Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hubert Yoshida Interview
Narrator: Hubert Yoshida
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: April 7, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-506

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is April 7, 2022. We're at the Hyatt House in Emeryville, on camera is Dana Hoshide, and I'm the interviewer Tom Ikeda. And we're here with Hu Yoshida. So, Hu, the first question I'm going to ask you is where and when were you born?

HY: Okay, I was born actually in Salinas, California, 1939, so just before, or just during the start of World War II.

TI: Okay. And what was the date in 1939?

HY: April 20th.

TI: What was the name given to you at birth?

HY: Okay, I was named Hubert Masayoshi Yoshida. My mother loved piano and there was a pianist named Victor Herbert. So my older brother is named Victor and I was named Hubert. Or Herbert, but my father changed it to Hubert.

TI: So this was a pianist, I mean, actual pianist?

HY: Yeah.

TI: Okay, and so she just really loved...

HY: Yeah, she played the piano, she loved the piano.

TI: Okay, I like that. So tell me the names of your siblings going from the oldest to the youngest.

HY: Yes. My older brother was named Victor, of course, and he was three years older. My younger sister was Joyce, she was seven years younger.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So let's go next to your father. What was your father's name and where was he born?

HY: My father's name was Kenzo Yoshida. He was born in Wailuku, Hawaii, on the island of Maui. Hey, you know, it's interesting, you know how they would sometimes give children to the in-laws in the case to continue the name? So he was actually registered as a Tsuda, T-S-U-D-A. But when he came to the U.S., the mainland, when he was fourteen years old, he kept the name Yoshida.

TI: So Yoshida was his actual family. But who were the Tsudas? Who were they?

HY: That was his mother's family. So in Japan, I think he was registered as a Tsuda.

TI: That's good to know. I'm glad we're doing this because sometimes people use these interviews for genealogy, so that little tidbit of information could be really valuable in terms of maybe going back to a koseki in Japan.

HY: Yeah, so I probably should be a Tsuda. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, that's interesting. So Maui, do you know what year he was born?

HY: No, I'd have to look that up.

TI: Okay, I actually looked it up in the government records, and they have listed 1907.

HY: Oh, 1907, that's good to know.

TI: And how did your father and his family get to Maui?

HY: Well, the family story goes that my great grandfather had a, kind of a merchant ship that went along, up and down the islands of Japan, of course. And it got shipwrecked and so my grandfather, in order to help pay the debt, came to Maui, went to work in Maui to help pay the debt.

TI: And when you say come to Maui to work, was it like on the plantation?

HY: Well, of course, it started, everybody started out on the plantation but then he had a wagon that he would drive along the island of Maui, along the coast, selling merchandise, hard goods and food and so forth. So he was kind of a traveling salesman, I guess. So he would furnish the Japanese workers along the island of Maui.

TI: Oh, interesting. And so, perhaps more than just a salesman, I mean, he actually was a traveling store.

HY: That's right. It was more of a store he would sell out of his wagon. He was quite a character from family stories. He was quite a big man, and he had carried a pistol with him. And so he was, could take care of himself. [Laughs]

TI: So any interesting stories about doing that? I mean, big man, pistol, did he ever have to use it or was he ever threatened or anything?

HY: I don't know if he did that. But I know once the wagon crashed and my father was with him. And horses ran away and I guess he put my father in the wagon and physically pulled the wagon into town so that my father could be treated for his injuries.

TI: Oh, my. So he was not only a big man, but a strong man.

HY: Yeah, he was a pretty strong guy. He was quite a character, I guess, nobody messed with him. [Laughs]

TI: And do you recall any of the names on your father's side, in terms of either your great grandfather, grandfather, and even your father? Let's start with your, well, we got your father, but your grandfather? Do you know your grandfather's name?

HY: You know, it escapes me now.

TI: Okay. Do you know from what part of Japan they were from?

HY: Oh, they were from Hiroshima.

TI: Okay.

HY: By the way, he moved back to Japan just prior to World War II and he retired there. I guess after he did his wagon business, he opened a hotel in Wailuku. So he had a hotel and apparently he did well and was able to retire to Japan before the war, although his children stayed in Hawaii.

TI: Okay. How about your grandmother? How did your grandfather and grandmother meet?

HY: You know, I don't know that history. I imagine it was arranged. I think my grandmother's family was probably in a better, higher class, I guess. Because her family came from... her family's brothers and cousins all were in the Japanese navy during the war. They were right near Etajima, which was, I guess, kind of like the naval academy in Japan. And one of them was on a submarine, the one that was in Hawaii. I think one of her sons was also, or nephews was also the police chief in a town called Itsukaichi, which I think is just first train station from Hiroshima. And they were there, that family was there during the bombing of Hiroshima.

TI: Yeah, go back to that. You mentioned, so a relative of your mother was actually on one of the submarines that tried to go through the submarine nets into, I'm not sure if it was Honolulu or Pearl Harbor or whatever. So how did you know this and was he ever captured? What's the story behind that?

HY: I think he died. They never did find him, but apparently he was supposedly on one of the submarines that went there, another of those, of her nephews, I guess. And there are some papers that... I have a cousin who came to the States after the war, and he had some papers which, one of the, I guess they were cousins, had a certificate. Apparently they had sunk a (carrier), the (Hornet), I believe. And we can't read it because it's written in this fancy Japanese style, and even my cousin couldn't read that. But there was quite a history on their side of the family in terms of the military on the Japan side.

TI: What's your sense, I'll say this, before the war started? Was there a lot of pride in the Yoshida family about their Japanese roots, connections? It seems like, especially on your grandmother's side, there was maybe a lot of standing in terms of, not only in society, but in the military also.

HY: I think so. I think on my grandmother's side, the Tsuda side, that they had some standing because one of the nephews became police chief there in Itsukaichi, and because so many joined the Japanese navy.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Going back to your father, you mentioned he came to the mainland when he was fourteen. And to me, when you said that, I said, "Well, that seems unusual," at fourteen, to leave his... it seemed so young to me. I mean, I think when I've interviewed other people, going from a place like Maui to the mainland is like going to a whole different country.

HY: Oh, that was another country, yeah.

TI: It was just a huge leap. So what brought him to the mainland?

HY: Well, he said that he used to watch movies. He loved to watch movies about college life, I guess there were a lot of movies about college life at that time. He wanted to go to college. And he became friends with a hakujin fellow, I guess a mainland person who was a reporter.

TI: You were going to say "haole," is that what you were going to say? [Laughs]

HY: Yeah. A reporter on the local newspaper there. And he became friends, he would run errands for him. And this reporter invited him, when he moved back to the States, invited him to come and work for him in the States, so that's what he did. He thought it was a great opportunity, so he, of course, left, and took a boat, of course, in those days. On the boat he met a Japanese Christian pastor. And again, I can't remember the name, I'll have to remember that name. [Narr. note: Reverend Toda.] So during that journey he became friends with this pastor and was invited to stay at the basement of the church in Alameda. It was Buena Vista, I think, the Methodist church at that time. So that's where he kind of lived for a while, worked for this newspaper man, I don't know if he was a reporter or not. And then he went to high school in Alameda.

TI: I want to see if there's... and the reason I'm asking this question, we're doing, actually, a large project right now with the Alameda Japanese American community, and Buena Vista is one of the partners. I'm curious, do you have any stories about his stay when he was at Buena Vista? I think if there was a story, this group would appreciate it. Is there anything that you know about his stay there or his relationship with this minister? Because it sounds like he quickly found these, almost like mentors who would take him in and help him out.

HY: Yeah. When he was in high school, I guess, he would also work during the summers in Walnut Creek? Walnut Creek. And he got typhoid. And then one of the families, it was a husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Teshima, who were members of that church, took care of him while he was sick, very seriously sick with typhoid. And he recovered and he became good friends with the Teshimas and they were sort of like his parents here. And when I went to, he went to Berkeley, he managed to get into Berkeley. And then even when I and my brother went to Berkeley, we would visit the Teshimas, they were very, like grandparents.

TI: So tell me more. I'm now intrigued by your father. He must have had this gift to connect with people in ways that they really wanted to help him. First this journalist, then this minister, the Teshimas, how did he do that?

HY: Well, he was very, I would say he was very outgoing. He was always very interested in people. I guess he was just... well, he was very outgoing, I guess. That's the most I could say. He was, for a self-made person, I mean, he had nothing when he came. And through the help of friends and people in the church there in Alameda, that's where, through that community in Alameda, he met his wife's brother, future wife's brother, the Shikumas, one of the Shikuma brothers, and through that he met my mother. So the Shikumas were a very big clan in Watsonville.

TI: Right. But then I guess the brother was up here and was just attending church up...

HY: Yeah, he was actually in Stanford, attending Stanford.

TI: Oh, so this is Kenji?

HY: Kenji Shikuma, yeah. He was attending Stanford at the same time my dad was attending Cal, and they met at the Alameda church. The Alameda church, I guess they drew membership from... a lot of college students, I guess, attending during that time.

TI: Yeah, it's interesting. When I visit the church, because it's nearby also the Buddhist temple, there's kind of his hub here that both of them are there.

HY: Yeah, when I went to college, I went to the Alameda church, too.

TI: I'm glad we asked this because I know this group is just interested in all the connections to the church. So your dad lived there, you said, like in the basement or someplace?

HY: Yeah, for a time I think he lived in the basement of that church.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Before we move on, I forgot to ask this question. Were there any interesting stories that your dad told about just growing up in Hawaii? I know he was in his younger years, but was there something that he would often tell people about something that happened in Hawaii?

HY: Well, he had many friends in Hawaii. I mean, even when he was, we would go back and visit Hawaii when he was in his seventies, he would still have childhood friends that he would look up. But even though he might not have been in Hawaii for fifty years, he would still have his friends there.

TI: And when you saw your dad in Maui with his childhood friends, did his demeanor change in any way? Did you see him in a different way when he was in Hawaii versus when he was, like, in Watsonville?

HY: Yeah, I think he did. He would sort of change. He would kind of talk... since he went to Berkeley and all that, I mean, no slang, he would talk very good, very properly, proper English. But when he would go back to the islands, he would slip back into talking more...

TI: More pidgin?

HY: Some. Not too much, but some. I mean, you could see that he was different than, you know, what I was used to growing up with him here.

