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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Spady, I'm going to start, and let's start with your parents and why don't you talk a little bit about your parents, where they came from in Japan and tell us a little bit about that first.

SK: My father was born and raised in Okayama prefecture, which is right next to Hiroshima, and my mother was raised in a town next to my father's and how they got together, I, I have no idea. But they both came to the United States, well, shortly after 1900s, I suppose, and probably around 1910, I think. Because I was born in 1917 and my older brother was born 1915 or '14, and he wound up working for the Great Northern Railroad while my mother was running a hotel, which was common practice in those days among the Issei. In order to cut corners, they usually ran a small hotel.

TI: Okay, before we get to your mother, when they came to the United States, where did they end up living in the United States?

SK: Well, first my, my father was assigned to a small town north of Spokane, so naturally we all lived in this Ferry County which is northwest of Spokane County. And then he was transferred down south toward Spokane at a place called, to a place called Deer Park, which is only about twenty-five miles or thirty miles north of Spokane. And there he suffered a ruptured appendix, appendicitis, fatal in those days, and he perished. He died when I was five. And Mother had five children to raise. So she kept the oldest son with her, my older brother and sent two sons, myself and my brother, and two sisters -- four of us -- to Japan to live with four different relatives. Four different locations.

TI: And going back, you were only five years old when your, your father died. Do you have any memories of your father?

SK: None whatsoever. No memory of him.

TI: Okay, so, after your father died of the ruptured appendix, four of you were sent to Japan. Was that a pretty common thing? Do you know of any other cases where the Japanese families...

SK: Yes, I know of several other cases because there was no one else to turn to here in the States, and not being familiar with the way the welfare system works, they only relied among people they knew. And so Mother thought that the best thing to do is to send four of us to Japan to live with relatives, so that she could cope, continue to live here with one son. My older brother.

TI: So the oldest, your older sibling, your older brother stayed in Spokane --

SK: Right.

TI: -- or Eastern Washington and the four of you went. Where did the four of you go? Were you sent all together to one place or...?

SK: No, no, no. Four different relatives in four locations. Like I wound up in a place called Ashimori. It's now a city, the city of Ashimori. (A-s-h-i-m-o-r-i), Ashimori. And my brother wound up in a place called Takamatsu, which is the next town, and my younger sister was in Kobe, in Hyogo prefecture. And my sister was, was in Osaka. So then we were physically separated, except my brother and I were the, physically the closest. All I had to do was just walk over a couple of hills and mountains and there I am in his hometown. And that's where his, our grandparents lived. And he was raised by the grandparents. And he even, even took their name so that they would have a direct heir, I suppose. So my younger brother's name is Migaki and not Koyama, you see. Common practice in Japan.

TI: And before you get too far on, what, what were the, the names, first names of, of your siblings?

SK: My older brother was named Fumito, Fumihito. And I was named Ayahito, or Ayato. And my younger brother, Emito or Emihito, and my sister was Toshiko and my younger sister Hideko.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Now that you, you're in Japan, you're still a young boy, roughly six or so. Can you remember anything about Japan during this period?

SK: The fact that I had to completely forget whatever English I knew and concentrate on learning Japanese, because I am, I'm going to Japanese school. In fact, I have -- I don't know if you can see this or not. But aren't there six vaccination marks?

TI: Oh, right.

SK: You see it?

TI: Right there, right there.

SK: Six, aren't there? I got at, in this Japanese school. Vaccination marks, six of them. I did so well in learning Japanese because I concentrated in learning Japanese and, and play with Japanese kids every day, of course, that I did very well in school. And I think from about the fourth, third or fourth grade I became what is known as kyuucho, K-y-u-c-h-o, or class president. Which meant that every morning, I would pick up all the kids along the road from my home to the school and march them to school. After school, I would march them back. I recall waiting at my house for the kids who lived beyond me to arrive at my house so that we could form a line and start on our way to school as, as a kyuucho.

TI: Did the, the kids, the other Japanese children, treat you any differently because you came from the United States?

SK: No, no, they didn't. I don't recall any incident like that. Although I, I knew from the very beginning that I was not like them because I had been born and raised in the United States and that I came from the United States. I, I always knew that. And my aunt, with whom I lived, was a, what do you call it? Teacher of sewing or seamstress. And she seemed to know a lot about life. And she periodically would remind me that, "Your mother is in the States and she is doing this or that," or whatever.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Well what, while your aunt and you talked about that, about your mother being in the United States, you, as a child, did you think that you were going to go back to the United States or did you think you were going to stay in Japan?

SK: Well, I, I figured that one of these days when I, when I'm an adult, that I would like to go back to the United States. Because I, I felt that since I was born there, that I should be with my family in the United States. Not with the rest of my family in Japan.

TI: So did you also think that that was something that you and your sibling, your other siblings would do that, too? That you...

SK: Well I know that my younger brother felt the same way. I don't know about my sisters. But my brother, younger brother -- and he came to the United States years later, after I had finished high school, I believe, and was working with me on the same vegetable farm run by Issei. So he knew how to drive a truck. And then about a year before Pearl Harbor, I think it was same year, 1941, possibly, he went back to Japan to straighten out some family affairs and then come right back. He got caught in Japan throughout World War II.

TI: That's interesting. Let's go back to Japan in these early days. Any other memories? Did you enjoy living in Japan during this period?

SK: Oh, yes, I did. I liked the, some of the group travels that we did to various places for say, undokai, athletic meets that we competed against other schools. I always liked going to the big city of Okayama, whose lights we could see at nighttime, and we'd go to parks and eat all the manjus and all the goodies, you know.

TI: Those are fond memories.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, so as you're growing up what, what happened as you got older in Japan? Why did you come back to the United States?

SK: I came back because my aunt, with whom I lived, passed away. She died when I was ten going on eleven. So my uncle, my father's older brother -- was section foreman also, just north of Spokane, at a place called Chewelah -- came back to Japan and made the arrangements and before I knew it, I was destined to return to Spokane to join my mother and my brother. And my mother had remarried in the meantime. So I traveled alone with some other Issei bound for Spokane and I came back to Spokane in 1927 -- year Lindbergh flew across.

TI: How did you feel about leaving Japan?

SK: I was happy to do so because I felt, here I am going back to the country where I was born, and to rejoin my mother and my brother, other brother whom I hadn't seen in six years.

TI: And how about your siblings, did they know that you were leaving and did you communicate with them before you left?

SK: I don't recall seeing some of my siblings. I know I saw my younger sister in Kobe, and, and, of course, my younger brother whom I left in Japan. But other than that, I recall I was very happy to be coming back to the United States. And of course, I was going on eleven and when school started I was eleven. And because my birth month is June, you see. And here I am, first day of school I'm eleven years old and I'm placed in 1B. In those days every, every grade was divided into two. 1B, 1A, 2B, 2A and so forth. And I'm in 1B. Biggest and the oldest kid in class. And everything went well except around, well, mid-morning, teacher suddenly turned towards me and called me by my newly acquired name, Spady, blah, blah, blah. And then we all went out and played. So at noontime when I got home for lunch, I told my brother, I said, "She called me by my name and said something and we all went out and played." He said, "Wait a minute. Did a bell ring?" I said, "Yeah, a bell rang, and then she called me by my name." And, and he said, "Well, that's because you're the biggest kid in class and you're the oldest and she wants you to take charge because that's the recess bell that rang." So I said, "What am I supposed to do?" "You just tell the kids, 'Let's go out and play.'" I memorized that: "Let's go out and play." That afternoon, sure enough, the bell rings again, she turns towards me, "Spady," she said, blah, blah, blah. I said, "That's my cue." I stood up, cleared my throat, and I said, "All right you guys, ret's, ret's go out and pray." And the teacher laughs the loudest, and that night I told, I told my brother, "Oh, these happy-go-lucky American kids, I told them, "Ret's go out and pray.'" And he said, "I didn't tell you say that. You should have said, "Let's go out and play.'"

