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

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Today is Monday, February 6, 2012. We will be interviewing Ben Yukio Tonooka at the Centenary United Methodist Church. Tani Ikeda is on the video, and I will be interviewing. My name is Martha Nakagawa. So Ben, let's start with your father's name.

BT: My father's name is Kazuichi.

MN: Which town and prefecture was your father from?

BT: Fukawa, Hiroshima.

MN: Now, can you share a little bit about your father's early years, such as what year he came to the United States, how old was he, and where did he land?

BT: Yeah. He landed in San Francisco in 1904. He was seventeen years old. And then on his passport it says that he had an uncle in Fowler, but I don't know, I can't verify that. So he ended up in Fowler.

MN: And then I guess he must've earned enough, and then he went back to Japan for a bride?

BT: Yes. That part, I can't find any information when he went back to Japan, but yeah, he married my mother in 1919.

MN: So let me ask a little bit about your mother. What is her name?

BT: Chiyoko Sasaki.

MN: And which town and prefecture is your mother from?

BT: Kure, K-U-R-E, Hiroshima.

MN: And then when did your mother and father come back to the United States?

BT: Yeah, 1919.

MN: Do you remember what ship they were on?

BT: No.

MN: And where did they land?

BT: San Francisco. They left from Yokohama, I remember that. But I don't remember the name of the ship.

MN: Shinyo Maru.

BT: Hmm?

MN: Shinyo Maru. Does that sound right?

BT: It's some kind of "maru." [Laughs]

MN: Did they have to go through Angel Island?

BT: No.

MN: Now, once they landed in San Francisco, where did they go?

BT: They went, as far as I know, they went straight to Fowler.

MN: And what did they do in Fowler?

BT: My father was a farm laborer, and they stayed in a boarding house.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, in total, how many children did your parents have?

BT: There was five of us.

MN: I'm gonna go down the list and name them and say where they were born, and tell me if I'm wrong, okay? First born is Kazue May, born in 1920 in Parlier. Kazumi June, born 1922 in Fowler, you were next, Ben Yukio, 1924, and born in Fowler, Henry Noboru, born 1930 in North Fresno, and Harley Masaru, born 1932 in North Fresno.

BT: Correct.

MN: Were they all delivered by a sambasan?

BT: Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

MN: Now, what is your birth name?

BT: What?

MN: Your birth name.

BT: My, my birth name? It was Ben Yukio.

MN: So your parents gave you an English name when you were born?

BT: Yes, but my father forgot to put it on the birth certificate, so on my birth certificate it just has Yukio on there.

MN: Then how do you know your parents wanted to name you Ben?

BT: I asked my mother. But I grew up thinking that maybe some Caucasian farmers couldn't pronounce my Japanese name so they gave it to me, and that's... and then, I don't know, about twenty-five years ago or so, when my mother came to live with me, I was, I mentioned this. "Oh," he says, "your father must've forgot to put it on the..." [laughs]

MN: But they wanted to name you Ben at the very beginning, it sounds like.

BT: Yes.

MN: Now, your two older siblings, when they were born were they also given an American name?

BT: No. They gave it to themselves later on. But my two younger brothers were named Henry Noboru and, yeah.

MN: So by the third child they started to give both a Japanese and an English name.

BT: Yes.

MN: Now, what is the first language that you learned?

BT: English.

MN: How did you communicate with your parents?

BT: Yeah, that's, that's a good question. 'Cause, you know, we spoke English, except of course when we speak to our parents, then you had to throw in some Japanese. Yeah.

MN: So somehow you communicated with each other.

BT: Yes.

MN: When you were born your mother got sick. Can you tell us what happened, and who took care of you?

BT: Yes, this is something I just found out when my mother died. My sister was, started telling me about all the background. And when I was born my mother contracted diphtheria, I think it was, and she couldn't take care of me. So the lady at the boarding house took care of me, and fed me canned, canned milk.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Now, how old were you when your father decided to move the family to North Fresno?

BT: Yeah, I could never find out. My sister didn't know either. I would assume I was about two or three.

MN: Why did your father move the family to North Fresno?

BT: I guess he wanted to have his own farm, ranch. He wanted to start a strawberry farm.

MN: So among the Japanese Americans, what was North Fresno referred to as?

BT: In the Japanese community it was known as, well, in Japanese it's Ichigohomen. It's "strawberry." Most of the farmers were known for strawberry in North Fresno.

MN: How about West Fresno?

BT: West Fresno was known as Yasaihomen, vegetables. They were truck farmers up that way.

MN: Now, when you were in North Fresno, how many different farms did you live in?

BT: North Fresno, three.

MN: In your, at the first farm, can you share with us this incident where you almost drowned?

BT: Yeah. I really don't have any recollection about that, but my sister, it's definitely in her mind. I was chasing frogs and I slipped into this open pit that had water in there. Yeah, and my sister couldn't reach me, so she had to run out in the farm and get my mother, and with a rake or a hoe she was able to reach me and pull me out.

MN: Now, you mentioned you lived in three different, on three different farms in North Fresno. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Henry Noboru was born on the second farm and then Harley Masaru was born on the third farm. Is that --

BT: Correct.

MN: Did you have indoor plumbing on these farms?

BT: I don't remember the first two, but the third one, no. But I'm pretty sure they're all no plumbing in the house, yeah.

MN: So what did you use for toilet paper?

BT: [Laughs] Yeah, it's either newspaper or Sears catalog.

MN: Did you or your younger siblings ever fall into the whole in the outhouse?

BT: Fall. No, no. [Laughs]

MN: Now, when you were growing up, do you remember your father making his own shochu?

BT: Yes, because I know one of my sister's duties was to cap the bottles. But he was, he was known for drinking.

MN: Now, when you started school in North Fresno, how did you get to school?

BT: Bicycle. My sisters had a bicycle, and I would get a ride with them.

MN: What memories do you have of school in North Fresno? For example, what was the ethnic makeup of your school?

BT: You know, I really don't remember, but I think it was mostly either white or Japanese.

MN: When you became old enough to ride a bicycle, who taught you how to ride?

BT: My father. He just sat me on the bike and gave me a big shove, and it was up to me to stay up. [Laughs]

MN: I guess you fell a couple of times?

BT: Oh yeah.

MN: Now, do you recall going to Hiroshima kenjinkai picnics when you were living in North Fresno?

BT: Yes. Yeah, that's something that you always look forward to.

MN: I know you were really young, but do you know where those picnics were held at?

BT: It was, there's two parks in Fresno. One was Roeding Park, and the other one was, I believe it was Kearney Park. It was, so the picnic was usually at one of those two places.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Now, shortly after Harley Masaru was born, your father got sick. What happened?

BT: He contracted pneumonia. And then he, he was hospitalized and he passed away at the hospital.

MN: Where was he hospitalized? Was this a white hospital or a Japanese hospital?

BT: It was a Japanese hospital.

MN: Did you ever visit him at the hospital?

BT: No. It just, after he passed away, then they called the whole family up there.

MN: How old were you when your father passed away?

BT: Eight and a half.

MN: Did you understand what happened to your father? Did you understand death at that time?

BT: I don't think so. You know, I know it, it didn't really hit me hard 'cause, like later on, when the rest of my family starts passing away, it was more hurtful, but when my father died... yeah, I don't remember too much, but it's just part of life, I guess. It just...

MN: What memories do you have of the funeral?

BT: The only part I remember is that after the funeral they take photographs at the step of the Fresno Buddhist Temple. That's about the only thing.

MN: And what happened to your father's remains?

BT: He was cremated, and it's in Fresno.

MN: So your father just passed away, your mother just gave birth to Harley Masaru, and there are four other young kids in the family. What did your mother do?

BT: Well, right after my father died, she had a sister up in Newcastle and so we went there. We lived there for about five months, and then, of course, my uncle, he didn't want, he couldn't take care of a widow with five kids, so they thought it was best that we return to Fresno. So we moved into town.

MN: So when you were living with your aunt and uncle in Newcastle, did you continue school there?

BT: Yes. Although we lived in Newcastle, we went to school in a little town called Loomis. A bus would come by and pick us up.

MN: How far was the school from Newcastle to Loomis, and where was your aunt and uncle's house?

BT: You know, I don't remember how far it was, but yeah, my uncle had a ranch, orchard, and it was in a hilly area, so his house was on top of the hill. So to catch the bus we'd have to walk down, that part wasn't too bad, but coming back up we had to climb up that side.

MN: And then your father died on January 10, 1933, which is, that's your mother's birthday, right?

BT: It's, yeah, her thirty-first birthday.

MN: So from January, you went to school in Loomis?

BT: Yes.

MN: And did you finish the school year at Loomis?

BT: Yes, when the school ended, for the summer, we moved into Fresno. But the Fresno school was still going on, so they put us into school, I think for three more weeks, I think it was.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: And then you moved into Fresno, the town of Fresno.

BT: Town of Fresno, yes.

MN: How did your mother find a place to live there?

BT: I think it was all family friends that took care of her.

MN: What was this new place of living like? Was it an apartment house?

BT: Yeah, the first house was more, all I remember, it was more like a shack. It was just one square building, and I don't know how many rooms it had, but very possible we all slept in the same room. But I remember that house was really small.

MN: Were you able to make friends in the neighborhood?

BT: Yeah, right, about half a block, there was a family there, had about six kids. And one of 'em was my age, and we became good friends.

MN: Was this a Japanese American family?

BT: Yes.

MN: How did your mother support the family? She has this baby that's less than one year old, four other young kids, how can she go to work?

BT: Yeah, she, of course, she didn't work for about a year or so, until Harley got a little bit bigger. But she depended a lot on my oldest sister. Yeah, so she kind of looked after the family while my mother went to work. Of course, we were in school too.

MN: Did your mother ever mention wanting to return to Japan at this time?

BT: No, she never mentioned it. I don't think she wanted to go back.

MN: Did your family ever have to go dumpster diving for food?

BT: No, it never got that bad. We had county aid. They gave us some food and stuff, provisions.

MN: Can you share with us what kind of food you got?

BT: The only thing that I remember was this, some kind of pancake mix that we always got. And I just grew to hate that. And also always had a supply of apricot jam, so those two things that, well, apricot jam I still don't care for, but the pancakes I learned to enjoy. Yeah.

MN: But later on, I mean, are these the same kind of pancakes that you remembered when you were, as a child?

BT: No, I can't remember what the name of the, the mix, the batter was, but it wasn't like what we have now. It was more coarse.

MN: Now, the Japanese American community, especially at that time, were very, very reluctant to receive any kind of assistance. Did your mother ever share with you how she felt during that time?

BT: No. She, I guess she felt we were too small to understand. But, yeah, I know that it must've been very difficult, and I know that she always stressed on us to do right 'cause people are watching us because we don't have a father. Thinking back, that was a lot of pressure putting on the young kids, but that's the way we grew up.

MN: Now, when you were about ten or eleven years old, you had this incident where you complained about the food. Can you share what lessons you learned at that time?

BT: Yeah, I really don't remember what led into it, but I remember she chased me out of the house. And I'm pretty sure it was I made some bad remarks about the food, I guess, and here she is trying her best to put food on the table, and me complaining. So I never complained about food after that. [Laughs] Even to this day.

MN: Now, when your family no longer received the county aid with the, getting pancakes, what did your mother start serving at home?

BT: You know, I don't remember. But she made, like cooking mostly vegetables and maybe some, throw some meat in there wherever, but I know she'd, these cans, she used a lot of this canned corned beef, which I liked. She made good, good food. I don't know why I complained that time, but, but, yeah.

MN: Did anyone in your area make fresh tofu?

BT: There was a tofu shop in J-Town, yeah. So every so often we would go there, pick some up, so we had fresh tofu then. It's not packaged like it is now. You usually bought three cakes, and I remember they'd put it in a cigarette carton. Three of 'em just fit perfectly in there, yeah. So we ate, we ate pretty, quite a bit of tofu and tempura.

MN: So you had to save those empty cigarette cartons?

