Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: David Sakura Interview I
Narrator: David Sakura
Interviewer: Virginia Yamada
Location: Thornton, New Hampshire
Date: March 25, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-498

<Begin Segment 1>

VY: Okay. Today is Friday, March 25, 2022. And today we are conducting a Densho remote interview with David Sakura, who is located in Thornton, New Hampshire. Running the video production from Seattle, Washington, is Dana Hoshide, and my name is Virginia Yamada and I'm also in Seattle. So, David, thank you for joining us online today in our Densho remote studio.

DS: Well, I'm pleased to be here. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

VY: Thank you. Well, let's get started by having you tell us when and where you were born, and what was the full name you were given at birth.

DS: Well, I was born in 1936 at Swedish Memorial Hospital on the hill in Seattle, Washington. And that was in March 28, 1936.

VY: And generationally, how do you identify?

DS: I identify myself as a Sansei. I portray myself as one of the oldest Sanseis in the community.

VY: Let's see. And how about your family? Like how many kids do you have, grandchildren?

DS: My family consists of two boys, a daughter that we adopted from Korea, and I have quite a few grandchildren, six grandchildren, as well as three or four step-grandchildren. So we have a fairly extensive family.

VY: Oh, that's great, that's so nice. So I would really love to talk to you about your childhood and where you grew up. But before we get to that point, I understand you've done a lot of family history research, and so I think it would be great to talk about that first. So what can you tell us about your grandparents? What were their names and when and where were they born, and what have you learned about their immigration story?

DS: I'd be happy to do that. My grandfather Toyozo Sakura was born in 1869 in a small village on the western side of the main island of Japan. The village is called Tsuwano in the prefecture, in a prefecture on the Western side of Japan. And my grandmother was born in 1880 in Akita Prefecture. My grandfather was born into a family of several boys and three or four girls, and unfortunately the younger girls, most of them had passed away during an epidemic when they were quite young, leaving my grandfather and his parents living in Tsuwano. Unfortunately, his parents, my great-great grandparents, passed away also in a pandemic, and so, leaving him as an orphan who was then living with his uncle who ran a sake factory. And the sake factory in Tsuwano, in Shimane-ken prefecture, is actually still there. And several years ago, we visited the sake factory and got to meet some of my great-great uncles and aunts in the original home. Getting back to my grandfather, he worked in the sake factory for quite a few years, and was in line to inherit the family business. But because of some internal difficulties, he was not given the inheritance. And as a young person working in the sake factory, he decided that he wanted to leave and come to the United States. Because of the conditions, his living conditions, his work conditions, his familial conditions were very unpleasant. In the meantime, he had met an itinerant Christian missionary who gave him a bible. And as a teenager, he converted to Christianity, continued to read and study the bible, and at the age of nineteen, he left his home village of Tsuwano and made his way to Tokyo with a dream of coming to the States. He was nineteen at the time, walked the almost 600 miles to Tokyo, was able to take a job as a policeman in one of the police boxes in Tokyo, and earned enough money to pay for his passage to Seattle in 1898.

He arrived in Seattle in 1898, and within a few, within a year or so, he got a job at a grocery store, or actually it's an upscale grocery store called Augustine and Kyer, it was on Queen Anne Boulevard. It was sort of like the Whole Foods of the time. In 1900 he had earned enough money to pay for passage for a "picture bride," so through an arranger, he identified two young women as candidates, as "picture brides." One was a Christian, and the story goes that it met his criterion of someone who believed in Christianity but also had, she was not very attractive. The other woman was extremely attractive coming from Akita Prefecture, and so he had to make a choice between his religious beliefs or his love of beauty. And of course he chose the love of beauty. So he met his wife Misa Terada as she was coming down the gangplank on the ship in 1900 in Seattle, and the family lore says that when their eyes met, love blossomed. And within a year, my uncle (Kenny) was born. And in the subsequent years, there was a child born almost every year or two years. So by 1919, there were nine children in the family.

So early on, my grandfather, being a Christian, joined the local Baptist church in Seattle and befriended a man, a Mr. Black, who supported him in his early days as an immigrant in Seattle. And I believe -- and this is only hearsay -- that Mr. Black was the founder of Black Bear Clothing in Seattle. And even to this day, even though the original Black Bear company has gone out of business, you can still find Black Bear outdoorwear, for sale. But it was Mr. Black who befriended him and supported my grandfather's early days while living in Seattle. Within a year or two, my grandfather, with a group of other members of the Baptist church, started the Japanese Baptist Church, which is still in existence today, I believe it's near Jackson. And on the headstone is my grandfather's name as one of the cofounders of the Japanese Baptist Church. So it's been a longstanding institution in the Japanese community, and our family has had many weddings and funerals at the Japanese Baptist Church, cofounded by my grandfather.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

VY: Wow, there's so many connections there. I wonder, do you know very much about your mom's, or sorry, your grandmother's background?

DS: That's an interesting aspect of the Sakura family or my background. We know very little about the (Kondo) side of my mother�s family. My mother was born in 1910 as Agnes Kondo, and she was a member of the Kondo family, my grandfather Kondo who had a shock of white hair, so I've inherited his white hair, and my grandmother who was extremely, my grandmother Kondo was extremely austere. They had three children. My mother was the youngest daughter, my aunt Rae (Nakamura) was the oldest daughter, and there was a son, Paul. Unfortunately, there was a tragedy in the family, and the son passed away and left a young boy about my age as an orphan. And the young boy was raised by (...) the Koizumi family, and I know his son, or my cousin (Tommy Koizumi) very, very well. The family, the Kondo family, seemed to be characterized as being risk takers, being flamboyant, being adventuresome. My grandfather Kondo was, according to family lore, an avid gambler, and, in fact, he at one point lost all the family fortune. My aunt was quite an adventuresome, flamboyant person, and she continued so until the end of her life. And her story is one of being very entrepreneurial after the camps -- and I'm getting ahead of myself. After the camps, we were living in Wisconsin, and she moved her family to Los Angeles and really made quite a fortune in real estate in Los Angeles, but that's a whole different story. My mother, being the youngest, was much more reserved, but was very family-oriented. But there was a streak of adventuresome in her, and I can tell you more about that. So there is a contrast between the Sakura line, which is stable, fun-loving, family-oriented, and the Kondo line, my mother's side, which was much more adventuresome, entrepreneurial, risk-taking, flamboyant. So when you look at my brothers, you can see traces of both the Sakura side was well as the Kondo side.

VY: How about you? What do you think you're more like, which side?

DS: Well, I think I'm a hybrid. Because if at some point we talk about my career, I think you could characterize my career path as being very risk-taking. But on the other hand, I'm very committed to my family. I think I'm a very stable and introspective person, much like my grandfather. I love music and poetry, so I have that cultural orientation of my grandfather. But I have the entrepreneurial risk-taking side of the Kondo family.

VY: Yeah, that's so interesting. So backing up just a little bit, I just want to make sure I get this correct. So your mom is the youngest of how many children?

DS: Of three children on the Kondo side.

VY: Three children on the Kondo side. And your dad, your dad is one of nine children, and where was he in that order?

DS: He was number three. There were two boys born first and he was the third son. Ultimately there were four boys and five girls in the family.

VY: Okay. And your mom's side of the family, the Kondo side, where were they located? Were they also in Seattle?

DS: They also lived in Seattle. And to make the story a little more complicated, they were Catholic. And it was a little difficult for my grandmother, Misa, to accept someone who was raised in the Catholic tradition to be married to her third son. But my mother ultimately converted from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism. So they were of the same beliefs, my father and my mother.

VY: That's interesting that she converted. Why do you think she did that?

DS: I think there's something about the idea that love makes you, a relationship makes one make certain choices. And I think my mother was very happy with her evangelical Christian beliefs, as compared to the Catholic tradition.

VY: Do you think that your mom and her grandmother, so her mother-in-law, had a good relationship?

DS: I think they had a reasonable relationship. Unfortunately, after the war, and we were separated as an extended family, I don't think she had a close relationship with Grandma (Misa Sakura).

VY: Okay, okay. So we'll maybe get back to that a little bit later.

