Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hisaji Q. Sakai Interview
Narrator: Hisaji Q. Sakai
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida
Location: Walnut Creek, California
Date: April 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-475-7

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 7>

PW: What year were you in Michigan?

HS: Pardon me?

PW: I'm sorry, what year were you in Michigan?

HS: 1943.

PW: And then Nebraska was...

HS: Summer (before Michigan). I just had the one, I did something just to go, I wasn't interested in studying. But Michigan was good because I had nobody to talk to. Even those Japanese Americans in that neuropsychiatric hospital over there, and the Japanese instructors, I never knew about them. I paid a small amount to an osteopath for a room, I had a small room, just holds a bed or something like that. And I didn't know anything about bowling, but I applied for a job. I lasted one night because I didn't know what to do, because I didn't know when to put up the balls, when to stop, when I put up the pins. So it was good, just an experience.

PW: So when you were at Michigan, was that when you were recruited to the Military Intelligence Services?

HS: No. Michigan, I was drafted, they let me finish -- I can't pick it up -- they let me finish my sophomore year, and I was drafted after that. And I met some of my friends from San Francisco and we were drafted from the same, Detroit, and actually, they needed soldiers... I wouldn't call myself a soldier, they needed some, and they didn't care whether you (could) see or not. I was not kidding, the doctor or whoever was testing my eyesight said, "Now, can you see the first line?" I said, "What first line?" And he says, "Okay, see that..." I guess it was the (first) line, says, "Can you see the (first) line?" I says, "It says E." I didn't know it was E, but it had to be. He says, "Okay, good eyes." So I was selected. Most everybody that went in with me were college students, so I went and trained, at Camp Shelby, I was training with the Hawaiians and they were different from us. We were quiet, they were happy guys. And they really, we got the thirteen weeks' training and everybody else started getting eight weeks, got thirteen weeks. And on the shooting range, to tell you how bad I was, the first day I got there, we're bouncing up and down when you march to the field an exercise, and I immediately fainted. So I had to go to first aid, and then the captain was there, and he said, "Son, what's the matter?" He was Japanese American, so, "Son, what's the matter with you?" I said, "I think I fainted." And he said, "You say, 'Sir, to me." I learned quickly, I said, "Sir." And I was in the hospital three days, never saw a doctor. And then I got back, I knew to say "Sir" to everybody.

And then they took me out to the shooting range, we got... at that time they had changed to M-1s, and of course, at that time, they were using World War I Enfield 1909 rifles. And we got to shoot the M-1s. but they had (a row of) these targets side by side, and I can see the target, but I had to look to find out, but they were side by side, I didn't know if I'm supposed to shoot at target number two or three. And the bolo flag (waving), saying you missed it, about ten targets away, they gave up on me, but they couldn't do that, they had what is called the M-1 pencil and they would pass you. And I don't know if they were upset with me, they probably were. They made me the BAR man, that's an important post, Browning Automatic Rifle, the automatic rifle, it weighed fourteen pounds, and (required) heavier bullets, but it was important because there were only (one) in each squad, BAR people And the enemy would always try to shoot off the BAR, and so I was always paranoid, they want to get rid of me. By the time we finished training, fortunately, the recruits from Fort Snelling came and who should that be, but Minoru Endo. And he happened to be a family friend, and probably would have been taken because I went to Japanese school, so we were all transferred after thirteen weeks. Interesting, almost all the kids that went to language school, the rural kids, they only went Saturdays, right, but they were the ones that were very good. But yet, they were not as good as the Kibeis, you needed Kibeis. And they really, the teachers were nice, but they were not educators. I look back on it, and I was there for nine months, school, and that's what we did eight hours a day, and in the evening, go to Japanese movies, and it was only 1,800 kanjis, Chinese characters to learn, I could learn that. But I was bored, so I took two courses, physics and calculus from Berkeley, because it was free, and I used to do that. By the time I finished, I was shipped. Interesting, we were shipped from Pittsburg, California, where I began my second year of practice in radiology. I still don't know how I got on the ship, we had to, we ship changed boats in San Francisco, and the war was over, because that was in August, and we finished in August, but we were waiting for... there were five thousand, four or five thousand people finishing at the same time, ready for the invasion of Japan. Anyway, I wasn't a very good soldier, I mean, they weren't getting a bargain. But I said I could always handle myself.

PW: I'm curious, since you hadn't gone to the camps, like most of the students in the, first at Shelby and then also in Fort Snelling in Minnesota, most of these kids had gone to camp and then you're reunited with them. What was that like for you, because you hadn't been in the same situations. Did you talk about that, or was it very different for you to be reunited?

HS: No, there were lots of kids from San Francisco, most of them had gone to Japanese school, so we were reunited, and the Japanese community was small, you knew everybody. Interesting, (before) Japan, (...) we first were sent to the Philippines because that was the staging area. And the war was over, and then we went to Tokyo, and the buildings were all standing, so we (were quartered at) the NYK building, and we were about eight to each room, and they were all from San Francisco in the same room. (...) It was wintertime, so we had to go to the warehouses to guard the warehouse. Oh, incidentally, in the Philippines, the only time we were assigned weapons and ammunition was whenever you had to go and pick up beer at the storage. And I did not drink at that time, and so we'd go and then we'd get off and we'd pile all the beer, and my experience, people would tell you, "Okay, open this case, and put it in everywhere you can put it," and then we got to the gates, and they would tell us to get off, and they knew where all the (cans of beer) were hid and they took (them) back, and they went back to camp. About maybe 500 yards from the camp, then these (guards) would say, "Okay, now throw all the beer you can," there were two cases to the bundle, "off the truck." And then we'd go back in the evening and pick up the two cases. And then I didn't drink, so I gave it to everybody else. The Hawaiians, of course, drank, and the kids from the States, they sold it on the black market.


PW: I want to back up just a quick second. So I know that the war was over when you went to Japan in the Philippines, but when did it end? Like were you in, were you in Fort Snelling when the war ended?

HS: Yes, we finished in Fort Snelling.

PW: And when you went to the Philippines, did you do any interpretation there at all, or just transition?

HS: No, I wasn't good enough for that, because they were, we were at the Santa Rita race track, and there was a river running by us, sometimes you would see dead bodies going down, don't know who they were. And Santa Rita, they moved ATIS, the Allied Translation and Interpretation Service, to the Philippines, to Manila, that's where Santa Rita were, in Manila. And they must have taken the better ones, better translators, to go with them to pick up the people who were still out there that wouldn't surrender. And the better interpreters and translators went straight on to Tokyo, and when the war was over in August, September and so forth, we got there in about January. They employed Japanese much better, of course.

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