BT: No, the tofu maker, he had a supply of those. I don't know where he got 'em, but, yeah.

MN: So about a year later or so, your mother started working. Can you share with us how she managed, well, what she did, and how did she manage with the younger kids around?

BT: Yeah, well, like my two older sisters and myself, we were independent, take care of each other, but my two younger brothers, my mother would take 'em out in the field. And like when they, when she's working out in the vineyard there, she would put my two brothers in a large, what they call a sweatbox, and put 'em in there. And she'd do the work, and going up the road, the vines, and then when she comes back she would see if the kids needed something, changing diaper or whatever. So she did that for some time.

MN: Was she able to keep up with everybody else?

BT: Oh yeah. That's one thing, she would never fall back. She, she kept up with all the men. There were some other ladies too, working out there, but it's mostly men.

MN: Sounds like a very hard life. Did your mother get sick a lot?

BT: No. I don't remember her getting sick. She wasn't a big lady. Well, she was tall for an Issei, a little over five feet, but she was slim. But I guess she was pretty strong.

MN: So your mother's doing the backbreaking farm work all day. Who did all the cooking and the washing the clothes?

BT: Yeah, I think my older sister done a lot of that, especially washing the clothes. And then, of course, cooking, at dinnertime my mother usually, I think, did it. But yeah, my oldest sister, she was sort of a second mother. She looked after us and stuff like that.

MN: So once your mother started to, started work, you moved from Eunice to Ivy Avenue. What was this house like?

BT: It was a, it was an old house, but at least it had two bedrooms. Well, my two sisters had the one bedroom, and the other bedroom was a large one where my mother and my two brothers and myself, we slept in there.

MN: Can you share with us a little story about how you played with the little empty thread spools?

BT: Yeah. [Laughs] The front room started to sag. In other words, the floor wasn't level anymore. So we used to get these empty spools and go to the high end of the floor and let it roll down. We'd have races with it. We made our own games.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now I'm gonna ask a little bit about your school situation. When you first moved into Fresno town, what was your school situation like? I think you mentioned already that you, you finished a school semester in Loomis, then you moved into Fresno town, and then did you continue school there?

BT: Yes. Like I said, well, we moved into town, the school was still going on, so they registered us, about three weeks. The name of the place was Lincoln Grammar School.

MN: And what was the ethnic makeup like at Lincoln Grammar School?

BT: Lincoln Grammar School, let's see, it was regular. You know, the whites and Hispanics and Asians. I only remember one black girl that was in our class, but I don't think there was too many blacks in the grammar school. In the high school there was.

MN: Why weren't there too many blacks in your grammar school?

BT: They must've had another grammar school in the area where they lived. Yeah, because, but like when we went to high school, I think majority of, majority of the blacks in Fresno went to the same school that I did, Edison High School. That school was mostly minorities, blacks, Hispanics, and of course, whites. But like the Japanese American and Chinese American, if they wanted to, if they knew they wanted to go to college or have better education, when they went into tenth grade they were allowed to transfer. They went to Fresno High School, which is a top school in Fresno.

MN: Going back to Lincoln, can you share with us your sixth grade teacher, Mr. Hal, is it Bicknell?

BT: Bicknell, uh-huh.

MN: Some of the things he got you involved in?

BT: Yeah. One of the things that, we used to have, I forgot what they called 'em, but the cross, a crosswalk on the street there, at beginning of school and then the lunch period we would direct traffic so the kids are safe. And so he made me a, one of the patrol. And also he, let's see, he let me run the projector, slide projector at the programs, yeah. I really appreciated him. He looked after me. And he was a scoutmaster, so he wanted me to join Boy Scouts. In fact, he lent me the Boy Scout manual and all this stuff. We couldn't afford the uniform and so, but Mr. Bicknell says, "Well, we can work something out." My mother didn't want that, so I wasn't able to join the Boy Scouts.

MN: Did Mr. Bicknell know that you didn't have a father?

BT: Yes. I think that's why he gave me so much responsibility and stuff.

MN: Now, going back to -- I think, I don't know what you call it, it's a traffic monitor? Did you have a uniform?

BT: We had a, just a strap, and then our hat. Yeah. In fact, that hat allowed us to go to a movie Saturday mornings. All the patrol kids in all the schools, they take your hat, the patrol hat, you were allowed to go to this Saturday morning movie for, that was made for kids, you know. So at least I got to see some movie, then. [Laughs]

MN: So you got some perks out of that.

BT: Yeah.

MN: What about Japanese school? Where did you go to Japanese school, and how many days a week did you go?

BT: The Japanese school was at the Buddhist temple, and we went five, five days a week. After our regular school we'd run over to the Japanese school.

MN: This is the Fresno Buddhist Temple, right?

BT: Yes.

MN: How strict were the teachers at Japanese school? What did they do for punishment?

BT: Well, they had different things, but the one that sticks in my mind is that this one teacher, if you got out of line or talked too much, he made you stand next to your desk, then he'd say, "Stick out your tongue," and he would drop a piece of chalk on it and then made you stand there. [Laughs] Yeah.

MN: How long did you last at this Japanese school?

BT: I just went a couple of years. Yeah, and my mother knew I was ditching class, and she really couldn't afford, that's wasting money to... so she finally, in the, I think, third year, she let me quit. But, of course, now I regret it. [Laughs] But at that time, playing was the top priority.

MN: Did you enroll in judo or kendo classes?

BT: No, I wanted to join the judo. A friend of mine, his brother was the instructor. But my mother said no, she says I'm too weak, that I'll break my bones, this and that. Yeah, so I missed out on a lot of that stuff, but I, as I grew older I realized why I wasn't able to go. She just couldn't afford these extra things. Of course, when you're small you don't understand that.

MN: How about on Sundays, did your family attend church regularly?

BT: For a while we did, but later on we didn't.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: So now, going back to your schooling, you were going to Lincoln Grammar School, and then you said you went to Edison, which was both... share with us what Edison was like.

BT: Yeah, on this, on the campus they had, the both, had both the junior high and high school. And the junior high school, most of the classes were held in the bungalows. Yeah.

MN: And then you said the junior high also, a lot of minorities were there, minority students.

BT: Uh-huh.

MN: Now, how did you get to school?

BT: Early on, we just walked. And then in, let's see, I guess around junior year, when I got a bicycle, I would ride the bicycle.

MN: What did you do for lunch?

BT: Sometimes I'd have to go home, or my sister would pack a lunch. Or if we had a little extra change, there used to be two or three hamburger stands right on the campus there, and it's open during the lunch time, so we would buy lunch there. It's like sandwiches for ten cents, potato chip was five cents, and a drink was five cents. So if you had twenty cents you had a full lunch. And if you had a quarter, you had ice cream with it too. [Laughs]

MN: How often were you able to afford something like that?

BT: Not too much. In fact, I guess around junior year I started to, by then I had a paper route, and summertime I went picking grapes, stuff like that.

MN: Now, at school, what was your favorite subject?

BT: I used to like math, but I didn't, I went up to algebra and that's it. But I think my favorite was mechanical drawing. Yeah, I really liked that.

MN: And you must've been pretty good because, can you share the story of what you were allowed to design for the school?

BT: Oh. When the school, they built an addition and they also had an auditorium there, and so the principal wanted someone to design shelving to store the instruments. So the teacher gave me the assignment, and so I drew up the plan for, tuba goes here and saxophone goes here, this and that. And then, so I gave it to the instructor when I finished. He says, "Oh, that looks good." He says, "Take it to the principal." So I took it to the principal and he looked at it, he says, "How do you spell cello?" I had C-H-E-L-L-O. [Laughs] So he didn't say whether the plan was good or not, but he really pointed out that I misspelled the word cello. So I took it back to the teacher, and the teacher says, "Oh yeah, that's, that's not spelled right." He missed it the first time. Yeah.

MN: What about your oldest sister, did she attend Edison High?

BT: Yes, except, let's see, I think senior year she went doing, what do you call that, schoolgirl? She stayed with a Caucasian family to help around the house. So she went to Fresno High School that senior year.

MN: And you mentioned Fresno High School was the top high school.

BT: Well, there's two, Fresno High School and Roosevelt High School, they were two top. And in fact, Roosevelt High School was, it was known for being a white, white kids over there, yeah. There was two Japanese families there, but rest were all white. And Fresno High School was a little bit more, accepted all different, but they were pretty strict too. They, I think it was on, like, they allowed so many blacks or so many Hispanic or like that. But they're, those two were good schools. Like Edison was, being all minority, their credit rating wasn't too good. So if you wanted to go to college, it was best to go to Fresno High School.

MN: Now, you mentioned Roosevelt High School and the two Japanese American families that were going there, but at that time, can you share the story of, they weren't considered Japanese, right?

BT: No. The story went that there were two Chinese families that went to Roosevelt High School, and the rest were white. But just, well, I say recently, but a few years ago I met this lady that, at the Japanese American National Museum, and she went to Roosevelt High School. I said, "Oh wow." I says, "I thought it was Chinese families." Says, "No." I says, "We understood there was two Chinese families." "No." She says that it was her family and another family that was a pharmacist, they had a drug store, so they were the two, what we thought were Chinese families. They, turned out to be they were Japanese families.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now, let me ask you a little bit about your free time and what sort of games you played. Like when you first moved into Fresno town, you're making new friends, what sort of games did you play?

BT: We just made up games. And one of the things was we made what we called a rubber gun. We'd kind of cut out a form of a gun, and we would get, like the inner tube of a car tire, and we would cut it into strips and use that as ammunition. And we would fire that at each other. [Laughs] But it was a lot of fun, but you got to watch it so you don't hit anybody in the face.

MN: Now, the guns, these rubber guns, were they made out of wood or cardboard?

BT: Wood. Wood. And then we used the clothespin to hold a, the rubber. When you shoot it you just press the clothespin and it releases the rubber. Yeah. And we had another one, when I think back on it, like in the springtime when the grasses are growing in the vacant lot, we used to grab a handful of that grass and we would throw it at each other. We'd get all, all that dirt on us. [Laughs] That's what we did.

MN: Your poor mother. Your, I guess your sister had to clean the, wash your clothes, huh?

BT: [Laughs] Yeah.

MN: What about, like roller skates, did you have roller skates?

BT: Yes. We used to skate out in the street, yeah. And then I had a friend there that, he made, he took his wheels off the skate and made a skate with only two wheels on there. So I made one too, and that was pretty, it was kind of fun. At first it was hard to, hard to stand on there because there's nothing to balance you. But I think we were ahead of the game. Nowadays they have the, what do you call those, inline skate or something like that.

MN: As a child, did you ever get any brand new store bought toys?

BT: No. I think, let's see, my mother bought me a brand new bicycle. I think I was a junior in high school, and that was the first time I had anything new, you know. I've had some toys, used toys given to us, but a new one was just a luxury. That's something we couldn't afford.

MN: How old were you when you got this brand new bicycle?

BT: I think I was a junior in high school, so I'd be about sixteen or seventeen.

MN: How did you feel when you got this bicycle?

BT: I mean, I was so proud. I mean, that, you would never find a speck of dirt on that bicycle. I just kept polishing it, this and that. Yeah, I really took good care of it.

MN: So it's like getting a brand new car.

BT: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, in those days not too many kids had cars. They're all bicycles.

MN: Now, what about when you got older, what kind of things did you do? You were talking about a crystal set. What is that?

BT: Yeah, it's a, it's a little like a radio. The only thing is you don't have tubes and things, you just have a little rock and have a little wire, what we call whiskers. And you would find different positions -- and we had a headpiece, you know -- and you'd try to find stations. You usually got about two stations out of it. Maybe if you were lucky you got three stations. Course, then we had to have a large antenna, so I ran a wire from our house to the garage for my antenna.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Then later on you got into photography. Can you share with us how you first got your camera?

