Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ike Hatchimonji Interview
Narrator: Ike Hatchimonji
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 30, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-hike-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Okay, so you arrived at Heart Mountain. Which block did you live in?

IH: Originally, we were assigned to a unit in Block 14 as I recall. We went onto the back of a flatbed truck, pretty hard to get on that truck and off that truck because there was not, there weren't the steps, and so I don't know how the old ladies and old men did. But anyway, we got off and we walked into our unit like everyone else, and lo and behold, there's a bat flying around. [Laughs] And that's kind of a scary welcome because bats... well, we somehow managed it. We opened the door or something and chased him out. But, you know, here you are in this barren room with these steel cots leaning against the walls, mattresses, the bare necessities. And you think, "It's time to go to bed, it's getting late." And I don't know about the food situation, if we ate or not, but that was our welcome. And then the next day, of course, you started to find out where you're at in relation to everything else, you find the bathroom, the latrine, the mess halls. Everything else you're supposed to know about. It's confusing, of course, because all the barracks looked the same. You got only the barrack number and block number to go by. Very easy to get lost. So we went through all that.

MN: You said early on you were supposed to go to Block 14, but that's not where you ended up, right?

IH: No, we ended up, I don't know why we went to 27 after that.

MN: Now, you were sharing also that early on, there wasn't a lot, you know, there wasn't enough to eat. And you guys were growing boys, so what did you do?

IH: Well, interesting, because you had to eat in the mess hall that you were assigned to in your block, but in those days, they were still not well organized, so we were able to go from mess hall to mess hall to get enough to eat. Because during the lunch hour, probably, say, lunch or breakfast, I think it was mostly lunch, we would run from one barrack to, one mess hall to another, the neighboring mess halls, to get enough to eat because we were growing boys. [Laughs] In a way, it was a lot of fun.

MN: What was the most mess halls you visited in one lunch hour?

IH: I think it might have been three. But you'd have to really move fast. [Laughs]

MN: What were they serving?

IH: Well, the usual, stew and frankfurters, potatoes. Based on, I guess, the military rations.

MN: Now, when you first got to Heart Mountain, did you actually eat with your parents?

IH: Yeah, as I recall.

MN: And then what happened? Later on, did you...

IH: Well, I think we did eat with our friends once in a while. I think that was quite common in the mess halls, that kids tend to eat with their friends. It's a natural thing, which I don't think was good for the unity of the family or the authority of the father. His authority was pretty much emasculated anyway when they went to the camps. Kids sort of ran wild, because they really didn't need the parents. Only to sleep in the same room.

MN: Now I understand that first winter was a very, very cold winter.

IH: It was.

MN: How did you cope with the cold?

IH: Well, we had a coal burning stove in each unit, but the clothing was not sufficient 'cause we didn't, we weren't prepared for it the first winter. So we managed, they did issue the military surplus clothing like the peacoats and other old clothing from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Mittens and gloves.

MN: These probably didn't fit the Japanese American height and body, did it?

IH: Yeah. There were some tailors that cut down and altered the clothing. It was enough to protect us, but winters were harsh, especially in that area because mostly the snow came down in blizzards. They didn't come down in white flurries. And walking to school, you're walking either against the blizzard or with the blizzard. A peacoat with a double back was good, and the high collar. It was good when you're walking with the wind to your back, but when you're walking into it, it's pretty cold.

MN: Now I know some people had chamber pots to avoid going to the latrine at night 'cause it's so cold.

IH: Very handy, yeah.

MN: Did your family have chamber pots?

IH: You know, I don't recall we did, but I'm sure there must have been some. Yeah, very popular.

MN: Now, since there's snow, did you, your barrack or your block area, did they have ice skating?

IH: Yeah, there were some places where, when the snow melted, where the water formed puddles next to some of the buildings, and that was the first little rink, ice skating rinks that they had. And I don't know, some people had ice skates and started skating, so it got very popular. And then later on they made, constructed large ice rinks with heavy equipment. They put the water in and it froze.

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