Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lawson I. Sakai Interview
Narrator: Lawson I. Sakai
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 13, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-472

<Begin Segment 1>

PW: Okay, my name is Patricia Wakida, and today I'm interviewing Lawson I. Sakai. It is March 13, 2019, and we are in Emeryville, California, Dana Hoshide is on camera. So good morning, Lawson, and thank you so much for agreeing to do this. My first questions are, where were you born and when were you born?

LS: I always say I was born in Los Angeles, but actually, it was a little town called Montebello. In those days, it was a little town, and it was 7 miles from L.A. City Hall. Now it's all one large community, but Montebello had a lot of Japanese farmers, and it was pretty rural in those days. That was 1923.

PW: What day were you born? What day were you born?

LS: Oh, October 27, 1923.

PW: Were you born at home, or were you born in a hospital?

LS: No, there was, I think, a Japanese facility that a lot of the Japanese people, because they were having children, didn't go to hospitals, they went to, I think it was before the Japanese hospital was built. They were with, what do you call the ladies that would deliver babies? Anyway, probably that's how it happened.

PW: Tell me about your parents, what were your parents' names?

LS: My father was named Shotaro Sakai, and my mother's name was Himo. My aunt (Yana), who was about five years older than my mother, we all lived together. And the way it happened, my aunt and uncle came in 1895, so they worked hard and saved enough money to buy five acres of land in Montebello as Issei in their own name, because it was before the alien land law was passed. My aunt and uncle eventually got divorced, but my aunt retained the policy. And there were two houses there, we lived in one, my aunt lived in the other. But since it was the bigger house, my two sisters at that time lived with her, and I lived with my parents. Well, we had five acres of lath greenhouses, and that was where they worked most of the time. But my uncle had a large farm, well, large in those days, I would guess it might have been twenty-five, thirty acres. About 13 miles farther away, in a place called Blue Hills, it's now the home of a fancy country club (La Mirada). And those days there was nothing, just barren, rolling land, and about seven Japanese families farmed. There were no roads, they just cut pathways where the cars could go, and he farmed here and there. So during the summer growing season, my father spent a lot of his time down there. And in the summer, when I got old enough, I would go with my father and work on the farm doing whatever, taking care of the mules or whatever had to be done. And so even though we lived in Montebello, we were still farmers, you might say.

PW: Where did your mother and father come from in Japan? Where did they live in Japan?

LS: Everybody came from Kumamoto as most of the people around there, because most of the Kyushu farming people just weren't making a living. And so a lot of Kumamoto people emigrated to the United States, Hawaii and the U.S., and their skills were whatever they could do on the land. So most of them took to farming. Of course, the Japanese Issei, amazingly, were very aggressive, and starting as a laborer, gradually acquiring land, and becoming larger and larger farmers. I'll skip ahead to 1939, '40, right after the Depression years, the Japanese farmers had taken over the Ninth Street wholesale market in Los Angeles. They had taken over the Seventh Street flower market in Los Angeles, so there was a lot of jealousy among the Caucasian farmers. Because the Japanese, instead of farming ten, fifteen acres, were going a hundred to a thousand acres, unheard of by the Caucasian farmers. So in the Imperial Valley, Santa Maria, Guadalupe in Central California and Southern California, Central California, the Japanese farmers were really getting big. In 1940, my uncle was driving a Chrysler Airflow, which today would be the biggest Mercedes you could buy. People would see him driving, I'm sure they were thinking, "What is that Jap doing in that car?" It would be like forty, fifty years ago, if you saw a black person in a new car, the cops would probably stop him to find out where he stole it. That's the way it was in that time. So because of all that jealousy, I'm sure the pressure was put on the military and the U.S. government to chase the Japanese out. That was the start of the evacuation.

PW: Do you know when your parents immigrated to the United States, and did they come together?

LS: Probably... I think my father came about (1905). My mother, he went back and brought her as a bride probably about five years later. Let's see, my oldest sister was born in 1916, so I would guess she came about 1915.

PW: You said your father came in 1905?

LS: Around then. He came as one of the young men just to find work, hoping to earn enough money to go back to Japan and become a wealthy farmer.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

PW: What kind of farming did you do? What were the crops that your family grew?

LS: The five acres in Montebello was a lath house. We grew what they called Asparagus plumosus fern. It was something the florists would use as a spray and the bouquet, and there weren't too many people growing that. The ranch out in the Blue Hills area, we had maybe five acres of fig tree, we had maybe five acres of flower peach blossoms, and we probably grew... I remember string beans, celery, what else did we grow? Basic vegetables that you could harvest in the summertime, and it kept us pretty busy.

PW: Can you describe what the home itself was like? So I understand you lived with your mother and father and your sisters lived with your aunt, but can you describe what the house looked like, what your rooms and the kitchen was like?

LS: The house that my aunt and uncle, I think they bought it. I don't think they had it made, because that whole area, it was a regular house with, they had a front porch with these square pillars, and you see those occasionally, so they're dated back to maybe 1915, 1920, and a lot of the houses were built in that same fashion. And most Japanese farmers lived in, you might say, shacks, and they built whatever they could and gradually improved the shacks into live buildings. And in those days, very few had indoor plumbing, the farmers all had an outhouse. We were in the city, we had indoor plumbing, so it was quite a plus.

PW: Did you have chores or things you had to do in the house as well as in the farm?

LS: Well, because we were pretty much in the city, growing up in Montebello, once in a while they would ask me to water the ferns. We had pipes overhead that would go back, and, well, you had to manually turn it one way and then when it was wet, turn it back the other way, and then shut it off north of the next one. And that would be my job, but it wasn't all the time, it was once in a while. So I didn't really do too many chores except summertime when I wasn't in school, I spent most of my time at the ranch.

PW: You mentioned you have sisters, so tell me about your siblings, and tell me the order and birth in their names.

LS: Well, my older sister was seven years older than me. She passed away about five years ago at ninety-seven. My younger sister, she was the second child, younger than my older sister by about three, four years. She died in 1936, she was fourteen years old. She had a condition called "blue baby," I think it's a very minor surgery now to correct it, it's some kind of a leakage in the heart. In those days, they didn't know what to do, so they just let her die. She laid in her bed for about three months before she died.

PW: What were your sisters' names, both of them?

LS: Misako was the older, Mieko, M-I-E-K-O, was the younger one.

PW: So you were the baby.

LS: And I'm the third and last. That's why my name is little funny, it's spelled I-I-C-H-I-R-O, Iichiro. So I don't know, they emphasized the "Ii." [Laughs]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

PW: What was your full name when you were born then?

LS: It was Iichiro Sakai. People ask me, where did I get the name Lawson? Well, I'll explain it. I spoke Japanese at home, as all of us did, because our parents didn't speak English to speak of. So at age five, my older sisters were already in school, they dragged me off, and this is a Christian, Seventh Day Adventist, one house with two rooms. The elder minister taught five to eight, the wife taught one to four. The younger four ages are grouped, and he taught the larger group. Well, I didn't speak English, maybe one or two words. So I get into this classroom, and the teacher can't understand what I'm saying, and I can't understand what she's saying, so it took a while to get myself to learn enough English to be able to read and write and so forth. Well, as a young kid, you pick it up pretty fast. At some point, their name happened to be Mr. and Mrs. Lawson. They happened to be English, and they had been missionaries for the Seventh Day Adventist church. Well, Mrs. Lawson said, "You need an English name, so I'm just going to write 'Lawson' on your, everything on your paperwork, and then when you get older, you choose a name that you like and just replace it." Well, I never did. So all through grammar school, all through high school, junior college, I was Iichiro, whatever they wanted to call me. In 1943, when I volunteered to go to the 442nd, the military would ask you, "Last name, first name, middle initial." Well, everything is written "Lawson Iichiro Sakai," so I had to answer "Sakai, Lawson I." Ever since 1943, I became Lawson. So that's where the name came from.

PW: Did you regularly go to church in addition to the school?

LS: I didn't regularly go, but because my parents were Seventh Day Adventists, the White Memorial Church in Los Angeles is the biggest Seventh Day Adventist church. And it's connected to the College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, California, which is nursing and medical doctor school. Well, a long story is, there was a missionary that went to Japan, became very fluent speaking Japanese. Mr. and Mrs. Herboltzheimer, German, well, the White Memorial Church had this big building, and the congregation would meet in there. But they had a basement room, and the Japanese, there were about twenty-five Japanese Issei that were members of the Japanese church. They would go in the basement, and Elder  Herboltzheimer would speak to them in Japanese, so they would correspond very well. So the Japanese really enjoyed it because they didn't have to learn English, they could understand the Japanese. But I used to go with them on Saturday. Sometimes I'd go to the church, sometimes I'd go down to the shops, I wasn't a very good churchgoer. Well, a lot of students, mostly from Hawaii, that wanted to go to medical school or nursing school, would end up from Hawaii going to Loma Linda, that's near Pomona. And as they would graduate, going into internship, they would come to the White Memorial Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in L.A., and do their basic, you might say, training there. Well, one of them was named Perry Sumida from Honolulu, very poor family. He worked his way through the school. He and my older sister started dating, this is in the late '30s. Well, in the late '30s, as he's dating her, my parents wanted me to go along as the chaperone. And so Perry had a classmate named Ernest Ching from Honolulu, that was in the same medical class. So the four of us would go wherever, to plays, some movies, car shows, whatever, the one night a week or a month I would go out. So Ernest would be my date, you might say, and we'd kind of break off, and he'd take me places, and even showed me how to eat a hot dog, which at Seventh Day Adventist, we never had meat. We had chicken, but very seldom had any meat, and hot dogs basically being pork, it was taboo, because Seventh Day Adventists don't eat pork. Well, Ernest, "Hey, try this, put some mustard on it." [Laughs] But most Hawaiian kids, even Seventh Day Adventists like Dr. Kuninobu, a famous doctor from Hawaii that graduated Loma Linda, he would eat the dried duck, he'd go to Chinatown in Los Angeles, pick up three or four of those ducks, break it, he'd pass it out to everybody, say, "Let's eat duck," when we'd have lunches. The Hawaiian people didn't have any problem eating... duck is a webbed foot bird, well, you know, that's the Old Testament in the Bible, they don't eat animals with, they call it cloven hoof, it's the hoof with the cut like this, or you don't eat fish without scales, like an eel, or you don't eat fowl with webbed feet. So those were taboo.

