Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank K. Omatsu Interview
Narrator: Frank K. Omatsu
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: October 24, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-ofrank-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: Okay, hi. Today is October 24, 2011. We're at Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown Los Angeles. And I'm Sharon Yamato, we're talking today with Frank Omatsu, and on camera is Tani Ikeda. So, Frank, like to start off talking a little bit about your family history, if we might. Can you just tell us a little bit about where your parents are from and how they met?

FO: Yes, okay. My dad is from Shizuoka and my mother is from Tokyo. And my dad, my dad left Japan and went to Hawaii, and he worked there for a while and then he came over to Los Angeles, and he got to know Reverend John Yamazaki, who's the founder of St. Mary's.

SY: Of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

FO: Episcopal Church, yeah.

SY: Here in Los Angeles.

FO: In Los Angeles. And when the exclusion act was gonna be, what do you call it, and in fact, all these single people went back to Japan to get their, get married and bring their wife over and stuff like that. So my dad went to look for a bride, and he ran into Reverend Yamazaki in Tokyo. And from what I understand, Reverend Yamazaki asked him, "What are you doing here in Tokyo?" He says, "I'm looking for a bride." So he says, "Hey, I might know somebody." So he introduced my dad to my mother's family, and her father asked her, "If you get married to this man, would you go to the United States?" and she says, "Yes." So Reverend Yamazaki married them in Tokyo, I believe, and my mother and my dad came back to the United States.

SY: And your father's name?

FO: My dad's name was Fred Ichinosuke Omatsu. My mother's name is Clara Sato Hashizume Omatsu, and she's from Tokyo. And she's from a pretty prominent family, and the fact that most of her family were medical people. My dad's family was farmers. So he came to Hawaii right before the... or right after, I don't know exactly when, but in the Russo-Japanese War.

SY: Wow, very early.

FO: Yeah.

SY: It must have been in the early 1900s.

FO: Yeah. So he was in Hawaii and then he came here to the United States, and then he met Grandpa Yamazaki.

SY: So where was it that he ended up in when he came to the States, the mainland?

FO: He came, he was in L.A.

SY: So from Hawaii he came directly to L.A. And in Hawaii, do you know exactly what he did when he farmed?

FO: I'm not sure exactly what he did, but it had to do something with produce. I know I've seen pictures of him, he had produce trucks and produce boxes, so he must have been in the produce business.

SY: And this was in Honolulu?

FO: I guess so. I guess so, it must have been Honolulu.

SY: So he was there maybe how long, do you think?

FO: I don't know.

SY: You don't know.

FO: He never said anything.

SY: Uh-huh. But now, when he came to Los Angeles, then he ended up in the area where...

FO: Yeah, Uptown, where Grandpa Yamazaki had a church. That was the beginning. Grandpa Yamazaki got all these bachelors and he started a church, a place where they can all gather, evidently.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: Can you talk a little bit about... everybody called him Grandpa?

FO: Well, after the war they called him Grandpa because he was a grandfather. Father John took over the Nisei congregation at St. Mary's.

SY: And Father John was Grandpa's son.

FO: Oldest son. And Grandpa handled all the Issei people.

SY: So Grandpa Yamazaki was here in the United States very early on.

FO: Yes, he was.

SY: And he just met, your dad just met him when he came to the United States?

FO: Well, I don't know exactly when they got together, but I understand that he was one of the young guys that used to hang around at the church. And I don't know what they were doing. My dad never expressed anything about that time.

SY: But it must have been mainly men then, because there weren't that many women who were...

FO: Yeah. That's why they all went back to Japan to get married before the exclusion act took effect.

SY: Uh-huh. So do you have any idea how large a group it was?

FO: No, I don't. I think maybe... I think there must have been ten, ten or fifteen bachelors that hung around the church. And a Miss Louise Patterson, a missionary, started then, and Grandpa Yamazaki was encouraged to become a minister.

SY: Oh, I see. So she was the one that encouraged him to join the ministry?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And she was someone who lived in Los Angeles?

FO: Well, she's a Canadian. The way I understand it, she got the call when she was in Europe. And she went back to Canada to ask if the church would sponsor her in Japan. And the church in Canada said, "Our budget is full now, we can't help you." Evidently she was a woman of means, so she went on her own, and somehow she ended up in Matsumoto, a city in the central highlands of Japan. And then she was a tall, redheaded woman. So she was a striking woman, and evidently she scared all these young guys, so they used to throw rocks at her to have her stay away 'cause they considered her kind of as a demon. But she hung out, and she got to know some of them. And if you go to the St. Mary's church here in Los Angeles, we have a stained glass window, and we call it the Yamazaki Window. And Father John, the son, has little rocks in the stained glass window signifying that these were the rocks that Grandpa threw at Miss Patterson.

SY: So she must have met Grandpa Yamazaki in Japan then.

FO: Yes.

SY: So it was a relationship that started there and then...

FO: I don't know if it was a relationship, but...

SY: [Laughs] A friendship.

FO: Yeah. But from what I understand, I think Dr. James Yamazaki could better explain it, and you ought to get him to talk with you.

SY: He's one of Grandpa Yamasaki's sons...

FO: He's the second son.

SY: I see.

FO: And he comes into L.A. every now and then, so maybe you ought to get him. But he, Grandpa Yamazaki kind of was the shepherd for all these young guys, to keep 'em out of trouble and help 'em find jobs and help 'em learn the language. And he did a good job, evidently.

SY: But he formed sort of a special bond with your father.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

FO: Well, the thing is, he knew my father, and then when they met in Japan, Grandpa Yamazaki asked my dad, "What are you doing here?" And my dad told him, "I'm looking for a wife."

SY: So he says, "I may know somebody," so he introduced, Grandpa Yamazaki introduced my dad to my mother's family. And my mother was a young, fifteen, sixteen years old, and my dad wanted to get married to her, and her father asked her, "Do you want to go to the United States?" and she said, "Yes."

FO: So she was married then to your father when she was very, very young.

SY: Young, yeah. And so did Father Yamazaki have then sort of a guardianship of your...

FO: Yeah. The thing is, my mother's family or parents told Reverend Yamazaki that, "Yoroshiku tanomimasu, we're going to depend on you to watch over our daughter." So they are... that's why the so-called Yamazaki family and the Omatsu family, we're close, but we're not related. Because my grandfather, I guess, tanomu, Reverend Yamazaki, 'cause my mother, a young lady, was going to come. So if anything happened, she was supposed to contact Reverend Yamazaki and he will help out.

SY: Wow. So he must have really trusted your father, too.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And so then they ended up coming straight to Los Angeles, and can you tell us a little bit about that uptown area? Because it's not really considered uptown today, right?

FO: Well, we considered it uptown, but the people in uptown now doesn't consider it. I don't know what they call it now. But we had a lot of Japanese settled in there, thanks to Grandpa Yamazaki and his recruiting to get a church. And he got all these young people to come, and they settled in the Uptown area, that's between Vermont and Western and Olympic and San Marino.

SY: So it's west downtown L.A., but about how many miles?

FO: Three or four miles.

SY: Three or four miles. And so this is way before the war, there was an area in Los Angeles that St. Mary's Episcopal Church was the center of.

FO: Yes.

SY: And so most of the people in that area would go to this church, then.

FO: But the thing is, a lot of these people that lived in the area, they were Buddhist, so they didn't want to get too involved with the Christian church, but Grandpa Yamazaki helped everybody. And they, the people, Grandpa Yamazaki started the Japanese school. And the people around them said, "There's too much Christianity involved in everything Grandpa does," so they broke away, some of them broke away, and they started this Daini Gakuen, the "Number two gakuen" on Fedora.

SY: And they had a Buddhist church in the area, too?

FO: No.

SY: Just the Japanese school?

FO: Yes.

SY: I see. And so they then cut their ties with the Episcopal church.

FO: No, they didn't cut their ties, but the kids all come back to church.

SY: I see, so it's more social then.

FO: Yeah. But the parents, they kind of drifted away. But what are you gonna do?

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

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: So now, Frank, let's find out when you were born. When was that, what day and year were you born, and where? We're gonna find out how old you are.

FO: [Laughs] What day? Gee. I was born March 31, 1924, at Rice Maternity Hospital in Uptown. But Rice Maternity was a little hospital for a maternity ward, they had one or two maternity ward, and that's where most of the Japanese in that area was born. It was on Twelfth and Harvard, and we lived about five houses away from this maternity ward.

SY: So was it a place where all the people in the area, not just Japanese, it was for everyone?

FO: Yeah.

SY: Anyone who had...

FO: Anybody that wanted to come.

SY: And it was just... I mean, did your mother deliver you and then go home right away?

FO: No, she stayed in the maternity ward there for a while.

SY: Uh-huh. And were you, you were not the first child in the family.

FO: No, I was number two. I had an older brother, George.

SY: And was he born?

FO: He was June 3, 1922.

SY: Oh, so just two years older. And he was born in the same place?

FO: Yes.

SY: So your parents then, do you have any idea when they arrived in Uptown?

FO: No, I don't know the dates. You know, I tried to find it, but maybe I'll run across it sometime, but I don't know.

SY: And how about the rest of your siblings? Do you have other siblings?

FO: Yes, I have a younger brother named Paul. I had a younger brother named Paul, and I had another named Hoover. And the youngest sibling is Grace, she was the only female among the siblings. Right now George is gone, he had Alzheimer's, and he's gone. Paul was a schoolteacher out in the valley, and he had a heart attack, I guess. I never knew how he died, but he never got married and he died. And then now my youngest brother, Hoover, he's got Alzheimer's. And my sister and I are the only one that's normal, I guess.

SY: And your sister lives in Los Angeles, too?

FO: She lives in Carson. She married a guy from Hawaii and she was a schoolteacher in Gardena area.

SY: I see. So when you were born in Uptown, do you remember very much about your childhood there when you were very, very young?

FO: Yeah, we all went to Hobart Boulevard School, which was between Harvard and Hobart on Olympic Boulevard.

SY: So very close by to where you lived.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And you went to a school that was integrated?

FO: Yeah, it was integrated, and then after that we went, we walked to St. Mary's to go to Japanese school.

SY: You did that every day?

FO: No, not every day, but I don't remember if we went every day or not, but in junior high we went every day.

SY: But when you were in elementary school, did you have other activities besides St. Mary's, or was St. Mary's kind of where you went?

FO: Yeah. St. Mary's, it was the center of all activities as far as we were concerned.

SY: Uh-huh.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: And so your parents... and what was your father doing at the time?

FO: My father was a produce buyer. He went out to the surrounding area where the Japanese were farming, and if they grew lettuce or celery, he would go out there and calculate how many crates of celery or lettuce that they can harvest on this ground, and then his boss will buy the whole patch. So... and then they would cut that celery or lettuce and bring it back into the packing house, and then they would ship it back east.

SY: And so he worked for someone else doing this. What was the person's name that he worked for?

FO: Well, my dad was working for J.T. Bunn, and they used to call it J.T. Bunn & Company, I guess. And during the Depression, Mr. Bunn really helped our family by paying my dad a certain price each month, so we didn't starve.

SY: Wow. And this was someone who... do you know how he met Mr. Bunn?

FO: No, I don't. I really don't. But he lived in, Mr. Bunn lived in the Wilshire area, north of Wilshire. And I remember we used to go to his house every Christmas to present to present a Christmas package and stuff like that. So he lived in, he was relatively rich as far as we were concerned.

SY: Uh-huh. He had a pretty big operation?

FO: I guess so, but I'm not sure.

SY: Was your dad one of several produce buyers or was he the only one?

FO: He handled the Japanese farmers. Now, I don't know if there was other farmers who were not, that Mr. Bunn wanted, but Mr. Bunn used to concentrate on the Japanese farmers.

SY: I see. So your dad, then, became pretty familiar with the other farmers in the area.

FO: Yeah, yeah. He used to go up to Venice and Culver City, Santa Monica area, where all the Japanese famers were. And he did business with them.

SY: Do you remember that time, would you go with him when he went to some of these farms?

FO: Yeah. When I was in high school, I drove him around during the summer whenever we had a vacation, and that's how I got to know all these farmers, Mr. Sakioka, Mr. Chikazawa, and Mr. Kita. There was a female farmer.

SY: Female farmer, really?

FO: Yeah, her husband died and left her with a plot of land, so she farmed that. And everybody felt sorry for her, so she always got the top price. But she was a very capable young lady.

SY: That's amazing. So there were quite... I mean, if you had to say how many farms that you would visit...

FO: No, I don't.

SY: You can't say.

FO: I don't remember.

SY: But there were quite a few Japanese in the area at that time?

FO: Yeah.

SY: With... I would imagine land that they were just farming, they didn't own the property?

FO: No, in those days, we couldn't own any property.

SY: Uh-huh. So they would just farm this land, and then your father would know them. So he did this for all the years prior to the war?

FO: Prior to the war, yeah.

SY: So that was quite a few years he was involved in that business.

FO: Right.

SY: And I would imagine that Mr. Bunn was, like you said, he was fairly prosperous doing this, then?

FO: Yeah.

SY: I see. Were there others, do you know, that did this kind of work?

FO: No, I don't. There must have been, but I'm not familiar.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: So from elementary school, when you went to elementary school, it was integrated, but was there a large group of Japanese at your elementary school?

