Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ben Tonooka Interview
Narrator: Ben Tonooka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 6, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-tben-01-0024

<Begin Segment 24>

MN: Let's go back into camp again. When you graduated from Denson High School, tell me what that graduation ceremony was like.

BT: You know, I really don't remember, but they had the whole thing. I still have the program, in fact. But it just didn't feel right. But Fresno Unified School District took care of that.

MN: So you graduated in 1943, you were first graduating class of Denson High, and that year is also the year the government issued the so-called "loyalty questionnaire." Was this an issue with you?

BT: No. Just, just another formality, I guess.

MN: Did anyone in your family answer question twenty-seven, twenty-eight as "no-no"?

BT: Well, I think my second sister did, 'cause she was married, she married a Kibei. So they ended up in Tule Lake.

MN: So at this time, did you ever hear your mother talking about returning to Japan?

BT: No.

MN: What did you think about your sister, your second sister going to Tule Lake?

BT: I, it didn't bother me. I guess she kind of sort of expected that. The Kibeis, they're pretty strong-minded. But he was a real nice guy; he wasn't an agitator or anything like that.

MN: Let me ask you some more lighter questions, about the dances at Jerome. What kind of dances did Jerome have?

BT: Usually some clubs would put on a dance and invite other clubs, this and that. And some of the clubs were what they called stag and stagette, single -- you could come without a partner -- and the others were couples only. They had some couples only's.

MN: So you had this group called the Olympic Club at Fresno Assembly Center. Did you form the same club at Jerome?

BT: Yes.

MN: And what did the Olympic Club do?

BT: Yeah, we had, we had socials. We would invite some girls club, and in return the girls club would invite us. So there was at least one dance a month going on.

MN: What did the Olympic Club do, other than organize the, have the socials with the girls clubs?

BT: That's about it, and the sports. Of course, I couldn't, I only played one season of basketball and then I couldn't play anymore after that, but... yeah.

MN: Now, you also started collecting records in camp. Can you share with us, like, what sort of records you bought, where did you order them from, and how many did you have by the end of the time you left camp?

BT: Yeah, they're all big band. And we'd order through mail, mail order, so, or if you knew somebody that went out, like after the "loyalty questionnaire," if you answered "yes-yes," they allowed you to go out. And some people would go out just for the weekend to Little Rock, and you asked them to pick up some stuff.

MN: Who were your favorite big bands?

BT: My favorite at that time was Glenn Miller. Yeah. But his life was cut short. He was, he was in the Army Air Force, and he had a band, and then flying from England to France, he never made it to France. They don't know what happened. They assume that the plane went down into the water.

MN: So how many records did you have by the end of the time you left Jerome?

BT: I had about a hundred. I had a nice collection.

MN: Did you say had? Do you still have your records?

BT: No. What happened was they quit making the record player for the 78 records, and mine broke, so after a couple of years I figured what's the use of having this. So I went to a place where they sold used records, see if they wanted some. Says, "No," he says, "no one's buying 'em." So I went home and I threw 'em out. [Laughs] And then, wouldn't you know, that one or two years later they start making replica of these phonographs. Oh boy.

MN: Okay, Manzanar was known for this live band called the Jive Bombers. What sort of live bands did Jerome have?

BT: Yeah, they had -- I don't know what the name was, Denson, Denson something -- they had a band.

MN: Eleven? Denson Eleven, does that sound right?

BT: Could be. [Laughs]

MN: Now, you continued to take photographs at Jerome. Where did you get the camera?

BT: I don't know whose camera I used, but I always had one available, if I wanted to use it, in Jerome and Gila. And I thought for a while that it was my brother-in-law's camera, and then my sister says no, he had a different type of camera. So I don't know whose camera it is.

MN: Where did you get your film developed?

BT: Yeah, they, it's all whatchamacallit, through the mail. You mail it out and... but one time, in Jerome, a friend of ours was an x-ray technician, so on the weekend we used that darkroom to make prints and stuff.

MN: Now, in February, on February 1, 1944, you received a notice that you were reclassified as 1-A from the military and that you were now eligible for the draft and you were to report for your physical in June 1944. Can you share with us this experience you had?

BT: Yeah, well let's see, we had to catch a bus to Little Rock. That's where they had the physicals. But I got motion sickness going from Jerome to the, to the bus stop. You know, the bus in camp was a truck with a tarp over it and benches inside, and you get the smoke coming in, into the, under the canvas there, and I just got sick. I think that kind of helped me get rejected. [Laughs]

MN: Did you actually throw up?

BT: Yeah. But I felt okay when I got to Little Rock, but I guess I still had the heart problem, which turned out to be a heart murmur. So going through the physical, when I came to the section where they check your heart, I guess they heard something funny, so they made me lay down on the gurney for about ten, fifteen minutes to make me relax. And they checked me again, then when I got to the end they says I was rejected. [Laughs]

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.