Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gary M. Itano Interview
Narrator: Gary M. Itano
Interviewer: Linda Tamura
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: August 21, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-479

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

<Begin Segment 1>

LT: Today is August 21, 2019. We're in Los Angeles interviewing Gary Itano, with videographer Evan Kodani, and I am Linda Tamura. What is your full name?

GI: My full name is Gary Masataka Itano.

LT: And your date of birth?

GI: I was born on April 3, 1949.

LT: Where were you born?

GI: I was born in East Los Angeles.

LT: And your home now?

GI: And my home now is Newport Beach, California.

LT: Let's begin in Japan with your family origins. Your grandfather, do you know his name?

GI: I do not know my grandfather's name.

LT: Where did your grandfather live?

GI: The Itanos were from Okayama Prefecture, Okayama-ken, and Soja-shi, so the town of Soja, and a little village called Hara. But they were originally from the island of Shimonoseki, which is the Inland Sea, and there's an Itano city there.

LT: What was your grandfather's occupation?


GI: Okay, grandfather's occupation was basically a country gentleman. He was a descendant from a long line of samurai, and basically they earned their keep by keeping the order. They were basically the police with the ultimate authority of extrajudicial decisions. They could do anything they wanted at any time to do whatever they felt needed to be done to keep the peace or keep order, and they did for hundreds of years. So at the end... and shall I go into this part? So by the turn of the century, the Itanos had lost, or the samurai had lost their powers, they didn't this sort of thing anymore, there was a regular Western-style police and all that sort of thing. But he still had to, being of the nobility, he still had to, in my mother's terms, dress up like Abraham Lincoln every day with the top hat, and that sort of thing. And wherever he went, the people would have to bow down very low and not look up, because if they didn't do that, in the distant past, they could have their heads lopped off. I don't know if our family did that sort of thing, but that's what was done. So he felt this wasn't him, and so he saw America as this new world and this great new adventure, and the Constitution and all those principles. So he decided to go to America with his new wife, and as my mother would tell this story to me, they traveled all over the United States in every kind of transport, from stage coaches to buckboards to horses to trains, whatever, and they stayed long enough to have three sons. And my father, the first, was born in San Pedro in 1917, November 17th is when my father was born. And then his brother Toshimasa -- well, I don't know the order, I know that one brother was born in Idaho and another brother, Mitsuteru was, he was born in either that or Missouri. So they traveled around long enough to have kids. And then they came back to Japan and they bore two daughters, and then after, I guess, they put their kids through traditional school, my grandfather decided to return and bring only his eldest son to America, and I'm thinking presumably to have Henry Masami, his eldest son, be the representative of the Itano clan in this new country.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

LT: So your father was the eldest son, what was his full name?

GI: My father's full name was Henry Masami Itano.

LT: And when and where was he born?

GI: He was born, my father was born November 17, 1917, in San Pedro.

LT: So he was a Kibei.

GI: Yes, he was born here and educated in Japan and then returned.

LT: So around 1934, your grandfather chose to leave Japan and come to the United States. What were his goals?

GI: I have no idea. I can only surmise by his behavior and kind of the attitude that I would inherit from my own father, his son.

LT: And what would you surmise?

GI: Well, he was very easygoing, and my mother would tell me that he enjoyed... well, he would put my father into school, and I think he went to what is now Riverside College. And at that time, it was Riverside agricultural school because my grandfather, I know, was fond of agriculture. And along that line, he would become a sharecropper. He would pick the crops and between the crops, he would dive into his giant steamer trunk and he would pull out this Abraham Lincoln suit that he hated wearing in Japan, and he would go into town between the crops and carouse around. And then when the next crop started, he would put everything back in the steamer trunk and he would go off and pick the beans or the strawberries or whatever happened to be in season. He was a character that way.

LT: So your grandfather left Japan because he wanted to be treated as a regular person. How was he treated by the others when he came to the United States?

GI: I have no idea. I don't know what the attitude toward foreigners were, but, I mean, if you read The Turner Diaries, the East Asians, the Japanese samurai, are like second only to the Ashkenazi Jews. [Laughs] So whenever I come to a white nationalist, I just tell them, "Hey, you're talking to an East Asian, I'm higher than you guys." So I don't know what the mores were at the time, so I'm sure he was subject to whatever was prevalent at the time.

LT: Your father was a teenager when he came to the United States with your grandfather.

GI: Yeah, I don't know the exact dates, I just understand that he came... when he came, he was old enough to be put in school, and I don't know if his first school was the agricultural college or what.

LT: Well, in 1941, World War II began for the United States. Do you know what your grandfather and your father thought about war?

GI: Well, I think, at the time, my grandfather had already returned to Japan. And just myself, learning about samurai traditions and ethics and history and that sort of thing, I think they just looked at war as kind of a practical matter, life and death and that sort of thing, a political thing, it had a lot to do with right and wrong. So based on those parameters would determine how you felt about whatever was happening. And I imagine, just like everybody in the world, they thought it was, like, an economic disagreement.

LT: What did your father do after World War II began?

GI: Well, being a gung-ho, red-blooded American, he wanted to go fight the enemy of his country. So he volunteered for the army or draft, or just volunteered to fight. And being a Kibei, all the Kibei were rejected at first. And shall I tell about how he actually got into the army?

LT: Sure.

GI: Okay. So he was rejected by the, as a Kibei, because he had been "polluted" by the teachings and the Japanese and loyalty to the emperor and that sort of thing. But then after the first wave of Japanese American soldiers sacrificed their lives and became the most highly decorated group of soldiers in American history, the army concluded that these guys were really good fighters, you know, what they say about samurai and all this stuff was true, so we got to get all these guys in, and basically, they'll be our cannon fodder, willingly. So they now drafted all the Kibei who they rejected previously.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

LT: Let's talk about your mother. What was her name and where was she born?

GI: My mother's name was Grace Yoshie Ota, and she was born in Seattle, Washington. And she was, her birthday was July 7, 1917, so she was a few months older than her to-be husband.

LT: How many siblings did she have?

GI: I think their family was about seven in total, brothers and sisters.

LT: And what kind of a job did she have?

GI: Well, she was a Kibei also, so she grew up here, and I'm not sure what her younger life was or how things were when she went back to Japan. But I know that when she did go to Japan, she picked up this love of Japanese history, and she could rattle off all the emperors and all of the shoguns and tell you the main characteristics of each one, just like that. And I kind of inherited a lot of that from her. But when she came back, she became a housekeeper for this wealthy Trainer family in Tacoma, Washington. And through the years, after we moved to Orange County, she would often speak very fondly of Mrs. Trainer and her son, and just having a very good time with those folks. And actually, they would exchange postcards and I believe she went to visit Mrs. Trainer a couple of times.

LT: So she was twenty-four years old when World War II began. What happened to your mother after Pearl Harbor?

GI: Well, after a couple months, Executive Order 9066 was issued, and everyone here in the L.A. area were being carried off to Santa Anita racetrack to live in horse stalls. But my mother's eldest brother, Shigemi, his wife was a classical dance instructor, very refined. And she would have none of it. When she found that out, she would say, "No way, I'm not going to any horse stall." So she forced all of the Otas to get all of their vehicles together and load them up and strap mattresses to the roofs and all this stuff, if you can picture this, and they just drove off east into Arizona, having no idea where they were going, they were just following the road. And the way the story goes, they ended up at some farm, and the kind farmer said, "Well, you folks can stay in my barn." And I remember my aunt telling how there were rats running around, and it was very scary. And they couldn't stand it after a few weeks, so most of them voluntarily admitted themselves into the Gila, Arizona, camp. But my aunt, the dancer, didn't want to have anything to do with that, so she forced her husband to stay out, and I think she had a couple members of her dance troupe with her. And so throughout World War II, she would make arrangements with the different camp administrators for her troupe to be admitted into the camp, set up a stage, and then they would do their dance show, and then they would tear it down and go to the next thing, so a very unique kind of person. She actually would end up leading one of the big ondo dance troupes here in Little Tokyo into the Nisei Week parade. And I think one of the rooms at the JACC is named after her daughter, my cousin, because she was a virtuoso biwa player and dancer. And my aunt received, directly from the emperor, some sort of award for helping to spread the culture of Japan outside of Japan.

LT: So where did your mother go after the war?