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: How did you come about your name Spady? You said you just acquired that name Spady. How did you...

SK: Because when I came back, my uncle, the section foreman up at Chewelah, my father's older brother, says, "Now that you're back in the States, you should have an American name." And I agreed and he said, "Your father had a good American name. His men gave it to him because when he got to work as a section foreman, he never walked empty-handed. Always walked with the basic tool of the railroad section gang, the spade. In no time at all his men would say, 'Here comes Spade, here comes Spade.' And after a while he turned into, 'Here comes Spady, here comes Spady.'" So I acquired that name and kept it on throughout my younger days, and when I finally got into the army and became an officer, the fellow at the desk says, "You can't carry a nickname. You weren't born with that, were you?" I said, "No, I wasn't." "You can't carry that as a nickname as an officer." So I said, "Well, what do I do? Nobody knows me by any other name." And he rummaged around in his desk and come out, came out with a piece of paper. He said, "You sign here and you'll officially became, you can become Spady." So I did. That's how I became Spady. But I met a lady from New Jersey one time at a party. She was slightly hard of hearing, I guess. She didn't get the name Spady. She said, "Shady over there says this and this and..." and throughout the evening I tried to correct her, but without success. She called me Shady throughout the evening.

TI: [Laughs] That's good. Let's see, going back to your, you're eleven years old, you're in the first grade.

SK: First grade.

TI: I imagine as you acquired your English, you were advanced to...

SK: Oh yeah, very next day. Second day in school at 1B. The teacher's waiting for me at the, at the door, very second day. Grabbed me by the hand, walks me past the door, walks me past 1A, walks me past 2B, 2A. Puts me into 3B. I had completely skipped second grade. And she said, "This is your classroom." Second day. So all day long I kept waiting for that bell to ring and for the new teacher to call me. She never did. But in the, late in the afternoon she comes in with a broom in her hand, and looks around, sees me. Walks over, gives it to me. And I, I noticed that all the kids were scurrying around, straightening out the room and so forth. Oh, she wants me to sweep the room, of course. So I go to one of the corners of the room to sweep in, and she started to turn around and walk off, glanced back. Stopped, walks back to me, lowers her voice and looks around and says, "Spady, your fly is open. You know what to do." Fly, fly. Oh, she wants me to catch a fly. Because, of course I know what to do. And then she said, she repeated, "I said, Spady, your fly is open. Don't you know what to do?" Oh, she lowered her voice because she doesn't want to scare the fly away, it must be stopped somewhere nearby. But to show her I knew what to do, I slowly raised the broom to a batting position. And that's the last time I ever skipped any school. So, when I finished high school, I was twenty-one-year-old baseball playing high school senior.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: When you came back at eleven, you were now living in, in Spokane. What, what was the Spokane community like?

SK: We were very closely-knit. After we finished our regular schooling, we would all go to what we called a Japanese mission, located right next door to the Central Methodist Church, which had a very active and energetic women's society of the Central Methodist Ladies. They in turn took upon themselves the fact that they noticed that all these coming, incoming women from Japan, don't know the language, nor do they know how to use a knives, forks and spoons, nor, no, when and what to get shots for their school kids. So they took upon themselves to create a Japanese mission right next door and they would come over to teach the kids English as well as teach the kids the religious aspects on Sunday, every Sunday school was controlled and run by the ladies of the Central Methodist Church. And that explains why today, most of Spokane young people, second- as well as third-generation are members of the Highland Park Methodist Church.

TI: So that, when you say the second- and third-generations, the Japanese Americans...

SK: Right.

TI: in Spokane...

SK: Right.

TI: ...are predominantly Methodist.

SK: Methodist, right. Because of the, the influx of, and interest of the ladies' society of the Central Methodist Church.

TI: Now, did this --

SK: So we have two parts of the church, Highland Park Methodist Church, named after Ellis Hall and Butler Room or whatever it is. Named after Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Butler, two ladies of that society.

TI: So this relationship started with the Isseis, the immigrants?

SK: Right.

TI: And you say it continues up to this day. How, how was the relationship during the, the war? When, after Pearl Harbor, what did the Methodist Church do? Do you recall how they supported the...

SK: You know I don't, see, because I left just a month after Pearl Harbor and I'm gone, into the U.S. army. In fact, I raised my right hand to be sworn in as a buck private earning $21 a month on the 8th of January, 1942. So I don't know what, what's going on, back in Spokane.

TI: But what...

SK: In fact, I didn't even know about the evacuation.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Well, other than the Methodist Church being very supportive of the Japanese American community, how about the, the other Caucasian population? How would you characterize that?

SK: Very supportive, because on 7th of December, when Pearl Harbor was being attacked, a big bunch of us, Oriental population, was gathered, were gathered at one of the leading hotels in Spokane, downtown Spokane, attending a wedding of a Nisei couple. Joe Okamoto was marrying Sumi Yoshida and it's that, one of their sons from their marriage is a, now a retired big shot over here.

TI: Dennis Okamoto.

SK: Dennis Okamura, Okamoto, yeah, that's the one. Yeah. So, and I was one of, a member of that party and we had the mayor of the city, chief of police, and one of the judges, who was our unofficial advisor to the JACL chapter that I had a hand in helping to create in Spokane. They were all gathered at this same Desert Hotel.

TI: This was on December 7, 1941...

SK: That's right, that's right.

TI: ...that all the civic leaders of Spokane were, were at this wedding.

SK: So, so the mayor was concerned about the safety of the out-of-towners who had come to this wedding. So he said, "Can you form a committee to find out who came from where and how they're going home, what route they will be taking and how many and, license plate of the car and so forth, so forth. Give me the details so that we can make sure that they get home safely." And we did that. Bunch of us did that at the hotel. And then in the meantime, my mother takes me aside, of course, and reminds me. She says, "I needn't tell you that this is your country, no matter who says what. Now, your country is at war." She said, "You should be mentally prepared to go fight for your country." She said, "The only thing I have to ask you now, is, is at least stay home for the holidays, for the Christmas and New Year's and then you go." I said, "Okay, fine." So on 5th of January, I packed up, said goodbye to everybody and walked to the selective service office so many blocks away, and announce that I'm ready to go. Well, he told me, "Well, you better go, go home and think things over first. We're at war with Japan, you know." I said, "I know that. That's why, the only thing I'm here for." And they kept telling me to go home. And the longer I stayed there, the more, well, I wasn't exactly angry, but I was disturbed more than anger. So I finally pushed the piece of paper across the top of the desk and I said, "How about give me your name. Print, print your name on this piece of paper and give me the names of the rest of you fellas here in this selective service office." And he said, "What do you want our names for?" And I said, "If they tell me at Fort Lewis that I don't qualify, then I will come home, but you fellas here in Spokane don't even want to send me over there. Human interest story there, I'm going give it, give it to one of my buddies who works for a newspaper. I want your names." So he went back and told the others about it and he came back and said, "Well, don't blame us if something happens to ya." I said, "Oh, no. You'll be safe. Just send me out of here." And that's how I got, got to -- I think not Fort Lewis, but Camp Murray, I believe. And there I raised my right hand and earned twenty-one bucks as a buck private on 8th of January. Month and a day after Pearl Harbor.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: What's interesting me, to me as I'm listening to you is, is when I think about the reaction of the Spokane community to the Japanese American community and, and how close it seemed to be, whether or not that had an influence on, on your willingness to volunteer, your mother's, her statements about this being your country now and you need to support it. It seems that the, that she and other Isseis and the Niseis were really well-supported. Do you think that had a lot to, to do with, with what, how things went?