PW: Did your parents, were they involved in community events, or were they involved with any organizations?

LS: Only in church, because they worked six to seven days a week. But usually they took Saturday off, and that was their holy day and they went to church. And when they would be at church, they would look around and see if there were any Japanese people there, would be the youngest students in medical school during internship. Well, they would bring them home and give them a Japanese lunch and bring them back. So I got to know a lot of Hawaiian kids, and they're not kids, they're adults, but I got to meet a lot of them.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

PW: You've already talked a little bit about this, but what did you do for fun as a kid and as a teenager?

LS: What's that?

PW: What did you do for fun as a kid and as a teenager?

LS: Well, in high school, I got involved in sports, athletic sports. And we had a coach at our high school that said, "There are two things I want to impress on you. No smoking," and there were some kids that were smoking in high school, there was a little restaurant across the street from the high school that the smoking kids would go to. We never went out smoking and dancing, you don't do that. You run, you train by running laps around the high school track, we want you to stay in shape all year long. So I played football and baseball, and ran a little bit of track, but track and baseball kind of interfered. I was in a group of kids that just stayed in shape, that's all we did was train all year.

PW: What were the names of the schools you went to?

LS: Montebello High School.

PW: What about elementary school?

LS: I think the first school was called Ditman school, Seventh (Day Adventist School), and it's one to eight. But there were only like, maybe twenty kids all together in the eight grades.

PW: In Montebello High School, was it very mixed, or was it mostly Japanese?

LS: Well, there must have been maybe ten Japanese farmers around that area. So their kids, they came to the school. There was Kobayashi, Goto, Bessho, Uyematsu, Kuroiwa, probably two or three others, I just can't place their names. So there were a few Japanese kids.

PW: But the rest of the high school, was it white?

LS: Practically ninety-nine percent Caucasian. I think there was one Korean, the Kim family, and seven or eight Japanese families. I don't think there was any black students, there were a lot of Mexicans, because we were near what they call Simon's Brick Factory, it was south of Montebello, it was kind of a real poor area, these Mexican, you might say, we called them Braceros that came up to work the fields in the summer, they lived in Simon's, and you went after them to get labor because most of them didn't have transportation. And then in the depression years, as the people from Texas and Oklahoma started moving to California to get out of the Dust Bowl, a lot of them settled in an area called Bell Gardens, about five to seven, eight miles southwest of Montebello. Since there was no, it was kind of an open area, barren land, and they just settled there and built shacks and so forth, for school, there was no school around there. So they were brought to the Montebello High School, and Montebello had a very nice boulevard, had a nice park with a swimming pool, had a nice brick high school. I don't know when they built that, but they spent a lot of money on this first class. But all these, they called them Okie kids, all the Okie kids started coming from Bell Gardens, and the bus from Montebello would go down there and pick up the kids and bring them. So all of a sudden we got a mixture of Mexican and Okies, and the school became a little different, because most of the Okies were practically without shoes, and very few clothes, they were just really dirt poor. And most of them didn't have lunches, that kind of thing. It was really interesting.

PW: Were you friends with different kids of different races?

LS: Oh, yeah, because I ran a lot. Our track team was famous, I called it CIF, California Interscholastic Federation, track meets, Montebello High School, I think at one point we won nine consecutive cross-country titles. And most of the Mexican boys, a lot of them came from Simon's, and a lot of them smoked marijuana. [Laughs] And maybe that helped them run, I don't know, but they could run and run and run, and I would kind of run with them once in a while, I couldn't keep up, of course.

PW: Did you date in high school? Did you ever go on dates?

LS: Not really. My senior prom, I did take one of my classmates, I don't know, I guess I must have asked her if she had a date for the prom, and she said, "No." I said, "Well, I'd like to go, would you like to go?" "Oh, yeah." So I'd never dated, but bought a corsage and I picked her up and we went. I never saw her again, but I never had a girlfriend in high school. We were, our coach said, "Don't monkey with the girls, that's trouble." [Laughs] I guess he knew from experience. He kept us on the straight and narrow.

PW: Were you a good student?

LS: I wasn't good, I wasn't bad, I was just, I'd say maybe a B average. I don't thing, I was never an A student, and I was probably better than a C student. When I graduated in 1941, I decided I'd go to Compton junior college. My parents wanted me to go to Loma Linda to become a doctor. And I wasn't that set on the Seventh Day Adventist religion. I'd seen enough of it and the hypocrisy, you know, they preach one thing and they do something else, and I didn't like that. So I decided I'd go to Compton junior college. But Compton, now, is a hundred and ten percent black with a fence around it. In 1941 when I went there, I think there were two black students.

PW: Who were the other people that lived in Compton?

LS: All Caucasian, there were quite a few of them. Well, Compton junior college was a subsidiary of USC, University of Southern California. USC was a big national powerhouse in track, football, baseball, and they would recruit athletes from all over the country. And, of course, they would be full at USC, but they would park them at Compton junior college. And this being wartime, a lot of the athletes had gone off to war, so I could play football, 145 pounds, I could play football, not the varsity but the junior varsity at Compton junior college. One of the kids next -- I played right guard. My right tackle next to me, he weighed a little over two hundred pounds. In those days, two hundred pounds was big. His name was Uede, last name was U-E-D-E. He was recruited from Iowa, a farm boy for USC. But temporarily, he was at Compton. But two of my friends were the two guards for the Compton basketball team, one was real blond with short hair cut short, Rex McDaniel, he went by RX McD, that was his name. This other guard was Tex Winter, he was about, a little bigger than me, five-nine maybe, and he became an All-American at USC, pole vault and basketball. He became a world-class coach at Kansas State University, eventually Los Angeles Lakers, he was the kind of fat guy with the white hair, with the pencil and paper. He was the one that invented that offense that the Lakers used, very famous.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

PW: So this is 1941, and of course, international relations are getting kind of hot.

LS: You know, this is after Pearl Harbor, I had no problems at Montebello High School, no problem at Compton JC, nobody picked on me or said, "What are you doing here?" or anything like that. But I can tell you a story. I was doing my homework Sunday, December 7th, and listening to my radio, and the announcer broke in and said Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Well, I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I knew that my parents had been talking about the embargo that the U.S. had put on the Japanese navy to keep them from going to Southeast Asia to pick up oil, because Japan didn't have oil, they had to import it all. That put a real, well, you might say, it didn't completely stop it, but it really slowed down the military. They knew, and I think we had a shortwave radio, and would come on like one or two in the morning, they could hear it, Japan. And I know they would talk about the U.S. Navy was headquartered at Hawaii, so the newspapers and Japanese radio probably were talking about how to retaliate against the U.S. for the embargo that they put on them. Well, my parents thought eventually Japan and U.S. would probably go to war, and they never talked to us about it, but we could hear them discussing it, and they just didn't... when that Pearl Harbor attack happened, I asked them about it. They were working, when they came in at noon, I asked them about, I told them what had happened, and they were shocked, and they said, "Well, this might be the end. We might have to go back," you know, they were talking, "We might have go back to Japan." And then the question is whether the kids have to go, they're American citizens, it's really a problem.

Anyway, I called my friends, four of us used to carpool going to different schools. And the boys said, "Well, let's go join the navy." So on Monday, instead of going back to school, we went down to the Long Beach Naval Base, and our classmate, Ed Hardege, Roy Kentner, Jimmy Keyes, all accepted, because they're Caucasian. And then my name, Sakai, and the recruit says, "Sakai, you're a Jap. We don't want Japs in the navy, get out of here." And that's the first time I felt any discrimination, and it really shocked me. I hollered at my classmates, I said, "Hey, this is what they told me." And they said, "Well, the hell with the navy, if you're not going to go in, we're not going to go in either," so we all left and went back to school. That was immediately after Pearl Harbor, that was the attitude. And in those days, the military was segregated, blacks, Asians could not join. Blacks could get in, but they'd have to do, like, what they call (latrine) duty or kitchen duty, they could never become a regular soldier, they were completely segregated.

PW: Were your parents affected immediately after Pearl Harbor? Did anything happen?

LS: Nothing physically like damage, they maintained their life, they kept going to church, farmers kept bringing produce. Well, you know what happened in February, February 19th, Roosevelt declared Executive Order 9066, all of a sudden the Japanese had to pick up and leave. Well, our nice little five-acre nursery, there were another person, I can't remember his name, he was Italian, had been growing the same kind of thing someplace in the not too far away, and my parents asked him to just kind of watch over. And we thought when we had to evacuate, we would be gone maybe a month, and the governor would say, oh, you can come back home. So we piled up stuff in our car, we had a car and a small truck, we piled up a lot of stuff and we went east of Highway 99. You know where Porterville is? Well, if you take the road to Porterville, there's a California Hot Springs, it's about thirteen miles up on the hill. That was also run by a Seventh Day Adventist doctor named Sufficool, he was English. Anyway, he invited the Japanese families, he had a bunch of cabins up there to rent, so I think there were nine or ten Japanese families ended up there. And we all thought, a month or two, they'll let us go back home. Instead, of course, all of California had to evacuate, so we're stuck up there. We're saying, "What are we going to do?" Well, the order came that, "We know you're here," this date, whatever that date was, I don't recall, "we're sending a large bus. We can't take everything that you have here, your cars, you have to leave everything, just take what you can carry and we're going to take you." They didn't say where, "You're going to a camp."

