Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yosh Nakamura Interview
Narrator: Yosh Nakamura
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Whittier, California
Date: January 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-nyosh_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: Okay, we're here talking to Yosh Nakamura. We're in their home in Whittier. Today is January 25, 2011. Tani Ikeda is on camera and I'm Sharon Yamato. Grace Nakamura is in the room and we've just finished talking to her. So Yosh, maybe we could begin with you telling us your full name?

YN: Okay. My name is Yoshio C. Nakamura.

SY: And the C stands for?

YN: C stands for Claude.

SY: And that's a name that is your birth name, huh? Your parents --

YN: Well, it's one I've attached. You see, when I was in (Butte) high school in (Gila River camp in Arizona), some people thought my head was in the clouds, so they started calling me Claudio, so anyway, that kind of stuck. So I've adopted Claude as my middle name. [Laughs] But I just wanted the initial. There are other Yoshio Nakamuras in this world. I discovered one was a dentist. When we first got married we used to get quite a few calls about having headaches and toothaches and whatever, and we would tell them, "Well, you might try an aspirin or something, but I'm not the dentist."

SY: [Laughs] Very good.

YN: So anyway, by having a middle initial, that kind of differentiates me from other Yoshio Nakamuras. In fact, there's one on the Go For Broke monument by my name also, from a different company.

SY: Two, wow.

YN: I was with M Company in the 442nd.

SY: So, now, where is it that you were born?

YN: I was born in Rosemead, California, which is not too far from here.

SY: And the date of your birth?

YN: My date of birth was 1925, and we lived in (Rosemead) through my sixth year in school.

SY: And your parents, then, when did they arrive here?

YN: (From what I remember being told), Father came over as a very young person, and I think he's the only one who left Tonda. My understanding was that he came when he was about sixteen years old and he traveled about. He started in Honolulu, then he was in Seattle and Salt Lake City for a while, and then we think in San Francisco, and he finally ended up in Los Angeles. He was first a houseboy, and I think as a young person he thought he was going to make it rich by being a good houseboy and get some kind of gift or whatever, or an inheritance, and then found out that, well, I guess he'll have to go to work, and so he started farming. So when I was born, we were living in Rosemead, and I went to Rio Hondo Elementary School.

SY: So where is it that he met your mother?

YN: My mother came from the same machi, or the same town, Tonda, but she was quite a bit younger. Unfortunately we lost her when she was only thirty-four years old. So my father was traveling back and forth from the United States back to Japan, and on one of those trips he married her and had a son, my older brother, who lived in Japan. He's nine years older than I, and he lived in Japan until my father went to get my mother and my brother to come to the United States. As you know, in I think 1925, there was a cutoff date for immigration to the United States, so he came over.

SY: Right before that.

YN: Yes. And I attribute the fact that I get seasick from the fact that I was born about nine months after the trip. [Laughs]

SY: So you were conceived on that ship, huh?

YN: I seem to have some problems with bumpy rides of that kind.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: And can you tell us a little bit about your father's family in Japan?

YN: Well, I wish I knew a lot more because then I could make it much more interesting, but to find the particular village, the machi, Tonda, it didn't show up on the map readily readable. And in the 1990s Grace and I took a group of people to China, and of course, when you get to China the Chinese government takes over and you're just the one who takes care of the luggage and sees that everyone is fed and all these kinds of small things, but as far as the tourism is concerned, they handled the tourist part. On our way back, since I was a coordinator of the group, I had to take my group back to the U.S., but Grace had the opportunity to stay, so she made arrangements with her cousin Rhoda and her husband Reverend Nick Iyoya, who were in Iwakuni in the prefecture of Yamaguchi. So before our going she wanted to try to find the place if she could, and the Iyoyas couldn't find it because they didn't know the kanji for Tonda. One day, I think it was Rhoda who was reading a folktale about Tonda, and the tale goes in such a way that there was this cloud in the sky and it kept moving, and every time it moved it cast a shadow in a different place, and suddenly it moved and stayed in one place, and a farmer looked and saw something very shiny in this little spot of cloud, or shadow. So he got excited and went over and, my gosh, it was a mask and it was shiny. And so he carefully took it into his house and he put it in a special place in his house, the tokonoma. And in the middle of the night the house began to shake. In the Japanese tradition they say "gacha gacha gacha," and it was shaking. And so the following day he decided, "My gosh, this is terrible. It's shaking. I must have done something wrong." So he went to the city and talked to the mayor, and the mayor had a meeting with the people in the village and they all said, "It's very important that you --" [sneezes] excuse me. I think that cloud got me too. Anyway, the groups decided that, "You know, we should take this up to the temple because it must be some omen of some kind that is causing this earth to shake." So they took the thing and placed it in this treasure house at the temple, and suddenly the earth became quiet. And so the city clerk who Grace met said that tale is really based on truth, that there was some such a thing happening. So anyway, this particular mask, as I understand it, is revealed each year at a certain time, but except for that time you can't see it, and if you open the treasure house to see it, I think some bad things may happen. It's like in Hawaii, if you take rocks away from a certain place in Hawaii, Pele will punish you.

So anyway, as a result they, because of the folktale, had the kanji for Tonda. Nick, who is very versed in Japanese -- that's his first language -- was able to find it on the map. And so Grace asked Rhoda if she could take her down and see this town where my father and mother came from. So they did start, but it began to rain quite a bit and so it was very cold, so they stopped at this little roadside stand and eatery but with no walls, and with hibachi and they had some soup and teriyaki chicken probably, or something like that, and when they got through they proceeded on and they found this sign that said Tonda. So there's a gasoline station, and discovered this town, and so they inquired about, "Where could we find information about Kanesuke Nakamura?" That was my father. "You have to go to the city hall." So that's where they went, and fortunately the clerk there spoke English. At first Rhoda spoke in Japanese, and of course he responded in Japanese, but when Grace said something in English, he responded in English. And so from then on there was this discussion in English, and he said, "Oh sure, we can find some information about Kanesuke Nakamura." And my mother's name was Kuni, maiden name Kawasaki, Nakamura, and so he brought out this legal size pile of papers, rice paper, was tied together in a braided form cord which was vermillion in color. And so when we asked our daughter, who is an attorney, about this cord she said, "Oh, well, that's where the term 'red tape' comes from," because instead of using binders in the notebook form they use this braided cord to hold things together. So in this book she discovered that not only is my father and mother registered there and my brother who was born in Japan, he was nine years old when they came over -- she discovered that my name is on there too. I was registered. And my sister, Shigeko, was registered, and my younger brother, Masamitsu Mark Nakamura, is in there too. So my father apparently felt it was necessary to let people know in Japan that he had other children. So that was a nice revelation.

Then she wanted to know more about the place, and the clerk said, "By the way, are any of you in the family interested in art?" And Grace said, "Well, we're all artists." The guy lighted up and he said, "Well, there is a Nakamura here in this machi who is a very famous artist. Whether he is related to us or not I don't know. (However) Nakamura, according to Ed Asawa, who was a research librarian in Los Angeles city and is very, very conversant in Japanese and he did a lot of research for us on the origin of the Nakamuras, he said, "Remember, Nakamura is a very popular name in Japan." So when we're looking for the mon, the crest design, he said, "Well, you have to look through and then you probably have to go to the machi and ask someone there if that's the right mon for our family." Well, my brother (Mark) did some research through this Kamon service. He got one, and it's a pretty attractive mon. Anyway, the fact that there is a Nakamura there, it is a possibility that we are related. It's a very good connection. But in the process of going to see his work, every township has a place where the products of that area are shown. So when she went to see the products, that were displayed on the table from the area around Tonda, then the Nakamura's paintings and graphics were all around. That was a very good thing. She took photographs of (them, but) unfortunately, they're on slides. So we'll have to convert them to something (digital) and printable. But anyway, she found that was a very nice connection.

SY: I assume that this artist that was in Tonda was not living. Was he still alive?

YN: Well, I'm not sure. I think he is living. I'm not sure, but apparently he is rather prolific, so he had quite a few pieces up. And the pictures I've seen shows he had quite a bit of talent. So anyway, we'll claim him, you know?

SY: [Laughs] Sure.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: And your father's family and your mother's family?