BT: Yeah. The first camera I got was, my sister's husband to be, he was from Hawaii, he came over here to marry my sister and he gave me one camera. It was a little, like a toy, but I mean, it was a big thing for me. I guess that's the first, that was the first new toy I had, yeah, that camera. I forgot about that. And then later on I got another one where you went to the grocery store, and when you bought something you, they punched a, punched the amount you spent on a card, and when you completed the card you could turn it in for some prizes. And I got a camera with that. Nothing fancy, it was just, but for a kid that has nothing, I mean, it was a big thing. Yeah.

MN: What kind of photos did you take?

BT: Just of friends, you know. I didn't really go out taking a lot of pictures because I couldn't afford the film all the time.

MN: Now, were you able to process your own film?

BT: Yes. I bought a little kit, what they called a junior, Kodak junior darkroom kit, which just had three little trays to mix your chemicals and a little glass frame to hold your negative and paper to make prints. So I didn't have, I didn't have an enlarger or any of that fancy stuff, just, it was just a Mickey Mouse thing. But I enjoyed it.

MN: Where was your darkroom?

BT: This house, we had a basement. Yeah, so I would hang blankets -- it really wasn't a darkroom, there was a lot of light coming in. But as long as I got an image on the paper, I mean, I was happy. Yeah.

MN: So what happened to all these photos you took before the war?

BT: I don't know what happened. It, that's the sad part, you know? You don't think about those things. But I must've thrown 'em all away.

MN: Now, you mentioned you couldn't afford the film and so you didn't take too many photos, but by now, how were you able to afford some of this equipment and the kit?

BT: Yeah, like I said, I had a paper route, delivering paper.

MN: What kind of paper, newspaper were you delivering?

BT: It was a San Francisco paper. I don't remember if it was the Chronicle or the Examiner, but it was a big paper. Yeah, and we delivered on a bicycle.

MN: Was it seven days?

BT: Seven days. Seven days.

MN: How early in the morning did you have to start?

BT: Let's see, if I remember correctly, we got to the distributor place around, I think around 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, because we had to fold the papers so we can throw 'em.

MN: So how many customers did you have on average?

BT: I had about forty-five, fifty at the most. Yeah. The Sunday paper, I mean, it was so heavy. I couldn't -- 'cause we carried a paper in a bag that we put over our shoulder, but it was so heavy I couldn't do it. I had to make a rack on the back of my bicycle. Yeah, so it worked out.

MN: Now, were a lot of the delivery boys Japanese Americans?

BT: Not, not where I... in fact, I don't think, only other Japanese American delivered paper was for the Japanese paper. I forgot what name it was. Might've been Hokubei or something.

MN: Now, how much did you get paid a month?

BT: I got paid ten dollars a month, and if we didn't get any complaint we got another dollar. And if we collected from all the customers by the fifteenth, we got another dollar. So it was up to us. Twelve dollars was a lot of money. [Laughs]

MN: So you did you get twelve dollars most of the months, all of the months?

BT: Yes.

MN: Who were your customers?

BT: It was, they're, I think they were all white. It was around the better class area.

MN: There was this cafe you talked about where you had to slip a newspaper under the door.

BT: Yes, there was a little cafe there that, people steal newspapers, so I had to take the paper apart and stick, section by section, stick it under the door. That took time.

MN: Did you do that for their Sunday paper also?

BT: You know, I think... yes. I'm trying to think, it might've been just the Sunday paper that they took.

MN: So do they give you, did this cafe owner or your other customers give you tips for delivering papers?

BT: No, never got tipped. I think in those days I don't think they gave tips.

MN: Were you delivering the paper on your new bicycle?

BT: Uh-huh.

MN: I'm gonna change the subject now. I'm gonna ask you about this phonograph that your family had. Can you share a little bit about how your family got this phonograph?

BT: Yes. Someone gave my sister a phonograph. It was this old one where you wind it up with a crank. [Laughs] It was a Counsel model, but it was just a phonograph on top, and we were able to use a -- they had cactus needle instead, well, they had steel needles also, but I guess the cactus needle was cheaper. So of course, they wore out faster too. We, I know my sister used both the metal one and the cactus needle. They call it cactus needle, but I don't think, I don't think it was taken off the cactus plant. But it was wood.

MN: What kind of records did you play on this phonograph?

BT: Gee, I don't remember 'cause I wasn't really into music then. Yeah, 'cause that was early on, when I was about, I'd say ten or eleven years old.

MN: But did they play Japanese records or American records?

BT: American records.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Now, I wanted to ask you about your good friends Roy and Elmer Rush. Can you give us a little bit about their background?

BT: Well, their parents came from Germany, and they lived about half a block from where I lived. And Roy was a year a younger than me, and Elmer was a year older than me. I was right in between. But Roy and I, we buddied around all the time.

MN: Did you go over their house, and did they come over to your house?

BT: Yeah. It was both. So if I wasn't home I was usually at his place, and vice versa.

MN: Did you ever envy the fact that they had a father and you didn't?

BT: No, that, that never bothered me.

MN: Did you share your foods from your different backgrounds?

BT: What do you mean?

MN: Did he eat gohan at your place and did you eat German food at his place?

BT: No, I never ate at his place. Yeah, we had, at home we had just Japanese food.

MN: Did he ever try any Japanese food?

BT: Yeah, one New Year's we had some octopus, so I gave him a piece and he kept chewin' on it, chewin' on it, chewin' on it. And he couldn't swallow, so I told him, "Look," I says, "throw it out if you don't want it." [Laughs]

MN: So what was the favorite hobby between you and Roy?

BT: The what?

MN: Hobby.

BT: Hobby? We used to make model airplanes. Yeah, that took up a lot of our time. It was a lot of fun.

MN: How do you make model airplanes? Do you buy a kit?

BT: We'd buy a kit, and it has the, you had to make it, assemble it. It's made out of balsa wood, and you, it makes out a frame, and you'd put, you'd glue paper on the frame that you made. They used to call it silk paper. And once you got the, all the paper, you would sprinkle it with water, and when it dried the paper would shrink, so that strengthened the whole structure.

MN: You talked about one, this model you made where the propeller, after it spun it around, it would fold in. Who came up with that idea?

BT: I don't know. It was, everybody did that. Yeah, that, because when you're flying these model airplanes the power is to get the plane as high as you can and try to catch a thermal or a... then the rest of the time it would glide. So by having the propeller fold back you have less resistance. So you, because the, I guess the object of it was to stay up as long as you can.

MN: Did you have any gas powered model airplanes?

BT: Yes. I wasn't too successful at that, but yeah, I had a gas powered...

MN: What do you mean you weren't too successful?

BT: I never, well, I only made, I think, two, two or three, and it never flew right. It would go up and it would come down, that's it. But I had better luck with the, what we call rubber powered. We used strands of rubber and wind it up, and that turned the propeller. I had better luck with that.

MN: I would think, like, the gas powered one would be easier to fly, but I guess I'm wrong.

BT: Well, I guess it's probably the way you make the plane too. So, well, mine never worked out, anyway. [Laughs]

MN: Now, where in Fresno did you go out to fly these airplanes?

BT: There's a lot of open fields in Fresno. Like one of our favorite places where we went to fly, just among ourselves, now Fresno State College has taken up a lot of that land, and now in Fresno you have homes all the way to the county line. Before it was all open field out there.


MN: I want you to brag a little bit, and I want you to share with us the model airplane contest that you entered in the summer of 1941, just before the war started.

BT: Yeah. That was a very proud moment for me. We had a model airplane contest, it was held at the Fresno County Fairgrounds, and it has three events, like the fuselage model and a stick, what they call a stick model, and hand glider. And two of the events, I took first place. In the third one I took second place. The overall, the overall time, the person that took second to my first, and the first the one I took second, he had better overall time, so he took the first place in the overall and I came in second on that.

MN: When you say overall time, are you talking about how long the plane was in the air?

BT: Yes. The moment you let it go and the moment it hits the ground.

MN: What category did you place second in?

BT: Pardon?

MN: Which category?

BT: It's the, what we call the hand launch glider. It's made out of solid balsa wood, and you would just throw it to the wind and hope, hoping that you catch a nice updraft.

MN: So do you think the guy who took first place was just lucky to catch a good updraft?

BT: Well, yeah, that's, it... once you let the plane go, it's out of your hand. It's, if the plane doesn't, if there's no updraft or thermal where the plane goes, then you're out of luck. You'll just come down.

MN: Were there a lot of Japanese American boys who were in this hobby?

BT: Oh yes.

MN: So you got the, you got two first place ribbons and a, one second place ribbon. Did you go home and show your mother?

BT: I don't know if I showed it to her or not.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: I'm gonna go back a little bit. So by the late 1930s your mother's life is stabilizing, the kids are getting a little older, and she might have a little bit more time. Did your mother take you out to, like the Hiroshima kenjinkai picnics?

BT: We went to a few, but not to all of them, 'cause... let's see, yeah, the later years, my brother in law, he had a car, so we were able to get around a little better after that.

MN: Do you remember what kind of obento your mother used to pack?

BT: Well, it's usually, you cook wieners or some pieces of meat, and make musubi, that was, yeah. Even nowadays I enjoy that kind of stuff. [Laughs]

MN: How about Oshogatsu, did your family celebrate Oshogatsu?

BT: In the later years, I'd say maybe two, three years before the war.

MN: What was the spread like?

BT: My mother was a good cook. Yeah, she had all these, the Japanese vegetables and stuff. I just enjoyed that. But then the first day, New Year's Day, we weren't supposed to touch it. That was for the okyakusan people. The second day we got, got to eat some of the stuff, and if there's anything left the third day, we just ate everything up.

MN: How about mochitsuki?

BT: We didn't participate in that. I remember, I think first few years we, when we went to Fresno town, this one family used to do it, so we went there a couple of years, yeah.

MN: Now, I know your mother wasn't a Christian, but did you observe Christmas?

BT: No. The first Christmas party that I've been to was in the year my father died, 1933. When we moved into town, there was a Salvation Army there and a Japanese was the head of it, and he invited us. So that was the first Christmas party we had. That was nice.

MN: Now, did the Buddhist, Fresno Buddhist Church do anything during Christmas?

BT: Yes, they used to have some program for the kids, and I think they gave out candies.

MN: What about the Fourth of July, what did you do?

BT: Well, if we were lucky enough to get firecrackers, in those days there wasn't that much restriction. But I take that back, Fresno you couldn't buy it. We had to go out of the county line, so we'd go to Madera and we'd buy some. Yeah, we couldn't buy too many anyway, but just to have some, make some noise, it was exciting.

MN: Did you ever get injured playing with firecrackers?

BT: I didn't get injured, but I remember I had one firecracker left over and I had one of these cap pistols, so I thought I'd stick it in the barrel, stick a firecracker in the barrel and see what happens. It blew the gun apart. [Laughs]

MN: Now, you mentioned earlier that the last two summers before the war broke out you went grape picking. What was that experience like?

BT: I don't know how my mother did it, but that's hard work. It's, you're out there in a hundred degree weather, and you just have to keep moving. Some people used to go early in the morning, when the sun is just breaking, and then quit around two o'clock, it got so hot.

MN: You know, I know how hot it is in Fresno. I can't imagine working out there.

BT: Yeah.

MN: Was it, do people faint out there?

BT: They're, I guess, acclimated to that condition. There were a few Filipino grape pickers, and they dressed differently. We dressed cool, just, maybe just a shirt. But they would put a jacket on or, and a scarf. And we asked 'em, "Man, it's hot." I said, "Why you dressing that way?" Well, you, actually, when you're wearing, like, a jacket and stuff, it insulates, so it keeps the heat out. So it works, I guess, but of course, we never followed that pattern, but that's how these, couple of Filipino guys were doing.

MN: Now, your mother worked in vineyards. Did she work there all year round?

BT: No. Well, working in a vineyard, I'd say, about eight or nine months out of the year. There's different things you do all season. But when there was nothing to do in the vineyard, she'd go out, maybe picking strawberries or peaches, and my sister worked in a packing house, stuff like that.

MN: Two years before the war broke out your mother found another job. Can you share with us what she did?

