Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sam Araki Interview
Narrator: Sam Araki
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: San Jose, California
Date: March 21, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-asam-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Wednesday, March 21, 2012, and we're in San Jose at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and we have Sam Araki this evening for an oral history. And so, Sam, I'm going to just start from the very beginning and we'll just kind of walk through these things. But can you tell me when you were born?

SA: July 12, 1931.

TI: And where were you born?

SA: Saratoga, California, on the Blaney Estates, it's a little house on Blaney Estates where my father was a gardener.

TI: And so when you were... were you born, did a midwife deliver you or were you in a health facility?

SA: It was in a house and a midwife facility.

TI: Okay. And what was the name given to you at birth?

SA: Minoru.

TI: And so where does "Sam" come?

SA: Well, it sort of came about as I begin to go to college and get out of school and into the work environment. Because "Minoru" was so hard to pronounce. And I don't know how "Sam" came about. Somebody used to call me that, and I think that just sort of stuck.

TI: But legally, did you ever adopt "Sam"?

SA: No, no.

TI: So it's just how people know you what way. So let's talk a little bit about your father. Can you tell me his name and where he was from?

SA: Sakai Araki, and he's from Fukuoka in Japan.

TI: And tell me a little bit about the family. What kind of work did they do in Japan?

SA: It was a farming family, and he came with his father when he was, I think, thirteen years old. And so he started... and he couldn't go to school because they had to work. And as time went on, the father wanted to go back to Japan because his wife was still in Japan. So he was left when he was eighteen years old; he went on his own.

TI: So your grandfather returned to Japan...

SA: Yeah, and on the way, he passed away.

TI: Oh, on the journey back?

SA: Yes.

TI: Oh, that's tragic.

SA: So as a result, he became, he was a very independent person because he got left, was on his own very young. And so you figure he was, at eighteen years old, in a brand new country.

TI: So how did he survive? What did he do?

SA: He basically learned how to become a gardener. And so he found this job on this estate in Saratoga, which was about a mile from where we lived. And the lady -- her name is Blaney, had really a liking for him. And he developed a great rapport, and he learned to not only take care of the garden but how to treat the soil. When I look back, he really learned organic farming techniques as he gardened. So he developed a... that's how he migrated to the fertilizer business. And the Blaney Estates, the aunt owned the Blaney Estates, she didn't have an heir, so the nephew was brought in to inherit the estate, so his name was Kirkwood. And Kirkwood, my dad and he got very close.

TI: Now, age-wise, how close in age was your father and Mr. Kirkwood?

SA: Probably about, I'd say maybe twenty years' difference.

TI: So Mr. Kirkwood was older?

SA: No, younger.

TI: Younger than your father?

SA: Yeah.

TI: So Mr. Kirkwood was a very young man, then.

SA: Yes, yes. And he's the one that helped us greatly during the war.

TI: But then early on, he probably got a lot of help from your father.

SA: Well, they worked together, and he got very, I think they both got very interested in how to create a living soil.

TI: Okay. And how large was the Blaney Estate?

SA: Oh, probably like, maybe a hundred acres.

TI: So a sizeable piece of property to take care of. So we have your father and Mr. Kirkwood who are working together, but then your father eventually moved on. What made him move on?

SA: What happened was, when my dad... this was the early 1930s, it's about 1933, Japan invaded Manchuria. And Manchuria was a key source of fertilizer for Japan, because food was one of the key security items, very critical to the welfare of the nation and for warfare. So Manchuria became the primary source for fertilizer and other minerals like iron ore and so on. So I'm really not sure how my father got involved, but he figured out a way to export fertilizer from Manchuria through a Japanese company and brought it into the United States.

TI: And when you say fertilizer -- my chemistry is old -- but I'm thinking of the chemicals, things like phosphorous and nitrogen?

SA: Well, this is nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash. But what is more important here is the organic side. And he somehow got involved in importing bat guano from Manchuria.

TI: Oh, okay, so this is natural fertilizer.

SA: That's right. Although he had, I'm sure he obtained chemical fertilizer, too, but he really got involved in importing, because there are some big bat caves in Manchuria. And there's some dry lakes that had a lot of residue.

TI: Okay, so probably workers were scraping the stuff...

SA: Yeah, and of course the Japanese were very interested in all this, too, for their own use in Japan. So he somehow got very much involved. And so I think he started his fertilizer business in 1934 while he was still a gardener. And Kirkwood and Blaney wanted him to do that, I mean, this is all sort of... he was really encouraged to do all of this. And so he started his fertilizer business, and that went on until 1938 when the war between Japan and China really got heated, and the relationship with the U.S. began to deteriorate. So he was not able to get the fertilizer shipped out of Manchuria to the U.S. any longer.

TI: Interesting. Now, did Mr. Kirkwood, in any way, was he a business partner with your father?

SA: No, he wasn't, but I'm sure that he really encouraged him to do this. And, of course, Kirkwood became a farmer during the war. So I'm sure that the two worked together to figure out how best to develop fertilizer for his farming.

TI: When I also think of fertilizer, I mean, in the right combination, it can also be kind of an explosive also. Was that ever an issue or anything, did that ever come up?

SA: No, no. And also I still remember riding on his truck to Monterey to get fishmeal. Because during the days when cannery row was very active, a lot of sardines were being caught. The fish that were not sardines, like mackerel, a lot of it got ground up into fishmeal. So I remember him bringing home fishmeal to the warehouse.

TI: Again as fertilizer.

SA: As fertilizer, that's right. So he was mixing his own brand; he had his own brand.

TI: Interesting.

SA: In fact, I still remember he called it DJK brand, and I don't know what DJK stands for.

TI: And how big an operation was this fertilizer?

SA: Well, he serviced every, all the Japanese farmers from Santa Clara Valley all the way into Salinas Valley. So he serviced Watsonville, Salinas, San Juan Bautista. In fact, my wife's father knew him because he sold fertilizer to my wife's father.

TI: So how would his fertilizer compare with, say, like the Italian farmers' or something? They had fertilizer, too...

SA: That's right, that's right.

TI: So what would the differences be?

SA: I think the difference was because of the living organisms, it's an organic fertilizer. And, in fact, I have some photographs from those days, and the produce was really big. I mean, they put... so he really had a good business at that time.

TI: Interesting. Because I'm thinking, and probably the Japanese farmers were comfortable with having natural things in there. I've interviewed people who've lived in Japan, and when you say "fertilizer" for farmers there, it was usually human waste.

SA: That's right, that's exactly right.

TI: So it's very different.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Let's talk a little bit about your mother. So how did your father and mother meet?

SA: She was a "picture bride." Because you've got to remember, he came out here very young, and I think she came to the United States when she was probably around seventeen years old.

TI: And so how much older was your father than your mother?

SA: I'd say about six, seven years, seven years' difference.

TI: And who was the go-between, who arranged for the two of them?

SA: Boy, I don't know. [Laughs] I really don't know. Well, I take that back. I think there is one person who... in those days, you had to have somebody do it, even though they may not even have been connected. But they had to form, ceremonially, they had to have a person. So I think they did have a person and I think his name was... it doesn't come back to me.

TI: Someone in Japan?

SA: No, it was somebody here. Yeah, somebody here, yes.

TI: And what was your mother's name?

SA: Nakano.

TI: And first name?

SA: Misano.

TI: Misano. And where was she from?

SA: From Fukuoka also.

TI: So tell me a little bit about your mother. What was she like?

SA: Well, my mother was... well, physically my dad was very tall for a Japanese at that time. He was about 5'9", so he was very tall and very heavy-set, muscular. My mom was very short; she must have been about 4'9". [Laughs] So it was quite a height difference. But she was also a very caring person, so I got raised as the only child. So I was taken care of very, very well. Probably got spoiled. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So you were an only child.

SA: Well, it was my... I was the only child because my mother and father had sent the other kids to Japan because life was so bad at the beginning.

TI: Okay, that's right, you have like three older brothers.

SA: I have my one brother and two sisters.

TI: Okay, yeah, three older siblings, one older brother.

SA: Yes.

TI: Why don't we just talk about them? Why don't you go down like birth order and their names?

SA: Mary.

TI: And how much older was Mary than you?