FO: Yeah, from Normandie to Western, all the Japanese went to that school, Hobart school. And then after we graduated from the sixth grade, we went to Berendo junior high school, and that's where we met a lot of guys who lived on the other side of Normandie. And they lived between Normandie and Vermont. We lived between Normandie and Western, so we finally got to know them. And some of them went to Maryknoll, Maryknoll had a school, and some of them went until seventh grade to Maryknoll.

SY: Maryknoll was closer to downtown, to Little Tokyo.

FO: Yeah, it is downtown.

SY: Right, right. So they were also closer to Maryknoll then... in distance. So that whole... really, Little Tokyo at that time was sort of the center for all the Japanese Americans, but, so would you end up going to Little Tokyo a lot?

FO: No, no. We stayed away from Little Tokyo. I don't know why, but we didn't have the money to go on the streetcar to Little Tokyo. The only time I remember that we went to Little Tokyo was to go eat Chinese food. And as we grew up, we all played judo, and there used to be a Rafu Dojo over where the museum is, right across the street from there. So that's the only time I can remember that we went into Little Tokyo. So we didn't know anybody in Little Tokyo as such.

SY: Really. But there was still a big group of Japanese living where you were living, so you didn't really need feel left out or anything.

FO: No.

SY: And so you mentioned this dojo, was that affiliated with St. Mary's at all, or was it completely...

FO: No, no. It was all independent.

SY: So there were other activities that you were involved in?

FO: Yeah, mostly it was judo, and the dojo was located on Fedora and Twelfth. So we used to go there. My mother went to Japan in 1935 or '36, and she brought back judo wear and kendo wear. So my dad says, "You guys got to take either one," so we all took judo, the four brothers, we took judo until the war.

SY: Uh-huh. Do you remember that? You remember enjoying that?

FO: Yeah. I can't forget it because I was the tallest guy there, and the judo teacher, when he saw this certain person come in, he would like to show off. So he would like to call me up to do judo with the teacher, and he used to flip me all over, just to impress all these people, all these hakujin people. Later on we found out that they were part of, the police was looking into judo, and they were thinking of training some of the police into judo.

SY: Oh. So the police wanted to learn the art of judo. And your instructor, was he Japanese?

FO: Yes, he was Kuniyuki-sensei, and he was from Seattle. But he was a toughie.

SY: So the church, then, even though you went to the church every day... so what kinds of activities were you involved in through the church?

FO: Well, we had Sunday school, and we had something like the Cub Scouts, we used to call it KCB, Knights of Columbus something.


FO: So that was like the Cub Scouts, and then we went into the Boy Scouts. Father John had started the Boy Scouts. And then we went into a Wilshire Y program, and we used to compete with the other Y groups in the Wilshire area.

SY: Like what kinds of things?

FO: Oh, basketball and baseball.

SY: So that was not all Japanese, though?

FO: No.

SY: It was with other... but your, St. Mary's was primarily Japanese.

FO: Yes.

SY: And then you'd go out and compete with some of these other groups. So it was a real active program then?

FO: Yeah, it was pretty active until the war. And we all played ball all the time, and it was either softball or hardball that we played. Very few of us went out for football. My dad wouldn't sign my consent to play football because he didn't want... my brother got injured playing football. So my dad says, no, he's not gonna sign the consent letter, because he wanted us all to take judo.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: So when you were then, you were from junior high school, then you ended up going to high school. And this is all still before the war.

FO: Yes.

SY: And what high school did you go to?

FO: I went to L.A. High.

SY: L.A. High, which is still there, right?

FO: Still there, yeah. My dad says that he graduated from L.A. High when it was in downtown L.A.

SY: Wow. So he went to school here when he first came.

FO: Yeah, evidently.

SY: So L.A. High originally was in downtown, and then it moved?

FO: And it moved to the present location.

SY: I see. So now when you were in high school, did you hang around with mainly kids from St. Mary's?

FO: Well, we hung around with kids from your own neighborhood, and then if you went into sports, you got to know all these athletes and stuff.

SY: So you were a pretty big athlete?

FO: No, I'm not a big athlete. Maybe I'm tall. But I used to go out for baseball.

SY: You liked sports then, huh?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And, I mean, do you remember experiencing any prejudice when you were in high school or junior high school?

FO: No, I didn't experience any kind of prejudice. We didn't know what prejudice meant. But in junior high school, we played softball, and we had noontime leagues. And we had to, if you're the captain of the team, you had to go around signing people up on a contract, then we formed teams that way. And the gym coach, Mr. Trotter, used to be a coach at UCLA gym team... no, track team, so he wanted us to learn about contracts and things. So we had the big league and the peanut league. The big league was the older fellows, and the peanut was the younger fellows, and those are aren't experienced with baseball as much. But everybody you signed up had a contract. So if you didn't do well in the big leagues, then you were gonna be sent down to the minor leagues, so to speak. You know, that contract went with you. And the captain, that team, had to sign that contract to accept you, so we knew something about contracts.

SY: The way sports works. That's very interesting. So that was thanks to this coach that was there at the school.

FO: Yeah.

SY: That's interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: So, okay, so by the time, then, do you have vivid memories of Pearl Harbor, when that happened?

FO: Well, we were, we were in church. We were just about finished with the service, and this guy came up to us, this Fumi Miyamoto, he said, "Pearl Harbor was bombed."

SY: You remember the name of person who told you?

FO: Yeah. So we said, "What are you talking about? Pearl Harbor, where's that?" We didn't know. "Yeah," he said, "it was bombed." It just came over the radio, 'cause he was a neighborhood kid, and we were all in church, when we came out, we were trying to figure out where Pearl Harbor was. So then we found out and then things started to, we start worrying about our future.

SY: Right. So you were, were you with your family, your whole family was in church when you heard?

FO: Well, the boys, were in the English service, and I guess our parents were there in the Japanese service or something, I don't know. Then we all got together at home and discussed all this.

SY: So your family, your parents, you remember talking about it with them?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And what did they, do you remember what they said?

FO: My dad said, "Japan, baka no koto shita." He says, "They can't beat the U.S. They don't know the power of the U.S. They have resources and manufacturing, and Japan has nothing except their pride." He didn't say it, but he says, "Japan has no chance to win the war."

SY: And was he, did he express concern about what was gonna happen to you as a family?

FO: No. Well, we didn't know at that time whether we were gonna be evacuated or not until we got this order.

SY: It was a few months later.

FO: Yeah. The thing is, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, we were told to stay indoors at night, and they really had the warden out patrolling and stuff like that, so we had to darken our shades, and we couldn't show any light or anything.

SY: Now, was that true just for Japanese families?

FO: No, everybody.

SY: Everybody. So everybody was in the same, same boat. So do you remember going to school the next day?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And what happened at school?

FO: Well, I went to school the next day, and I was in L.A. High and I played baseball, so the baseball team was waiting for me, and they said, "Hey, we got our first war prisoner."

SY: Joking.

FO: Joking. So just then the bell rang, so we dispersed. But they were waiting for me after school during baseball practice. And we used to laugh, and I got to know some pretty good boys.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

SY: They were all... you stayed friends with all of these people on the baseball team?

FO: Mostly, yeah. Because there's one guy, Dick Walsh, he made all-city while we were evacuated, but he went, he became some kind of business partners with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And when the Brooklyn Dodgers came to L.A., he was their advance man, and he scouted the stadium location and things like that.

SY: So it sounds like you had a pretty good baseball team, then, at L.A. High?

FO: No, I was just average, but I was the only Japanese guy on there.

SY: You were.

FO: Yeah, there was a couple of, the Kasai brothers in the lower class, the tenth grade class and stuff like that. But Dick and I kept our friendship up, and he, when he came and started the Brooklyn Dodgers' move and things like that, we kept in touch.

SY: This was way, this was way after the war?

FO: Yes.

SY: It was, it was... did you lose track of him during the war and then...

FO: Yeah. I lost track of him. I lost track of everybody.

SY: And then after the war, how did you end up with --

FO: Well, I read his name, so I called him up, and he remembered me. The reason why we were, Dick and I became good friends was the fact that we used to have a tournament called the Dorsey Tournament, four teams from our area, Western League, played against each other in this tournament.

SY: This is in high school?

FO: Yeah. And there was a fellow by the name of Mauch, Gene Mauch, that I played with in junior high school. And Gene Mauch was on third base. Dick and I were sitting on the bench, and I told Dick, "Mauch's gonna try to steal home." So we both went up to the fence and yelled at our catcher that Mauch's gonna try to steal home." And the coach told me, "You two, get back and be quiet." So we looked at each other and we kind of smiled. And sure enough, Mauch stole home. And boy, the coach wouldn't even look at us.

SY: So you stayed friends from that. [Laughs]

FO: Yeah, so Dick and I became friends, and we still laugh about it, but he died last year. But we met again when, after the war, and I was active in the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and he came to promote the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then they were trying to start this Angel team.

SY: Oh, right.

FO: And I'm Angels, right? So he came to speak, and I hadn't seen him in years. And I says, "Hey, Dick." And he looked at me, and says, "Hey, what are you doing here, Frank?" I says, "I'm the treasurer of the Anaheim Chamber." So we had a little reunion and laughed about our playing days.

SY: That's amazing. And you hadn't seen each other since before the war?

FO: Yeah. But...

SY: So you actually had some good friendships that you formed when you were in high school.

FO: Yeah. Generally speaking, if you're a sports player, you get close to the people that you play with. But Dick and I are, I don't know why, but we became very close. And then when we evacuated, we got the notice... am I getting too ahead of the story too much?

SY: No, no, no. This is good. We were talking about how it happened.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: So when we were, before we broke, we were talking about evacuation, the day it happened, and then you went to school on the next day, and everything was pretty much the same?

FO: Oh, yeah, the same.

SY: There was no...

FO: You know, the student body, they accepted us, because the majority of these people were Jewish. But the ball team, they captured me.

SY: Made fun.

FO: Yeah, they were trying to make fun. So we had a good time, but when the evacuation came, we got the order, and we all assembled. Let's see. There was two days that we were told to register. The first day, the people registered the first day, and then the people who registered the second day. Well, we registered the second day, I don't know why. But we all assembled at St. Mary's. And I gave St. Mary's a copy of the evacuation notice that I found.

SY: You actually found the written papers that you were given?

FO: Yeah.

SY: Each family was given...

FO: My dad had saved it. So after the war, I found it, and made copies and gave it to members of the church. And then I found the copy, the evacuation order saying that, about Union Church. You know, to evacuate, meet at a certain place and stuff like that, so I gave it to the Union Church when I was the president of the AARP.

SY: Why... I wonder why your, did your father have the Union Church one, too?

FO: No. I found that someplace. But the thing is, all the Japanese Christians, they had a group, they all knew each other, the Fujinkai and the fathers, they all knew each other, so I thought, "Hey, they might be able to use this." So when I was the president of the AARP, Little Tokyo, I framed it and I gave it to them. They were shocked that I did such a thing. What am I gonna do with it? I got enough of my own things.

SY: But is it a, was it a paper that each family was given?

FO: Yeah, just like this.

SY: It's not the order that was posted on the...

FO: No. Besides that, we got the little, each family got a little.

SY: Kind of in the mail, you got a little thing.

FO: I don't know how we got it, but everybody had it.

SY: And then you... so your parents knew then that you were supposed to evacuate to St. Mary's, that was the...

FO: Well, the thing is, that's what it said. Those people that registered the first day and the second day will all meet at St. Mary's, and that was the assembly area. So some of us went by bus to the assembly center at Santa Anita, some of us drove a car to Santa Anita. You know, you were supposed to only take what you can carry. Well, my dad had a 1926 Buick, and it was like an armored tank. So my brothers and I, Mas Nishibayashi, we loaded everything onto that car. And we were the second one from the front, and we were supposed to be the second car after, I don't know who was in front of us, but after the escort. So we were going to Santa Anita, and I was driving, and I had a blowout in Eagle Rock, my tire blew out.

SY: Good timing.

FO: Yeah. [Laughs] So we pull alongside and they had a couple MPs stay with us while we changed the tire, and the rest of 'em went into Santa Anita.

SY: So I didn't realize that you could actually drive your car.

FO: Well, they said you could carry only what... I mean, you could take only what you could carry.

SY: Right.

FO: But, you know, we didn't know what to do with the car, so we loaded up the car and we saw all these cars lined up.

SY: And there was a procession of all these cars.

FO: Yeah, there was.

SY: And so then what happened to the car?

FO: Well, we sold it to the government. I saw it in the infield of the Santa Anita racetrack, I saw our car in the infield. There was a whole mess of cars there. So I asked my dad, "Did we sell it to the government?" He said, "The government gave us twenty-five dollars." So you know, we got in late, and my parents were worried about us, because they went on the bus.

SY: I see. It was the kids in the car.

FO: Yeah. So, you know, my older brother and I, and our good friend Mas Nishibayashi, we were all in the car together just loaded, and it blew out. Man, what a day.

SY: [Laughs] But you also had all this stuff inside the car. What did you do with that?

FO: Well, we had to unload -- no, we took it into Santa Anita, and then my folks came after it.

SY: To get their things?

FO: Yeah, to get their things and stuff.

SY: And the rest you just left in the car?