SK: I think so, I think so. And probably because we weren't too great in number, the influence and the support that we got from the Central Methodist Church leaders, I think carried a lot. And the fact that we had a leader like Judge Raymond Kelly, who was our advisor for the JACL chapter that we had just formed, helped a lot because he was a very popular man in Spokane. And the fact that we had the city fathers, the mayor himself, it started with the mayor on down, the police chief and so forth supporting us and our, I think our overall reputation was spotless. There were no crime involving any of us. I think all in all, we're a very supportive community. It not only existed in Spokane, but for example, right after Pearl Harbor, I think very next day on telephone orders from Spokane FBI office to Chewelah, my uncle Sam, Sam Koyama, was picked up and thrown into local jail. And when the Mayor of Chewelah and leading citizens of Chewelah heard about it, they marched down on the jail, turned him loose, and told my uncle Sam, go back to our, the railroad and continue to look after our railroad for us. Which this enemy alien man did throughout World War II. He had so many miles of section, as a section chief, so many miles of railroad that he was responsible for. About 55 miles or so north of Spokane. And one of his sons, my cousin Karl, was one of the first sergeants of one of the companies in 442, in Europe.

TI: What do you think caused this, this really strong relationship between the Japanese in Eastern Washington with the Caucasian population?

SK: I have no idea, except that through personal knowledge and years and years of intimate relationship, I suppose, I think the fact that Spokane is, comprises population of, from all four corners of the world, I suppose. Tolerant. The kind of overall feeling that you have in a place like the State of Minnesota, is another one. And that's the reason why the, the closely-held intelligence school was picked and moved to right outside Minneapolis.

TI: Because the population there was more tolerant.

SK: That's right. Because a lot of Scandinavians and Germans. I can, I can't think of no other reason.

TI: That, it's interesting to me.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Let's, let's talk about right before the war. What can you tell me about the Japanese American community in Spokane? Were there activities that the community did together?

SK: Yes. To the extent that we had our kenjinkai prefectural society. We had our kenjinkai picnics and even that, the so-called bosankai, the memorial day service that we had for our own cemetery plots, always was a combination of not only religious service to honor our deceased, but also a picnic. We, we sat down right among all those stones and, and had a small picnic. Very closely-knit. And the fact that I think a lot of the citizens came from either Okayama or Hiroshima, outlying or connecting prefectures around Okayama. Okayama was a very predominant prefecture. When somebody gets located and gets a job, he writes to his relative also in Okayama and says, "Come on over, we got a job for you, or you can live here or, or whatever." So they looked out after each other and, of course, that spread.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JA: Earlier you spoke of the racial and ethnic tolerance in Spokane in the prewar days. How, how about currently? We've read about incidents at Gonzaga University and problems with the Democratic party and JACL, so, can you explain what the situation is now?

SK: Well, some of the situation that exists as we see it through the news media probably stems to, to the fact that we have today a lot of outsiders, people coming in, and say a generation ago, putting down their roots in and around Spokane, so that much of what we didn't see before, during pre-World War II days, we now see. And I think the fact that we have more so-called minority groups in Spokane that we never had before, automatically brings certain kinds or problems, human relations problems that never existed before. We have a sizable group of Korean, former Koreans residing in Spokane. We have some, quite a few Vietnamese. Others like that, with their own problems of adjustment. So I think periodically we would see some reflection of that in the news media. But it's not, it's not anything great. It's not anything insurmountable. It's not anything new. I think it's just a matter of taking one problem at a time and fleshing it out and solving it.

JA: So are you saying that the new residents of the Spokane area are having difficulty of not being treated as outsiders?

SK: No, I wouldn't say that at all. I think, I think it's just a matter of the new residents getting, getting their feet on the ground and learning how to live in a community where they have to send their children to American schools. And finding their niche in the local community, which takes time, time of adjustments. And a lot of people, you'll, you'll hear stories about, "Well, they should be speaking English and nothing else." Well that's not, that's easier said than done. Judging by our own examples that we faced, where even to this day, we have Issei in their eighties and nineties and over who don't speak English, who can't understand English. And it's beyond reasonable feeling that, that we should assume that they should be speaking English. Not at their age, not with their background. So it's just, just a matter of, of tolerance and understanding so that time will take care of all those problems.

TI: How would you compare what the newer immigrants are going through today with what the, the Japanese did?

SK: Very similar, very similar. Because some of the problems that we saw as youngsters before, say pre-World War II, we know the similar conditions that exist among other minorities coming and trying to establish themselves in around Spokane. Like the Korean segment, they're trying to create, estab-, I think they already have a church for themselves. As for our church, we have a Caucasian minister who finally, after years of being associated with us, finally can tell us apart and call us by our right names, in comparison to when he first arrived. Reverend Vaughn, V-a-u-g-h-n, couldn't tell one of us from, from another and he didn't know who, whom to talk to or, or how to run the very ethnic-type church which was the Highland Park United Methodist Church. Now, he takes the lead in making mochi, in making, in running the sukiyaki and the chicken teriyaki. All the functions and activities of the church, he's the leader. Unfortunately, he's being transferred sometime this year, finally. But in the meantime, he sent his daughter to Japan. He has another son in Ireland. 'Cause they originally, his forebearers are Irish, apparently, and he's gone down so that he has encouraged the participation and the transfer of many who belong to other churches who caught on to our way of life and our church, so they're transferring, you'll see all shades of color in our church. Highland Park Methodist Church. Among the, the, the lay-leaders, among the ushers, you might see two blondes participating. You might see the local lay-leader a Caucasian. We're all mixed.

TI: And this was a lot different than it was before the war...

SK: Before war, it was strictly...

TI: ...the Methodists, it was, it was all Japanese.

SK: That's right, yeah.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JA: You spoke of the minority new residents in Spokane, but how about others from the majority? Have they changed the character of Spokane?

SK: I think they have. Because periodically, the papers, news media will say something in our favor and remind the reading public that it takes everybody to make up the, the whole Spokane. I note that whenever something is, something good comes out, the papers play it up. And like, several years ago, several of us were given a whole page spread in the newspapers, including Dennis Yasuhara, who is the former national president of the JACL, myself, and another, another veteran with a European background, I believe. We were given a whole page spread on our background and how we were original Spokane residents and collectively we are still contributing to the, to the public welfare. So I think all in all, it's just a matter of blending in with the local problems and, and again, learning to get a long with other people. Because when you come right down to it, well, what is the United States of America? It's just a melting pot of people from four corners.

JA: The Idaho border is relatively close to Spokane.

SK: Right.

JA: And we again read about northern, northern Idaho and the skinheads. Does that have any effect on...

SK: It does, to an extent, because we note that the current problem at first, the, the organization led by Butler was going to have a parade in Coeur d'Alene, which is about -- well, it's just across the border. It's only 20 miles to the Idaho border from Spokane. And at first, the mayor of Coeur d'Alene hemmed and hawed and he sat on the problem, and he finally, they have now changed the date of the national get-together, but in the meantime, there's been a growing sense of opposition to any activities by the so-called skinheads or whatever you call them, led by Butler. We note with interest in Spokane of the problem that exists in Idaho, but as far as I'm concerned, it was during my three-term president of the Spokane chapter of the Retired Officers Association that we opened our membership to Idaho residents. Because we were only 20 miles from Idaho, and we noticed that there was no chapter of the Retired Officers Association in Northern Idaho. So, during one of my tours as president of the Spokane chapter, we opened our doors to qualified personnel in Idaho. That means commissioned officers, active duty, as well as warrant officers or ex-officers or warrant officers. They all qualify. So now, to this day, we're the (third) largest chapter on the Pacific Coast. There are (two) larger chapters in California and we're the (third) largest in Spokane with over 600 members. We're larger than Seattle, larger than Portland. (...) In fact, the current state president of the Washington state chapters of the Retired Officers Association comes from Idaho. He succeeds me. There are only three members of the Spokane chapter who have been state presidents. Fellow named, a navy officer who preceded me and then I came next in 1988-'89, and then the current president, state president from Idaho. Three of us.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Several times you've mentioned the JACL. You mentioned Dennis Yasuhara, you mentioned, I think, during Joe Okamoto's wedding, about the JACL. I want to go back to that and can you explain to me how the Spokane JACL chapter was formed, and your, and your role in that?