GI: Well, I believe, after her husband was court-martialed, she was sent from Gila to Tule Lake where all the dissenters were sent. And then after the war, I think they all ended up in East L.A. So as far as how my parents first met before the war and that sort of thing, I really had no good idea.

LT: Well, your parents had four sons, and where did you fit within them?

GI: I was third, I was the third son.

LT: And what do you remember about your upbringing from your parents? What was your relationship with your mother?

GI: Well, I think of the four sons, I was kind of the pet to my, both my parents. And I have to admit that maybe there's a little resentment going on there, but it was a very fun and loving and joyful experience for us kids. I mean, every time Christmas or birthdays came around, we always got whatever we had wished for. And looking back, I don't know how that could possibly have happened, but it happened, and the eldest, Lloyd, was sent into judo training, very demanding. And then the second, Steve, learned how to play piano, or clarinet, very well. And then myself and the youngest, Phil, learned piano, and we often would play duets at the elementary school programs for holidays.

LT: What do you think your mother's goals were for you as a young boy?

GI: It was never stated. My father asked me about that sort of thing, and I told him I wanted to be a test pilot like Chuck Yeager. And so he told me that, "Oh, well, you have to become an engineer and you'll have to learn mathematics," and that sort of thing. But as for my mother, she just seems like she just wanted to love me, and that was all that I needed. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 4>

LT: So where did you grow up, and can you describe your community?

GI: Okay. So I grew up in South Central L.A., in Watts. And at the time, it was a very kind of quiet community, it wasn't the place it is now with all the gun shooting and that sort of thing. And going to school, I really didn't know the difference between black or white or Asian, except when we went to the Presbyterian church. There are quite a few more white kids there, and I did notice that they were very much more obnoxious than the kids in my little hometown. And I had a girlfriend, Sharon, and we exchanged Valentine's Day cards, and I had a little, at the local library, I had a little cubicle. And then for, in exchange for helping to stack the books, I would be allowed read any book that I wanted to, so I spent a lot of time at the library at my little job.

LT: And at school, were you the only Japanese American?

GI: Yeah, us Itano kids, I think we were the only Japanese Americans in sight. I mean, our other Japanese, our friends of the family had kids, and we would see them, but they would go to different schools and we would see them maybe once a month or so for birthdays and that sort of thing, or at church, or at Nisei Week.

LT: So in your school and in your community, you and your brothers were unique in a black community. What was it like? Was it different, did it seem different to you?

GI: It was very normal, although when the Civil Rights Movement started happening in the late '50s, you could really notice the presence of the activist people, and they were stirring up the community, and people were starting to have discussions about race and that sort of thing. But being seven, eight, nine years old, it's a little bit distant to you. But you did notice that there was a lot of activity going on.

LT: But growing up, you had a black girlfriend, you had black classmates, you had black neighbors, and that was normal.

GI: Yeah.

LT: Did your mother and father sit down with you and your brothers and talk about race?

GI: Yeah. There's an incident where I was learning how to play the bass fiddle, and I had to carry it to and from school. And one day, I was carrying it to school and a kid comes up to me, a black kid comes up to me and he goes, "Nah, nah, you white paddy." And I go, "I'm not a white paddy," and I started chasing after him. I dropped the bass and I picked it up, and it was like I could tell it was not right inside of the case. So my father said, "Well, I guess you're not going to be playing bass fiddle anymore." And then around that time, around the dinner table, we would talk about, kind of like... well, it was when the terminology "Negro" and "black" started to evolve. And we would say, "Well, Daddy, what should we call our friends, black or Negroes?" And his advice was, "Just call people what they want to be called," and that's stood me in fairly good stead ever since, very simple and straightforward.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

LT: Your parents had a grocery store. Can you tell us about the store, the kids of goods that you had, the relationship with your neighbors who came to the store?

GI: Sure. Our store on Kalmia Street, it was a little storefront with a door in the middle. You'd walk in and there'd be the counter on the right and shelves on the left, and I think a little refrigerator area in the back and a vegetable bench in the front.


GI: So it was mostly American food, and maybe some Mexican tamales that all us kids always ate the inventory up before they could be sold, so that didn't last for very long. But the people that came in were just people in the neighborhood, and people that we saw every day and knew and knew their kids, and the kids would come in and buy candy and that sort of thing, just a regular grocery store.

LT: You were giving a great description of the store. Can you tell us again what it looked like when it came in?

GI: Sure. You'd go in the store and there was a screen door, I remember. And on the right was a counter, a glass topped counter where the tamales used to be. And on the left was the bench where the vegetables were, all the fresh vegetables. I recall my father taking me with him from time to time to the Central Market to buy the vegetables and bring them back for the store. And then there were shelves of canned goods and milk and that sort of thing, bread, just staples.

LT: And a tamale steamer.

GI: Uh-huh.

LT: Did you sell Japanese goods?

GI: I really don't know. But we did for our meals, I would think it would be maybe at least a third Japanese type, tsukemono and ochazuke and all that kind of stuff. But it was a lot of pork chops and chicken fried steak from the store, and our dad would carve all the meat up and stuff.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

LT: So you lived in a predominately black community. Did you keep in touch with your Japanese culture?

GI: Well, you don't do anything intently at that age, but I was exposed to things like, we had the Shinto shrine that you light incense and pray to, and we, my father would have these samurai artifacts like a samurai doll or something with authentic armor, miniaturized. And he would have a ceramic war horse with an elaborate saddle and the rider on top of it, and that sort of thing.

LT: Did you ask him about them?

GI: Not really. We just kind of knew that that sort of thing came out every, maybe on Boy's Day or something like that. I remember he would fly the carp kites and that sort of thing, so maybe around Boy's Day that sort of thing came out.

LT: Were there other Japanese celebrations with the community or with family which you participated?

GI: Sure. The Ota family, all the seven uncles and aunts and their offspring, our cousins, and the DB Boys' families' friends and other friends, we would all go to Griffith Park in the summer, like maybe every other year or so. And they would build a stage. I would take, just like our aunt would take into the camps, and our cousins who were now grown, would be the dancers, and there would be games and potato sack races and prizes and great food and just a wonderful time.

LT: What kind of food?

GI: Japanese food, whatever you can imagine there was. Although talking about food, one of the big feasts was at New Year's. And my father, being from San Pedro, would always go to San Pedro to get these huge lobster tails, or lobsters with the heads and all that, and the antennae and all that sort of stuff. And we would always have a huge lobster feast with all the trimmings, and I remember, in the summer, he would go and bring back these huge jars of abalone, of brined, pickled or something abalone. And us four kids would devour that in about a day.

LT: Your parents had both lived in Japan, so at home, what language did they speak?

GI: They spoke, between themselves, it seemed like when we were younger, it was almost all Japanese, it seemed that way. And in the store, of course, it would be English, but it was a good mix of the two. But I wanted to mention about food, one of the things I do remember from my mom is she knew how to make nappa tsukemono, and you put the leaves in the water and the brine and you put a rock on top of it and let it sit and ferment, and she would make great nappa tsukemono, I remember that.

LT: We talked about language, and when you were younger, your parents spoke primarily Japanese. Did you learn Japanese from your parents?

GI: No. The only thing I learned, and I can't even remember what it is, but whenever you would go to school as a child you would say, "I'm leaving now," and then your mother would say, "Please come back," and then when you came home you would say in Japanese, "I have arrived home," and the mother would say, "Welcome back." That's sort of the sing-songy little exchanges, but then after maybe five or six or seven, that would kind of go away and you would just be a regular American at that point.

LT: Do you remember as a kid any special get-togethers that your father had with his friends?

GI: Sure. I remember... I must have only been about three years old, because I was still crawling around on the floor. And I remember he and his, it turned out to be his DB Boy friends would come over and you have to kind of picture this. Our little tiny house was, the dining area, kind of like a kitchenette, and then behind there was a little tiny kitchen, and then behind there was a little washroom with one of those washing machines where you crank through the clothes. And then right on this side of the kitchenette was a little door that went into our kids room and there were two bunkbeds, so we slept four of us there. And so when these men would come over to play cards and party, it was like you hear all this riot going outside your door, you can't go to sleep. So I would sneak out and I would crawl under the table, and I can remember looking up and just never seeing anybody. But the image that I had in my mind was like they were pirates from a Disney movie. And I would imagine them in their hats and coats and swords and all that kind of thing, and doing what pirates do.