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<Begin Segment 3>

VY: So let's see. So your grandparents were in Seattle, and what neighborhood did they live in?

DS: Well, in 1905 when my father was born, the family was getting bigger. There were already two boys in the family, and they were living in a small apartment in downtown Seattle. So my grandfather bought several plots of land on the outskirts of town in South Park, which is south of the Boeing field, and it's on the banks of the Duwamish River. And he bought several lots of land and built two houses. By 1905 when my father was born, he was born in the first house that's still standing if you go to South Park. And the family was raised in those two houses. It was quite primitive at the beginning, one-room house with bedrooms, kitchen, and it was basically a one-room house and outhouse. And there was a pretty, it was quite primitive living there. But I think the reason my grandfather chose that, to live in the outskirts of Seattle, was that, first of all, land was cheap and he was able to purchase land at a very reasonable cost. And I think it was symbolic because buying land meant that you were going to put down roots into this country, and that he felt that he would never go back to his old life in Tsuwano but that he would start a new life, a new family, in this new land. And he was very committed to living in this country and establishing his family in the United States. And I think the other reason that he chose buying this land and building his house on the outskirts was that, at the time, in the early twentieth century, there was a lot of discord between the Chinese and the local community. And as I understand it, there may have been even race riots between the Chinese and the local inhabitants. And I think that my grandfather wanted to move away from the chaos of the downtown area in Seattle and find a more idyllic location to raise his family. And I think the more I look at his home, his previous home in Tsuwano Japan, I think the Duwamish River location reminded him of home. With the hills of West Seattle, with the mountains in the background, and then Tsuwano which was the home of a samurai, there were koi in the little canals that ran along the samurai homes. But also there was a beautiful river that ran through the valley that was filled with carp. So it must have reminded him of his home in Tsuwano Japan.

VY: Yeah, yeah. It's a beautiful area. Now, he purchased the land --

DS: It's not so beautiful now, it's highly industrialized.

VY: No, it's not so beautiful now.

DS: But also, let me just say, before you ask another question, there was a little map in our family volume of history, and there were no Japanese living in the area. There were all Caucasians and largely Scandinavians. But it was a welcoming neighborhood. And when my grandfather passed away, the neighbors all contributed to the welfare of this growing family.

VY: That's interesting. Do you think it's because it was more of a neighborhood of people who were just kind of trying to start their lives and kind of supportive of each other in that way?

DS: I think so. You know, the Pacific Northwest was a haven for Scandinavian settlers and immigrants. And I think this was a common feeling of putting down roots, being new arrivals in this country, and that being Japanese, not Scandinavian, wasn't a major stumbling block, but in fact they all share the same social, economic class and dreams of being newly arrived immigrants.

VY: You know, something just occurred to me as we're talking about this, because I'm thinking about how involved your grandfather was in the Seattle community with the church and various things. But then he moved down to South Park which, today, that's not all that far, that neighborhood. But back then, I'm just thinking about transportation and going back and forth and that sort of thing, how that must have been hard going back and forth between South Park and Seattle, or not hard, but...

DS: Actually, when you look at the hand-drawn map, further up the river, there was a bridge over the river. And there was a streetcar that ran all the way from the Duwamish River all the way to downtown Seattle. So transportation was fairly straightforward at the time.

VY: Oh, that's interesting. I did not know that, okay. Oh, one more thing, so your father bought the land. Did he build the house as well, or was there a house...

DS: My grandfather...

VY: Grandfather.

DS: ...bought the land. My grandfather bought the land in 1905, built a house, and the house was finished. I have a feeling it was hand-built. I don't think he had enough money to hire a contractor to build it. So he would, I could imagine he would work on the house on the weekends and he would have time off from working. So the house was ready by 1905.

VY: Okay. So your grandfather really was just so busy, he did so many things in the community and for his family, he had nine children. So what happened next?

DS: Well, the family grew, and by 1919, there were eight children. They had lost one, and there was my aunt Gracie was in the incubator, and my grandmother was expecting the birth of Grayce. So in about twenty years there were nine, almost ten children. So my grandfather, in addition to working, was quite busy building his family, and my grandmother was busy with the children. But as the children grew older, they began to help raising the younger children. But unfortunately in 1919, my grandfather suffered an accident. And the story was that he had been, he had fallen off a streetcar and suffered a serious injury and became disabled, and eventually passed away from complications of the injury in 1919. And he wrote a last poem that he dedicated to his yet unborn daughter, and it's very sad. But before he died, he gathered... the story goes, he gathered the three boys, four boys, and admonished them that when war breaks out between Japan and the United States, that they should be loyal to the United States, that they should not be loyal to the Japanese imperial army. He was prescient, because twenty years later, the war did break out. And so this was an important admonition, and you'll hear more about this during the camp experience.

VY: That's so interesting that he was able to see that coming even in 1919.

DS: Well, I've been thinking about why he would make that admonition. Well, first of all, he was committed for his family to become permanent resident citizens of the United States. But more importantly, I think, he grew up in a time when there was great change in Japan. He was born at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, which brought in, including Christian missionaries, a lot of Western ideas. He also saw the effect of the Russian-Japanese war, where the Russian navy was defeated by the Japanese modern navy, and he saw the modernization of the military and of the transformation of the military from a samurai-based army to a modern nationalistic army, and saw continuing invasions into Manchuria, Korea, and (China). So he was quite concerned by the events of the time, of the growing military arrogance of the Japanese government.

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<Begin Segment 4>

VY: So let's talk about what happened with your family, with your grandmother and her children after your grandfather passed away.

DS: Well, when my grandfather passed away in 1919, it was a tragedy beyond comprehension. My grandmother had no visible signs of financial support. She had nine children, one that was born after my grandfather died. The older boys were late teenagers, and so she had to struggle holding the family together, living in their small house in South Park, at the same time, trying to maintain a cohesive family. So the boys, the older boys in their late teens left home and traveled throughout the country to earn money to secure temporary jobs and to send money back to support the family. The story goes that my uncle Kenny and uncle Ted roamed as far as Florida and as far north as Alaska looking for work, earning money, sending back money to support the family, now with nine children, my father being the oldest. And he was fortunate enough with his financial support to go to high school. And he was the first of his generation, of his family, to finish high school at (Queen Anne) High School in Seattle. In the meantime, as he was going to high school, he and his younger brother Howard, or �Chip� as we called him, were Boy Scouts. And they were among the first, if not the first, to earn the Eagle Scout badge in Seattle, the first Asians to become Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scouts. So despite the economic hardship, my grandmother was able to hold together the family. She would often travel down to Augustine and Kyer to get free handouts to feed the family. The children would forage in the nearby fields for berries and wild plants. My older uncles, uncle Ted and Kenny, would fish illegally for salmon in the Duwamish River. There's an illegal form of fishing which uses seine nets, or gill nets, and they would stretch it across the river and catch salmon by, through their gills, which is a highly illegal way of fishing. But they were on subsistence level food, so they needed all the food they could get. And the story goes that they would set out their nets at night. And when the boats or tugboats would go up the Duwamish River, they would toot their horn to raise the bridge crossing the river, the boys would jump out of bed, run down to the river, pull in their nets before the nets were ruined by the boat, and thus they saved their gillnets. So they lived hand to mouth. The social workers would come and insist on taking away the children because they were essentially without any financial support. There were friends of the family that wanted to adopt the children, and my grandmother in her broken English would say, "No thank you, no thank you." And she managed to hold the family together. But when you talk to my aunts and uncles, especially my aunts who were growing up under those conditions, they didn't feel deprived, they didn't feel like they were poverty-stricken. Their mother was very successful for creating a home environment, and what they think about is the wonderful times they had playing on the sand flats of the Duwamish River as children. They called themselves Sand Fleas, and they went to camp out at night. They would look at the stores, the constellations, they would forage in the woods for berries. So in some ways it was a very idyllic growing up, despite her extreme poverty.