TI: Did that in any way surprise... the reason I ask is it's funny, in Seattle I kind of grew up in what we called the Rainier Valley, which was a very diverse community. I grew up with friends on the street, and so I used a lot of slang when I was growing up. And then later on I had kids, but I remember my kids, I was down at the Pike Place Market, saw one of my old schoolmates, and you know, you just sort of go back into that slang. And my kids' eyes just got really big and their mouths kind of dropped, and they said, "Dad, we never heard you talk like that." [Laughs]

HY: That's right, yeah. Yeah, same thing.

TI: Okay, good.

HY: One of the things, although he was Christian, a very strong Christian, he would talk about seeing ghosts in Hawaii. I guess there were, when he was growing up, they lived near a cemetery, and he would talk about that. To me, I never heard him talking about those before.

TI: And how would he describe them? Were they, like, evil, or they were just ghosts and there were good ghosts and bad ghosts?

HY: Just spirits and ghosts, not good or bad.

TI: That's interesting. I interviewed other Niseis who were older, years ago, and they would talk about ghosts also, cemeteries, these lights that they would see, and usually around cemeteries.

HY: That's right.

TI: That was interesting.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So your father went to Berkeley. Does he have any stories about Berkeley? Or do you remember any stories that he told you?

HY: [Laughs] No, I guess he loved the college life. He would go to all the games, and I could see him, photographs of him, he would be dressed up with a sweater. I guess he really got into the college life while he was there.

TI: So I would imagine, I just know a little bit about this, but I know they call it "The Game." You mentioned Kenji was Stanford, your dad Kenzo was Cal. Was there a pretty strong rivalry between the two?

HY: Yeah I guess a friendly rivalry, Stanford and Cal, yes.

TI: Even up in Seattle, I know about that rivalry. And so after he graduated... well, what did he study?

HY: He was in business administration.

TI: Just a note, I went back to the government records. There's something called the Form 26 that people filled out when the war started. He wrote down on there "social sciences and mathematics," in terms of what his degree was, just as an FYI. He did that in the government records. But after he graduated from Berkeley, what did he do?

HY: Oh, well, of course, there weren't any jobs for him as a Berkeley grad, but so he was working for a commission house, buying and selling... you know, farmers would sell to a commission house and they would sell it to retailers. He did that for a little while and then got into farming himself. And he did, I guess, quite well. He was farming in Salinas, lettuce I think was mostly what he had. I did come across a receipt. When he, I guess, was selling off his property, going to relocation, I mean, he had a Caterpillar tractor, he had a John Deere, he had quite a bit of equipment that he was trying to sell off before he went to camp. So apparently it was quite a farming operation.

TI: Do you have a sense of how many acres the farm was?

HY: I think he just rented land. In those days, I think they would rent land and grow crop and then rotate and go to another.

TI: Did he ever talk about, so even though he went to Berkeley, business administration, did he ever talk about the frustrations of not being able to use maybe that training more in the, I guess, in the larger business world? Did he talk about the doors that were closed to him?

HY: No, he didn't. He kind of mentioned that, yeah, there were no jobs for him when he got out, but not with any kind of bitterness or regret or anything like that. He enjoyed farming, I think.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Well, about this time, he met your mom. But before we talk about that, let's talk about your mother and her family. So what's your mother's name and where was she from?

HY: Her name was Sumie Yoshida, I mean, Shikuma. Her father was Unosuka Shikuma, who had come to the U.S. at the turn of the century and became a strawberry farmer. Apparently he did quite well. I guess his uncle was here already, another Shikuma family, and together they farmed and became successful and they were able to bring, help other Japanese farms that came on a sharecrop basis. And they grew quite large in terms of farming.

TI: Now, was this the formation of Naturipe or a precursor of that?

HY: A precursor to that. I think it was called West Oak Farms or something, but apparently it was one of the largest strawberry farms at that time. In fact, they were farming near Salinas, I believe, and they had quite a, even a community there where I think they had their own school for Japanese kids. But I think they went bankrupt and they had to start over again.

TI: And before we go there, you just said something that I want ask about, you said they had their own school for Japanese. Did you have a sense that... because I did interviews up in the Delta. And so they also had schools that were for only Japanese, but it wasn't so much because that's what they wanted, it was actually segregation happening, that the Japanese up there could not attend the regular public schools, so they had to form their own school. Do you have a sense of, was that happening down in the Salinas area also?

HY: That may have been. I mean, they were all living in these labor camps, anyway, they were forming their own community and I guess it was easier to stay together in the community than try to go out.

TI: That was a, kind of a bone of contention between the Japanese government and the U.S. Because the Japanese government did not want the Japanese to be segregated, and so that was the, kind of the impetus for the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1908 that the United States agreed to... because they were planning to segregated schools in San Francisco, and so with the Japanese intervention, they stopped that. But in return, Japan agreed to stop sending Japanese immigrant laborers to the United States and Hawaii. So that was kind of, so when you mentioned that, I thought, oh, that's kind of interesting.

HY: Yeah, I hadn't thought of that. I just heard that they...

TI: Yeah, now I'm going to do more research, I'm curious about that. Because I know it happened in the Delta area around Sacramento, I've interviewed people about that. I don't recall the Salinas area, but I'll have to look at that. But you're talking about your grandfather and the success with the strawberries, but I wanted to ask you, before he had his own farm, I think he worked for someone else or worked for people. Do you remember any of that? In particular, the story of, I think you mentioned earlier, Tony Tomasello?

HY: Oh, yeah, that was during the wartime.

TI: But before that, I mean, how he first got to know Tony, wasn't it because he worked for Tony? Do you know anything about that? That he was an Italian immigrant, apple grower, and that the initial connection was your grandfather actually working for Tony?

HY: Yeah, I don't know if he worked for Tony. I don't know if he ever worked for Tony or they worked with him or they just...

TI: Or just like farming friends?

HY: Neighbors or farming friends, yeah. But when they first came over, of course, he must have worked for somebody, because he couldn't own land. But when his, they had a child, first was, we called him Mac, Uncle Mac, was the oldest, and then they could buy land in his name. And then so that's why they were able to start farming on their own.

TI: Well, since you brought up your uncle Mac, so on your mother's side, tell me the siblings of your mother, as much as you can, birth order.

HY: Yeah. Uncle Mac was the oldest, and then there was a...

TI: And his Japanese name was, like, Masasuke?

HY: Masasuke, something like that. And then there was another one that died. I don't know his name, he died probably near childhood. And then there was Kenji, who was the same age as my dad. And then Sumie, which is my mother, and then there was a younger brother, Hiroshi, we called him Heek, H-E-E-K, and he's the one that served in the 442. And then there was a younger sister Emiko, we called her Emi.

TI: You know, there's another name in the government records, I was wondering, Hideko?

HY: That may be the one who died.

TI: Oh, okay. Backing up a little bit with your grandfather, do you know where in Japan his family is from?

HY: Yes. They were not from Hiroshima, they were from... it escapes me right now. [Narr. note: Wakayama Prefecture.]

TI: But southern Honshu, kind of the southern part of...

HY: Yeah.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: We've been talking a lot about your grandfather, I wanted to also bring in your grandmother on the Shikuma side. What was her name and what do you know about her?

HY: Haru. Just said Haru, but maybe Haruko or something like that.

TI: Any memories of her or stories about her that you can share?

HY: She was very little, she was a very small person, always smiling. Very hard life, I imagine, for her with all the children and work. I mean, even after the war when she was in her seventies, she was still working, would go out in the fields and work. Very hard worker. She would always do the ofuro, they built an ofuro on their farm in Watsonville, and she would always start the fire at night, wood burning ofuro.

TI: So describe the furo. You said wood, but how large was it?

HY: Oh, it was a very small area. The tub was maybe three feet by... it was very small. When I went in with my brother, we would both have to bend our knees to get in there. But it was a metal, square metal tub over a fireplace. And the fireplace, we fed wood from the outside underneath the ofuro. We'd heat the fire, hot water every night, we'd have an ofuro every night. It was great, you could soak in that, it was like a hot tub, I guess, today. Yeah, it was just a wood building that they built. Very simple.

TI: Now, was there kind of a... what's the right word? Not a ritual, but was there like an order in terms of who got to take a bath first, second, third, like that, in terms of an order of the bath? Or was it just whoever was ready?

HY: Yeah, whoever was ready. Normally the kids would be ready first, and we'd all look forward to hopping in there. Especially... well, sometimes with our grandfather, grandpa would be there, we'd all jump in with him. And there was a wooden rack that, of course, would be on the bottom so we wouldn't burn ourselves on the metal tub.

TI: So tell me about, yeah, more about your grandfather. We got a taste of your grandfather on the Tsuda, or the Yoshida side in Hawaii. How would you describe your grandfather Shikuma?

HY: Oh, yeah. I would say he was a gentleman. I remember, as a kid, I thought he was sort of like a Gary Cooper. You know, he's lean, he's tall, he was always very nice to everybody and never said a bad word about anybody. He was a very strong Christian, he became a Christian when he came here. He was one of the founding members of the church as well. He was a leader; people would gravitate to him and he would always treat people well. And I guess that was the secret of his success is that he just was a truly, generally nice person.

TI: And how were his English skills? Was he bilingual?

HY: No, no, he was not bilingual. Though he, I'm sure he understood quite a bit of English because of his business connections. He made many friends with hakujins. There were several pioneers in the strawberry industry there. One was Mr. Hyde, and he was a good friend with him, and with Tony Tomasello, who was an Italian. So he had many good non-Japanese friends.

TI: And so was it with Mr. Hyde that... we mentioned the precursor to Naturipe, was it with Mr. Hyde that Naturipe kind of emerged?

HY: Yes, I think so.

TI: Okay. So it was kind of an interesting combination. I mean, so it wasn't just all Japanese, it was hakujins or Caucasians and Japanese.

HY: Well, yeah. But I think the main reason for... it was a co-op, essentially, of Japanese farmers, and it was really, it was difficult trying to sell their strawberries to the commission house and getting a good price. Because the farmers there would, the other commission houses would control the pricing and all that. So when the railroad came to Watsonville, they formed a co-op and it was mostly Japanese farmers, and Mr. Hyde helped, I believe. And they branded their berries Naturipe so it didn't have a Japanese name, and they shipped it to Chicago on these trains. And they would pack 'em in these big, large wooden crates, chests, really, and they did very well. And that was beginning of this company called Naturipe.

TI: Earlier your mentioned that your father, when he graduated from Berkeley, worked at a commission house. So did he help run the co-op because of that, or was he part of... I would think that he may have played... well, I guess Naturipe happened much earlier, but because of his work with the commission house, did he get involved in more the operations of the co-op when he went to Watsonville?