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LS: Well, in the meantime, the Seventh Day Adventist church, someplace in White Memorial, I guess, had asked a church in Delta, Colorado, a little small town, if they would take a Japanese family. Because Governor Ralph Carr in Colorado made a statement, "If Governor Warren doesn't want you in California, you're welcome to come to my state of Colorado." So a number of Japanese families that had the money and strength and willingness to move to another location without knowing where they were going, did move, a lot of them went to Denver, the biggest city in Colorado. Well, my parents said, "Well, if we have to go someplace like a camp, we'd be better off to go on our own to Colorado." So they accepted the invitation, we had a card about this size from the FBI, giving us permission to travel from California to Colorado with a stop in Salt Lake City. Well, we're driving down, we said goodbye to everybody and went to our car and our truck, we loaded it up, went down Highway 99, we're going towards Colorado. We get down there to Bakersfield, and my parents say, "You know, all our friends from L.A. are in Manzanar. Why don't we go visit before we go to Colorado, because we'll never see 'em again?" Okay, so I turn around, and I didn't realize you had to go clear to Tehachapi to turn around. I just found that last year, last April, when I went to the Manzanar reunion for the first time. But somehow I drove all the way back, so I went to the fence and gate, I presented the card, told them we want to go visit, and the soldier just opened the gate and let us in. So we parked by the administration. I went in and asked whoever was working there, "We'd like to visit this list of names, we know they're in camp, so could you call them or get them to come here so we can talk to them?" And they told us to look around, and said, "See the fence, see the tower, see the machine gun, see the soldiers? You're in prison. I don't know if they're going to let you out of prison. So I wouldn't wait to see your friends. Why don't you see if you can leave?" And we thought, "Maybe we better not stay." So we came back, I was driving the car, my dad's following in the truck. Went to the gate, the same soldier was still standing guard, I showed him the pass, said, "Okay, we're through." "All right," he opened the gate. So we were in Manzanar for half an hour. I think we're the only Japanese family to escape. They're probably still looking for us. [Laughs]

PW: Who was in the car, in the truck?

LS: My dad drove the truck, my aunt and my mother and myself were in the car. My sister wasn't with us, that's another story. She got married in 1940, so '39 or '40, I don't remember. But in 1941, she was pregnant with her first child, but only like maybe eight months. And evacuation was around April, the Seventh Day Adventist doctors and nurses kind of hid her in the White Memorial Hospital. You know, no Japanese is supposed to be there, and they kept her hidden in the hospital for over a month, and then she delivered in May, about the middle of May. They kept her for about a week, then the feds found out that there was a Japanese person, and they shipped her right to Poston where her husband was.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

PW: When did you and your family go to Delta? What month was that?

LS: It had to be either early April or late march, I'm not quite sure. I think it was early April.

PW: And what is your memories of Delta, Colorado? What was it like when you got there?

LS: We were given instructions to drive, there's only one street, it's forty miles south of Grand Junction, and there are maybe a thousand people living there, not very many. So we drive down the street, and on the corner there's about ten people standing, and I guess that's where we're supposed to go, so we stopped, introduced ourselves, and they said, "Come with us." And it took us about a block away, "And this is your house where you're gonna live," just like that, sight unseen. And, of course, my parents stayed about a year there. There was one or two Japanese farmers in that Delta area, very, very remote. But I decided I wanted to continue going to school, so Mesa College was in Grand Junction, that's forty miles north. So I moved up there and got a job as a houseboy to get room and board, and enrolled in September '42, at Mesa College.

PW: I want to go back to your parents quickly, so what did they do for the year in Delta? Did they farm, or did they work?

LS: Well, there were a number of small farmers, but they were all small, and the crop is only summertime. Because the winter, everything is frozen and they can't farm. So they had to wait 'til summertime, then they worked in sugar beets and onion seed, I don't know, whatever they could do. Just any kind of labor to earn a few bucks. And they had to have cash, because all the bank accounts were frozen. So my dad must have had a bunch of cash that he brought from Los Angeles, because they had to pay rent and everything, had to pay cash. They had no credit card, no checks. So somehow, they had enough money to survive. And then about a year in Delta, they moved to Grand Junction because there were more farmers, more work, and just a little better place.

PW: And what was it like working as a houseboy in Grand Junction, your job?

LS: Well, my job mainly was, this widow was running this boarding house, I think she had one, two, three, four, I think she had five paying people, myself, and her son. Her son had married and had one room, always fighting with his wife. The lady was always consoling the couple, they were always fighting. I don't know how that turned out. But the rest of us had a... well, I was downstairs, she had a basement, and eventually, two other young men moved in who were college students, three boys downstairs. But anyway, my job was to get up in the morning, get the kitchen prepared, she would cook breakfast for everybody, help her with the kitchen and do that. And then I'd be free until late afternoon, help prepare dinner and help her with that. One of the things she taught me, she had a bunch of rabbit hutches, taught me how to grab a rabbit by the ears, hold it up, and she had this wooden stick about this big. So you hold it up, bam, hit it in the back of the head, and that would knock it out. And you take this knife and go like this, and you slit it, pull the body, skin off, and immediately cut the head off, cut the guts out, clean it, wash it, bring it in, that was dinner. [Laughs] I learned how to do all that.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

LS: But because, after Pearl Harbor, I couldn't join any military, and I wanted to, so early in 1943 when they started forming the 442nd, you had to volunteer. So I did volunteer in March, but because everybody on the mainland had to go through the draft board, if you were in Heart Mountain, you had to go through the draft board in Montana, if you were in Utah, you had to go through, and I'm Colorado, so all the Japanese Nisei boys were scattered all over now. So you were at the mercy of the draft board. Just because you volunteered, they didn't call you right away. They called you by probably initial, because my brother-in-law was Hirasaki, he got called in April. Mine is Sakai, I didn't get called 'til May. So by the time I got to Camp Shelby, it was late in May. And by that time, of course, in about March or so, all these boys from Hawaii, one shipload came and filled up all the positions. So as the mainland boys came drifting in one at a time, they filled in here and there. But like all of the Camp Shelby pictures taken of the company, about ninety percent of the boys in there are from Hawaii, there was only a scattering of mainland boys, because most of us didn't get there 'til late.

PW: So when you volunteered to join the 442, did you go into an office and sign up that way, or how did that work?

LS: We had a local recruiting office in Grand Junction, and I signed up there. But when they called from Denver, the main station, we had to go to Denver, and then from there they shipped us to Camp Shelby.

PW: So explain how that worked. So you'd been living in (Colorado) and you took the train to Shelby, to Mississippi?

LS: Well, we took a, everybody took a train. So Denver, Rio Grande, DNRG, Denver-Rio Grande Railway from Grand Junction all the way to Denver. And after the recruiting office went through the ritual of getting you signed in, they put you on a train, I don't know how long it took to get to Mississippi, but there were a lot of stops.

PW: How did you feel on the train getting ready to go to camp?

LS: Well, we're going to war.

PW: How did your parents feel about you volunteering?

LS: I think... because my parents were more Westernized because of their religion, they weren't so diehard. Like in the Buddhists, I think, there's more of this, and the school, Japanese school, yamato damashi or whatever they call it, allegiance to your emperor, you die for your country. We didn't have that. And I know when I told my parents, "I'm going to volunteer," they didn't say anything, just kind of like, okay. They knew. I'm an American citizen.

PW: What was life like at Camp Shelby? Like what was your daily routine and what did you train, how did that go?

LS: It was the worst place on earth. [Laughs] It was a terrible place. I've been invited to go back to the museum, but I don't want to go to Camp Shelby, I never want to see it again. It's just miserable.

PW: What kind of training did they put you through?

LS: Well, because even though the 100th, which had gone to north Africa in September of 1943, to join the 34th Division and go up to Italy, the 100th had become so well-known as the Purple Heart Battalion that General Mark Clark said, "Send me more Japanese, they're the best soldiers that I have." Of course, we're still training, and normally six months you're ready to go. But General Eisenhower didn't want us. So we just kept training and training we were in Camp Shelby for a whole year before they shipped us overseas, May of 1944. And, of course, we joined with the 100th after Rome in June of 1944.

PW: So I'm just trying to imagine you, the orders that you're now going to Europe, tell me more about the details. So you got on another train and where did you go, and then how did you get to Europe?

LS: Well, all this training, it was just kind of repetitions. Because you do your first six months, you've done it all. Then you have to keep doing it, and they have to keep you busy, so they do the same thing over again. Anyway, when we finally got to go, we had to take a train to Newport News, Virginia, which is the port of embarkation. And I think we were there like two days before we got on the ship, liberty ships. And little, all worn out, small boats going back and forth, up and down, it took thirty days to cross the Atlantic because the original fleet from Newport News, it was from sea to sea, nothing but ships, over a hundred ships. And they're dodging the German submarines, so they're going back and forth. And finally, after thirty days, we got to Naples, Italy.

PW: And that's where you met with the 100th?

LS: No, the 100th was already beyond Rome, and they were at rest. And after we got settled in Naples, they sent us by truck up to northern Italy, and that, we joined the 100th. 100th Battalion, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, to form the 442nd.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

PW: So tell me about the first campaign they sent you on.

LS: Well, I remember it well. It was either July 4 or 5, right about then. There was a push to go toward the Arno River north of Rome. So Italy was kind of open rolling fields between cities, not many trees. So we were assigned one area, 2nd Battalion, and the 100th was put in reserve, and the 3rd Battalion and the 2nd were in the lead. Well, our company commander, like the first time in combat, the hills were kind of like this, and he led us right down the middle, which was the easiest walking, and we're all pretty much bunched together, which we shouldn't be. And we're following the gaps, and all of a sudden the Germans start firing, and they're firing from this side and that side, so we're scattering and there's no cover. Right away, Captain (Ensminger) got shot in the head, just like that. Lieutenants have to take over. I'm the 4th Platoon at that point, and the 4th Platoon, that's what we call heavy weapons in the company. I was with the 60-millimeter mortars, we have the machine gun. We're supposed to be behind the embankment so that we're not seen, but we can fire our mortars which go up and then come almost straight down. We're out there in the front right with the infantry, wide open. And my lieutenant, Lieutenant Zukowski, he got hit. So within an hour, we lost our company commander, we lost our 4th Platoon leader, and everybody is scrambling. Well, battalion commander, Colonel Hanley, saw this, and he radioed back and the regimental commander sent the 100th up front. They come up, but they didn't come up where we were, they came up high, and they attacked the Germans. And by that time, the Germans were starting to come down and chase us out, and then they slaughtered the Germans. I don't know how many trucks and jeeps, guns, soldiers that we captured up there. And then, of course, as the 100th came in, we pulled back. But that first day, we lost a lot of men. That's the first time we'd seen bullets flying, actual bullets.

PW: And then following that, was there, were you immediately sent back out, or did they put you to rest? How did that work?

LS: Well, we didn't really have rest. I think we were on the line for maybe four or five days. We just had to reorganize. We learned a lot that first day.

PW: So tell me then what happens with your company and with the 442/100th?