SK: I believe this occurred in 1940 or '41. No, '41 is Pearl Harbor. So I think it was in 1940 that a few of us got together, usually over the telephone, because I'm on a farm working away and we thought we would like to form a chapter which could eventually become a JACL chapter and affiliated with the national. And we called ourselves the Spokane Japanese American Civic Club, is what I think we called ourselves, which later on became a JACL chapter. And I think I got some background support from Mike, people like Mike Masaoka and Mas Satow, whom I knew. And later on, after I went into the army, sometime during my absence, the name was changed to a JACL chapter, Spokane, and it did become affiliated with the national, which it is today.

TI: But when you got together with sort of the small group to talk about forming the, the Japanese American Civic Club, what were some of the reasons? Why did you feel it was a good idea to form this club at this point?

SK: I think mainly because of the influence of the Yakima Valley JACL. See, Yakima Valley, especially Wapato, and some of the Spokane Nisei are tied in together through intermarriages. Like my brother is married to a girl from Sunnyside whose brother used to play on the Wapato Nippons, and my brother himself used to play for the Wapato Nippons. Several fellows who are currently living and still surviving in Spokane, are from Wapato area. And they had a very thriving JACL chapter there. And in fact, one of the former, two of the former presidents are still residing in Spokane, in Harry Honda and Roy Nishimura, that I know of. So, in those days before World War II, I thought, "How come there is no chap-, no chapter here in Spokane?" We participate in a annual baseball tournament that's held in Seattle during the Fourth of July tournaments. We go in Wapato whenever they have a function, like in the Young People's Christian conference, we participate, and they come over to Spokane and so forth, so there's lots of intermingling of the young people who should have a chapter. So some of us agreed and we formed it.

JA: So the Japanese American Citizens League was largely based on athletic and social ties? Is that correct?

SK: To the best of my knowledge and the, and the fact that there was no organization as such to speak for us. And I conferred with this Judge Kelly and he thought that was an excellent idea and so subsequently, after we formed it, he became our advisor.

TI: And what kind of advice did Judge Kelly give you? When he thought it was a good idea, did he have some thoughts as to what the, your group should be doing or thinking about?

SK: Well, the fact that it is for the enhancement of American ideals. The fact that we believed in the Constitution and all the goodies, and like after I got into the army, whenever I came back to Spokane, I always visited Judge Kelly and he would stop all proceedings in the courthouse and put his arms around me and introduce me to everybody in the room. He was very proud of me, especially after I became a commissioned officer, oh, he thought, he thought the world of, of me.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Now, how did that relationship develop between you and Judge Kelly? Why was he so fond of you?

SK: Well, he knew that, that I had been wounded in the Pacific and he also knew that I had been turned down by the, by a veterans organization for membership in Spokane. In fact, it involves a person who now lives -- if he is still surviving -- lives here in Seattle. A member of the 442nd Infantry, Regimental Combat Team who got turned down for membership while hospitalized at the same Baxter General Hospital that I was hospitalized in. And he got turned down and I read about it in the paper and I thought, "He got turned down because of his race." So, I contacted other veterans and I'm the only one from the Pacific, but other European 442 veterans and I said, "How about applying for membership? Not all of you at the same time, but let's say two at a time," and I said, "You and you next month." And I, I controlled or I suggested that, that these periodic applications be made to the same organization and as expected, they would find minimum of three blackballs denying membership. Now, before they applied, I would contact my friend in the newspaper, I said, and the, and the Spokane Chamber of Commerce leader, a retired major. And I would apprise them of what we're going to do and he would turn to the paper and give them the background. So and so, and so and so's going to apply and we're sure that we're gonna find three blackballs. In those days, every veterans organization was controlled by World War I veterans who thought that the presence of Orientals might disrupt the, the overall harmony of the organization. Especially those coming back from the Pacific theater, one article said. And that was my cue. I said, "Okay, I'm going to apply next, because I'm not only a Pacific theater veteran, but I'm a Purple Hearter and I give the newspapers the background of, of my background as much as I could." I couldn't tell them that I was doing interrogation work or whatever. But, as expected, we found three blackballs when, when my application went, went in. Judge Kelly knew about it. He supported me and I think when he was interviewed, he had a lot to say about what he thought of us as Americans.

TI: And so you were, you were blackballed, and I imagine all the other Japanese Americans were blackballed up to this point?

SK: Right.

TI: How did that change? I mean, it sounds like --

SK: Over the years, the World War I veteran leadership was replaced by World War II veterans, who wanted our membership. And I have a, in fact, in one of my albums, I have a, from the national commander, an invitation to join. "This is your ticket for a membership in any local organization that you choose," and so forth, so forth. I've got that in my album. But I've never applied, of course.

TI: And so, even though you're working with the newspapers and I imagine some of these stories came up, it wasn't until, it really was more of a gradual process over time that things changed?

SK: Yes, and it continued until my re-entry into the army in January 1947. In 1945, '46 it was just a series of newspaper articles regarding the denial for membership in the veterans organization to the point that a national commander from back east apologized on behalf of the entire organization, but he could not control the will of the local chapter, you see. So, he was powerless. But the sentiments were clear. The local newspapers and media supported us and then especially when my story came out, that there's a man back from the Pacific theater, not only the Pacific, but also a Purple Hearter, and yet his application for membership was turned down. So we played it to the hilt, with people like Judge Kelly and local leading citizens supporting us. But now, of course, they feel very, very embarrassed and several times I've been contacted by officials of the organization asking me to, to join them because, "Things are different, we run the show now, no World War I veterans are around to run it." I said, "No, no thanks, I might find three blackballs yet." [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so you've, so you've never joined after this.

SK: No.

TI: Oh.

SK: But I've joined so many other organizations. That's when the Purple Hearters took me in and made me their adjutant. Paid adjutant with an office in downtown Spokane, and I was Aide-de-camp to the national commander of the Purple Hearters until I went back into the army. Since that time, well, to name a few, my gosh, I belong to the Disabled American Veterans, I belong to the, the Reserve Officers Association, I belong to the Retired Officers Association, what else? Those are some of the national organizations that I can think of.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Well, not only those national vet organizations, it sounds like you have had a history of organizing and joining other types of organizations. Thinking about the Japanese American community, are you, or were you involved in any other organizations, especially before the war? I, you mentioned the, the Spokane Civic Club. Were there any other organizations that you were, were active in?

SK: No, because I was working on the farm then and the only one that I was involved in was the Civic Club. And then short-, the following year I'm in the army so that was it.

JA: You mentioned that Judge Kelly encouraged you to form the Civic Club and become a JACL chapter. You also mentioned that you had prior relationship with Mike Masaoka and Mas Satow who were very influential in JACL. Can you explain how you met them and the nature of your relationship?

SK: First it was through correspondence, and then after I got into the army, went back into the army in 1947, I'm being sent out on recruiting trips by the Presidio of Monterey, the language school which had moved from Minnesota back to California to its current location. And before it became a Defense Language Institute, it was the Army Language School, ALS. And one of the -- I made three trips, recruiting trips on behalf of that school. Once to the Northwest, Seattle-Spokane area and so forth. And one, once to Chicago-Minneapolis area, and the third to Salt Lake City. Now, the national JACL office was currently at that time located in Salt Lake City. Hito Okada was national president. He was there. And Mike Masaoka was there, Mas Satow was there. Oh, my poker buddies who used to get together and socially and I went on recruiting trips within the Salt Lake City area and Mike made some arrangements for me to give a talk in, in some areas. So I was given a lot of support by Mike Masaoka. So later on when I'm stationed at Ft. Holabird, (MD), he's the, he's located in Washington, D.C. And periodically we would get together and, and I would dine with Mike and Etsu. So we, we were close over the years.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.