SA: Let's see, my brother is seven years older, and my sister is probably another four years older.

TI: Okay, so about eleven years older. Then after Mary?

SA: That's my brother, and my brother was seven years older.

TI: Okay, and his name was?

SA: Sho, Shoichi.

TI: And after Shoichi?

SA: Tomiko. And she's four years older than I am.

TI: So you said you were sort of raised as an only child because the three of them were sent to Japan. Why were they sent to Japan?

SA: Because life was bad. They had a tough time, so they felt that they could get the kids educated in Japan better. And the two grandmothers had agreed to take care of... one child was left with one grandmother, and two of the others with the other. So the father's side grandmother took care of two of 'em, and the mother's side took care of one.

TI: And the time period they were sent to Japan, was this when your father had the fertilizer business or was this after he sold it?

SA: Long before that.

TI: Oh, before the fertilizer?

SA: Long before that. Long before, long before Blaney Estates. See, I started Blaney Estates because that's where I was born. But before I was born, they were married for quite a while. Because you figure my brother is seven years old, my sister is another four years, that's thirteen years. So they were married a long time before I was born.

TI: So you didn't really know your siblings?

SA: No, no.

TI: So for all sense and purposes, you were like an only child.

SA: That's right, that's right.

TI: Did they ever talk about the children? Did you know about them?

SA: Not really, not really. Well, until when I got older I knew that they were in Japan. And they came to, two of 'em came to this country just before the war broke out because they were very concerned, they wanted to bring two of 'em. The other one was already married -- I mean, not married, the other one was... let's see, why didn't the other one come now? For whatever reason, one stayed in Japan during the war.

TI: And so your brother and one of your sisters?

SA: Yeah. So basically we're three -- as far as the children were concerned -- there were three families. Because the two grandmothers were in different places, so I don't think they saw each other that much.

TI: Well, how was it for you to all of a sudden have an older brother and older sister show up, and for all intents and purposes, they were kind of Japanese, right? Probably they didn't speak much English.

SA: No, no.

TI: And you were, at this point, kind of a young boy, but probably kind of independent.

SA: Well, I was only at that time about eight years old.

TI: But still, you were in school, pretty American in many ways. So how was that to all of a sudden have a Japanese brother and sister?

SA: That was a rude awakening. [Laughs] Rude awakening in a way that it was a cultural shock for all of us, really. And so, in fact, if I look back, it probably toughened me up because I used to get beat up. Because, see, I was mama's boy, and here's the outsiders come in, they're older than I am.

TI: And so probably resentful?

SA: Oh, yeah, there was a lot of resentment; tremendous amount of resentment, simply because they felt they were abandoned; they were left as orphans. So you can't really blame them.

TI: And how well could they adjust to American society?

SA: Well, they had a tough time.

TI: So did they go to school?

SA: Well, yeah, because they were basically Kibeis.

TI: And they were, like, kind of teenagers? Like your brother would be, at that point, about fourteen, fifteen years old? Which is kind of a hard time to...

SA: Well, yeah. And they had to start from scratch to learn the English language, get back into a lower grade, so it was a very tough, tough period.

TI: So let's go back to... and so your father sold the fertilizer business in 1938.

SA: Well, he didn't sell it; it just went out of business.

TI: Okay, so went out of business.

SA: And he decided that before he closed the fertilizer business now, he decided better buy a farm, he bought a farm. So he bought twenty acres in West San Jose.

TI: Now for a Japanese to buy twenty acres, is that a pretty big...

SA: That was a big move at that time. In fact, he had to borrow his friend's son's name to buy it, because he was an alien and so he couldn't buy it.

TI: And so this is about, what, 1937, '38?

SA: Either '38 or '37.

TI: And what kind of farmland was it?

SA: It was orchard. We had prunes, apricots and walnut.

TI: And did your father have much experience with orchards like this?

SA: Well, he did because of the Blaney Estates. Because, see, the Blaney Estates were not just a garden, there were a lot of, they had a big farm, it's a big estate when you have a hundred acre estate, you have an orchard and gardens. So he learned a lot on that, on that estate.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Let's talk a little bit now back to you in terms of just childhood memories growing up. So when you think back to some of your playmates, who did you play with?

SA: Well, I was... in the Blaney Estates, we were pretty remote. And so, and there weren't that many Japanese around, but I do remember a few of the friends that my parents had. In fact, I just met with, I don't know if you know Bob Idemoto.

TI: No.

SA: Well, he and I go back to the early period when he lived in Saratoga and I lived in Saratoga and we saw each other. So we have a... there were some very old friends that I have that we sort of grew up together.

TI: And when you think back to that, what would be some of the things that would bind you? Like what activities can you remember?

SA: Well, there wasn't any activities. Our family just sort of got together every once in a while, and there were so few of us that we remember each other from that period.

TI: So like a typical day on a weekend, what kind of things did you do as a kid, like eight, nine years old.

SA: Well, I think on a... when you're living as a gardener, there's a lot of things to do because it's a big place. You can wander around anyplace you want, to a limit. But I still remember my father had a fertilizer warehouse in Saratoga. So I remember my mom and I would walk from our estate home to the fertilizer warehouse in Saratoga. And then I must have been probably like, I don't know, maybe five years old. So I remember doing all that.

TI: And when you walked with your mom, when you think back...

SA: Well, it was about... it's a mile. It was a mile.

TI: And did the two of talk when you walked? Or what would the kind of relationship between... because your mom was pretty short, and I was just curious...

SA: Yeah, well, we were very young, so I used to speak Japanese in those days because they spoke Japanese at home. So I learned how to speak Japanese. In fact, I had a hard time when I started going to school because I didn't know English well enough.

TI: So let's talk about school now. So you start school, in elementary school, what kind of -- grammar school -- what kind of student were you? If your classmates or teacher were to talk about you, how would you they describe Sam, or Minoru, I guess, back then?

SA: I'm not sure. Probably an average student. And I guess my memory in those days, because Saratoga school, I think I was the only Japanese there because I was in a Caucasian community. And then when we went to the farm, I went to Campbell grammar school and Campbell high school. And I think we were only about, you can count the number of Japanese that were at that school, too. So I grew up with the Caucasian groups.

TI: Were there particular topics that you enjoyed in, like, middle school or high school?

SA: Well, I liked sports at that time. Like I got to playing basketball quite a bit, because I was taller, I was, relatively speaking, I was taller then. So I used to play center. In fact, I played center for a Japanese club called the Santa Clara Bears. And we had the San Jose Zebras and the Santa Clara Bears and we were archrivals because we had the town bunch and the country guys. [Laughs] And we were always competing with each other.

TI: So tell me more about that. So how did you get connected to, like, a Japanese basketball team? Was it part of an organization?

SA: Well, what happened here was before the war, I think as a Japanese, at least in my situation, I was totally integrated. In fact, I knew more Italians than any, because most of the farmers around us were Italians. After the war, I think all of us felt very insecure, because here we're coming back and we were sort of like outsiders. So all the Japanese Americans banded together, not only in our school, but in other schools as well. So we formed our own group.

TI: But this is after the war.

SA: After the war, after the war.

TI: But before the war, you had some of these... oh, that was, okay, that's when you played basketball?

SA: No, basketball was after the war.

TI: After the war, got it, okay.

SA: But before the war, we were totally integrated. Our family was more integrated with the Italians.

TI: So that would be one impact of the war in terms of, in some ways, bringing Japanese Americans sort of more...

SA: Closer together. We bonded because we had to bond together, simply because we needed the kinship to belong to a group, because we all felt like outsiders. Because there was prejudice, although I don't think I felt it as much as some of the others. But nevertheless, we all felt like we were being picked on.

TI: Well, before the war, were there any Japanese community events that you and your family participated in?

SA: Yeah, because my dad was very much involved in kendo. And I remember going to Japanese school, so there were things that we did as part of the Japanese community.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So let's move on to the war. So December 7, 1941, do you remember that day?

SA: Yes, I remember that period very well.

TI: Okay, so tell me if you can, that day, December 7th.