YN: Well, I don't know too much about my mother's family. In fact, I just barely knew her because I was only five, turning near six, when she passed away. She was a victim of breast cancer and was in the Los Angeles County Hospital, so I just remember when she was home for a while and then in the hospital and seeing her. She was really quite a fine person, but I was nearly six and my sister was nearly five at the time, and I have a younger brother who was only two, so we were left with a father and my brother. My brother, being nine years older, became almost a second parent in our family, and fortunately for us he had very high standards in ethics and workmanship and he had a strong work ethic. He's somewhat kind of looked after us. And we called him Niisan. It was a long time before we got ourselves to a point where we were comfortable in calling him Todd. His name is Torao, but he took on the American name of Todd. So for a long time it was Niisan because he was (an older) brother and we respected him.

SY: He really helped raise you in a sense.

YN: Yes.

SY: Your father at the time was working as, in farm, doing...

YN: Well, my father had done various things before he turned into farming, and we had a farm in Rosemead at the time, and it was okay. I mean, it was a truck garden and what we did was grew the vegetables and harvested them and then distributed them, sold them to various stores, so it was almost like an agribusiness in the sense of, from seed to cultivation, growing and harvesting and then selling them at various places. And this particular farm happened to be in the pathway of the Rosemead Boulevard. If you go near Garvey Boulevard in Rosemead today you wouldn't know that there was a farm just north of there, but that was our farm, and it was cut in half when the powers that be decided that a highway had to go through there. So we could've still farmed, but we would have to cross at crossings and it would've been very, very complicated, so we moved then to El Monte. But when I was -- well, I should go back and mention that my father, as far as we know, we don't know a whole lot about his background because he did communicate with them but at the time, of course, we weren't quite interested in our family history. He had two brothers, and I understand one passed away, and he had a sister, and he had a little plot of land that somehow he had acquired and over the years he decided, "Well, I'm staying here in the United States," and so he turned over the property to his family. So that's about all I know about that part of the family.

SY: And he never indicated why he decided to come to the United States?

YN: I think he was a rather adventurous guy, maybe somewhat rebellious. You know, at sixteen he thought he could conquer the world, probably, and... [laughs] I don't know. But he was pretty healthy, fairly strong, and strong-willed, and so he thought he could make it here. And according to Grace, having been in Tonda, even in the rain she said the cryptomeria -- somewhat like pine trees -- are beautiful, the scenery is quite beautiful there, and so she could understand why not a whole lot of people from there would want to move. That's about it. It's a nice place, and I know that there is a Yamaguchi Kenjinkai in southern California -- I just read about it in the Rafu Shimpo -- and perhaps sometime in the near future we'll make connections and see if there may be someone from Tonda there. But according to the article, the people had a good time at the picnic where the various members who came from Yamaguchi ken assembled. And I know there are other kenjinkais because Hiroshima and Kumamoto and other places have these reunions.

SY: So I'm assuming that Tonda was really a small place if they were --

YN: Yes, I think it is. It probably is not a tourist stop because it's difficult to find, but the tale has some truth in it, so fortunately, Nick could read kanji, he can read very complex kanji, and once he saw the kanji then he could find it on the map. See, the maps are written in Japanese, and so if you don't know this complicated kanji you wouldn't find it.

SY: So now, when your mother passed away, there were the four of you and your dad, and you pretty much fended for yourselves?

YN: Yes, we did. I don't know just exactly how it all worked out, but my brother assumed quite a bit of responsibility and my father worked pretty hard, and we had some very good neighbors who helped us. I know there was a Watanabe family who kind of overlooked our family a little bit, so there were various families that kind of helped us out. But the hardest thing, I think, that was within our family was my sister, who didn't have a mother, and she was only five, and I know that my father thought, well, she should probably grow up where there is a mother. But my sister wouldn't have nothing to do with it, to be nurtured by some other family. So we all stuck together, and as a result, my younger brother and my sister had a very close bond because they really needed each other. My brother was only two, so he required quite a bit of attention. There were struggles and... but by working together we managed to survive. And it was during the Depression as well. So fortunately, when you farm you have food in the ground, so where some people, they went to school, had sandwiches with maybe sausages or something, we had tomatoes and cucumbers, that sort of thing. [Laughs] And when I was in elementary school I found out I couldn't drink milk, and the people couldn't understand why I would refuse the milk. They were giving out milk and I couldn't take it because I had lactose intolerance. I didn't know what the term was at the time, but I always preferred water or something else.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: So you spent your growing up years, then, in Rosemead and El Monte. That was all through elementary school.

YN: Yes. Well, there was a picture of my brother in his elementary school, and he went to middle school and at the time it was a junior high school, I guess, and he was in Muscatel School. That was closer to town than El Monte. I went to Rio Hondo Elementary, which went up to grade six, and very interestingly enough, I started school in Rio Hondo and then I ended my educational career at Rio Hondo College. [Laughs] It was a happy coincidence. But when I was in the elementary school there were quite a few Nisei in my classes and some of us had limited English proficiency, and I know that I did at the time because we didn't speak too much English at home. My father spoke mostly in Japanese. And so my first year was pretty tough. They held me back for half a semester while my English got better and then they put me back into my regular class in second grade. But I just remember there was one Nisei fellow named Yoshiaki Hazama who, in giving reports -- we had to get up and talk about something -- and he talked about the hazards of smoking. I still remember the, "If you like to cough a lot, go ahead and smoke." [Laughs] But because the school had quite a few Nisei in it, it was a very comfortable place.

I had a very wonderful first grade teacher. Her name was Ruth Green Paul, and I'll tell you more about her as we go along, but she was a very compassionate person, (and) I felt like she was always watching out for me. She was very, very fond of the Japanese Americans in the school. And this carried on for a long time.

SY: So you would say that in this community, then, was the community predominately Japanese American, or was it very mixed ethnically?

YN: Well, quite mixed ethnically. The people whom I knew who were Japanese Americans largely had farms, so we had a farm, the Watanabes had a farm, Hazamas had a farm, various people had farms. So I would say that in a sense it was an integrated community. I mean, we were not isolated except that we had farms and city folks had their homes in the city, but in the school we were treated quite well, and I was quite happy in the school.

SY: You have fond memories of living there.

YN: Yes, it was quite, quite good. And when we had to move, we had leased the property, and so we moved to another place, El Monte, and we had our house jacked up and moved literally to the site in El Monte. And by that time I --

SY: So in other words, the house was yours but the property was not?

YN: That's right. Because my father was a Japanese citizen, my brother was a Japanese citizen, and I wasn't old enough to be a property owner or lease or... so we had to have the help of someone else, so some Nisei helped my father out. So we moved to El Monte, and there too the community was quite integrated with some Japanese farmers. I know that another neighbor about a half a block away was in the insurance business, and we lived where there were dairies, and there was a German American that had a dairy, and took good care of us. As a young lad I used to like to go fishing on the pier if I could, and Mr. Seifert, who happened to be the father of Gene Seifert, my friend, would invite us to go fishing. But he said, "You have to come over and help me milk the cows," so in the morning we'd get up, and four o'clock or whatever it was, early, we'd milk the cows because the cows can't wait. One of the problems of owning your own business, having a farm, and especially having a dairy, the cows have to be milked. So he said, "If you help us we'll get started and go fishing," so every so often we'd have a chance to go fishing on the pier, which was quite a bit of fun.

SY: He would drive you to the, all the way to the --

YN: Yes, he would take us there.

SY: All the way to the Santa Monica Pier?

YN: Well, I don't recall just exactly where it was. [Laughs] It seemed like it was closer, but I'm not, I don't remember. Maybe it was in Long Beach or somewhere. I'm not sure. But all I know, we got in the car, we ended up with these poles.

SY: So you spent your elementary school years in -- this was all before camp.

YN: Yes.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: And then what, how old were you when Pearl Harbor --

YN: Well, I was in the sixth grade when we moved, so I started in Columbia School, which is in El Monte. And I still have friends who were in that school. One, a very good friend -- his name is Wally Leonard -- he lives here in Whittier, and when I started teaching I found out that Wally was on the faculty of Whittier High School, so we connected again and he's been a good friend for a long time. And so whenever something good happens I like to invite him as -- like a couple of weeks ago when the city council invited me to come and recognized me for receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, I invited him to come and he showed up. And some of our neighbors and friends came too.

SY: So when the war broke out, when you heard about Pearl Harbor, do you remember where you were?