<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, let's get going again, Spady. And right before the break, you were talking a little bit about Mike Masaoka, and when I think about Mike Masaoka, the only thing I know about Mike is, is through my readings and don't really know very much about him as a man. And you had the opportunity to know him. You, you played poker with him, you met with him several times, you know, during the '40s and '50s. Let's start with the poker. What, what kind of poker player was, was Mike?

SK: Well, he was a very astute mind-reader or, a maybe the ESP worked for him, I don't know. Anyway, he was a very cagey, very cagey player. I recall that he usually was about the last one to fold. He was always sticking around and waiting for that magic card, I guess. But he's a very warm, warm-hearted fellow. We got along fine and once he moved to Washington and I would see him periodically because I, I was assigned to the Army Intelligence School staff and faculty in, at nearby Ft. Holabird, which is just outside Baltimore. We would get together periodically and I remember one occasion, the car that he was driving ran out of gas or had some breakdown and he suddenly stopped, had to stop and he asked me to take the wheel so that he could push the car to the side of the road or something like that and I said, "Why don't I push the car and you get in?" I said, "Aren't you afraid that someone might recognize you?" And he said, "No, no, no." I still remember the fact that I, I guided the car and Mike Masaoka was pushing, pushing the rear of the car in middle of Washington, D.C.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Let's, let's now go back, back before the war again, and I know sports was an important part of your life. Are there any stories or things you could talk about in terms of the sports?

SK: Oh, yes. I recall that while in grade school, at Lincoln grade school in Spokane, Washington, one year the Lincoln grade school basketball team won the city championship. And that championship team consisted of, of Art Miyazawa, who later on served in the Japanese army. Mike -- not Mike, yes, Mike Akiyama who resides in California somewhere. Joe Okamoto -- I believe his son lives around here somewhere -- myself and Wayne McGrew. And needless to say, McGrew was the tallest among us and was our center. And when the sports editor chief of a paper saw all those names among the championship team, he sent a reporter out to Lincoln grade school to look into all those foreign-sounding names to see if there's a story there or not. So he came up to Lincoln grade school and the story is that the first teacher he contacted happened to be the basketball coach, and she said, "If you're interested in that name McGrew, it's just as American as the rest of the names." She says, "Now, what else can I tell you?" And he said, "Nothing more, thank you very much," and he went back. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So one of your teammates was Joe Okamoto and he was the gentleman who was getting married on December 7, 1941.

SK: That's right, he's the one.

TI: And that was that story you told earlier. Let's go back to that, that point in time, December 7, 1941. What was your reaction when -- you've talked about the, the sort of Spokane community, you've talked a little bit about your mother's reaction. What were you feeling when, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor?

SK: Well, I think I felt that my immediate reaction was, Japan doesn't know what's it's doing. That small pip-squeak country like that, the size of Montana taking on the U.S. of A? It's just a matter of time is, is my reaction as to the outcome of the, of the conflict. And I felt that like anybody else, that my function was to perform as an American. And when my mother suggested that, that I stay home for the holidays, Christmas and New Year's, and then get ready to go for, go and fight for my country, I had no objection at all. I agreed hundred percent. And that's exactly what I did.

TI: What was the reaction of the other members of the Japanese American community?

SK: They, they all felt the same way and several other enlisted at that time or subsequently, subsequent to my leaving for the service. Unfortunately, as we all know, we were under a cloud of suspicion and we could not enlist in the navy, nor the marine corps. The only one open to us was the army. And so we all became army veterans.

TI: What happened to your, your older brother? What did he do?

SK: He was already married, and being the oldest in the family, he was not affected throughout the World War II. So he stayed put in Spokane. And, of course, my younger brother -- when I say my younger brother, I'm talking about my half-brother now, because my mother remarried while I was in Japan and she had a son and a daughter from that second marriage. And my half-brother subsequently became an all-city football player for one of the high schools in Spokane and got a football scholarship to Pullman, WSU. And he stayed there one year and then he saw fit to enlist in the air force because in the meantime I'm, I'm overseas in Vietnam. He surprised me by showing up in Vietnam and we had a very brief get-together. And then he went north, northern part of Vietnam and then the next thing I know is that I get a letter from him back from, from the States, and he's back in the United States, and he says, "I found out that no two members of the same family has to serve together in Vietnam, same time." So he says, "I'm sending you some form to fill out and sign," and he says, "if you do that for me, I can stay as is, here in the States."

TI: Oh, that's interesting, because he was your, your half-brother and he was able to go back.

SK: Right, right.

TI: Okay. Yeah, I guess as you were talking about this, I recalled that you mentioned that your mother remarried. Going back, I mean, did you have any reactions about your mother remarrying and...

SK: No, none whatsoever.

TI: And did you get along well with your stepfather?

SK: Oh, yes, yes, very well.

TI: Okay. So let's move on.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.


<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So after you told us the story about volunteering and, and going to selective service. So after you were sworn in, why don't you talk about what your experience with the army was at that point?

SK: In what area?

TI: Okay, I guess you went -- from there you went to basic training and, why don't you talk about basic training. I guess what I'm looking for is how did you go from basic training to the MIS?

SK: Oh yes. Yes. I was, I was taking infantry basic training in California and one day a Caucasian officer came around to interview some of us Nisei soldiers and when my turn came, I knocked on the door. He said, "Come in." I walked in and stopped and stood at attention and saluted and then he motioned me to a chair and I sat down and then he came up to me and I noticed that he had a big thick book that he was rifling through, looking at various pages and I concluded that he was looking for something. All I could see was just words. No pictures of any kind. And he seemed satisfied. Closed it and he hands it to me and naturally it's upside down for me. So I quickly turn it over and he smiled when I did that. He said, "Very good," or words to the effect. He said, "You qualify, go to the language school." And he said, "Call the next man in," which I did. And so I thought when the orders came not too many days after to get ready to move out, I thought I was going to that language school, which in the meantime had been moved from California to the state of Minnesota, right outside Minneapolis. And when I got on the truck and I was driven down to the railroad station and got off. I noticed about (seven) other Orientals. And I thought, "Well they can't be all be going to the same school I'm going to. Some of them don't look too bright." And then, just then, a long train came in, shutters pulled down and an MP jumped off and, and told us to get on. So we got on board that train and lo and behold. Everybody on board was a Nisei soldier already in uniform and some of them have stripes, indicating that they were old time veterans. And then the train start pulling out and it wouldn't stop until it hit Oklahoma and by that time some of the soldiers were getting nervous and in fact one fella said, "You don't suppose this train is going to stop in the middle of nowhere and we're ordered to get off and we face a, a bunch of machine guns pointing at us?" Others said nothin' doing, this is the U.S. of A. We're in uniform and about that time some names were called off and to the relief of the rest of us, some of the fellas got off. And when the train finally hit Little Rock, Arkansas, my name was called off and I wound up at Little Rock, Arkansas, Camp Joseph T. Robinson to finish my basic training. And there, the same Caucasian officer shows up and when my turn came to be interviewed, he said, "Koyama, seems to me I interviewed a fellow with that name." I said, "You interviewed me sir, back in California." And he said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Just following orders Sir. Here I am to finish my training here." And he said, "Well you're still going, going to the school, I think you'll be in time." And he wrote something down. So when my orders came for transfer out of Arkansas, I thought I was headed for Minnesota.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

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.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: And what were you, what was your assignment in Australia? What were you, to do there?

SK: We were interrogating, unfortunately for me, selected prisoners who would be flown down to MacArthur's headquarters in Australia. As to what we would find after we landed in Japan, long range targets. Whereas, I was more interested in the perishable type of question, as to where are the machine guns? Where are the land mines? Who's your company commander and so forth, so forth. And so I, after a while I started to bug my immediate officer who happened to be an Australian major because this is Allied headquarters, and I start to bother this Australian major with a request for a transfer to a forward area. And he finally, finally got the best of him I guess because he said, "You're going to New Guinea." And I was assigned to headquarters 6th Army in New Guinea, northern part of New Guinea and there I was there, from about oh, spring until sometime in September 1944.