HY: Not prior to the war. Prior to the war, he was mostly into lettuce and row crops, something that you could grow more on your own, less labor intensive than strawberries. And he wanted to be on his own, he didn't want to be, he just wanted to be on his own, so he was mostly in strawberries. But after the war, when he came back, then he went into strawberry growing and became more active in Naturipe.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay. So let's go back to your mom growing up in the Watsonville area. Any stories about your mother growing up?

HY: Well, I think she had a very good life.

TI: You smiled there, you kind of brightened up.

HY: Yeah. I mean, I see pictures, mostly old pictures, and she was always dressed in a nice dress, and she had a nice big doll, a blond-haired doll. And I think she had a very good life, because by that time, I think my grandfather was doing very well.

TI: Was she the oldest?

HY: She was the oldest daughter, yes.

TI: Okay.

HY: And I think my grandfather liked my father, so they got married.

TI: Yeah, so I was going to ask that question. You mentioned, so going back, your dad was, graduated from Berkeley, and your mom went to Pomona? Where did she go?

HY: No, she didn't go to college.

TI: Oh, she didn't go to college, okay. But then you also had your uncle Kenji kind of vouching for your father, they met each other in Alameda.

HY: Well, my uncle Kenji, he worked, he helped to organize the Naturipe. He was also, I guess, in business administration. Anyway, he helped with a lot of the administrative work for that organization in the beginning.

TI: So your dad marries your mom, they're... I guess at that point your dad had already established himself as a farmer. So they got married and then that's about the time where Victor comes along, and then you. Any... you probably don't have memories of it, but do you remember any stories about that, right before the war started, what that life was like for the family?

HY: Yeah, I was very young then, I was less than three years old. I was three years old when we went to the evacuation. But apparently my older brother, Victor, was the first grandchild, so our grandparents doted on him. [Laughs] And then Uncle Kenji had a son and Uncle Mac, the older one, had a daughter. So there were some cousins, I didn't know them until we went to camp. And I guess that was a good thing about camp is we got pretty close, we know each other. It was a lot of fun in camp for us because our cousins were there, family was there and so it was good memories of camp.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So you guys are... my picture right now is of a fairly prosperous, almost like farming clan in the Watsonville area.

HY: Yeah.

TI: The Shikumas, the Yoshidas, and things seem like they're going pretty well before the war.

HY: Yeah, and they had a lot of Japanese because my grandfather helped us sponsor a lot of farmers that came in, immigrants who came in. You know, he was very well-known in the community at that time and had many friends. So I think it was, when he left for camp, he had bought property in Watsonville and I think it was close to (one) hundred acres in that home farm that he had. Fortunately, when he had to leave, his friend Tony Tomasello came and lived on that farm and took care of it while he was gone.

TI: Yeah, so that's kind of leading to my next question. So on December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor, how did that change things for your family? I guess maybe the question is -- and you mentioned Tony Tomasello who helped them -- but were there cases where other people would start treating them differently because of the war? It's a pretty close-knit community, I'm just wondering how the war, the outbreak of the war affected them.

HY: I wasn't old enough there to really know or understand that. But I think in the farming communities that they were, I don't think there was any real ill feelings or anything, because they were friends in that community. I don't think they experienced anything except my father being in Salinas at that time, it was different for him, I guess, in that he had to sell everything, and I'm sure he lost quite a bit during that time.

TI: Yeah, so that's, I guess, a nice contrast. That Watsonville, especially when you have people like Tony there, so he helped save the Shikuma farm, but in Salinas, your father wasn't as fortunate.

HY: Yeah. From what I understand, I know when I came back, there was a lot of discrimination from people in town. And I think in Salinas there was a National Guard unit that was in the Philippines, maybe even in Bataan. And so there was a very strong feeling in, more in Salinas than in Watsonville, I think.

TI: I think I've heard that. So any other stories about the preparation of the properties or selling of the properties before people had to leave?

HY: No. During my aunt's funeral, my uncle Mac's wife, Aunt Hiroko, we had the funeral in Watsonville -- and this is maybe about ten years ago. So many older hakujin people from Watsonville came up to me and told me how they were sorry that the evacuation happened. My aunt Hiroko was pregnant at that time with my cousin Larry, and so many of them had come to see them off. The evacuation point was the Westview church in Watsonville, where all the, I don't know if it was, Buddhists came there, too, but most of the Christian families came there. And so many of them mentioned they had visited them during that time to say goodbye to them. So I think there was, you know, among the farming communities, there were many, and business communities there were many friends. However, I know when I came back, there was quite a, when we initially came back, there was quite a resentment about us, mostly from the townspeople, not from the people in the farming communities, the people who knew us.

TI: Yeah, we'll go more into that.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So the family has to leave, and so I wanted to kind of get the family grouping. So you had your Shikuma grandparents, you had your family which was your parents, Victor and you, so there was four of you, and then you had Kenji's family, who was the same age as your dad. Do you recall Kenji's wife's name?

HY: Mary.

TI: And they had a son David?

HY: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: And then you mentioned Uncle Mac with his wife Hiroko, with...

HY: Daughter Esther.

TI: Esther, and then pregnant with Larry.

HY: Pregnant with Larry. And my first memory in life is being on the train going to Poston. I remember having a melted Hershey bar in my hand and my mother trying to clean me up, but Aunt Mary had bought Hershey bars for the kids. It was hot in the train and the Hershey was melting, and I guess I was creating quite a mess with that. Then I remember seeing soldiers on the train and I thought that was pretty cool, seeing soldiers with rifles. Yeah, that was my first memory in life, is the train ride to Poston.

TI: And when you think about it, it feels like... is it like a warm, fun feeling? Or how would you describe that feeling?

HY: Well, it was, the family was together. All the cousins and aunts and uncles, and we were all together. I think Aunt Hiroko had to go separately because she was pregnant. But when we got to camp, the grandfather and my two unmarried, Uncle Heek and Aunt Emi, were in the same barracks with us, with my dad and our family. Uncle Mac, because Aunt Hiroko was pregnant, was in another area with Uncle Kenji and his family, but we saw them all the time.

TI: When you say another area, so a different block?

HY: Different building, I guess.

TI: Different building but maybe same block but just a different... okay. And before we talk more about Poston, the government records indicate that first the family went to Salinas, the Salinas Assembly Center? Do you...

HY: I don't remember that.

TI: Any stories about Salinas versus Poston?

HY: I don't have any stories there.

TI: Okay.

HY: Yeah, I don't know if that was separate from the assembly in Watsonville, because that was at the Westview church.

TI: Well not so much where the assembly in terms of where they got picked up, but an actual detention camp. There was a temporary detention camp before they went to Poston, and there was the Salinas Assembly Center that people were held for generally a few months. And generally these conditions were even more desolate or crude than when they got to Poston.

HY: I don't remember that at all. I've not heard stories of that. Maybe my parents had gone to Watsonville by then to be with the grandparents.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Yeah, I'll share a piece. When I was doing the research, I came across your dad's name, Kenzo Yoshida, in the Salinas records, and he headed up or he oversaw the recreation area at Salinas, so he was in charge of that. So he was put in charge and he had a whole crew working with them to do recreational activities for the kids at Salinas.

HY: I didn't know that.

TI: It was in the... it wasn't in the paper, it was actually, I think, in a document. So going to Poston, you talked about how your grandparents, the Yoshida family, and your uncle Heek and auntie Emi were all together. But you mentioned earlier that you also had another family there that you became friends with, the Kido family?

HY: Yes, I believe it's Saburo Kido, and I believe he was head of the JACL or he was the main JACL...

TI: He was actually the president of national JACL in 1940.

HY: I believe he was there. I don't remember if this was told to me or if this was actually true or not, but I do remember the story about the night he was beat up. Apparently we were in the same barracks, from what I understand, and there was commotion happening. I remember some of this, and my father and uncle tried to get out the door and the doors were jammed and they couldn't get out. We could hear this going on, my father went to the window and he saw people running out. My father said he threw a flowerpot at some of the people there. But they couldn't get out for a while, and they found out that Saburo Kido had been beat up. And that was because of the, I think the "no-no boys."

TI: And you mentioned that you couldn't get out of your apartment. How did they prevent you from getting out?

HY: Oh, you know, not like our front doors where we open the door in, those doors were built like prison doors where they opened out. That way the hinges were on the outside, they couldn't take the hinges off and get out the doors. So they just jammed pieces of wood into the sides of the door, so we could hear them pounding those things. So that's how they jammed the door so we could not get out, or my father and uncle couldn't get out. Yeah, because I guess those were built to be prisons, so the doors were designed so you couldn't undo the hinges on the inside.

TI: So simply by putting these wood wedges there, you could actually, I guess, lock people in.

HY: Yeah.

TI: That's an interesting story.

HY: Yeah, I guess they eventually got out, but I mean, those buildings were flimsy.

TI: Yeah, according to the records, and if this was, he actually was attacked, according to the records, twice. Once kind of in the fall of '42, but a more serious one in January of '43, which actually ended him up in the hospital. He was beat up pretty bad.

HY: Yeah. Probably would have been '42 because we only stayed in camp less than a year.

TI: Well, you, yeah, I looked at the records, you were there early '43.

HY: Oh, was I?

TI: Because people started... yeah, we'll get to that, and I'll run through some of these dates.

HY: When was he attacked in '43?

TI: So January of '43, so right at the very beginning. And then your...

HY: Do you know if we were in the same barracks?

TI: I couldn't find that. But your uncle Kenji was the first one to leave Poston, looked like almost by himself where he went to Longmont, and then the rest of the family looked like they followed in terms of your grandparents and then the Yoshida family left in September.

HY: Oh. What I recall is Kenji went to Chicago and my grandpa and my dad went to Longmont, and then Uncle Mac came later.

TI: Okay, so maybe that's...

HY: Kenji, because he had a college degree and all that, I think he was offered a job in Chicago, so I think that's where he went. Didn't stay there very long, though, I think.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So I want to ask you, you mentioned earlier about your uncle Hiroshi or Uncle Heek, joined the 442. Do you know any stories about him going from Poston into the army? Any stories about any difficulties with that?