LT: Your mother had been incarcerated during World War II. Did she talk about it, did you learn about it as you were growing up?

GI: No, I didn't know anything about that until I had a chance to visit Japan where my father had died. And in the family graveyard, I was shown his tombstone and there's a lot of writing on the back in Japanese. And I asked my cousin about that and she said, "Oh, that's the name of the man who was with your father when he protested the internment." And I had no idea of that story, and when I came back to America from that trip, I asked my mother and she said the reason she didn't tell us sons was because it was around the '50s and the McCarthy era and this whole syndrome going down, and they didn't want us to become politicized like the Rosenberg kids or something like that. And they wanted us to gain our majority before we were found out so we could make our own minds up about what they had done.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

LT: So in the summer of 1959, your parents returned to Japan. Where were you and what was the purpose of their trip?

GI: Well, for the few years leading up to that, Daddy was, his colon cancer condition was really deteriorating, and he would oftentimes be rushed out in the middle of the night bleeding and being taken to the hospital and brought back. And he would kind of disappear from the store, working in the store for a lot of days before, to recover from that sort of thing. And then they found out that there may be some radiation therapy available to him in Japan. I don't think they had any kind of insurance here, or any kind of benefits because they had been dishonorably discharged from the military, so there wasn't any support. And so we saw them off at the airport, and that was the last time we saw him.

LT: And where did you stay?

GI: We stayed with our mother's sister, Yoneo, Auntie Taniguchi. And she and her husband Joe had two daughters, June and Carol, lived there, and our Uncle Frank lived in the back with our Auntie Yoshiye and their sons Henry and... I can't remember their other sons' name, but their two kids. And so Lloyd and I lived back there with them, and Steve and Phil lived in the front.

LT: You were just ten years old and your father died when he was in Japan. So your mother returned, did she continue the store? How did she support four boys and also make a living?

GI: Well, Mom... a couple of the DB Boys, Mr. Nomiyama and Mr. Ogawa and one other that I'm not thinking of right now, three of them had gardening businesses in Orange County and they catered to the wealthy people in Corona Del Mar. So they were able to find our family a nice little ranch house, and across the street was a horse ranch with real horses, and down the street they were building Westminster High School, and over the hill they were building the 405 freeway. So it was a whole another world from the inner city ghetto kind of scenario.

LT: And so how did your mother make a living?

GI: So Mom, I guess her major job was working at what she called the factory, which was doing, like, piecework on, I guess they sewed clothes together. I actually went to the factory a couple times myself and kind of looked in, and it was just very industrial kind of work. And then I know that she was working as a cleaning woman at her friend Mary's massage parlor, which was probably a brothel or something like that.

LT: What do you recall about your mother during that period of time?

GI: Also she supplemented her income by trading in the stock market, because that was how our dad had supplemented his income while we lived in Watts. And I remember he subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, so he would always teach me about finance and economics and stuff like that, he would talk to me about stuff like that.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

LT: So your mother was raising four sons, she had two jobs, she was working the stock market, what do you recall about her at that time?

GI: Well, us sons went as wild as we possibly could. So she really didn't have much say in anything that we did except for what we ate. And should I tell the story about how I almost burned the house down?

LT: Sure.

GI: Okay. So when I turned thirteen, we were there for about a year and a half, and I had just started learning how to surf. I would get this twenty-five dollar surfboard and I would hitchhike and I would go down to Huntington Beach. And I rode my first wave on my first day and I thought it was really great. So I kept it up, and it was six months before I had another stand up ride, but I was hooked. So I came home and I was home from another hard day of surfing. And being the tough guy that I was, because I guess if your father was... boy, you wanted to be a tough guy. So I would always smoke a cigarette in bed before going to sleep. Well, this time I dropped a cigarette and started the mattress smoldering. And Mother came out and she yelled at me, and I said, "Yeah, yeah, old lady, whatever." Like I put some water on it and it's over. But then it happened again the next night. And then it clicked in my mind that, hey, I could have burned the house down and thrown our mom and our whole family out on the street. And it wasn't until maybe just a few years ago that I realized how much how much we Itanos or our kind of family or something is driven by this bushido samurai ethic of duty and honor. And at thirteen, I think it clicked in my mind that I was being very dishonorable and undutiful to allow the risk of this sort of thing happening.

So for some reason it just clicked in my head that I have to discipline myself, as my father might have, to prevent this sort of thing from ever occurring again. So in my little thirteen-year-old adolescent mind, I decided that, okay, I'll just deny myself my favorite thing, which is making friends. So at that point, I just made the decision to, okay, that's going to be my control. And then I'm going to do everything I possibly could to help our mom out from her drudgery. So I became the housekeeper and the butler and the groundskeeper and the plumber and the painter, and all these chores, whatever they were. And my surfer friends, when they came over, I remember one of them would drop his cigarette ash on the floor, and I would yell at him, "What are you doing? That's what ashtrays are for." And they would joke and say, "Gary, you'd make a great housewife," right? But my mom was very appreciative of that. But the thing, it's part of the trauma of poverty. Because you go through these things, and they're not explained, and you don't understand them for decades later. I mean, I'm just now starting to figure it out. And so what I figured out is the reasons I have no friends now is because I just, ever since that time, I just put my head down and just have been doing the right thing. Whatever was the right thing to do, and do your best, and nothing else mattered. So that's been kind of my life. But it served me well professionally and that sort of thing, and in my activist life. And it's hard to regret something that you really don't have any control over.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

LT: In 1970, when you were twenty years old, you went to Japan for a six-month tour. And during that tour, you had an aha moment.

GI: Which one?

LT: When you visited your family and you visited the family tomb?

GI: Oh, the graveyard?

LT: The gravesite.

GI: Oh, sure. That's where I was shown my father's tombstone, and on the back was all this writing. I asked my cousin what is this, and she said, "Oh, well, that's the name of the men who joined your father protesting the internment during the war." And I said, "Well, what's that?" and she had to explain it to me and she was kind of shocked that I didn't know. And okay, so now I find this out, I had no idea what to make of it, I just, okay, that's pretty interesting, I'll have to ask Mom about that when I get back.

LT: And by the way, when you were in Japan, you noticed that people treated you differently.

GI: You know, I remember getting off the boat in Nagoya. We took the last scheduled passenger liner in the pre-cruise line days to carry passengers across the Pacific, it just so happened. And we went into Nagoya harbor, and I remember getting off, and Mayumi, my cousin, who was escorting me, would ask these people which way to the restaurant or something, and they were so kind, and they would actually take us by the hand and lead us there. This was very un-American, like what kind of world is that, where just complete strangers would take you by the hand and take you and drop you off right at the restaurant. And then kind of hang around and see if you needed any help, and then, it was a clutch of girlfriends or something, and they would bid each other farewell, go their different ways. And so when I went to Okayama and I got separated from my cousin. Oh, she had to, she put me up in like a hotel or something because she had to go and prepare the house for my arrival. Because I don't know that she had already arranged with her parents for me to be there. And so I made my way to the town and got off the train, and I started walking up this little town road. And I would go into a shop and, in my little broken Japanese with my little dictionary, I would say, "Do you know the way to the Shimizu house?" "Shimizu ue wa doko desu ka?" And then the people would, "Oh, hai, hai," and they would be very gracious and bowing down like this, and then they would hand me off to the next person. And then that person would take me a little way and hand me off and hand me off, and they would actually deposit me at the doorstep. And it just, I found out later that the reason they were so helpful or obedient or whatever you call it is because I didn't realize that, for hundreds of years before, the Itanos and the Shimizus were the ones that had total authority of life and death over the people. And so that was the custom, you had to bow down to these nobles at the risk of being beheaded, actually. So I didn't know that was going on.

LT: You also visited a special castle.