YN: Yes. Well, I would say that some of the amusing things that happened when I was in elementary school and high school is that one of our friends' father had a mortuary, and sometimes when we're waiting for the bus -- the funeral home was not too far away from the elementary school; in fact, it was across the street. So he would welcome us over and we'd go into the morgue and, "Ooh," and run out. [Laughs] And at that time we thought that was fun. So anyway, the Addleman family, I think, still runs the mortuary there in El Monte.

SY: And the son was a friend of yours, the one in the family?

YN: Well, he was a friend. There were quite a few friends and he was not a real close friend, but he was a friend, and we played together and things like that. And one of the interesting things is that when I was in Columbia there was a glee club teacher, director, with whom I worked, and when I started at Whittier High School as a teacher I found out Paul Gardner was a psychologist in the district, so again, this nice connection there. I would say that the people at Columbia were very, very good people and they seemed to get along very well together, and about (twenty), maybe longer, maybe (thirty) years ago we had a class reunion of the class of '39 from Columbia, and it was just amazing. (There) was a big turnout, and some of the teachers looked younger than the people who came for the reunion. [Laughs] And so it was really (fun).

SY: And of that reunion, how many were Japanese Americans?

YN: I don't recall. I don't really recall how many came.

SY: Were there others? There were quite a few?

YN: Yeah, there were quite a few, but when I went to Whittier, I mean to El Monte (Union) High School, I'd say about ten percent of the population, maybe fifteen percent, something like that, were Nisei. So we even had a Japanese club. It was called Japanese Lions Club, in El Monte (Union) High School.

SY: And that was postwar, though?

YN: That was before the war. Yes, prewar.

SY: That was before the war. Oh, so you actually went from Columbia to El Monte High School before the war?

YN: Yes. And when I went to El Monte High School we were the first class to be on the new campus, so it was a very new experience for a lot of people. We didn't know any better, but for those who had been in El Monte High School before, went from the old campus to the new one, it was quite a nice campus, and it still is a good campus.

SY: And so when you, when the war broke out, you were still what year in high school?

YN: I was a junior in high school.

SY: And it was in May, so you had another year.

YN: Yes, so we were forced to evacuate and went to Tulare Assembly Center on May 12th of 1942.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: And that was, let's back up just a little, when you found out that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

YN: Yes, it was a terrible thing. One of the things that happened was, I believe I was picking raspberries at the time, and a neighbor came over and told me that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. And, well, it seemed like the whole world kind of bombed out at that time for us because if there's anything you don't want it's something like that to happen. We knew that a war with Japan is not good for us. But anyway, he came over to give us assurance that we're still friends. But the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and at that time I was thinking, you know, here's a country that's about the size of California, without the resources of California, attacking a huge country with tremendous resources. Even though the strike was successful for them in terms of military objectives, the fact that they cut the tiger's tail off, you don't live very long if you do that. So I thought that, at that time, it was not a smart thing to do. But Japan had the upper hand at the time, and because of this attack, which was claimed to be a sneak attack, but we've seen headlines in the Honolulu paper where the people were warned a week beforehand that Japan is preparing for war, so it should not have been a great surprise, but apparently the people in Hawaii thought, "Well, Japan, we'll sink them in a day or two. Whatever." So didn't pay much attention, and unfortunately the attack was successful from their standpoint. It certainly destroyed our navy and the port itself, and it took quite a while to restore the capabilities of the navy in Pearl Harbor.

SY: So do you remember specifically anything about the reaction that people had when this happened?

YN: Well, yes... people were mad. And when you're mad you kick the dog or you hit your youngster or something. You take it out on something. And at that particular time the Japanese had captured some American soldiers and we had no soldiers from Japan under our jurisdiction. We had nothing as pawns, and I think that that's one of the reasons for this fervor to incarcerate us, because then we became pawns for exchange or whatever. So there was animosity in certain places. People who knew us, we're friends, you know.

SY: You never got any kind of negative reaction at school? Among your...

YN: Well, no, we had some negative reactions. I know that when the Japanese club met periodically there might be a knock on the door or something like that, but by and large the population there seemed to think highly of us and they didn't think we were disloyal.

SY: So your friends treated you the same?

YN: Well, yes. In fact, one of my friends was even, he got closer. So several of them maintained correspondence with me during the evacuation, afterwards and for a number of years, so we've made good friends, and we kept them. The fellow that I was closest to was Kenneth Morgan. He lived about a half a mile from our house and we became very good friends. In high school I took auto shop and I remodeled his car, and I found out I'm not a very good mechanic. Anyway, I found out that I didn't put the nuts in right or the bolts in right on the differential, so when I started the car the oil spurted out. [Laughs] We learn from these mistakes. But one thing I did learn, though, Max Ireland was the teacher and it isn't the auto shop that was the thing that really impressed me; it's the manner in which he taught. He was an excellent teacher, so that gave me sort of a model in my head as I grew up, that someday perhaps I might be a teacher. And he had a way of presenting material, reviewing material, and he was someone who also kind of looked after you. I would say that there were very good teachers there. And I mentioned the first grade teacher, Ruth Green Paul, well, when I went to high school the advisor to the Japanese Lions Club was her daughter, Madeline Halley, so it was a wonderful connection. And she was very, very supportive of us, so we maintained this friendship with her too and with Mrs. Paul. And my history teacher at that time said, "Yoshio, don't worry, you're an American citizen and no one's going to force you to be somewhere else." Well, he discovered he was wrong. He was as surprised as anyone that we all had to leave. If you recall, the evacuation orders said "all Japanese citizens or non-citizens," so instead of saying "American citizens" we were cast in a different light.

SY: So the teachers that you had, they are the ones that are most memorable in terms of your --

YN: Well, my fellow students, Don McCullough, who engineered our last reunion which occurred last year, said, "Gee," as he was trying to get people together, he said, "You know, if we wait another year we can meet in a phone booth," because so many have passed on. But he was very close to some other Niseis, and so he had high regard for Nisei that he knew.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: So did your father end up, obviously, having to get rid of the home?

YN: Yes, we had, I'm not sure just how long, but it seems that it's about two weeks or maybe a little bit longer to dispose of our property. We had a couple of vehicles, we had a couple horses, and we had other equipment. We had a dog, we had a horse, and a lot of --

SY: Is that period of time...

YN: -- a lot of crops in the ground.

SY: So that period of time, was it memorable to you?

YN: Well, it was terrible in that we either had to give things away or sell them or ask people to save them, and fortunately Ruth Green Paul volunteered to take some of the things that belonged to my mother and she'll keep it for safekeeping. And we had forgotten about that, and there were others who were very helpful. Our neighbors took us to the train station when we had to evacuate. You know, when we left El Monte High School some of my fellow students who were not of Japanese ancestry said, "Well, we just had to cry," because it was a severing of some friendships. So there was this kind of tearing away just like when families have to have someone depart for some journey somewhere else, but we didn't know where we were going. But it was a terrible time.

SY: So do you remember, so do you have memory of how you felt? I mean, what was the hardest part for you?

YN: Well, it was a very sad time, because first of all, to leave at the end of your junior year in high school is traumatic. Very few people like that transition because you want to be a senior where you're known, and now you're going somewhere where you don't know where you're going actually. So no, it was a very difficult time for us, and I would say it was really difficult for me because I was quite active in El Monte, Union High School. I (was not only) in the Japanese Lions Club, but there was a service club which was an honorary club where the membership is made up of people who have exhibited some good qualities in their life. I was lucky that one of my neighbors became a very good friend. And he nominated me to be in the Lion Squires, and the Lion Squires had a president and officers the first semester and then the spring semester. Well, I was lucky enough to be president during the spring semester of the Lion Squires. So when I had to leave, those people expressed sorrow of my leaving. And I was on the track team. The terrible thing about being on the track team was that our coach thought it was fair enough that the Japanese Americans who live in Arcadia can't come to El Monte so El Monte can't go to Arcadia. There was a five mile limit to where you can go, so if the high school you're playing is more than five miles, you had to stay home, so it was a terrible thing.

SY: So was it just the team went on without you? Or did you --

YN: Oh yes, they had, of course they had to go, and so the only time we can compete was either at home or some track that was less than five miles away. At the time it just seemed so unfair, but people looked at it from different viewpoints.