HY: No. I think he wanted to go. I read the book Facing the Mountain, and I think that's one part of the story that wasn't really told is the role of the JACL. I mean, maybe because we were pro-government or pro-U.S., the family and all, I guess we kind of had the view that they were troublemakers, the "no-no boys" were just troublemakers and yogores. My father said that, during times of stress, that the good and the bad come out, right? You know who your friends are. And so there were a lot of things that happened that were just senseless. I mean, they would stuff toilet paper down the toilets just to make things difficult for everybody. Whereas, I guess our families wanted to make life as good as possible, plant gardens or fix things up. And if the government wanted us to sign a "loyalty oath," I guess there was no question about doing that. So I thought we were in the majority but maybe we weren't. [Laughs]

TI: No, I think in general, people who -- looking at the "loyalty questionnaire," the ones who signed "yes-yes," they were in the majority by quite a bit.

HY: I guess there was no question about it, everybody just wanted to do, make things cooperate and make things go well.

TI: And I think your family got maybe a more... what's the right word? A stronger sense of what was going on in terms of that conflict because you were close to Saburo Kido, who was, he was head of the JACL. So I think if there was some kind of opposition, it was very much focused on him, and by proximity, I think, you may have seen it more. I think a lot of it may have been actually focused towards him because of his role with the JACL. But I was wondering if you knew if your dad and Mr. Kido were friends? I think when I went back and looked at Mr. Kido's records, he was from Hawaii also, and I wondered if there was any of that connection.

HY: That could have been. I mean, he knew him and spoke highly of him. And I think my dad was in JACL and might have been an officer in the JACL at that time.

TI: He was actually, you reminded me, he was the president of the Salinas chapter of the JACL right before the war.

HY: Oh, before the war, even?

TI: Yeah.

HY: Okay, yeah, he was very, very active in JACL at that time.

TI: So I'm sure he was probably pretty close to Mr. Kido, especially if they were...

HY: Where was Saburo from? What part of the...

TI: I don't think he was from Maui, I think he was from... I want to say Oahu, but I'm not quite sure.

HY: But when he was in the States, was he in the Central Valley or Central Coast?

TI: I know he was a lawyer, I don't know exactly where. I'm sure I can find out. But it's really interesting because he is such a, kind of a prominent person in Japanese American history in World War II because of his role with the JACL, and in because in that role, there's a lot of documentation about some of the things he had said and done, which very much was the JACL stance during the war. And I think, from your story, it's clear that, yeah, there was opposition to it directed at him.

HY: Yeah. So Facing the Mountain didn't speak much of JACL's role in camp. I think they played a bigger role.

TI: But in Facing the Mountain they talked about another kind of attention which this is maybe a good place to get into. So you mentioned Uncle Heek going to the 442 from Poston. Were you... or I guess about the same time, or maybe even a little bit earlier, you had, I think your dad's, one of your dad's brothers in Hawaii was joining the 100th Battalion.

HY: Yeah, my dad's nephews.

TI: Oh, nephews.

HY: Nephews, yeah. I think it was, he had a sister that married a Yoshida, so it was kind of a different Yoshida family, but his nephew, Sho, Shoichi, joined and was in the 100th. So they came and visited us. He was quite a, you know, he was a Hawaiian, outgoing, very good looking guy, tall, came to visit us. When he was going back to Hawaii, he stopped off and visited us in Denver. And his cousin Mako, Mako was in the 100th Battalion, but Mako was, he didn't look Japanese, he looked more Polynesian, very husky looking guy. I don't know if he was our cousin, too, or he was just a cousin on Sho's side. But he went by the name of Al, short for Alabama, because, I guess, that's the name...

TI: This was Mako?

HY: No, Sho, Shoichi. He actually, we knew him as Al, short for Alabama, because when he played football at Maui High, he was known as Alabama for some reason. But he was that kind of guy. He was very outgoing, both of them were very outgoing. In Facing the Mountain they described how the Hawaiian boys were so different from the reserved mainland boys. And after I read that, I thought, yeah, that's true.

TI: Because, in some ways, your Uncle Heek was kind of the mainlander, and you had the nephews of your dad's...

HY: Cousins, actually.

TI: Yeah, I guess, cousins, Shoichi and Mako.

HY: And they were just so different. Very happy-go-lucky.

TI: And by any chance was your uncle Heek around when they came to visit you in Denver?

HY: No, they didn't meet then. I mean, afterwards, many years afterwards, they did meet at some of our family funerals and things. But they were quite different. I mean, my uncle Heek was a farm boy, very serious, more serious than the cousins from Hawaii.

TI: On either side, did they ever talk about, kind of... yeah, the other side. So your uncle Heek talking about the Japanese Americans from Hawaii, or your uncles, or your cousins from Hawaii talking about, kind of, the Japanese Americans from Watsonville or the mainland? Did you ever hear stories about...

HY: Not from my uncle Heek, but I know that my cousin Shoichi Al, that's when I first heard the word kotonk. [Laughs] And they explained because their head was empty, mainlanders were the kotonks.

TI: So he would kind of regale you with stories about that?

HY: Yeah. And he would tell me, if you see you're going to get beat up, you know, how to protect yourself and all that. It was just all kinds of stories.

TI: Now did your uncle or cousins, the ones who served in Europe, did they ever talk about fighting in Europe, any of that? Any stories from Europe that...

HY: No. Neither of them really talked about that, but I do know my uncle Heek was wounded at Anzio, and he was shot, rifle wound. I think it was in the arm, and he had to make his own way back to the aid station. Al, I don't know, I don't know what he did, but I heard they did a lot of heavy fighting with the 100th. No, they didn't really talk, give me war stories. I would have loved to have heard that, but no, they didn't, he didn't talk about it.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Before we move on from Poston, any other stories that you kind of, the family folklore about Poston? Oh, I know what I wanted to talk about. And you were just talking about this earlier, you had essentially quite a few cousins around your age during Poston. You were talking about how much fun that was and so there was, you had your older brother Victor, you had, kind of about his age you had David and Esther, who were about that same age. You also had Larry...

HY: Yeah, who was a baby then.

TI: Baby, and then you. Am I forgetting anyone else? Was that pretty much the kids that...

HY: No, there were other kids around that we played with, and I don't remember their names or anything. I don't think they were related.

TI: So what can you remember playing? What kind of things did you do to play?

HY: Just... they built a swimming pool there, I remember, although I didn't learn how to swim at that time, because I was still three, four. I don't know, just messing around. I don't remember much. There was one kind of an embarrassing thing. I mean, I was about three or four, I kind of had an accident. And I was upset by that, and I was going to run away. You know, here we're in a prison camp, and I was going to run away from home because I was so embarrassed by all this. But my cousin Esther told my aunt, and she came and she cleaned me up and I went home. But then I just got kind of a funny thought, I guess, that I was going to run away from home. [Laughs]

TI: But it's also kind of a nice story that your cousin Esther was looking out for you.

HY: Yeah, that was it. I mean, everybody looked out for each other.

TI: And so, in some ways, it sounds like the camp experience may have made you a little bit closer to your cousins.

HY: Right, yeah. Because I hadn't known them before, and after we left camp, of course, we separated and didn't see each other again until we were back in high school.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Now your family -- and we talked about it earlier -- left earlier than most people left camp. Especially as family units, it wasn't like just one person leaving. Actually, your grandparents left, pretty much everyone in the family left Poston by 1943, which, and the camps were open for two years after that. So talk about that. Why did they leave so early?

HY: I don't know. The opportunity, I guess, came up to leave camp and farm, and I guess they wanted to farm again. I know my mother kind of had some reservations going, leaving the "safety" of camp and moving on like that. Going out into a world where you didn't know what the situation was. My dad also had an offer to teach. He was teaching school, I think he had an offer to teach at the Indian reservation. Poston was part of, within an Indian reservation, and he was offered to teach. And he did get, I know at one time I remember he had letters from kids who had been in his class.

TI: And so these were kids from the reservation, actually Indian kids?

HY: Well, he taught in the camp itself, but then because he, I guess, did well, he was offered to go out and teach in the Indian reservation. But he wanted to farm, and my grandfather invited him to come along and join them, so we went to Longmont together with them.

TI: You mentioned letters that he got from his students. Are those still around someplace?

HY: Someplace I think they are, maybe my sister has them.

TI: Okay, I'll talk to you later. I would love to see that. So Longmont, Colorado, do you know why they chose Colorado?

HY: No. It was an old farmhouse, and I think we raised maybe beets, onions, things like that, truck farming. I think my older cousins and my brother went to school there, I didn't go to school. Again, we lived in the same, it was a big old farmhouse, we all lived together in that same house. So it was, again, for me, it was a comfortable time.

TI: So when you say "all lived together," so it'd be your grandparents, your family, and Emi?

HY: Yeah, Emi and Uncle Mac's family.

TI: Okay, Uncle Mac's family, but not Uncle Kenji? You said Kenji went up to Chicago?

HY: Yeah, they went to Chicago. He had a job offer in Chicago. Uncle Heek wasn't there because he was in the 442 at that time. And that's when we got the notification that he had been wounded. I know my grandparents were very concerned or very upset by that.

TI: Oh, so you remember that?

HY: Yeah, I remember the feeling, kind of, I didn't really understand what was going on, because I was still four or five.

TI: Right, but you could just feel the tension?

HY: Yeah, it was kind of a pall...

TI: Because I'm wondering, I mean, early on, they knew he was injured by they didn't know how badly he was injured? How much did they know?

HY: They were just told that he had been wounded in Italy, but he had, was alive.

TI: And so when did the family see your uncle Heek? Did he come visit at any time?

HY: Well, he did recover and he stayed in Italy and went back, I think, to the 442. And it wasn't 'til after the war, when the war ended, and on his way back that he visited us. We were living in Denver at that time that we saw him.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So at Longmont you mentioned a little bit of school. And I have you down attending, like kindergarten, first grade?

HY: Not there. I was in, when we moved to Denver I started...

TI: Oh, in Denver. Denver, I see.

HY: I started kindergarten.

TI: So why move from Longmont to Denver?

HY: Well, actually, again, my father wanted to be on his own. So after Longmont, actually, he moved to another farm in South Navajo, Colorado, the place was called South Navajo, and farmed for one year. We had a hailstorm that wiped out the crop, and so then we moved to Denver, and somehow he started an appliance repair business. I don't know how, what he knew about appliances. I mean, here was a guy from Hawaii who learned how to farm in California, and now he's opening an appliance store. I don't know how he did that. But we were in the city of Denver and he opened up a store, repair store. And that's where I started school, kindergarten and first grade there. And that's when things were bad.

TI: How so?