GI: Yes. My uncle Toshimasa, my father's second brother, he took me to this huge, wooden, ancient wooden building. And inside was this giant, eight-foot long samurai sword, that they said used to be wielded by a giant person. And he said inside there, that's one of the Japanese archives, and inside there is thirty years of Itano history, which I later kind of determined was like records of births and deaths and property exchanges and that sort of thing, but going back hundreds of years. And then he took me to this castle, it was like a five-story keep, the corner of a, the remnants of a castle, and he said, "This is what's left of Itano Castle." And I have a picture here somewhere showing us looking out over the parapet, and then out in front is this huge tree, and he would show me these carvings and he would say, "These are the carvings of the Itano kids." Over the centuries they would carve their names into this tree.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

LT: Let's go back to your discovery of your father's role during World War II. You knew nothing about that. When you went back to the United States and talked with your mother, what did she tell you?

GI: Well, she confirmed they had done that, and that was the writing on the back of the tombstone. And the reason that they hadn't told us, and who the fellow DB Boys were, Nomiyama and Ogawa and all those guys.

LT: Can you tell us a little bit about what the DB Boys did?

GI: You mean what the incident was about, how that went?

LT: Yes.

GI: Okay, we spoke about them volunteering for the military and then being rejected because they were Kibei. And then, after the initial wave of Japanese were killed off, they were drafted. And then they were all sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama, and as far as I can gather, a number of them had samurai legacies like my father, and they had this idea of representing our families and our ethics and that sort of thing, and all those values that you subscribe to, bushido and all that sort of thing, and had it overlaid onto, into the American scene. And they knew that what had happened was unconstitutional, no due process of law and that sort of thing. And I recall one of the DB Boys, we'd gone to, like a celebration, and I recall one of them telling me that it was a tradition for the samurai to... if you go into battle and you come back alive, it's like a shame on your family. Because if the war is still going on, then maybe you didn't give all of your effort. So in order to go to war in that frame of mind, the tradition is to go to your commanding officer and tell him, like, "Oh, please take care of my family or my sick mother," whatever it is, and, "unburden my mind from worldly things so that I may devote my entire spirit to this effort." And so they decided they would do something like that. Now, I've seen different stories. I've heard, like, fifty, sixty men, and I've read in your book there was like a hundred or so, but a group of men, Japanese Americans, decided to march up to the commandant's office, and they stood out in front, and the corporal or sergeant or somebody came out, and they asked, "What are you guys doing here?" and they said, "Oh, we need to speak to the commandant and express our grievances." And the sergeant or whoever he was got very upset, "This is U.S. Army, you don't express your grievances to anybody, you just follow orders. I'm ordering you to turn around and march back to the barracks where you came from." And there are different versions of this story that I've read and I've heard, so I'm just telling the one that I heard. So they were marching back, and then suddenly somebody in the ranks said, "This is as far as we go," and they all stopped. And the guys in the back were, like, bumping into the guys in the front, and all that kind of stuff, and they finally just came to a standstill. And then the sergeant was running up and down, saying, "I gave you a direct order," blah, blah, blah, "start marching," and then they wouldn't move. So a higher officer, a lieutenant or a major or somebody came out and said, "What's going on here?" "Well, I gave these guys an order and they won't move." And the way I was told the story is the sergeant takes my father and pulls him out of the ranks and says, "This is the ringleader." I don't know if he was the real leader of the whole thing, but as far as that sergeant was concerned, he was. I don't know how the sergeant knew. And then the major calls out a group, the soldiers, to set up one of these big machine guns on a tripod, and facing this ranks of fifty to one hundred men. And he said, "Okay, all you guys who want to just go back to the war and follow orders and that sort of thing, just march yourselves back to the barracks. And all you other guys that want to stay with this guy, stay back here." And so maybe a couple dozen hung back, and the rest of them marched back. And these guys, there's another story where there's a separate group of men who came later, and they weren't aware of this having gone on already, but they had protested all on their own, and so they were ultimately grouped in with these initial guys.

And one version of the story that I heard from one of the DB Boys, and I can't recall which, is they were put into what they called a fieldhouse, and they were given two doors to go through, the right or the left. And if you went through the right door you would go to the war, and if you went through the left door, who knows what would happen to you? So the way I heard the story is these... well, these guys were trained in the samurai behavior or code of conduct, and they knew that if you did anything to countermand an order of any superior, you would be beheaded right away. I mean, there would be no questions asked, it would be just, it would just be over. Unless you agreed to honorably disembowel yourself as a show of your sincerity that you weren't just doing this out of cowardice, which happened a lot. And so these guys fully expected to have that kind of result happen, they fully expected to be executed on the spot. Like if you went through that left door, you're gone, you're not coming back at all. But it didn't turn out that way, they were court-martialed and sent to Fort Leavenworth prison.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

LT: So after you came back from Japan, you spoke with your mother about this because you didn't know that story. You eventually learned it from other DB Boys and from your research and from your mother. By the way, what does "DB Boy" stand for?

GI: Well, when I first heard the story, I was told that the D stood for Detention and the B for Barracks, because I understood that that was where they were kept locally in Fort McClellan. But when they were remanded to Fort Leavenworth, the official name for that was Disciplinary Barracks. So DB, "disciplinary," "detention," depends on where you were.

LT: Okay. So you didn't know the story, what did your mother tell you when you spoke with her after your return to the United States?

GI: You know, she didn't give me any kind of detail, only that it had happened, and that our father was hounded by the FBI.

LT: Upon his return.

GI: Yeah. Well, yeah. And he was an accountant by training or skill, so he had gone on a couple of jobs, and like one of the, what would be today, like a Big 8 accounting firm type. And he would be hired, and then a couple days later, he would get a phone call. "Sorry, Mr. Itano, we made a mistake," were their exact words. "What do you mean, you made a mistake?" "Well, I really can't talk about it, but we just made a mistake in your hiring, we just can't hire you." And it happened a couple times. And as she was telling me this story, the image clicked in my mind as a child walking home from school -- this happened at least twice -- where these men in suits, in a nice clean car, kind of like, they looked, you would think, of "men in black" type guys, except they were just regular suits. And a nice, clean car, something that you don't see at all in Watts. And they would say, "Hey, kid, how's your parents doing?" "Oh, they're fine, Mister." And at the time, I thought all the kids were asked this kind of question from these kinds of guys. But, I mean, they had to have been the FBI guys, who else were they gonna be? But thinking back to those guys and knowing about FBI and having worked with the FBI in my cybersecurity career fairly closely, I know that these guys are federal investigators, so they know the backgrounds of their charges. And I kind of get the sense that these guys that were assigned to keep an eye on us DB Boys kind of knew the backgrounds, and I think they had a, they must have had a fairly high regard for these guys.

LT: So your father was not able to get a job as an accountant then. Do you know how he made the decision to move on in securing a job?

GI: Well, yeah. My mom said that his friends were confident in his abilities, so they would lend him money and stake him so that he could start his grocery store, and then he in turn would, they would all help each other out, so that's how they got started.

LT: Did your mother tell you why you weren't told about your father's background?

GI: Sure. The reason we weren't told as children was because our parents didn't want us kids to become politicized, and to gain our majorities before we heard, so that we could make our own decision as to... they didn't want to taint our opinion of what they had done, just let us arrive at our own conclusions.

LT: You also spoke to your mother's sister, your Aunt Taniguchi. What did you learn from her?

GI: The image that she related to me was the first time that she saw my father returning to home. And I don't know if he was... he was just walking down the road, I don't know, maybe he'd been dropped off by a cab or something like that. But she said that he looked like a skeleton, he was so emaciated, like he had just come out of a German death camp or something. And the shock in her voice in telling that story kind of gave you an impression of what she saw, the apparition of somebody who had not taken well to the prison life.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

LT: Well, you visited Japan again, and in learning more about your Japanese family and taking judo lessons...