LS: Well, we maintained progress up to the Arno River, to Florence and that area, and there were some pretty heavy battles around the Arno. But the invasion of Europe at Normandy was in June. The 5th Army, which we were in Italy, was supposed to invade southern France at Marseilles sometime in July to kind of coordinate with Normandy up here, we'd be in the south and push the Germans north and east and then gradually to the German border. Well, because the 36th Division couldn't get organized, it was end of August before we finally made the invasion. So by that time, most of the German forces down there in Southern France had been sent to Normandy to help them. Now, when we came in, we came in on what they call LSI, the boat, flat bottom has a front end that drops down and they jump in the water. Well, we didn't have very much opposition, it didn't take long when we started going forward, north, and pretty soon, the air force wiped out a whole bunch of German equipment. So it made it really easy. By that time, a lot of trucks were unloaded and brought in, so we could ride trucks and they started trucking us further north. Well, gradually, we're approaching eastern France. So that's how we got to that area called the Vosges Forest, Bruyeres, Biffontaine.

PW: And I know this is where a very famous battle happens, too.

LS: What's that?

PW: I know that this is where, in Vosges Mountains -- I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that right -- this is where there's a major campaign.

LS: The reason is because, up to this point, we hadn't been fighting in trees. On the 15th of October is when we were attacking Bruyeres. And there's an area that's open and a road that goes in Bruyeres, the city. And so we're heading that way. Then there's hills with trees. All of a sudden, we get fire from up there in the trees, the Germans were shooting down at us. We have to change, we can't go this way, so we have to start climbing into the forest to try to dig the Germans out, otherwise we can't proceed. Well, this was the bloodiest I think that the 442nd ever had. Primarily because the Germans were always on the upper side shooting down, and our artillery would be mounted on what they call half-tracks, they could move around quickly. There weren't many roads that they could use, there weren't many opens spots, but there was enough that they could set up their artillery. And they used what they called the .88 millimeter rifle. It was the anti-aircraft gun at high velocity. And instead of shooting at airplanes, they were now shooting at us, and they would shoot into that forest. These trees, the logging industry was the number one industry in that area, so these trees had all been forested, they'd been planted years before, now they're getting big. Some of them are like eighteen, twenty inches in diameter, maybe forty, fifty feet tall, straight, nice timber. The artillery come in, and normally when the artillery comes in, it comes towards you, it hits the ground, explodes, and goes forward. You're okay if you're over here. Well, when it hits a tree, the artillery shell bursts like an umbrella, it goes every direction. Not only that, but the shreds, the timber, the limbs from the trees would be cut, break, fall down, so you're getting hit by not only artillery shell, but the lumber. I recall, I just happened to be looking, we're pinned down, and most of... you take whatever cover you can get, just hoping you don't get hit. And I saw this one Nisei crouching by this tree, and the artillery shell hit maybe twenty feet above him and broke off a big chunk of a limb and it came right down and just smashed. A lot of boys got hurt or killed that way. It was the reason there were so many casualties. And it took eight days, we had to fight, there's been a lot of pictures shown of trees broken down, the soldiers climbing the hill. We had to go through the hill, there were hills A, B, C and D, and then come down in Bruyeres itself, and then chase the Germans house to house. It's not a very big city, but still, they're in the houses shooting out of the windows, you had to chase them out. And most of the people were still living, but most of the houses had cellars and the people would live in the cellars. But it was just a bloody battle.

So about that time, it started to rain, (...) we finally got through the city of Bruyeres and the railroad track, which was the main supply line for the Germans, we had to capture, so we did that, and we're beyond, heading into whatever that was in front of us. We were told, "Keep going." Well, on the 23rd, they pulled us off. And normally, when you have that many casualties, you're off for two or three weeks until you recover, and they bring in reserves to replenish your men. Well, in our case, you had to be Japanese. You couldn't call the replacement depot and say, "Send me two hundred soldiers," which any other group could do. In our case, you had to have a Nisei. So by this time, the draft had started to enlist the Japanese, so now they're going into Camp Shelby and being trained. Well, it took six months at least to train them, to send them, so we couldn't get any replacements at that time. So we were like, at least fifty percent capacity because we had so many casualties. So on the 23rd of October, we're off the line. All this time, no hot food, no change of clothes, very little ammunition left. Because to get the people that had to bring food, water, ammunition to us through the hills, they'd have to carry a five gallon can of water, because you needed water. And that is awfully heavy. And so it would be the cooks, band members, truck drivers, whoever they could get to bring all that up. And ammunition they strap around them, and that's heavy. Well, you can't move unless they come up behind you at night, you hope to get some kind of... we ate a lot of k-rations, that's a dry box, but you have to have water and you have to have bullets. So they would continually be bringing... and then the wounded, they have to carry back.

So on the 23rd, after eight days, we were finally off. They had what they called a shower truck, and there was apparently a river that they could pump the water from, heat it, and then shower. And you would go into the first truck and take off all your clothes, get in that shower, and they had a square, called a lye soap, really ugly stuff, but it would take the paint off your car. So you would wash yourself off with the lye soap, and you go out the other end and dry off, and you'd get a new set of clothes. Well, the next, the cooks were there set up with their kitchen, they had these metal, what they call metal trays, aluminum trays that you eat out of. So at least we got a hot meal, hot coffee. Well, that's the 24th. That night, we were told, "You have to get ready to go back up." We hadn't even had time to clean our weapons. So on the 25th, we started out again, and where did we go? Back into that forest, and it's raining, it's sloppy, and half of our manpower's gone. And we're told that there's a battalion of American soldiers that are trapped. We find out that they're at least five miles beyond where the rest of the soldiers are. Military tactic, you never go beyond your reserve. You always keep a chain of supply, so that they can bring munition and bring wounded back. If you go too far, you're isolated. Well, General Dahlquist wanted to be the first American general to cross the German border. At that point, we're like 45 miles, maybe, from the German border. And just north of us is General Patton, he wants to be the first American general, so there's a big race. General Dahlquist kept pushing that one battalion, and the battalion kept following orders. Over five miles between here and there, and the Germans let them come, and then surrounded that battalion. Well, they might have started that with five, six hundred men, but they were down to two hundred and eleven men. After a week, they'd been cut off, they had no water, no food, no medical supplies, and very little ammunition. The day that the 442nd reached, they said, they made a last stand, that was going to be the end. If they weren't rescued, they would be overrun by the Germans. So we saved the battalion. I personally didn't get there, because I was in the hospital.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

PW: Tell me what happened.

LS: A lot of things.

PW: Well, my question first is, were you wounded before that, or you were okay up to this point?

LS: Well, we started out on the 25th of October, and we're making a lot of progress, but it's raining heavily and really hard to move. So I'm looking forward to October 27th, I'll be twenty-one, I'll be a legal person. [Laughs] Well, the morning of the 27th, I got shot by a German, just no more than ten feet away, just shot. I saw the flash, I thought, "I'm dead." But nothing happened, I had my BAR right here, I just went, tut-tut-tut, and I went up. I guess I was just mad, I went up and I hit him. The helmet went off, and there was the face of a young boy, could be fourteen or fifteen years old. And I thought, "How the hell could he miss?" Shooting dead... somehow he missed me, and my thought was, he had to be more scared than I was at that point. You know, you're always scared, where's that bullet, where's that shell coming from? Is the bullet coming from here or there? And you're always on the alert. Well, we have to continue on. We made more progress, and the next morning, our plan was to attack at daybreak. Well, somehow, I guess the Germans sensed that this is going to end it. The 28th of October, in early morning, just at daybreak, the Germans started shelling, the artillery hitting the trees and just, I think fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes, continuous, bang, bang, bang. Guys were getting hit, wounded and killed, just left and, nothing they can do, there's no place to hide, just hoping that the shells stopped coming. That's when I got hit. And this red-hot piece of metal came into my back, but instead of coming straight through my body, it came in that way and slid around. And that hurt so much, I couldn't breathe. I just rolled up and I thought I was dead. And I don't know when, but one of our medics came over to me and tried to roll me over and I just said, "Just let me die right here." And he pumped me full of morphine, which the medics all carried, and I don't remember anything. When I woke up, I was on a train, American hospital train, going to the city of Dijon where they had American hospitals set up for surgery. So the 28th of October I was out of action. But guys were getting wounded or killed just left and right, that was the toughest battle. General Dahlquist was criticized for sending the 442. He had a whole division, he sent the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 141st, but he had two other regiments. He could have somehow sent other regiments, but instead he sent the 442nd, which had just been beat up already. And I don't know how we did it.

PW: What do you think his reasoning was to choose the 442nd to go for the "Lost Battalion"?

LS: Well, he probably knew that we would do it, and say that he had sent the 2nd, and they couldn't break through, he sent the 3rd, they couldn't break through. He could have called the other regiments, but he called the 442 instead. He was criticized roundly for that.

PW: So now I know you're in a hospital in Dijon, is that correct? And had surgery to remove shrapnel and bullets. That went okay? Everything was out?

LS: Well, pretty much. It did a little damage, but no vital organs. So I survived about two months. Probably wasn't a hundred percent, but I was able to get up and go back to the 442nd. The 442nd after the rescue eventually were sent to southern France to recuperate, that's when we got the first reserves that came from the United States, so we got all the new kids coming in to fill up.

[Interruption]

PW: And I think you were talking about this right now, so I'll ask it formally. What were the relations like between the 442nd and the 100th when you first met, or when you were working together, describe what the relations were like between you and the other soldiers you were fighting with.

LS: You know, the men of the 100th were probably five, six, seven years older. We were the younger kids. So there was an age gap difference, it was like older brothers talking to their younger brothers, "Get out of here, kid." And they had been in battle longer, so their experiences were a lot different than ours. But eventually, as we joined together, you couldn't tell one from the other. And another thing, after Anzio, Cassino, the 100th had lost so many men. The 442nd is training at Camp Shelby, they took that 1st Battalion and sent about two-thirds or more of the men to Italy as replacements to help the 100th. And so we actually had only two battalions left at Camp Shelby, even though some of the 1st Battalion are integrated with the 2nd and 3rd. So even though the 100th was a hundred percent from Hawaii originally, now, with the replacements, most of those boys, or at least half or more, were mainland boys. So now you have a lot of mainland boys in the 100th. So that changed the complexion of the whole group, too. It's kind of like the 442nd song, have you heard of that? You haven't heard it? It's pretty famous, "442nd..." and the Hawaiian boys, they made up the music, they made up the song, the lyrics and all. The key part is, "And we're going back to Honolulu-lulu." We're not going back to Honolulu, so nobody from the mainland sang that song. We probably learned the words because we hear it all the time. But it wasn't our song.