HY: Oh, just running into kids, calling me names and things. And you know when you're in first grade, second grade, you don't know how to fight or anything like that. I remember getting into it with one kid, older kid, and he just kept throwing me down and I'd get up and go after him again. He did that 'til he got tired and he left, but I just would not give up. Of course, my older brother, he was, what, third, fourth grade, so he would fight back. He would carry rocks with him and he would give as good as he took. And then, eventually, I think, they left him alone. But for me, I think that's the difference between the older kids and the younger kids. The younger kids would kind of withdraw, kind of be on your own, whereas the older kids would fight and get back. So my brother was more, was louder than me, I was more of a reserved kid and he was more of an outgoing kid.

TI: So you're talking almost like birth order, too, because he was older?

HY: Oh, yeah. He was older and he could fight, I mean, he could do that, whereas what do you know about fighting when you're in kindergarten?

TI: So do you think this experience of being like a kindergarten, first grade, getting essentially bullied, that made you more withdrawn?

HY: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I was quieter and withdrawn. When we went back to Watsonville, this is, we started in a two-room school house.

TI: Before we go there, when you'd come home after these fights, what was the reaction of your mother and father?

HY: Oh, my mother was very, of course, very upset. My father said I should fight back. But he would console me, too. Yeah, I guess it was bullying, and I think he did go and talk to the teacher at that time. But it didn't change much. So that was an uncomfortable time. I mean, up to then, I was having a great time.

TI: Did your brother Victor give you any advice or any help when this was happening?

HY: Yeah. Well, he said...

TI: Carry rocks? [Laughs]

HY: Carry rocks. The first time went to school, he was picking up rocks, and I thought he was just picking up pretty rocks. So I was kind of appalled when he started throwing those rocks at the other kids.

TI: And tell me, in this neighborhood, was it pretty much all white?

HY: Yeah it was all white.

TI: Okay, so you were like the only Japanese there?

HY: Yeah. But you know, there were some Jewish kids in that neighborhood. And the Jewish kids were great. I mean, they didn't hassle me. In fact, I think one, couple times, they came to tell the other kids to back off.

TI: And just as, before we go to Watsonville, I just wanted to kind of note that a lot of Japanese went to Colorado because of the governor, Governor Carr, who was very welcoming to Japanese families coming from the camps. He was essentially really the only governor that was doing that. And so he lost the next election because of his stance to help Japanese.

HY: Oh, that's good to know.

TI: And just kind of thinking of how in the know your family was, they probably heard that Colorado was probably a more welcoming place than other places This was during the war, especially. So it sounds like after the war, your family makes it back to Watsonville. Talk about how that was with you. Because now you're at the point where you're probably starting, you have more memories.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So we're going back to Watsonville, and I think you mentioned some of this, but I just wanted to review. That Tony Tomasello was actually taking care of the farm, so the family had something to go back to.

HY: Yeah. In fact, when we left camp, even when we were going to Colorado, before we were going to Colorado, Tony Tomasello, and one of his friends, drove our cars to Poston from California. So my dad had left his car in my grandfather's farm, and they drove both cars out. Like my grandfather had a Pontiac, my dad had a Buick, and they drove them all the way out to Poston. So when we went to Colorado, we were able to drive our own cars.

TI: So this seems extraordinary, what Tony did for the family.

HY: Yeah.

TI: I mean, do you have an understanding of why he did so much for the family? I mean, this isn't that common.

HY: No. You know, I met him a couple times, I know we were at a restaurant, my dad saw him and went up to say hello to him and brought him over and introduced him. And I remember he was just a gruff old guy. You know how some people are kind of gruff, but you know they're really good. [Laughs] It was sort of like that.

TI: Now have you ever come across the offspring of Tony?

HY: Yes. At my aunt's funeral, his son attended the funeral. And he mentioned they had moved into that farmhouse, and they had kept my grandfather's dog, it was an old mongrel dog they called Zombie. But they took care of them during the war years, and actually, he was there when we came back to California, he was still there. And he remembers as a kid playing with a dog.

TI: And so when the family came back to Watsonville, they just moved out, went to their other place or wherever?

HY: Yeah. We weren't there when my grandfather went there first, we were still in Denver. So I don't know how that transition happened. So everything was intact, I guess, when I got home. When they left, I guess, they had an old shed, packing shed there. And the Shikumas' kids had left all their books and things in boxes in there. So I remember when we finally got there, my aunt Emi took me there and we went through some of the old boxes that she had packed away when she was, left for the war, and there were old books and things. She gave me a lot of her old books, things like Uncle Tom's Cabin, you know, the old style books that we don't see anymore. Wizard of Oz, things like that.

TI: It was almost like a time capsule of, like, three or four years ago.

HY: Yeah, which she had read as a child and now she's giving it to me.

TI: That's good. You know, the story of non-Japanese people helping Japanese families like yours, did you hear very many of those stories also from the Watsonville area? Is that, kind of, maybe more of a common story in Watsonville?

HY: Yeah. There was a family called the Hiuras, that's another big family. And Mr. Hiura had an apple drying business, and I remember, again, he had many friends in the Japanese business community. And I was good friends with those kids, and they, the kids that they knew were still their friends when we came back.

TI: And the sense was that someone in that community helped that family also with keeping the farm?

HY: Somebody must have, because somehow that dryer business, he got that when he got back. So somebody must have helped him.

TI: I interviewed someone from that family a long time ago, so I vaguely remember all that stuff.

HY: Most of that family became dentists and doctors and pharmacists.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Okay, so you were just talking about the school, attending a two-room schoolhouse, so talk about that.

HY: Yeah, that was fun. I mean... well, it was fun, but there was two rooms. One had grades one to four and the other had five to eight. My brother was in one room and I was in the other room. And I don't know how many kids were in one, maybe twelve, fifteen kids, maybe. But all four grades were being taught, so I was in second grade, so I could listen to what the other kids were being taught. I didn't have friends, so most of the time I would read. And instead of playing with the other kids, I would just read. And, of course, the teacher was kind of encouraging to me, so she let me read the other books.

TI: When you say other books, like you're reading the upper grades, like third and fourth?

HY: Upper grade books, yeah.

TI: So I was going to ask, in some cases when I talk to people who were going to school, the war years were pretty disruptive in terms of their education. It sounds like it didn't affect you that much in terms of your reading, your writing, that you were able to be on track for all those things?

HY: Yeah. Because of this two-room schoolhouse, I think, is where I got the most, because I could follow what the other kids were doing. I mean, fourth grade they were doing California history, and that was really interesting to me because they were talking about the Gold Rush and the Spanish. So I would listen to what they were doing and I would learn.

TI: But what would happen when you were in the third and fourth grade? Was it like repeating what you already knew then?

HY: Yeah. In fact, the teacher made me skip the fourth grade, so I skipped the fourth grade. But by that time we were in a different type of school and they started consolidating all the schools. We were in more of a consolidated school environment, so we were then in separate grades by the time I was there. But my teacher was Mrs. Toof, T-O-O-F, and she probably had the most influence on my life. She encouraged me to read whatever I wanted to read, and she, I say made me skip fourth grade because... see, my birthday is in April so I was always kind of the older in my group. But then when I was skipped there, later on I regretted that because in sports I would be young. I mean, I was playing varsity ball at sixteen in my senior year when I wish I was, had another year to catch up physically. But so I guess I made my biggest advance in education by going to a two-room schoolhouse.

TI: That's good to know, especially after the, kind of the horrible experience you had in Colorado.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: How about your family? So you were able to go to this two-room schoolhouse and really get a good education. How about the business? What do you know about the business in those early years coming back to Watsonville? How was it?

HY: Yeah, well, my dad came back, he was driving tractors for other farmers. And then... well, we lived in my grandfather's, we converted the garage or the shed to be a home. It wasn't just a shed, it was where they kept the tractors and everything. But my dad put in a floor and walled it off. Of course, the bathroom was easy, you just dug an outhouse in the back. Just ran some running water and electricity to it, and we lived there for a couple years, I guess.

TI: And where was this property?

HY: In Watsonville.

TI: And so this was just... I'm sorry, the shed belonged to...

HY: My grandfather.

TI: Okay, so it was still on your, on that (100)-acre kind of...

HY: Yeah.

TI: Okay.

HY: So he put in a wood burning stove, so we made it a cozy home. And those days, I guess you could do these things without permits and things.

TI: Now, were the, did any of the other families do the same thing? Like Uncle Mac, did his family also...

HY: Oh, they lived in the main house with my grandfather.

TI: Okay, so it was just too crowded for you to also be there.

HY: Yeah. Oh, and then my uncle Mac and uncle Kenji decided that they want to try farming in Oregon, eastern Oregon. So they went up to eastern Oregon and they were farming there for four or five years. But that weather up there is very harsh, it's like a desert, high desert country.

TI: So I'm curious why they thought eastern Oregon versus... I mean, it seems like Watsonville is such a fertile area for farming. And I'm guessing your grandfather needed the help. I mean, a (100)-acre farm was pretty large.

HY: Yeah. Well, at that time, half of it was orchard and the other half was not really used except for he would start tomato plants, beds, bedding plants. Yeah, I guess the land up in eastern Oregon was cheap. So they had a big farm there, but that was really hard. In fact, my aunt Mary died in childbirth there because of the, I think the harshness of the weather and the life up there. My aunt Hiroko said that was sort of like being a pioneer out there. It was just, I think that was the first time that area was being farmed. So they tried to do that for a couple years but then California farming is so much better. So they finally came and came back when the kids were in high school. But they tried that for a while. My father also went out there to look at it, but decided that that wasn't the area that he wanted to be in.

TI: No, I've done interviews in that eastern Oregon, Ontario, yeah, it's...

HY: So you knew some people who lived up there?

TI: Yeah, because a lot of people in the Seattle area, there was a time where there was a "voluntary evacuation." And so farmers in the, what's called the Auburn area, some families moved to eastern Oregon. Because eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, was outside the exclusion zone, so they could stay there, and so they stayed there during the war. But it was, like you say, it was difficult farming. But some families are still there, I mean, there's still a Japanese...

HY: Well, my aunt Hiroko said she really enjoyed it because the people there were so friendly, hakujin people.

TI: Yeah, no, it was fun to go back there. Dana and I took an interview trip there, I remember. I still remember that.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Okay. So just talking about any... beyond school, what are some other memories for you growing up in Watsonville?

HY: I guess went all through grammar school and high school in Watsonville. You know, initially, there was discrimination. I remember going to a barber shop once and just sitting there, and the barber wouldn't cut my hair, so I finally left. I remember in the street once, I was just third or fourth grade, I was walking down the street and I dropped something. And this woman, she looked like a grandmother, nice woman, she said, "Get out of my way, you little Jap." So there were things like that that were happening in town. But then by the time I got to high school, it seemed the whole attitude had changed. Because the movies came out.