TI: And what were, what, what did you do at New Guinea?

SK: I was interrogating prisoners who would come in and whenever they came in, we went through a sort of recruiting procedure by which we would line them up and have them take their uniform off. Take their dirty, stinking uniforms off and empty their pockets of, of any things that they wanted to keep and then would have them step back and then the MPs would come around and collect all the dirty uniforms and throw them on a fire that was nearby and burn 'em up. And at the same time I'm going down the line with a cigarette, pack of cigarettes in one hand and lighter in the other and offering each man a cigarette and explaining to them the fact that we will issue you a new uniform as soon as you go over there and wash up. And then we will take you in and feed you. And I'm explaining that as I go down the line, but this particular day there were about ten, twelve, I suppose. Some of them get the impression that this is their day of execution, that the Americans are, are at least letting us wash ourselves before they execute us. So they, some of them tremble, they can't stop shaking and I came across this one big fella. I offered him a cigarette and he turned the other way. So I thought, "Well this guy doesn't smoke." So I kept on going down the line and as I returned past him, he suddenly stuck his hand out. So I thought, "Oh, he changed his mind. He does smoke." So I gave him a cigarette and lit it for him and I, I told the, one of my associates, "Save that big guy for me. I want to talk to him, interrogate him." So a couple of days later I finally got to this fellow and his name is Takayama. Yoshio Takayama from Kagoshima. And I asked Takayama, I said, "How come you refused my cigarette when I first came down and you, you'd changed your mind and when I came by again you stuck your hand out?" He said, "At first I thought if this is a place of execution I would not even accept a cigarette from that man. And then as you went down the line I heard everyday Japanese being spoken in a normal tone of voice somewhere." And so he quickly thought, "This can't be a place of execution, not when I hear Japanese being spoken," so he changed his mind and took the cigarette when I came back again. And several days letter, since this a brand new place of a POW compound and we needed to clear the jungle area around the outside of the immediate outside of the compound, we had not only the task of our assistant, the MPs, to count the roll call, count the heads as well as to determine who among them is healthy enough to be worked outside the camp. So I told the, the officer in charge, I said, "Why do we have to go through that rigmarole everyday?" I said, "Why don't we appoint one of them to be in charge? And we will assist, we will supervise and have them select those who can work outside, healthy enough to work outside." And he said, "Well how would you work it?" I said, "In the (captured warehouse), where all the rice, rice bags are piled up. Rice and they pour gasoline on top so that a couple of bags we would have to throw away, but the rest of the sacks of rice are intact and good." I said, "There's a batch of blue cloth there. We could cut and make strips of them, enough to wrap around the arm. And as a mark of authority." And I would -- and he said, "Well how would -- " I said, "I would appoint that Navy man. His name is Takayama, Navy man and he can appoint Army and the Air Force or whatever he's got to assist him." And I said, "Let them run it and we will supervise." So from there on, everything worked just perfectly, no problem.

TI: So what was Takayama's reaction when you, when you approached him and asked him to do this? He was willing to do this? He, he looked favorably upon this?

SK: There was no choice. I mean I, I gave him cigarette and so forth, so he thought that was a good deal. Because I said, "We have a warehouse where Japanese food is. You appoint a man to be in charge of the cooking area." And he did. And so they were, oh we will sometime go on our own and eat with them. We ate pretty good. So that situation, relationship continued except for so many months until sometime in September we suddenly got orders to start packing, because we are all leaving. Destination unknown. So as I'm helping to break down the tent and outside the compound to get ready to leave, he came to the gate and motioned for me. So I went in and he said, "I have one final request to make. I know you're leaving. I would like to know your name and your address so that possibly after the war I could properly thank you for all your kindnesses." And I was surprised, I thought I was just doing my job. So I said, "You know I can't give you my name and address." I wasn't about to jeopardize my younger brother and sisters caught in Japan during the war. So, besides, we had orders not to use our names anyway, just in case. So I said, "Well look," -- he looked so disappointed. So I said, "Look, look, if I survive and get to Japan, I know who you are and you come from Kagoshima and I can look, look for you." So with that we parted and I took off and I got on board this LST Landing Ship-Tank.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Well before you get to that, why don't you... were you able when you went back to Japan to connect with Takayama?

SK: Yes.

TI: Why don't you, why don't you just go ahead and start there.

SK: So years later in 1949, I'm back in the army and, and into Counter Intelligence Corps after I've gone through the basic officers' training at Camp Holabird, right outside Baltimore, Maryland. And I'm in Japan, 1949 and suddenly one day I'm going past the Army Demobilization Bureau and the thought enters my mind, I promised that Takayama, 1944 -- that would be five years ago -- that I would look him up if I ever got to Japan. So I drove my car into the Army Demobilization Bureau and told my story to the first man that came to me, to the window and he excused himself, took off and came back with the head man himself of the entire organization, who was just flabbergasted to know about this strange relationship that existed between a Japanese prisoner and an American. And he said, "This is the Army Demobilization Bureau," and he said, "The man you're interested in is a Navy man. However," he said, "I would be honored if you would give us the task of finding that man for you." I said, "Fine, fine, go ahead." Well in three days he had him. He had him located on a farm in Kagoshima prefecture. So, he said, "What is your pleasure now?" I said, "Well no sense giving him my name, he doesn't know my name." He never did. "I would like to visit you and, and have you send him some money that I will bring you so that he can buy a round trip-ticket to Tokyo to indicate that it's not a one-way trip for him." [Laughs]

So I did that and I said, "You find out from him when he's coming up, day and time and so forth and you let me know." So the day finally arrived and I went down to Tokyo railroad station and it's a big crowd. It's 1949. So I waited in to see what the attraction for this crowd and I come across Takayama seated on the floor, everybody walking around gawking at him because he didn't know what to wear to come up to, go off to Tokyo and he inquired around to officials, public officials so forth, nobody knew what to wear. In fact, hardly any of them had ever been to Tokyo. So he thought, 'Well I can't go wrong if I wear part of my uniform." So he had Navy leggings on, Navy rucksack, no suitcase in those days, Navy rucksack on his back, and a Navy cap on. And everybody's going, milling around him wondering, where did this guy come out of, wearing part of a defeated Navy uniform? And so I went inside and then approached him and he looked up, saw me, recognized me instantly, big tears welled in his eyes and I quickly took him out of there, took him to the nearest clothing store and made him look more presentable. Got rid of his leggings and... well, we kept his rucksack, got rid of his hat and took him home. And he slept on the downstairs couch for about oh, a good ten days before I could talk him into at least letting your family know that you are safe here in Tokyo and that you found, that you and I have met and you know who I am and let your family know. He says, "I don't have to do that because I don't intend to go back." He said, "I'm here to work for you as long as you're in, in Japan." I said, "Oh, no. You've go to go home. You're the head of a family. You've gotta look after parents, you've gotta look after the farm." So I said, "You've got to go now." I finally got him on the train to go home. So many days later I get a phone call that there's a young man here to see you. So I go to the gate and there's a young man who says, "My name is Satoshi Hirano." And he says, "The Hirano family and the Takayama family are next door to each other for generations. We're very, very close, like blood relatives." And he said, "I know about the, the what has happened so far with the Takayama, Takayama-san," and he says, "I am here to represent Takayama-san as his substitute to work for you here in Tokyo as long as you are here because I have no family, I have no parents to look after, I have no farm to look after." And I said, "I can't use you either." I said, "I've got a house boy and a maid." He says, "Well I can't go home. I just can't go home." He said, so I said...

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: And the reason he said that, why, why?