PW: So when we just left off, you had been recuperating for several months in the hospital, and then they sent you right back in.

LS: Well, the 442nd was in southern France from about the middle of November to early April. So we're looking at five months, maybe. So I think I got back to what they called Sospel around January, and I got back with my own company. In July, I'm going back for the seventy-fifth anniversary. Brian Yamamoto from (Alaska), he took over for me. I did my last group tour in 2009, I took nine groups. He started around 2010 or '12, somewhere around there, I think he's done three tour groups. But this is going to be the last, the seventy-fifth anniversary. Two years ago, he announced it at our reunion, and all of a sudden, people started signing up. He wanted to keep it to thirty-five, forty, but forty, fifty, and he kept adding more. Finally it got up a hundred and thirty-five, just an impossible number of people. Mainly you're going to have to have three buses, and most of the hotels are small, so you're going to put people here, there, here and coordinate all that. It's going to be a big problem. Well, I'm glad I'm not the tour leader. He has hired tour guides to take care of us, so I hope they know what they're up for. So consequently, a lot of people that can't go with us in July are now going in October. I think there's at least three, maybe more, groups going, smaller groups, ten, fifteen, maybe, from Hawaii and northern California. I think Carl Williams from Sacramento, he was instrumental in raising about fifty thousand dollars to help the city of Bruyeres refurbish that huge monument that they had built in the forest to remember the 442nd. And he was there last year, and so he, again, can't go with us, so he's going to take maybe fifteen people in October. October is the anniversary date, and we first started going on October. But the weather is awful. We were right below the Alps, a lot of rain, snow, and it's miserable. So we switched from October to July to coincide with Bastille Day, which is July 14th. The whole country is on holiday, so we can have a big party and everybody will be there.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

PW: I definitely want to ask you more further in about reunions, but let's go back to, let's see, I guess it's 1944 now, and we're in France. And you've just returned back to the unit. What happens, what campaigns follow after that?

LS: You mean in 1945 when I went back to Italy?

PW: Yes, I'm sorry, it was 1945.

LS: Okay. So the 442nd was taken off for rest in southern France, and we get all these replacements, and so now we've got 250 men in every company. I Company had only eight men left when they finished with the rescue of the "Lost Battalion." So in April 1945, General Clark wanted the 442nd to come back to Italy. And the reason is, for almost six months, the 5th Army had been attacking what they called the Gothic Line. This is near Massa Carrara where the marble comes from, the Italian marble. The mountains are up like this. The Gothic Line is like six of these mountains anchored by Mount Folgorito, and each one is cross fired with machine guns. Well, the 92nd was actually a black or "colored" in those days, "colored boys," trained to attack Mount Folgorito. And no trees there, it's pretty much a bare mountain, but it's four thousand feet up and it goes pretty steep. Every day, this is what happened. General Clark didn't want the Germans to know the 442nd was there, and we did all the traveling at night. We came in by boat, traveled by truck at night, it's hidden in the daytime. And when we got close to the Gothic Line, we marched at night. And the mountains are up here, there's a valley here, a little stream here, and on the opposite hillside, there's a village called Azzano. So we infiltrated into that village, scattered all through the village. Daytime, with our binoculars, we could watch the Americans get shot down, just trying to make headway and get shot. And then about two days later, we were told, this is our plan. At the dark of night, we're going to move out of Azzano, start climbing Mount Folgorito, and we have to be very quiet, and it was very steep, so we can't carry much weight, strip off any unnecessary items, your backpack. All you carry is your weapon, enough ammunition, one canteen of water, and some food if you want to in your pockets. Well, dark of night, it's pitch dark. Somehow, Colonel Miller, who was then the commanding officer, had found a fourteen-year-old Italian boy that had, there were goat trails around those hills, and he knew where everyone was. And I guess he volunteered to help lead our group. And the 3rd Battalion, I'm in the 2nd Battalion, the 3rd Battalion was the lead battalion. Well, Guido Gozzani, the kid, leads L Company up at night, and they're pushing from behind, they're pulling, trying to be as quiet as they can, because any noise, you don't want the Germans to hear. Finally, Shig Kizuka from Watsonville, was the third L Company soldier, and he told me afterwards, we huffed and puffed, kept quiet, and we could see where we were. This outcropping, and you could see the barrel of two machine guns. And so we got as close as we could under, and he kept bringing everybody up, huddled real close, and waited for daybreak. And said when the sergeant gave the signal to go up, they moved up around. Up on top, there were two Germans, sound asleep, and they went, tut-tut-tut, and they went up on top and started shooting and the boys come out. And the Germans -- it was daybreak -- the Germans were just getting up, going to eat breakfast, disorganized. And, of course, they had trucks at the top. It was kind of like this, and then flat, there was a road that went all the way to the beach. They got their trucks and so forth, they started loading up and moving out. Eric Saul is a military historian, and he's told the story in Seattle, he's told it all over. And he said the 442nd didn't take six weeks, didn't take six days, the 442nd conquered the Gothic Line in thirty-two minutes. And that was, it's just an amazing story. And I've been back there twice to tour northern Italy, and I look at that mountain, and I don't know, even in broad daylight, I don't think I could climb it. It's just unbelievable. It has to be the greatest thing that the 442nd did. We didn't lose many men, but from there, we had to chase the Germans. It's all marble and shale, and you can't dig, you can't hide, out in the open. As for Dan Inouye, he was also E Company, that's where he got shattered.

But eventually, they pushed the Germans across the hills over to the coast. That's where Massa Carrara, and then the highway going north. So the Germans went up to Genoa, and I'm not sure how far it is, not very far, and then made a right turn in the Po Valley. And there's a small airport, Gheddhi Airport, at a little place called Brescia, and they just stopped and surrendered. And I'm going to say maybe two or three thousand well-armed Germans, and maybe three hundred of our Americans, dog tired, but they surrendered. Laid all their weapons down in order, and they're real ordered, you know, Germans were very orderly. They obeyed their orders. And then I think they took over like a school, a large compound. They did their own guard duty, we didn't guard them, they guarded themselves. We were just dog tired, we were worn out. And to us, Germans surrendered, the war was over, just collapsed.

[Interruption]

PW: I'm sorry, so, and this is probably maybe summer by now, summer of 1945?

LS: No, it's still April, it's still kind of like springtime. The weather is still cold at night.

PW: Were you meeting civilians along the way through all these villages and places?

LS: Massa and Carrara were the nearest cities, and the Germans in the four or five year occupation had been very brutal. For any reason, they would go to a house, the young people were gone, they would haul out a man if he were there, an old man, and bring his family out and then shoot him dead right in front of them. Any young men, they kidnapped, take them to work in prison camps and so forth, and they would search the houses. They stripped any weapons they could find, so the Italian men are mostly old people or very young kids. And they had no weapons, so somehow, Colonel Miller, they approached Colonel Miller. And when the 442nd got to Massa, they asked, "Can we get some guns or weapons? We'd like to chase the Germans, too. We know that you could use our help." So I don't know how many, but he did give a number of Italians our M-1 rifle and ammunition, and they participated in one hill where they were chasing the Germans. And it's a historic hill, and I can't remember the name, it's a little village of maybe one or two hundred people on a rolling hill. And this huge, 25-foot marble statue stands there with a cutout, and that cutout is the shape of a human being, and it sits to the side. So if you come to that location and you look through that cutout, that's the hillside where the Italians slaughtered all the Germans that were trying to flee. And they gave me a replica, it's about this big, of that whole thing, and it's just amazing. But from there, of course, the Italians, if you ever go to Massa, they have a museum. They call it the atrocities of... whatever, and I think it's kind of like, you have to have a special permission to go into it, because there were so many pictures and memorabilia of atrocities of the Germans. I guess they don't want to open it to just anybody.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

PW: Were you writing to your family? Throughout this entire time you were you writing letters to your family?

LS: Not to my parents, because they don't read English. But my sister, I would send her letters, not very often. The only time you have paper and pencil is when you're offline, maybe you can go to USO or Red Cross or something. If you're in the infantry, you have to carry everything you own. My personal item was, I had a small, thin wallet with a couple of pictures in it, and I think a four leaf clover that was in the wallet. But I had two pockets. Over this pocket, I had a silver cigarette case, flat, and I was hoping, if a bullet came, the cigarette case would stop it. But that's all I had, personal items.

PW: Whose photographs were you carrying?

LS: Oh, when I was in Colorado, 1942, I met this young lady. Her family were wealthy farmers in Gilroy before the war. And even though the father had been taken away to Bismarck, North Dakota, by the FBI, there was a family of eight children, a mother and eight children. So it was a family trusteeship, because the father, he owned over eight hundred acres. The father couldn't own it, because he's an alien, but the four older kids were American citizens. So they had formed a family corporation, and the four older kids were the owners. I think they're probably ten to fourteen or something like that, so they had a trusteeship. And that trustor was a local businessman, and they got together and decided, you can't go to one of the camps with all these kids. So they went to Grand Junction, and they bought a small house. And so I think two or three went in their Plymouth coupe, they drove, and the rest of the family, five, six, went by train, and they lived in Grand Junction throughout the war. Eventually, the father was released and came to join them.

PW: Is this the Hirasaki family?

LS: Hmm?

PW: Is this the Hirasaki family?

LS: Hirasaki.

PW: So tell me, you met this woman, this young girl?

LS: Well, yeah, she was about my age, one year younger, and a student. So there was nothing else to do, roller skating was one thing, and I'm not sure what else, but we just kind of got to know each other. And so we kept up on correspondence throughout the war. And actually, I don't think any of the Nisei boys thought they were going to come home alive. Almost everybody, this is what we volunteered for, and we expect to die for our country, and hope that it turns out all right. So we kept up this correspondence as much as possible. And so when the war was over, I had PTSD so badly, I just needed to get out. And my orders were, "We're going to send you to Rome. You become a second lieutenant, and you come back and take the 4th Platoon." I said, "Captain Burns," I said, "I'm not going to do that. I just want to get out of the army. I don't want to stay when the war is over. I don't want to stay in it, get me out." So he said, "I'll try my best." Well, you know, that's July. It was not until November, because there was a point system. All the soldiers coming home from Europe, you had to have so many points, you've got so many points for being overseas, so many points for citations and so forth. The Hawaiian boys had five points more than the mainland boys because when they came from Hawaii to the mainland, they got five points for going overseas. [Laughs] So they had the edge over us.