TI: Like Go for Broke?

HY: Yeah, and Sayonara and things like that. But Japanese things became popular. It was so funny how things changed so quickly almost. I mean, the time I was in high school, I had a lot of Caucasian friends and nobody would have said anything, because I was Japanese.

TI: So this is interesting. When you think about race relationships in the United States, so Japanese during the war were the most reviled group in the U.S.

HY: Yeah, because we looked different, too.

TI: Looked different, they attacked from Japan. And you're saying, essentially, fifteen years later, or even ten to fifteen years later, things changed. How can that happen?

HY: Yeah, I don't know. It was strange to me how all of a sudden things changed so quickly. And, in fact, Japanese things, people were popular. Of course, Japanese food still wasn't available anyway. But maybe the movies, maybe the movies have changed things, attitude toward Japanese.

TI: So at what point in your life did you kind of understand better what happened to you and your family? Like what Poston was, and why your family was there. I mean, as a young child you probably didn't really appreciate or understand kind of what was going on, but at some point you're probably saying, oh, this happened to Japanese and Japanese Americans, not to everyone that had to go to these camps and do all these things. When did that awareness happen for you?

HY: I guess when we moved back to California, we didn't talk about Poston anymore. Nobody talked about Poston among my relatives or anybody. Nobody would say, "Well, remember that this happened and how unfair that was?" No, nobody said that. It was just something that happened, and shikata ga nai and just wasn't anything that we obsessed about. Now I hear stories of people who went to camp, they had these feelings, and it surprises me. I don't know if you know Saburo... he was a minister at one time, Saburo Matsuda?

TI: A minister where?

HY: In the Christian church.

TI: In Watsonville?

HY: Yeah, he was in Watsonville at one time when I was going to high school. Saburo Masada?

TI: That sounds familiar.

HY: He's on some of the documentaries that I've seen on TV, but he has become very, I guess his father's died in camp from pneumonia or something. But he has some very strong feelings. At that time, I didn't know that. But anyway, we didn't talk about camp. It wasn't anything we thought was good or bad. In fact, my father said that it was probably one of the blessings that came out of that, is that we are more integrated as a nationality than, say, the Chinese Americans, for instance. Because I remember going to Berkeley, and I met some Chinese Americans, third, fourth generation Chinese Americans who still had an accent because they lived in Chinatown. And it made the Japanese go outside of California to the rest of the U.S. People did quite well. Many of the kids did well in school, they graduated as valedictorians and things like that and they did well in sports. So it was kind of... in a sense, my father thought that that it helped to integrate the Japanese more into American society. Maybe there was a guilt from the Americans. One of the people was Earl Warren. He was responsible for the evacuation and then he becomes a Supreme Court Justice and becomes this very liberal... things just changed so dramatically.

TI: Do you recall at any time studying what happened? Like in high school, was this ever a topic?

HY: No.

TI: Or in college did you ever...

HY: No, I never studied about this.

TI: So you've never been in a class where it came up?

HY: No. I'm sure most of my Caucasian friends didn't know anything about this, except those who were there in Watsonville and had seen some of this. But they didn't mention it either.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Okay, let's move to, you graduate from high school, and what happens next? I guess when you're going through high school, was college kind of like a natural next step for you? Or when you graduated from high school, were there other paths that you might have taken?

HY: Oh, it was just, my dad had been to Berkeley and it's just a natural thing that I was going to go to Berkeley.

TI: So your uncle Kenji didn't try to get you go to Stanford? [Laughs]

HY: [Laughs] No. In fact, his son David went to Berkeley.

TI: Oh, that must have broken his heart.

HY: And, you know, I didn't think it was so hard to get into college. You know how today they take SATs and they do all this, and you have to have a 4.0 plus. I don't remember any of that. We just sort of graduate and went to Berkeley.

TI: Because your brother, older brother went to Berkeley?

HY: He went to Berkeley as well. My cousin David went to Berkeley, Larry went to Berkeley. It didn't seem to be that big a deal to go to university in those days.

TI: Well, and I guess for people who are viewing this who are younger, tuition was incredibly...

HY: Yeah, I think it was fifty dollars a unit. In fact, that's one of the biggest bargains of my life, it cost me nothing to go to university. I worked as a houseboy, a Japanese houseboy, for a lady who was the widow of the chemistry department, Olmstead, Dr. Olmstead. So I worked for her as a Japanese houseboy for two years, and I had a free room. I hashed at a boarding house and I had a small scholarship so I didn't have to pay for books, tuition. So it was in summers, my dad... I'd work on the farm, my dad would pay me a little bit, so I'd have spending money. So it was nothing like today, people go into hundreds of dollars of debt.

TI: Hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, yeah.

HY: Hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt just to go to university. I don't know, it was just so... maybe people didn't, of course, I worked, but then the work was not really that onerous.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Well, so let's talk about going to Berkeley. Well, first let's talk about what you studied. So what did you study at Berkeley?

HY: I started in English because I loved reading and doing all that. But then Sputnik went up and then I thought, "Well, I'll go into engineering and physics." So I went into physics and was majoring in physics.

TI: Just a comment. I mean, that's not an easy pivot for people. I mean, sort of English literature versus physics, for most campuses, those are almost like opposites in terms of who... and so when you think of who you are as a person, do you think of yourself more as an English literature person or more of a physics type of person?

HY: I think more of an English literature person. I don't know why, I just thought, well, I can do more as an engineer or a physicist and so I changed my major. But from there it was kind of like a... oh, you remember the movie Forrest Gump?

TI: Yeah.

HY: How things just sort of happened to him through history? I mean, so I was a houseboy, and I would have a free room and all I had to do was clean the house on Saturday mornings and serve dinner, she would always have dinner parties in the evening. And I had a white coat and she'd ring a silver bell and I'd come in and serve things. And in those days, I guess the idea about Japanese houseboy doesn't sound that weird now. But because of that, she had many guests who were pretty prominent in academia and so forth. And one of them happened to talk to me, and I told him I was majoring in physics at that time. So he said, "Why don't you work at the radiation lab?" Berkeley had a Bevatron at that time. And so I started working there and I became a lab rat, they would call it, to Dr. Luis Alvarez. And Dr. Alvarez, of course, is a Nobel Prize winner, and he was doing meson research at that time. So I worked in his lab, and then I started to work on the IBM computers there and processing his bubble chamber data every night, and so I was working at night. So I got to know Dr. Luis Alvarez, and I thought I had a career now, I knew somebody in physics. But then John Kennedy came and visited the lab. And he came and I was just... his speech about, "Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country." And so that inspired me. And I remember seeing him, and I swear, he looked at me, you know, eye contact and so forth, because I was at the rad lab then. And I don't know. I thought then that I need to do something for the country. I need to do something more than just go to school and have a good salary and so forth. And so I read all those books, Ugly American and all that, Burdick and so forth. And so I wanted to do something for the country, not just go to school. And so that's when I decided I wanted to join the Marine Corps, be an officer in the Marine Corps.

TI: Because you were pretty close to graduating, or had you already graduated?

HY: Well, I was in this phase where I was going to graduate, I was ready to graduate, I was doing this work at the rad lab, working at nights. And so all of a sudden I decided I wanted to become a Marine Corps officer. So I cut short my education, I already had enough for a math degree, so I took a math degree, and applied for OCS.

TI: And before we go there -- we are going to go there -- but when you say you're a "lab rat," you mentioned IBM computers and running programs, were you actually programming also?

HY: No, I was an operator.

TI: Okay, so it was just like you would get the cards and you would run it through the machine?

HY: [Laughs] Yeah, cards, and I'd get tapes from the bubble chamber, and those tapes were digitized by hand. And I would set up the whole thing and run that all night long, and then get the reports out for Dr. Alvarez and his group in the morning.

TI: I see, okay. Okay, so you graduate with the... and so the reason you have a mathematics degree is because you cut short your physics. If you had continued, you would have been a physics...

HY: Yeah, my parents were very disappointed in my decision because they wanted me to go on to graduate school.

TI: And be a physicist. I mean, that was probably like rocket scientist back then.

HY: Yeah. That's why I did it, because I wanted to become something like a rocket scientist. It wasn't because I loved physics.

TI: You actually wanted to be an English... that's why I'm glad I asked that question, like, who are you more? An English lit person or a physicist, and in your heart it was more English literature.

HY: But you know, it's inspiring. If you ever met anybody like a Dr. Luis Alvarez, they're another species of people, right? I mean, at that time he did not have a Nobel Prize, but he was brilliant and he was a concert pianist, he was a top notch golfer, I mean, everything he did very well. In fact, he had also flown in, not in the Enola Gay, but in an observation plane during the bombing of Hiroshima.

TI: Wow.

HY: So he, I remember he had written a letter to his son about that experience.

TI: So was he part of the Manhattan Project?

HY: Yes, I guess he was. Because he flew as an observer in the plane that followed the Enola Gay. He was a person of history; somehow I touched history in being able to know him.

TI: Well, when you were making this decision to join the Marines, did you ever have an opportunity to talk to him about your decision?

HY: No.

TI: So you didn't say, "Dr. Alvarez, I'm going to drop out of physics and I'm going to go become a Marine. Any advice?" [Laughs]

HY: No, no. I think he did not, but one of his associates tried to talk me out of it because they needed somebody to run the computers at night.

TI: But more than that, they probably questioned that direction for you at that time.

HY: Yeah. My parents certainly did. I didn't tell them until after...

TI: Well, and before we go on to your military career, this is at a time you're on a Berkeley campus...

HY: Oh yeah, it was in turmoil.

TI: ...where things are, yeah, I mean...

HY: I mean, there was the Free Speech Movement going on, Mario Savio, so that was part of the history that was going on at that time, and it was very disruptive.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: And so did, like what did your brother think of you joining? Well, he was in the military, though, by then, wasn't he?

HY: Yeah, he did serve in the army. But then I didn't tell him either, I mean, he was...

TI: How about just your friends, close friends? Anyone kind of, because it seemed, they're probably watching you go along here, and all of a sudden it's bang, this way, just a very different...

HY: Yeah. By that time, I was rooming with three Caucasian fellows, and one of them was a fellow named Pete Trower who was in physics, and he had been a Marine officer. And so I had asked him to write a recommendation for me, and the recruiter told me later that he was very negative about the Marine Corps, and that I was wasting my time. [Laughs]

TI: So he wrote that in his recommendation, kind of? So maybe he was trying to save you, he said, "I don't want you to go to the Marine Corps."