So when my uncle Kenny, who was a marvelous athlete as well as my other aunts and uncles... my aunt Lulu was an excellent athlete, and even in her seventies and eighties when I would visit and go for my morning swim at the Seattle Athletic Club, my aunt would join me to go swimming. My uncle Kenny was an early advocate of pickleball, which is a form of, sort of like ping pong and tennis. It's a craze that is sweeping the country now amongst elderly people. But he played pickleball in the 1970s until he was in his mid- to late-eighties. And he even celebrated, just before he passed away, his 88th birthday with his pickleball team. So they were very, very athletic. And so getting back to my uncle Kenny, who was recruited as a baseball player by the owner of an Eatonville lumber mill in Eatonville, Washington, located in South Pierce County, south of Tacoma -- east of Tacoma, south of Seattle. It was a small community of, I think, about three thousand. They had a high school, there was an elementary school. But the mill owner had built a Japanese village on the grounds of the mill, and the Japanese village also had a, at the mill, also had a baseball team. And my uncle Kenny was recruited to play on the mill baseball team as well as to work in the mill.

VY: I have a quick question. Excuse me, sorry, David. Was the owner of the mill also Japanese?

DS: No, he was Caucasian. And the mill had a long history of employing Japanese workers from almost the beginning of the 20th century, 1900s. So by 1920, it was a very productive mill owned by the Caucasian owner and there were, and he built a housing for the Japanese workers that accounted for about half the workforce at the mill. So with the job in hand, my father joined his brother, uncle Kenny, and started working in the 1920s at the Eatonville lumber company. And almost within, less than ten years, my father had risen through the ranks and was the manager or the straw boss of one of the major operations of the mill. So by 1932, my father was doing extremely well financially with a stable job with a bright future. And so he and my mother wanted to get married, but my grandmother Misa was very concerned that because my mother had suffered from tuberculosis, and was in a sanitarium for a year, they had to postpone their marriage until my mother was cured, and that was a stipulation of the marriage.

VY: Did she recover?

DS: She did. She was disease free until after the war, and that's a whole different story. But my mother and father were married in 1932 about that time. And as a wedding gift, as an engagement gift, my father gave my mother a family puppy, a family dog. And the name of the dog was Puggie, and in family movies you'll always see Puggie as part of the family. When I look at photographs of my mother and father, they were a handsome couple, striking. My father athletic, my mother playful. She was young at the time, I think she was about twenty-two, my father was probably about twenty-seven. And they dressed in a really very fashionable way when you saw photographs of my aunt, my mother's sister and her husband, they looked like movie stars. They seemed to enjoy life. They went skiing, they went hiking, they went swimming, they vacationed. And this was in the midst of the worst recession that the United States have ever seen. And when you see home movies, you get the feeling of a family moving up the socioeconomic ladder. Even though we lived in a Japantown, a Japanese community, on the grounds of the lumber mill.

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<Begin Segment 5>

VY: What was that Japanese community like? What was... were there stores, schools, that sort of thing? What was there?

DS: You know, I was born in 1936. This was four years after my parents were married, and during that time, my father was a first mover if you will. He was the first adapter of technology, and that technology was photography as well as radio. And he learned via a correspondence course to repair radios, the old fashioned tube radios, and started a small radio repair business in the Japanese community. So the Japanese community, as I recall now, as a child, as a four-year-old, it was a wonderful place. There were over a hundred people living there, the accommodations weren't great. I'm quite certain we had outdoor toilets, we lived in a barrack like a row house with apartments for married couples. There were rooms in a boarding house for single men, but there were quite a few children in this village as well as my grandmother and all her children eventually moved to Beacon Hill and lived in the Japanese village. I have very fond memories of going with my father to the Japanese bathhouse, and it was a real Japanese bathhouse where the men, there was no running water in the men's dormitory, so they would go to the bathhouse to bathe. And I can remember sitting in a hot, hot tub, soaking with my father, with all the men. It was like being back in Japan. And the heat from the Japanese bathhouse came from the boilers of the sawmill. There was an assembly hall where sumo wrestlers would perform, or there would be dances, New Year's parties. There was even a tofu house where homemade tofu was made and distributed. And, of course, there was the Japanese store where you could buy wooden kegs of soy sauce and all the kinds of rice and condiments. So it was a wonderful place to grow up.

VY: Was it only Japanese in the village? Were there any...

DS: Well, there were only Japanese in the village because all the husbands and workers worked in the mill. But Eatonville, the community, was within walking distance. I enrolled in kindergarten and I could walk home, just a few blocks down the main street into the mill property. I would come home for lunch from kindergarten. So there was an extended Caucasian community outside the grounds of our Japanese village, and I can still remember people from Eatonville, the town, coming to have their radios fixed at my dad's little radio repair shop.

VY: So that's interesting. So people, it was kind of segregated, but people from the outer area in Eatonville would come in to the Japanese area and shop?

DS: Yeah. And I remember in 1939, Christmas, we would go shopping in downtown Eatonville. I went to kindergarten, as I say, said in 1941 through '42. And if you look at my kindergarten class picture, there were only two Asian boys, myself and my friend Tommy, in that photograph. The rest were all sort of Scandinavian looking. So the schools were integrated, my aunts, I think one of them went, or several, two of them went to Eatonville High School, fully integrated. In fact, I think one of my aunts was the valedictorian of her high school class. So the sense of discrimination, as a child, I didn't feel that at all. And I have to say that even though Eatonville today is going through a transformation and becoming a suburb of Tacoma or Puyallup, I spoke, I had the privilege of speaking in 2017 to the Eatonville High School and Eatonville community. So it was a warm welcome by the Eatonville community, and so the feeling of acceptance was really warm and welcoming, even after almost fifty years of separation.

VY: Do you remember, or do you have a sense of what the rest of Eatonville was like? Was it mostly Scandinavian type people or was there any other ethnic groups in the area? Was it mostly Asian and white?

DS: I think it's mainly Asian and white. And I don't ever recall seeing any other ethnic groups, Hispanic or black or anything. The Pacific Northwest was pretty homogeneous except for Asians.

VY: And was it the same in the mill, it was pretty much Asian and white, the workers in the mill?

DS: Yes, yes. But my father, because he could speak pidgin Japanese, he never studied formally Japanese, but he spoke pidgin Japanese to his mother and was not formally trained, but was able to speak pidgin Japanese to the non-English speaking Japanese workers at the mill, and so was promoted as sort of the straw boss, as the boss interpreter to the mill workers.

VY: Interesting.

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<Begin Segment 6>

VY: You know, I realize I jumped ahead. I want to back up a little bit and talk about your parents and when they started having kids. So how many kids they had and what was the birth order, and so the names of you and your siblings.

DS: Sure. Well, I'm obviously the number one, and I still maintain the role of the prince-elect, the crown prince of the family because I'm the firstborn. My brother Jerry was born in 1939, and so he and I are about three and a half years apart. My brother Chester was born in February of ('41). So just nine months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And after the war, when my father came home, my fourth brother, Bruce, was born in 1947. So there were four boys in our family, which was a point of disappointment for my mother, who always wanted a girl. And my father, in his creative bent, would publish a birth newspaper. And every time a boy was born, the headlines would read, "She-boy-again," much like there's a town in Wisconsin called Sheboygan, Wisconsin, near Green Bay. So they headlines read, repetitively, "She-boy-again 1939," "She-boy-again 1941," "She-boy-again 1947." And my mother so desperately wanted a girl that Chester, the number three son, born in 1941, was called Junnie after, instead of June Sakura, they called him Junnie, and they didn't cut his hair until he was well past two years of age, so he had long hair like a girl. And we kid him even today that he had a mixed upbringing and had difficulty in terms of his sexual orientation. That's not true, but it really is the family lore.

VY: But that's so interesting. You know, I spoke to someone earlier in the week who, he was the youngest in his family and he said that he was kind of raised to be sort of like the girl, that he was taught to do more the cleaning and the cooking and that sort of thing. I'm wondering if it was the same for Chester?

DS: For Chester, Jr.?

VY: Chester, Jr.

DS: I don't think so. I think that it was... after having two or three boys, I think it's only natural to wish for a girl, and just, boys kept coming.

VY: So before we move on to talking about the war, is there anything that we didn't cover about Eatonville that you would like to talk about now? We can always come back to it if we need to.