BT: Yes. The foreman that used to take my mother out to the ranch decided to quit because he had a chance to buy a restaurant in the J-Town there, so, and he took my mother with him. And my mother, she never, at that time, not too much English there, so when the customer would order something they would point to what they want and all the items are numbered. So she would holler the number out. Instead of saying, "Ham and eggs," they say, "Number two." So she got by on that.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Let me get into the war years now. What were you doing on Sunday, December 7, 1941?

BT: I was at my friend's place, Japanese American, and then with my German friends. We were shooting basketball in the backyard. And we're having a good time, then his brother come running out of the house and says, "Japan bombed Pearl Harbor." Well, we looked at each other and says, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" Says, "It's in Hawaii." We say, "Oh, okay." So we went back playing basketball. It didn't, we didn't think it, we weren't concerned.

MN: I guess by then you're playing basketball, so you finished your newspaper route that morning?

BT: Yeah. Newspaper, I usually finished by seven o'clock.

MN: So after Pearl Harbor, did any of your newspaper customers give you a bad time?

BT: Not really. Except this one man, he had a mom and pop grocery store. When he saw me coming in he says, "Oh, you want your money, huh?" He says, and he reached under the counter and pulled out a, this Sunday pictorial section, and it had a caricature of Tojo on there. So he said, "Here, you can have this." I just froze. I didn't know what to do or say. Then he says, "Oh no." He says, he took it back, said he, he paid for the paper. That's the only incident that I had.

MN: How long were you with the paper after Pearl Harbor?

BT: Not too long. About two or three weeks later the distributor called me in the office and says, "People don't want Japanese to deliver a paper, so I have to let you go."

MN: How did you feel when you heard that?

BT: I don't know. I don't know why, but I didn't take it personally. I said, "Oh, okay." I went home. But as it turned out, I would've had to quit anyway, because the martial law came in right after that.

MN: But then before that you got another job.

BT: Yeah, for a short while there, I think just one or two months. I, this guy gave me his Japanese paper paper route, so I think I had that for about two months. Then the martial law came in, so we couldn't go out anyway.

MN: You're talking about the curfew and the travel restriction?

BT: Yes. We had to be in our house from eight p.m. to six a.m., I think it was. And if you have to travel more than five miles from your home to a job, you had to get an okay from the army.

MN: You had this, I guess a little bit of a joke with your friends, about when you knew the eight p.m. curfew was coming along, when you were listening to the radio?

BT: Yeah, we'd be standing out on the sidewalk talking, this and that, and we always, Fred Waring's program came on the air at eight o'clock, so when we hear his theme song we say uh-oh. So we jump over the fence and get into the yard, made a joke out of it, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Now, going back to right after Pearl Harbor, what was school like on Monday?

BT: Right after Pearl Harbor, yeah, the principal called an assembly, and I think it was to listen to President Roosevelt's speech. That's when he declared war. And the principal says, "Okay," said, "let us all stand." And we sang some kind of song. Anyway, he says, "Everybody hold hands with your neighbors." Well, I'm sitting there, there's no one sitting on either side of me, so I felt a little, I don't know, out of place or whatever you call it. Yeah.

MN: Now, during this program, did the principal say anything about Japanese Americans?

BT: I don't really remember. I don't think so. It's just more... he might've said something 'cause there's a lot of Japanese Americans at the school.

MN: Your twelfth grade English teacher gave you a hard time after Pearl Harbor. Can you share with us what happened?

BT: Yes. She gave me an incomplete on a report card, and so I couldn't imagine why, so I went up to the teacher and I says, "How come you gave me an incomplete?" So she pulled out her ledger, notebook, and says, "Oh, it says you were supposed to turn in two book reports, but you only turned in one." I says, "Well, that's true, but you said if we made a book report on a biography it'd count as two. And I wrote a book report on Abraham Lincoln." So she checks her book again, says, "Oh yeah, you're right." Says, "Well," she says, "you're doing A work, but I don't like your attitude, so I'm gonna give you a B." So I just turned around, kind of smiling to myself, because I've never done A work in English. I've always gotten a B in English, so I know she was just trying to get on my nerves. She was a kind of odd teacher. I remember one time... we were in the flight path of the airport, and the Army Air Corps was using our airport to practice. They'd do landing and taking off, this and that. And one time when we were in this English class a bunch of planes start flying over, and there was two white kids that was sittin' on the opposite end of the room. They both jump up and said, and running toward the window and said, "The Japs are coming, the Japs are coming." The teacher didn't respond at all. She just kept doing what she was doing.

MN: How did you feel when you saw that?

BT: Pardon?

MN: How did that make you feel?

BT: Yeah, that kind of hurt, for a teacher not to say anything. These two were kind of rowdy kids. They were nice guys, but they were on the rowdy side. But they were out of line right there.

MN: Just out of curiosity, why did you do a book report on Abraham Lincoln?

BT: I only wanted to do one book report. [Laughs]

MN: No special reason why.

BT: No special reason.

MN: Okay. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, did you hear of anybody being picked up by the FBI?

BT: Yeah, one of my friends, his father had a restaurant, but he was picked up. He was, I don't know for what reason. And this kid that we ran around with, he said, "Man," he says, "here I am buying these stamps --" what did they call the stamps now? It's like a, like a war bond, but you buy stamps and you fill in a book, and then when you fill up the book you turn it in for a war bond. He says, "I've been buying all these here. Now," he says, "I'm not buying anymore, being treated this way."

MN: Now, at first the government didn't make the entire state of California a military exclusion zone for Japanese Americans, so did Fresno fall into the initial free zone, or the white zone?

BT: No, we were actually the border. See, at first the army said two hundred fifty miles in, in from the coastline, so then they picked up the 99 Highway as the border. So any town east of 99 Highway, they were in what they called the white zone. But like in Fresno, the 99 Highway ran right in the middle of it, so we weren't affected. We were not considered white zone. Even if you lived on the east side of 99, because it, Fresno, they took everybody.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Now, how did you learn that you had to go into a camp?

BT: Yeah, they had these signs posted on telephone poles. And of course, that was big, big news there, so everybody was talking about it.

MN: How did you feel when you learned you had to go into camp?

BT: You know, it's, it's kind of a strange thing. To me, it says, well, if the president says we have to do this, we'll do it, you know? Because we were raised as being, to respect our elders or our superiors, so you don't question these people. So to me it was a natural thing. The president says you're going to camp, I says, "Oh, okay. We'll go into camp."

MN: How did your family prepare to go into camp?

BT: Well, we didn't have too much material or things, but what we had, a friend of ours had a house with a large cellar, so he allowed us to put our things in there with his things, and then he locked that up for the duration of the war. So at least we were able to save what little we had.

MN: So when you came back, were your items still there?

BT: Of course, my sister, most of the stuff was there, but then when she walked into the house she noticed that the lady of the house was using her baby crib. At first the lady denied it was my sister's. She said she went out and bought it, but my sister insisted, "No, that's mine." So later that lady admitted and gave it to my sister. We were lucky compared to a lot of other people.

MN: When you had to leave for camp, what was the most treasured item you had to leave behind?

BT: It would be my bicycle and cameras. And I gave it to my friend Roy, the German kid. Yeah, and then when we were leaving he gave me one of his track medals. He was on the track team, doing shot put and discus. He always came in second place. The one that always beat him out was a Japanese American that was going to Fresno High School.

MN: Do you still have this medal?

BT: No, I lost it right after I came to L.A. In those days we used to have a keychain hanging from our belt loop, and I had the medal on there, and I must've caught it on the streetcar, in the chair, because after I got off the streetcar that evening, that's when I noticed I was missing the medal.

MN: Now, before you entered the Fresno Assembly Center, you visited the Pinedale Assembly Center. What were the circumstances around this?

BT: Okay, Pinedale's the other assembly center in Fresno. A friend of mine, his mother was a professional midwife, and evidently they had volunteered to go into Pinedale to, you know. So the last load, they, the family had gone ahead and my friend, he took the last load in his car. And he wanted me to bring the car back, so I went with him. And when we approached the gate, he told 'em that I'm here to take the car back. Says, "Well, you know, once you come inside a camp you can't leave." And that really shook me up, so my friend says, "No, don't worry. He's kidding you." So I turned the car around and went back home, put it in the garage, locked it up for him. Yeah.

MN: How, yeah, just out of curiosity, how did they know that you weren't supposed to be in Pinedale?

BT: My friend told the MP that I'm there just to bring him in and, "He's gonna take the car back." I don't think people were, I don't think Pinedale was filled up at that time, but they, because his mother went there preparing... we called that advanced crew. They go in to prepare the camp.

MN: Do you think your friend's car was still there in the garage after the war?

BT: Yeah. It's funny, though, we didn't, I seen him once after we returned to the West Coast, and he said everything was okay.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Now, your family, do you remember what day or month you left to go into camp?

BT: It was in May, middle of May.

MN: And which assembly center were you supposed to report to?

BT: Fresno Assembly Center. It was the Fresno County Fairgrounds.

MN: What was your reaction to seeing the soldiers there?

BT: The soldiers? I had no reaction to anything.

MN: Now, you're entering this, I mean, just a few months earlier it was the Fresno County Fairgrounds, you won first places in the model airplane contest, and now it 's a different circumstance.

BT: Yeah.

MN: How did you feel about going in there now?

BT: It's funny, but I didn't have too much negative feeling one way or the other, you know. But when you're in camp, then you see all your buddies there. It's, that, I think, made it easier. Yeah, 'cause...

MN: What was your new address?

BT: The what?

MN: Your new address.

BT: What was it? We, I know we were in Block I. I don't remember now. I think it's, I, Block I, Barrack 8. Barrack 8, yeah, and then unit one, I think.

MN: What were your living conditions like at Fresno?

BT: Assembly center?

MN: Uh-huh.

BT: It was, it was pretty bad, because the barrack, it was, they knew it was just a temporary barrack, so they didn't put much thought into it. We didn't have any flooring. The barracks was built right on top of the asphalt, and so that was our flooring. And then the wall that separated the units, they used cheap lumber, so there was cracks all over the place and there were knotholes, and the lumber didn't go all the way up to the roof. It stopped at the ceiling level, and there was no ceiling in there, so it was, it was just a big gap at the top. And then the, with all the cracks, cracks and knotholes, we used to take newspaper or toilet paper and plug up all these. But, well, you cut out the peeking, peeking holes, but you still, there was no privacy because you can hear everything. So it was kind of, that was a downer.

MN: Now, you mentioned that the flooring was just asphalt. What happened when it was really hot during the summer?

BT: Oh boy, that smell was terrible. Yeah. And especially if you dropped water on the hot asphalt, it smelled that much worse. And then our, the legs on our bed would sink into the asphalt, so it was... when we moved to Jerome it was like going to a five star place, compared to the assembly center.

MN: What did you use for a mattress?

BT: They would give us a big sack, like a, canvas like, and then we had to go out in the field and fill it up with hay, and that was our mattress. It was really uncomfortable. I think the straw, just poking. But eventually, as you rolled around in it, after a couple of months it squashed down, it wasn't too bad. But then we had to go back out in the field and dump the old straw out and put new straw in, and so we start all over again.

MN: You know, some people started to get allergies from the hay and the straw. Did you have that problem?

BT: Well, I don't know if that started it or not, but I developed hay fever moving into Jerome. But then, Fresno Assembly Center, it didn't affect me.

MN: How many people lived in your unit, your little unit?

BT: In the Fresno Assembly Center my whole family was in one unit. So there were, let's see, well, there was, my sister was married and she had a daughter, so that's three, and my other sister, that's four, and then three of us, seven, eight people.

MN: Sounds like it was pretty crowded.

BT: Well, it was crowded in a way. In a, but then, we didn't have any furniture in there, you know. It was just the beds.

MN: What was the food like at Fresno Assembly Center?

BT: The food was okay. A lot of people complained about the food, but it, if you're used to having ham and eggs every morning and steak in the evening, then you would complain. But that's, that's one time it was good to be poor. You didn't know this luxury stuff, so whatever they gave us, it was good.