GI: Well, when I went to Japan for the first time, I had no idea how long I was going to stay or anything like that. I don't think my cousin did or my uncles did, but I stayed there long enough for my uncle Toshimasa to take me touring around, my cousin Mayumi would take me riding in these old coal-fired trains and out into the wilderness and all that kind of stuff. And then after a month, my uncle Joe said, "Well, Nephew, it's time" -- and all the time, my cousin's translating -- "Well, Nephew, it's time for you to go back to America and make something of yourself." And I thought, well, you know, this living in the lap of luxury, is there any way I could kind of extend this a little bit? So I said, "Gee, can't I learn karate or something?" and they said, "Well, okay, we'll see about that." My thinking, I'm leaving on the plane tomorrow. And so in a couple days, they bring me down to the sitting room, and there's this guy, and they say, "This is Mr. Iwasa from Tokyo. He's going to teach you judo when you go back to Tokyo, he's going to take care of you in Tokyo." And I said okay, so a couple days later I found myself on the first class sleeper car to Tokyo. And Mr. Iwasa, he was my brother's best friend, my brother had studied judo and gotten his black belt and all that sort of thing years before, and they were partners. And so Iwasa-san put me in the same hostel that he lived in. It was in the old area of Tokyo that had not been bombed out, so it was spared from the firestorms, so it was one of these real old-style hotels. And he lived upstairs, and every morning he would take me out and do calisthenics, and he would take me running around the Imperial Palace, and that was a beautiful scene if you could imagine. It was winter and there's a moat that goes around the Imperial Palace, and he would take me to the bridge, and we would stand there and he would say, "Okay, stamp your feet on the bridge and then look down." And then under the ice that was on the moat, you would see hundreds of goldfish just swimming up towards you, and then there'd be this huge gate, maybe thirty feet high and the gate was about, almost two feet thick, and it was just open wide enough for a person to slip through. So we would slip through, and they would follow the path all the way around and come back, and then would deposit me back at home, and he would go to his job as a scheduler for All-Nippon Airways. And I would wait for the old man in the sweet potato cart to ring his bell, and I would go down and I would get my sweet potato for breakfast. Then I would pull out my bigger Pacari's English textbook and I would kind of try to teach myself more Japanese. And then I would just point myself in a different direction every day. Because I had learned that there's this train that goes around Tokyo, and if you know your local station, you only have a to buy a ticket that goes to the next station and you could ride it all day long. So wherever you ended up, you could just hop on and get off at your local station and you'd be home, so you'd never get lost. And that's how I learned most of my, whatever little Japanese I learned while I was in Japan, there, because the storekeepers and all that sort of thing in those days, didn't speak any English. And also when I was staying out in the countryside where nobody spoke English.

But in judo school was a completely different thing. There was a joke -- I was in the international section, and there was kind of a joke that I didn't know. There was this one judo guy from the Japan Times, and he liked to practice his English on the young, innocent international students. And the way he would do that, well, you went out on the dojo, and all the white belts were lined up, and then all the brown belts and the black belts, all in order. So everybody to your right had the right to challenge you to practice, and you could not refuse. Of course, everybody was to my right, so this guy comes up and says, "Would you please allow me to teach you judo?" And I would have to say yes. And then he would proceed to thrash you until you were like a wet dishtowel and you could barely stand up. He would stand you up, "Are you okay?" You would always have to say yes, and then he would thrash you again until you almost could not stand up. And then he would say, "Well, let's go over here and chat a bit," and you would sit down and you're just really compliant at that point, and he would just gab, gab, gab in English about every little thing. And then you'd go back to the showers and then everybody would be laughing, and they'd say, "Oh, I see Mr." -- whatever, "Sato, got you." "What do you mean?" "Oh, well, that was his MO." And so it was stuff like that.

LT: Eventually what did you earn?

GI: Well, on my last day, the clerk took my entry card with my picture on it and he wrote on it, "Ninth kyu," which is the level, and something dan which is the brown belt. And then he explained to me that because I had advanced in two tournaments near the end of my four months there, that they wanted to promote me to brown belt, but they couldn't promote me to eighth kyu because I wasn't quite good enough, so they created a whole kyu just for me. And now, having learned about my relationship to the Shimizu samurai and all that kind of stuff, who I'm sure sponsored my being there in the first place, I don't know if that had a little bit to do with it or if it was all what I had actually had accomplished, it was probably a mix of the two. But yeah, they created a whole ninth kyu for me.


LT: Gary, in 1970, after spending six months in Japan, after learning about your father's experience during the war, after gaining the brown belt in Tokyo, your uncle gave you some advice. What was that advice?

GI: Uncle Joe? Well, "Go back to America and make something of yourself." And before they would let me leave, my cousin Mayumi came, and as I was having lunch with Uncle Joe, and she says, "There's one more story I have to tell you before you go back to America." And I said, "You know, Mayumi, I have enough story, I have a head full of stories. I don't think I can get another story from you, can't we just save it when I come back?" She says, "No, I have to tell you this story." So she says, "My uncle, the man sitting next to you, was at Hiroshima, a kilometer away from the hypocenter where the bomb exploded." And I looked and I said, "He doesn't look like anybody who was at Hiroshima," and I said, "No, Mayumi, that's not possible. Because on the boat over I read John Hershey's book that detailed everything that happened at Hiroshima, John Hershey's Hiroshima." And she said, "No, no, my father, your uncle, the man sitting next to you, was a high energy physicist during the war, and he was making a laser beam weapon to shoot down the B-29s that were firebombing all our cities for the emperor." And I knew that that part was true, because at New Year's time, my uncle pulled out this large gold leaf calligraphy and said, "This says 'Prosperity in the New Year,' to Uncle Joe from the emperor." So it was written in the hand of the emperor, and I didn't find out 'til maybe 2012 when my brother had gone back and asked our cousins about this Shimizu legacy, that the Shimizu Masamune from the late 16th century, he had committed one of these ritual suicides. And it turned out he didn't have to do it under the way things had worked out, but because he wanted to show his sincerity for having offered to do the seppuku in the first place, although everybody who he was doing it for no longer required it, he went ahead and did it himself anyway. And so that became regarded as one of Japan's history's preeminent acts of that nature. And so whenever, according to my brother, whenever the emperor is in the neighborhood, the emperor himself has to pay homage to my cousin Don, the eldest of the Shimizu clan. So I knew -- I didn't know that part -- but I knew the part about the emperor relationship when she was telling me the story. So it turns out that when the Americans leafletted all the target cities, which I had read about the book, that they had this single weapon that can destroy an entire city in one blast. The army told the people this was just American propaganda, but my uncle being in that community, concluded that, well, the Americans must have gotten the bomb. So at the designated 8:15 a.m. zero hour, he barricades himself in his underground Hiroshima University laboratory. Bomb detonates, he timed it well enough so that he can resurface and avoid the black rain and all that stuff that happens right after that sort of energy is released. And he had prepared instructions, "I'm a highly placed government official. If I'm found alive, you are instructed to provide me with seven full blood transfusions to flush the radiation out of my body," which they did, and that's why I was able to hear the story directly from him forty-five years later.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

GI: So that was a little bit of motivation, because before going to Japan in my, when I was seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, I was heavily involved in the anti-war movement. For example, I was introduced to Angela Davis at one of her monthly meetings where she would sit there and there'd be a gathering of people at her feet.

LT: And Angela Davis was?

GI: Angela Davis was one of the leaders of the civil rights and anti-war movements. And at the time, it was told that she was the most famous person on the planet, the most well-known name on the planet because of her philosophy. And my friend Malik, this black guy, who I was told Malcolm X himself had converted to revolutionary while they were both in this prison at the same time. And Malik came into our anti-war commune and he took us, all of us kind of kids and underlings under his wing and I became his, kind of like, driver. And he would... so he introduced me to Angela Davis as the most revolutionary person he knew in the L.A. area. And I'm going, like, are you kidding? I guess because I was very studious, and I read nine volumes of Lenin and I was all into it, I guess he was impressed by that sort of thing. And then he introduced me to Hakim Jamal, who was Malcolm X's cousin-in-law, he had married Malcolm X's cousin. And Hakim had the same look and the Kufi hat and all that kind of thing. And he would tell me all these amazing stories about hanging out with the Redgrave acting family in England. And I was supposed to go to, I was supposed to... well, at the time the COINTEL program was executed, and all of the anti-war groups were shut down. And in terms of, the violence was in terms of how dark you were. If you were black, Black Panther, you were shot up and killed. If you were white, like the newsreel guys that took all these news films from all over the revolutionary world and we would show them, they would just be thrown up against the wall and harassed. And I was, like, right in the middle of all this stuff, personally.

LT: What does COINTEL stand for?