But anyway, so finally, in November, I got shipped out and finally got to Newport News, Virginia, on, again, an old, aging Liberty ship. We got outside of Newport News, Virginia, there's a heavy cross current, and our Liberty ship couldn't come across. It would go forward and get pushed back, forward and get pushed back, forward, push back. And they sent out an SOS. The ship probably can't make it to shore, we're gonna sink out here. I wish I had gotten the newspaper after we landed. It took us two more days, we finally made it. And we're sitting out there just bobbing like a cork. So finally got there, took a train all the way to Fort MacArthur, Los Angeles. I wanted to get back to Southern California and finally discharged December 12, 1945. So my PTSD was so bad, some of the other boys were living in Los Angeles, and we started seeing each other in Japantown and started drinking. We'd been drinking before, wine and gin, the American troops, all the hard liquor, bourbon, and so forth, goes to the officers. Nobody wanted gin, they would give us the gin or beer. We drank a lot of wine and cognac when we could, from buying it from the city. Well, we started drinking as much whisky, mostly, and the only way you could forget PTSD in your head, you drink 'til you pass out, and then you forget everything temporarily. That was how we treated PTSD. The military just said, "You're a civilian now. Take off your uniform and get the hell out of here." That was the way you got discharged.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

PW: So once you returned, you're in Los Angeles, where's the rest of your family at that point?

LS: My aunt, my mother, my father had come back. Three and a half years later, the same man that they had asked to watch over the property was living there. He would not let them back in the house. So my aunt who was the legal owner, I don't know how long it took, but she got the sheriff to evict them, so she could move back in. That's how they were back in their own house in December when I get home.

PW: So it sounds like you returned back home and the farm is back moving and you're meeting up with some of your veteran friends, you graduated from college by now?

LS: No. I don't think I have requested transcripts from Mesa College, 1946, so later, I enrolled at Pepperdine College, right downtown Los Angeles. I believe it used to be West Texas Bible College, someplace in Texas, and during the war they had come out to Los Angeles and they bought two or three buildings in a lousy district of L.A., but I lived near them, and I enrolled to go to school. But then we're going back and forth, so in 1946, after four or five trips from L.A., I said, you know, "Why don't we get married?" I'm twenty-three, she's twenty-two, there's no reason, that's a pretty dumb thing to get married. No job, no nothing, yeah, let's get married, so we got married in April of '46. We were, at that time, there were only a few families back in San Jose. And we got married, and most of the families living in San Jose were invited to the wedding, which was back on the farm. There was a Japanese house which was the main living room of the house, and that's where the wedding took place, and the wedding photo, and that black and white photo shows that people from San Jose. Norm Mineta, his father was there, and a number of other people that I didn't know. But we went back to L.A. and I went back to school. And in 1948, my father had gotten enough money up to start a produce shipping, farming and so forth, business again, but he needed help. So he got called to us to come up, so we decided I'd quit school and come up, and I've been in Northern California ever since. By that time, we had one child, and this is 1948. I think it was 1949, he was probably, he was born in '47, so he's maybe two years old. And while I was working at the shed, my wife took the little boy in to get a haircut at the local hotel which had a barber shop. And she said when she walked in, the barber looked at her and said, "We don't cut Japs' hair, get out of here." And she was born and raised in Gilroy, she knew almost everybody, who they were. And then later, might have been the same year, she was kind of like an accountant, she was a business major in college, and her college was interrupted, too, when the family came back to California. So she applied for a job at a local dry cleaner, and he was a young man that had been in the U.S. Navy during the war, came home and started this dry cleaning shop, and he hired Mineko, my wife, as the, well, I guess, the office clerk or whatever you call it. And a week later, he told her, "I'm sorry, but I have to let you go. The townspeople are after me, they won't come and patronize me if I have a Japanese working for me."

PW: So it sounds like it was very rough, the Gilroy community was a rough place for retransitioning postwar.

LS: You know, it was true all over. It was rough in central California in the farming community because the propaganda had been so against the Japanese... I don't know if you knew Shig Doi? Do you know who he is? Okay. He lived in, I think, either (Placer County) or that area, north of Highway 80, Rocklin, that area, that's where he farmed, or his family farmed before the war. Well, he came back, and they went back to where the farm was. And at some time, one of his neighbors took a shot at him, but I think he shot at the barn, not at him, but to let him know, "You don't belong here." Shig is a hundred years old, he lives in Richmond. If you ever get a chance to talk to him, you better do it soon. [Laughs]

PW: What about your parents? Did they tell you it was, they had difficulties? Of course there was the man who was in the farm and wouldn't leave the house, but do you know what it was like for them to settle there?

LS: They seemed to transition back quite well. They somehow got their nursery business going again, and he was taking stuff to the flower market again. But we never discussed what I did or the war, nobody talked about it.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

PW: And then, of course, you got married and then you moved to San Jose, oh, I'm sorry, to Gilroy. And you described the wedding and your first child, and where did you live exactly? Did you live with the family?

LS: No, we moved up in 1948 into Gilroy. We found a little small house, I think we paid six thousand dollars, something like that. I think my father-in-law bought it for us. It was a small house, but we were a small family, so that's where we lived (in) 1948. Until 1953, '54, I can't remember the time. The farming operation had gone bust because the weather in Gilroy was so bad, he lost his summer crop, he lost his winter crop, and he said, "I'm going to pay off all the farmers that farmed for me, pay them off and quit farming." So 1951, I had to find something else. So finally I found work with Driscoll strawberries, and at that time, as the Japanese were coming back in 1945, Mr. Driscoll was doing very poorly farming in Santa Cruz County. He was using soldiers in Fort Ord to harvest the strawberries and to drive the trucks to market. So when he found out that a lot of Japanese people are moving in, no place to live, no work. He leased three hundred acres in Madrone, all virgin land, and he said, "I'll make you a deal. I'll plant the strawberries, and if you take one acre, I'll give you a cabin to live in, and we'll split the profits 50-50. And eventually up to six hundred Japanese families worked for the Driscoll organization all through Santa Clara Valley. And a lot of the boys and families who had manpower, from one acre, went to two acres, to five acres, made a ton of money between 1945 and 1955, they were able to go out and buy land in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Mission, Berryessa, San Jose, because there was a lot of open land in the Bay Area. Of course, they probably pay maybe a hundred dollars an acre. And eventually, as the boom came to Santa Clara Valley, they were getting a million dollars an acre, so they were able to sell the land and retire. And so a lot of Nisei did quite well from that. But the Driscoll family was a lifesaver. It gave all these families a place to live and some way to earn a living, which paid off for many of them.

PW: And your father-in-law, Mr. Hirasaki, you said that he had some trouble in the very beginning with restarting his business, but how did it do in later years? Did he continue farming?

LS: Well, he quit everything in Gilroy. He kept the land, but he leased it out to whoever wanted to farm, but he just got rid of everything. He started going to Japan and trying to raise chili peppers and garlic in Kumamoto. About every other year, it would get rained out or lose its complete crops, and, of course, there's not much land, open land, so he would have to contract with small farmers, and maybe they'd grow one acre or something, or half an acre, and you got maybe fifty, sixty families growing a little bit. So that didn't work out too well, either. So in the meantime, Mineko's mother had diabetes really badly and it affected her vision, and then she had a stroke, and we were... my father-in-law asked us to take care of her while he was in Japan. So instead of going to our home in Gilroy out to the ranch a couple miles away, they said, "Just move out there and sell your home." I had built a home in the early '50s sometime, so we had that home empty for a year. And then the second year, we did lease it for one year, then we sold it. But in the meantime, my father was spending more time in Japan, and after her mother got a stroke, he decided, "I can't get proper care for her here." Those days, this is like 1960 or so, there weren't any nursing homes, that industry hadn't started yet. So he took her to Japan, and he said, "I can leave her in a hospital, full time care, and at least she won't suffer like she will at home." So that's what happened, and I think a year or two later, she passed away, never recovered. So he was spending more time in Japan, so in the meantime, he wanted my wife to take over the yard and the house that we lived in. It was his house, but he wanted her to have it. He didn't want the boys to have it, there were two young boys and one older boy, that's another story. But when the family couldn't afford to keep it, the family had to sell off 7-800 acres. Because they had to pay county taxes, they had to pay life insurance on the eight children, corporation, eight members of the corporation, and they had to pay the mortgage, but my father had a mortgage on the property. Well, financially, nothing worked out, so we finally decided, but we kept eleven acres, ten acres plus a one-mile driveway, so it wouldn't be landlocked. It was in my wife's name, but since she's not a Hirasaki, she was a Sakai, our two younger brothers are Hirasaki. So she said, "I think we should give the title to the boys." I said, "Why not?" we're just tenants here. So drew up the papers and we just left with a life estate on the property, but it was owned by the two boys who didn't live with her, they were married and had their own homes.

PW: So I've heard that there was a very famous building on that property, too, that your father-in-law -- 

LS: It was a national historical monument. My father-in-law was a wealthy farmer. In 1941, his land, and subleased land with a lot of his farmer friends, he had 1,500 acres of garlic planted in the ground. Now, a hundred acres would have been a tremendous amount of garlic. Here's a Japanese Issei farmer, 1,500 acres, you know, going gangbusters. They really thought big. You have to admire the (Issei), how they think big. Most of the Caucasian farmers would never do that, they're too scared. But it was all or nothing. Well, in 1939, there was a World's Fair at Treasure Island in San Francisco, The Japanese pavilion was built to display what the Japanese were like, because the Manchuria invasion, the China invasion and all that, the American press that Japanese are nothing but barbarians, they are nothing like the Western culture. And so they built this pavilion to show the American people, we have culture. They showed how they produced silk, how they made kimonos, clothing, how they made lumber products, they showcased what they were doing in Japan. People were impressed, it was the best exhibit in the 1939 World's Fair. Well, when it closed in 1940, they had to dismantle everything. So my father-in-law was wealthy enough, he went up there and he bought most of the pieces of the main pavilion, had it taken apart, because it was built in Japan, piece by piece, no nails, brought to the Treasure Island, rebuilt. There were six Japanese carpenters to built it. They stayed, they tore it down, he hired them to rebuild it on his ranch in Gilroy. They worked for nine months in 1941 to reassemble that Japanese house. He hired the same architect that built the garden at Treasure Island, he built the garden in front of the Japanese house. It was attached to the old, with a long hallway, with the old farmhouse, that was there originally. Eventually it was taken away, and in (1949), a new bedroom wing was attached to it. Big, long, sprawling house. But I can't remember what year, but the historical society came from Boston and spent a week there videographing and viewing, and unfortunately, everything they gave us, 2007, burned up in the fire, everything was lost. So we lost everything, and we were just lucky to get out alive.