DS: Well, just as an aside, the tofu house has been rescued, and it sits on the town common grounds in Eatonville. And there has been a movement to restore the tofu house and serve as a small museum dedicated to the members of the Japanese community that lived in Eatonville. That project has had its fits and starts, but you can go to Eatonville even today to see the tofu house. The tofu house was also the subject of a story that I had created about two boys who got into a mess of trouble by destroying the day's production of tofu and the results of their troublemaking and what happened. And I tell that story to grade schoolers and emphasizing the need to always tell the truth. The truth is the best way out. So the tofu house has, is the subject of one of my storytelling adventures.

VY: Yeah, because I know that you give talks to all different levels of students, it sounds like. And we'll talk more about that later, but it's interesting how you pull from your own history and to create this interesting narrative to talk to different grade levels about your experience and the experience of the Japanese American incarceration.

DS: When I think about it, my father was, I think he could have been a newspaper reporter. At the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our incarceration, he was, in fact, friends with many people in the community in Eatonville, but he was a friend of the editor of the Eatonville Dispatch, the local town newspaper. And he and the editor agreed that if my father wrote dispatches from the camps, he would publish them in the newspaper. Now, when you think about the anti-Asian, anti-Japanese feelings that were raging up and down the community, up and down the coast in the community. It was such a brave gesture by the editor of the Eatonville Dispatch to report it as it is from someone who was in the camp. And so my father wrote a series of dispatches from the detention camp in Puyallup all the way to Minidoka. And he wrote dispatches until the end of that year. Those letters are still available and serve as the basis of my understanding of what happened as a child, as a family during the internment.

VY: Wow, that's such a valuable treasure. How did you come across these letters?

DS: Well, that's a whole different story, but I'll give you a short synopsis of that story. I can't recall the date, but one night I was surfing through the internet and found a series of internment photographs that were part of the repository at the Bancroft museum library at the University of California. And my wife was looking over my shoulder and she said, "Oh, David, there's your photograph." And sure enough, there was a series of family photographs that I could access on the internet. At the same time, I began researching on Eatonville, and I found that the editor of the Eatonville Dispatch, her name is Dixie Walters, had met my father in (1975) and was effusive in meeting him, and wrote quite a bit about encounter and then began writing about the Eatonville Japanese community. And she's, ever since that time,, we've been in communication. And unfortunately she's passed away a few months ago, but she's been a longtime supporter of telling the story of the Eatonville Japanese community. So it's again, an example of the internet and how it can uncover different aspects of your life.

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<Begin Segment 7>

VY: Okay. So we're back, and David, before we move on with the rest of your story, would you like to talk about Lake View Cemetery?

DS: Well, I'm glad you brought up the subject. I think it's an interesting story because it's indicative of my grandfather's intent to plant his roots in this country and to make sure that his subsequent generations are really American citizens. When he was still alive in the 19-teens, he bought six cemetery plots at Lake View Cemetery, which is right in the midst of the Seattle city limits. And it's a beautiful location overlooking the Sound as well as Lake Washington. And I think the buying of cemetery plots was very symbolic. That my grandfather wanted to plant his roots and make sure that his offspring were to stay in this country and become fully integrated into this country, even to the point where they're interred into the ground. So he bought these six cemetery plots, and my grandmother inherited the cemetery plots. And because of friends who were very good to her, she gave away -- much to the consternation of the family -- several of the cemetery plots, including the most prized one in the middle of the cemetery plot. But it was something that she felt she had to do in recognition of the gracious help that some of the families extended to her as a widow with nine children. So many of our family, including our mother and father, are buried at the Lake View Cemetery. So the cemetery plays a central role in our family's history.

VY: Are there... so it sounds like there are a lot of Sakuras there?

DS: Yes, there are. It's interesting for me to think about where I would like to be interred, here in the mountains of New Hampshire, or there's a small Japanese cemetery in Eatonville that's not well taken care of, but some there are a few tombstones that are inviting in that cemetery. And should I be interred at the Lake View Cemetery to be with the rest of my family? So in a way, I feel quite estranged from my roots from Eatonville, from Seattle, but life is filled with distancing and separation. So it's a quandary that I'll have to pay some day.

VY: Yeah, you know, that makes me think about how your father, having his family roots that he started, the family that he started in Eatonville, and when the war came along and things happened to your family, it seems like he had always intended to go back to Eatonville, but that didn't necessarily happen and we can talk about that.

DS: Well, I think we can talk about it here, so why don't we talk about that? My father, in his letters to the Eatonville Dispatch, spoke fondly about his time in Eatonville and the many friends that he made. Even to the point that after the war, he would, every Friday night, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on his ham radio, would contact his old friend Joe and chat with him as the sun was going down in the Pacific Northwest. This was a weekly routine for him, so he maintained contact with some of his friends at Eatonville. And it took me a long time to find out who Joe was, because as a child or a teenager I could hear my father and his ham radio shack talking with Joe. It turns out that Joe is the father of Sally McKay. Sally McKay owns a farm that she inherited from her father, and she and her husband ran a small airfield outside of Eatonville. And she does remember her father talking to Chet on the, as a ham radio operator. And I recently got a note from Sally who gave up the farm and airfield and is now retired along the coast of Washington. But Joe was a good ham radio friend of my father. So in his last farewell letter from Minidoka, he bid -- in a letter to the Eatonville Dispatch -- he bid farewell to all his friends in Eatonville. And I could paraphrase what he said, was "Someday we'll meet again. Looking forward to coming back to Eatonville," the home where he had so much joy. And as we talk about our family's trajectory, it's really sad because we never did go back. And that was a chapter that we have to close the book on, that's a book in a chapter that we have to close the pages.

VY: Yeah. The reason... I guess, and what started you on that, you and your family, on that trajectory, was the war, right?

DS: That's right. We were uprooted and sent against our will to a distant location. And as my son describes it, we became part of a diaspora while we were spread all over the United States.

VY: Yeah.

DS: And that diaspora continues, even to this day.

VY: Yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

VY: So let's talk about how that started for your family. So on December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, do you have any memory of that day or do you remember your parents talking about it then or later?

DS: No, I have no memory of that day. If you recall, I was about five years old, six years old and going to kindergarten, enjoying a very comfortable, secure family, family life. But I do remember my mother and father talking in hushed tones after the bombing, about what they could do because of the impending evacuation, because of the impending military order to remove all Americans of Japanese ancestry. And I didn't hear much of the conversation, but I can remember lying in bed listening to the hushed voices of my parents. I couldn't make out exactly what they were talking, but I knew they were talking about leaving Eatonville. But the question was, where could they go, who would take us, where would they have employment? It would be uprooting and becoming essentially refugees in some part of western Washington state or Idaho. And it could be even more dangerous for us to leave. So the decision was to stay and to see what would happen.

VY: And so what did happen? Yeah, so what happened to your family?

DS: Well, of course my... we were given the orders to report to the detention camp. And I don't remember a lot of what had happened, but I do remember my dog, our dog, family dog Puggie being given away. And the story goes that the family that took him would see Puggie the dog waiting for the family, for us to come back, and would stand at the end of the driveway waiting for us to come back. And eventually he passed away waiting for us, and we would never come back to Eatonville. But I remember getting on the bus that day. And I like looking at the sequence of events, that the photograph of my class, my kindergarten class picture was taken in mid-April. And one month later, four weeks later, in the latter part of May of 1942, there was a small article in the Eatonville Dispatch that the Japanese of Eatonville will be leaving in the next day or so. And I don't recall any of the turmoil that happened, but I do remember riding on a Greyhound bus from Eatonville down several miles, 20 miles or so, to Puyallup, the fairgrounds, past those strawberry fields. My mother would can strawberry jam from the strawberries. We would ride home and I can still smell the fresh, ripe strawberries, the smell wafting through the car. And the bus, as I remember, arrived and drove down a long driveway that was surrounded on both sides with a high, barbed wire fence. And on both sides, inside of the barbed wire were crowds of people pushing up watching bus after bus arrive. And that was to be our home for the next several months.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

VY: Do you have any memories of what you were feeling or thinking at that time?