MN: Now, down here in Santa Anita Assembly Center, they ate their foods off of these tin plates with partitions. What kind of plates did you get at Fresno?

BT: If I remember correctly, we got, we had regular dishes.

MN: You mean like one big dish?

BT: Everything would be piled onto one, I don't know, I guess it was about a ten or eleven inch dish, yeah.

MN: Now, can you share with us why you're confined at the Fresno Assembly Center, but then across the street there's Japanese Americans working out there?

BT: Yeah. Well, they were actually in the white zone. They were in this little farming town like Sanger. They were in the white zone, so they didn't have to go in at the beginning. But after the army had us settled down, they pulled everybody in, in California anyway.

MN: So these people, farmers, living in the white zone, could they come and visit the Fresno Assembly Center?

BT: They could not approach the camp site on the side, but they could come into the visitor center. Yeah, that's the only way they were able to.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Now, you're a teenager, what were some of the first things that you started to do with your friends?

BT: Well, we all formed clubs. Even the girls, they formed clubs. And we would participate in sports. Then they also started the dance class so that, they did everything they could to keep us busy.

MN: You and your friends started this club called Olympic Club. How did that start, and what did you guys do?

BT: Well, it just, we hung out together, you know. And then we formed a baseball team, basketball team, and we would play against other kind of teams.

MN: Who came up with the name Olympic?

BT: I don't know. It, I forgot who mentioned it, but we thought it, we thought it was clever.

MN: Now, Fresno Assembly Center had Kenichi Zenimura, the baseball player and manager, and his two sons. Were they like celebrity in the assembly center?

BT: Not celebrity, but Mr. Zenimura was really respected 'cause he was Mr. Baseball. Yeah.

MN: Did you personally know the Zenimura family before the war?

BT: No. I didn't associate with them, but I knew of them, yeah.

MN: Now, did Mr. Zenimura, like, hold any workshops for the young kids on how to play baseball at the Fresno Assembly Center?

BT: Yeah. Well, like baseball, we would have three different leagues, A, B and C, and A being the top players and C would be guys like me. So he would come out once in a while and help us out, yeah. So I remember that one time he came out and he pitched to us, so I go up there and he struck me out on three pitches. [Laughs] Yeah.

MN: Did he give you any pointers?

BT: Not really. But he, he spent more time with the A team, because I think we were a bunch of losers, you know. He had, he had all these good players in the A league.

MN: What about his two sons, did they play with you guys?

BT: They were, they were on the A team. They were really good. Yeah, they were good.

MN: What were they like?

BT: The two brothers' personality was different. Kenso was more serious type, the older boy. And then Kenshi, the younger one, he was more happy go lucky type, and he was a natural athlete. He was built like an athlete. He was slim and tall. So they were both good.

MN: Now let's see, your first job at Fresno Assembly Center, what did you do?

BT: I think the first job was, someone approached my friend to start a model airplane club, building model airplanes, so he asked me to help him out. I said, "Oh sure, okay." So my first job was assistant, assistant model airplane instructor, something like that. But that didn't last too long because, I don't know if it was lack of interest or lack of able to get supplies, so I think it only lasted about two months.

MN: What was your second job?

BT: My second job was in a mess hall and cleaning tables. And I had a funny incident. Seemed like nobody ate the heel of the bread, every table had just the heel left, so I started throwing them away. Then I felt like someone was staring at me, so I turned around and this guy was lookin' at me, giving me a dirty look, you know. He says, "Don't throw those away." I said, "Well, nobody eats it." He says, "Well, we use it for something else." I said, "Oh, okay."

MN: Now, when you ate at the mess hall, who did you eat with?

BT: My friends. This is, this is one of the sad things that happened in the camp, is that it broke up the family structure because we no longer needed our parents, you know. We know when the, time to eat. So at first we used to eat with our family and then later on we started eating with our friends, so we really lost contact. That was a sad part.

MN: I want to ask you about the latrine situation at Fresno. It was all public, and what was it like to use the restroom in front of everybody?

BT: Yeah. There was no, no privacy whatsoever.


BT: The restroom in Fresno Assembly Center was very interesting. It was a combination between an outhouse and modern plumbing. We had, like a bench, and it had six holes in it, three on one side and three on the other, and so when you had to use the bathroom, there you are. And the interesting part was, the way they flushed it was, there was a five gallon tin can on one end of the, you want to, if you want to say it's a commode, and the water is constantly running into it, and once the can is full it tips over, and that's how you flush the toilet. Now, if you were sittin' on the end you had to be a little careful because that water'll come down and it hits the end of the bench there and it splashes up, so if you don't jump up you're gonna get wet.

MN: Did you ever have that problem?

BT: No, no. I, you learn fast, you know. [Laughs]

MN: Now, did you ever have any visitors while you were confined at the Fresno Assembly Center?

BT: Visitors? No. They were allowed visitors, to come in the front section, but no, we didn't have any visitors.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Now, you mentioned earlier about the dance classes, and I wanted to ask you about these. Were these American or Japanese dance classes?

BT: American dance, yeah.

MN: Like ballroom dancing?

BT: Yes.

MN: Where were these dance classes held?

BT: It was in a recreation hall. And I don't know if it was every Saturday or once a month, whatever, they'd have the street dancing, dance on the street. And the Issei are not used to this, so this, felt sorry for this one girl, the father got mad, he went over there and he yanked her off, out the, wherever they were dancing. It was kind of difficult.

MN: Now, you're learning how to dance, did you go to any of these dances?

BT: No, just the last dance. That was kind of embarrassing, but it, we were supposed to ask a date. I said, "Oh, I'll ask this certain girl." And when it came time, I couldn't talk. Yeah, all my friends were in the barrack, listening what's happening, and of course, I couldn't say, I couldn't, I was so bashful that I couldn't ask the girl for a date. So one of my friends felt sorry for me, so he comes out and says, "He just wants to ask you for a date, go dance." So that was an experience.

MN: I hope --

BT: She did say yes. [Laughs]

MN: Did you have a good time with her?

BT: I don't remember. I don't think so. I was so nervous. [Laughs] Yeah.

MN: Aside from playing basketball and baseball and working, how did you spend the rest of your free time?

BT: We just hung around, sometimes played cards. In those days, the Isseis, they're pretty strict. They didn't want the kids to gamble, so we, even playing the game of Hana, you had to do it so the Isseis won't catch you. They're pretty strict on that.

MN: What did your mother do at the assembly center?

BT: She worked in the mess hall.

MN: Now, were there any fights or rioting at the Fresno Assembly Center?

BT: Not that I know of. I know there was one incident where, I think the Pinedale, people in the Pinedale went to the, whatever camp they were assigned to, so some of the men in Fresno Assembly Center went over there to clean, clean up the mess. And there was one guy that, they felt, was a stool pigeon, kind of a, telling the Caucasians this and that, so they got hold of him and kind of worked him over.

MN: Now, the Fresno Assembly Center had people coming in from the Florin area?

BT: Yes.

MN: What kind of rumors went around about people from that area?

BT: Yeah, there's always talk, I guess. When you don't know, you make up stories or whatever. But they felt that these people from Florin or Elk Grove, what do you call them, lower caste people. Yeah, the way they treat them in Japan, they saw it the same way over here. That, something like that is kind of sad, but I guess it happened.

MN: Santa Anita Assembly Center had problems with gangs. Did the teenagers at the Fresno Assembly Center have problems with different gangs?

BT: Not that I'm aware of. Yeah, we got along pretty well together.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: So once the people at Fresno Assembly Center found out that you were gonna be shipped to Arkansas, what kind of rumors started to circulate that, what you had to get or buy?

BT: Well, one of the rumors was that the camp was built on a swampland, so the barracks were on stilts, above the water line, and also a lot of rattlesnakes. So they suggested that you buy boots, protect yourself. So we all bought boots, and when we arrived in Jerome, the barracks, they were not built on stilts, it was regular. But then the rattlesnake was true. Not within the campground, I think they, with all the commotion building the barracks, it, I think it chased all the rattlesnakes out. But there were a lot of rattlesnakes in the forest area.

MN: So how long were you at the Fresno Assembly Center?

BT: Five months. October, we left.

MN: October 1942?

BT: Yes.

MN: Do you remember what the train ride was like from Fresno to Arkansas?

BT: Yeah, it was terrible. It was, I think the trip was about five days. And we were in the train, very uncomfortable wooden seats, and no showers for five days. So it was pretty bad. We had this one lady that, she was a real outgoing person, so first couple of days she's singin' away, trying to keep the morale up for all the people. And about the third day she kind of started quieting down. She was starting to get motion sickness or whatever. But yeah, that was a, that was a bad situation.

MN: Did you get motion sickness?

BT: No.

MN: Now, you said about five days, you're not able to take a shower. Did you at least change your clothes?

BT: No, not that I remember.

MN: How, where did you sleep?

BT: Right on the chair that we were sitting on.

MN: So you had to sleep sitting up?

BT: Uh-huh.

MN: Did people get tired and just go into the aisles and sleep on the aisles?

BT: I think some of 'em did, yeah. We weren't allowed to go between cars, though, we had to stay within our car, 'cause they had a soldier on each end of the car.

MN: What was the atmosphere in the car like? You said there's one lady trying to keep up morale, but I mean, other than that, was it pretty relaxed, or was it tense?

BT: I think it was pretty relaxed. I think that it was worse for the Isseis. For one thing, they didn't know what was gonna happen. It had to be hard for them.

MN: Can you share with us what happened to the train when you stopped in Texas?

BT: Yeah, in El Paso, when we stopped there, we found out later that someone had written on the side of the car, "Only good Jap's a dead Jap."

MN: Did you have to keep the window shades down at all times, or just when you're going through a town?

BT: No, at all times.

MN: Your sister was pregnant at this time. Did she have a lot of problems on this trip?

BT: She didn't, she didn't mention anything, yeah. But I 'm sure it was pretty, it was uncomfortable for just normal people, but being pregnant, I mean, it must've really been bad.

MN: Now, when the train got into Arkansas, where did it stop?

BT: Stopped right in front of the camp. The railroad tracks ran right in front. Or, I should say, the camp was built right next to the railroad track.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: Was the camp already occupied by people when you arrived at Jerome?

BT: Yes. Half the camp was from Santa Anita, so they were there before we were. In fact, the blocks that we were assigned to were not turned over, back to the army. The contract was 'til the end of the day that we were there, so we couldn't go into our unit until five o'clock that evening.

MN: So what did you do?

BT: Well, we stood around, and there was a couple of Caucasian carpenters that was cleaning up, picking up the scrap and this and that. We got to talking to them, and that's the first time I heard so much hatred of another, to another person. These two carpenters, I mean, I don't know what brought the subject up, but they really talked about the black people. Said, they said they would just as soon shoot them as they would a mad dog, stuff like that. It was kind of hard, hard to comprehend what the, what goes through a mind, that kind of... you know, like they said when you're walking down the street and the black person's coming toward you, he had to step off the sidewalk, stuff like that. It's, you might hear about it, but when you really see what's going on, it's, it's something that you really can't imagine.

MN: How long do you think you were waiting out there?

BT: I think about half a day.

MN: So when you finally were able to get into this new barrack, was it complete?

BT: No. See, we had one of the better barracks in the camp 'cause we had drywall, what you call drywall. That's put up inside the unit. But it wasn't installed yet, so we had to wait 'til the camp carpenters came round and put the, put these up.

MN: So when you finally got in there, do you remember what your address was here?

BT: Yeah, Jerome was 41-7-C. And my sister was next door, so she was 41-7-D.

MN: So you're in Block 41, you had friends in Block 42. Who got into the last row of Block 43?

BT: What was that?

MN: What sort of people started to go into Block 43?

BT: Forty-three? Well, let's see, not Block 43... you're talking about the Hawaiians? Yeah, I think it was around November, November or December of '42 that the Hawaiians start to come in. And they were dressed like the Hawaiians dressed, the T-shirts and zoris, you know. They didn't have any warm clothes. So the people in the camp, they donated some clothes that they could afford, because there's no way you can spend the winter with shorts on. [Laughs]

MN: What did you think about the pidgin that these Hawaiians spoke?