SA: Well, what happened here was, my dad being involved in kendo, very active in kendo. Everybody in martial arts was singled out as a threat to the United States. So that select group, and it was not just martial arts, anybody that belonged to any kind of a Japanese association, could have been even church. They were all the leaders who were picked and said, "We got to pull all those people into a special camp." So he was picked individually, and his friends were, too, they were part of the kendo group.

TI: So they were on the list to be picked up.

SA: They were all on the list. And so my dad decided to evacuate to Reedley, which was across the demarcation line, Highway 99 was the demarcation.

TI: So you went from Military Exclusion Zone 1 to I think they called it Zone 2.

SA: Right. So we were getting ready, we were about half packed, and my dad's friend's son came over and said, "My dad just got pulled in, you're next. Better move, move out fast." So we had a half-packed truck and a pickup truck. I think that's what we had was a pickup truck and a one-and-a-half-ton truck. So the on-and-a-half-ton truck was half packed. So in those days, so we decided... oh, no, wait a minute, we also had a car. We did have a car, we had just bought a new Dodge car. So my dad decided to drive to Saratoga where Kirkwood lived, and I remember taking roads that I had never driven on before because he wanted to avoid all the main highways. And went to Kirkwood's place, told him what was happening, he says, "Go. You tell us what you want packed, and we'll pack it for you, and we're gonna bring the truck to you." So this was Thursday, and then on Saturday, brought the rest of the material for us with our truck.

TI: And this is with the FBI kind of on...

SA: This is with the FBI on his trail.

TI: And so this must have been... what's the right word? Exciting or terrifying for you.

SA: Oh, it was terrifying. It was terrifying because we were all terrified. And so in Reedley, we moved six times in six months, once a month.

TI: And so where would you move?

SA: To various places. In fact, what we did was we... my dad bought a tent and we pitched a tent in a barn everywhere we went. Because this way we were unnoticed.

TI: So these were like friends or people you knew...

SA: Yeah, these were friends, a lot of them were Japanese farmers, okay, because there were a lot of farmers in Reedley. So we went from farm to farm, and we were always getting tip, my dad was always getting tip, says, "You better move. They're on the move, coming after you." So for six months we avoided getting picked up.

TI: Now, was there ever a concern that someone in the community might turn him in?

SA: No, no. And so I remember having to change grammar schools, I don't know how many times I changed grammar school during that short period of time.

TI: That's interesting. It would seem that if the FBI really wanted to get your dad, they would just find you.

SA: Well, except they were after so many people. So I think they just, they were saturated. You can only go after people with so much intensity. And so somehow, I mean, they never got to him. And finally, that whole population was told to go to Poston, so he decided to just sign up and go to Poston. So that's how we ended up in Poston, Arizona.

TI: And did he ever get questioned by the FBI when he was like in Poston or anything? Did they finally say, "Okay, we finally found this guy"? Because many of the men that were picked up earlier ended up in places like Santa Fe, you know, the Department of Justice camps.

SA: Yes.

TI: And so was there ever a concern that they might take him out of Poston?

SA: Well, they never did. They never did come and question him. So for whatever reason, he slid by.

TI: So, now, tell me, so you packed up the truck and you had all these belongings, so what happened to the big truck and the rest of that?

SA: Kirkwood came after it. He came after it and brought it home.

TI: And the twenty-acre farm?

SA: He took care of it. He leased the farm and took care of it.

TI: So you were very lucky, fortunate...

SA: We were very fortunate.

TI: have someone to...

SA: Someone like him. And he was a well-respected person, he was a Stanford grad. He said, "U.S. is doing the wrong thing, and I'm gonna make sure that you guys are protected."

TI: Now, did he ever... did your father stay in contact with him during the war, like letters?

SA: Oh, yeah. Yes. In fact, I went to his wife's -- he is passed away. I went to his wife's ninety-second birthday about three years ago.

TI: So all these years, the families have...

SA: Yeah. And she still remembers my dad, and so it's still a nice relationship.

TI: That's unusual to have such a... and it started way back, though.

SA: Yeah, I mean, this is way back in the '30s, early '30s.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: And we'll come back after the war, back to the family, but let's go to Poston. And so now you're at Poston, so tell me what you thought of Poston.

SA: Well, camp was interesting because we were all in the same boat together. And when you're nine years old, ten years old, you're pretty nimble. And as long as you have a group of friends that you've associated with, and the parents were very protective, so all the parents took care of us very well in camp. And camp was like a community, and the Japanese were very enterprising, so they basically quickly built a city with stores, with police departments, with churches, with music, movies, and sports. So the whole infrastructure was set up just like a city. And so being nine years old, ten years old, you sort of enjoyed the life there. Now, my parents suffered a lot. In fact, all the parents, because, I mean, we were thrown into barracks, one-room barracks, so every family got one room with no partitions, so they had to build partitions and everything. Barracks were basically single layer board with air gaps and tarpaper. So everybody had to fix this thing up and make it livable. And then you had a central cafeteria and a central latrine just like an army camp.

TI: Well, and you're coming from kind of the Bay Area going to Arizona, and in summer the heat was...

SA: Oh, yeah, it was hot. Very hot.

TI: In terms of the family life, I mean, so it was your parents, your sister, brother and you?

SA: Uh-huh, yes.

TI: So five of you. Talk about the family dynamics. Did you guys eat together in the mess halls?

SA: Yeah, there was a mess hall, just like any army camp would have a mess hall.

TI: But when it was like for dinnertime, for instance, did the family go together to the mess hall and eat together?

SA: You could, or you could eat with friends. There was no restriction of that type.

TI: So what did your family, was it pretty much, did it stay like a nuclear family?

SA: Yes.

TI: And who did that? Was it your father or mother that was important for the family to eat together?

SA: I think both of them did it together.

TI: Because you hear a lot of stories that oftentimes, probably especially like for your brother or sister, they were old enough to eat with friends, and oftentimes you would see that breakup of the family.

SA: But there was an interesting... one thing I remember very well is that we had a chef, his name was Pakkai because he had a Chinese restaurant before he went into camp. And he would feed, make sure that the drivers that brought the food were well-fed. He made it a point to serve them the best meal that he can prepare. So anytime he wanted something special, and he wanted the best product, they would always bring everything to him. He would fix a nice meal and then they would go.

TI: Oh, okay. So that was probably smart. By feeding them, they would want to give him the better food because that's what they're going to eat.

SA: That's right. So we always had good food in our whole block.

TI: So did the word get around? Because I also heard the story that some people, when they found out where the good chef was, they would try to kind of go over to a different block?

SA: No, you can't.

TI: You had to stay down?

SA: [Laughs] If they did, I didn't know about it.

TI: Earlier you said something that was interesting, you said when you first talked about the camp, how you were all in the same boat.

SA: Yes.

TI: And I'm thinking that before the war, although there wasn't really... this was America and it wasn't necessarily a class system, but before the war there were some families that had more money than others. And talk about that. Was it kind of like an evening or a leveling effect?

SA: Yeah, because when you're in camp, everybody gets paid the same, which was hardly anything. I think it was sixteen dollars a month. And you lived in the same, every room, every barrack, every room was the same. So it was an equalizer. And so as a child, you didn't, everybody was alike.

TI: So was that a positive thing?

SA: For us. I think, in fact, I think it was for the whole population. It was a good thing because you have to cooperate and do things together to have a better life.

TI: So, Sam, I'm going to put you on the spot. You're a business guy. What you just described sounded like socialism. I mean, it's kind of like everyone is sort of even...

SA: Well, no, but you have to produce your own food. See, we basically, the Japanese farmed, produced their own food, grow animals.

TI: Yeah, but it was all as a collective, right? Everyone kind of worked, did their own thing, and everyone kind of got the same thing.

SA: Well, that's true, that is true. That is true. [Laughs] Yeah, in a way it was a socialized system.

TI: Yeah, it's just interesting how that worked during that time period.

SA: Well, I think it worked because it's Japanese Americans.

TI: Because people worked hard.

SA: And not only that, they were very... the Japanese Americans all wanted to work together and make this thing the best possible place to live.

TI: Well, did you see some people just sort of not do it? Because they got the same food, right? And they just said, "I'm not going to do anything."