GI: Covert Intelligence Program. And we found out later that in our own little commune of about two dozen people, we had an infiltrator who had, he was very clever. He knew everything about everybody, so he would know how to ingratiate himself to the leadership. So he would do that, and he would get the... it used to be, before he came, we would all meet communally and discuss our plans to have a free concert in Seventh Street Park or an anti-war demonstration here or whatever. But once he came in, he isolated the leadership, and the leadership would prevent us kids and younger people from engaging in the discussion. So then when COINTELPRO, it was a nationwide smackdown of all the anti-war groups and civil rights groups. And so we got dispersed, and, for example, Lowell Bergman, who was an editor of the Long Beach Street Journal, our cohort from the Long Beach Free Press, we were down in San Diego. Lowell became a 60 Minutes correspondent, and he gained notoriety from the film The Insider with Russell Crowe, and was it Al Pacino, I think, that played Lowell? And the 60 Minutes guy, and they broke the story about the tobacco industry, and caused the whole tobacco industry thing to crash. And Lowell is now teaching, he's an emeritus instructor at Berkeley. But he had me type in his copy into this ancient art deco looking linotype typing machine that would punch tapes and columnize his text, and then we would take it to the press that printed the L.A. Free Press, and the owner of that would do our paper, print our papers for free if we would, his paper had like a center section, like a regular section and then a center adult section. But the adult section, he didn't have the equipment to automatically insert the centers, so we would do those by hand in exchange for him printing our papers.

LT: So getting back to your uncle in Japan, what was his advice for you when you came back, and how did you follow up on that with your work? What was your uncle's advice, and how did that prompt you?

GI: He didn't really give me any direct advice, just, "Do the best you can," I guess. But like I said, from that trauma when I was thirteen, I was just head down, doing whatever was right and had to be done without questioning anything, it's just like, had nowhere else to go. So that's basically what I did wherever I happened to find myself.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

LT: So you went to college, and you eventually transferred to UCLA, and what was your major and how did you become involved in other activities?

GI: Well, my roommate in Long Beach was Fred Miller, who was a master's degree graduate student in philosophy at Long Beach State. And he saw that I liked to read, so he gave me Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy. And in the preface to that, or introduction to that book, Russell says, well, there's a lot of controversy about why should we bother studying philosophy anyway, what use is it to anyone? And he said, well, if there's any use to philosophy, it's to help the individual know their place in the world and what they should be doing. And coming back from Japan having no idea what I was supposed to do, having spent my teenage years as a surfer and hot rodder and drunkard, I majored in philosophy and comparative religion in community college. And then when I transferred, I started out as a philosophy major, but I didn't know the program where you're supposed to specialize in one type of philosophy, and then the next quarter, that branches out into three classes and so on. So by the second quarter, I had to take at least six classes just to keep up with the tracks that I was already on. So I reflected back to what Russell had said, and I thought, "What am I missing here?" And then I recalled my father's tutoring me on finance and economics with the Wall Street Journal, and my mother talking about how she did all of her training and all that sort of thing. So I thought, well, maybe economics would be a good thing for me to study. So I changed to economics and I also minored in mathematics and Japanese.

LT: At UCLA you also became involved in the Asian Coalition. What was your role and how did you expand that?

GI: Well, I was already twenty-four years old, so I'm kind of like the old man in the school, right? You had all these kids running around that don't know anything. I mean, I had already been through all of this stuff in the world, so I would go over to the Asian Studies Center and just read the periodicals there. And one day, a whole gaggle of students, kids came up and said, "Hey, you're Gary Itano, right?" I go, "Yeah, why are you asking?" "Well, we're from the Asian Coalition, and our director had to drop out of school. We were told that you might be a good person to be our director." And I'm thinking, "Where did they get this idea?" I didn't know that it was Warren Furutani who put them up to this, and the reason I think...

LT: And Warren Furutani is?

GI: Warren Furutani is, like, he was a past state legislator and L.A. city council person or supervisor or something like that. So he was a community leader, and he was one of the heads of the Asian Studies Center at the time, and he had started the LEAP program, Leadership Education Advancement Program or something like that. So he knew of me through my anti-war activities, and in particular, I had gone with him to the second Manzanar pilgrimage. And I happened to be down in Little Tokyo trying to cover a story for the Long Beach Free Press, and there was this lady there and she goes, "Hey, shouldn't you be getting on the bus now?" I said, "Well, I'm just down here, I heard about this, and I just want it covered for my paper." And she goes, "Well, why don't you ride with us?" And so I said, "Okay," and it turned out to be Sue Embrey, the leader of the whole thing. And so she sat in the back, and she had this box of memorabilia from her Manzanar days and she had me go through them and she would explain the whole thing about the whole movement and that sort of thing. And at the end ceremonies, it was very cold, windy and dusty. We all gathered around the monument and took a photo. And so if you go to Manzanar and go into the back where they had the pilgrimage exhibit, there's a photo thing, book about the pilgrimage. And about two pages in, you'll see the picture, and I'm the long-haired, bearded hippie on the far right of that picture. So I'm kind of like, deep into this activism, and so I think that's why Warren had these kids finger me. And it was funny because the night before, I had just watched one of the old George Raft, he's kind of like a counterpart to Humphrey Bogart who's more famous. But I remember George Raft because my father, in his part time job, told me he was a bartender in Hollywood. And one of his customers was this actor George Raft. So whenever George Raft came on TV, I would watch his movies. And the story was about these gangsters who were negotiating some sort of alcohol smuggling thing, and George Raft goes to his counterpart and goes, "Okay, so why should I take this deal? What's in it for me?" And so when these kids asked me to be the director, this thing popped in my head and I go, well, so what's in it for me? And one of the kids jumps up in the back and he goes, "There's a ninety-eight dollar stipend?" And I go, well, ninety-eight dollars, that's not going to take you very far. And, "No, it's monthly, monthly." And I think, and I'm working down in the UCLA medical center pathology department developing their electromicrographs, and I could use the spare change. So I go, "Okay." So I ended up being the director of Asian Coalition for the remaining time I was there.

LT: You also formed another coalition when you were director.

GI: Yeah, it just stuck in my mind that I had heard, since I had got back from Japan, that the division that my father was in in Alabama was called the Rainbow Division because all the different races and things were just piled together. And so, for some reason, that notion just appealed to me. And I was already accustomed, I grew up in a black community and I was very, I felt very close to indigenous peoples, because I saw a lot of parallels in their cultures to the Japanese cultures, and they really are. And then the Latino community, so we all grouped together in this Rainbow Coalition. And I remember we had to go before the student body council to propose, argue for our budget, I guess they were in charge of getting it approved. And these guys were kind of jerks, they were like Greeks and crazy irresponsible people. But we had to go before, we were holding to these guys, and I remember the day that we were to appear for them, the student body council was so intimidated by these third-world guys that they got a whole, like, eleven sheriffs to protect them from us, like we were going to, I don't know, assault them or some crazy thing like that. And so I got in front and I started to run down our programs. [Coughs] Excuse me. I started running down our program and why we needed the money and that sort of thing, it's very straightforward.

LT: Were you successful?

GI: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

LT: You graduated in 1976 from UCLA in economics, and eventually you became a cybersecurity specialist.

GI: Yeah, after college, I didn't know what to do for work, so I got a job at California First Bank, which was the renamed Bank of Tokyo, into their manager training program. But it was so constrained because I would have all these ideas on how they can improve procedures, but then I would find out that you had to be a vice president there for ten years before they would even entertain any kind of ideas for change. So being kind of an innovative type of person, that wasn't working out, and my boss could see that, so he fired me. And I thought, I've gone to school, I spent all this time, I can't even pay my loan up. And that was part of the honor, duty thing, you had to pay your student loan off, right, without question. So I thought, well, what is it that I don't, skill that I haven't learned? And I thought, well, computers were a big, coming to be a big thing, computer programming. But I was traumatized back in junior college where I was a math department assistant, and one of my tasks was to write a program, demonstrate the benefits of the computer using this very obscure computer programming language, which I did, but it was so hard that I promised myself I would never get near a computer again. But here I was, faced with this dilemma, and I decided to go to Control Data Corporation, and I was the first to finish their brand new curriculum. And so they had a placement service, and one day they said, "Oh, well, this guy is coming down from Computer Sciences Corporation, and he wants to look at your work and he wants to fly you back to where they are located to interview you with the rest of his team there." So I said, "Okay," and then I flew back in this little tiny airplane that was just buffeted the whole way. And we ended up in Ridgecrest, and people might know the name Ridgecrest because that's near Searles Corner, where the recent earthquakes were, it's right next door. And Computer Sciences had the contract with the Naval Weapons Center to do their administrative programming and that sort of thing. So I guess they were impressed by abilities, and they nicknamed me Crunch, that was my, kind of, military-ish handle, because they would just give me the hardest problems and I would just crunch them to death. And, of course, I didn't know it, but that was because of this whole thing since I was thirteen, that was my thing, that was my way of doing things that I learned. So then they sent me over to work on this top secret project, and that was pretty wild. And if any of the people watching this know the Terminator movies, there was something called Skynet where all the weapons of the world are automated and have achieved self-awareness. And the project that I was working on could be thought of as the genesis of what ultimately became the mythical Skynet, because that was my job. I mean, I could talk about it now even though it was top secret because you knew something like that had to exist. I can't tell you about the details, but that was my job, was to develop that program. So I was right in the ground floor of all this cyber stuff and security stuff because it was top secret. But interestingly enough, because of my activist background, and I imagine my father's FBI background, I was never cleared as top secret. I was there for eighteen months, I took a master's degree course in computer sciences from Bill Lane, the dean of the school of engineering from Cal State Chico. He would winter down in the desert and teach this class on the side. And... I kind of lost my train of thought there.