BT: Yeah, it was kind of, in a way, I was a little bit used to it 'cause my brother in law was from Hawaii. But he, he spoke English with an accent, but he didn't talk that pidgin language. Yeah, but that was, pretty soon half the, seemed like half the people in camp was starting to talk like Hawaiians. You know how young kids, they copy.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: Okay, so once you got into Jerome, what were some of the first things you did with your friends?

BT: Well let's see, I don't know, we... we all lived in different blocks, so we got together at this friend's place in Block 42. Because they had a large family, so they had half of the barrack, and the large, the large unit, they had four boys, so we used that as a clubhouse. We met over there. Nothing to do, we just sat around, played cards.

MN: Now, you shared with us the latrine system at Fresno Assembly Center. What was Jerome like?

BT: Jerome was better. It had regular, regular commodes, but no partitions or anything. Yeah. It was kind of difficult for the ladies. They complained, so the, eventually the camp carpenter went around installing partitions for them. But no doors on the partition.

MN: Did your mother have problems with the, having to go in, using the public restroom? Did she ever complain to you?

BT: No, my mother never complained. My sister, later on, told me how difficult it was for her, because -- and a lot of the ladies, the older ladies, they just couldn't use the restroom just any time. Like my sister says she would wait 'til late in the evening where maybe there won't be much people or anybody there. And being pregnant, that was really bad.

MN: But I assume everybody waited until late in the evening.

BT: [Laughs] Well, I think the older ladies did.

MN: You shared about the water being different at Jerome also.

BT: Yeah, in Jerome, when we first went there and first couple of showers we took, seemed like we couldn't wash the soap off us. It was so, our body was, not slimy, but you know, and we couldn't figure out. And later on somebody told us, well, the water is soft. This is why it feels that way. So once you get used to it, it was okay, but it was a funny feeling.

MN: What was the food like at Jerome?

BT: It was okay. One thing, like, every camp had a ration, same ration. If you... and it depended on your head cook, how it was prepared. So you could, not everybody had the same type, they had the same ingredients maybe, but it was cooked in a different way. So if you had a good head cook in your block, you were lucky.

MN: Did your head cook, how did he cook the mutton stew?

BT: You know, I don't remember having mutton stew in Jerome. In Fresno Assembly Center we did, and oh, that could've caused some problems, because people couldn't stand the smell. Me, I complained with my friends, but here, I'm gobbling that food down 'cause I liked it. I like stew, for one thing, but the smell didn't bother me when I was eating it.

MN: The mutton was Fresno, not at Jerome, huh?

BT: Yeah. I don't know if other camps had it in their camp, but I don't remember in Jerome.

MN: Now, at Jerome, were they strict about which mess hall you had to eat at?

BT: Oh yeah, definitely. Because each mess hall was given a ration for how many people was in your block, so if you ate at another mess hall you're eating somebody else's food. In fact, for a while there I was having lunch in Block 42. I thought why should I go to, when I can eat over here, I'd think. But after about, I don't know, fourth, fifth, five times, they came up to me and says, "Don't come back anymore." [Laughs] Yeah.

MN: I've heard of people catching the rattlesnakes out there and eating them. Did you do that?

BT: No. My brother-in-law ate the, somebody brought the rattlesnake to the mess hall and they had someone... yeah. It, they said that it tastes like chicken. I don't know. Everything seems like it tastes like chicken.

MN: What was your first job at Jerome?

BT: I think it was in the hospital warehouse. We had to, well, when the supplies came in we had to take it off the truck and set it aside, or if they needed more beds in the hospital ward, we had to set 'em up.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MN: Now, you were also hospitalized at Jerome. What happened?

BT: Yeah. [Laughs] I don't know, I must've overdid it or something, because, like before the war, I wasn't too much into sports. I was just making model airplanes and whatever. And then when you went in camp, I mean, you're constantly playing this and that, so I must've overworked myself. One night I woke up and I couldn't breathe, so I woke my mother up and next thing I knew, I was gettin' into the hospital bed. But when I finally woke up, my sister said I was out for about two days. Yeah. I don't know if they sedated me or what, but anyway, and then the doctor said that I had an enlarged heart. That's what it was.

MN: So how long were you in the hospital?

BT: I think it was about a week. Ten days at the most.

MN: Did your family come to visit you?

BT: Yes.

MN: How far was the hospital from your barrack?

BT: It was sort of, let's see, I don't think it was a mile, but it was kind of on the, opposite of our, where we, where we were staying, Block 41. Yeah, I think maybe half a mile.

MN: So I imagine that when you first woke up that night, you didn't walk over to the hospital. Do you know how you got to the hospital?

BT: I don't remember. My sister doesn't remember, so the only thing I could figure out is that my brother-in-law was able to get an ambulance and they came and picked me up. 'Cause it's, there's no other way I could've gotten to the hospital.

MN: Now, the nurses and the doctors, were they Japanese Americans or were they Caucasians?

BT: No, they were Japanese American. See, in all the departments in the camp, the head person was Caucasian and the rest of it was one of the inmates. So the head doctor, head nurse was a Caucasian, but under them were Japanese American doctors.

MN: Do you remember your doctor's name?

BT: No.

MN: So the doctor tells you you have an enlarged heart. When you got out of the hospital, how did you feel?

BT: I felt okay, but I was restricted. I couldn't participate in sports anymore and I couldn't do any heavy lifting. So I got a job in the garage as a parts, parts department.

MN: Now, when you talk about this job in the parts department, before you got there, I guess they have interaction with the white army soldiers?

BT: Yes. When the soldiers, they needed parts for their vehicle, they would come into the camp and get parts from our garage.

MN: And what were these soldiers like?

BT: The soldiers, the one I had contact with, he signed his name with an X. Yeah, he didn't know how to write. But before I got the job there, one of the mechanics was tellin' me that this one soldier that came out to the parts, about the third time he came in to pick up parts, he told this mechanic, says, "You know," he says, "you guys are alright." He says the only Japanese he knew was in the propaganda and the comic book, where all Japanese were short, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and buck teeth. But he says, "You guys are alright," he says. Says he's gonna write home to the people, let 'em know. I don't know if he did or not, but, so it's like anything else, I guess. If you don't know, then you have imagination. Once you get to know someone, understand the situation, it's different.

MN: Let me go back to the army soldier that, and here's this Caucasian soldier signing his name with an X. How did you react to see an illiterate soldier?

BT: Yeah, well, I think there was a story going around that these soldiers that's protecting us, that they were, a lot of 'em were illiterates. In other words, they didn't really fit into the regular army code or whatever you want to call it. So yeah, when the guy signed with an X, he kind of surprised me, but after he left I told the mechanic, "You know," I says, "this guy signed with an X?" So he said, "Well, how did he sign the X, from left to right or right to left? 'Cause if he signed it right to left, that's a forgery, that's not his signature." [Laughs] So they made jokes out of all these kind of things.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MN: Let me ask about your schooling now. School didn't start immediately. When did school open in Jerome?

BT: I think it was first part of '43. And it, I was in the first graduating class, and the school was really primitive. None of the classes that I had had desks, just chairs, and there was just enough books to go around. So I think it got better as, probably the second year it got a little better.

MN: Who were your teachers?

BT: Yeah, let's see, I only had one certified teacher. My English teacher was a Caucasian, and she was a certified teacher. She was a nice lady, but she's really, really strict. But then my other classes, like my economic class, Ken Nakaoka, who graduated UCLA with economics, he volunteered to become a teacher. He taught economics. So this is how it went. A lot of the people that had gone to college, even though they didn't have a teaching credential, they volunteered to be teachers.

MN: Now, at Edison, mechanical drawing was one of your favorite classes. Did they offer this at Jerome?

BT: Yeah, they had it in Jerome, but we didn't have the proper tools. So it was just a matter of puttin' time in, I guess, 'cause I don't remember ever making a drawing. We might, I had a, what do you call those angle, forms? They had that, the basic thing, like a T square and the, I can't think of the name of the patterns to make curves and stuff.

MN: Like a compass?

BT: Well, they had compass, and a plastic, plastic, they have, like, curves and things. And then they also have different angles. Some are ninety degrees, seventy-five. They had those things, but they didn't have the proper ink pen for the drawing, so everything was with pencil.

MN: So this school that you're going to, was it called Jerome High School?

BT: No, Denson High School. I think Denson was the county name.

MN: How would you compare the education that you got at Denson High School to Edison?

BT: I don't know if you can really compare 'cause it's a different situation. I know my English teacher, she was good. She was good. In fact, the final test that she gave us, only two students passed. The rest of us failed that test. And it so happened that the two students that passed it were from Hawaii. I don't know if it means that they have better school there, but anyway, but that teacher, she was so surprised. But then she was nice enough to give us another test.

MN: Did Denson High organize a prom, and did you go?

BT: They had a prom, but no, I didn't go. It's, that was one of the sore points of this incarceration, is that you weren't really able to graduate with your friends. Like being in the first graduating class, it was a big class, but they're all strangers. I might've known the people by the name, but they weren't friends. So that was kind of a bad situation.

MN: So what year did you graduate from Denson High?

BT: '43.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MN: What was the, when you received your diploma, was it from Denson High School or from Edison High School?

BT: It was Denson High School. The Denson High School, they contacted Edison to try to get diplomas for us, but it never happened. I don't know if they tried with all the other schools, but I know for a fact that they tried Edison because I have a copy of the letter.

MN: How did you feel about not getting a diploma from Edison?

BT: Yeah, like I said, that, that part kind of hurt. But that was, let's see, as the years went by, this is kind of fast-forwarding, but in 1990 the Fresno Unified School District had a graduation program for everybody that graduated high school in camp. So that was nice.

MN: Well let's talk about that, since you sort of fast forwarded. [Laughs] And tell me, how did this 1990 ceremony come about? It didn't start in 1990?

BT: No, what happened was in 1988 the class of '43, Edison High School, had a reunion. I didn't go because I felt I don't know those people anymore. So anyway, at the reunion there was two Japanese American ladies that went, and with all the visiting and talking, this one former classmate named, her name was Phyllis, she says, "You know," says, "there's only two of you here, Japanese." She said, "There was more than that." So the Japanese, the Nisei reminded her of the evacuation, and this really bothered Phyllis.


BT: Anyway, so she went to the principal of Edison High School and told her this story, says, "It's not right, it's not their fault. And they graduated in the camp, so we should do something about it." So the principal told her, well, do what, see what you can do. So she got a hold of the vice principal of Fresno High School and told her, told him the same thing, and the vice principal says, "Yeah. You know," he says, "to make a mistake is one thing, and not to correct it is worse yet." So he took it upon himself to contact the Fresno Unified School District and told 'em that we deserve our graduation. So from there, he went to the state education department. They were all for it, said go for it. So they contacted as many people as they could, and in 1990 we had graduation. It was all the high schools. We had four high schools then, in Fresno, and so, but it was held in Edison High School. Then, kind of sad, but only about seventeen, seventeen people showed up.

MN: Seventeen out of a possible how many?

BT: I think it was about seventy-five or something like that. They also invited other students, non-Japanese, that didn't get a graduation because they went into service or like that, so we had a couple of them there too. That was, that was nice.

MN: But you almost didn't make it to this graduation either. You wouldn't have known about it.

BT: Yeah. I didn't get a notice on that, but my brother -- he was living in Fresno -- he called me up and said, "Hey, they're having a graduation," this and that. Said, "Oh," I says. So he gave me some phone numbers, so I called, I says, "I didn't get an invitation, but," I says, "I would like to go." Said, "Oh, sure. We were looking for people like you." So they signed me up. That was, that was really neat. Yeah.

MN: So you got to wear the cap and gown and walk, march up?

BT: Yeah, we had all that. We even had the color guard out there, and had the orchestra, had everything.

MN: So what was going through your mind as you were going through the ceremony?