SK: Because it would be a loss of face for him. Mission unaccomplished. And so he says, "I, I just can't go home because I'm not, I'm here to, as a substitute for Takayama-san." So I said finally, "What if I got you a job in Tokyo here and then you can look in on me as much as you want, make sure I'm all right and then you report to the farm." And he thought that was all right. So I got him a job in Tokyo and in fact, to this day he's still in Tokyo because he married a Tokyo girl, no kids. But for the past twenty-eight years he's been elected Tokyo City Assembly Member. And having served over twenty, twenty-five years, he's been presented to the Imperial Family along with other old time government workers. And he has been to the United States roughly eight, nine, ten times. He's falling in love with the United States and he's covered every state with maybe exception of maybe four or five more states to go. And he's told me -- well to go back a bit. After the war, he suddenly writes to me and says, "We would like to come visit you, Takayama and Hirano."

TI: And what, what year is this?

SK: This is 1989.

TI: Okay.

SK: So in 1989, those two men came to Spokane and stayed at my house oh, so many days and during which time, we first, my wife Miya and I drove him to, to Idaho so he, he could go home and say you've been to Idaho. And then we took him down to Oregon so he, he could say he'd been to Oregon. And in Oregon, we found the location of the camp Commandant of the POW camp in New Guinea. He's a retired banker. So we arranged a get together and they have a very nostalgic, teary, teary reunion between the camp Commandant and, and a former prisoner. And during that time while we were driving here and there, I suddenly notice the fact that both of them are clicking their cameras. I said, I looked out, "What are you doing, what picture are you taking? There's nothing out there?" He said, "That's what we're taking a picture of. To show our people in Japan that, that this country is so large that we can travel for time after time, mile after mile, no houses, no buildings, nobody around, just wide open space to show them that this country is so large that if the war lords had ever come to the United States and, and driven around the countryside they would for, for themselves see how big this country is." They would never have dared to attack. He said, "Like a mosquito stinging a big giant."

TI: That's interesting.

SK: That's the comparison that these two men made see, while we were driving them around. And he says, "This country is so large that automobiles can speed so fast that, that the click, click, click noise that we hear are bugs being smashed against the windshield in different colors and that's a sight that we would never see in Japan." He says, I said, "What are you pointing?" He's pointing at the windshield with all the bugs being smashed against the windshield as we speed along the highways. A sight unknown to the average Japanese.

TI: And so a real special relationship started back in that New Guinea camp.

SK: Right. And that's the, while we, they were in Spokane, I got, say, I thought Sam Grashio, Colonel Grashio is in my Spokane chapter of The Retired Officer's Association whom I know, whom I got into the chapter. He's a former POW of the Japanese because I, I had spoken to the former POW group in Spokane. So I know Sam. And so I called Sam up and I said, "How would you like to meet your counterpart. He's a Japanese prisoner of ours that I interrogated in New Guinea." Oh, he was all for it. So I said, "Okay, you bring your wife and come on over." So they did and, and he said, "I'm going to bring a newspaper reporter," and that turned out to be Rebecca Nappi who today is retired. But she's a, a periodic guest editorial writer for the Spokesman Review. And it's her article, she came over and covered the meeting between these two former prisoners, for which I interpreted, and the article that she wrote up is a copy that I will send you which is referred to in that Unsung Heroes. It just says Rebecca Nappi at the very bottom, I think.

TI: Yeah that's, that's a good story. I mean it seems that it's a wonderful example of promoting understanding between cultures even though we were at war, you were able to bring these, these different parties together.

SK: And apparently I'm the only one who ever had an experience like that, that a former prisoner interrogated overseas during war time, saw fit to save his money for so many years and then come over at his own expense to visit me.

TI: Well you...

SK: From '44 to 1989.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Well you must have done some extraordinary things back in New Guinea for him to feel so strongly about this.

SK: Well that's he said but I, I thought I was just doing my job of course. And I thought more of the, of the man that I interrogated who was a guard at a building. A manufacturing building.

TI: Well tell, tell us about this story.

SK: Because here comes a prisoner that I interrogated who is very detailed and very clear in his mind as to the nature of the location of the building itself that manufactured war products for Japan, where their railroad tracks came into the building and the highways and so forth, leading from it and he volunteered to draw me a diagram. So I encouraged it, and he drew me a diagram, which I attached to my report which I submitted. And so many days later, the 5th Air Force liaison officer came looking for me, shook my hand, congratulated me for the fantastic report that you gave, gave us, along with diagram of the building itself and here's a picture of the building as we took it and here's a picture of the building that used to be there. Nothing but rubble after they bombed it.

TI: So based on your interrogation of this prisoner you were able to get enough detail so that the Air Force...

SK: The Air Force took...

TI: Could come and...

SK: Right, right. And that's the building, that's the instance that my former boss in New Guinea who had been contacted by this 5th Air Force Liaison officer who wrote this report, we'd like, I'd like to show him something, refers to that incident. Years later in Tokyo when I came across him and he said, "Did you get that award that I, I wrote you for?" I said, "No." "I thought I put you in for a Bronze Star?" And then he made the mistake of asking me for permission. "Do, do you want me to look after, look into it for you," he says, and I said, "No thank you."

TI: Why did you say that? Getting a Bronze Star I would imagine would be very important.

SK: Well this is '40, what year. That would be '49, '50 something like that, years after the end of the war and I, I have no idea of, of making the service a career or anything like that you see. And for him to ask me for, whether I wanted him to look into it. I thought, if he thought that I deserved it, he doesn't have to ask me. He should go right ahead and look into it. That was my feeling and so I, I said, "It's too much water under the dam, forget it."

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: After New Guinea, why don't you tell us what happened next?

SK: After New Guinea, well we finally got orders to leave in September and I boarded this ship, LST 552. To the Navy, LST stands for Landing Ship-Tank. LST. But to many of us army passengers, LST stood for Large Slow Target. Because we were sitting ducks and as we approached our destination which turned out to be Leyte Island in the Philippines, L-e-y-t-e, within in sight of our destination three kamikaze dive bombers, kamikaze suicidal dive bombers came after us. And the first two were knocked down immediately, by gunners from the ships. But the third one, when I looked up was directly overhead and I could see black dots coming and I recognized it, they were, they were bombs so I hollered to the man that I would describe in a few, few minutes to flop on the deck and both of us flopped together, but this fellow on my left was a great big fellow from Minnesota named Andy. The bomb landed on his side and he got the brunt of it and I got the ricochet. And this Andy in New Guinea always volunteered when he found out that I was the one requesting transportation to the POW, prisoner of war compound because I used to give him odds and ends souvenirs, and he would send them home with some concocted story about how he got, how he got hold of the souvenir I suppose. Anyway, he came across me aboard the ship. In fact he almost stumbled over me. And he said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I don't want to get rolled into the ocean, so I've got my foot tied to part of this ship." He said, "You don't have to sleep out here." He said, "I've got a command car, you can take the back seat, I'll take the front," he said. So from there on, I'm riding like a prince. I'm the only one riding in the command car, back seat all to myself.

TI: So this was on the transport, there was a vehicle?

SK: LST 552. He's, he's responsible for that command car being transported to, to the island you see. So he and I were right by the car, because we were approaching, we could see the land and we were right by the car and, but unfortunately for him, and he was on my left and the bomb landed on his side and as I say, I got the ricochet and I got these burn marks on my, all over my face and on this side too and there were hot tid bits all embedded in my face and the main piece knocked my helmet off and the... I was wearing glasses, sun glasses which protected my eyeballs apparently. And, but the rim here cut me between my eyes here and you can see the scar here and the blood from this scar was running into my right eye and so I could not, I could not see out of my right eye, nor could I hear out of my broken ear drum. And so I find myself, when I came to, lying side by side with what I found out years later, through the good office of Tom Foley's, when he gave me the, the background history of the LST 552 story. I found out that twenty-six of us were wounded seriously enough so that we were laid side by side like this, stark naked except for our shorts, combat boots and everything removed lying on a beach on Leyte. And at first I thought, "Why out here in the open beach? We could get strafed any moment." And then I could hear firing going up farther up the beach and I thought, "Well why stark naked except for our shorts?" And I thought well, that's because they need to know by glance where the injuries are. I thought. And I thought we were all waiting our turn to get treated medically. Then I, I thought well maybe I've got, maybe I've lost my left ear and, and my right eye because I can't hear and I can't see. So I took my right arm and checked my face and I was pleased to notice that I had my left ear and my right eyeball. But the good Lord, that's where my good Lord, the good Lord interceded. He said, "Don't put your arm down like this, like where it was, leave it on your chest." So I did. I left it on my chest and apparently out of twenty-six bodies, everybody's arm down like this, there's one short Oriental with arm on his chest. To make a long story short, I never got buried with the rest of them. I was taken out of there.