SA: No, I didn't see that. I didn't see that. And this is where I think there was a... I think the Japanese Americans all were in the same boat, and they all, some of 'em felt more prejudice than others. There were a lot of people that supported the United States, there were some that were very much against the United States. So you had those factions. But at the end, everybody banded together. So it was a very homogenous society and a very homogenous infrastructure.

TI: That's interesting.

SA: And I don't even remember seeing a crime in camp, where somebody killed somebody or somebody stabbed somebody, I didn't see any of that at all.

TI: Now for you, how did your life change? Because before the war, you said in Saratoga, there really weren't that many people around.

SA: Yeah, and I was an only child, I was protected.

TI: And now you're around dozens and dozens of kids your age.

SA: Well, I think camp life was very good for me because it helped me grow up in a society where you had to meet new people, develop friends, and get along with friends.

TI: And it didn't matter what you had or something because...

SA: Doesn't matter, yeah. That's why I say we were all equal. And whatever you had you shared, and you worked together, played together.

TI: Interesting. I'm going to ask you later in terms of how any of this carried over to your work life, but let's keep moving on.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Let's talk about school. What was school like at Poston?

SA: It was a... I mean, we went to school, and I still remember the teacher that I had, his name was Steve Nakashima. In fact, he lived here locally here. And he was my grammar school teacher. And we... it was nondescript. I mean, we just did our thing, nothing special.

TI: Would you say the quality of education was about the same as before the war?

SA: Well, I think that everybody did... I think the standards were probably a little bit lower, but I think everybody studied hard. And so I don't think we lost that much. And there were a lot of Caucasian teachers that came in to help, too. So I think the standards were, made sure that the standards were far enough above the line to make it worthwhile.

TI: Yeah, so earlier you talked about how in school in Saratoga, you thought of yourself as maybe, or others thought of you as an average student?

SA: Yeah, yeah.

TI: How about in Poston in terms of your classmates? How would you rate yourself with the other students?

SA: Probably about average.

TI: I'm going to have to figure out, so what made you so successful? [Laughs] I haven't found it yet; we'll keep going. So kind of average student. Okay, any other memories from Poston that you enjoyed doing? I think fishing, you talked about fishing.

SA: Oh, yeah, we did a lot of fishing.

TI: So tell me about that.

SA: In fact, these were all our own group of friends. So we went fishing because we were close to the Colorado River, and we had a lot of canals. So there were places that you can catch perch and bluegills and bass. So we did a lot of fishing. In fact, we even built a pond in the front yard. My dad helped us put it together, and I remember we used to catch largemouth bass that we put in the pond, and then we would catch carp and feed the carp to the bass. So we'd feed 'em big fish so that the bass would have this fish in his mouth for about three days. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, my. And so you just liked to do it and just watch the fish?

SA: Yeah, yeah. I still remember all that. We had a lot of fun doing that. I remember my friend got bit by a scorpion, we were sitting on the bank fishing, so I remember that, too.

TI: And when he got bit by a scorpion, did they take him to the hospital?

SA: Well, it turned out that scorpion's sting, we feared it a lot, but it wasn't really that bad.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. I always thought of scorpion stings as being really bad.

SA: I thought he was going to really get sick, but he really didn't get that sick.

TI: But it's worse than a bee sting...

SA: Oh, yeah. No, it hurt. Boy, did he run home fast. [Laughs]

TI: And other kind of interesting memories or stories from this time?

SA: Oh, yeah, because we used to go fishing and we got caught in a big thunderstorm. And there were, I think, about four of us, and we were running home with a fishing pole, and lightning struck and knocked a tree, probably like a hundred feet away. Boy, that was really scary.

TI: And what were you supposed to do when you were in a thunderstorm? On the West Coast we don't have those kind of things. Are they supposed to be...

SA: We just ran. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: When you think about your parents during this time, how were they coping with being in camp?

SA: Well, my dad developed a... I call it a very positive attitude, positive thinking attitude. And in fact, he became a great student of Norman Vincent Peale. Norman Vincent Peale is the author of Positive Thinking.

TI: So he would have his book and read it?

SA: Yeah. So he read... in fact, I still have one of the books that he had. And so he developed that, and he also went into... he was a Buddhist, but he went into another church movement called Seicho no Ie, which is another positive thinking movement. And it's a positive thinking movement that says that if you condition your mind and your brain, you can repel disease through positive thinking. And so he practiced that a lot, too. So he never went to a doctor.

TI: And so when you say "practiced that," how do you practice...

SA: Mentally. Mentally, it was all mental.

TI: Would he have like a certain routine where he would go off and think?

SA: Well, no, it's the way you practice your life.

TI: It's just your way of being?

SA: The way you live your life, the way you eat. See, and that's how... see, a lot of this organic farming is tied to that kind of thinking.

TI: So was he always like this or do you think the camp experience maybe accentuated that?

SA: No, I think he was always that way. I think he was always that way.

TI: And did you and he ever have conversations about that, did he talk about it?

SA: Well, he was always telling me things, and I wouldn't listen to him. [Laughs] I was a rebel. In fact, if there's anything that characterized my early life, I was very rebellious.

TI: So what would an example be of being a rebel?

SA: Well, because I would never, I would never listen to him. In fact, my youngest son, because they used to babysit for us a lot, so both of our two boys spent a lot of time at their place. So my youngest son tells me today, he says my dad would tell him things. He says, "Your father will never listen to me, but I'm going to tell it to you." [Laughs] And this is about a lot of things like he used to practice organic farming. So they used to work out in the yard. He told more things to my kids than he did to me because I wouldn't listen to him. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, interesting.

SA: So anyway, so he practiced a lot of that, and he was very... in fact, they used to pray a lot, too. So they did pray a lot together.

TI: But do you think of yourself as a positive person?

SA: That's something that really rubbed off on me.

TI: Okay, so even though you say you didn't really listen to him, it rubbed off.

SA: Oh, it totally rubbed off, yes.

TI: Now, so what would happen if he had to discipline you? I mean, if you did something bad and he needed to discipline you, how would he do that?

SA: Well, he was very stern, so you didn't... if he said something, I would listen. You can tell when he's mad. [Laughs]

TI: Now, would he ever, like, spank you or anything like that?

SA: No, no. And my mom was very caring.

TI: So if you did something bad, she would never get mad at you?

SA: No. If he got mad at me, she'll come probably comfort me.

TI: Okay, and so probably other families though you were spoiled.

SA: That's right.

TI: They were coddling you too much.

SA: In fact, it was sort of interesting because when Anna and I were courting each other, I went to her place. I didn't know that my father knew, I mean, her father knew my father. I didn't even know that. So I went over there, and afterwards I found out -- and my wife Anna told me this -- he says, "Yeah, I remember him. He was a bocchan." [Laughs]

TI: Talking about you. [Laughs] Okay.

SA: Because I guess I used to ride the truck with him to deliver fertilizer, and that's how he remembers me.

TI: So I'm curious about kind of child rearing. How did you raise your children? In the same way, were you pretty... or yeah, how did you...

SA: Well, I guess that's an interesting point because when I grew up, I was left to grow up sort of on my own. I was never restricted, I mean, I had to work. There was one thing we had to do is we had to work hard. Weekends, after school, had to come home and work. But as long as I worked, I could do anything else. I can go out, as a teenager, I remember I used to go out and play as long as I, next morning I got up and worked, he didn't care. So I learned that I can play and work hard both ways.

TI: As long as you got your work done, then you could play.

SA: That's right, that's right. Now, if I didn't go to work, then I'd really get chewed out. But as long as I got up in the morning, early in the morning, went out in the field, did what I was supposed to do, that was fine. So... and all of us growing up in that period, I think we were almost all the same way. Because all the families were poor, trying to get on their feet, every... it was hard labor. So we all grew up together that way and we developed a... because the Japanese Americans were insecure, we grew up as a group together.

TI: And so when you think about your children and how you raised, in the same way, did they have to do similar things where they had to do work first before they played?

SA: I said they ought to go work and earn some money.

TI: And this is when they were quite young?

SA: Yes, yes.

TI: So what would be some typical, or types of jobs?

SA: I used to get them to go work in a kitchen. Might be washing dishes or whatever. So that's the kind of job, and we used to have them do that almost sometime during high school and sometime during early college.