SY: And do you remember the curfew and the darking out windows? Did you have to do any of that?

YN: No, but there were rumors that there were farmers who would forget to turn off their porch lights and people suspect it's a signal of some kind. And perhaps you heard about the Battle of Los Angeles? Well, there was something going on that caused the antiaircraft to go off, and so we heard all this boom, boom, boom, boom, the shooting and tracers going up and all that. I don't think it was anything, but it put a lot of scare in people that maybe the Japanese were actually trying to land on California soil or something like that.

SY: And that happened, you remember that happening?

YN: Oh yes, I sure do remember. And there are people today who look upon that with a lot of humor because, "You remember that Battle of Los Angeles?" [Laughs] Where they're shooting at phantom targets. But rumor spread and then, of course, the newspapers did a wonderful job of stirring up people, and politicians didn't have a backbone. Even Earl Warren felt that we should be removed, so there were very few people. Fletcher Bowron, who was the mayor of Los Angeles, felt we should be removed. So there were very few that -- the Quakers were the only group that vocally opposed our being incarcerated, and they provided a lot of help. You heard Grace talk about Dr. Robert O'Brien, how he helped with the relocation of Japanese American students. So there was tension in that way, and some businesses, like barbers, having signs out that, "No Japs Allowed" or something like that. But with the kind of propaganda, misinformation that was really bombarding the people all the time and no countermeasures, it's very much like the campaigns today in politics, where you have all this negative stuff going out and then if there is no candidate to counter that, if there is no group of people to counter these false accusations, then people begin to think that must be true. So there were rumors about the Japanese Americans who created an arrow in the sugar cane fields pointing to the way of Pearl Harbor and all this sort of thing. All nonsense. The Japanese Americans we knew, we have met from Hawaii, were just dumbfounded, very, very frightened and disappointed that when they saw the pilots in these airplanes, "My gosh, they look like me," you know? And so many of them wanted to volunteer right away and of course you know that for a while Japanese Americans were classified 4-C, which is "enemy alien," and that's a terrible thing to do to people. Fortunately I wasn't eligible to be classified, but if I were classified like that, I don't know exactly how I would've taken it, because it would've been a tremendous blow. As one mentioned in David Ono's documentary on the 442nd receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, this one fellow said, "Gee, it's just like having someone take your heart out and then spending the rest of your life trying to recover it."

SY: So was your older brother, was he eligible for the --

YN: No, because he was an alien, you see. He was...

SY: Born.

YN: He was born in Japan. And besides, he would not have been eligible because he had a hearing problem and so he could only hear from one, in one ear. I think in Tonda, he lived near the sea and he probably got water in his ear and maybe something else. But anyway, he couldn't hear from one ear.

SY: So did he sort of manage the movement that you, from...

YN: Yes, he and my father, we all helped a bit. My sister would say that I was probably the favored son because she remembers having to work in the fields hard and my father would encourage me to take part in some of the activities in the school, so it was probably unfair. But a young guy, you take these opportunities that come along and do what you can.

SY: So you didn't really have to do too much of the heavy lifting.

YN: Well, as I recall, doing things that, working, knowing that I probably would not like to do this when I grow up because farming is very labor intensive, very hard on your back. So I recall doing some harvesting and, actually, even going out, working in some vineyards near us and picking grapes and things like that too.

SY: When you finally got to camp, was that a relief in some ways for your family, do you think?

YN: No, I don't think it was a relief. It was a terrible blow, actually. Because we had a farm... people had to eat, and we knew that if you grow things people will, even to abide them, and as the war progressed, more and more young people were brought into the armed forces, and so fewer people were working in the farms, that sort of thing. So I think the opportunities would've been greater had we been able to stay. I would say that it was a tremendous blow to my father because he prided himself on being able to provide for us, and taking that privilege away and being locked up and actually not having any meaningful thing to do, he would have nightmares and he fell out of his bunk. We were in this converted stable where the droppings of the animals and dirt and what have you are covered over, straw and everything, covered over with asphalt, kind of rough asphalt, and so when he fell, he fell on his shoulder and he was in the hospital for more than a week. He was right-handed, and he would, after that he would have tremors. He was kind of a broken man. He just was not able to be productive after that, and that's why my younger brother and my sister kind of took charge of taking care of him. He, after a while, the dental work in camp was not as good as it was outside and so he was not able to chew. So when we finally went to Gila, the internment camp there, he had to get special food from the dietician, so my brother or my sister would go and get it for him. He was ambulatory; he'd walk around. But he had these tremors and then he couldn't chew.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: Yeah, I want to talk a little bit more about Tulare since that was where you first...

YN: Okay. Yes. Well, a couple of years ago we were in central valley and we stopped at Tulare to see the fairgrounds and sort of a nostalgic view of the place, and saw the stables and saw the town, and I would say that when we got to Tulare at the train station, we had to get off and carry our things we could carry and march, walk into the town to the racetrack. People came out as if it was some kind of parade, but a parade with soldiers on the sides, with their bayonets up, and it was just a very humiliating experience. I don't think the people knew what was happening. They probably thought we did something terrible. As you know, in spite of all the propaganda saying that we were responsible for something having to do with Pearl Harbor, not one single Japanese American was ever convicted for an unlawful disloyal act in the United States or in its territories, either before or after, or during the war. So the suspicions were based primarily on our physical appearance, and at the time the Chinese didn't want to be known as Japanese, so they had signs saying "I'm Chinese American," that sort of thing. But if you look Oriental you're under suspicion. Then if your name is Nakamura or some Japanese name, even more so. But in this case, we had to march in and it was just, even at the age of sixteen, it was just a terrible thing. It was, as Grace mentioned, people had to carry their things, so as we think about families where they had youngsters and they had to carry the things for the youngsters as well as for themselves. It was a terrible, terrible experience.

SY: So you ended up, were there any more formal barracks at Tulare or was it all horse stalls?

YN: Well, I believe there were barracks. We just happened to be in the stables.

SY: In the stables.

YN: That was probably the fastest thing they could do to get ready for us, so they hastily paved over the stables, and there wasn't a lot of isolation between one family and another. One thing, there were searchlights that would come on, and the sentries would be up on the guard towers, and so --

SY: Do you remember the overall feeling among people as you were heading towards this...

YN: Well, there was certainly, the morale was not very high. And I would say that we had what is known as volunteer classrooms. I mean, there were people who volunteered to teach and students who just volunteered to come. There was no credit for being there, but I recall taking classes, listening to someone because I thought that person would be interesting, and those kinds of things happened. There were religious services, and when you call the religious service a joint service, it wasn't a joint service, Methodist and Congregational or Baptist and Episcopalian. It was Buddhist and Christian, so they would get together (and) there were services held. The grandstand was used for (all) kinds of assemblies and that sort of thing.

SY: But what was your main activity during this time?

YN: I was trying to think about that. You see, when you're young and if you can forget that you're in a compound, you have friends. You make friends, so you get around, talk and argue and read, those kinds of things, maybe play some kind of sports. Lot of us liked to play basketball, so as I recall there was a sort of a court we could play on. It was sort of a transition time that didn't register any great positive things and I tend to forget the negative things, so it was just a holding tank, waiting for something to happen. But I would say that while I was there, my friend, Kenneth Morgan, came to visit me. And if you can imagine, in a room like this and benches along the side with windows with wires separating you from your visitor, that seeing me in that position when he knew I had absolutely nothing to do with anything wrong that happened during Pearl Harbor, he could not talk about it to anyone for thirty years. It really struck him hard. So I would say that I have a philosophy that, regardless of what happens to you, you should build on it, use it as an experience for something in the future. So I've tried to think of the positive things that have happened, and friendships would be one, and discussions with your friends about various issues and those kinds of things, possibly playing some games and things. And...

SY: Because this --

YN: A lot of times you're waiting in line to go eat... because these mess lines tended to be long.

SY: Your father ended up being hospitalized at --

YN: Yes, he was in the hospital.

SY: At Tulare?

YN: In Tulare.

SY: And so your older brother, then, sort of took care of, he was sort of the...

YN: Yes, one of the things about the evacuation that perhaps people should know is that family life became very, very difficult. When you're in a group situation and where young people can go and eat whenever they want to, I mean, families didn't have to be together. We tried to be together. You know, they don't have to be together. Young people would rather eat by themselves and this sort of thing. The disintegration of the family structure, which is extremely strong in the Japanese American family, had some loose ends. There was no way to control everything because you're in this environment.