FO: No, we took everything with us into camp, everything that was in the car.

SY: That was in the car. So the car was useful, and you got to carry all that.

FO: Carry it all, yeah.

SY: I'm afraid I don't know if twenty-five dollars is nothing for a car at that...

FO: Now it's nothing.

SY: At that time it was an okay price, you think?

FO: No, it wasn't an okay price, but what are you gonna do? That's what the government gives you, you take it.

SY: Right. And your dad actually owned that car?

FO: Yeah.

SY: That was something he had paid, bought and paid for?

FO: Yeah. We had another car that he sold before. It was a newer car, but we sold that and got a better price, but I told my dad that I'm going to drive that Buick. And he says, "You can't do that," and I says, "Well, load it up and let's see."

SY: That was your idea then.

FO: Well, I don't know whose idea it was, but that's what we did.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

SY: So do you remember the days leading up to that, though, what you had to try to separate out, what you decided to take?

FO: Well, they gave us a list of stuff that we can take, and list of stuff that we can't take. We can't have cameras or radios or anything like that. That's why it amazes me, when I go to the JA museum, you know the TV show that they have in the Common Ground? I sit there just to recall old memories, and I wonder how they got these cameras in there.

SY: The movie cameras, because of the film that they shot.

FO: Yeah. It's amazing. But later on, I thought... I was talking to Harry Honda, he says, "Maybe the army boys brought it in."

SY: I think there... yeah, each person has a different story of how they got it in, I think. But you were told specifically, and how about, like, things like books and other...

FO: Yeah, you could take books and stuff that you can carry. It said on there, "only things you can carry."

SY: Right. So you remember what you chose to take with you? Did you pack your own things?

FO: Yeah, you know, at that time we were involved in sports, so we took all of our sports, baseball bat, ball and glove and stuff like that. And then at that time, I don't know how it started, but they say buy boots, so there was a run on boots at Sears. Everybody had boots. And then everybody, they said, you know, "It's going to be cold wherever we're gonna be sent, we're gonna be sent inland, so it's gonna be cold." So everybody got the lumber jacket-like, heavy jacket.

SY: So you did hear something about where...

FO: Well, there was a lot of rumors going on, so...

SY: Lot of rumors. So you had maybe some idea, but it was, didn't know where it came from.

FO: No.

SY: And so when you, okay, so these two groups that went to St. Mary's, did they end up getting split up?

FO: Yes. We all went together to Santa Anita, and then from there, we were divided. Half of them went to Gila, and Grandpa, Father John took half to Gila, and Grandpa Yamazaki took the rest of us to Arkansas.

SY: So somehow the Yamazakis had, were in charge of, or something like that, two different groups.

FO: Yes. See, because the Yamazakis, Father John had just become an ordained minister.

SY: And he was the oldest son.

FO: And he was the oldest son. The second son, James, was at Marquette University studying. He wanted to be a medical doctor. Then Peter, the youngest son, he went to UCLA. In fact, all the Yamazakis went to UCLA. He was drafted, went into the army. He was in the army already.

SY: Before?

FO: Yeah, before evacuation.

SY: I see. So the oldest son, was it his choice, then, to take this group to Gila?

FO: Well, evidently. I don't know whose choice it was, but we had to have religious leader, so to speak. So they became the symbols.

SY: I see. And your group ended up going to what camp in Arkansas?

FO: Jerome.

SY: Jerome.

FO: The other part, Father John, they were in the desert. We were in the bayou, you know, there's a lot of swamp, lot of water, so we had to drain all that.

SY: Wow. And that was a long trip from Santa Anita.

FO: Yeah, it sure was.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: So what was your impression when you first got to Santa Anita, though, besides seeing your car in the parking lot?

FO: We saw all these people, but we didn't know where they came from or who they were or anything. But it was interesting that we saw all these young ladies. And St. Mary's formed a softball team while we were in camp in Santa Anita. And the San Diego bunch was ahead of us, and they were a solid softball team, they had a solid team. So guys like us, we were still in high school. So our neighborhood, we all played together, so we formed a team and we joined the league. And we almost caused a riot because, us young kids, we were ahead of the San Diego bunch.

SY: You were better.

FO: Yeah. And I think we lost the final, final out, I think we lost by one run. But that stirred up the camp.

SY: The whole camp?

FO: Yeah. Because the whole camp was out there watching the championship game. So we were all invited. Well, we were young kids, and these guys, they were all fishermen and stuff like that. So they had a good pitcher.

SY: So when you say you almost started a riot, it was kind of... what exactly happened?

FO: Well, the competition was so intense, and everybody was rooting for one team or the other. So everybody got all excited, every ball counted. We had one play that I argued about, and that kind of stirred up the people. Now, the Exclusive 20s, I don't know whether you're familiar with the Exclusive 20s.

SY: No.

FO: They were the downtown boys, they were the real yogores, and they were the toughies. So they were behind us. They were ready to fight. But the cooler heads like Father John and Mas Satow and all those guys who were the leaders of their group, they kind of calmed everything, everybody down.

SY: Wow. So there was actually a group from downtown.

FO: At Santa Anita.

SY: At Santa Anita, and they had a name. They were like a... was it considered a gang?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And so it was a bunch of young people.

FO: Young people, that's right. If you come into... if you come into downtown Little Tokyo, if you look at them, they wanted to pick a fight.

SY: Oh, this was before the war, even?

FO: Yeah, they'll tell you, "What you lookin' at?"

SY: They were young people that...

FO: Young people, yeah.

SY: Oh, interesting. So you came, you encountered them in Little Tokyo before the war.

FO: A little bit, not much. But we used to go to, they used to go to the skating rink down here by the Olympic stadium, there used to be a skating rink somewhere. And if you're skating with a young lady, they would try to take her away from you and all that competition.

SY: Very interesting.

FO: So it was rough in those days, you know?

SY: Just among the Asians it was rough.

FO: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

FO: So, anyway, our group was split in two. Father John took the early register people to Gila, and we all went with Grandpa Yamazaki to Jerome.

SY: And do you remember... so you were in Santa Anita for a few months before this happened?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And you were all told that that's what was gonna happen?

FO: Yeah, we were told that because these people were all being, certain areas already were gonna be evacuated, and they were loaded on the train to go wherever they went.

SY: Like people going to Manzanar and other places.

FO: Well, not too much Manzanar because most of the... Manzanar, most of the people were volunteers that went there, I think. But, you know, we got to know a lot of people, and they used to make camouflage nets in the stadium.

SY: At Santa Anita?

FO: Yeah, they hang all these nets up and they put all the canvas sacks making various designs.

SY: And that was something that mainly women did, though, wasn't it?

FO: No, everybody did that.

SY: Everybody helped?

FO: Yeah. But later on, I found out that the army wouldn't allow non-citizens to work there. It was only the guys that were citizens were able to make camouflage nets.

SY: The Nisei.

FO: And then we were all assigned to different mess halls. We had four or five mess halls in that parking lot there, and I was in the, I was assigned to work at the Red mess hall which was in the stands at Santa Anita. So that's where I got to know a lot of people, too, because the San Diego people ate there, and some of the other L.A. people ate there. But our family was in the Green mess hall, so they had another mess hall by their area. Then my wife's group was, her father was a dentist, so they were sent way in the corner, and their mess hall was called the Orange mess hall. But the fact is, that's when the family order broke down. You know, before, we all used to eat together at home, right? And we used to talk and everything. When we went into camp, we ate with our friends, and we just hoped that my dad and mother were able to eat.

SY: But families were kept together in each mess hall, though? It's just that you ate at different times?

FO: Yeah. Presumably, because some of us went to other mess hall to see their food.

SY: You kind of checked it out.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And you had to work in the mess hall.

FO: Yeah, I worked in the mess hall as a dishwasher.

SY: And is it because you were a certain age?

FO: I don't know. I don't know how I... I've been trying to recall how I got there. But we met a lot of young ladies from San Diego.

SY: There was a different area.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

SY: So when you... we didn't cover whether you -- you hadn't graduated from high school when you got the order to evacuate?

FO: Yeah.

SY: How many years did you have left?

FO: I was a senior.

SY: So just a few months you had left.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And did that bother you?

FO: No, but the thing is, when we got to Jerome, they set up a school system. Every camp set up their own school system. And for teachers we had guys that were engineers who worked in the aircraft industry. And we had people who were college students, and we had people who were chemists. So they all were hired, and then I found out later that the surrounding area, all the hakujin teachers wanted to come into teach at the camp because they paid better. So all the good teachers were accepted and they came into camp to teach. And the people that were outside, I understand they were really upset. And then we had sugar and stuff like that. On the outside they were all rationed. So there was real hard feelings there.

SY: So, but as far as you were concerned, you didn't have to finish school.

FO: No, I finished school.

SY: So once you got into camp, you...

FO: Yeah, I finished one year, my senior, I was a senior, so I went to school for a short time and I was in the first graduating class.

SY: Oh, so you graduated in...

FO: In camp.

SY: In Jerome. I see. And when you graduated, then were you given the opportunity to leave?

FO: Yeah. You know, we had nothing to do. But at that time, we had the famous questionnaire, 27 and 28. "Are you gonna be loyal to the U.S.?" "Would you forsake any allegiance to the emperor?" Well, that broke up the family. I don't know how much you people know, but that broke up the family. The people, the parents who didn't have citizenship except in Japan, they wanted to go back to Japan, because the U.S. couldn't guarantee their citizenship. The Kibeis, the guys that were born here and went back to Japan to study and came back, they know the good Japan. And the guys like us, we didn't know what Japan was. So that split the family.

In fact, I'll tell you a story. This one family that we know, the brothers had it out in the bathroom, they were that determined. The parents and the older son wanted to go back to Japan. The younger son was my friend, and he didn't want to go. So he says, "Frank, would you come live with me? My folks are gonna go to Tule Lake." So I said, "Yeah, okay." So I was trying to get my few clothings together. And just then my mother walked in. She says, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm gonna go live with Tee." His name was Tee Saisho. "I'm going to go live with Tee." She says, "No, you're not." I said, "Why not?" "Have Tee come live with us." So my mother and dad kind of adopted Tee. And it was a good thing because later on, when we were all outside, and Tee was in Seabrook, New Jersey. The folks went to Seabrook, and Tee kind of looked after them while we were in the army, my brothers and I. So he was God sent in a way.

SY: That's really a nice story. And what happened to his parents? Did they end up in Tule Lake and then...

FO: Yeah, they ended up, I don't know whether they went to Japan or not, but...

SY: But he managed to stay.

FO: He managed to stay, and he was in Seabrook. And later on, he got married in Seabrook. My mother and father was the baishakunin, the go-between, and supported him. And after the war, I don't know where his parents went -- but they came back to the United States. And the parents came and thanked my folks for taking care of Tee. So we were close at that time.

SY: So in your family, was there a problem? Were your parents kind of thinking...

FO: No.

SY: There was never any...

FO: Never. We never discussed it.

SY: Everybody wanted to stay in the United States?

FO: Everybody wanted to stay.

SY: Even all your brothers, sisters, because they all were born here.

FO: See, because my dad said, "Japan's gonna lose the war. They can't fight this industrial nation. They're nothing. So they're gonna lose the war, mark my words."

SY: But your mother had... well, both of them had family.

FO: Both of them had families, but Mom says, no. She was raised here... she was like an older Nisei because she was that age.

SY: That's right, she was younger when she came.

FO: So the Isseis kind of looked after her. So we all stayed.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

FO: And then I went out to... no, my brother went out to Chicago to work. I went out later on to Chicago to work. My brother, my younger brother went to Kalamazoo College. And then my youngest brother and sister went with the folks to Seabrook. So that was an ideal place for teenagers to grow up in, because they were free to go to Philadelphia, fishing, and all that stuff.

SY: So the young people were, benefitted from it.

FO: Yeah, they did. So I came back from Chicago, I did domestic work in Chicago. Miko Taka's brother first went to Chicago from Gila, and he was a houseboy for thirty-three or four guests. And then he wanted to go to school, so he called another friend, Tosh Matsumoto, and they worked together. And then Tosh wanted to go to school, he wanted to go to MIT, he ended up as an engineer. So they went to see Grandpa Yamazaki who was in Chicago helping people get resettled. And Grandpa Yamazaki wrote to my dad and he says, "You want to go to Chicago?" "Yeah, why not?"

SY: He asked if you wanted to go. Your dad if...

FO: Yeah, so I said, what I wanted to do, I thought about it, and I wanted to go to Northwestern. But when you're working, I did all the dirty work because I was the low man on the totem pole. I cleaned the bathroom, I cleaned the bedrooms and I made all the beds, thirty-something beds every day. And the people who lived there, they were secretaries and models and stuff. You know, some of those gals were good-looking gals. And we had a good time there.

SY: This was the boarding house that this Miko Taka's brother...

FO: First started.

SY: ...had started. So you each then took over when they left, then you would...

FO: No, they didn't leave as such, they went to school. But they came back each day to have dinner and serve dinner. That's the first time, like us, getting served by a waiter and stuff. So they served the dinner, and then we all did the dishes together. And I helped cook, the old lady to cook the various meals.

SY: Because you were not going to school, so you had more work to do all day.

FO: Yeah. So you know... you ever lived in Chicago?