TI: So just like a part-time job for your spending money and things like that.

SA: Yeah, yeah. And I gave them a checking account when they were really young so they could learn how to manage their money.

TI: Interesting. Okay, so let's go back to you. So we're still at Poston. We talked about school and some of these other activities like fishing, and we talked about your dad and his positive thinking. What about your mother? What did she do in camp?

SA: Well, she was... let's see, what's the best way to describe it? My mom was a person who took care of the house, cooked, and she was, her main job was to make sure that the kids were taken care of. So she... and if you compare her to other ladies, the other ladies let the house go and they were out in the field all the time. She was more of a housewife than a person that went out on the farm and worked from sunrise to sunset with the husband.

TI: So it sounds like, growing up, you got a lot of support, or this nice blend of support and independence.

SA: Yes, yes. And that's, and if there's anything that I got, I think it was a lot of support. And that provided a lot of confidence in a person.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So let's get you back to San Jose. So after about three years, three and a half years, you're in Poston, the war ends, and then families start returning back to the West Coast or going other places. Tell me about your family. What happened when you left Poston?

SA: We were very fortunate because we had a farm to come back to. Not only did we have a farm, but we had our car, we had our truck, we had our pickup, we had our tractor. So we came back to a farm that was very stable. Now, our biggest problem was we didn't have any money. And so we had to get back on our feet economically, and so that was a tough... and so that was the, probably the toughest period that we went through.

TI: Really just having no money, well, you had land...

SA: We had land, but no money. And, of course, farm in those days was not the most lucrative business. So if you worked hard, you sold your crop, you could feed the family but that's about it.

TI: And what was the condition of the farm?

SA: It was in not bad shape, considering the situation it was in. The farm, when my dad bought it, was in bad shape. This was the Depression period, you figure 1937 period was the Depression period. So all the farms were run down. I remember when my dad bought the farm, the trees were all half dead, so he revived all those trees to really healthy trees.

TI: And that was just probably through fertilizers and watering?

SA: Yeah, it's all with fertilization and watering, yeah. And I still remember he used to use cover crops, because that's all part of organic farming, is to use cover crops.

TI: Good. So let's go back to you, so you come back, you're about fifteen years old, fourteen, fifteen years old?

SA: Fourteen years old.

TI: So what is it like for you to go back and start school at this point?

SA: Well, it wasn't too bad because I was going back to a school that was familiar to me, in the same area, it was high school instead of grammar school. There were quite a number of people that I knew, and they remembered me. So it was not a total brand-new start for us. And some of the friends that I had, I was able to reconnect with them.

TI: And what was the reaction that they had when you came back? Was there any curiosity? Did they ask questions?

SA: Well, I think there was a lot of questions, but they were really very nice to us. So I didn't feel any prejudice like some of the people in other areas had a lot of prejudice, and we didn't.

TI: And when you got back to school, just in terms of your studies, again, these are people that you went to school with before the war, you were three years at Poston, now you come back, were you about the same place as they were in terms of their studies in terms of math and reading, writing?

SA: I couldn't tell the difference at that time. But, see, during that time period, I think all of us as a group, the Japanese Americans, lost interest in studying. Because it was just, there were too many other pressures. We had to go home and work, you had to figure out a way to play. So playing during school time became a way in which you could have some fun.

TI: Oh, interesting. Because when you went home, it was all work.

SA: It's all work.

TI: There's no time to play.

SA: No time to play.

TI: So school was kind of your off time to...

SA: Yeah, where the group can get together, laugh, play, and not study.

TI: Oh, that's interesting, yeah. Because oftentimes, I see some kids where school is their work, and that's where they really focused, and then outside of school is where they can relax and play. But in your case, you didn't have that.

SA: Yes, yes. And all of us as a peer group, it was all work at home.

TI: And earlier you mentioned also in terms of grouping together, too, all of a sudden, like basketball, you actually played on a Japanese team and did things like that.

SA: And those were friends from high school that all banded together and we played sports. We had dances, we put on dances in the gymnasium.

TI: And so how did your family come back? You said it was like the toughest time after you got back. So what did it take to get back on your feet?

SA: Just hard work. It's all hard work.

TI: How about Mr. Kirkwood? Did he help, or was he still around?

SA: Oh, yeah, he was always helpful. But we had to get back on our own feet, and he helped us immensely. I mean, he can't say, "Well, I'm gonna now feed you," we didn't expect that.

TI: Now, I'm curious, during the war, how other farmers who didn't have to leave, how they fared during the war.

SA: Oh, tremendous.

TI: So that was a good time to be a farmer?

SA: Oh, yes. I mean, a lot of people, a lot of farmers made a lot of money in two ways. Number one, during the war, you could make a lot of money. But they were able to get a lot of the Japanese farms cheap, because it was a fire sale. So a lot of the farmers in the valley got rich. So there were was some animosity that really got built up because you could look at it as totally unfair treatment.

TI: Well, your dad probably -- I was going to ask if he ever was bitter about anything, but you said he was a positive thinker, so...

SA: Yeah, and he just says, "We've got to move on, rebuild, and get on with it." [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So let's get you out of high school. So you graduate from high school, what were you thinking? What would you do with your life after you graduated from high school?

SA: Well, it was interesting because I had terrible grades in high school.

TI: So when you say "terrible grades," were you like a C student, D student?

SA: Oh, yeah, C student, maybe even some Ds.

TI: Okay. Yeah, for a Japanese, you're a bad student. [Laughs] And did your parents get mad at you?

SA: Well, my dad told me I got to go to school; I got to get a college degree.

TI: Even though you were a C student in high school?

SA: Yeah, he says, "You got to."

TI: But what did you want to do? Did you want to go to college?

SA: Well, at that point in life I said, "Okay, let me go do it." I mean, I just sort of fell in line and did it. San Jose State at that time allowed students to go on trial. So they took me on trial, but the trial period meant that you had to take all the remedial classes that you didn't do well in high school, all the way from English, math, everything. So for one year I was on the trial program at San Jose State, re-taking math, high school algebra, trigonometry, English, bonehead English, the whole thing. And I concluded that I could do pretty good in school if I put my mind to it.

TI: And what changed? Why all of a sudden putting your mind to it?

SA: Well, I guess I grew up a little bit. And now I was sort of on my own. I didn't have the high school bunch, so I was sort of on my own. And being alone, I got driven to do better. And then finally I started getting As. I had never gotten As. [Laughs] So I said, gee... and then about that time, I had to decide what I'm going to major in when I started my real program at San Jose State, and I wanted to take the easiest course, which was drafting at that time. But I found out you can't get a job in drafting. The only job that was, that you can get a decent job was engineering. And more importantly at that time, I can get a draft deferment with engineering. So I said, "I'm going to go do that." And so finally I enrolled in engineering, and I started getting some very good grades.

TI: Now which engineering type were you in?

SA: Well, this was, at that point it was just general engineering.

TI: So just taking a lot of science course.

SA: Science, math, a lot of math courses, a lot of engineering...

TI: Lot of physics...

SA: Engineering, physics, chemistry, it's the lower division class. So finally I got enough good grades, so my dad said, "You got to go to Stanford." And the reason he said I've got to Stanford was because Kirkwood was a Stanford graduate.

TI: Interesting.

SA: So he says, "You got to go to Stanford."

TI: Back then, was it hard to get into Stanford? Like today, was it really hard to get into Stanford?

SA: I don't know. I still don't know how I got in. [Laughs]

TI: But you applied...

SA: Yeah, I applied and passed the tests, and I got in.

TI: Now was Stanford an expensive school to go to?

SA: At that time, yes. Well, it was... let me tell you how much it was at that time: six hundred sixty dollars a year.

TI: Okay, but back then that was a lot.

SA: Back then that was a lot of money.

TI: Today it would be a steal. [Laughs]

SA: [Laughs] So I got in, and I think what helped probably to get in was I went in as an upper division student because I was a transfer. And I think, at the time when I applied, there was enough openings. And for all I know -- I will never know, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Kirkwood helped me, because he was a Stanford grad. He was well respected. By the way, Kirkwood became the Controller of California.

TI: Controller of the state?

SA: Yeah, the state of California.