SY: So you were all pretty much on your own in some ways.

YN: Yes, I think so. Fortunately, my brother had taught us strong, ethical behavior patterns for us, so I think we behaved decently. I don't recall doing anything that was obnoxious or dangerous.

SY: Was there any kind of dissention within...

YN: I'm sure there was. There may have been some hot discussions, because there were people who strongly believed that this was a very, very wrong thing, the American Constitution has been broken, and others saying that, "See, we told you, these no good people are trying to really take everything away from you," and this sort of thing.

SY: So as a result of this accident, your father was pretty severely...

YN: Yes, he was severely handicapped after that.

SY: Handicapped after that.

YN: He just, well, he was broken in his body, in a sense, and his spirit. He was a very independent person, and you can imagine trying to raise a family with three sons and one daughter, so it was a very tough situation. So my brother actually became like the parent, supervising us, and we respected him, so it wasn't the case of, "Oh, the heck with you."

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SY: So you managed. And then when did you find out you were leaving? And how did that...

YN: Well, I think it was around September 5th of 1942 when we were told to pack up and get on the train. We didn't know where we were going at the time, but we ended up in Gila River, which is near Sacaton, not too far up from Scottsdale, but at the time it was just the desert. It was part of the Indian-owned land.

SY: And you remember your first impression?

YN: It was dusty, hot. It was a miserable place. When we were at this reunion, our daughter-in-law and my son-in-law at the time mentioned how dusty it was, and it was even made more dramatic because these buses had the exhaust pipes down low. When they started to go, you can imagine the horsepower generated by these buses and all the fumes going out and making this shadow, this dust. Well, when the wind blew it was pretty dusty, so yeah, that was a terrible thing. It was very, very hot, and it was September, but September's still warm. So some of the people started to dig under their barracks.


SY: This Times reporter, you were saying...

YN: Yes, the Times, I'm not sure whether the Times or the Examiner -- it was more like the Examiner, the Hearst paper -- but that we were digging air raid shelters because they're expecting Japanese bombers to come bomb parts of the United States. Kind of silly to think that they're going to bomb us. We're not a military installation. But anyway, when we got there, there was absolutely nothing but these bare barracks. And one of the things that kind of kept me going in the fairly positive direction is that it was not only an unfortunate thing that we were there, but it was also an opportunity. Here is a high school that's just going to be formed, that never has existed before, so we had to create a constitution and structure for the high school. The creation of that structure was really a good learning experience for many of us. So we looked at various constitutions, and we created a constitution for the student body at Butte High School. We had a very good principal who was our advisor, so we learned a lot doing this. And then, after creating this constitution, many of us, "Well, we should run for office," so many of us did run for office. Someone suggested I run for president, so I ran for president, and the three of us were good friends but we were running against each other. Fortunately I was able to get into the runner offs, and as I mentioned to you earlier, that Michi Weglyn was my campaign manager. So in spite of her very, very good works, she didn't have quite the same caliber of candidate as the other guy, so I came in second out of two people. [Laughs] But it was a very good experience.

SY: How did that come about? Did you ask her to become your campaign manager?

YN: I think she volunteered. I don't recall just how this happened. (I later was her campaign manager for next year's presidency.)

SY: So you were obviously good friends in camp.

YN: Yes, we were very good friends. There were several people who, for one reason or another, thought very highly of me. She was one of them, so she volunteered to be (my) campaign manager. She did a good job. But the other fellow was a more popular guy. He was (an athlete) and a pretty handsome guy, and he was a good friend, so it was okay that he won. But I ended up being a vice president of the senior class. Then I became involved in a number of clubs. One of my instructors was Mr. Nikaido, and he was a math instructor. He was teaching geometry. He took me aside one day and he said, "Yoshio, you and I could get along much better and I think you'll learn more geometry if you stayed in class a little longer." [Laughs] Because activities meant that we periodically had to go out and meet people and this sort of thing. I probably didn't learn as much geometry as I should have. But he was a very good instructor, so a lot of what he taught me has stuck on.

SY: So student government was kind of your calling, then.

YN: Yes. And it turned out that all of that experience helped me in whatever else I've done since then, because going into various clubs, getting different interests like debating and Spanish, there were just a number of things that (got my attention).

SY: And how did that compare with your high school education --

YN: In El Monte?

SY: Yeah.

YN: Well, very different experience in that in El Monte you were a commuting student. At Gila you're a dorm student, on-campus student. [Laughs] You couldn't go anywhere else, so there would be the classroom time and then there would be off class time, so it was an opportunity also to study with the various students, fellow students who seemed to know more than I did about certain things. So I liked that part of it. I can think of several teachers who had a very good impact on me, and one was Miss Mabel Sheldon. She was an English and Public Speaking teacher. She was a missionary to India, and she was home on a leave. She was going to go back to India, but because of the war she was prohibited from traveling, so she volunteered to teach in our camp. She was demanding and compassionate at the same time, and she believed that everyone in her class was going to go to college. So if you were somewhat deficient in reading she made you go into some special reading class, which she offered in the summers. Or, if you need public speaking, she'd encourage you to go into debating and different things like that. And besides that, she taught English, and she taught us very, very well. But we maintained friendship for a long time because from the time I left camp I was in the service, and afterwards we communicated almost every year, maybe more often, and then she was able to return to India after the war and we communicated. And then she retired and lived in Boulder, Colorado, and she came to visit us one time, and by that time she had married a fellow by the name of Williams who lived in the same Methodist retirement community in Boulder. It turned out her husband's niece was living in Whittier. Her name was Rachel Ulrgy, and she happened to be the curator of the Whittier Art Gallery and was a friend of ours. We found that connection, so they came to visit her and then visit me, and we had a mini reunion with the president who beat me in camp, I don't know if you know Mary Karasawa. She and her family were in Gila, the Nakahiro family. Anyway, we rounded up people we knew from camp to come and meet with her, so we had a very fine little reunion luncheon with her. She (also) went to our church, and we made her feel very welcome there.

SY: So what was your strength as a student? What were your, were you at the time interested in art? Was it...

YN: No. I was a young man, so I think I had social interests and a lot of academic interests because I had to write papers and I did illustrate some of my papers and, well, maybe that helped me with my grades. I don't know.

SY: You didn't, were there art classes there?

YN: Well, I'm sure there were. I took a craft, I don't know whether it was a class or a workshop, but I developed some things in three dimensional form, making things out of plastic letter opener, different things like that. But that was the extent of my art at that particular time.

SY: You weren't involved --

YN: I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do in my life. I would say that I wish I were back in El Monte, but having this situation where you had to be there and then in a class where it seemed to me the majority of the students were in the California Scholarship Society. I mean, they were brainy people, so it made it very difficult, so we all had to work hard to keep up. In that sense it was motivating, and I made a lot of good friends, so a bad experience isn't all bad. You accept the bad thing and you do the best you can.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: So what kind of person was Michi Weglyn when she was, when you knew her in camp?

YN: Well, she was a very serious type of student, very articulate, very caring type of person. She had some interest in art too, and she became a fashion designer for the Perry Como Show. She was a good debater and was just a very good friend to talk to. It was a platonic relationship. I mean, she and I are very good friends. We've remained good friends until she passed on. We've communicated quite often, and she knew what I was doing, we knew what she was doing, and we became friends with Walter. We visited her a couple of times when we were in New York, and we've seen her here when she came here. I would say she just was a fine person with a lot of integrity. And I would not have envisioned her to stick to something like she did with Years of Infamy, but I think once she started, she really became very dedicated. It just got her. And Walter would say, "You know, some of those people should be lined up and shot," he'd say, "for their behavior." [Laughs] And so as she went into the archives and found materials, that just made her very, very upset, and there were so many lies told about us that were uncovered.

SY: Later on, yeah.

YN: She felt a need to write this book.

SY: Do you remember when Eleanor Roosevelt visited?

YN: Absolutely.

SY: What was that experience like?