PW: What happened with the fire?

LS: It was Sunday morning about one o'clock in the morning, it was raining, and in 1940 when they built houses, they used what they called Romex cable. The copper wire is covered by this, what they called Romex, and they just string it in the attic all through, and then bring it down and put it in the plug. But it's all open wire going all over, even going outside. And a lot of it rodents had eaten away, some of it had just corroded, and we're sure that it sparked. And dry cedar for the Japanese house just must have lit up like that. We lost, a lot of the things were made specifically for the exposition by very famous artists and so forth. There was a large, ceramic vase worth, who knows how much? There were these hangings that were written or drawn by a very famous Japanese artist, probably worth at least at least a hundred thousand, there were seven or eight of those. My wife made, you know the Japanese dolls you see? You put each hair in the head one by one. There's a class, a Japanese woman from Japan came and taught her class, there were maybe thirty, forty students on how to make these dolls. They worked, I don't know, a year, two years. We had four cases like this, like the samurai and the dancer, she had four, one for each of the children. And all the special artwork from the World's Fair, everything, it just melted. Even the silverware, you couldn't find a trace of it, it was so hot.

PW: What date was this?

LS: 2007. So we were at the bedroom wing at the far end, and my wife heard the smoke alarm back there. Well, she opened the door, it was just black smoke. Slammed the door shut, I opened the drape and I could see the big red flame. I still have a lot of pictures in my camera. Somehow, we put our clothes on and got out the side door as fast as we could, and we dodged through the (smoke). And I guess I grabbed the camera, must have been, my small camera must have been out there. Because I went outside and I couldn't do anything, so I took a whole bunch of pictures of the house burning. The rural fire department came, but the main Japanese house was completely gone by then. The hallway was starting to burn, started to burn the bedroom wing, and that's when they finally put fire retardant and water, but it was all ruined. So we saved very little, and I think it was a pretty tough shock for her, I think mentally, it just, it was tough for her.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

PW: So tell me, did you and Mineko have children?

LS: We have four. Our oldest is seventy-two, he's almost as old as I am. [Laughs] Our second is sixty-eight, she lives in Mill Valley, she never had children. Our third is about sixty-six, and she's the wife of Rinban Ito of Higashi Honganji Temple at Third and Central in L.A. Our youngest is probably the brightest, he's the PhD in biochem, he lives in Woodland Hills. Those three have seven children, and only one great-grandchildren. So Janet, my daughter's daughter, Mika, has the one great-grandchild.

PW: What are your children's names? What are your children's names?

LS: Oh, the oldest is Ken, Kenny, Kenneth, Joanne, her name is Linda Joanne, she goes by Joanne, L. Joanne Sakai. Our third is Janet Ito now, and Dennis Sakai is my youngest. Ken, it's the second marriage, but both marriages were Caucasian. Joanne married a Caucasian, Janet's married to a Japanese, Dennis is married to a Caucasian, so three out of four are.

PW: Also going back to postwar, I know now that you and your wife moved into your father-in-law's house. And then you had started working for the Driscoll farms, did you continue in that work or did you change?

LS: I worked there for thirteen years. Mainly I was managing the food processing plant, which basically worked at night. The strawberries are picked in the daytime and delivered to our big packing shed, and we started the shift at seven or eight o'clock at night and go 'til we finished. In the summertime, right around the first of July, the berries would peak. There'd be so many berries that they couldn't get rid of them, so a lot of it would come to what they called the cannery or the freezer. We'd call it the freezer because everything that we packed, if it didn't go directly out, went into the freezer, and then shipped by rail car to ice cream companies, jam manufacturers and grocery store chains all over the country. But that business petered out because even though Monterey County, Santa Cruz County, Santa Clara County, was the stronghold of the strawberries, eventually, San Diego, Oxnard, Santa Maria started growing, so the berries are just getting ripe now in our area in Northern California. Well, they've been ripe since January, down south, so they're shipping all that stuff. So we, up here, the growers up here lost that market. So the Driscoll company changed their process. No more freezer, fresh shipping only, and they began shipping by air. So now it wouldn't take a week to get to the East Coast, they could put a package on a pallet, suck the air out, and maybe put nitrogen in, but they would seal it, load it on an airplane, and next morning, it's in New York, Boston or wherever. So people on the East Coast are getting fresh berries the day after they were picked, never before. So Driscoll was getting at least a dollar a crate more than anybody else, because they had the best fresh strawberries of anybody.

Well, so now, they also owned what we called Strawberry Institute, in coordination with UC, University of California, developing new strands of strawberries. What they wanted was a large berry that would ship, had to be dry. You know, the normal, sweet strawberries were sugary, they only last one day, then they rot. Well, the new breed of strawberries was real big, you could bounce it like a tennis ball, wouldn't damage. The old original like Shasta berries, if you squeeze it too hard, pulling the stem off, it would bruise right away. Well, these, they don't taste good, there's no sugar, but they looked good, they're big, beautiful. Terrible, but that's the way they went. So now, the farmers used to plant the strawberries, second year, there were runners that would go out, they'd slip those in the ground and then keep planting the runners. Four or five years of strawberries. Each year the berries get a little smaller, finally, they disc it under and start all over. The Driscoll system was you plant, your first year berries are big, you pick the berries, disc it under, methyl bromide, fumigate -- that's when they could use it -- fumigate the soil, replant every year with a brand new plant, and they revolutionized the strawberry, fresh strawberry industry. So even though they headquartered in Watsonville, most of their berries are grown in Santa Maria, Oxnard, San Diego, the berry industry has changed. Now, Washington, the state of Washington also grows tons of strawberries, but most of those strawberries go to the freezing plants for jam. Because they have a different system, and it's always wet, so you have to pick 'em and process them right away. They won't last in the supermarket, they'll be rotten the day after, because there was so much damp. And out there, I think they even closed schools so the kids could go out and harvest strawberries like they do, like they used to do for prune picking in Santa Clara Valley. Schools didn't open until sometime in September when all the crops were picked. Now it's, what, June? I'm not sure, July, schools are starting so early now.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

PW: So you didn't stay, though, in the strawberry industry, what did you do?

LS: Well, I had to do something, so I tried a couple of corporations and I didn't like their, I just didn't like working for them. It was just a cutthroat type of business. So after four or five years, for some reason, I got the bug that the travel industry seemed to be a pretty happy place. Everybody was going on vacation or having a good time, wanting to spend their money, so I talked to an agency and I said, "I'm interested in opening one, what can I do?" So this fellow kind of walked me through the business and helped me open up. And in 1970, I opened our travel agency in San Jose. It was good 'til about, maybe late '70s, and then deregulation of big industry came in, the banks were deregulating the trucking industry, airline industry, everything America's businesses kind of went downhill. And airline industry really, we had the best airline system in the world, now we rank below many countries, it just became dog-eat-dog. Maintenance was terrible because every company is now after dollars, they didn't care, just a whole banking, you know how many troubles the banking industry has had. And trucking companies, deregulation, I think, ruined. So there's no more mom and pop industries, which was the backbone of the United States coming out of the depression. People were doing something with our hands without a lot of capital, without having to earn a hundred thousand dollars a year to live. And now you have to earn a quarter million dollars if you're going to live in this area. Things have changed.

PW: Who was your audience for your travel, for your travel agency company, did you target a specific audience?

LS: Fortunately, I was able to procure a contract with IBM for some, mostly the research division, and that helped a lot getting us going. And I think it was ethnic minority small business, the IBM trying to help the local community, and it didn't hurt that I was only one block from the entrance to the main IBM plant. And then basically, outside of that, I didn't have very many business accounts, but I had a lot of personal vacation, families, and they would buy their trips from us.

PW: I imagine in the '70s, people in the Santa Clara Valley are starting to get wealth, and they can take trips and do that sort of thing. Is this when you started getting very involved with the veteran reunions?

LS: Well, we have maintained what we call the Annual Nisei Veterans Reunion in Las Vegas. Starting about 1953, which was the tenth anniversary of the 442nd. The big reunion, (50th) regimental reunion, was in Hawaii, and a lot of us went. And we marched down Kalakaua Avenue, it was a big affair. But it got a little unwieldy. They said we will do this every five years, but it became harder and harder to find host groups. L.A. did it once, most of it has been Honolulu. In the meantime, we would have company get-togethers, like E Company, we would get two hundred or more people coming to our company reunions. We'd go all over Hawaii, had it in Los Angeles, Northern California, we had it in Seattle. I took one group to Denver, took one group to Washington, D.C., when they opened the Smithsonian exhibit, that was a nice trip. And the numbers kept falling. The guys were dying off, and a lot of 'em were just going from here to Seattle or here to, you know, that trip became too much to do. So the L.A. group was the largest, so that group began checking out the hotels in downtown Las Vegas, that's the north end, the original strip. And they have like Four Queens, and a little older hotel and casinos, and they contracted to move in and have a three- or four-day get together. So the L.A. group, because the leader worked in the produce market, they would bring carloads of fresh produce, and bring it up to the hotel, and there's no refrigeration, we could have it stacked in the hallway, it'd be rotting away and making a mess. And they would require all the ladies to bring their cooking utensils, their cooking appliances, Japanese food, they start cooking, and sometimes they'd blow out the fuses, they'd have so much going on. [Laughs] So they caught hell about cooking in the hotel. So that eventually had to come to an end. So I'm not sure what the year was, we were attending with the E Company group. Finally the L.A. group said, "It's just not worthwhile doing any more, and the hotels don't want us to do this anymore, so we're going to give it up." I said, "Well, we're not going to give it up. Northern California, we'll take over. But we're not going to do any cooking, we're just going to have a reunion." We'll have drinks, and we'll have light pupus, nuts, chips, whatever, but no food cooking. They used to cook big meals. So that started what we took over as the Nisei Veterans Reunion.