SY: No.

FO: In the winter, it's cold. And the wind blows, and everything, heater was all coal. You had to burn coal to get the heat. So we had to bank the heater with coal every night so that the people would be warm and then we'd have some hot water. So I got tired of that.

SY: Now, can we back up just a little bit? 'Cause you ended up in Chicago after your brother went, because you decided to leave camp because you had nothing to do?

FO: I had nothing to do.

SY: So that was open to you once you graduated from college?

FO: No, from high school.

SY: I mean, from high school, I'm sorry. And was it... you remember how long it was after you graduated from high school that you left?

FO: About three months.

SY: So you were in camp for a while and then you realized that it was...

FO: Yeah, there was no future.

SY: And you remember what you did for those three months?

FO: No, I had a good time.

SY: You just mainly goofed off.

FO: Yeah. You see, we played ball in camp. And when we played baseball against these guys from Central Cal. That was real interesting because we had our Levis and boots on, these guys come marching out with banners and uniforms. Baseball was a big thing for those guys. And we played against each other.

SY: This was the Central Cal, the very famous team?

FO: Yeah.

SY: The Zenimura team?

FO: No, Zenimura went to Gila. But the other, Florin and other small towns, and Sacramento people came into our camp.

SY: And this was common, that all the camps had each team, and then they would play each other?

FO: Well, each block, so to speak, had a team, or a series of blocks had one team. So they set up a league, you know, to keep us busy.

SY: I see. So within the whole camp, you played kind of intramural baseball. So you enjoyed that, that was kind of your sport, then?

FO: Yes.

SY: And it didn't matter what age you were?

FO: No. Anybody that wanted to play, if you're good, you get picked. So we had our own team and this and that.

SY: So that's what you remember mostly then besides working in the mess hall.

FO: Well, we had baseball and we had softball leagues, so we played in both.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

FO: So, no, I was just bummin' around in camp. So when my dad got this letter from Grandpa Yamazaki asking what I'm doing, so he says, "You want to go to Chicago?" "Yeah, why not?"

SY: So you were allowed to leave as long as you had a sponsor and a job.

FO: Job, yeah. So I went, and 'cause I knew Ronnie Shikata because he grew up, we all grew up together in Uptown, and we all did judo together, and we went to high school together. So when Ron says, "Come on out," so we all, I went out. Then I got tired of that job, and I didn't have any money. I wanted to go to Northwestern because the other two went to college. Ronnie went to Chicago Art Institute and Tosh went to Illinois Tech. So at that time, I went to see Grandpa Yamazaki and I says, "You have somebody coming in to take over our place? Because I think we're gonna move out, the three of us" So he got the Kasai family from Uptown to come out. So Tosh and Ron and I, we moved to a separate apartment, and then I says, "I'm going to go in the army." So I went back to camp and told my dad what I was gonna do, 'cause I wanted to go to Europe. And he says, "Baka." I said, "Why?" He says, "Don't you know that the European war is a white man's war? Your war is over in the Pacific." He says, "Japan's gonna lose the war. There's no doubt in my mind they're gonna lose the war." So he says, "I want you to go to MIS and learn Japanese and help the Japanese after the war. Because my brother had told my dad that he was gonna go to MIS. So I went to MIS and struggled. [Laughs]

SY: So the decision to enter, to volunteer for the army was really just yours. Out of the blue you decided you wanted to go to Europe, and just kind of an adventure?

FO: No. The thing was, a lot of my friends were going into the 442 from Chicago.

SY: And had you heard from them? Did they tell you what was going on?

FO: No. I heard a couple of guys while they were in training, infantry training. So that's why I said, well, it's better than sitting around in camp or in Chicago doing nothing, so I volunteered.

SY: So while you were... you actually had the choice to go either into MIS or... how is it that that happened, that you got to choose?

FO: Well, if you volunteer, you could choose for anything. So my dad told me to go to MIS, so I said, "Yes, sir," and I went.

SY: Did you have to take a test?

FO: Yeah, we took a slight test. I knew a little bit of Japanese because we went to Japanese school after junior high school class ended, high school class ended.

SY: And then you had to go through basic training, too.

FO: Yeah. Once we got up there, you see, before, before we got up there, the boys that volunteered to go to MIS, they went to school first, then they went to basic. But during basic, if you don't talk the language or write the language, you forget, so the army changed their ways. So our class was the first one to go down to take basic, then we went to school.

SY: And where did you go for basic?

FO: We went to Fort McClellan, Alabama, in July. Yeah, it was hot, muggy. But we all went, and then there was a group of guys that were taking their final training before going overseas to join the 442. Well, these guys went over, they were just in time to join the 442 for the rescue of the "Lost Battalion." So they were involved in the rescue of the "Lost Battalion."

SY: So you met those people while you were in basic.

FO: Yeah. 'Cause I knew some of those guys. They were some of the Uptown boys.

SY: So did you hear, follow what happened to them, or did you know at the time?

FO: No.

SY: But later on you found out.

FO: Yeah. You know, when you go to church and you have coffee and you sit around, you start talking, and then the museum really helped me understand a lot about Europe.

SY: What happened with the 442?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And because you were really sort of in your own little MIS training.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

SY: After you left basic, you went to...

FO: Snelling.

SY: Snelling. And that's where they set up the schools for the training?

FO: Yeah. It used to be, before Snelling, they had it at Savage, a little town outside of Minneapolis, but we became too large. So Fort Snelling was a recruiting station. And all the guys in that area went to Fort Snelling when they were recruited in the army, and then they were sent to various camps. So we took over that. So, you know, it was nice brick buildings and stuff, classrooms. And that's where I met George Aratani. He was my kanji teacher.

SY: He was teaching there?

FO: Yeah. And, you know, we had a bunch of sharp guys in our class. I don't know how I ended up, but I ended up in the top class, and I struggled.

SY: You had to study hard, though.

FO: Oh, god. And this guy in front of me, Kozo Fukuda, he had a photographic memory, and he would just flip the pages like that, and he would know what was written in there. And here I was on the first sentence and struggling with that. Then he would turn around and... I did judo with him, see, so all we did was talk about judo.

SY: But they gave you tests, though, right? So you obviously had to pass tests?

FO: I don't know how I did it, but, you know, I passed.

SY: And then they separated the better ones from the, from the ones who were...

FO: Yeah. Some of the better ones went to OCS, Officers Candidate School, and some of them were sent to Washington, D.C. and the State Department.

SY: But you were among, you were among the better ones, though.

FO: I didn't say better ones, but I was among those guys, anyway.

SY: You were in the top of the class, and so you didn't get a choice in where you were going to be sent, though.

FO: No. We finished class, and we had, what, eight hours of class a day, and then we had to go back for two hours, from seven to nine to study. In order to keep up, you've got to study hard, and all these guys were going to the latrine after the lights-out and they would be studying. And if you read this book First Class, have you read that book?

SY: No, uh-uh.

FO: It's the first group of guys that graduated MIS, and they trained at Presidio San Francisco, and John Aiso was the head. See, the army was not ready for these Japanese classes. So according to that book, Aiso sent all these so-called instructors to go to Berkeley, Cal Berkeley, Stanford, and San Francisco to see all the bookstores to get dictionaries and reading material. So that's how the class got started.

SY: And the competition was probably pretty...

FO: Well, the thing is, yeah, the competition was great, but the thing is, they weeded out the weaklings right away.

SY: They did. So they let people go who weren't...

FO: Yeah, they sent them back to the infantry or the medics or wherever they came from.

SY: Wow.

FO: So I don't know why I lasted, I really don't. Because on my final exam, I pulled a blank. You know when you study so hard and you can't remember anything.

SY: Right.

FO: The only kanji that I could remember was my name. I answered all the questions in hiragana, the simplest form, and George Aratani came by, he looked at it and he laughed and he walked away. So gosh, I thought, "I'm gonna flunk." But evidently, I passed. But we used to, once a month or twice a month we used to march to the Post Theater, and we used to watch Japanese movies so that we can get the language, the speaking part of it all set. So we used to look forward to that. Half of the guys would be sound asleep, they'd be so tired. But competition was keen, it was really keen. And some of the top guys in our class, they became officers.

SY: So when you... you were there for how long?

FO: I was in a nine-month class.

SY: Nine months.

FO: The first guys were three-month, the first group at the Presidio. Then it became six months when they moved to Savage. And then, later on, it became a nine-month course because the weaker guys who had problems with Japanese, it took us longer to learn Japanese, right? So we were in the nine-month class and then we had six weeks of training, infantry basics.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

SY: So by this time it was around the, was it 1943 when you were...

FO: No, I went in in '44, so it was in 1945, '46.

SY: So it was very close to the end of the war.

FO: Yeah. So we all got on the train when we graduated, and then we went to San Francisco and we got on this troop ship and we zigzagged because the war was still going on, we zigzagged all the way across the Pacific. And it took us thirty to forty-five days to get to the Philippines.

SY: Wow. What was that like?

FO: Well, everybody played poker, or some of these guys studied, and some of these guys just slept. When we got to the Philippines, it was funny, because we never had training to climb down the Jacob's ladder. I don't know whether you're familiar with Jacob's, it's a rope ladder they throw overboard, and you're supposed to climb down on this rope ladder.

SY: To get off the boat.

FO: We never had training like that to get off the boat.

SY: I see.

FO: So this guy who was my deskmate in Snelling, he was ten years older than I. And we looked at it and said, "My god, how are we going to do it? We never got any training." So I told Joe, I think it's okay if we put our arm around the rope and climb down and go that way instead of grabbing it like this, because you're going to slip. "But if you put the whole arm in there, you might make it," I told Joe. "I guess so," he told me. And then we had to throw our luggage, our duffle bag, overboard. And I says, "Hey, what if we miss?" There's a platform down there that's floating. And I says, "What if we miss?" And the guy tells me, "You're gonna go after it." [Laughs] I said, "Come on, now. Let's go to a port and let us get off at the port." He says, "Get overboard." So that's when we went, and then when we landed, we landed on, we were on these landing craft, and that thing was bobbling like that. And there was about twenty of us on that thing with our luggage. Everybody got seasick. So when we landed, when the ramp came down, everybody crawled out. I'm telling you, they really crawled, crawled out. They were heaving left and right, they were really sick. And I told these guys, "You guys are hell of a soldiers. What if there was a war on? You guys would all be dead." Then the guy that was handling the landing craft, he told me and another guy, "Hey, you, unload all the luggage." So I unloaded half the luggage and the other guy unloaded the other half.

SY: Because you were not seasick.

FO: Yeah, we weren't seasick. I don't know why we weren't seasick. Everybody else, oh, I'm telling you, it was a mess.

SY: Well, if you were on a boat for thirty days...

FO: Yeah, you would think that everything would be, you can get used to it.

SY: Yeah. But just on that landing...

FO: Landing craft was going like this.

SY: I see.

FO: So you wonder how the Marines did it when they landed on all these islands.

SY: Right, because they had to go right into battle.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: So you ended up in the Philippines then, and then...

FO: Yeah, we ended up in the Philippines, we got on a little trolley train, and we went into Santa Rosa Racetrack outside of Manila. That's where ATIS, the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section is stationed. And the smart guys were doing a lot of translation work. And guys like me who were weak in Japanese, we went to interrogate the prisoners that they had. Because where we were stationed, where we were living, we lived in a twelve-man tent, and it was right next to the PW camp, and that thing was just full of Japanese. So I interviewed some of the... and most of these guys were interviewed already, but I interviewed the Japanese sub commander. He was a commander of a Japanese ship, submarine. And I asked the guy, "How come you didn't go down with the ship if you were the commander? If you're a captain of a ship, you go down with the ship." He says, "You know how hard it is to die?" [Laughs] I said, "Oh, god.

SY: Did they tell you what questions to ask them?

FO: No. No, they said, "Try to get some information on this and that." But all these other guys, the smart boys marched into the main area to do translation work, and there's a few of us that stayed behind to interrogate prisoners, just waste time.

SY: That... "just waste time." But that must have been, it was all Japanese soldiers that you were interviewing. And they had been prisoners for long, for a very long time?

FO: Well, some of them had been for a long time, and some of them were just recent.

SY: And were they mostly cooperative?

FO: Yeah, the regular soldiers were real cooperative. They wanted to go home. The officer class, they looked down on you, namaiki, too.

SY: So you had to interview some officers.

FO: Yeah, I talked to a few, but I didn't get any information out of them. So my duty, from the twelve-man tent, everybody marched into MIS ATIS. So I used to go out and haggle with the natives for rice.

SY: The Filipino natives.

FO: Yeah. So I used to spend most of my time digging out the worms out of these rice. [Laughs] So these guys, when they came back from the headquarters area, they all brought me some okazu, you know. So I made the rice for them, and any spare time, I went into the compound to talk to POWs. And I used to trade things, cigarettes for tsukemono and stuff that we never get.

SY: So you were kind in charge of getting food for the guys.

FO: Yeah, informally, informally.

SY: Yeah. So you were busy doing all of that plus doing a little bit of the translation. So did you ever feel like, was it a problem being Japanese, talking to other Japanese, I mean, being Japanese American?