LT: But from 1983 to 2013, for thirty years, you were a data security specialist.

GI: Oh, okay, I'm trying to make this as short as possible. Okay, so let me just kind of transition to... so I saw a little ad in the paper, U.C. Irvine Library needs a senior programmer at, like almost twice the pay that I was making out in the desert, so I had to go. So I left my friends back... and it was about the top secret thing. So while I was on vacation in Hawaii, I asked Jan, the HR lady, "Hey, if my top secret clearance ever comes through, give me a call or page me." Because I had to carry a pager around for another couple of months after I left in case they needed me to do something. So while I was in Hawaii she paged me and said, "Hey, your top secret clearance finally came through." And the reason being either, or both, my father's record and my anti-war civil rights records was kind of delaying my top secret clearance, but I got cleared. So I went to UC Irvine and I automated the library systems there. And for various reasons, I went to work at National Education Corporation and did some pioneering computer work there and then I went to City National Bank because I was tired of managers telling me, "Where's the code, where's the code?" No, you need systems design and testing and planning and implementation, you need a project. This is not just the code. So I became, I hired as a quality assurance analyst. But at the same time, this movie, War Games, which is one of the most famous cyber movies that was ever made of these kids hacking into NORAD and almost causing World War III, that movie was funded by City National Bank, which is known around the world as the banker to the stars. Anybody in the media banks and City National Bank because they tailor their services toward the entertainment industry. So Graham Goldsmith said, "Hey, I just made this film, and we need a data security review." And then they go, "Hey, what about that new guy, Gary? He was at the Naval Weapons Center and UC Irvine." So they assigned me the task of doing a data security review. I had no idea what it was, so I researched it, came back a month later and met with the leaders of the information technology infrastructure. And I said, "You need a data security," well, "You have pretty good security, but because technology is changing so fast, you really need to assign somebody to track down what needs to be done next and you need to meet, like, on a periodic basis with the same management team." And then one of the managers goes, "Well, I guess that's you, Gary." And they all laughed kind of under their breath, and, "Don't worry about it, that's how things work here, we just write our own tickets." And I've basically been writing my own ticket ever since.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

LT: While you were working at City National Bank, you also became involved in the redress movement. Can you summarize that?

GI: Yeah. I attended a redress banquet at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was our bank territory. So I was very familiar with it, and I remember it was being hosted by Tricia Toyota, who was a local anchorperson at the CBS newscast. And so I got some contacts, and I thought, okay, well, maybe I can apply my database knowledge to this effort. And I had already been a founder of the Information System Security Association, and I was serving on their local chapter board, and later I was to serve on the national board of directors as correspondent secretary. So I called JACCC over here and spoke to John Saito, and John directed me to someone in Chicago. And so the JACL guy in Chicago goes, "Oh, we're still doing that redress thing?" And I go, "Well, I don't know. We just had this big banquet here in Beverly Hills, I guess so." And he goes, "Well, call Grace Uyehara in Washington."

LT: Grace was?

GI: Grace Uyehara was the leader of the JACL legislative education committee. So she was the primary on the Capitol Hill lobbyists for the JACL. And then she goes, yeah, so she put me in touch with the guys who were currently managing their sponsor list and all that sort of thing, then I made recommendations on how they could upgrade their systems and do all that sort of thing. And then I got involved with the leadership. She put me in touch with the leadership of the redress movement here, and JACL and NCRR and whomever, and they put me in touch with this Chinese guy, Art Wong, who was really good at collecting names of people with money, I guess. So I would get all the names from him, and then I would take my fellow JACL board members and we would go on weekends to my City National job, don't tell anybody, and kind of pilfer their resources. They could sue me for this, but I think it was an honorable thing to do, and I really appreciate City National for allowing this to happen. And we would generate all the letters, I wrote the appeals letter and I would have George Ogawa sign them. And we would take Art Wong's list and type them all into the database and spit out address labels and slap everything together and post it, send it all around the country and, I guess, brought a good deal of money in.

LT: And you were recognized by JACL for your effort?

GI: Yes. There was a banquet that was hosted by another ABC anchor, Joanne Ishimine, and I remember me and George getting up at the end of the thing, because we were at the end of a long list of award recipients, got our little plaque.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

LT: Let's go back to the DB Boys, because in the early 1980s, you were contacted by Paul Minerich. What did he tell you? Who was Paul Minerich, by the way, and what did he tell you?

GI: Okay, Paul Minerich is the son-in-law of one of the DB Boys, Mr. Tim Nomiyama. And Mr. Nomiyama challenged Paul, that, "If you're such a good lawyer, you'll be able to get my dishonorable discharge reversed to honorable." And Paul took the challenge on. So he, I think, Tim, directed him to me, knowing that I was kind of an activist and that I would be interested, and I just climbed on board.

LT: So Paul was able to submit paperwork to file an appeal on behalf of you and how many other DB Boys?

GI: I think it was eleven in total. But it was kind of funny because my mother declined their invitation to be represented because of the way she told me, she wasn't sure these guys knew what they were doing. And her knowing how significant this challenge was, she just felt that there's maybe not just an off-the-cuff way, that it had to be addressed. I'm not saying that that's how it was addressed, but she just didn't feel comfortable that it would be carried out properly. But I had no idea, so I just went along. Because it was part of my bailiwick of activism.

LT: So Paul had filed an appeal on behalf of the Disciplinary Barrack Boys, and was invited to the Pentagon for a hearing on December 8, 1982. And who went?

GI: So it was eleven DB Boys, Paul, myself, and some of their wives. And we actually got a tour on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, which was really strange, this group of Japanese-looking people on Pearl Harbor Day. But we got to see the hearing room, which was kind of a room that would hold twenty people, and there was a platform on which there was a table behind which the panelists would preside. And then we would be in the audience, and I think there was a lectern for whoever the witness was at the time to be presenting. And so the next day is when we actually had the official hearing, I guess. You know, I think we had part of the hearing on that first day, because I remember talking to Paul that night about it, and then there was another day, or maybe there was three days, but there were two separate. Because there was an evening between the first part and the second part.

LT: So on December 8, 1982, DB Boys hearing at the Pentagon was held, and there were five army board members who were sitting on the platform you mentioned, they would be trying the case, and the chair was Gordon M. Hobbes. What do you remember about the men when they went to the hearing?

GI: The DB Boys? They just got up and gave their testimony, like, well, they did what they did. And I think they were basically echoing their statements from their court martial. I don't know if they were told to study it or anything like that, but it sounded like they were certain of what they were talking about.

LT: Did they ask questions, did they read statements? What do you remember about how they spoke?

GI: I think the questions were really pretty straightforward. I'd have to see the transcripts to really know, but it seemed like, what did you do, why did you do it? And they would just say, "I was upset about not being treated equally," or, "I didn't like how when the President came, we were sent over to the back and put under armed guard as though we were going to do something wrong," and stuff like that.

LT: Do you remember what Paul said?

GI: Well, I think Paul was just trying to consolidate all of the various statements and feelings to the panel so that they would better understand and come up with a good decision.

LT: Do you remember anything more about the mood with the men testifying, the judges upfront, the interaction between the judges and the men?