YN: One of the things she said -- well, she came and we were very, very pleased that she came. And John Tachihara and Kim Nagano, they were the two candidates who ran against me too, but Kim was the student body president, is in this annual photograph. And you probably saw it in the Pacific Citizen on the various camps; there's a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt and the tall fellow is Kim Nagano. We remember her coming, and (there) was a lot of excitement. She wanted to know everything. One of the things she said to us, because she didn't know our particular situation -- some of the Japanese Americans lived in segregated areas. I mean, they couldn't live with Caucasians and there were restricted areas. So she said that she recommended that we integrate more, you see, "If more people knew you, you wouldn't be here." And that may be true, but I don't think that would help too much because when the war broke out, the people were mad and hysterical, and they wanted to get back at somebody, and so getting back at somebody is, if you look like the enemy you must have something wrong with you, you see?

SY: But she was, she was very well received when she visited?

YN: Oh yes, very well received. And, well, they spiffied up the camp a little bit, cleaned up everything. [Laughs] So it wasn't just an everyday situation. It's like when you have a visitor come from somewhere to a house -- except this house, but any other place -- you would kind of spiff it up a bit.

SY: So did you actually end up graduating from Butte High School?

YN: Yes, I did.

SY: So you went through the graduation ceremony.

YN: Yes, I did. And one of the memorable parts of that graduation was that another good friend of mine, Minnie Sasahara Avery, who ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and married a sociologist who taught at the university there, was also a pianist, and she played a piece for the graduation. And another friend was the valedictorian, so there were many things about it that were quite memorable.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SY: And do you remember when the whole issue of the "loyalty questionnaire" came up in camp?

YN: Well, it was, yes. There were a lot of discussions, and in our camp the teachers by and large were excellent or poor. There weren't too many in between. Some of the poor ones we suspected were kind of spies. We've noticed them coming to meetings we had. They would stick their head in and be listening, but I don't know. Maybe they were just curious. But they were not very good instructors. So we at least had suspicion that maybe their main mission wasn't to teach. But the questionnaire was a very unfair one, so it was impossible to answer it without incriminating yourself, you see? The fact that you were asked to no longer be loyal to the emperor or whatever that statement was, meaning that you were, you see? If you said, "No, I will not be loyal to the emperor," well, you're almost saying that, yes, you were before. When you said, "No, I will not do that. I'll continue." I think it's a wrong question, so if you voted "no" you're considered disloyal. So the questionnaire itself was a very, very unfair question, and maybe it was designed that way so that, regardless of how you answered, you were wrong. And I think you probably have had teachers in your life somewhere where they would frame a question so that any answer would be wrong. Well, that's what happened to us, I think. But when I answered "yes," in a sense it's saying that, it's almost like volunteering because you're willing to serve.

SY: So you were actually asked to do the... because originally wasn't it everyone in camp?

YN: Yes, I think so, everyone.

SY: And so at some point you were asked to sign it and you had to answer "yes."

YN: Yes, I don't remember just when that happened, whether it was before I graduated. It seemed like it was before I graduated. But those who were deemed to be disloyal by "no-no" were then shipped to Tule Lake.

SY: You remember that happening?

YN: Yes, I do remember, and I remember the very sad parting of the ways of some people. And some of them felt that, "I had faith in this country, but the way we've been treated," says, "They don't want us here. So I don't know what it's going to be like in Japan, but it probably isn't any worse than here," or something like that. And so it was not so much a loyalty to Japan as something against the treatment here, that they did that. And so I think it has come to pass that that was considered sort of a question under duress. I think those who were deported, I think, came back.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: And at the time that you graduated, did you have any idea of what was going to happen after that, where you were going to be going? Were you thinking that you --

YN: No, I knew that I would be eligible to be asked, I'll get an invitation from the President to serve. And I didn't know at the time, but I know that this happened, that they wanted to recruit Japanese Americans to form a replacement battalion and train them to go to Europe to fill the ranks of the Nisei soldiers who had become injured or been killed in action. So until they had a battalion of people they could not call, they didn't call, so I had a small window of time. One of my friends who was living at the time in Des Moines, Iowa, came back to see his family, and he came over and talked to me and my father and said he would like to sponsor me to go to Des Moines, Iowa, for a few months before I was destined to be in the service. And my father -- my younger brother and my sister were there -- said, "Sure, why don't you go?" (My older) brother was already out. He had a work permit and was working in Gering, Nebraska. So I thought, well, it's an opportunity to know what it's like to be outside for a while. So I was in Des Moines, Iowa, and stayed at the Des Moines YMCA and worked at the Hotel Des Moines as a busboy. I took some technical classes in the evening. I joined the Methodist church there. In this process of becoming a Christian, my family had a Buddhist tradition, so my father was a Buddhist, my mother was Buddhist, but when I was growing up in El Monte, periodically I would help this banker's mother. Whenever they had to go traveling somewhere they needed someone in the house to kind of be sure that she's okay. So I would go there and do my homework and we would talk. She was a devout Christian, and so she would tell me all kinds of things that sounded very good to me. So when we got into camp I met Reverend John Yamazaki and some other clergy, and finally I was baptized in Gila. So when I went Des Moines I thought, well, it'd be a good idea for me to be affiliated with some church, and so the Methodist church was fairly convenient and seemed okay, so I joined there.

SY: And you were able to support yourself while you were in...

YN: Yes, I was able to support myself. And before long I received this little invitation to report for induction. I went to Fort Des Moines and was inducted into the enlisted reserve. So the enlisted reserve was set up so that there was a waiting period until there were enough Nisei soldiers to form this battalion, so I felt I had a little bit of time. At that moment I decided I better go back to camp and be with my father and my sister and my younger brother. So I was there for a little over a month, and that was a good experience to come back and greet people. They were all quite appreciative of my going into the service and wished me well and all those kinds of things. I was able to be with my family there.

SY: Would you have had the opportunity to go to college had this not, had this...

YN: Well, at that particular time it didn't seem that I had enough time to be in college. You know, I didn't know when I would be called and I felt maybe I had two months, maybe a month, maybe three months, whatever it might be, so that didn't quite reach me. So when I was inducted then I was called for active duty in August of 1944 and reported to Fort Douglas, Utah. From there we went to Camp Blanding, Florida, where there then was a battalion of soldiers. I believe there were about a thousand of us there. So we would be training there, and the one thing I remember about that training was that in this particular part of Florida, which is near Jacksonville, you can almost count on rain at two-thirty in the afternoon. The clouds would come over -- unlike the Tonda cloud -- cloud would come over and there would be water, and then it would disappear. But to give you some idea of how the military works, as you're marching, the command comes from the front. The commander or the platoon leader, the person in charge would say, "Raincoats," and "Raincoats on," and then you'd go this way and you'd repeat that order, and if you're in M Company, or excuse me, if you're in the rear like I was, by the time the order came, the sun was out, so you're marching in the rain and so the sun was out, we still had raincoats on. [Laughs] Then we'd wait for the order to come to remove the raincoats, so this was a sort of a funny thing. And the other thing is Japanese names are not that easy to pronounce for most Caucasians, especially if they haven't been introduced to Japanese names. So you can imagine in roll call, calling, "Matsushita?" [Laughs] And you can imagine the way the pronunciation might go, and so that provided a little bit of internal humor for us. These people who wanted to command things, make big noise, would try to pronounce your name and they would have to stutter all the way through. It was kind of funny.

SY: [Laughs] So did you have an inkling of what was happening as far as the 442nd was concerned?

YN: Well, yes, we knew that the 442nd had established itself as a really fierce fighting force in Italy, and by the time we were in Camp Blanding they were fighting in France and they were rescuing the "Lost Battalion," and eventually that's what they would be doing in the forests in France. When we finished our basic training -- and one of the nice things about the training was that I made connections with a fellow who nominated me for the Lion Squires in El Monte. His name was Bob Berlin, and he happened to be stationed near Jacksonville, Florida. We had been corresponding and we said, "Well, why don't meet together?" So we did, but the meeting, to be short, I got there in time and I decided to have breakfast in Jacksonville and then I'd go see him, I was in this restaurant and had my uniform on. And I was eating, and when I got up to leave to pay, the cashier said, "You've been paid for." And, "That's strange," I said. "I don't know anyone." Says, "Well, you see that guy walking out there? He said, 'I'll pay for it.'" So that was a (pleasant surprise).

SY: It was a Caucasian person who had been eating there?