FO: Well, you know, the only time I had trouble is when I went, when I joined the 77th Division in Leyte, my intelligence officer... in those days, officers couldn't drive the jeep, you had to take enlisted men to drive. So my officer told me to drive, and we went into some POW camps. And they, I ran into some of these guys that are real namaiki. You know, they're kempeitai... you know what the kempeitai is?

SY: No, what is that?

FO: They're the rough MPs in the Japanese army, and they're rough. So I went into camp, and I was gonna interrogate some of these guys, but they got real namaiki, so I said, "The heck with them."

SY: You could do that, that was okay?

FO: Yeah, 'cause the officer was with me and he says, "Let's get out of here."

SY: So you told the officer what they were saying, and they basically refused to talk?

FO: Yeah, they were saying, "Young kid, what do you know about the army, about Japanese army? You don't know nothing." I tried to talk to them... and they were big bruisers. They were like this, they're all six-foot tall.

SY: The Japanese army?

FO: Yeah.

SY: Wow.

FO: So, you know, they were spoiling for a fight. So we said, "Let's get out," and we got out.

SY: So... and this went on for a short time?

FO: Yeah, it's just a short time.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

FO: And then I was assigned to the 77th Division, and the smart guys went to military government. And guys like me who were weak in Japanese, we went to the infantry when we got into Japan. So when we went to Japan, I was with the 77th Division and we went into Hokkaido, and we were the kingpins in Hokkaido.

SY: And Hokkaido, was there a reason that they sent people there?

FO: Well, that's a big island, and we occupied all the land in Japan, the army did. And our main duty, our main duty was to send back these forced laborers that the Japanese had brought over from Korea and China to do all the forced labor in the coal mines and stuff like that. And our duty was to send them back. Well, when we got there, I was assigned, I was assigned to the regiment, and I was assigned to the regimental headquarters, and the regimental headquarters assigned me on all these details to send these people back to China and Korea. And so we used to go with this company, we used to go to all these mining companies and oil companies and stuff, you know, where all these Koreans and Chinese laborers were working. Because before we got there, after the war, they rioted and they tore up the towns, their little towns, because there was no police force or anything.

SY: The local people rioted?

FO: No, these guys did.

SY: The ones that were...

FO: Forced laborers.

SY: ...released from forced laborer.

FO: Yeah.

SY: I see.

FO: So we had to go in there and calm them down and ship 'em home.

SY: Wow. They must have been very angry. I mean, when you interviewed them --

FO: Yeah, they were angry. They were happy to see us for a while, but afterwards, they found out that they're gonna be sent home, and they wanted to really tear up the town.

SY: They were angry at the Hokkaido people. And you interviewed them in Japanese?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And so a lot of them were Japanese-speaking.

FO: Yes. And then there was one Chinese guy in the company that I went out with, so he would try to speak Chinese to these Chinese guys. Well, he spoke Cantonese, and I think the prisoners spoke Mandarin, so they couldn't communicate. The only way they could communicate was in writing. So he's there writing Chinese, and me, I stood next to the company commander and he told me, "You tell these guys to do this, do that," so I told the Japanese guys.

SY: But it sounds as if you probably heard some pretty horrible stories if they were being forced...

FO: Well, the thing is, yeah, but you don't know what to believe. One guy will say something and everybody says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But the thing is, we weren't prepared to go and talk the civilian language, because we learned nothing but military language and that's two separate languages in Japanese.

SY: I see.

FO: So the colonel and I went into a city jail, and the colonel tells me, "Find out if there are any political prisoners in here." What's a political prisoner? I didn't know the term, I pulled out a dictionary, I looked through, the colonel gave me a disgusted look. So he told them, "Write everything down, all the records, and send it to us," in Sapporo, so that's what they did. But the Japanese jails were real clean. They had big bars like this, wooden bars. And they were real clean, I was surprised.

SY: So did you feel like this was something that was just sort of a formality, to interview these prisoners and then make sure they got back?

FO: Yeah. But the funny thing about the whole thing is later on I found out, after I got home, my brother was in Kure, the town of Kure. He was in the China-India-Burma Theatre, and he went to Shanghai and then he went to Tokyo and then he ended up at Kure. He was accepting all these Chinese and Koreans from the train to put 'em on the boat, and I was putting these guys on the train in Hokkaido. So we compared notes later on, and we had a good laugh.

SY: You might have come across the same people.

FO: Yeah. And some of these gals that went with them were real pretty, real attractive women.

SY: That went with them? Where did they...

FO: Well, they were in Hokkaido, and they went to China and Korea with these guys.

SY: I see, so they left with them.

FO: Yeah.

SY: I see. 'Cause they were, they got to know them during the war somehow?

FO: I guess so. And then, you know, the Japanese, they kind of looked down on you if you associate with the Chinese or Koreans, evidently.

SY: Wow.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

SY: So then after you worked in Hokkaido, did you end up in Tokyo?

FO: No. After I finished my duty in Hokkaido, we went to the replacement depot and then we came home. The funny part about all this is that when we got to Japan and our boys, our team, we had a team of ten language people, and we split up to go to various outfits, well, those people that stayed in with the center of the group with the officers, they had it easy because they're the ones that set up the rest camps and stuff in Japan. Now, I didn't know what an onsen was. These guys had set up this hotel for a rest camp that had that Japanese bath. So when I got there, every Friday, we asked our division people to give us meat. So we'd take that up every weekend and have sukiyaki. Them were the good old days.

SY: So on the whole, though, it was probably more difficult than it was...

FO: Yeah. I got into more damn trouble. This team leader that went through all the battles with the 77th Division, before he left he says, "Frank" -- before he went home -- he says, "Frank, I'm going to send you a letter. Please forward it." So I told him, "Okay." So sure enough, after he got the letter, I mean, after he went home, he talked to his folks and I received a letter asking me to forward this letter to a town in Honshu someplace. Well, MacArthur put out an order, there's no communication between the Japanese and the U.S. occupying troops. So I sent the letter. I sent it through a Japanese guy. Well, this guy that got the letter, he wrote back and said, "Thank you." So the CIC picked it up. You know, what's a Japanese guy writing to Omatsu about? So some of these guys at the CIC, they called me and they said, "Hey, you're in trouble." I said, "For what?" "Did you send any letters to someplace?" I said, "Yeah. I didn't send it personally, I gave it to a Japanese to send it." "Well, that's it, the guy answered and you're in trouble because he mentions your name." Oh, crap, so I thought I was going to get court martialed.

SY: But nothing happened, huh?

FO: No, the thing is, I got called in and I went in front of the commanding general of our division, me and my officer. So I explained everything. Then he says, "You know, Frank, you're lucky." I said, "Why, sir?" He says, "We're getting ready to go home." The division was going to go home, so, "We're gonna leave the punishment to your officer, the MIS officer. So let him do what punishment he thinks is fair." "What are we gonna do?" Says, "Oh, we're gonna go for a ride. The heck with it." [Laughs] That was my punishment, to drive them around.

SY: That was lucky. That sounded like it was pretty serious then.

FO: Yeah, evidently.

SY: Even though it was an innocent thing, it was very serious.

FO: Yeah, it was the CIC boys that picked up this stuff. You know when I was in Tokyo, I took a temporary leave and went to Tokyo for a week to see if I can find any of my relatives. And I saw this, these guys all lined up, civilian and everything, they're all lined up. And they were waiting for somebody to go into this building, so I see a limousine pull up, and it's General MacArthur. So everybody was all by his staff, but I was trained to salute an officer, so I saluted him. He saluted back and everybody looked at me.

SY: Were you in uniform?

FO: Yeah, I was in uniform. I had a tie on. MacArthur never wore a tie. His people were open, we always had to wear a tie. So I said, "Good morning, Sir," and he replied, "Good morning," and he walked away. So everybody looks at me. "You know the guy?" "You know the guy?" "Yeah, he's my uncle's friend." [Laughs]

SY: But in visiting Tokyo, and even in Hokkaido, what was the, what was it like in Tokyo after the war?

FO: Everything was a mess in Tokyo. But the Japanese, they cleaned up everything. In the Philippines, it was a mess. They left everything there, and they would say, "Look what the Japanese did." But in Japan, they cleaned everything up, even in Hiroshima, they cleaned up so the cars can go back and forth and stuff like that.

SY: But was it very, there was a lot of poverty, though, in terms of the Japanese people?

FO: Yeah, Japanese and in the Philippines.

SY: And how did your mother's relatives do?

FO: I never did get to know them. I got to know my dad's older brother in Hokkaido.

SY: Oh, he was in Hokkaido?

FO: Yeah, he was farming in Hokkaido, and my dad wrote me a letter saying that he's in Hokkaido in such and such a town, so I asked for a leave. And I got onto this train. Transportation was crowded. You don't know how crowded crowded is. They pulled twenty people off the train for me to sit down, so that I can sit down, the trainmaster.

SY: Because you were in the army.

FO: Yeah, I was in the army. And you could hear some of these guys that got kicked off grumbling. I paid no attention to them. And we went, I went along to this town, then I had to transfer, the guy at the railroad station said, "You have to transfer, and then you have to go to the end of the line. And that's the town that you're uncle's at," he tells me. I said, "Okay." So a bunch of guys were on there and they were disgruntled because only one guy got on, and all these guys got kicked out. So I saw this old lady, grandma type. I called her over and I told her to sit down. I gave her cigarettes and candy and we talked. Everybody else was all ears. So we went to the end of the line, but as I transferred, I got out onto this branch line. You know, in Japan, when a soldier dies, his ashes are carried by another soldier back home. So he has that square. I got on this train, and at the next stop, all these guys with the ashes got on. Gee, I didn't know what to do.

SY: There were a whole bunch of them?

FO: Oh, there were several of them, and they all stand like this, and everybody's bowing and everything. So I just walked out to the outside of the car. Then I met my, I went to the station, and I sent a telegram to my uncle saying that I'm coming. Well, I beat the telegram there. So the stationmaster called one of his guys, and he knew my uncle so he told him to take me there. So, god, I never walked so much in my life, because it snowed and we had about two or three feet with snow. And, you know, I wasn't ready for that kind of exercise.

SY: Hokkaido was cold. And how was your uncle, what was his reaction when he saw you?

FO: Well, he was, he looked at me and he says, and I looked at him and I said, "My dad looks like you," I told him. And he said, "Yeah, you're an Omatsu. You have certain trait that your father had." So he greeted me warmly. But he had three daughters and a wife, and they lived in this one hatch. And then you sleep on the first floor and then you step down to the kitchen, which is dirt.

SY: But they lived like that before the war as well, so it was very farm...

FO: Yeah, they're used to it, you know.

SY: Right. And this was, how many siblings did your father have, do you know?

FO: No, I just knew the uncle, then he had ten kids or something like that.

SY: Wow. So you did get to meet some of them, that's nice.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: Then after the war, you left Tokyo, and where did you end up?

FO: No, I was always stationed in Hokkaido.

SY: Oh, that's right. You had visited Tokyo on a leave. But when you left Hokkaido, you were able to get discharged?

FO: Yeah. We all went to this replacement depot in Japan, and then we got on the ship. Most of the guys that went with me overseas, we all came back together, and we went to Seattle, and we got discharged in Seattle.

SY: I see. And what did you do from there? Did you spend time in Seattle before...

FO: No. My dad had asked me to come down to L.A. to look at the property that we had. So I told my friends that I was coming down.

SY: Oh, I'm sorry. The property you had, you actually owned, your family owned property before the war?

FO: Well, it was under Father John's name.

SY: Father John actually kept the property in his name, but it was your father's?

FO: Yeah, it was our house.

SY: I see. So that was lucky. So did Father John do this with many families?

FO: I don't know. I don't know, but he was about the only guy that was of age that could own property.

SY: I see. So whatever the Yamasakis owned, Father John's, it would probably be under Father John's name?

FO: Yeah. Marion Wright was the attorney, and he fixed everything up. So he helped the Japanese out quite a bit.

SY: Marion Wright. And then you then had to come back to Los Angeles to check on them?

FO: Yeah, came back to Los Angeles. There was a Chinese group that trained with us in Snelling, and I ran across these guys in Hokkaido. So we got along fairly well. Most of these guys kind of looked down on these Chinese people because their Japanese was poor and English was poor. But I got along good with them. So I told the guys that I was coming down with, "I'm gonna look up this guy, Lim P. Lee." And he said, "Why? He was a foul ball." I said, "Never mind. He's a friend of mine." So we went up to San Francisco, and I called Lim P. Lee. And he says, "Hey, Frank, stay where you're at, I'll come right over." So he came over and he took us through Chinatown. See, there was four or us. He took us through Chinatown, and he said, "If they barricade us, we got telephone in Chinatown that we can talk." And every now and then a sly Chinese guy would come walking in and look us over, but they disappeared in the alleys. And then Lee tells me, "Frank, my wife is sick, I'm going to have to leave," he says. But he says, "I'll give you a note and I'll tell you where to go after this," this and that, so he told me. Well, we went to this Chinese nightclub, Charlie Loew's, Chinese nightclub, and it was on the second or third floor. And it was packed. We had to climb up some stairs, and people were standing on both sides of the stairs. But I pushed my way through, and a big Chinese guy grabbed me, "What are you doing?" I says, "Mr. Lee sent me." "Okay, come this way. Where's your party?" I said, "Right behind me, I think." I got my three friends together, and we went to this, we got into the nightclub, and he gave us a table right on the dance floor. And he says, "Drink up," the guy tells me, "drink up. Because if you're Mr. Lee's friend, we'll take care of everything." So I said, "Thank you."