DS: I really don't, but I do remember... actually, I do remember filling up my mattress pad with straw. And I do remember, I still have the image in my mind, of the horse stall with the beds stacked up in the horse stall. I do remember, at some point, I was fingerprinted by the FBI and looking at the ink on my finger. And as an adult, as a U.S. citizen, I'm still appalled that the FBI could fingerprint U.S. citizens, children six years of age, for reasons that were beyond our control. I just find that an egregious act of the government. But I still remember the, looking at my blackened finger with the ink that was leftover from my fingerprint.

VY: I imagine it must have been sort of confusing. I mean, did you understand what was going on, like why any of this was happening?

DS: No. I had no idea what was happening, but I think I had the sense that I shouldn't get lost because it could be catastrophic among the six thousand residents, internees of "Camp Harmony." So even today, I have this innate fear of getting lost. Even as an adult, I have dreams of getting lost in some foreign maze of a city. And I often wonder why I have these reoccurring dreams, and I think it comes from this unspoken fear of getting lost, either in "Camp Harmony" or in the wide expanses of Minidoka internment camp. So I think there are some unconscious effects on children from the internment. And I think one of the most vivid memories I had -- and I've talked about this extensively -- is that of my brother Jerry who was about, what, two and a half, three years old. And he was visibly disturbed by the whole experience of the uprooting of the new circumstances of the horse stall, of the crowds of people. He would... I remember him crying constantly, my mother couldn't console him. No matter what she did, he would cry for long periods of time. And what I remember most distinctly is that his voice became so hoarse after crying so long. And my mother was so distraught because she couldn't comfort him, that his voice became more of a hoarse animal-like sound. It was an inhuman cry of pain by my three-year-old brother.

VY: You know, I wonder if you and Jerry have ever talked about the camp experience with each other. I know obviously he was so little he probably doesn't have actual memories of it.

DS: I don't think we really talked about it, but I do, when people ask, like yourself, memories of the camp, what really stands out, well, I think Jerry's crying was the most vivid memory that I have of the camp. And I often wondered what that did to my mother who loved her children, to be in such a helpless and hopeless position where she couldn't comfort her children.

VY: Yeah, that's heartbreaking to think about that.

DS: And there was nothing that one could do. And so part of the lore of the internment is that you had to show gaman, "it can't be helped." You have to be stoic about it. I think there's still a lot of unspoken pain that people experienced from this whole internment during World War II.

VY: Do you think it's better to talk about it?

DS: I think it is. But for me, there's a sense of frustration about what happened to us, to the innocent Americans of Japanese descent. And that, yes, there has been some recognition, some redress, but I think the reason I talk about the internment is that people someday who hear the story will recognize that there are some actions that are extremely devastating to people.

VY: Yeah, and I think it will be really important to talk more about when you started really thinking about the camp experience and talking about it and sharing your stories. So I think that that will be a really good thing to be, for us to talk about a little bit later. Want to make sure we get, have time to talk about all of that. For now, let's talk about, let's continue to talk about camp, and how it was through the eyes of a child who was, you were, what, ages six to eight, I think, in camp.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

VY: And so first you were in Puyallup, and then what happened after Puyallup?

DS: Well, after Puyallup, I think you know this story, that in the fall of 1942, after spending a summer in "Camp Harmony," we were loaded on trains and sent to a location, undisclosed location in the desert of southern Idaho. And the train ride took well over a day and a half, and when the train was passing through communities, we would have to pull the shades down. And it was very uncomfortable and I remember how stuffy the train cars had become. And one evening, I lifted the shades very slightly to take a clandestine look outside. And I can still remember the smell of the smoke of the locomotive ahead of us. And mingled with that was the cool, sweet, evening desert air, it's still part of my memory.

VY: Do you remember arriving at Minidoka?

DS: I do, I do. And one thing, when I talk about, even when I've talked about the internment experience for numerous times, but there were times when I can't talk about it and I have to regain my composure, and that was one of the times. But we arrived at the terminal met by armed soldiers. And since we had been in a darkened train car for well over a day and a half, my eyes were not accustomed to the sunlight, and I was almost blinded by the sunlight. And I remember getting off the train and a soldier with a rifle greeted me and called me by name. and I can clearly hear his voice saying, "Hello, David." I was really bewildered because I didn't understand, how could he know my name? And sure enough, he had read my name tag that the government had issued to all the persons that were being evacuated. Our name tag containing our ID number as well as our name. And it's another example of the dehumanizing effect of this whole experience, that we were reduced down to a number and a name tag. So the arrival really stands out in my memory as a child. And sure enough, the photograph of our arrival can be found in the collection at the Bancroft Library, and it was one of the first instances where memory becomes reality. And I could see the photograph of my brother Jerry, my youngest brother Chester, Jr., and myself, peering out of the train window. And it's a confirmation that this really did happen.

VY: That's an interesting moment, isn't it? When you have these memories that are there, and you live with them for years and years and years, and maybe you kind of don't think about them for a long time, but they're still there and a part of you. And then one day you see something like a photograph of that actual thing that happened. And like you said, it's confirmation that yes, indeed, this happened and you can't even pretend or suppress it anymore because there's the evidence right there. And I imagine it's a combination of reassurance that it's being affirmed that it did happen, along with just the horrible reality of, wow, that really did happen.

DS: I think you're right. It's a reality check. And as a six-year-old child, you wonder what's reality for a six-year-old child. And did this really happen? Are the feelings that you feel now, those that you felt as a six-year-old? But these photographs was a real shock. It was a real affirmation that this happened. And it begins to evoke memories that you may not have thought about for a long time, or ever. And what I like is that you begin to piece together a story, and it's my story, but also it's a common story of children who are uprooted, displaced, and cast into the open world.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

VY: Yeah. So let's see. So here you are, you're a six-year-old child who has been fingerprinted and tagged, like everybody else around you, and you are in Minidoka. What was it like in camp? Like what was a typical day for you there?

DS: Well, I have fragments of memory. But there are images that really stand out in my mind. First of all, we were assigned to a large room in Block 15, Barrack 8, Number E. E being a large room that accommodated my mother and father, my three brothers, and my grandmother. So we were awarded or issued a larger room, barely enough to fit the cots. We had no running water, of course, no toilet facilities, and my grandmother, my father had built a little cubby stringing a rope across the room, hanging a blanket so my grandmother, Baachan, could have some privacy. But I remember as a child waking up at night in the middle of winter, and looking, staring at the cherry red coal-burning stove that stood in the corner. I think about it as an adult, as a parent, and this red hot coal burning stove had no gate, no protection, and you two children running unfettered in these close quarters. I just find that inconceivable that we would live under those conditions. But fortunately, no one got hurt. That coal stove was cherry red in the middle of the night. It was good that we had the stove because I remember snow coming in through the windows on our bedclothes so it was difficult at best. And I don't recall, but I can only picture my mother with basically two young boys, both in diapers, with no wash facility, no way to clean them up. It was an excruciatingly difficult situation for my mother.

But life goes on, and I was enrolled in first grade, and my classroom was in one of the barracks. And I would walk to school from block to block to Hunt Elementary School. But I think how important it was to remember my address of 15-8-E, and it's almost like it's my tattoo, don't get lost, remember where you live. So I went to first grade and lived through the summer and went in the next year to second grade, I believe to the Stafford Elementary School, where I would walk to a bus stop and take a bus to the other end of the camp. And I remember one spring, could have been in 1944, that one of my classmates was the daughter of the assistant (project) director of the camp. He was Caucasian, his name, the director's name was (Robert) Davidson, and their permanent home was in El Paso, Texas. And my classmate was Betsy Davidson. I remember her as having blond, curly hair, and she was in my class. And she and her mother invited me after school for a playdate. Can you imagine a playdate behind barbed wire? So there were instances of near normality in an untenable situation. So I often think about Betsy Davidson and how nice it was to have a playdate.

VY: I wonder if you ever had an opportunity get in touch with her again after.

DS: No. She remains an ephemeral figure in my memory with blond hair, from El Paso, Texas.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

VY: Well, what else about camp life do you remember? Like, say, eating in the mess hall, playing in the area, going on picnics?

DS: Well, I don't remember the day to day. I think school was very important for me. But I do remember some highlights of life in the camp. But before going into some of those highlights, I'd like to talk about my father.