TI: Interesting. Is that an elected office or was that appointed?

SA: That's an appointed office.

TI: Interesting.

SA: So, anyway, I got into Stanford, and that was a rude awakening for me because San Jose State, I still did a lot of playing, and I still managed to get good grades. So I went to Stanford, and oh my god, I said, "I'm going to flunk out." It was so much harder, and the pressure was so great.

TI: And in terms of your classmates, who were your classmates? Were they from all around the country?

SA: Oh, yeah, they were from all over the country. Because Stanford was a very diversified school, even at that time.

TI: So not only the curriculum was harder, but the competition was harder.

SA: The competition was much harder. So I really had to buckle down. So I had to change all my habits from playing to studying really hard. [Laughs]

TI: And so you're about twenty years old, about nineteen, twenty?

SA: Yeah, yeah.

TI: So maybe you're just a late developer, I guess. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So you're at Stanford, and now, if you asked your classmates and your professors what kind of student you were, what would they say now?

SA: Well, at that time, when I was a junior and senior, I was probably close to a B-plus, A-minus average.

TI: Still not the best student.

SA: I wasn't at the very top, no. But getting off to... and I guess the head of the mechanical engineering department, his name was Professor London, really got a liking for me, and he said, "I'm going to make sure you go get your master's." And he got me a research grant, so I was able to get my master's on a naval research lab contract.

TI: So what did Professor London see in you? You were a good student, but not a top student. Why did he go out of his way to say you're, you should go get your master's?

SA: I'm not sure; I'm not sure.

TI: What do you think? What do you think it would be?

SA: Well, see, London taught thermodynamics; his major was thermodynamics, and I did well in thermodynamics.

TI: Yeah, that's a tough topic, thermodynamics.

SA: And he not only taught thermodynamics, but he also taught one more thing. He said, "When you go out in the industry, problems are not written for you to solve. You got to define your own problem." So he used to force us to define our own problem. Said, "You got to make assumptions, because in the practical world, you got to make assumptions." So he'd give problems in which you have to make assumptions. And the most important thing after that was the methodology. The answer is almost secondary.

TI: So it's how you frame the problems and then figure out the methods --

SA: How you set the assumptions, the methodology. Yeah, you got to have the answer, but he says the more important thing is the conclusions. What conclusions are you going to draw from this? So I really got excited about that, and I really liked that. In fact, I still practice that today.

TI: Yeah, I think that's very kind of engineering minded. I think, as you say, the assumptions, or how you frame the problem is probably the most critical thing to do.

SA: That's right. Because if you make the wrong assumptions...

TI: Because the rest of it is mechanical in many ways.

SA: Yeah, you're going to draw the wrong conclusions. You're going to give the wrong answer and wrong conclusions.

TI: And that is a gift. I mean, sometimes the guys who get good grades can't do that. They're not as good at making those.

SA: Yes. So I have sort of mastered that, and I think maybe he saw that process work with me.

TI: Because that, in some ways, is a more creative process. It's not necessarily just the horsepower of the calculations, it's actually...

SA: That's right.

TI: So that may be your gift. [Laughs] I'm still going through and figuring this out. Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So you get your master's at Stanford, and then what did you do?

SA: Well, it was sort of interesting because one professor wanted me to go to Caterpillar, because he was the head of research at Caterpillar, and he retired and was teaching at Stanford.

TI: Is Caterpillar Midwest?

SA: Yeah, you know, Caterpillar tractor in Peoria, Illinois. So he says -- spring break, before I got my master's -- he says, "I'm going to get you an airplane ticket, I'm going to get Caterpillar to buy you a ticket, and we're going to fly you to Caterpillar.

TI: To get a job interview.

SA: To get a job interview. So the other professor heard about and said, "Well, if you're going to do that, you got to go to Argonne National Lab," because nuclear engineering was becoming a key item at that time.

TI: And what year was this?

SA: This was 1955. And so I got an interview at Argonne National Lab, and also at Westinghouse in Pennsylvania. That was their nuclear division at that time. And another professor says, "You got to go see the jet engine plant," so I went to GE's Cincinnati plant. Well, there was two of us that went through this thing, we both got the same treatment. And we went there and we caught a blizzard in Chicago, we went to Caterpillar and it was cold and just, I mean, it was just snowy. It was terrible. [Laughs] And then we went to Pittsburgh, and it was a coal mining town at that time, it was dirty, the buildings were all gray. And we went to Cincinnati and it wasn't any better, so we said, "God, how can anybody work out here?" [Laughs] And this is in April when it's during spring break. So we decided we don't want to go to any of these places, so we went to Southern California where aerospace was starting up, both aircraft, jet engines, and at that time space, missiles in space.

TI: So that was an exciting time in terms of that industry.

SA: That's right.

TI: In some ways, I would liken it to maybe the Silicon Valley.

SA: In fact, I want to get back to that, because I have a story to tell at the end. So anyway, what happened was, there was a company called Rocketdyne, which was a division of North American Aviation, just had started the rocket engine development in the Santa Susana Mountains in Canoga Park. And so two of us jumped at that. We said, "That's the place to go."

TI: Because that was kind of like the future, that was like the new, high-tech...

SA: That was the frontier. That was the frontier.

TI: The exciting, new stuff was happening right there.

SA: That's right. And right about that time, Sputnik got launched.

TI: Oh, right.

SA: And here we said, "Oh, my god." We didn't know anything about satellites.

TI: But at that point, hardly anyone knew anything about it.

SA: Well, there was no classes in space at all, or rocketry or satellites, nothing. Absolutely none. And so I went to Rocketdyne, and they looked at me and says, "You got a master's, you're in thermodynamics, you took combustion engineering, you're going to go solve a problem that we've been working on, that we haven't been able to figure out." So I got tossed into this most difficult problem, which was high frequency combustion instability. And we were blowing up engines, and we'd have missiles on a test stand, we'd light the engine, and before it lifts off, it blows up. And it was high frequency instability, and at that time we didn't understand it, but once we started to analyze this, and we built a two-dimensional engine with quartz grass with a Schilieren photograph, we can see the detonation frequency. And what happened was the detonation velocity and the acoustic resonance frequency was too close to each other.

TI: Oh, so it was kind of like, it would kind of feed off each other, the energy?

SA: Yeah, you got it to resonate. The combustion energy triggered the instability. And once you did that, the combustion process just cycled into resonance.

TI: Yeah, it reminds me of, there's the classic case up in the Northwest, the Narrows Bridge, and how the wind would resonate, and all of a sudden the oscillation would just create this...

SA: Same thing; same thing, yes. So we conquered that.

TI: So this is interesting. I mean, this is like high stakes, expensive, why weren't they recruiting PhDs to do this? Why a master's? Did you ever find that that was a hindrance in terms of only having a master's and not a PhD? Like why weren't they hiring your professors?

SA: Well, I think I happened to just land there at the right time.

TI: So they needed this problems solved, you were probably the most qualified they had around...

SA: Yeah, yeah. They threw me at it. So they took a senior engineer who knew how to set the test up and everything, and I became sort of the analyst, the young analyst, and we worked together. And I still remember we were able to get some... we developed a camera with a million frames per second, took pictures, and we went to Huntsville. Huntsville was run by Von Braun at that time. And Von Braun got totally excited with what we were doing, because this was the Saturn V engine, the big million and a half pound engine. And it was going unstable every time.

TI: And so you had this camera, a million frames per second, because you could then slow motion it?

SA: You could capture the wave, the motion, you'd capture the wave motion. And we had to verify that wave motion and the acoustic resonance was in tune with each other.

TI: Just from hearing you tell this story, I could tell you got pretty passionate about this.

SA: Oh, yeah.

TI: This was pretty exciting.

SA: Well, in fact, it was really exciting because here I was a young engineer, flew to Huntsville, two of us, went in front of Von Braun...

TI: Yeah, the "Father of Rockets."

SA: And briefed him with the Schilieren pictures, and he got totally excited. [Laughs] And what we ended up doing is built baffles inside the chamber to kill, change the resident frequencies. And if you look at a Saturn V engine, there's radio baffles across.

TI: Because, again, once you asked the right question and frame it, then you can come up with the right solution.