YN: (Yes). Anyway, I met Bob Berlin and we had a nice reunion. Something else had happened when in Camp Blanding. There were fellows from Hawaii there and from the mainland, from Pocatello, Idaho, and from California and one guy from Oklahoma, one guy from North Dakota. I mean, I didn't know Japanese Americans were that widespread. Some of the people got these care packages from home, and we were warned, there are these wild pigs in Florida and if they smell food they'll come after it. Well, some of the fellows didn't believe that, so one night we heard all this yelling and, "Get the heck out of here," and all this. You can imagine a wild pig kind of brushing his nose against you and finding the See's candy or whatever it was that was sent and going off with it. So those kinds of things happened. We began to believe what the noncommissioned officers said (after that).

SY: Who would tell you, but you started to believe it.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SY: So you ended up going overseas and you spent, so it was toward the end of the war. It was after the "Lost Battalion."

YN: Yes, well, if you look at it in terms of a football game, in the Super Bowl, if you play something in the Super Bowl you get the ring, well, I came in on the fourth quarter. The war was going on from the first quarter on, and so the Congressional Gold Medal which I received really is more highly deserved by those folks who were in there from the first quarter on, and I take my hat off to many of them because they are the real heroes.

SY: So by the time you got there, what was the situation?

YN: Well, by the time I got there, I couldn't get there right away because as we were about to go from Baltimore to New York for the ship that would take us, somebody got measles, and then another person got measles, and then suddenly the whole battalion got quarantined. So every day we would march to the officer looking for us, we would have to show our backs and our behinds, and he would point to the hospital or back to the barracks like that, until everyone got the measles we were quarantined. It seemed like it took about three weeks. I'm not sure exactly how long, but it seemed like a long time. And it was very, very cold in Baltimore, so those of us who were not used to ice and snow, you can hear these mess kits hitting the ground because people would fall down and all this. And by the time we got to Hyack, New York, to board one of these victory ships to go overseas, the "Lost Battalion" had been rescued and the 442nd had gone into what they call the Champagne Campaign. It was still dangerous, but it was not as dangerous as the "Lost Battalion" (battle). We landed in Le Havre, France, and were transported in a cattle car because it was disguised as a cattle car, not a troop car, to the southern part of France. That's when I was assigned to a unit to supply some ammunition and some other goods. Then we were put on these landing crafts and ordered to Italy. Mark Clark, the General of the Fifth Army, had requested the 442nd to come back to Italy because for six months the army could not penetrate the Gothic Line, so Mark Clark thought we could do that. So when we got there we were ordered to attack the enemy from these tall mountains, and we had El Paisanos. They were the resisters of the German and fascist leaders who wanted to help us, and they guided us in the dark up this very, very tall mountain. One of my buddies, whose name was Tak Nakamura -- fortunately his name started with a T and mine was a Y -- so he was the lucky guy who got this heavy mortar plate which weighed more than forty, fifty pounds on his back, and he thought he was leaning against the cliff and he leaned this way and the cliff was over here and he fell this way. [Laughs] And fortunately there was a small terrace right below, but have you ever seen a turtle with its shell down? It cannot get up. And so he couldn't yell at us because that would give us away, so we hear, [whispers] "Psst, psst, hey, I'm down here." And finally it occurred to us, gee, Tak isn't here, so we had to go down and right him up, but he wasn't hurt. So we managed to get up, and by the time we get up to the top we surprised the German soldiers, and they began to give up and it was just a...

SY: So you were involved in this one campaign, the Gothic Line?

YN: Well, in a total way, yes. I was tangentially involved in these others, and I've been given credit for being in three campaigns. That's what the battle scars mean. So the army keeps track of all kinds of things, and I was quite surprised when, at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony there was a presentation of the Bronze Star Medal, which is given for infantrymen who did some exceptional work, is a lower medal (than) the Distinguished Service Cross or the Congressional Medal of Honor, but I thought it was a kind of generic medal. I had received one in the mail before, so here I was asked if it was okay for them to look through the records because they thought I was entitled to the Bronze Star. Well, they had a descriptive notation of what I did in that particular Gothic Line. So anyway, the Chief of Staff of the army, Odiniero, put these things on, and the strange thing about it (was that) announcer had a list that was different from the general's, so the general was putting the Bronze Star on a person whose name didn't match the Bronze Star. There is a name on the back of the Bronze Star for every recipient, but he didn't know that. But he went through and so when it came to Yoshio Nakamura and he put it on, it was some handsome guy that didn't look like me at all who got it. [Laughs] So at the very end, when this was all over, we were told this kind of snafu. There was a exchange of these Bronze Stars and I got the right one. But I can show you what they are.

SY: Do you have it right there?

YN: Yes, I do have it here.

SY: Okay, bring it up now. Yeah, I think we just have time to get through the war.

YN: Well, I'll show you what these various ribbons are.

SY: I'm surprised that they gave you a Bronze Star after.

YN: I have this on because I can't fit into my uniform anymore, so I put it on my cap, the ribbons that normally go onto the ribbon, to the...

SY: Uniform.

YN: Uniform. And this is the Bronze Star citation, and here's the General giving me the Bronze Star. But of course, he's giving me...

SY: Someone else's.

YN: Someone by the name of Tada, to me. [Laughs] But it didn't matter, but anyway, that's the...

SY: Can you just hold it up? Yeah.

YN: Yes. This is the citation. The Bronze Star looks like this. [Holds up medal]

SY: So exactly what does it say as far as why you received the Bronze Star? You say it's a lesser...

YN: Well, it says here, "For meritorious achievement while serving with Company M, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, on 10 April 1945 in Carrera, Italy, against an armed enemy of the United States, Private Nakamura's exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat was in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Army of the United States."

SY: So you had to have been recommended for this by one of your officers?

YN: Well, apparently it was written in my record somewhere, so when they went through my record, apparently they discovered that they didn't give me this. But I did receive a Bronze Star, but I think it's because of the combat infantryman's badge. Every soldier who has a combat infantryman's badge earns a Bronze Star, but this is not a generic (one). So I was quite surprised by that, and then --

SY: You don't remember the exemplary service that prompted it?

YN: No, I was surprised that... I knew I was there.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

YN: Fortunately, a very wealthy person in Texas who is married to a Sansei, whose father was in the 442nd, and the man's name is Cole (of) Cole Industries. So we were very fortunate that he donated all the replica Bronze Stars to each of the (Vets) who came.

SY: You know, I hate to do this because I, but we're gonna skip over the 442nd... we went through it way too quickly, but since you have the Hanashi interview, maybe we'll just, I'd like to talk more about your life post --

YN: Okay, well, I would like to just say that since I received the Congressional Gold Medal different groups have commended me for being part of it, and at Rio Hondo College the trustees invited me, and there was a typo in the presentation and said, "And he served during World War I." [Laughs] When we were in Washington, D.C. before the ceremony, and it started out with our being on an Honor Flight to Washington Baltimore Airport, the crew and the passengers on the air flight applauded us in the plane. When we got out I had to get the wheelchair for Grace, and we came out. There was this group of volunteers from the Honor Flight from Maryland all standing with their placards and their yellow-green T-shirts on, saying, "Thank you," and, "Congratulations," and cheering us on. It was overwhelming. After the presentation of the Gold Medal, the information was circulated within Washington (through) newspapers and television, so everywhere we went, if people suspected we were with the 442nd they would come up and make sure that we were thanked, "Thank you for your service," that sort of thing.

SY: That's lovely.

YN: So it was really a once in a lifetime experience. It was really something. And then I mentioned that the Whittier City Council invited me to come to receive a commendation from them. Gee, that was really great. And at that time I told the council and the people who came to see this presentation that we Nisei soldiers had a very long journey, and that it's really something that here at the beginning of the war we were held with tremendous suspicion and classified as "enemy aliens." And now we have Senator Dan Inouye, who is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, who is fourth in line to become President of the United States, so I'd say that it takes a great nation to apologize for wrongdoing and to recognize contributions. So let's say that at first we got credit for something we didn't have anything to do with and we wouldn't want to have anything to do with, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to something we really did, which was to establish the best military record for its size in U.S. military history. I'd say that's very important.

SY: That's very important.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SY: So I'm sorry about the time running out, but I really want to talk a little bit about your life postwar and all your accomplishments from...

YN: Sure. Okay.

SY: And we have very little time to do it, but I know that you ended up going to college after the war on the GI Bill, right?