VY: Okay.

DS: (My father) helped get us settled in our little, our one room, he built different kinds of furniture, he built a, from scrap wood, a little wash basin stand to clean up, to help clean up the boys. Dug a cesspool in the, underneath the barracks so the wash water could be poured down through a hole in the floor of the cesspool. But within a month or two, he volunteered to help with a sugar beet harvest. So we arrived in September and I can imagine by October, no later than November, October of 1942, he volunteered and was gone for at least six weeks through almost Christmas, well after Thanksgiving, leaving my mother to get settled, set up her household, get accustomed to life in the camps where my father was working, living in migrant housing with other Japanese American men, including his brothers, harvesting the sugar beets. So when he came back in the winter of 1942, the call came out in the spring, in May of 1943, just less than six months later. The call came out for volunteers to join the U.S. Army, and my father and his three brothers volunteered. So my father had spent less than six months in the camp, leaving my mother to spend the entire two years in the camps struggling to raise these three boys. And the reason my father and my three uncles, the four Sakura boys, volunteered. It's because they were responding to their father, my grandfather, who said you have to be loyal to this country because a war is coming. But there were unintended consequences because then I didn't see my father until the end of the war. So the most difficult thing for me, for the rest of my life, was my father said,� "You're now the head of the family." I was, what, seven years old? And so take care of your mother, and, of course, your brothers.

VY: That sounds like an impossible thing to live up to.

DS: It is, it is. So I wondered why my father left. And it really touches on patriotism, a sense of adventure, much like my grandfather left and traveled to points unknown. And I think there was maybe part of that, that this offered my father a way to points unknown. But I'll never know because he rarely if ever talked about the camp experience. But the family lore speaks of my mother who begged my father not to enlist in the U.S. Army. He was thirty... he was thirty-eight at the time, well beyond draft age. He didn't have to go, but he felt it was his patriotic duty. So I think it illustrates the impossible situation that the internees in these concentration camps were faced with. Loyalty to family, loyalty to country, it was an impossible situation with impossible consequences.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

VY: I also think about, makes me think about your mom and how you said earlier, when he was younger, she was very, I think you said she was a fun-loving person, creative,� adventurous herself. And here she is, now, she no longer has that option. She doesn't even have the option to join the military and to leave camp, right? I mean, she is, her only option is to be there with her children, who she loves, but she's there by herself to take care of these very young children without any help.

DS: With a seven year old son who is now head of the household. Something happened to my mother's persona in the camp. I don't recall it, but she was hospitalized for fatigue for a week or so while in the camps. I think the stress of living under those conditions were too much for her. I think I've shown you some photographs of the family, family photographs, not taken with a beautiful background but sitting on a pile of rocks. She tried to clothe us and to care for us the best she could. But when you look at the photographs, they're grotesque. We look like migrant workers, refugees. And, in fact, we had left a comfortable, friendly, warm home environment, and now my mother found herself in this barren wasteland in Minidoka. So something changed in her persona, in her personality. As we think about it, and I talk with my brothers, they can't believe that the woman that they saw in home movies before the war was actually their mother that they knew growing up as teenagers, as adults, there was something missing. And I think the stress and the demands that were made on her, the impossible demands, had changed her psyche, but she never talked about it.

VY: Yeah, so obviously --

DS: We had some good times.

VY: Okay.

DS: We had some really interesting times. I think you may have seen a photograph of my brother Jerry, myself, and Reverend Andrews' son with another person at Sun Valley. And it was in the summer of 1943 that we were allowed to, a group of us were allowed to leave Minidoka to go on a summer vacation at a Baptist assembly camp in the foothills of Sun Valley in the Sawtooth Mountains. And it was a wonderful time. I learned how to swim, it was fresh air, it was cool, it was a welcome relief from the camps. And the Reverend Emery Andrews, who was the minister of the Japanese Baptist Church, helped move with his family to be close to his parish, his block, lived in Twin Falls, and ministered as best he could as the minister of the Japanese Baptist church. So it was a wonderful time, and at the time, my father was training with the 442nd in Mississippi.

There was another time when my mother got permission to leave, and she just took me, myself, and she and I went to Boise, Idaho, and stayed overnight in a real hotel, just as a getaway. And it was such an exciting time for me. I came down for breakfast the next morning, and they had wonderful waffles, something that was foreign from the food we ate in the camps. But I still remember, I was so excited, I got sick to my stomach, I couldn't eat the waffles slathered with maple syrup, and I just lost totally my appetite. But I remember the excitement of being out of the camp, eating real food.

There was another trip my mother took all of us, the three boys, on a bus to Ogden, Utah, to visit the Golden Spike, the completion, the site where the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was made. Why she wanted to go to see the Golden is beyond me. But I think that it gives you a glimpse into part of that Kondo inquisitiveness, that Kondo sense of adventure. That could be sort of irrational, but there were elements of that Kondo part of the family, not the conservative, staid Sakura part.

VY: It also sounds like she did everything she could to try to make some kind of normal life.

DS: That reminds me of the picnics she would do for us, she would create for the boys. And we would follow her through the sagebrush to the perimeter of the camp, and we would have picnics in the shade of the watchtowers, just as an attempt to have some normalcy in your camp experience. So it was a life changing experience for my mother. And to this date, it's still almost, it's very opaque what really happened to her.

VY: One thing I wanted to ask you was about your grandmother. Now, this was your father's mother, right?

DS: Well, my father's mother Misa lived with her oldest son. The two older boys were too old to go into the army, so she was in the camps. My mother's mother, Baachan, lived with us.

VY: Okay. Do you have, do you remember her very much?

DS: She was a very difficult, I would say, high strung individual. She was not easy to live with, so you can imagine your mother-in-law, or your mother, with three young children living in an unheated barracks, not air-conditioned, in the middle of the desert. It's inconceivable.

VY: It is.

DS: It was difficult, but when you look at photographs or you read the Minidoka Irrigator newspaper, or look at the yearbooks, you get the sense that people all tried to live a life of near normalcy under excruciating conditions, and we survived.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

VY: One thing we didn't talk about is who else was in camp with you? What other family members were in camp with you?

DS: I don't remember my uncles, but I do remember my youngest uncle, Chip, who was recently married to the love of his life, Alice Funai. She was a beautiful young woman, vivacious. She came from a large farming community family. And it turns out she was expecting when we had to be evacuated to Minidoka, and she was in the last weeks of her pregnancy. It was a terrible ride for her on the train. Uncomfortable, nine months pregnant, oppressive heat. And when she was ready to give birth, marginal medical facilities. She did give birth to my cousin Freddy, and in the spring when Freddy was just a baby, we had our group picture taken by a government photographer, and you can see that photograph on the Bancroft collection and in the National Archives. It turns out that her brother, George, at that time, or shortly thereafter in April of '43, was a member of the U.S. Army before the war. And because he was Japanese American, he was a (Nisei). He was discharged because he was of Japanese descent, from the army, put into the camps, where he then reenlisted and volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army, went over to Europe, fought in Italy, and was captured by the Germans and was a POW in a German POW camp. At the same time, his sister, Alice Funai Sakura, was essentially a POW in an American concentration camp. You think about the irony, it's incomprehensible.

VY: It is incomprehensible.

DS: I think war brings lots of ironies, but this is right up there in terms of irony. Her brother George was behind barbed wire. Alice was behind barbed wire with her newborn baby. And her husband, Alice's husband, my uncle Howard, ("Chip"), I remember following them. I saw them walking hand in hand in the camp, so I spied on them as they were walking hand in hand. And my uncle Chip then left his young family and he went with the 442nd into Italy.

VY: So your father and your three uncles all joined the military?

DS: They volunteered, two of them were accepted and went into training. And sometime after basic training, my father came back and we had that photograph taken with my father in the U.S. Army uniform. And he was in his late thirties, and he was very proud of the fact that he had completed the very rugged basic training that prepared soldiers for war. And, in fact, was proud of the fact that he even helped the younger twenty-year-olds complete their twenty-mile full pack march. So he was quite proud of the fact that, when he was at Camp Shelby, a large contingent of Hawaiian Americans were trained. And if you read Dan Brown's book, you read about the tension between the Hawaiians and the Mainlanders. But my father grew to love Hawaiian music while training at Camp Shelby. And all, when he came home, he started a collection of Hawaiian music, played the ukulele, he really became a Hawaiian, lover of Hawaiian music because of his exposure to the Hawaiian boys at Camp Shelby.