TI: So the other twenty-five were, were bodies that were...

SK: Were corpses. That's why the chaplain, someone hollered, "Look over there chaplain, look over there!" and I found he was pointing at me with my arm on my chest. Chaplain stepped over all the bodies to come to me and I wondered at that time, Why doesn't he stop at the first guy? Why come towards me, because he came straight for me and bent down and he said, "What's your, what's your religion soldier?" And I couldn't talk and then he saw my dog tags, identification and just rubbed the blood off, peered at it and says, "Looks like a "P" but it's a, it's a "B" isn't it?" And I shook my head because I'm no Buddhist. And he was surprised. And if I could have talked, I would have told him I'm with the fightin' Methodists. Anyway, I lost consciousness again and when I came to a few moments later, his head was, face was just inches away from mine and he was reciting the 23rd Psalm, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall not fear". And I thought holy Moses, this man thinks I'm going somewhere. [Laughs] And they came running over with a, with a stretcher and lifted me up and, and ran with me to some place and, where they put a oxygen mask over my face so that I could breathe easier and with that, they put me aboard a ship called Mercy. There were three hospital ships plying in the area. USS Mercy, Hope and Consolation. And I was placed aboard Mercy and taken to a nearest hospital in the Admiralty Islands.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

SK: A couple of days later -- well before I get to that, to the hospital, there was a nurse called Myrtle Talbot from Spokane who was a nurse aboard this ship Mercy. And years later, within the past four or five years, I read about her in, in the Spokane paper because she had participated in a ceremony and he mentioned it, the name of the ship Mercy. And I thought hey, that's my ship. So I looked her up by calling the newspaper and they traced her down and got hold of her and I got her into the Spokane chapter of The Retired Officer's Association. And this year, last year she was elected to be a member of the Board of, Board of Directors and she was going to serve on the shift this January, but she passed away recently. And I'm one of the officers that attended her funeral in uniform. But that was Myrtle Talbot aboard the same hospital ship Mercy. So...

TI: Did she treat you? Did you remember her from the, when you were?

SK: No, I didn't know her, nor did she know me, see. Just the fact that...

TI: It was the same ship.

SK: She was aboard the ship...

TI: Right.

SK: When I was picked up. And the place before, place down to a ship, a hospital in the Admirality Islands and a couple of days later a fellow with a clip board comes in, up to my bed and he says, "Sarge, what's your home unit?" I said, "My home is, I was with the GHQ in Australia." He said, "No, no, no, your home unit." I said, "Well Headquarters 6th Army, New Guinea." He said, "No, no, your home Marine unit." I said, "I'm no Marine, I'm Army." And he stopped writing, took off. A couple of days later I was wheeled out of there, placed aboard another ship, taken down to an Army hospital. I was at a Navy hospital to an Army hospital on the French speaking island of New Caledonia. And there I stayed until past Christmas and by that time I'm, I'm well, I was quite recovered, I could walk around a little bit and I was go ahead and then I was placed aboard a ship because they said, "You're going back to the states because you need surgery to get that shrapnel out of your chest." So I wound up in Veteran General Hospital, San Francisco and there they told me, you're... I said, "Where am I going? I'm from the state of Washington." He said, "You're going to Spokane to Baxter." You mean Spokane and what's a Baxter? He said, "If you're from Spokane, don't you know Baxter General Hospital?" I said, "No it must have come into being after I took off for the army." Baxter General Hospital, the current location, at the current location of the Veterans Hospital where I'm a frequent walk-in patient was the Baxter General Hospital which gave me this 34 stitch operation to try to get that made in Japan souvenir out of my lung wall and at the same to clean up the fifth rib which had been smashed by the bomb. See I've always been grateful that I have a short oriental nose, flat because that piece of shrapnel about the size of my thumb missed my nose, missed my chin, missed the rest of my face here, went in, kept on going this way, entered my chest about here. Well if I could take my shirt off, I'd show you exactly where. Entered here, knocked my fifth rib to smithereens, kept on going and its now located in my lung wall on my right side. And it's been there since the 25th of October, 1944. Four years ago when I survived the eight bypass coronary, I told the doc, "Say doc, if you're going to cut my chest open, how about going a few inches and getting my souvenir from World War II out so I can hold it in my hand." And he said, "It's been there over fifty years." He said," Nothing doing. I'm, we're going to leave it as is." And it's still there to this day.

TI: And so you went to Baxter Spokane and after you recovered at point, you were discharged from the Army.

SK: I was, I'd spent one whole year. Twelve months. From October 1944 to October '45. One whole year, I was finally discharged from the hospital as a technical sergeant with 40% disability. And so I went, I went back to Spokane after my discharge.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: And before you go there, I, I remember there was one other incident that I wanted to go back. And this was, I think back when you were still at New Guinea, but I recall you talking about a story where you were with a group of POW's on the beach.

SK: Ohhh, yes.

TI: I think that was the case and can you talk about that story?

SK: Oh yeah, I think this happened in around July or August 1944. I accompanied roughly 600 prisoners who were being transported from New Guinea down to Australia and they were being transported to the place where they would board the ships, various LCIs, I think they were. LCI, I think they stand for Landing Craft Infantry or something like that. Anyway LCI we referred to them. And so we loaded them up on the trucks with these fellows with the blue arm band here and there to assist in, in the transfer and we all drove down to the edge of the beach and then we noticed all the lister bags full of drinking water strung out so many yards apart on the beach and the prisoners noticed that and one of them asked me, "Would it be all right to, for us to go to get a drink of water from there." And I said, and I asked the MPs and the MP says, "Fine, fine, let them do that." So, I said, "Go ahead." And they were taking turns drinking out of a cup with a long handle and the cup. And they would get the drink and, and take a sip and then throw the rest out and then hand it to the next man. And they were doing that when we hear a squeaking noise and a cloud of dust, here comes a big truck full of combat troops armed to the teeth, led by a burly sergeant who jumps off first and makes a mad dash for the nearest lister bag and then he comes to a screeching halt when he realizes -- bunch of Orientals, prisoners. So the prisoner with the ladle recognized what was happening, so instead of drinking, he pretended to throw the water out of the cup and he turned the handle toward the sergeant. And the sergeant in a big voice, he swore first and then he said, "I ain't about to take it from them" or words to that affect. So I, fortunately I was standing right next to that prisoner nearby. So lean forward, grab the handle. I said in Japanese, "Let go, give it to me instead," in Japanese. And he let go and I pretended to take a swallow, dripped a few drops out of the cup and turned the handle toward the sergeant and in a big voice I said, "Okay then Sarge, here you are." And I tossed it toward him and he said, "Okay, this is different," and he took it. And with that, the MP says, "Let's get 'em aboard." So we all hurried, hurried and got them aboard and I accompanied the MPs back to the compound and one of them sat next to me and says, "Boy, it's a good thing you remembered to speak in English to that sergeant." [Laughs] And I said, "Yeah. That's for sure."

TI: And what could you imagine would have happened if, if you weren't there to diffuse the situation?

SK: I don't know. He was not, he wasn't about to permit an enemy prisoner of all things to give him a drink of water. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, that's a good story.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.