And by this time, we had moved in to the California Hotel, and if you're familiar with that, that's basically a Hawaiian hotel. The family that owned it, I think started, maybe it was the Plaza Hotel, the first casino in Las Vegas, and he gradually opened one or two others and then he opened this California Hotel. And his background was picking the pockets of the plantation workers. Every payday, he would have a truck going to the plantations, or liquor and food, he would just practically take almost all of their paychecks. And he made his money off the backs of these plantation workers, that's Sam Boyd, B-O-Y-D, Sam Boyd Gaming, that's how he got his start in Las Vegas. So he kept his connection with Hawaii. Now, there's a daily flight from Hawaii to Las Vegas coming to gamble. Hawaiian people say it's cheaper to have our party in Las Vegas than in Honolulu. They have their birthday parties, their anniversaries, high school reunions, whatever. Almost everything is done at the California Hotel. And the atmosphere, they have Hawaiian restaurants, the dealers wear Hawaiian shirts. And a big sign, "Aloha spoken here." They used a lot of Hawaiian terms.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

PW: Tell me about, last year I went for the first time to the Roberts Park Veterans Memorial Day. Tell me about that, what is that ceremony and when did it start?

LS: Well, in 1992, we were still holding E Company reunions. So we hosted a Northern California reunion, and I was kind of in charge of making all the arrangements. So I went to the chamber of commerce, or the city of Oakland, it was an office that I went to, and I met this lady. And I explained what we planned to do, and she says, "I know exactly who we should contact." And her name was Jo Hemphil, lived in Lafayette, it was about thirty-five, forty miles away. But a couple of years before, the pope had come to Northern California, and I think the group was so large, she had handled the reservations for them. And I think she hired five hundred buses to handle taking people following the pope. And so I contacted her and told her, this is what we'd like to do, we're going to be at the Waterfront Hotel, Jack London Square, what do you think we should do? And she said, "I know a little bit about you because my husband was a navy veteran in World War II, and he knows about the 442." So she said, "I'd be glad to do something." So she made up an agenda for four days, and one was a trip to Livermore to the Livermore National Lab, U.C. Berkeley. And it's a pretty closed facility, we had to get clearance from the military, every person had to be signed up, we had to birth certificates, all this stuff, to clear everyone that was in our group. We got to meet with some of the scientists, they took us to the inner auditorium where hardly anybody from the outside ever can go, and they showed us projects they were working on. And this was 1992, and it was very interesting. Now, that was one.

We had golf tournaments, every night we had a program going at the hotel, and food and bar and all that. And one of the trips that Jo Hemphil made up with, Bay Bridges and Parks and Open Space, I think she called it. And we had buses, so Jack London Square in Oakland, we went, I guess, across Golden Gate Bridge. No, we went across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, toward Golden Gate Park, across the Golden Gate Bridge, I guess that's Contra Costa County, and had lunch at... what's that famous, there was a city right on the northern bay, had lunch there, and then I guess we came back on the San Raphael Bridge and came back to, above Oakland, the East Bay Regional Park District has a redwood forest. Of course, none of us knew about that. So we go up there in that forest, and we meet a man, small, about five-seven or eight, white haired man, and he was retired, his name was William Penn Mott, Jr. He had been the director of the East Bay Regional Park District, he had become the National Parks director of the United States, now retired. And when Jo Hemphil told him what this trip was about, he said, "I want to do something for the 442." So he acquired that location where the redwood trees are, he had them bring that big rock that sits there. First they had the bench placed there and they made a plastic, kind of a sign that was imprinted, put in that, but plastic dies out. The park eventually put that brass plate in that rock where it sits now. And that's where, in 1992, our boys planted this, about a six-foot redwood sapling. It's now about thirty, forty feet tall, and that's where we have our incense set up by that tree. So we've been going back every year since 1992.

PW: And what do you do for that ceremony?

LS: Well, we found a Mills High School band, got them to come and play for us, and now that band has transformed into Band of the West, it's Navy Sea Cadets. So they are actually part of the U.S. Navy as Sea Cadets, they have Navy uniforms, they have camouflage uniforms, and they had other uniforms. So we had them play, we have a section down below where about twenty-five, thirty of the musicians, mostly high school age, one or two older, will play military tunes for about an hour. And then we have chairs that the park ranger keeps for us and brings out up on the top, and then he brings the speaker system out. We have a short program. We have a Buddhist minister from the Oakland Buddhist Temple come, we have the Boy Scouts from Berkeley to come and do the honor guard, sometimes we get the impersonators, I guess you'd call them, to come out with their uniforms and equipment. We've run out of speakers, so I'm usually there to say a few things.

PW: And when is this held every year?

LS: Hmm?

PW: When is it held every year?

LS: It's always the third Saturday of May, it's Armed Forces Day throughout the country.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

PW: We have so little time, I don't know if I should ask another question. It's okay? It's a big one, though. So I'd love to talk to you about the Congressional Gold Medal, it's a big question. Were you involved at all in the campaign for the Congressional Gold Medal?

LS: Yes. The committee came and we met at the Japanese American Museum in San Jose, and went over designs and patterns, what the wording should be, and went back and forth two or three times, and they finally made the selection.

PW: Did you go to the ceremony in Washington, D.C.?

LS: Yeah, a whole bunch of us went. Like Brian, they call it a sponsor, would take a veteran, and I can't remember who took... I don't think anybody took me. My daughter, Joanne, went with me. And it was very nice, it was a very nice ceremony, and I think we were at the Hilton in Washington, D.C. And the day that we're going to Congress where they're going to present the Gold Medal, we were on buses. And you know how Washington, D.C., is very crowded, and there must have been maybe ten street crossings to get to the Hall of Congress, we never made a stop. [Laughs] A police escort every corner, the sirens are blowing, the red lights are on, the buses just breeze through Washington all the way to the Hall of Congress. And then when we got there, they gave us a light lunch. The building houses a small auditorium, and then an area with a cafeteria, and we could go in there and have our lunch, come in to this auditorium with a stage. And when we went in there, we all sat in this auditorium. And there was a speaker, that was the guy that resigned, I forgot his name, he was the speaker. There were Republicans and Democrats, and, of course, Dan Inouye is the one they presented the Gold Medal to. And they all kind of passed it around, the senior senators and so forth, and that's how the 442nd received. And then that night was the big ball at the Hilton Hotel, and we had speakers and all kinds of party atmosphere, and then in the outside lobby, they had it set up by alphabetical order, all the replica gold medals made out of bronze, I guess, they weren't gold. But you could line up alphabetically and go get one. So I remember that night, there were generals, mostly Nisei, Sansei generals, maybe half a dozen of them, bunch of colonels, majors, lieutenants, all kinds of brass. And we're all drinking and having a great time. I think we finally quit about two in the morning and we had to get up, like, six in the morning. Oh, I was so hung over. There was this fellow on the flight back, I was sitting, Brian was sitting on the aisle, I was sitting next to him, and I don't remember who was sitting here. I guess Shimizu was sitting here. For some reason, I'm trying to sleep, and he keeps talking to me. [Laughs] Brian said, "Leave him alone." I was just still groggy, but it was a nice trip.

PW: That was Brian Shiroyama sitting next to you?

LS: Yeah.

PW: And this was November of 2011, correct?

LS: I thought it was 2010. I don't know, I can't remember.

PW: How did you feel about the whole ceremony and receiving of the Congressional Gold Medal?

LS: Well, it's nice. Just because it's given out to people like George Washington, Bob Hope, it doesn't mean anything militarily, it's just the highest civilian honor from the United States.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

PW: Okay, it's 2:45 exactly, but I could ask another question, I have more questions. Well, you know what? I'm going to ask a simple one that I've always wanted to ask you. Can you explain the medals on your hat? You're wearing your 442 hat.

LS: You know, yeah... I might be, I think I'm the only Nisei to receive the Congressional Gold Medal from the United States, the French Legion of Honor from the government of France, and the Order of the Rising Son from the emperor of Japan. I don't think anyone else has received -- many of them have received two, but not all three. So that's kind of a distinction. That's a rifle indication. That's probably the most important medal, combat, infantryman, our patch, that's just a replica of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star. This is the World War II insignia, what's this one? I can't remember what that is. This is the French government, World War II ribbon, these are from the Legion of Honor. If you see this, you know he has the Legion of Honor from France. These are other things, that's the Hornet, MIS, Go For Broke. They don't have pins for the Congressional Gold Medal or the emperor's Order of the Rising Son, so I can't display them.

PW: Okay, we're going to stop and say thank you so much for this amazing interview. And I could ask you another fifty questions.

LS: I don't mind because time is running out, and I've been asked to speak at so many places that I'm turning down most of them now. I only do a few choice ones that I want to speak to. I'm not going to speak to young kids anymore. And I was asked to speak at Rossmoor Saturday, but I have just too many other things to do. So I still speak on the Hornet on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, mainly because of our exhibit on the Hornet, they want us to speak. And actually I think they just ran out of Navy guys to speak, they're all, World War II guys all died, nobody left to speak.

PW: That's another example of something I could have talked to you about, was the Hornet, of course, and your trips, almost annually, to France, right?

LS: Yeah. Since we're going in July, our main, we have two banquets at our reunion. Our main one will be about this trip, and we'll show a video. The video will be produced by a fellow named Mike Izumi, he's a professional, whatever, making those, and he'll be on the trip. It'll be available on CD form, I'm sure. But you should come to the reunion, drag the old Donald.

PW: I will try my best to drag the old Donald, the Navy guy. I'll try, because I know he really enjoys it. He just goes to sit in the hospitality room anyway.

LS: Once they get stuck, they just don't feel like getting up and going. What I do, I gave up playing golf in 2007, so I don't do any outdoor activities except work in the garden. But I've worked two, three hours, and I can hardly get up. My body can't take it anymore. So I still do light pruning, I have only two trees in my backyard, so I prune them, I prune little trees like my lemon tree and so forth, but I don't think I can do the hedges anymore. I just have to hire it done.

PW: And actually, again, there's more. You have your annual February meeting in Morgan Hill, right? I mean, you have so much activity.

LS: We used to four meetings, but it got too hectic, so we only do three. February, May and October, that's enough.

PW: That's a lot. Thank you so much for all the work that you do for the veterans.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.