VY: That's a great story.

DS: So all is not lost.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

VY: Okay, so when it was time to leave Minidoka, let's start talking about that. What happened and why did you leave and where did you go?

DS: I think the story begins in 1943 in the spring of 1943 shortly after we arrived, less than six months after we arrived, the government, the War Relocation Authority had a program allowing people to leave the camps to places other than the West Coast. It was called an indefinite leave program, and one stipulation was that you would have a sponsor that would receive you if you left the camp. My aunt Rae (Nakamura), who I described to you as being opportunistic, entrepreneurial, risk-taking, was one of the first to leave Minidoka in the early spring of 1943, and she was sponsored by the Catholic church in Bloomington, Illinois. And she left the camps, left her sister, my mother and three children, took her two children to, and her husband, Bloomington, Illinois, where they lived in a church rectory and also found work for the bulk of them. And they settled briefly in Bloomington, Illinois, and shortly thereafter, within the year, my aunt Rae was on a train to someplace, traveling through Chicago through Milwaukee, got off the train in Milwaukee. And at the train station there's a beautiful little park called the Red Arrow Park. The Red Arrow Park was (named after a U.S. Army) division that fought bravely in World War I, and it was a memorial to those that perished in World War I. It's a beautiful park right adjacent to the train station. And the story goes that my aunt Rae got off the train, walked through the park, and she said, "You know, if this is a community that has these nice parks, I think I'd like to live here." So before you knew it, she moved her family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where her husband got a job at the Firestone Tire company.

And Milwaukee, Wisconsin, if you don't know, is a very Germanic community. It's like eighty percent German and twenty percent Jewish. And it was middle class, it was, if you read the novel Buddenbrooks about middle-class German families in Germany, this is what you had in Milwaukee. Heavy industry, lots of work, and a different attitude because they were of German descent. Their politics were different, the mayor of Milwaukee was the last socialist mayor in the United States. So it was, in a way, fortuitous that my aunt got off the train after leaving Minidoka, and decided on the spur of the moment to move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So let's go back to Minidoka where my mother and three children, she applied for an indefinite leave, and in the spring of 1944, (...) almost two years in the camps, she applied for indefinite leave and got, was arranged by the American Home Baptist Mission group to move to a farm in Wisconsin, in Madison, Wisconsin. The community is called Black Earth, and the farm was owned by a socialist farmer who was widowed and needed some household help. So my mother got permission under the indefinite leave program to leave the camps, take the three boys, and travel by herself on a troop train moving eastbound to a farm in the middle of the state of Wisconsin.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

DS: There is a story that I like talking about, and that is, she took the boys off the train and had a brief stop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to buy sandwiches to feed the boys. Suddenly the train started moving out of the station, and she desperately grabbed the boys, the three boys, raced down the platform and barely made it back onto the train. And I think about what might have happened to her if she was abandoned by the train, left on the platform in Cheyenne, Wyoming, no luggage, and totally abandoned now here in the United States. But fortunately, she made it. And I do recall taking the train, getting off, getting on a bus to this rural area near Madison. Getting off the bus with our suitcases after this long journey, and trudging up the long farm road to the farmhouse. There was nobody to greet us, and my mother settled the boys in what I think was the migrant workers quarters, and then she was faced with cleaning the farmhouse because the widower had not done any housework for an indeterminate period of time. And she spent the rest of that long day, into the night, washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, before she was able to go finally to bed.

VY: This was on the day she, I'm sorry, that was on the day she arrived, she had to do all that?

DS: On the day she arrived, I can still remember seeing the lights in the kitchen wishing that she would come and be with us. And in a couple of days, I think, no more than a week, my mother sent an urgent message to my father, who was now stationed in Minneapolis, St. Paul, at Fort Snelling. He was working with the Military Intelligence Service, the MIS, working on translating Japanese radio messages. And one of the reasons we moved to Wisconsin was his close proximity to the family. She sent an urgent message to come and take us out of this situation. And I often wondered what was the cause of her urgent call to come and rescue us. And my imagination can run wild, but it must have been something horrific that she experienced, maybe with the farmer, that caused her to send this urgent request to come and take us. And before we knew it, we were then in, settled into a one-room studio apartment in a converted office building right in the downtown intersection of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my aunt Rae (Nakamura) was living. And my memory is, suddenly we're in Milwaukee. It would be (like living) down on Jackson Street in Seattle in a one-room studio apartment with my grandmother, three boys, my mother working, and my father in the army. And there was a polio epidemic going on, and so we were quarantined in the apartment building and could not leave the building for the summer of 1944. My mother was working, my grandmother, Baachan, was living with us, and once again, we were living in a one-room apartment after two years in Minidoka, we were now in a one-room apartment, studio apartment, in Milwaukee. It was so untenable that my grandmother Baachan left in a huff, leaving myself and the two boys unattended while my mother was working during the day.

VY: You mean she'd moved out?

DS: I don't know when she left, but she left in a huff. She had a huge fight with one of my brothers and couldn't take it anymore and left. So there we were, three boys unattended, living in a studio apartment, quarantined in a polio, during a polio epidemic, my mother working. So that's what constitutes an indefinite leave. There weren't any other Asians around, my aunt was nearby, and within a few months we moved to a two-bedroom apartment just a few blocks up the street and still in downtown Milwaukee. I went to third grade and I remember being enrolled in third grade, and after a week, I was promoted from grade 3-A half a grade to grade 3-B because of the quality of the education I received in the camps. That I was so well prepared that I didn't, I was overqualified for third grade, so they pushed me up a half a grade.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

DS: And so within eight or nine months, my mother applied for and received admission to public housing, (Parklawn, a WPA housing project, located) on the outskirts of Milwaukee. And the public housing provided a rent subsidy, so it was only a few dollars a month. And we moved into public housing in 1945 and that was just before the end of the war, I attended fourth grade at Pleasant View (Grade School) which was within walking distance. And Pleasant View was the fifth school I had attended from the time I attended kindergarten in Eatonville, Washington, to the time we moved into Park Lawn, I had gone to five different schools. And as a result, I have no childhood friends from school because we kept moving from school to school. But Park Lawn (Public Housing) was like Nirvana. It was the showpiece of Mayor Frank Zeidler who is, as I mentioned the last socialist mayor of the United States. And it was his showpiece of what public housing can be and how human it can be. It was a wonderful place to live. The units were clean, well-managed, there were parks, baseball diamonds, ice skating in the wintertime, a community center for games for the kids. It was a marvelous change from the desert in Minidoka.

VY: I'm curious do you remember -- excuse me, I'm sorry. Do you remember any other residents there in the public housing?

DS: Public housing is public housing, and there were people of all economic socioeconomic levels. There was a family that lived at the end of our unit, and there were some really tough boys. And I won't mention their names, but I do remember that they belonged to a gang that terrorized us as children. There was a Halloween trick-or-treat event in the housing project. My mother loved to sew, so she sewed my brother Jerry a Felix the Cat costume with a long tail. And sure enough, one of the tough boys from the building came and destroyed the costume, pulled off his tail, leaving my brother to go home crying. We surmised that most if not all the boys in that unit ended up in some kind of maximum security facility in Wisconsin. But there were others that managed to get a foothold and to move up the socioeconomic ladder, which we did. We lived in public housing for almost four years before we could begin to, for my father to buy his first house. So the economic impact of the internment was extraordinary. It was severe. We left Eatonville with suitcases, we arrived in Minidoka with suitcases, we arrived in Black Earth, Madison, with suitcases, and we ended up in Milwaukee with suitcases. We had no equity, we had no savings. We were essentially at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. We went to public health nurses, we went to the Marquette University Dental School for free dental work. It was a time of freedom, but we didn't have a lot. So my father came home from the army, and within the year, my brother Bruce was born in 1947. And we lived in public housing for at least three or four, five years, until the 1950s when my father had saved enough money barely to buy his first house. So after being married from 1932 to 1952, almost twenty years, they had saved enough money to make a sixteen hundred dollar down payment on a house, which I had to supplement it with my paper route money. So you think about the economic deprivation, economic impact, arriving with nothing, with no home equity, no savings, we had to be very... my mother was very, very frugal. But when you talk with my brothers and my memory, we didn't feel deprived or poor, we felt like we were a family. And my mother was a great cook. She cooked tempura that was outstanding. So we didn't feel poor, and we began to move up the socioeconomic ladder.