SY: So it paid to have friends in the army.

FO: Well, you know, after all these years, I ran across Lim P. Lee when I was at Sumitomo. And he was the postmaster general of San Francisco. Everybody thought he was a foul ball. But when I went to see the guy, "Hey, Frank," he says. He opens up a drawer and pulls out a picture of himself, and he writes, "To my friend and fellow soldier, good luck." He signed it Lim P. Lee. I showed it to these guys, they laughed like mad. But he was a very astute politician. So he had the Chinese vote. He said, "Why don't you guys down south get organized?" So I talked to Taul Watanabe when I got down. "Ah," he says, "those guys don't know anything." Okay.

SY: So you mean you actually met up with people when you came back to L.A. Now, how did you know Taul Watanabe?

FO: Through the bank.

SY: Oh, this was much later then.

FO: Yeah.

SY: Okay, so we're still, you're getting out of the army, and you came back to Los Angeles, checked up on the house and it was fine.

FO: It was fine.

SY: People were living there, people were living there during the war.

FO: Yeah. So Hide Matsunaga and I, we took the plane to go to Chicago and we got bumped off at Tucson because there was a plane strike. So we took the bus from Tucson to Chicago. And the interesting thing was the fact that there was a young couple on that bus, and we started talking, and the guy was a POW of the Japanese. So we used to save each other a seat. The first guy on would save. So we did that all the way to Chicago. We often wondered what happened to that guy.

SY: So he was a Caucasian who was a POW.

FO: Caucasian, yeah.

SY: And he had no...

FO: He had no bitter feelings against us.

SY: Wow.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

SY: And then when you got to Chicago, why did you go to Chicago?

FO: Well, that's where Hide's family was. So from there, I went to Seabrook.

SY: Wow.

FO: I stayed overnight in Chicago.

SY: And now you, so you didn't stay there long, but you went to Seabrook to visit your family?

FO: Yeah. So I stayed in Seabrook for three months. And my older brother was there, he had come back earlier.

SY: So you both made it out of the army. So can you just describe what Seabrook is?

FO: Seabrook is... Mr. Seabrook had thirty thousand acres under his control in New Jersey. And he wanted farmers, he hired farmers to farm this big acreage. But he knew the Japanese were good farmers, so he went out and recruited all these people, all the farmers, to come to Seabrook, and they grew vegetables and spinach and celery and stuff.

SY: So he actually went into the camps to recruit these Japanese. And so there were people there from all...

FO: All the camps were there.

SY: They're represented there.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And when did your family end up there?

FO: When I was in the army, before I went overseas, the family went to Seabrook. Because on my last leave, I went to Seabrook to see them.

SY: So they had already been there.

FO: Yeah, they had already been there.

SY: And your father worked as a laborer, kind of?

FO: Well, he has a bad hand. So at first he worked in the plant, but it was too much for him. He was a fat guy. Five-eight, weighed two hundred and fifty pounds or something like that.

SY: His hand was...

FO: Yeah, his hand was crippled in an auto accident before the war. So they put him in charge of the young kids, so he ran the rec room for the young kids. And my mother was in the... she was in the, what do you call it? Snack bar area. And all the guys that used to come through Seabrook had to go through the snack bar area. And after, they all come back, they all meet and talk and shoot the breeze. So my mother knew a lot of the stories, better than some of the families. So when George and I got there, George was there before me, and he saw this girl, Michi Weglyn. She was Michi Nishimura at that time. And he and his friends introduced themselves to her, 'cause she worked in the plant as a secretary. So they went to New York and everything, Washington, D.C., before I got home.

SY: Michi did, and George stayed friends with her after the...

FO: Yeah. Kind of, I don't know.

SY: But he went to New York, too? Your brother went to New York?

FO: Yeah. And then when I got home, my brother and I and somebody else, we went to New York to see some friends, Washington, D.C. And that's where I met Terry Hokoda. You know Terry? She was a Nisei queen later on. That's how we got to know her.

SY: So a lot of people from Seabrook ended up going to the East Coast.

FO: Yeah, they stayed. Those that stayed, they went, they settled in D.C. or Philly or New York area.

SY: And do you think that this was a good experience for your family?

FO: Yeah, you couldn't get into trouble. There was no fence around the village. You could go swimming, they had lakes, and you could go fishing and stuff like that. So it was a good life for these young kids.

SY: And was it a lot of, a lot of work? Were they being exploited at all, do you think?

FO: No, no. I don't think they were being exploited. But I worked there for three months before I left, and they were, they were experimenting with the frozen industry. Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Birdseye, who was a scientist I heard, they were experimenting with frozen food, so they had all these machineries to freeze all that food. And the farmers would bring... the products would come into the factory and the factory would wash it and package it, and then it would go into the freezer. So it was an instant freeze stuff. So I worked in the freezing part. But all the -- I shouldn't say all -- but the majority of the food went to Europe, because Europe was starving, and it was sent over, as far as I understand, it was sent under the Marshall Plan.

SY: So he was producing food for the, kind of war effort, too. And was that when... did they send it somehow frozen?

FO: Yeah, they had equipment that instantly freezes. You leave the tray, the package in this freezing compartment for, what, twenty minutes, and it comes out frozen. I don't know whether you know the Birdseye (frozen food).

SY: Brand?

FO: ...frozen food brand?

SY: Uh-huh, I do.

FO: Well, it was started over there.

SY: And it was a man named Birdseye.

FO: Yeah. That's what I understand.

SY: And so what was your job, specifically? What did you do when you were there?

FO: I loaded berries into the freezer. They would wash it, package it, and then it would come to me and I put it in a big tray and then put it into the freezer.

SY: And you would work, what, eight hours a day?

FO: Eight hours a day.

SY: So you had time at night and it was a pretty regular job. And did you ever meet Mr. Seabrook?

FO: No.

SY: But you knew he was...

FO: Yeah, he was around. On the fiftieth anniversary I went back to Seabrook to thank everybody for taking care of my family. And I met Mr. Seabrook the second, or the son, anyway. I met him and I thanked him for everything that they did.

SY: Uh-huh. So it was a really very, you think it was a very good experience for the Japanese Americans that they had a place.

FO: Yeah. Because there was Jamaicans and Lithuanians and everybody. Most of the Japanese lived in the little apartment, so to speak, but many of the other people lived on the outside. And they had the regular homes and stuff like that.

SY: I see. So they didn't necessarily have to live in this little apartment.

FO: No.

SY: But they got paid decent wages? And you got paid to do the three months of work.

FO: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

SY: And then why did you decide to leave?

FO: Well, the thing is, I got a call, I got a telegram from Miiko Taka that her brother had died overseas. He fell off of a bridge. In Japan, during the war, they took all the metal pieces off the bridge. And it was late at night, and he was sick, and he walked across this bridge, and he fell off of this bridge, and he fell about 15 feet. So I got a call from her, a telegram from her saying that they're gonna have a funeral for him in Chicago. So I didn't know how she knew where I was or anything, so I told my brother, "I got to go to this funeral," so my brother and I went. And we went to the funeral, and after the funeral, we came back to L.A. and asked a guy that was taking care of our home to please leave, 'cause we'd like it back. So George and I enrolled at City College. And George is the older, oldest son, so he doesn't do any dirty work, you know what I mean? So I cleaned the house, did the dishes and fed him and then my two younger siblings, Hoover and Grace, came, 'cause they wanted to graduate from L.A. High. So they came, so I handled them.

SY: You took care of the family for that period, after the war, because your parents were still in Seabrook.

FO: Seabrook, yeah. Then my mother came alone, because my dad wanted to go see some friends in Cleveland and other places, and he wanted to see Niagara Falls. So he took off by himself and Mom came back to us.

SY: And how were you supporting yourself during this time?

FO: Well, we had the GI Bill. We had some money, we had some money, but mostly it was the GI Bill. So George and I pooled our checks together.

SY: Took care of the rest of the family.

FO: Yeah, because we didn't have to pay rent, only food, right?

SY: Wow, so the house was totally paid for, huh?

FO: Yeah.

SY: And had Reverend Yamazaki come back by now?

FO: Yeah. They came back and took over the rectory there, and he used that as a hostel for these people who have no place to go. And then he helped out.

SY: So he took people in. So was he... I guess during the war, he was considered to be incarcerated just like all the other Japanese Americans, right? Even though he was the head of his church, he kept the church going at...

FO: In the camp.

SY: Jerome. And then when he came back, he just restarted the church again.

FO: Here, yeah. See, because the diocese of L.A. encouraged him, and they encouraged the Bishop of Arkansas to go visit the camps and give them holy communion and stuff. And, see, there was two brothers that were Bishops. One was in Arizona and one was in Arkansas. So the two brothers, they came to each of the camps and gave them communion and stuff. And there was a missionary bishop, a Bishop Reifsneider, he was in Japan for twenty-seven years before the war. And he came to visit us to see how we were doing and stuff like that, and he gave us communion.

SY: So the church was kind of taking care of you, it seemed.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And then when Reverend Yamazaki came back to L.A., was he encouraged to by the church?

FO: Yeah.

SY: Was he helped by the church?

FO: He was encouraged. The church had asked him to come back, and to feel the atmosphere of the American people against the Japanese. So from Arkansas he came back and reported to the Bishop, and the Bishop sent them to San Francisco and other places. And he wrote back saying that the atmosphere was good.

SY: So this must have been fairly early.

FO: Early, yeah.

SY: Not the war... like you think the war had ended by then?

FO: Yeah, yeah, the war had ended by then.

SY: But they still were wondering whether they could come back to the West Coast.

FO: Yeah, because, you know, a lot of these soldiers like Inouye, the barber wouldn't cut his hair because he was... even though he was in uniform. And that's after the war.

SY: You never had experience like that?

FO: No. The only experience that I had was I didn't know what bathroom to use, "colored" or "white." I think we all had that, you know, when we first went out.

SY: When you went to... so, but you never had people who treated you badly.

FO: No.

SY: Never?

FO: Never.

SY: Wow, that's amazing.

FO: Yeah, so, you know, I consider myself lucky.

SY: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

SY: So when you came back to L.A. and then took care of the family, did you decide to go back to school?

FO: Yes. George and I, we both went up, went back to school. And I sent my two younger siblings to L.A. High and then after that we went in, George and I went to City College for a while. Then George went into, he went to USC under GI Bill.

SY: And what were you studying?

FO: I was planning to be a missionary, because I saw all this suffering in Japan and in the Philippines. But every time I tell that to Vi, she gets upset. Because I told her that, "I wanted to be a missionary until I met you. You changed my whole life around." "I did not," she tells me.

SY: And who is Vi? Okay, so how did you meet Vi?

FO: Well, it was a friend of mine that introduced us.

SY: And when was that?

FO: That was when I was still going to UCLA.

SY: So that was after City College.

FO: Yeah. City College, when I was going to City College, I got sick. I had pleurisy real bad, and I was in the VA hospital in West L.A. for a while, then they sent me to a hospital in New Mexico, Fort Bayard, New Mexico, because that pleurisy fluid became positive and I was partly, they were afraid that it was going to be TB. So complete rest. I stayed in bed most of the time. And there was a lot of other GIs that were like that. So I stayed there, what, a year and a half or something like that.

SY: In New Mexico?

FO: Yeah, in New Mexico, Fort Bayard, VA hospital.

SY: Wow. And you were hospitalized that whole time?

FO: Yeah.

SY: That must have been tough.

FO: It was. Well, you know, you learn to adjust. And the guys down there didn't know what to make of me.

SY: New Mexico? And your parents, were they concerned, they must have been concerned about you, huh?

FO: Oh, yeah. Mom was always concerned. And Father John used to write to me and tell me about everything.

SY: And then so that was, took a break in your education, too.

FO: Yeah.

SY: So you couldn't really...

FO: I couldn't do nothing.

SY: And then when you came back...

FO: I went back to City College.

SY: And so you got cured completely of the pleurisy?

FO: Yeah. Because... no, I don't know what the word cure means, but all that fluid dried up. That's what they were trying to do, to dry it up. So they used to drain me every now and then, you know, put a needle in me and pull that stuff. It looks like beer coming out. It had a head on it.

SY: Painful.

FO: No, you get used to it. And then they put a tube down your throat. That's the part that I used to gag. And then, you know, the people in Fort Bayard area, Silverton, New Mexico, or Silver City, New Mexico, they didn't know what to make of me.

SY: You were the only Japanese?

FO: Yeah, I was the only Asian around.

SY: Only Asian around. But you spent most of the time inside the hospital.

FO: Yeah.

SY: It was just the staff and people that...

FO: Yeah. But the gray ladies, the gals that come and visit all the veterans all the time, they didn't know what to think of me. But I talked to them and they were real nice to me, and they bring me, they give me the same gifts that they give everybody else. But the thing was, when I was there, I found out that the New Mexico national guard took a beating in the Philippines from the Japanese. That's when I started to get worried, because if these guys found out I was there... [Laughs].

SY: Wow. So then when you came back to L.A., you ended up enrolling at UCLA?