SA: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And in some ways, I think about this, it seemed like a pretty simple solution.

SA: That's right; it was a very simple solution once we understood.

TI: So was this the project that sort of catapulted you? I mean, this was kind of like something that because you were successful, got you on the radar with other people?

SA: Yeah, because that got me into a supervisory job, and I was only probably a year out of school.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: And is this the kind of process that you continued? Because your career is long, and we would be here for three hours talking about the rest, but is that kind of how you did things? You would kind of jump in and...

SA: Well, the next job was at Lockheed. Because the whole rocket engine field, when you think about the development period between about 1954-'55 period, over a five year period, we developed all the rocket engines.

TI: Up to the Saturn, right?

SA: Except for the shuttle -- yeah, including the Saturn.

TI: Which did the Apollo, right?

SA: Yes. So all of those engines were developed in that six-year period.

TI: Even though they weren't used until the late '60s, right?

SA: That's because it takes a long time from engine development to fly in the booster. The engine is the long lead item, because without the engine... and the engine at that time was a trial and error process. So we blew up so many engines in the Santa Susana Mountains. I could tell you all kinds of stories about it, because we were playing with exotic propellants at that time. Because we were trying to get the ISP up as high as possible. But anyway, that was an exciting period. And then I was there for three and a half years.

TI: But that was as far as it was going to go.

SA: Saturn engine was the ultimate, because that was both LOX-hydrogen and... LOX-hydrocarbon and LOX-hydrogen. So we hit both propellants head on, and we said there's not going to be much more beyond that.

TI: Unless there's new technology, that's as far as that's going to bring it. And so you decided to jump to a whole new realm.

SA: Yeah, to satellites.

TI: Which, again, was probably unknown or a lot of...

SA: Yeah. It was, I think when I got there, there was two hundred people there.

TI: So what is it about you that makes doing new things exciting? I mean, it's sort of like you were... I mean, some people don't like that. They would say, well, great, I'm kind of the expert on rockets, even though we've maxed that out, it's good for probably ten, fifteen years, I can really ride this and do that.

SA: Yes, yes.

TI: But you, as soon as, in some ways, you got to the point where you could kind of coast a little bit, you left that for something else.

SA: That's right.

TI: So was that something that you did as a kid, or was that a pattern of yours? I mean, where did that come from?

SA: Well, I don't know. To me, it was exciting to do that.

TI: Okay, so just like a passion.

SA: It was a passion to do that. So when I went to Lockheed, again, I got on the first most critical program for the space age, and that was the first photographic reconnaissance satellite program. And that was because the U-2 had been shot down, we lost the eyes over the Soviet Union, and Eisenhower says, "You are going to get a satellite up there in nine months."

TI: And it's going to take pictures and you're going to be able to see everything?

SA: Yeah, yeah.

TI: But even with a satellite, I mean, was the photography so well-developed that they could zoom in that high resolution?

SA: Well, I'll tell you something. In Corona, we got to about thirty feet. The next generation which we developed in, started development in 1964, the first one, Corona flew... the first one flew in 1960, and operationally we got to about thirty feet. The next generation that we put up, the next generation we put up, we got to three feet.

TI: How does that compare with, like, Google Earth technology?

SA: Today, commercially, it's one meter.

TI: So pretty similar to what you were doing.

SA: Yes.

TI: Okay. That's commercially, though. Okay, interesting. And this is, I'm sorry, the three feet threshold was what year, roughly?

SA: Well, we developed that three feet system in 1964-'65. And we flew it, we flew it successfully... well actually, I shouldn't say... yeah, we started flying these high resolution systems in '64, '65. And those systems flew all the way up to about the mid-'80s. And each satellite was able to photograph the entire Soviet Union and China. We had five hundred pounds of film on each satellite. I mean, two thousand pounds, five hundred pounds per bucket, because we have to return film with a reentry vehicle.

TI: That's right, I forget it's all film back then. It's not digital.

SA: No electronics in those days. In fact, we flew those satellites with single transistor devices. That's all we had. And then we took the single transistors and made a hybrid out of it by building a bigger can and soldering all the transistors together. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, I have to remember... that's amazing.

SA: And the difficulty there was we didn't have the manufacturing technique to solder these things to be survivable in space, because we've got a radiation environment. And then during the testing process, we have leaky cans, and the air would contaminate the transistors and oxidize it, and the part begins to degrade. So, I mean, we had a lot of development problems.

TI: Now, all these satellites in these older programs, are they still flying around, or are they space junk and they've come into the atmosphere and burn up?

SA: We bring every one down.

TI: Okay, so you just burn 'em up. Okay, interesting.

SA: So I got in the front end of that, and that was an exciting period for me.

TI: Right. And earlier, during the break, you were saying how the imagery spawned all these other kind of side projects that have become...

SA: Well, yes. The first thing we had to do was we had to get a weather satellite up there because we had to study the cloud pattern. Because otherwise we were getting pictures of the cloud cover all the time. [Laughs] So we got a satellite, weather satellite working. The other thing we concluded is we were getting all these film, wanted to make maps, and we were using a stellar camera to get the Ephemeris position proper. And we used to have benchmarks, what we called coin targets, that we take photographs of, so that we can geometrically calibrate position, in space position on the ground. And so when we create the maps, we have everything all indexed. And that's how we came up with the GIS system.

TI: Okay, so GPS, Global Positioning Satellites.

SA: And then we decided we got to develop a global (positioning) satellite system.

TI: Okay. So all that was...

SA: That was 1964, we got started on it.

TI: So you were on the ground floor of all these new things that essentially run the iPhone now. [Laughs] That's interesting.

SA: So that came about. In the meantime, we had to develop wider and wider band communication satellites, because with imagery, if you want to pass data around, you need bandwidth. So we had to go really work on high speed digital chips.

TI: So how do you feel about, so all the technology you're talking about -- I joke, but it's true. They have now, are in the consumer realm, GPS, imagery, satellite weather things, and literally I do use all of those on my iPhone.

SA: That's right. Well, and the other thing that got started was the DARPA net.

TI: Right, so the internet.

SA: And that was started in about the 1964 period, too. So all of these were coupled together. If you think about imaging satellites, communications satellites, GPS, the DARPA net, they all, if you really look at the whole system, it was all, we put it all together.

TI: And did you in any way think about or forecast how these technologies are being used today?

SA: No, we were so busy developing. And so basically we went through the mechanical, electrical age, where we had cameras and motors and so on, to a period which we really worked hard on, digital electronics and software, so we can get computers into the satellites.

TI: Right, so you had to pioneer a lot of things.

SA: Yeah, so we pioneered a lot of that. And then we...

TI: And computer-wise, who did you guys work with back then?

SA: Everybody. Everybody. We bought every computer that we... in fact, what we did was, in order to create an imagery workstation, we had to build our own workstation. So we decided to build our own chips. So we built twenty-seven custom chips, because we needed to get terabytes of imagery transmission through all the workstations from one workstation to another. So we had to develop, we developed the Ampex tape recorder, and just put everything together. We even built a Pick and Place Machine.

TI: A "Pick and Place Machine"?

SA: Yeah, it's, you know, every custom chip, we created an eleven-layer board, eleven-layer board, and we had to place chips on the eleven. And if we did it by hand, we'd never get there, so we went to Apple and got them to help us put the Pick and Place Machine, it's very early in the game.

TI: Interesting.

SA: So we built our own workstation.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So at some point, the aerospace and what you were doing really merged with the high tech.

SA: Oh, it was... in fact, in a lot of respects, we drove the high tech. And Silicon Graphic and Sun adopted all the workstation development we did and created the next generation workstation.

TI: So at any point in your career did you think of jumping to the high tech side?

SA: Well, I was in the high tech all the time.

TI: Well, or consumer high tech, like the Apples...

SA: Well, what happened here is I was so tied into the national security programs that I could not let go of that. Could not let go of that.

TI: Because of just your commitment to national security?

SA: Yeah, yeah. And not only that, but see, the next generation that we had was networking. Because all the services were slow pipe, so we had to break... in fact, every service had their own encryption device. Every service had their own waveform, and this went on and on. So we had to build, we had to build a satellite system in which we had to develop all of our encryption devices, our own waveform, our own router. We built a router, put it in the satellite, so we can have an end-to-end global system that tied all the services together. And that's how we worked the services to come together. And once we did that, we were able to put a network system together. And that's what we demonstrated in the Gulf War.