GI: It was very congenial. The judges were, when they introduced themselves, they were very welcoming. And they said that they understood the reason this appeal was being made. And the reason that they agreed to hold this hearing in the first place, because they agreed that there was sufficient evidence that the appeal should be granted. And then it just turned out that way.

LT: How long did the hearing last?

GI: You know, for me, it was so intense, the time just flew right by. It started, and before I knew, it was over. I'm thinking, "What just happened?"

LT: Do you recall which DB Boys made statements?

GI: I think they all did. I'm not certain of that, but again, it was just a big blur to me, I was just soaking all this in, and it was pretty amazing.

LT: Any idea how long it lasted?

GI: It must have gone on for hours to get all these guys in.

LT: So when it was over, what do you remember?

GI: Well, I remember us walking down the halls of the Pentagon back to where our cars were, whatever, and it was just kind of like everybody was very relieved and laughing and joking and in a very good mood. And I remember Paul said, "Well, we've got a dinner scheduled for this evening, so everybody, I think we're going to go back to our hotels and stuff and then convene at this restaurant," and that was a great experience.

LT: Were there any regrets?

GI: Oh, no. I've never sensed any kind of regret from any of these guys. I mean, despite all the hardships that they had endured, I think from these guys' perspective, is they weren't terminated on the spot, so everything after that was kind of gravy. If they were allowed to live, then hey, they could live and they could do all these things and have this very righteous result.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

LT: Well, it took forty days, and finally on January 17, 1983, they got a response. What was that response?

GI: Well, I think it was just from hearsay myself, because my family wasn't involved in the suit. But I just heard that it was approved and their dishonorable discharges were reinstated as honorable, and their back pay granted and some other benefits and all that sort of thing, but I never really looked after that, knowing the principle that they had accomplished their goal.

LT: The only thing they didn't receive was that there was no basis for setting aside their convictions.

GI: Yeah, maybe that's still the part that I have to pursue in following up on my own father's conviction. It's just still work out there to do.

LT: So you attended a celebration afterward.

GI: Uh-huh.

LT: What was it like, and what did they say?

GI: I don't know exactly what they said. I recall, though, that there was a Mr. Omura, and he was editor for the Denver Free Post or something like that, whom I had worked with in my past life in the anti-war movement working on the Long Beach Free Press, San Diego Street Journal, and Mr. Omura and I had crossed paths somehow, exchanged letters and things like that, and medication on occasion. And then I was really surprised that he was there. But I guess Paul knew he was in town. Oh, no, I'm sorry, I got that mixed up. That celebration of the DB Boys that I'm talking about, with Mr. Omura, was when we attended the bicentennial celebration of the United States constitution mounted by the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and their traveling exhibit was called... what was it called? You can fill that in, I don't recall it right now. But the DB Boys' story, and our having gone to the Pentagon and done all that was included in this film by Loni Ding called The Color of Honor. And they invited all the participants of that movie to view the premier of the movie at the opening ceremony of, pretty amazingly, the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the constitution of the United States. And so we were the first ones to get to walk through the exhibit, and then we went to the big movie theater and saw ourselves up on the big screen. And then afterwards, there was this huge ballroom where all the other attendants for whatever various reasons were invited were there to celebrate. And then Paul would take us and give us little tours around Washington, the treasury department and all this, the FBI and Congress and the Supreme Court and all these kinds of things. And then in the middle of that, we would have this one dinner that I was recollecting, and that's where I saw Mr. Omura, who was there because of his involvement in the redress movement, I'm sure.

LT: Was there a difference in the men's tenor and their openness in talking about their past before and after the Pentagon hearing?

GI: Well, again, before... once I had returned from Japan, they were well aware that we offspring had no idea, and so the word kind of got out that I had learned about it, and us other offspring had learned about it. And so I think I was invited to one of their annual or whatever reunions when I first heard the stories. And I remember them individually or in pairs pulling me aside and telling me all of these stories about how they marched and how they met beforehand and they discussed this injustice, and they were duty bound to do something about it and just not let it go. Not just go and be cannon fodder, but if they're going to die, they're going to die for a purpose. So that being the first time I had heard about any of this stuff directly from those guys, the story never changed, I mean, their attitude never changed. They were proud of it, they were, hey, just like in Loni Ding's movie, the movie was about the Japanese American experience in the United States military, not just the DB Boys, this was just one part. But she asked some of the other participants of the movie about what they thought about the DB Boys. And in general they said, hey, something had to be done and these men had the courage to do it.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

LT: Gary, how do you think your father's DB Boy experience affected your sense of who you are?

GI: Well, going back to when I almost burned the house down when I was thirteen and I was motivated by duty and honor to unconsciously just do the right thing. And then once having heard about this DB Boy protest, I was all totally into it. It was right along the same lines that I was already thinking. So there was nothing unusual to me about it, it was, like the guys said, it had to be done and somebody had to do it. And then on my part, we Sanseis at the time were saying, hey, we have to not let the Isseis and the Kibeis just die without the story being told on their behalf, or helping them tell the story and helping maybe them getting some reparations. So yeah, it deeply affected me.

LT: There are many who still don't know about the Disciplinary Barrack Boys. What should we know and what should we learn from their experiences?

GI: Well, I just read, I looked up Shirley Castelnuovo's book... what was the name of the book?

LT: Soldiers of Conscience.

GI: Soldiers of Conscience. And there's one review on Goodreads, and it's a one-star review. And it's from somebody that calls herself "Tammy". And her review is, you know, "It's just like all of these immigrants that come to our country that don't want to make any kind of contribution to our country and they don't want to assimilate with us, and they and their descendants should be ashamed of themselves." And I'm thinking, "What is this, a Trump supporter or something?" And then I look at the date of the review, and it's like 2014, it's right out of the white nationalist, bigot playbook. So yeah, there's a lot for us still to do, to let people know that, hey, there are people behind these stories, and these people are motivated by entire cultural backgrounds that have a host of validity far beyond what this one Tammy is even barely aware of. And it's just a matter of educating people. And myself, I'm not condescending on Tammys of the world, okay? For example, when I found myself at twenty years old in Tokyo Station, and I was seeing all of these Asian people, just thousands of them. And I'm thinking, hey, I'm a revolutionary as far as Angela Davis is concerned, and anti-war and civil rights and all this kind of thing. And so the first thing that pops up in my mind was, hey, it's right what they say, all these Asians look the same. And I had enough self-awareness to catch myself, and I go, "Did I just think that?" And so all I had to do was just look at little closer, and then I would start picking out differences. And then I would look at everyone and I'd go, wow, they're all different. And from that day, I even look at insects, and I could tell insects apart from each other if I look a little bit closer. So I think that's all it takes for people to understand that if they get these kind of thoughts, and they're programmed into our minds going back generations, and magnified by electronic media, and you have to have sufficient self-awareness. And it happened to me as recently as I was watching one of these reality game shows, and I remember it was the survivors or something like that, and there were these two black women. And the meme, again, popped up in my mind, "Oh, two dumb-ass black women, they're going to fail, they'll never make it." And this is maybe twenty years after that Tokyo incident, and I had still not gotten it unprogrammed out of my mind. So I know that the majority of people still do not even have the inkling that this sort of programming is embedded in our minds. And the only way it can be corrected is to have sufficient self-awareness and know the difference between right and wrong, and it's kind of subtle. But once you catch yourself, however infrequent it is, just catch yourself once, and just look a little bit closer, and you can see that, oh, that's not true at all. And then, step by step, the whole world will unfold in front of you.

LT: My last question for you, what do you think your father and your mother would tell you to do?

GI: Oh, well, they would say that they're very proud of me and they think that I've gone the right way and they're sorry for the hardships that I've had to endure, and they're just hoping that I'll be able to overcome them and continue doing my thing, which is mostly just having fun.

LT: Anything else we should know?

GI: Well, no, I think the part about the self-awareness is the most important thing, because through all of this, it's all about racism, which is based on ignorance, which is based on, if it's allowed to persist unabated, devolves into hate which devolves into violence. And you don't want to go that far, to the violence end, you want to end it at hate. You want to end it at ignorance, and the only way to do that is with knowledge. And the only way you can apply knowledge is through self-awareness. That you don't know everything, and it just takes a slight bit of effort to get it right.

LT: Thank you very much.

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