VY: You know, if you don't mind, I'd like to go back a little bit more to the public housing. I'm interested in what that was like, like if you remember more about your, the other tenants there? Were there any other Asian families?

DS: Well, that's a great question. Because I think in the entire population of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there may be less than a dozen Asians there. There may be Chinese, but very few Japanese Americans. I do remember one family that lived outside of the housing project, but I don't remember any families of color in the projects. This was before the mass migration from the south to the industrial north. It was like a city in Germany where German was the most predominant language. Breweries were the major industry, they're even still there in Milwaukee, heavy industry. And so even in my elementary class in school, we were the only Asians. But I don't ever feel a sense of antagonism, prejudice. We were just ourselves. And that gets to what I think might have been a great stroke of luck for us. That I think deep down in the heart of the German community, there was a sense of concern, because the enemy was German, and that we sort of looked like the enemy on the other side, but we weren't. But also there was a culture that had grown up that was part of the German socialist culture of acceptance, of providing for others, of community support. And one of my favorite memories of Pleasant View (Grade) School, the fourth and fifth grade, was of my elementary school teacher, we had one class, one teacher situation at Pleasant View. But for music, we had to listen to Richard Wagner's Ring Series. (The Ring Cycle) that was our music appreciation class at fourth grade. And I think that emphasis on music has stayed with me all my life.

VY: Wow. Do you have a sense of... so it sounds like in the public housing, it was mostly other predominately low-income, German heritage, maybe some others, I'm not sure. Do you have a sense of what generation? Like did you hear people speaking German in the public housing?

DS: No, I don't, but there was a sense of community, a sense of taking care of your community. And Wisconsin is the dairy state, and in order to save money, we would buy not quarts of milk or half gallons, we would buy gallons of milk. And there would be milk depots that could be reached by taking a bus. In order to save money, we would go next door and ask to borrow their bus pass. And we would get on the bus with our empty milk jugs, go to the creamery, buy two gallons of milk, use our bus pass, and come back to the housing project with our gallons of milk. I think that's an example of sharing between the neighbors, and it was a sense of sharing especially shortly after the war.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

VY: So once you left public housing, did you all kind of maybe go your own way? Like did you stay in touch with any of the residents there?

DS: Yeah, yeah. I don't think my parents made a lot of friends. It was a time of reestablishing ourselves, my father got work repairing radios and now and then televisions. And he then, after buying his house, was a sole proprietor of a radio/television repair business, and that's how he supported the family. But all the while, my mother was extremely frugal. There wasn't much wealth in the family. Also there weren't very many Asians, I think there was one Asian and Japanese American family. And in order to buy rice and shoyu, soy sauce, we would have to drive to Chicago and buy our commodities, rice and soy sauce and the like. But the Protestant church played a very important role in our life. And we were members of several Baptist churches, Evangelical Christian churches, and that served as the focus of our lives all the while we lived in Milwaukee. So it continues the theme of my grandfather coming from Japan to practice his Christian beliefs, and ends up in Milwaukee as members of the First Baptist Church in Milwaukee.

But I think we can talk about the nascent Japanese American community in Milwaukee, but I can say that, in my high school class, in my high school, there was maybe one other Japanese American girl in my class. So we grew up in a predominately Caucasian, Germanic, Jewish environment. So we could have been in Berlin or Hanover or Frankfurt. And I studied German for four years. So it was very different than Seattle, very different from Eatonville, but my parents always felt comfortable in Milwaukee to the point where, in the early years after the war, there was always discussion of moving from Park Lawn back to Seattle. And we always decided not to move back, to cast our lot with Milwaukee and plant our roots there. There was one summer where we packed up everything, all the boxes were ready to go. And the night before we were to begin the move back to Seattle, my parents decided that we're going to stay in Milwaukee, that there was more opportunity, it was more welcoming than moving back to Seattle.

VY: Wow, that's so interesting, you got so close to leaving, and then...

DS: It was like a day before. And so we boys were growing up. Well, if we were going to live in Milwaukee, I guess we were going to live in Milwaukee.

VY: It's almost like your parents had decided that they were going to continue to move forward instead of going back.

DS: Well, I'm not sure what "moving back" meant. Maybe moving back to Seattle meant moving back to the old ways of being part of a extended, like a Japanese community in Eatonville. And maybe there was something that attracted, made it attractive to my parents to break away from that mould and try something new, especially in an environment that was so welcoming, without a sense of prejudice.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

So I went to high school, one of the top academic high schools in Milwaukee at the time, and it was predominately Jewish so I learned to speak some Yiddish in the process, but there was one other Japanese American girl. And my brothers went to elementary school and then into, eventually in high school, they went to a different high school and both excelled. My brother Jerry was a very good athlete. He was on the football team, the track team, had a beautiful girlfriend. And my brother Chet was also very athletic and he was valedictorian. And so we thrived in this Germanic community.

VY: I wonder --

DS: Go ahead.

VY: Well, I'm just wondering what your own sense of identity was around that time. Like, for instance, when you saw there was one other Japanese American girl in school, did you sort of identify with her or did you not necessarily think that you had that much in common?

DS: Well, I've never told anybody about this, but I'll reveal something that might answer your question. Of course, my mother wanted us to marry a Japanese American girl, but we all had Caucasian girlfriends. So to force the issue, my mother identified a very pretty young Japanese American girl who lived in Milwaukee. And invited her to come for dinner to meet the boys, and it was a disaster. I can't describe it, but only by saying it didn't work out. Maybe because our mothers wanted us to become friendly with this Japanese American girl, maybe because she wasn't a blond, Germanic girl, but it turned out to be a disaster and my mother never tried that again. So I think it represents the acculturation of our generation, which was much easier in Milwaukee than, let's say, in Seattle or San Francisco, Los Angeles.

So there was a nascent group of Japanese Americans that formed, I think, the Milwaukee chapter of the JACL in the '50s and '60s. and they would, their major activity as I can recall was to have a Japanese-style display, with food, at the folk festival, annual folk festival that was held in the downtown Milwaukee auditorium. It was a big deal, there were Germans, Polish, Lithuanians, Jewish, and a Japanese table sponsored by this nascent JACL group. And it was a big deal for my mother to prepare sushi and all the other delicacies and serve it at the Milwaukee Folk Festival.

VY: So was your... sorry, was your mom a member of this group, or was she just...

DS: Yeah, we can talk about the JACL in depth, but it wasn't as firmly entrenched as, let's say, in Seattle or on the West Coast. It was more of a social, once a year kind of activity. So it wasn't like an all-consuming organization, but it was pretty informal and small.

VY: I see.

DS: So that's the... I think at this juncture, where the boys are now in high school and I've just graduated in 1954, which is only, now I think about it, it's only about less than ten years after the end of the war. Graduating from high school and then moving on into college and then into careers. So I could go on for another couple of minutes, but it's up to you, if you have more questions.

VY: Well, I think maybe now is a good place to pause for now and then we can pick up more the next time we get together for an interview.

DS: But you know, it's been several hours since we've been talking, so I think it's a good idea to stop post-Minidoka, post internment, and beginning our journey up the socioeconomic ladder.

VY: I agree.

DS: So I think that this is a good juncture, and we can talk a little bit about the careers that we all pursued, and then talk about the redress and the implications of redress and the whole internment experience.

VY: Yes, I agree.

DS: I think that would be... so this would be a good juncture to stop.

VY: Okay. Well, I agree, I think there's so much to cover, and I'm really looking forward to continuing our conversation. I so appreciate all the time you spent with us today, thank you so much.

DS: Well, I've really enjoyed it.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.