Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Spady Koyama Interview I
Narrator: Spady Koyama
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), James Arima (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 23, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-kspady-01-0019

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TI: Now before we move to, to the next step. You grew up in, in the state of Washington and, and spent some time in California. This was your first experiences, or experience, going to the southern part of the United States. How did they treat you as a, a Japanese American in the south?

SK: Well I learned to say "sho nuff" and "you all." And you don't carry, you tote it. Tote them bags, you don't carry them. And since it was the weekend, I thought well, I'm, I'm going to Little Rock and look the town over, so I got on board the bus, found a seat, sat down and waited and the bus wouldn't move. Finally the driver turns around toward the back and says, "This bus ain't gonna, ain't gonna move until you move soldier." And everybody turned around and the lady in front of me said, "Here soldier, come over here. Sit beside me." And I said, "Are you, are you talking to me?" And she said, "Yes." So I went over and sat down next to her and she said, "How long have you been here?" "I just got in." She said, "Where are you from?" I said, "Washington. State of Washington." She said, "You know those seats back there are for them, you know, not for you, but for them." And then I learned that, that we had special seats for the blacks, even to the point of special restrooms, men's rooms, for them. Because I got chewed out once by an MP like, when he caught me coming out of a room, restroom, the wrong restroom for blacks. I said, "I'm not black, but I'm, I'm in between." I says, "I, this was handy so I used it." But he said, he was pretty adamant.

TI: How did that make you feel when, when you, when you saw this?

SK: That was my first exposure, experience, to the colored situation in the south. Certain restaurants were, were not open to them. And then later on some of the places were not, we were exposed to, were not available to us. Because from Little Rock, Arkansas, I thought I was going to Minnesota, but I wound up at Ft. Riley, Kansas. And there, I accompanied some newly found buddies from Tennessee, I believe, two or three of them and we all went to Kansas City and went into a bar for something and the bartender turned toward the door. I was just going through the door and he said, "No sense you coming in soldier, you know I can't serve you." And I turned around and there was nobody behind me and the bartender was pointing at me. He said, "You know I can't serve you, no sense you coming in here." And my buddies from Tennessee they all laughing innocent. They said, "Oh you think he's off a reservation. He's not off a reservation, he's from Washington state." And the bartender said, "What do you mean from Washington State? Don't you think I rec, I can recognize one when he's standing right in front of me? You know I can't serve him." And my buddies laughed again. They said, "You can serve him, he's a Japanese." "What do you mean a Japanese? We're at war with Japan. What, what you trying to pull on here?" And we all got invited to leave the place. We got kicked out of the place.

TI: So you, your buddies from Tennessee were Caucasian?

SK: Caucasian and the bartender thinks I'm off a reservation and he can't serve beer to an Indian or anything to an Indian. So that was my second exposure to the race consciousness in different parts of the country.

TI: What an education, I mean...

SK: [Laughs] Right.

TI: So from Little Rock, Arkansas, you went to Kansas and why don't you continue the story about...

SK: And then the same recruiting officer shows up at Kansas. This time he recognizes me by sight and wants to know what I'm doing here and I told him the same thing. And he said, "You're still. You may not make the first course there, but you're gonna get up there." And he wrote some more... and finally I got assignment to go north and I kept my eyes open this time and I saw that the train was headed north so I figured here I am headed for Minnesota. And I finally wound up there, but I was too late for the first course. I wound up in the second course and graduated in, in the summer of '43. And by that time we had been divided into two main groups. The so-called quiet, introverted, mentally sound fellows were classified and trained to become translators. Those who could work in peace way back miles behind the front lines. The rest of us who were the extroverted types who wouldn't let an enemy soldier take over a conversation or interrupt or anything like that, who could control the situation, we were made into interrogators. And together we would form a composite group of competent linguists, able to handle any situation. Translate, interrogate, interpret, whatever. And my ship was headed for Australia. One unescorted trip down southern part of the, of the Pacific Ocean and we cut across and we landed by way of New Zealand and then from New Zealand to Brisbane, Australia. And I still remembered my first impression of Australia was we smell that very strange, peculiar type of odor as we neared the harbor. And my, our first question after we landed was, "What is that that we smell?" And we learned that all the railroad around that area carry not only passengers, but also livestock and we were smelling sheep. And no -- matter of days apparently we had gotten used to it because we never, we never thought anything more of it. And whenever the new incoming personnel would ask that question, we would be reminded. That's the, what we smell when we came in. You just got off the ship didn't ya?

TI: Yeah, that's good.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.