HY: Yeah. The recruiter, I think, tried to get me into the program, but I remember he came and told me that I was rejected.

TI: Yeah, because you wanted to, as you said, you wanted to go into the OCS program. And here you are, a math major, Berkeley, at a time when they probably needed people desperately.

HY: Yeah.

TI: And so why do you think you were rejected?

HY: You know, I think it was discrimination at that time. All these things come back into mind, remember the discrimination you had before. And so I think I was... but I enlisted anyway. I got that rejection, I said, heck with it, I'm going to join anyway, so I enlisted and went to boot camp.

TI: Right. But when you were rejected, I think you talked about how this was pretty devastating to you. You were really kind of at a low point in your life.

HY: The recruiter I was working with kind of gave me the impression that this was a shoo-in. I mean, I was physically fit, I had letters of recommendation. But then I remember he looked very disappointed when he had to tell me that I was rejected. So I had a feeling that it wasn't him, it was somebody, the higher ups that were rejecting me. And I realized that not many Japanese were in the Marine Corps, one, and not many were in the officer corps.

TI: And at this point, joining the Marines -- because I think about this point, Vietnam wasn't full-blown Vietnam, it was just sort of bubbling up at this point?

HY: We thought we were going to go to Indonesia, that's where the Marine Corps would be island hopping. But, you know, I thought, well, I'm just going to enlist anyway. And by this time, I was tired of school, I wanted to get out and play animal and do physical things.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: But also about this time -- and I want to kind of capture this -- is about the time you met your wife, or your wife-to-be.

HY: Yeah. I said my life is like Forrest Gump, because being rejected from the OCS was a good thing. Because when I enlisted, I went to El Toro. I went to boot camp and I did very well in boot camp. In fact, I won something called the American Spirit Honor Medal, which is for the top recruit graduate in the four branches. So I won that honor, so that was something I could --

TI: So I have to ask this question. When you say you won that honor, were you trying to prove anything at that point?

HY: Yeah, I guess I was trying to prove something, too.

TI: Because you were rejected by OCS, you said, "I'm going to show these people"?

HY: Right.

TI: Okay.

HY: So, I mean, in boot camp, I finished the top in what they call the confidence course, the obstacle course, the rifle range. Even pugil sticks, pugil sticks I was the top. And so I've got this award, so I leveraged that to reapply for OCS. But then they assigned me to a computer school, I mean, a computer section at El Toro air base. And then that was a joke because you're just wiring boards and things like that. So I went there, and then the warrant officer who was in charge of that unit also thought I could go into OCS, so he helped me to reapply. But aside from that, I made this detour toward El Toro, which was near Anaheim. And when I was there, I went to a church, Japanese church. You know, the one good thing about being a Japanese Christian is that there's always these small communities you could find. And it was always there, it's like another family.

TI: So you walk in the door and they're all saying, "Oh, who are you?" And they want to know your family.

HY: Yeah, and they mostly knew the families because it's a very small community. But I saw this lady playing the piano, girl, young lady playing the piano, that was Laura. And I thought, "Wow." [Laughs] And her father was the minister, and I remember he invited me to lunch after church. And he was an Issei, Japanese-speaking guy, and somehow he invited me to lunch and I thought this is great, maybe he can introduce me to his daughter. [Laughs] I didn't know that was his daughter, but introduce me to this... so that's how I met my wife. So this rejection, this disappointment was just a temporary thing, and I was able to meet my wife, which is really a true blessing.

TI: Now, so I have to ask, was the attraction mutual? Was she as taken with you as you were taken with her?

HY: I don't know.

TI: I'll have to ask her at dinnertime. [Laughs]

HY: Yeah, I don't know. Probably not because I was a private and I smoked cigarettes at that time. But I don't know, maybe she.... I don't know, maybe. Anyway, she became my wife.

TI: Because you were married, I think you said within six months...

HY: Yes.

TI: ...after meeting her, which was a pretty whirlwind romance.

HY: It was, yeah. So that's why I say it's like Forrest Gump. Things happened that you think it's a big disappointment and then it turns out to be a blessing.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: How did she feel about you being in the military with the prospects of going to Vietnam?

HY: Oh, well, we didn't know about Vietnam or anything like that. I guess I don't know how she felt about that. Anyway, when I got out of OCS and got the mission, I managed... see, because if you're a top graduate in the program, which I was, you could choose your military occupation, so I chose infantry. In fact, the top graduates went to the infantry instead of going to other things like supply or something like that. So I got to Camp Pendleton, which is back here next to Anaheim, and we got married. And then that first year I hardly saw her because I was training. And I didn't know that, but we're going, ready to go overseas. Went on a cruise and all that, getting ready to go to Vietnam. My first anniversary was July 7th.

TI: And what year would this be?

HY: '64. And our anniversary in July '65, I was sitting off the coast of Vietnam ready to make an embarkation onto Qui Nhon. So that first year, we hardly saw each other because I was in training and so forth. But I remember the last day before I went to Vietnam, it was kind of like, you know, you felt like you were kind of drowning because you didn't know, you knew you were going to have to end, and you didn't know what was going to happen after that. And I remember we went to Laguna Niguel and she read a book and I was going to fish off the pier. And then it was just like, you know that life is going to change dramatically. By the end of the evening, we had to be aboard ship.

TI: Did you guys have, do you recall the conversation the two of you had that day?

HY: Yeah. It was hard to talk because you knew this was going to... we did have dinner together with the rest of the officers in the battalion or in the company that we knew. Most of us had married after getting out of OCS. So at least we had the friends, and then after that dinner, we had dinner, in fact, in La Jolla, and then we went to San Diego to board the ship that evening. I remember we, the enlisted men weren't able to get off ship because the fear was we would have a lot of, trying to get people back aboard ship. But I remember one of my men's wives and came and she was crying, she wanted to see her husband before we left. There was nothing I could do for that, and I just felt guilty because I was able to get off and see my wife and they couldn't. So that was kind of, one of the most, saddest days, I guess, having to leave my wife and also having to see my, the wives of my men who were trying to see their husbands.

TI: And at this point, you're about twenty-six years old?

HY: Yes, this is '64, so I was twenty-five.

TI: Twenty-five. It just sounds so young.

HY: Yeah. You know, I see people who are twenty-five, and it was young, but I didn't feel that young. I was actually older than most of my fellow officers because I had been enlisted for a couple years after college, university.

TI: And was it pretty common for the others to have a college degree also?

HY: Uh-huh. Yeah, most of them, they all had college degrees and they went from college into the Marine Corps. So I was about two years older than most of them.

TI: Before we... or anything else about that departure with your wife that you remember? I mean, the conversation, what did you two talk about?

HY: I guess just about family. Yeah, I just, we didn't talk mostly, it was just being together.

TI: How about your parents? Did you have a talk or conversation with them before you left?

HY: Not really, no. I saw them a couple months before. I talked to my dad on the phone, but...

TI: Were they still upset with you for doing this?

HY: Well, after I became an officer they weren't so upset. But, of course, they were upset that I would be going off to Vietnam. You know, we really didn't know if there was going to be a war then. Some Marine units had already landed, in May they had landed in Vietnam. But you know, there wasn't really much fighting going on at that time. In fact, we didn't know. We might be going to Indonesia because it made sense, right? The Marine Corps was an amphibious force, and Vietnam was more of a land warfare type of thing.

TI: I'm curious, during your training or anything, or when you're in the army, did the 442nd ever come up in terms of any discussions or anything in terms of when you're in the army?

HY: No, no.

TI: Or Marines, I'm sorry, the Marines.

HY: In the Marine Corps? No. But you know, it was in my mind, I mean, I remember my uncle and my cousins. And kind of, well, it would have been nice if we still had our own unit, a Japanese unit. Because I'm sure the bond was much stronger in the 442 because they were all Japanese Americans. Whereas, you know, in the Marine Corps, people from all walks of life were there.

TI: I remember having a conversation with Senator Inouye about this, because he was saying the same thing in terms of how special the 442nd was. Because it truly was, he said, a band of brothers. Their backgrounds were so similar and they felt that... but then I said, so is that an argument for more of a segregated unit? And of course he had to kind of, "Of course, no." But he did have those similar feelings that it was a very special feeling. Did you have a conversation with anyone before you went to Vietnam that you were close to, like a brother, cousin, or anything? Or was it pretty much you were kind of on your own doing this?

HY: Yeah, well, we were under orders, you know, not to discuss this with anybody. I mean, the departure was supposed to be a secret. In fact, I didn't tell my wife for quite some time, until I started making out my will and all that. She said, "Are you not telling me something?"

TI: So she must have been pretty concerned, I'll say concerned, or how would you describe how she was taking all this?

HY: She was very, very good about it, very strong. She was by herself, we were living in Oceanside at that time, and she was teaching school. But you know, she kept it together pretty well. I know we were talking the other day about the day we left, that's always burned in our minds about how that day was. Just going through the motions during the day and just sort of not knowing what's going to happen afterwards.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: Thank you for sharing that. These are kind of the questions I wish I could have asked some of the guys in the 442 more. We didn't get into what it felt like.

HY: The day they left, the last day they had with their wife. You know, not long ago, we put our dog down. It was an old dog, but we had a vet come to the house and we put the dog down. I remember how the dog got up in the morning, and we took him out and came back in, and how trusting... we knew that it was going to end, how it was going to end. And it was that same sort of feeling, you know, this dread that it was going to end. That kind of reminded... that's all we talked about, how it was the last day we had together. Fortunately, I survived and got back, but I know many others who didn't, how their wives must have felt afterwards.

TI: So on the trip across the Pacific, how was that for you? Because you now probably had a lot more time to think about things, what was that like for you?

HY: We did have a stop in Hawaii, and we did have two days of liberty in Hawaii. So I looked up my cousins, visited one or two of them.

TI: And these are the cousins who served in the 442nd?

HY: No, they were older. In fact, they were living in California by that time, but my cousins that were more my age, one of my cousins. You know, Hawaii was, the people in Hawaii were tremendous. They knew we were a Marine battalion and they could suspect where we were going. They would treat us to drinks and things like that. The people in Hawaii were just tremendous. I remember when we left Pearl Harbor, the battalion, we manned the rail, you know, stand on the rail as we went out of Pearl Harbor. And I remember there was a young kid on a bicycle who was trying to keep up with us, and I was wondering, where would he be in a couple years if this war went on. And a few of us, or there were some of us, of course, who were there, that was the last time they saw the U.S. Leaving is always such a hard thing to do when you're facing something unknown.