FO: No, I finished up at City College and then I went to UCLA.

SY: Oh, so you actually went back to City College and then you decided to change your major?

FO: No. Well, yeah. I didn't know what I wanted. But I had a good time at UCLA because everybody was much younger and they didn't know how old I was, and people can't figure out what I'm doing with these young guys. They want to know how come I know these young people.

SY: And that's where you met Vi?

FO: Well, she used to go to Holiness Church, and I was at St. Mary's. And this friend of mine that went to City College with me, he introduced us. And it was love at first sight, really. I told her I wanted to get married, "Let's get married." And she looked at me. She said, "When?" I said, "As soon as I get out of school and make some money."

SY: So that's what happened?

FO: Yeah, that's what happened.

SY: Wow.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

SY: So your first job out of UCLA was what?

FO: I used to work for, I used to work for Mr. Shig Yasutake, Irene Hirano's father. That's how I got to know Irene. Irene Hirano's father Shig was a hero. He was in Guadalcanal as an interrogator and interpreter, and he did so well that they pulled him out and sent him to OCS school. So I went to look him up because he was my company commander at one time. So he gave me a job, we were import/exporting with Mexico. And you know Em Kato?

SY: No.

FO: Tak Yamada and I and Shig Yasutake was the company.

SY: So a small company.

FO: Yeah. So we used to export to Mexico the agricultural equipment. Shig had arranged, hired some Mexican guys, young kids, to be salesmen down there, and they would send us the order. And then I would have to go out and look for these things, and Tak Yamada was the bookkeeper. Tak Yamada's married to Em Kato.

SY: I don't know who Tak Yamada is. Is he...

FO: He's married to Em Kato. Do you know Em Kato?

SY: No, I don't know.

FO: She's the head of the, she was the Nisei Week queen. And every year, she's the one that brings all the queens together for a big luncheon.

SY: Oh, okay. She's a big person in the community here.

FO: Yeah.

SY: That's nice. And Irene Hirano, I guess we should say, was the head of the museum for many, many, many years. For people who don't know who Irene Hirano was. And this was Irene's father that you worked with.

FO: Yeah.

SY: That's amazing. So then this company lasted how long?

FO: Well, the thing is, we had a lot of money out to the Mexican government. We sold them a lot of stuff. I used to go up and down Alameda Street to look for surplus stuff.

SY: To try to sell?

FO: Yeah. And we would sandblast the equipment to make it look like new, paint it, have it painted.

SY: Fix it up?

FO: Yeah. So it looks like new.

SY: Nice, nice.

FO: So that's what we were doing. And then we had a lot of money out to the government, the railroad, and then they devaluated the peso. So that ruined everything, because Shig had to file bankruptcy.

SY: When was that? That was in... must have been in the '60s?

FO: No, in the '50s.

SY: It was still in the '50s, wow.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

FO: So I was out of a job. So I heard Aratani was going real good with Mikasa chinaware.

SY: Uh-huh, George Aratani.

FO: Yeah, so I went to see George, and he says, "I can't use you, Frank," he says, "but I know some people who can." He says, "I'm going to take you to Sumitomo Bank of California." I said, "Hey, wait a minute. I fought against these guys, I don't want to work under them." He says, "Be quiet and come on." He says, "I'll protect you." George knew the board of director members of Sumitomo Bank of Japan, and he was real popular with them. So he took me to Sumitomo Bank L.A. So I sat down and talked with these people, and they scratched their head, but George says to, "Hire him, 'cause he's a good man." So they hired me.

SY: Now, at the time, this was, at the time, Sumitomo Bank was just coming to...

FO: No, they were, it was right before we built the Kajima Building.

SY: Which was the Sumitomo Bank building before. So it was a big changeover in Little Tokyo when that building...

FO: Came up.

SY: ...came up. And there were other Japanese?

FO: Yeah, they had the Bank of Tokyo across the street, but there was nobody else, just us.

SY: So Sumitomo Bank was probably, was it the biggest bank in Japan or one of the biggest banks in Japan?

FO: Well, it was at one time one of the bigger banks in Japan.

SY: At that time it was probably pretty...

FO: It was pretty large at that time. So they were hard to live with. [Laughs]

SY: It was a difficult company? Being a Japanese company, it must have been tough, right?

FO: It was. But I had a lot of fun.

SY: So you started out working just as a bank clerk?

FO: Yeah, I started working as a teller, 'cause I didn't know anything about banks. Then I went to banking school at night.

SY: Oh, so you actually went to school.

FO: School, you have to learn how to do the banking and what kind of problems we have. It's a good thing I went.

SY: And that was through City College?

FO: No, no. That's after that. And it was held downtown, the banking community set up this banking school. So they gave out degrees and stuff like that. I went to see what it was like, and I got to know a lot of people there. And at first, I went to the Federal Reserve Bank to see if I can get a job, and they told me no.

SY: This was before you got the job at Sumitomo?

FO: Yeah. So after that I went to see George.

SY: Oh. So you kind of wanted to get into the banking business.

FO: No, there was nothing else that... you know, you don't have to have much education, just a lot of common sense, I figured.

SY: But had you graduated from UCLA?

FO: Yeah. But it wasn't in business.

SY: I see.

FO: And then this one manager from Japan, he took a liking to me. And we used to go out together to all these various places, 'cause he wanted to know a lot of things about the United States. And he's the one that went up the tower in city hall. Have you ever been to the top of the city hall?

SY: No, no.

FO: Well, go up there. And you look down, and it's interesting. That's one of the first things he did when he came, he said he went up there. And then he went to the school of architecture at USC. And he says, "I think we ought to rebuild Little Tokyo. I want some plans made."

SY: So he was involved in the whole redevelopment.

FO: Yeah. He was the beginning of it all, I think.

SY: So this is before you actually joined the bank?

FO: No, I was with the bank at that time.

SY: So were you involved in any of those...

FO: Well, no, but...

SY: Local businessmen?

FO: Yeah, well, I used to know most of the local businessmen.

SY: Uh-huh. And were they in favor of this?

FO: Yeah. You know Kats Kunitsugu's husband? He was...

SY: He was the editor...

FO: ...he was involved in all these --

SY: The Little Tokyo redevelopment.

FO: Yeah, redevelopment stuff.

SY: Yeah. So you were friends with him? Kango, I think.

FO: Kango, yeah.

SY: And you knew a lot of these people, and did you get in discussions with them about the whole idea?

FO: Well, yeah. We used to discuss it, but I was never totally involved like the way these guys were. Because my thing was in the banking, and I had to build up the L.A. office. At that time the L.A. office, and we had one in Gardena, and we had a branch in Crenshaw.

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

<Begin Segment 28>

SY: So what was your job exactly with Sumitomo when you first started?

FO: I was a teller for thirty days. I didn't know anything about teller. But you know, everybody was so straight-faced and so serious about things, I used to take... you know, when these kids weren't looking, I used to take money from the drawers, and I put it over here, and at night they wouldn't balance. And they'd look and they'd look and I'd laugh, and they knew I had something to do with it, so I told 'em, "There's the money."

SY: Wow. That's scary. You're pretty much of a joker, huh?

FO: But, you know... because it was no fun.

SY: Yeah, it was a very serious business.

FO: Serious business, yeah.

SY: And you didn't get in trouble for that?

FO: No. All these gals would say, "Omatsu-san, mata yatta," you know. And the officers didn't know. And then I started the, I started the Christmas Club. You know, they used to have these little coupons you save for Christmas? And I says, "I heard about this Christmas Club from somebody at the school." So I says, "We ought to look into it and have a contest among the department." And I was told, "This is a bank. What are you doing?" "I realize it's a bank, but you can't, you can't treat these people without some kind of enjoyment." So I said, "We're going to have a contest, department." And I asked the bank to put up some reward money. "We don't do such a thing."

SY: They did it?

FO: Yeah. So I said, "I'll put it in." I said, "I want you officers to put some in," so we did. And that thing hit. The kids got involved in the Christmas Club. So the Christmas Club, every year there used to be about fifteen, twenty thousand. But it went up to, close to a hundred thousand.

SY: Wow.

FO: Because all the kids got involved in it and they learned something.

SY: Wow, that's amazing. So when you, obviously you sort of worked your way up in the bank, then.

FO: Yeah, I did.

SY: And because you were kind of a...

FO: I'm an oddball.

SY: [Laughs] You're a thinker, creative.

FO: No, so when this manager took a liking to me, we used to go out driving. He wanted to know what the area looks like and this and that, so I used to take him out. And I says, "I think we ought to make a loan to the church, this church, or to the hospital there." He says, "Don't touch churches and don't touch hospitals," he told me. I says, "Why not?" "I don't like to foreclose. And you can't foreclose on a church, you can't foreclose on a hospital. Think about it," he tells me. "Oh, yeah, you got a point."

SY: So what did you add? What was your contribution? Is it because you knew so many people in the community?

FO: Well, no, but I didn't know hardly anybody.

SY: So, but did you have to develop new accounts, that was your job? Was that your job?

FO: Yeah, my job to develop...

SY: So how did you do that?

FO: There was three of us, Miyakoda and somebody... what the heck was his name? I forgot the name. And we used to compete against each other to get accounts. So Miyakoda used to go to Gardena area to recruit accounts, get accounts. And Sherman Takada used to go to West L.A. So I went to Crenshaw area. That's how I got to know a lot of people in Crenshaw area.

SY: So you would just go door to door?

FO: No, the business to business.

SY: Businesses to businesses, what you did, and then said, you tried to offer them something that Sumitomo...

FO: Right.

SY: And so that's how you developed business for them?

FO: Developed, yeah. And that's how I got to know a lot of people. You know like George Izumi, Grace's Pastry.

SY: Grace's Pastry, yeah, that was a big business.

FO: He says, "Frank," when I got to know him, he says, "I need money. How do I do it?" So I said, "Give me a financial statement." He told me, "What's that?" So I told him what it was. And then I told him to hire an accountant and let's see how you're going. He says, "I never hired anybody," but he says, "Okay, if you say so, we'll hire somebody." So he hired these people and they gave me a statement, and I took it back to our office and we gave him a loan.

SY: So your job was really kind of helping people, too. Is that how you saw it?

FO: Yeah.

SY: Especially the small, there are a lot of small businesses.

FO: Small business, yeah. You know that credit union they have in Crenshaw area? Southwest Japanese credit union?

SY: No.

FO: We used to help them count money and make deposits for them. We used to go there after work to help them because most of their work was at night. So that's how we got the credit union going, because we helped them.

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

<Begin Segment 29>

SY: So they, so Sumitomo obviously was pleased with your work.

FO: Evidently.

SY: And then eventually what happened? You became, locally you became a manager, right?

FO: Yeah, I was the first Nisei manager of the Sumitomo Bank. And we opened up in Orange County, Anaheim. Bank of Tokyo was already there, but they were in Santa Ana, so they wanted me to open up a branch there. How do you open up a branch? I don't know. Everything's hit and miss. So I used to go see these strawberry growers, and I used to ask them a lot of stupid questions. That's the only way you learn. Said, "What's the matter with you? Don't you know anything about farming?" I said, "No." So they would get down on the ground and map things out for me. I said, "Oh, yeah, yeah," and the Japanese manager would be listening to us. So I got to know these guys and we developed some good accounts. So they made me open up a branch. So we opened up the branch and that's when Mr. Sakioka came to see me. You know Mr. Sakioka?

SY: I don't know. You have to explain...

FO: Mr. Sakioka is one of the richest Japanese Americans, Japanese farmers. He came to see me. He knew my dad and I knew him because I used to drive around with my dad. And he said, "Omatsu-san, I need a loan." I said, "Okay, what for?" He said he's farming and going to buy some more land. So he says, "I need ten thousand dollars an acre." I says, "Hey, that's too expensive to buy that kind of land." He asked me, "You gonna give it to me or aren't you?" I said, "Well, I have to discuss it with head office." And we turned him down. And he never forgave me for that. Because he bought some acreage, and he sold for half a million, million, and he's got a lot of acreage in South Coast Plaza area. So every time I go see him, he reminds me that I turned him down. But he always, he always greeted me, no matter where or what. When I went to see him, busy as he was, he would come out and take me to another room and we would talk. And I see him at these Japanese functions, I would greet him and he would greet me, and we would talk.

SY: That's great. So even though he didn't ever do business with you then, huh? Wow. So to get an idea, how long were you at Sumitomo, then?

FO: I was there over thirty years. From Anaheim I went to Oxnard and I opened up Oxnard. Now, Oxnard was a different kind of farming. Strawberries and tomatoes were Orange County. Oxnard was celery and other leaf vegetables. And everything was pole tomatoes. Now up north, when I asked our head office for loans, okay, pole tomato farmers... you know what a pole tomato is?

SY: They grow on poles.

FO: Yeah. Up north, they grow tomato for cannery. Go through that thing once it's ripe, then you harvest it and the plant's no good, that season's over. That's what we call cannery tomato for sauces and stuff like that. Pole is for fresh. So I tried to talk to head office about it, and we argued over that. 'Cause they didn't know what pole tomatoes was, so I tried to tell 'em. So they finally gave me an okay. So we got to know a lot of farmers. And I says, "You guys in Oxnard, the Oxnard plain, you guys can get three crops a year out of it," they were telling me. I says, "I don't believe you guys." So I checked, and sure enough, Oxnard was one of the very few areas in the United States that had three crops a year. So I didn't know that.

