Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mary Schroeder Interview
Narrator: Mary Schroeder
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: February 8, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-smary_2-01-0006

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TI: I now want to switch gears and talk about Gordon Hirabayashi. You mentioned earlier how you've been at maybe an event or conference where Gordon is there, and I just want to get your impressions of Gordon, what you thought of him.

MS: Oh, well, my goodness. Gordon Hirabayashi was a man of enormous energy, and he was, I think, fueled by his beliefs and by his real... it's hard to describe it because he was, to me, he's the only truly heroic person that I had ever known. Because he was so courageous, and he stood up to so much power, and his defiance of government actions that he thought were wrong. And I have enormous admiration for someone who can do that. And he did it and he was proud of it, and he was proud of it from the day that he did it until the day that he died. And you have to admire someone like that. And he was right, absolutely right.

TI: And when did you come to that feeling about Gordon? Was it something that you read or was it just reading his case or was it meeting him?

MS: Well, I think what really brought it home to me was when I spent an evening with him. And he told some stories about his life, and he explained that he had been in Seattle when the Supreme Court decided his case against him. And then he knew that he would have to go to prison. Well, the problem was that the government didn't have any way to get him down to Arizona to service his sentence, because it was the middle of the war and there were no trains and there were no trucks and there was no transportation. And so Gordon Hirabayashi hitchhiked from Seattle to Tucson, Arizona, and I just thought that was remarkable because he wanted so badly to serve out his sentence and to know that he had stood up against injustice and had paid the price. And that was real nobility to me, real courage. I thought that that was quite remarkable. And then later I saw him when they dedicated that site of that prison as a rest area on Mount Lemon in Tucson and they named it after Gordon Hirabayashi. And he was there, and it was just a wonderful moment for him because it was absolute vindication. Can you imagine having the place where you served a prison sentence named after you? What more recognition could you ask for?

TI: I'm trying to, in some ways, I'm thinking of his life, and wanted to present it in a way for students to understand. And so in terms of his life arc, when you look at his life when he was younger, before 1942, the way I would describe him is just this really good kid. Bright, popular, people liked him, hardworking, involved with the church, the YMCA. And you mentioned his conviction. His principles didn't allow him to do what essentially every other Japanese American did.

MS: That's right.

TI: And he was essentially, took a stand. And how it changed his life, in some ways, it made it hard. I mean, he lost all the way to the Supreme Court, he then was convicted of draft resistance because he didn't do that. So his life became hard because of those things. But as you said, he never gave up hope. He just felt so strongly...

MS: No. I think he believed in the American system more than anybody else. And he stuck to that belief. When you imagine how young he was and how new these issues were, that he was twenty-two and decided that he simply was not to go along and not going to do what everybody else was doing. And I think sometimes we think that Korematsu and Hirabayashi were somehow in cahoots or something, but Gordon was in Seattle and Fred Korematsu was in San Francisco and this was a totally individual decision to stand up to the strongest authority in the world, which was the United States military. It's just mind boggling that he would do that and he would stick to it and he would believe that he was right all the way to Supreme Court and beyond.

TI: But also his confidence that the government would do the right thing. It was interesting, when I was interviewing him and talking with him, and when he decided to... when I think it was Peter Irons, or I can't remember which lawyer approached Gordon, like, "Okay, so we want to do this coram nobis and do this," and Gordon's response was, "I've been waiting for you guys." It's just like, "I knew this was gonna happen, what too you guys so long?" and he was raring to go. And when you mentioned his confidence, they just clicked. When he said that, that all along he just believed that this was going to happen, and extraordinary that he would do that.

MS: That's right.

TI: And then for him to be willing to go out there and talk about it, it's been a very powerful thing for the community. This weekend they're having a conference at Seattle University talking about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coram nobis cases. And I noticed you're going to be a speaker there. Can you tell me a little bit about what you're going to be talking about?

MS: Well, I think my theme is really what Gordon Hirabayashi taught me about courage. And I think I'm going to talk a little bit about my experiences with him and what it meant to my family to learn from me about what he went through and what he stood for. And I think I'm going to review the contributions that I think he has made in terms of being a standard bearer, a role model for all Americans, and really having the courage of their convictions. And he was, I think that that's the main theme, because he's influenced not only me, but he's influenced my family, and he's influenced all of my law clerks who worked with me. In fact, when Gordon died, lots of people that I know sent me copies of his obituary with little notes. And one of them I will read is on the letterhead of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who was my law clerk at one point, sent me a copy of the obituary and said that, "All of (your) law clerks believe that this is one of the most important if not the most important opinion that you have written." And I thought -- and I will say on Saturday -- that I just think of how overwhelmed Gordon Hirabayashi would be to think that the person in the Cabinet most responsible for our nation's internal security is well aware on a personal level of his story and believes in what he did. I think it's just remarkable.

TI: That's extraordinary.

MS: So there are ripples that will go on through history from stories like this.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.