YN: Yes.

SY: So you got a degree from where and when?

YN: Okay. Well, I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and my Master of Fine Arts degree from USC, and I would say that I think I may be one of the first to feel the impact of affirmative action before it was even known as that. When I went to UCLA to request to become part of their teacher training program in the summer, and Dr. Bond, who is a compassionate fellow, said, "You know, we don't usually do this to people from USC, but we'll make an exception here. And besides," he said, "you folks have gone through a lot." So he let me come in on a summer program to finish my teacher training, student teacher training.

SY: And your major was art?

YN: Art, yes.

SY: So your goal was to be in art?

YN: Yes, I got my Master of Fine Arts degree and at the same time I was getting enough units to qualify for a credential, and I needed one more semester of teacher training -- practice teaching -- so I was able to go to Emerson Junior High School and be part of the UCLA program. So I'd say probably the strongest affirmative action program at that particular time was to allow an SC student to take part in something like that where there was limited enrollment in the teacher training program.

SY: And did you have trouble finding a job then?

YN: Yes, I did. You know, there was still some resentment of Japanese Americans, so there were a few places where I went where they liked me but there were people higher up that didn't want to hire a Japanese American. There was one place where I went, the administrators, the teachers, all the people who interviewed me said they want me there, but when they presented my name to the board, one or two members, maybe more, had problems with it. So they had to renege on any offer that they (made). But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Grace mentioned to you that one of them happened to be the superintendent of the Whittier Union High School District, and he was a very broadminded, compassionate person. When I applied, they interviewed me. The principal, who was a new principal, he liked me. So I was hired. When I reported for work I was really pleased that Wally Leonard, as I mentioned, he was a friend since Columbia School days and El Monte High School days, was a counselor at Whittier High School, and Paul Gardner, who was my glee club director, was a counselor, or psychologist, for the district. So I felt very much at home, and the teachers treated me very well. In fact, in 1960 I was elected teacher's club president. That same year there was no Teacher of the Year awards by districts at that time, but the Whittier Women's Club wanted to honor a teacher. So my name was brought up and they selected me to be the Teacher of the Year for Whittier area, and then I got that. Then they nominated me for San Gabriel Valley and I got that. And I was nominated for the state and someone else got that, and that person, who was from San Bernardino, went on and became the national Teacher of the Year, so my hat's off to her.

SY: But the majority of your career was spent at Rio Hondo College?

YN: Well, yes. I was at Whittier High School for eleven years and established a very good reputation. My hiring president, Dr. Phil Putnam, said there is something about teachers, there is an aura that develops, nobody knows how it happens, but said it happens and when that happens, he said, "As an administrator, we're lucky to get into that well." And he said, "You seem to fit that description." So Morris Bergen, who was vice president, and Phil Putnam, the president, and the board hired me, and I was the first faculty member (to sign a contract at) this new community college. It was called Whittier Junior College at the time. I had to sign a contract with the college. Being the first faculty member to sign a contract and being an artist and being Japanese American, there are two historic things that happened because usually you might think that, well, there might be more at the end of the line, but they have treated me very well.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SY: So the art -- I do want to talk about your artwork as well, because education and art have been...

YN: Yes, they do run together.

SY: Yes, and you've continued as an artist up to today.

YN: Right. I have found refuge (from) a lot of the administrative, difficult as we had time to time, some discussions which sometimes may not be all that friendly. Art is a refuge area and I continue to produce art, it was a very good (outlet for me).

SY: And some of your pieces have, can you give an idea... I do want to point out that the piece behind us is one of your beautiful works.

YN: Okay.

SY: But can you tell us a little bit about some of the other...

YN: Yes. Well, you see, as I was teaching and, again, the reputation for some reason has grown, and I have my former students writing to me. I just got a note from my favorite teacher, and some who say that, having gone to college and all this and, "You're still my favorite teacher," so that's really quite heartwarming to have people remember you, for one thing. I mean, someone might have said, "Who's he?" Well, anyway, to be remembered by name and by what I've done, so that has been very rewarding, As a result I was named one of the outstanding educators in a booklet that came out in 1970. So these things have been helpful, and as I have been doing the work in the department I was given more responsibilities. Before long I was doing community services and some of my art, and an opportunity came where I could become the dean, so I applied and they appointed me. But as a dean I was able to have programs that supported the arts and the Rio Hondo symphony, we established a workshop for graphic arts to come in and use the equipment, things like that, so we had children's art workshops and various academic programs. So there were things that we were able to do besides many other things.

SY: How did you pursue your actual artistic career, your work as an artist?

YN: What I have done is, as a teacher I said, "You know, you can talk about art, you can go to art shows, you can argue about it, and someday you really have to do it." And so I'm taking my own advice. I decided that I'd better get down to doing some work myself. Although I've been doing work myself, as a teacher, I always like to do the project that I assign to my students, to kind of work my way through. Not to influence them in the direction that I've gone, but to realize some of the potential problems that might come up. I found that all these other experiences I've had in the past have been very helpful. Even when I was in Italy, here I was, I came in late so we could not go home when most of the 442nd (went) home, but I was able to visit museums and see paintings and sculpture by Michelangelo. So those things all just kind of built up. One of the things that I have told people over and over, especially young people, that it doesn't matter what your experience is. You take the best of it and build on it. If someone gives you something that's very distasteful, you put it aside, and you decide what is something you can use out of it, so those things, I think they're really helpful.

SY: Does your work reflect that?

YN: Yes, it does. I think my life reflects that. I don't dwell on the negative aspects. It's unfortunate that there are people who feel they are victims -- and actually there were victims, but to internalize it so that you are always saying, "I'm a victim," it doesn't release you. I think you find that if you forgive people for the dumb things they did to you, then it frees you to do things yourself. I mean, you don't have to be thinking, "Oh, that son of a gun did this to me." Well, you think about other people who've done some really good things. I've been very fortunate; like I said, my brother was very, very encouraging, and my younger brother and my sister, they all thought that I'm the first to go to college, I should be encouraged. I have a wife who's very encouraging, and my (adult) children (and grandchildren) give me a lot of inspiration, (also) I have a body of friends who keep (me going).

SY: And can you just give us an idea of where your work, where we can find your work today? Are there, I know...

YN: Well, Grace gave you a little postcard. Grace and I and Joel will have some work in the Hillcrest Festival (on) the last full weekend in February. I usually have work in the Whittier Art Gallery. Grace has a couple of works in there right now. So I've been asked to bring some things in, so I'll have some things there. But I would like to say something else. I go back to Madeline Halley and Ruth Green Paul because they were so outstanding. One of the things that Madeline Halley saw in Long Beach, her husband was in the Coast Guard, she saw this newspaper which had a picture of me and a Rio Hondo College art collection. She looked at it and thought, "Gee, could that be Yoshio, the one I had in El Monte?" So she called and sure enough, found out that I am the one. So we got together and had a great reunion. Then she even said, "You know, I have something that my mother saved for you." So it's a... excuse me, it was really a great thing. And one other thing about her is that Ruth Green Paul would come to Gila and bring things to us. So she was a really great person, and...

SY: In the first grade she, she remembered you from the first grade on, right?

YN: Yes, it's really something. And there were people like that who were very supportive.

SY: Can you share what it was that she gave you?

YN: Excuse me?

SY: What was it that her mother had saved for you?

YN: There were some dishes and kimono and things that I was able to pass on to my sister.

SY: That's really lovely.

YN: So it was really something. But Mrs. Paul did save a lot of things for other people. You know, during that time going to Gila required a lot of gasoline, so she would have to get a lot of coupons. She and her sister would travel, and it isn't particularly safe for a woman to be driving in the dark. So one of them would wear a cowboy hat and be sitting next to the sister who was driving. But she would ask us, "What do you need?" And she would get those things for us, and it was just, it was really (wonderful).

SY: That's wonderful. Yeah, so the wonderful things that come out of every situation.

YN: Yes.

SY: And I'm afraid we're going to have to end, Yosh, but thank you so much. That's a very lovely way to end this interview. I just wish, I wish we had more time.

YN: Well, I could tell you a lot more about my career.

SY: I'm sure, and I'm dying to hear.

YN: Because it's very rewarding, and I feel like I have lived maybe two or three lives, because as a citizen, as an artist, as a teacher, as an administrator.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.