few people in our area, and we had put together a few teams of baseball for the kids from eight to twelve years of age. That's a big spread, but we didn't have many kids. We put together a little league of our own to sort of have a place for the kids to play because as they grew up, they may not be able to play high school ball. So we did it for just Japanese kids in the area and it just has expanded into a youth organization that has over two thousand kids playing now. And we involved all the organizations in the Orange County area to provide the teams and the funding and stuff like that, so it's a very well known group in the area. I was the president the first five years, and then I was getting tired and I told 'em we had to get some new officers and so we went to a rotation system back then so that every organization had to take a turn at president each year. I understand that's still in their system. I'm very proud that we started SEYO for these youth groups, and I still think that's all part of my story of why Jo Ann died, why I was not supposed to be with Madrid. I was supposed to come home, start SEYO to start the Japanese American Korean War Veterans and the Suburban Optimist Club. I was the President of the Japanese American Korean War Vets for the first four years. The Nisei VFW in Orange County was floundering, ready to fold up, and I pretty much got them a headquarters building. We have a building we own that was given to us by another disbanding VFW post. Now that I've written a memoir book, and I wrote a book about the Japanese American Korean War vets, the veterans in the Korean War, all these things just fall right back to Jo Ann's death. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't be here. Who would've formed SEYO? I thought of that, I'm the one that thought of the name, SEYO. I mean, you can ask anybody from our area, did Bob Wada have anything to do with the SEYO or is he just blowing hot air? They'll blow that right out because I worked hard to start all these things, but it all comes back to Jo Ann.

MN: You were also chair of the Japanese American Korean War Memorial Committee. What did the committee do?

RW: Well, what we did was we raised two hundred thousand dollars and built the memorial right here at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and from there we tacked on to the Vietnam War Memorial, then World War II came in after us and put theirs in there. Now we have the Japanese American National War Memorial Court right here. And then we also raised the money and built a similar memorial listing all the Japanese American names of the guys that were killed in the war in Korea, and we built it between North and South Korea, just to show the Korean people that the Japanese Americans are not bad people that we gave a lot of our blood for them. When you talk to them and they find out Japanese Americans died in Korea and were fighting for the freedom of South Korea, they're astounded. They don't believe it, and they didn't know that Japanese Americans were fighting in the war. I'm just printing a supplement book right now that goes with my main book, Americans of Japanese Ancestry in the Korean War. This supplement lists names of everybody, except the ones we haven't gotten yet, that served during the Korean War, including a lot of women, and we have over five thousand names. And they're listed by name, and that's coming out within the week.

MN: That's a lot of work.

RW: Yeah. So my survival has been very rewarding. End of story.

MN: One last question. 2006, you spearheaded a campaign to get high school diplomas for your brother Hank, sister Helen, and your friend James Sakato. Why was this important for you? It's not your diploma.

RW: Basically, I did it because the state had a new law that allowed granting them the diploma. And, of course, my sister passed away, my brother would never go ask for it, James Sakato was a little older and I knew he wouldn't, and I knew they wouldn't go out and do it themselves and so I just took it on myself to get it for them. And I was fortunately successful and they're happy. And my brother -- he graduated in '45 in Poston -- he goes to the Redlands High School reunions for class of '45. Now he has an official diploma. So I just knew they wouldn't do it, so I knew I had to do it. That was my motive. I think my whole life is I try to satisfy people. I try to do things for people that I think need to be done, and I'm not afraid to work hard to get that, at least I haven't so far. But it's rewarding to me to give something that benefits... I see SEYO people, I see how big SEYO's grown, I mean, it's just mind boggling to see that. And the Korean War Vets are a very big, functioning group.

Like I said, it all boils back to 1950, I don't want to carry this on, but it starts with joining the reserves in high school in 1948 for two years, getting discharged one month before the war starts. I mean, why? I mean, you can say why to everything that's happened in my life, every step of the way. Why did Jo Ann die? Why did I get to see Madrid on the road while there on a break? Why weren't they walking and I couldn't stop and talk to him? But they were sitting on the side of the road on a break. And just one thing after another. How did I just fall into forming SEYO? Why did I start collecting Korean War vets' names years and years ago, and asking myself what am I gonna do with all these names? And then Min Tonai comes, "Hey, I understand you got all these names of Korean War vets." "Yeah," and I didn't even know who Min was. I asked Sam Shimoguchi, "Hey, who is this Min Tonai? He sounds like he's big shot, knows how to get this monument built." Sam asked me, "You don't know who he is?" "No." "He's the president of JCCC." "Gee whiz, I better be nice to him." So those names came in very handy and got us started. So my whole life is, why did I do this, why did this happen, but they all happened, so... that's my life.

MN: Thank you, Bob.

RW: Thank you.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.