BT: I don't know. I mean, I was feeling so good that this was happening. And one of the funny things is, we're sittin' there, I guess they must've had us in alphabetical order or something. Anyway, I don't know, once they start calling our names -- they had Kenso Zenimura call out the names because the Caucasians, they felt a little intimidated with the Japanese names. Anyway, so when we went up there they would announce our name. So they called me up, we'd get our diploma, come back, sit down, and the guy sitting next to me, he taps me on the shoulder, says, "You Ben Tonooka?" I says yeah. He was my best man at my first wedding. [Laughs] And I haven't seen him since, because he moved up north. That was, that was strange. And he, I don't know if he, he didn't really recognize me, but when Kenso called out my name, he was standing behind me when this happens, so when we sat down... touch old bases.

MN: You didn't recognize your best man. [Laughs]

BT: Yeah.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 25>

MN: Now, 1944, April, the Olympic Club, your club had a weenie bake.

BT: Yeah.

MN: What was that like?

BT: That was neat, yeah. See, we were lucky, in a sense, that there were, I think, four members of our club that work with the commissary, so then they had one group that went out to get perishables outside the camp. So whenever we needed something they would ask these guys to get it for us, so we were able to get wieners, and they had a drink called Par-T-Pak at that time -- nowadays we have two liter bottles, but before it was Par-T-Pak, and I don't think it was two liters. It was less than that. But anyway, yeah, that was great.

MN: Were you able to go outside of camp for the weenie bake?

BT: Yeah. We just, there was no fence in the back of the camp, so we just went out to the bayou. I don't know how far it was, might've been only about half a mile, maybe a mile at the most. We were carrying all these goodies. We had a great time. Couple of the guys swimmin' in the ditch over there, not in the bayou itself 'cause the bayou was pretty big, and not only that, there's not too many places where you can come out 'cause there's a lot of growth along the bank, and also there's water moccasins in the water.

MN: What about this big banquet the Olympic Club had?

BT: Yeah, we had a blowout. I think we had half a chicken apiece, all our members. It was, we figured we were all going a different direction, so our club, for a blowout, really, really had a good dinner.

MN: Did, so this banquet that you had, was it in the mess hall, or was that in your clubhouse?

BT: I think it was in the recreation hall. Yeah. You know, come to think about it, really, it might've been a vacant, vacant unit, because I have a photograph of that and I think it showed a white wall, and recreation hall didn't have a white wall inside.

MN: You folks had quite a feast at that banquet.

BT: Yeah. I was surprised myself that we were able to swing that. And they even had the cook cook our chicken for us.

MN: The cook must've had, got a couple of chickens himself too, then.

BT: I'm pretty sure, yeah.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

MN: Now, so Jerome is just about to close and you're having this banquet and the weenie bake, did you have an opportunity to go out sightseeing to other cities from Jerome before it closed?

BT: Yeah, friend of mine and I, we got a weekend pass and we went to Little Rock.

MN: Now, how did you get to Little Rock?

BT: Well, going, this commissary truck was going to Pine Bluff, which is thirty miles south of Little Rock, so we got a ride from them to Pine Bluff. Then we had a lunch there and we hopped on a bus and went to Little Rock. On the way back we came back on a train.

MN: Was it a segregated train?

BT: Yeah.

MN: Which side did you sit on?

BT: No, no, it was, the car, the car was all white.

MN: What did you do in Little Rock?

BT: We walked around, and then we came across a movie theater, and it was a movie that looked pretty interesting, so we went in. It was already started, so we sat down and watched it. And I forgot what movie was playing, but when the film finished, the lights went on and we looked around, we were in the black theater. Yeah, everybody was lookin' at us, wondering we were doing there, I guess. We, I mean, there was no hostility or anything. They were just curious what, what these two guys are doing.

MN: So Little Rock is a segregated city at that time.

BT: Yes.

MN: What facilities, did you use the white facilities or the black facilities?

BT: White. Yeah, because when they first started going out, the story goes that this one guy from the camp, he was in the department store in Little Rock and he wanted a drink of water, so he goes up to the water fountain, then he noticed one's painted black. So he's standing there looking at the white drinking fountain, the blacks' drinking fountain, he didn't know which one to drink from. So then somebody tapped him on the shoulder, says, "You drink out of the white one." So that, that story spread around camp, so we knew that they considered us white.

MN: So then where did you stay, what kind of hotel did you stay in?

BT: It was a, it was a real nice hotel. In fact, I think the camp arranged the, staying at the, I think the name of it was Lafayette, Lafayette Hotel. The building is still there, but it's not a hotel, used as a hotel anymore. It's more office.

MN: And then you mentioned you came back on a train to Jerome.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MN: Now, how did you learn that the Jerome camp was going to close? How did they make that announcement?

BT: It was in the, we had a paper. I think it was a weekly paper. Anyway, yeah, so...

MN: Did you know why they were closing Jerome at that time?

BT: No, not at that time, but again, fast-forwarding, I think it was 1992, we went down there to dedicate the monument at Jerome and Rohwer, and that's when I found out that they used Jerome as a prisoner of war camp for captured German soldiers.

MN: Once, the war is still going on, so they have to transfer you somewhere, were you given a choice of which camp you want to transfer to?

BT: Yes, and if they had an opening in that camp, then you were allowed to go there. So we went to Gila.

MN: How did you choose Gila?

BT: I wasn't in the decision making, but my sister and... anyway, but they were gonna go to Rohwer first, but then the rumor was that Rohwer's gonna close next, which didn't happen. But then Gila was more like Fresno, so I guess that's why we ended up there.

MN: How did you, when you moved to Gila, how did you ship your one hundred records?

BT: Yeah, well, I had made a wooden box to hold the records, and you packed the records so that they won't move around. So none of 'em broke.

MN: So on this transfer, the government did not limit how much luggage you could bring over?

BT: No, I think you were allowed to take whatever you had there. Yeah, so... well, I don't know if they allowed to take furniture or not.

MN: What was the train ride like from Jerome to Gila River?

BT: You know, I don't remember. I guess it was okay. There's nothing... and then we landed in Casa Grande, which is close to Gila.

MN: Do you remember what day or month you landed there?

BT: It was in June, but not the date, June of '44.

MN: What was your first impression or introduction to Gila River?

BT: Well, we had a good welcoming thing. At dinner, they had a sandstorm that day and it showed up in our dinner. You had beans and wieners and sand on that. [Laughs]

MN: Now, did your group from Jerome, were they able to live in the same block?

BT: You mean when they went to Gila?

MN: Uh-huh.

BT: Well, no. They, we were all in different blocks 'cause they, depends where the opening were. And we got, we got a nice unit. Someone that had that unit before us, I don't know where he got the lumber, but he made a partition inside so it separated the bedroom and the living room, so that was neat.

MN: Do you remember what this new address was, what block, what barrack?

BT: Let's see, it was 47-8-B or something like that.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

MN: Now, what sort of job did you find at Gila River?

BT: In the parts, the auto parts warehouse. And I was there for about two months, and the manager of the garage, the Nisei guy, says, he comes up to me, says, "Hey, you're in the wrong place. You're supposed to be at our place." So there was a kind of argument between him and my boss, the white manager, but I ended up in the garage, which was a better job. I was parts manager, so I didn't get my hands dirty.

MN: Now, while you were working there, you met Mr., is it Van Houtz?

BT: Van Houtz.

MN: Can you share a little bit about him?

BT: He was a big old Dutchman, real, real nice guy. Everybody got along with him. And in fact, one day when I was, had nothing to do, I was walkin' around in the garage, we start talking, making small talk, this and that, and then he said, he asked me, "How do you stand with the army?" I says, "Well, I'm 4-F. I have a heart condition." He says, "Oh?" He says he has a heart condition too, so bad that he has to sleep sitting up. Then a couple months later he comes up to me and says, "I'm going into town to see my heart doctor." He says, "I want you to come with me. I want him to check you out." So we went out, and his doctor checked me out, EKG and all that stuff. And it was okay, and I think that he even paid for the doctor 'cause I don't remember gettin' a bill from the doctor. Yeah, that's the kind of guy he was.

MN: Now, when you were working there also, did you and your coworkers have a chance to go out to Gila, explore places like Phoenix?

BT: Yeah. Like one day, one of the mechanics, he wanted to go to Phoenix, do some shopping, so he come up to me and says, "You think Van Houtz will let us go out?" "Well, we can ask." So when I asked him if we can get a day pass, and he said, "Well," he says, "I need somebody to pick some stuff up in Phoenix anyways, so you guys do it." He wanted us to pick up soda drink for the Caucasian coffee room or whatever it was. So the next day we just, we took the garage's panel truck and we went in that to Phoenix, and first thing we did was go pick up the soda water, four or five cases. Then we parked the truck and -- see, I just went along, I didn't have nothin' to shop, I didn't have any money. Anyway, so he says okay, he's gonna go shopping, says we meet back here at a certain time. So I, okay, so I just walk around, and there was a camera shop, so I went in the camera shop, lookin' around. And I bought some chemicals to process some... so when I got back I made me a light box to make prints, and I had my mother get me three soup bowls and that's what I used for the chemicals. So that was pretty neat.

MN: When you arrived at Gila, were the Zenimuras still there?

BT: The what?

MN: The Zenimura family.

BT: Yeah, they were still there.

MN: What was it like out there with the, they were so big with baseball, did they have a field?

BT: Yeah. In fact, the Zenimuras went straight from Fresno Assembly Center to Gila. They didn't go to Jerome. First thing Mr. Zenimura did was make a baseball field, so I mean, that was his life.

MN: You said that you found Gila River less depressing than Jerome. Why is that?

BT: Less depressing? Yeah, because we had white barracks. Jerome had the black tarpaper barrack, and it really looked like a prison. But in Gila we had white barracks, and it had a red roof, so it was nice-looking compared -- in fact, when Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to visit one of the camps they took her to Gila. That was before I was there.

MN: What were the dances like at Gila River?

BT: It's the same, like in Jerome. The only thing is that in Gila they didn't have a recreation hall in every block like we did in Jerome, so when they had a dance, what they had to do is use the mess hall, so they had to move all the tables and stuff aside. So that was a big chore for whoever put the dance on.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

MN: Now, when did you leave Gila?

BT: July 10, 1945.

MN: So from Gila, where did you go?

BT: Cleveland. Yeah, that, three of my friends and I, we got tired of sittin' around. Why we decided on Cleveland, I don't know, but that's one of the big places where people were going to.

MN: What was your train trip like out to Cleveland?

BT: It was better than the old junkers that we rode between camps. I think it was, I think we were on the train just overnight. First we had to go to Chicago and change train to Cleveland.

MN: Where did you stay in Cleveland?

BT: I still remember the address, 6001 Curtis Street. That's on the east side. What happened is that they, when we applied for relocation they found a place for us, and it was a big house, two-story house that was converted into, not exactly an apartment, but... there was a couple other people there too. What do you call a place where they furnish the food too?

MN: You mean a boarding house?

BT: Boarding house, yeah. It was owned by Caucasians, but a Japanese American ran it.

MN: So how did you find a job at Cleveland?

BT: In Cleveland they had a, like an employment office, so we went there and got the job there. So all four of us got a job at the one place.

MN: Was this a WRA employment office?

BT: Yes.

MN: And where did you end up working?

BT: It was a place where they made rayon threads. This was really a dirty job, and you work with acid also, so you had to go out and buy some wool pants, otherwise it'll just eat, eat your clothes up. Yeah. And the chemical that makes the rayon thread, it can't be stagnant. It has to keep flowing, so it was run, the plant was run 24/7, which wasn't too bad if you were assigned to one shift, but every two weeks we had to changed shift. So it got to a point where I couldn't sleep 'cause you're, your body is just... so finally, finally I says, "I can't take this anymore." And by then my family had moved back to the West Coast, so I says, "I'm goin' home."


MN: When V-J Day was announced, what was that like and where were you?