SY: So you learned a lot about farming.

FO: Yeah, I learned all about farming. I says, "How come the weatherman doesn't say anything about Oxnard?" They said, "I don't know," they tell me. Well, let's look into it. So I looked into it and I sent a letter to one of the TV weathermen. I told him that Oxnard, you can get three crops. There's no place in the United States where you could get three crops. And I says, "How about you giving us a weather report on Oxnard?" So they did, surprisingly. So even today, you hear about temperatures in Oxnard. [Laughs]

SY: You were the first, wow. So your background, though, in farming, your dad going around with these farmers...

FO: Yeah, but I didn't know how to grow.

SY: Yeah, that's true. But developing that business was... would you say it was more important for Sumitomo or was it more important for the farmers?

FO: Both. We helped both. And then every place we went, we opened up, there was a Bukkyokai, a Buddhist church. So we would go in there and say, "We'd like to help your church out. Do you need anything?" Oxnard wanted a piano, Anaheim wanted something, so the bank gave it to them. So that brought in more customers.

SY: I see. So public relations kind of thing. So that was, was that your strong suit?

FO: Yeah, I guess so.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

SY: And then what happened after Oxnard?

FO: Well, the thing is, Oxnard, there's a limited amount. It's a small area, small community. So they told me, "Go see these hakujin farmers." So I said, "Okay, where do I go? I don't know anybody." So one of the farmers told me, "All these hakujin farmers meet at a certain place every morning to have coffee and doughnuts," so he told me where to go. I said, "Okay." So early morning I went there before the rest of the guys got there. And I walked into this area here, they were brewing the coffee. They looked at me, I didn't say anything, I just said, "Hi, can I have a cup?" So I got to know these guys that way. And I got to know them, and we took so many accounts away from the Bank of A. Levy, that's the main bank up in Oxnard for all these small places, and that's one of the oldest bank in that. So the president of the Bank of A. Levy came to these farms and reminded them that he helped their fathers, "So quit fooling around with the Japanese bank." But we got some accounts from these farmers, and we helped them out.

SY: So the growth of Sumitomo's business like that, then that, they recognized that in you, and then did they keep, that's how you kept moving up?

FO: So there was a lot of the Japanese farmers dissatisfied with Sumitomo, because in order to get a loan, they said they had to buy Sumitomo stock. And I went up when I heard that, I said, "What are you talking about?" And he says, "That's what these guys from Japan say." So I said, "Okay, how much do you want in a loan?" And I went up there alone before we opened the bank. Oh, and I got a lecture to all the Issei farmers. They really gave it to me. I sat there and I took it all. I went to their house and we discussed all this stuff.

SY: So you were really responsible for kind of opening, clearing the air, too...

FO: Yeah, I was. I hope I was.

SY: ...that relationship with the Japanese bank. But did you have, was it difficult dealing with Sumitomo on a lot of these things?

FO: Well, I used to have a lot of trouble with the bank on the loan side because they didn't know farming.

SY: And the people that you dealt mostly with were Japanese farmers?

FO: Yeah. Nisei farmers and Issei farmers.

SY: You tried to develop that business the most.

FO: And these guys tell me, "You play golf?" I says, "No." Says, "We can't deal with you. Whoever heard of a bank manager that don't play golf?" I says, "I'm one." "You gotta be kidding. Then we can't bank with you." "Oh, come on, you guys." So he said, "We're having a tournament in a couple of weeks. Why don't you practice and come on out and join us?" So I did practice. Well, I backed into a trophy.

SY: I was going to say, you're a good baseball player, you probably are a good golfer.

FO: I don't like golf. I backed into the trophy and these guys were so upset with me.

SY: You actually backed into it?

FO: Yeah.

SY: You literally hit it?

FO: There's one division where handicap don't count. Certain holes count.

SY: I see. And that's where you...

FO: Yeah, so I backed into a trophy, and everybody was so upset at me, I laughed at 'em.

SY: So anyway, eventually then you ended up becoming vice president, is that your title? And that was over several banks?

FO: Well, the thing is, after Oxnard, I was sent to Crenshaw. Crenshaw was one of these offices where they had Japanese managers only. So I broke the barrier there, and I changed things around. Because I noticed a hakujin guy walking every morning, or every other morning, walking through the bank, and I said, "Who is that guy?" And they told me that he's one of the salesman, for company supply salesman, "And he tells us what we need." So I told 'em, "Bull. I don't have to be told by another guy what we need." I called him over and I chewed him out and I told him to get out.

SY: So you took things in your own hands. You know --

FO: You've got to. These guys run over you.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

SY: So, Frank, unfortunately, we're gonna have to start closing, and I know we have, you have much more to say. But I would like to ask you, when you look back on your life now, and you have children, right? You have how many children?

FO: I have three.

SY: Three children. So what would you tell them? What are you the most proud of in your lifetime?

FO: Well, the thing is, I tell them, "You've got to be honest, and you can't dirty the family name." So I've been trying to pound that into their heads because it was pounded into my head.

SY: And the thing that in your own life, what are you the most proud of as far as your small contribution to the world?

FO: Well, you know, I was real proud of my wife. She helped me quite a bit, yeah. And she's not a flashy person, and she was a nice person, but got along with everybody and she helped everybody. So I wasn't ashamed to take her anyplace. And she used to tell me, "I have nothing to wear." I said, "Wear anything that looks presentable," so that's what she did. But the fact is, the Japanese people from Japan, the big shot that came over, they liked her, you see. And they said, "Frank is too frank, but he's got a nice wife." [Laughs]

SY: And unfortunately, Vi's not with us anymore, but that's a very nice way to close, I think. That's a nice tribute to her.

FO: Even to this day I miss her, I think about her.

SY: Well, this has been a very interesting interview, Frank. You are definitely one of a kind.

FO: No, no.

SY: Thank you very much.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

SY: So, Frank, I want to talk to you briefly about your relationship with Keiro and how that started. How did it start?

FO: Well, Edwin was trying to get... Joe Shinoda recruited Edwin Hiroto. Joe Shinoda was a flower grower but he was married to one of the female doctors. And Joe was a real innovating person, and he said we should get a hospital for the Japanese. So he and Edwin recruited George and me.

SY: George...

FO: Aratani.

SY: George Aratani.

FO: And Kiyo Maruyama. So he recruited us. And I didn't know anything about it.

SY: And you were at Sumitomo at the time.

FO: Yeah, I was at Sumitomo at the time. And then we wanted to buy the old Japanese hospital, but in order to do that, we had to buy up the stocks. And we asked all these stockholders to please donate it, and some of 'em donated it. They were all doctors and old families. So they sold it to us, or most of 'em donated it. So we started the hospital. And the hospital was too narrow, it was built, the hospital was too old. We couldn't get a wheelchair in certain areas, and that was against the law. So Edwin by chance met a guy who was trying to sell the Cityview Hospital. So he brought the proposal back to us, and George Aratani, Fred Wada, Kiyo, Ruth Watanabe -- that's a gal you should interview, she's interesting. Kiyo, Fred, and somebody else. Oh, Mitsumori.

SY: Oh, James Mitsumori.

FO: Yeah. See, they were the beginners or the founders of the Optimists Club.

SY: Kind of a downtown Optimists Club?

FO: Yeah, Mitsumori, Kiyo, Hiroto and those guys. I never joined the Optimists.

SY: So did they actually come to Sumitomo for money?

FO: No, no. Well, they were going to ask money, but they didn't know how much they need or anything. So that's where I got involved. And I brought it to my people, and they said to make a loan to a hospital or church, it's not right if you got to foreclose. I said, "Don't worry," I told them. And then George talked to Mr. Hotta. Mr. Hotta was the big man, he was the banker in Japan, and he was a Sumitomo man. He was president of Sumitomo. And when he came through here and he checked everything, and he was surprised that a community as large as us didn't have a hospital. So he encouraged us.

SY: And how did it change from being a hospital to...

FO: Well, the thing is, the hospital, we started the hospital, but the doctors didn't support us. If the doctors don't support us, who's going to bring in the patients, right?

SY: So the hospital wasn't a profitable...

FO: Yeah, profitable at all.

SY: I see.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

SY: So whose idea was it to switch over to a retirement home?

FO: Well, the thing is, I saw the need for Alzheimer's units. The rest of these guys said retirement. I was the only guy that was against it, because I saw my brother, he had Alzheimer's real bad. They had to tie him down eventually. So I saw the need for that, but they said, "No, the retirement home is more important than an Alzheimer's unit into that Keiro nursing." So that's what they said, so I said, okay, what can I say? I'm outvoted. And then when we got this retirement home, that used to be a hacienda, one of the Spanish grant something, and it ran from Boyle to the river, the hacienda.

SY: And it's like Boyle Heights, sort of the outskirts of Boyle Heights.

FO: So that was, I said, "You guys, that's a historic monument there," you know.

SY: And they took it over? You were opposed to it or you thought it was a good thing?

FO: Well, they told me to be quiet. [Laughs]

SY: So they ended up selling Cityview and then purchasing the Boyle...

FO: Yeah, Boyle Heights.

SY: ...Boyle Heights.

FO: But the thing is, I talked to a friend of mine who was active in the Jewish retirement home, and he says, "Frank, if I was on the board, I wouldn't sell it to you guys." I says, "Why? We'd pay for everything." "That ain't the point." He says, "We have some sentimental reason to keep that, especially the ICF building." They used to call it the Mary Pickford building, and they wanted to keep that into a hospital. Since we took over and they moved out, they couldn't do it.

SY: But it was, it was kind of a smart idea, though, for the Japanese community to have their own.

FO: Yeah.

SY: And that was something that all of you guys decided on together.

FO: Together.

SY: Because you realized that that was something that needed to be done.

FO: Yeah. We needed it. They finally convinced me we need it. [Laughs]

SY: And then Sumitomo cooperated and helped?

FO: Sumitomo and Bank of Tokyo.

SY: Both banks? I see.

FO: We were trying to keep peace in the family, you know how it is.

SY: I see. And then that was in... do you remember when the retirement home was started?

FO: Well, we just started our fifty year of Keiro.

SY: Keiro, so that must have been from the time that...

FO: Yeah, forty-something years. But I'm no longer connected with anything. I resigned, and I told them, after I talked to these PR guys that used to come by to help us, and the guy asked me, "How long you been on the board?" I says, "Forty-something plus years." He says, "Cut it out," he tells me. I said, "Why?" "Nobody serves on the board that long." [Laughs] I said, "You don't know Aratani, Mitsumori and Kiyo Maruyama. They're all on the board yet." So I told 'em, "I want to walk away instead of going out feet first." So they said, "Okay."

SY: So that was your decision and you're happy you made that decision. It was a lot of work, right, being for that many years?

FO: Yeah. And then, you know, you got a lot of pressure.

SY: Well, there's been a lot of growth, too, for Keiro.

FO: But you don't know some of the problems that we used to have. These guys would say, "Okay, we donated to you guys, now my parents are here, take care of them." We said, "Wait a minute. That's not the point." They said that they want the money, what you call that? You know, the retirement money...

SY: Oh, pension? Some sort of pension?

FO: Pension and...

SY: Social security?

FO: Social security stuff, the kids wanted it. And they said, "You guys take care of the folks." We don't do things like that.

SY: So there's all kinds of legal problems as well as family problems.

FO: So I said, "I don't want to get involved in any of the squabbles."

SY: But for the longest time you did and you enjoyed it?

FO: Yeah, enjoyed it, but you know when you get old, I don't know how these guys stand it. Are we still talking?

SY: Yes, we are. But it's a tough thing to be. But you must be proud that Keiro exists for this community.

FO: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SY: Because had it not been for this group of people...

FO: Yeah, they did a good job. One of the things that I did was get everybody mad at me on the board. We used to have steaks and something good at all the board meetings. And I told them, "That's not right. We eat what the residents eat, the residents." And they looked at me, and they finally said okay. And I said, "Instead of meeting at Keiro over here, let's go to the various places like South Bay."

SY: They have different Keiro homes now all through...

FO: Yeah, so I said, "Let's go to the various places. You guys never been there. I know because nobody says anything." So we used to meet at different places.

SY: That's great. So you tried to keep it very equal.

FO: Yeah. But it was George Aratani and Fred Wada, I give them the most credit. They're the ones that came up with the money from Japan. Now Japan is sending people over to study our method so that they can open up a Keiro in Japan. And then Seattle came down and wanted to know how we operated Keiro, we became close to Seattle.

SY: Yeah, it's a model.

FO: And then Chicago sent some guys over to me, they could study what we do.

SY: That's wonderful.

FO: But those guys worked hard and I give them a lot of credit.

SY: That was nice that you were involved from the very start.

FO: I've been a pain for them from the very start.

SY: Well, I think we're gonna have to close with that, Frank. Thank you very much.

FO: Thank you.

(Narr. note: The Emperor and Empress of Japan visited Keiro -- our high point -- it was like God came down from Heaven because they went around to shake all the residents' hand. The tears from the Issei residents was very touching.

I retired as a Sr. VP of Sumitomo Bank of California.

I resigned from the Keiro board several years ago after forty years.)

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.