TI: So did that remain kind of a secure proprietary system, or is that now the basis of something now?

SA: That's the basis of today's internet.

TI: Okay, so the DARPA net and things like that.

SA: Because we worked the DARPA net and the satellites all together.

TI: Wow. I'm in awe. This is pretty amazing stuff. This is pretty cool.

SA: And then, if you think about today's... if you really think about what we're doing with unmanned aerial vehicles, that's a low-flying satellite.

TI: It's a what?

SA: It's a low-flying satellite.

TI: A low-flying satellite.

SA: That is a low-flying satellite.

TI: You mean satellite technology is such that it's sort of self-aware and can see things?

SA: No, no, because there's a huge backroom operation. Those things don't work. I mean, you take Apple, what drives the Apple? It's the backroom. Handset is the user...

TI: Right, so when I talk to Siri, it's really going to the backroom, the mainframe...

SA: And there's many, many satellites, many, many routers, and it's all worked through the backroom.

TI: So in some ways, I liken it to... because I lived pretty much through the PC revolution, and going from mainframe technologies back to PC, but it's now the opposite where the devices are essentially dumb terminals, in some ways, going to the...

SA: Yeah. I mean, the cloud is put together with satellites and fibernets. That's what the cloud is.

TI: So let me ask a philosophical... what's the danger of all this?

SA: Well, I'll tell you what the danger is. See, we released all of this that was put together: GPS, communications satellites, the DARPA net, imaging satellites, everything, was commercialized right after the Cold War. There was a presidential directive, and I worked on a lot of the presidential directives, so I know exactly how this all came about. And it got commercialized and it got released to the world. Not only released... and the backbone of this thing are satellites, fibernets, they were all U.S.-built. GPS works because we got thirty satellites working. Guess whose satellites? They're U.S. government satellites, and the whole world is using them. And not only that, not only do we give out the technology, we gave out all the manufacturing to everybody. During the Cold War, all the manufacturing had to be developed in this country, because we couldn't let it out. Now, we let some of it out to our allies like Japan, who really worked hard with the U.S., Germany did. So there's countries that we worked with, England, UK. So the strong ally nations all benefited with this joint effort to develop the technology. We gave that all away, that's the flat earth. And not only that, but the U.S. stopped all of the R&D. If you think about the old Bell lab, the old RCA lab, the old IBM lab, and we have labs in our company, they're all gone. We have nothing now. And we are not rebuilding it.

TI: So we've put this infrastructure out there, we've put the manufacturing out of the U.S., and we're not replenishing...

SA: We're not replenishing.

TI: ...with R&D.

SA: That's right.

TI: And in fact, from the corporate world at Microsoft, what they call R&D is really product development, it's not research.

SA: It's all application R&D. There's no basic R&D.

TI: Yeah, I mean, losing Bell Labs and things like that...

SA: That's right, they're all gone now. All gone.

TI: And the university systems aren't...

SA: Well, they're trying, but you can only do so much in a university.

TI: And with the economy and cuts, the government is looking to cut a lot of that basic research.

SA: Yeah. So that's the problem, serious problem. So I see us just like 1955 over again. We're going to get a rude awakening.

TI: Like another Sputnik.

SA: We're going to get another rude awakening.

TI: Interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So we've been doing this for two hours, and so I want to just come back to you. Any reflections? When you think about your life, your career... and I do mean it, I am in awe of what you've worked in, how did that happen?

SA: Well, if I look back, I would never replace this with anything else. I mean, I think a lot of it is timing and being at the right place at the right time, because I don't think I'm any smarter than anybody else.

TI: But there were other men and women who were at the right place at the right time, but they chose you. Why you? What happened? What was the dynamic that made you sort of the key person in so many places?

SA: In a way... in a way I was a rebel. I was always looking for a change. And companies need to make changes, and if you don't make changes, you can fail; you'll go out of business. So I guess I chose to always try to be on the leading edge of change. And I had the vision, I was able to get the vision to do that at the right time.

TI: Interesting. When you said that, it reminded me of some of the high tech experiences I had. So I was at Microsoft when it was a small company, under a thousand, and when you talked about people who like change, they were there. But then corporations change, and at some point when they get really large, that ability to innovate and change really is harder.

SA: Yes.

TI: Did you see that in your industry in terms of places like Lockheed?

SA: Yes. In fact, the companies that couldn't change begin to fall down.

TI: You see it in the high tech especially. But I don't see it as much in the big aerospace.

SA: Well, let me tell you something. Aerospace has gotten so bureaucratic, it's in bad shape. But it's not just the industry, it's the government. The industry and the government all work together, and the government has become too bureaucratic. I mean, you could see it today, it's just totally bureaucratic. That's why we can't get anything done. We developed those systems in the early days, the most complex system, in three to four years. Now it takes over ten years. And what happens is, when you have... see, in order to do something in two to three years, you put together the best team you can and you hold them to the fire and say, "You're not going to leave this program until you're successful." But in three to four years you can do that. You can hold the team together. You stretch it out ten years, guess what? You got three generations of people. Every time you change people, you got to relearn. Not only that, but they want to reinvent again. You'll never get through.

TI: So there's almost like this magic time...

SA: And you can see that with our internet explosion that occurred in Silicon Valley, same thing.

TI: So it's almost a myth to have a five year, ten year plan...

SA: You don't want to have a ten year, five, ten year.

TI: You need more like a nine month or eighteen month kind of time.

SA: I mean, we did a lot of things, anywhere from two years to four year period. There were major breakthrough programs. I mean, we went from a mechanical system to a total electronic system.

TI: What's interesting in the high tech area, two to four years is too long now. The cycles are now, they talk about three months.

SA: Well, you know why it is. I've gone through three levels of integration. We started at mechanical, electrical integration, where we integrated mechanical devices and electrical devices. Then we went to a digital software world, and we integrated at the digital level and at the software level. We went then to the information level, and we now integrate everything at the information level. And when you do that, you can do things much faster. Every time you go up this ladder, you do things faster. Now, however, to get to that information level, there is an infrastructure under there.

TI: Right, exactly. And people don't understand that.

SA: And if that infrastructure doesn't get improved with time, you won't be able to do the integration at the information level. And that's where we're going to begin to fall down.

TI: And that's where my career was, in more that software level.

SA: See, what's happening here is I look at the whole economic failure that occurred with the financing world. People built algorithms, built complex computer programs, and the people that run the computer programs have no idea how it was built.

TI: Yeah, I know that for a fact. I've talked to some of those people. Interesting. At the beginning of this interview, I mentioned, I think I noted that you were eighty years old.

SA: Yes.

TI: And during the break you mentioned that you have, like, a new venture you're working on?

SA: Yes, yes.

TI: Tell me about that. What's your mind thinking about right now?

SA: Well, you know Ko Nishimura?

TI: Yes, I know Ko.

SA: Okay. Ko and I founded a company, and what we're doing is revolutionizing farming.

TI: So how are you going to revolutionize -- or how much can you tell me? Some of this might be proprietary, but tell me what you can.

SA: Well, let me tell you, we're doing everything indoors.

TI: So like hydroponics?

SA: No, no. Soil.

TI: Indoor...

SA: Soil.

TI: Indoor farming.

SA: So what we have done is we have developed a multidiscipline team of farmers, engineers, biologists, and we have synthesized the art of growing plants with lights, soil, and controlled irrigation, and this is a living soil system.

TI: Interesting.

SA: So we're bridging physical science and biological science together. And if you look at the academic world today, biological science and physical science are still very stovepipe.

TI: Interesting. Well, off camera I'm going to ask you more about this. So, Sam, anything else? We covered a lot, and there's a lot more, but we're now past two hours, so I want to end this for you. So any last words for this interview?

SA: No... I've had a very interesting life. It's been a very rewarding life for me, and I guess I would never trade it for anything.

TI: Very good. Well, again, thank you so much for doing this interview.

SA: Well, thank you for being able to work with me, and hopefully this will do, be of benefit to other people.

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