BT: Okay, I was at work. I was on the swing shift at that time, and my work was at West, around West 70th Street, but I lived on East 60th Street, so I'd take a streetcar to the public square and, to change streetcar to go to the east side. Well, in the public square there they had a huge map of the Pacific, and they had, that night they had an effigy of Tojo and it was burning, and everybody was celebrating, this and that. So thinking nothing of it, I got on the streetcar, and on the streetcar everybody was celebrating, they're in such a good mood, this and that. And then you hear this tiny voice from a girl, I don't know how old she was, and speaking about that effigy hanging there, she says, "Yeah, they should hang 'em all," she says. And the streetcar just got quiet. Everybody, and then this girl, I guess she realized that I was sittin' there. She said, "I meant the people over there." So then again, people start celebrating, but that was my experience of V-J Day.

MN: You know, when the streetcar got really quiet and everybody's sort of like noticing you, did you feel threatened at that time?

BT: No, not threatened at all, because the people were nice, like waiting for the streetcar, they'd talk to you, this and that. I remember one time, on the streetcar, ran into some friend from Fresno, the mother, being Issei, and she was happy to see another Japanese, so she starts talkin' real loud 'cause we weren't sitting next to each other. It wasn't... anyway, the daughter got a little embarrassed, told her, told the mother kind of tone it down, speaking Japanese. [Laughs] Kind of scary situation.

MN: And then you said that your family moved to Sanger while you were in Cleveland, so when you left Cleveland, did you go straight to Sanger?

BT: No, I stopped in Gila. I wanted to see who was left there. And it was deserted; my friends were all gone. But I stayed there, I think, two nights. Yeah, I'd say majority of people had relocated by then.

MN: Were you able to stay at your old barrack at Gila when you returned?

BT: No, I stayed at this, where my friend used to live.

MN: How did it feel like to live in so, in a camp that was almost vacant?

BT: You know, it's, it was a strange feeling. I guess not, I don't know, not exactly living in a ghost town, but because you've known this camp as being really active and a lot of noise and this and that. And the block that I stayed in, I think there was only a handful of people there.

MN: I know at some of the other camps the kids would start going into empty barracks to see what people left behind. Out of curiosity, did you do that?

BT: [Laughs] No, no.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

MN: Let me see, you left Cleveland in October '45, is that right?

BT: Yes.

MN: And then you, how long did you stay at Gila?

BT: Just a couple of days.

MN: Just a couple days, two or three nights, you stayed.

BT: Yeah.

MN: Then from Gila, you joined your family at Sanger. What did you do in Sanger?

BT: Well, I stayed with my family, and they were what they call tying vines. On this Thompson grapes, they'd prune it back and they'd leave four branches, two on each side, and you had to tie it down to the wire. We call it tying vines, and I done that for about three or four days, and I said, "This is not for me." So I wrote to my friend that lived in Inglewood, and he says, "Come on down." He says he'll put me up, so I was gone. Yeah, so I came down to L.A. February of '46.

MN: In the meantime, can you share with us what happened to your sister Kazumi, who went to Tule Lake?

BT: Yeah. She had cancer. I didn't know all this. And I know when she came back to Fresno, I happened to be there and she was weak -- and she had a two year old daughter -- and a few months later she passed away, cancer.

MN: But that family didn't go to Japan.

BT: No, no.

MN: They stayed here.

BT: Uh-huh.

MN: And so you came down here and you were living in Inglewood, California, and then were you living with your friend for a long time?

BT: I think it was about a month, month and a half. And then, of course, the father told my friend, he says, "It's about time you get on, on the road." So I says, "Okay, yeah, it's about time." And he knew that the Koyasan Temple, that was turned into a hostel, so I went over there, stayed there, and I was there about a month or so. Anyway, I was walkin' around East First Street, and I ran into this friend that I worked with in Gila. His parents had taken over a hotel right there on Central Avenue, so he says come and live with him. I says, "Well, I don't want to impose," this and that. "No," he says, says he's got a room by himself. So I said, "Oh, okay." So I moved in with him. This area was all black. In fact, all the, all the tenants were black.

MN: Did the blacks ever give you any trouble?

BT: Didn't give me any trouble, but my friend's father, he got held up a couple of times. One time he got beat up. I don't know why they want to... his father was a tiny man. He was elderly. Why they beat him up, I don't know.

MN: Now, you are in Los Angeles, and you visited your family in Sanger and you had this one bad experience while you were going up there. Can you share what happened?

BT: Yeah. I was visiting my family, and we went into Fresno. Then coming back, as I was getting into Sanger town, I seen this truck at the, he had the stop sign. I was on the main drag, and as I approached the intersection he pulled out and pulled out right in front of me. And so I swung over to the left to pass him, and he swung over to the left also. And I guess I turned my wheel and I went into this, off the road and into the field there. Luckily, it was just plowed, so the ground was soft, so that stopped me. Otherwise, I would've hit a telephone pole. And then, dumb me, got all excited and mad, and I got out of there and got back on the road and I went lookin' for the guy. And I'm thinking, after this happened -- I didn't find him, but after a while I said, "What a dummy." I says, "What if I found that guy? He would've beat me up." And I had a car full of kids. Yeah, but that was a bad situation.

MN: But he deliberately came at you?

BT: And forced me off. It, it's happened to other people, get forced off the road.

MN: Was it, was there still a lot of hostility, hostility at that time towards Japanese Americans?

BT: I guess, yeah. I think especially, especially the farmers because now these Japanese Americans are coming back, reclaiming their property, this and that.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

MN: I'm gonna fast-forward a little bit, and you married Misaye Butsumyo in 1948. How long were you married to her?

BT: She passed away in '62, so it's about fourteen years.

MN: What happened to her?

BT: She had a cerebral hemorrhage.

MN: Now, when Misaye passed away, how many children did you have?

BT: Four.

MN: So now you became a single parent like your mother.

BT: Yeah.

MN: What was it like raising four, four daughters?

BT: Yeah, four daughters. Well, the hard part was you had to go out and buy clothes for them, or what does a girl need? But one of my sisters-in-law helped me out there. Yeah, she, she was married, but she didn't have any kids, so she kind of was there for my daughters.

MN: Did you get a newer appreciation for what your mother went through?

BT: Yeah, that's when I realized what, what my mother had to go through, 'cause what she had to go through was ten times worse than what I had to go through.

MN: Then in 1996, when your kids were older, you married a second time, to Yoshiko Mori. Share with us how you met her, and what was that like?

BT: Well actually, marriage wasn't on my mind, but I was looking for some companion, go to dinner or shows. Anyway, the way I met her was, I was working, we were working on the Gila reunion for the 1995 reunion, and I really didn't pay attention to who -- because I just assumed a lady would have a friend, either married or have a friend, so I never paid attention. Anyway, I found out that she was single, so -- on the last workshop before the reunion -- so going, after the workshop finished, going home, I asked if she wanted to go out to dinner 'cause... well, she says her brother was staying with her, so she's got to see how her brother, if he has something for dinner, so she'll call me back. So she went home and I went home, and she called me and says yeah, okay, her brother's okay. What, what started out to be a casual dinner date, and we ended up getting married.

MN: How did your children feel about you getting married a second time?

BT: They were happy for me. Yeah. They had their own family by then.

MN: Now, you and Misaye were married for fourteen years, how long were you married to Yo?

BT: About seven years, I think.

MN: And what happened to Yo?

BT: She had cancer.

MN: Since I asked you about how you met Yo, share with us how you met Misaye?

BT: Okay. [Laughs] That was back in '46, during the holiday season. We didn't have cars or anything then, but this one friend of mine that, he came up to me right before the holiday season, says, he says that his father says he can borrow his car, so, "Let's go double dating." I say, "Oh, okay." I only knew one girl in south L.A. there, so I agreed to go before I even had a date. Anyway, so went down there and asked her out. She said okay, so we went out. Yeah, then a few months later he says he got the car again, "Let's go out..." I don't know any other girls, you know. So I says, "Are you gonna take the same girl out?" He said no, he's says gonna ask somebody else. I says, I said, "You mind if I ask her?" He says, "No, go ahead." They're just good friends. So that started it. Yeah, so we ended up getting married.

MN: But you didn't ask her out. [Laughs]

BT: Well, yeah. I says, "Well, why don't you call her up and see if she'll go out with me?" So he says okay, so he gets on the phone to ask. Then he comes back and says, "She wants to talk to you." She said that if I wanted to date her that I should ask. [Laughs] So I got on the phone, and she said okay.

MN: And the rest is history.

BT: And the rest is history.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MN: Now I'm gonna change the subject, and I want to ask you, when was the first time you shared with other people about your camp experience?

BT: My past experience?

MN: Your camp experience. When did you talk about your camp experience to students?

BT: Oh. I volunteered at the Japanese American National Museum in 1999, I think. Right after, right after they opened this new pavilion they needed more volunteers, so they put up a big push on that, so I decided to give it a try.

MN: But prior to that, prior to that, at your grandson's --

BT: Oh, yeah, okay. When my grandson that was living up in Portland, when he was in the fourth grade, he must've told his teacher that Grandpa and Grandma is coming up to visit, so the teacher called my daughter up and says, "Do you think that they would," we would share our experience in camp. So she called me up and, "Oh, sure," I says. So on the given date, when we went up there, we start, I start talking to the kids. The kids ask different kind of questions, asking, "Did you play baseball?" This or that. And then this one little girl, she kept raising her hand, so I says okay, I asked her, she says, "Why did you put, why did they put you in camp?" Says, "You didn't do anything wrong." And I didn't know how to answer that. I looked at the teacher, the teacher's looking back at me smiling. So the only thing I could think of was, when there's a war people do things that they normally would not do. And this girl says, "Well, that's not fair." That really touched me.

And I think it was 1999 Manzanar pilgrimage, the Manzanar Committee wanted all the camps to make one of these banners, the samurai banners, it was twenty inches wide and five feet tall. So I had one made for Gila and wanted to take it to the pilgrimage, and so happened that Senshin Buddhist Temple put out a bus, and I'm a member of the Senshin, so we were lucky to get a seat on there. On the way to Manzanar we stop at city of Mojave, potty break. And after we got back on the bus, start going, the Reverend Mas says, "Does anyone want to share their experience of the camp?" Nobody made a sound. Nobody made a sound. And my wife and I were sittin' up in the front, so he hands me the microphone, so I get up and talk, this and that. And I give the phone back, and he says, "Okay, anybody else?" Nobody moving, so he gives me the microphone back again, so I talk some more, and it felt good. And then got some feedback that people enjoyed the talk, so when this, when the National Museum put out a call for volunteers I told my wife, "Well, I'm gonna volunteer. I have a story to tell." So we both volunteered, but she volunteered to work in a non-public area. She was more people person than I am, but she didn't want to be a docent.

MN: You're also really active with the Gila Camp Reunion Committee. You even chaired it. You volunteer at the museum, you helped out in the Ruth Mix documentary. Why is it important for you to be involved in all of this?

BT: I think it's sort of giving back, and also somebody has to spread the word, to remind people what happened. It's, it's not that, I'm not crying in my beer, you know. But it's just that, let the people know that this could happen. It must not happen again. So that's what got me...

MN: When you were growing up, did you know what civil rights were?

BT: No. I don't ever remember coming up, the topic coming up in school. We knew about the situation with the blacks. Well, at that time I didn't know how badly they were treated. You hear stories, but, you know.

MN: What did you think about when people started to talk about redress?

BT: You know, I really didn't think that it would go through, especially with the money. I went to one of the meetings. But luckily it went through. I was surprised that it did, but you got to hand it to these people that really pushed it.

MN: Was your mother alive to receive the redress benefit?

BT: Yeah, she was alive. Let's see, the redress bill, Civil Liberties Act, was signed on August the 10th of '88, and my mother passed away on August the 23rd of '88. So the, the government -- there was three of us, I had one brother and one sister still -- the government split the check in three and gave us each a third of my mother's money.

MN: Any other thoughts you'd like to share with us? I've asked my questions.

BT: No, that's, I guess that's about it, yeah.

MN: You're good?

BT: That's good.

MN: Okay.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.