TI: During the interview you've mentioned a couple times your faith and how important that is to you. How did that come into play during this period for you?

HY: Yeah. It was a help. I mean, it was a strength knowing that this is, no matter what happened, we were in the hands of God, so that was helpful. My brother-in-law, George Tsuda, was a very good Christian, and he gave me a small bible when I left, kind of a pocket bible. And he wrote in that. So I kept that with me for a while, but when I was in Qui Nhon in the first part of my assignment, we worked with the Tiger Division from Korea. And for some reason I got to know the chaplain of the Tiger Division. And when he knew I was moving up to Chu Lai, he came and visited me, and he gave me a Korean bible, small Korean bible. So I didn't have anything, so I gave him the bible that I had gotten from my brother George. And over the years I lost track of all that, but then when I worked for Hitachi, I had business in Korea so I started to inquire if anybody knew this chaplain. And it turns out that he went to North Carolina and started a church which had thousands of members. And we corresponded once, and he said he still had that bible.

TI: Did you ever get a chance to meet him?

HY: I never got to meet him. I think he's probably passed away by now, but it's kind of interesting how that bible ended up in North Carolina. I don't know... it was this huge church, Korean church.

TI: In North Carolina, I would not have expected that.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So let's start talking about you as your role as an officer. So talk about what you did.

HY: Yeah, I had a platoon, rifle platoon. And...

TI: Explain to me what that is. I mean, how large is a rifle platoon?

HY: Yeah, a rifle platoon is about forty-five men. And then they were reinforced, you know, when you go into combat you're reinforced with machine guns and rockets, and so it's about fifty men in total when you're at full strength. But after a few months and attrition and so forth, most of the time I had about thirty-five men. And I was fortunate in that, again, serendipitously, that I had trained in the U.S. This group I had trained formed up and trained in Camp Pendleton, and I took to Vietnam. And we were a unit, it was like a band of brothers. After that, they started rotating people in and out piecemeal. And so that's why morale and everything, I think, went down during the course of the war. Because people weren't going there... in World War II, you went in as a unit, you came out, refurnished, and went back as a unit. In this case, after us, it was all piecemeal.

TI: Why do you think they changed that? This is a true and tried, almost tradition in terms of...

HY: Well, one thing, the way they used the Marine Corps in Vietnam was entirely different than World War II. In World War II, we were an assault force. We went in, assaulted a unit, came back out, and then came back, went in again. In Vietnam, the Marine Corps was used as a, for protracted land warfare. You came in, like an army, you came in and stayed and you rotated. And the Marine Corps was never designed for that. You had fifteen days of supply. So when we first went in after the few first months, we were, our uniforms were rotting away. Everything was, we lived on c-rations, two rations a day, and so it was very difficult in the beginning. Later on, I guess, they started building more permanent facilities. But in Vietnam, the Marine Corps had more casualties than in World War II. Most people don't know that.

TI: Oh, I did not know that.

HY: Because we were constantly... you know, in World War II, a Marine had maybe forty-five days of combat and went back in, whereas you were just having combat continuously through that period. So I was fortunate in that I had a platoon that I had trained, and we were a unit. And yeah, we started to replace some of the, we had some attrition and replaced it, but it was never the same. You lose some of the good NCOs, non-commissioned officers who were squad leaders, and guys who really ran the platoon. I mean, I was a platoon commander, but the real work was being done by the squad leaders and the fire team leaders. And they were rotating out, and it was, toward the end it was not, you didn't have the unit cohesion that you had before, and that was the sad thing. And they were rotating us out of battalions. I mean, in the old day, a battalion was your core, that was the core of the Marine Corps. You know, you were 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, and you remembered that all through your life. But then they started moving companies out of battalions. By the time I got to one of the major battles, I didn't know who the other companies were in my battalion, and who I could trust and depend on. So that was part of the disintegration of the services during the Vietnam War.

TI: Because by that time it was kind of like a hodgepodge? You still had your platoon that was pretty cohesive, but some of these other ones weren't like that, they had pretty much...

HY: Yeah. And that's when they started having drug problems and all the other problems.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So share what... and I'm going to let you kind of take the reins here in terms of how much you want to share. I know you've done a similar interview about Operation Utah and some of the fighting leading up to that. I found it fascinating, if you want to share that again, I would love for you to do that. But I'll leave it up to you in terms of what, you know, your experiences in Vietnam, what you'd like to share. Because I know you're writing a book on this, too.

HY: Yeah. I'm writing a book about Operation Utah. Utah was the first battle between the Marine Corps and the North Vietnamese regular forces, and it was one of the bloodiest battles in the Vietnam War. And we had, it started off with one Marine battalion that was understaffed. A Marine battalion would normally be a thousand men, this is only six hundred men. Plus they had another unit of four hundred South Vietnamese, we called Army of the Republic of Vietnam, paratrooper unit. But they were actually more of a liability than they were a help, because when we got into conflict, we needed them to come up on our left flank and support us and they refused to do that. So we were exposed on that left flank and that unit was overrun. So this was... we were thrown into this, they had reports that there was a regiment, and a regiment would be about three thousand enemy troops in this area. And they heard this and they said, well, let's go over this Marine battalion and this ARVN, force of about a thousand men.

TI: So even though, knowing you would be outnumbered three to one, four to one, that was what you're...

HY: Yeah. And I think they did assume that we would use artillery and air power to make up the difference. Well, when they're that close to you, artillery doesn't help. Because artillery was positioned along the coast, we were inland, and the North Vietnamese were between us and the artillery. So the artillery couldn't shoot because the oversplash would hit us, so they weren't much help. Air strikes were more targeted, but they were so close to us. I mean, you drop napalm, you don't want to be that close to the enemy, but they were right on top of us. So anyway, at first when we landed, it looked like, up to that time, we were chasing Viet Cong, and we would maybe have an initial engagement and the Viet Cong would melt away. And so we didn't have a prolonged battle with the Viet Cong. We went into sniper fire, we'd take some casualties on the landing and so forth, but it wasn't a war or battle. And this time, when we came in, we were engaged right from the beginning. They shot down some of our helicopters because this was the regular forces and they had .50 caliber machine guns that could take down, they even shot down a phantom jet. And so I was down some helicopters and my platoon was designated to guard the helicopters until we could get them back out again and the rest of the battalion moved on. And then all of a sudden they got into a firefight, and the F Company that was on the left flank got overrun, and one of the platoons was cut off. And I remember I was, all of a sudden got a call, a radio call from my battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Utter. And you normally, battalion commanders don't talk to platoon commanders, but he called me -- he called me Yosh -- he said he needed me to go relieve Fox Company because they had a platoon that was cut off, and they need, you couldn't maneuver because they didn't want to leave that cut off platoon. And so he asked me to... I guess he asked me to go there and relieve them.

TI: But I'm curious, at this point, when you got the call, I mean, is it like this order, knowing that this going to be a really bloody situation for you, is there that conversation at all? I mean, at what point do you know that this is not good?

HY: He said, "Yosh, I need you to go and relieve, give F Company some relief and recover that platoon." He didn't say anything more than that. I know there was articles written afterwards where he said that that was a tough decision for him to make because I would be going right into the face of the enemy.

TI: Oh, so that's actually written up, that when he gave you that order, that was something that specifically he knew was almost like a suicide mission?

HY: Yeah, a fellow name Schulimon was the historian that wrote that, and had a quote from Utter.

TI: And how much did you know, when you got that order, how difficult it was going to be?

HY: Well, I knew it was going to be hard because we could hear the battle going on. We could hear the thump of these heavy machine guns, .50 calibers. We didn't have .50 calibers with us. So I didn't know the extent of that, you know, because I had just landed and I was just sitting here providing security, we didn't have any action where I was. In fact, we had broken out our c-rations and we were eating breakfast/lunch.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: And at this point, how battle tested was your unit?

HY: Oh, we had been in country from July to April, so we had been around. We had had other major engagements, so I was down to thirty-six men.

TI: So by reputation, were you viewed as one of the better, stronger units?

HY: Well, I had fewer men than most of the platoons, that's why I was assigned to guard the helicopters. But I was 1st platoon, and normally the company commander would use my platoon first, so I had more attrition than some of the other platoons.

TI: And you would be used first because, why? Why would you usually be the first one?

HY: Well, because the 1st platoon would normally be the senior platoon.

TI: The senior, the strongest?

HY: Yeah. But by that time, I had had the most casualties, so I had attrition. So anyway, I gathered my men and we had to cross this open area under fire. Managed to get across and find the company that was being under attack. So when I got there, Lieutenant Bonham, who was... I had known from before, but I was surprised because this F Company was a different F Company that I'd worked with before, so I was surprised to see Lieutenant Bonham there. Anyway, he was the only officer who hadn't been wounded or killed. And so he briefed me on the fact that there's a platoon that was cut off, their platoon commander was dead, and he didn't know exactly where they were, they were somewhere in that area. He didn't know how many North Vietnamese were between us and them. We didn't know we had North Vietnamese, (until) I could see the dead bodies around, and they were dressed in khaki uniforms with these helmets and were carrying AK-47s. So that's all he could tell me was that they were somewhere out there and they had gone this way. And so I got my men together and I didn't have much to tell them except we would have to go that way. You know, there was hedgerows. Hedgerows are like barbed wire fences with thorny bushes growing in them, very hard to get through. And they were kind of like, would channel you down these paths, and the alternative was just go out in the open. So we went down this hedgerows where the previous platoon had gone down. It was like channeling you into an ambush. Fortunately, the lead fire team leader noticed when he was going around a corner, that there were some rifles sticking out of this hedgerow. And so he backed off and he went around and he dropped some grenades into the position. And this is how war happens. I mean, there are events that happened that all of a sudden changes the whole course of everything.

What happened after he dropped those grenades in, the North Vietnamese there panicked, and all of a sudden they came jumping out of their holes and started running down the trail. So we opened fire and we killed them all, or maybe about twenty of them. If they had just stayed in their holes and we'd have had to dig 'em out, we would have had a hard time doing that. So that was fortunate, too, I keep saying serendipitous things that happened. I imagine they were new, they were from North Vietnam, and I imagine they were, probably had less experience with combat than we had by that time, so that's why they panicked. But that was a good thing because we killed them all, and it wasn't more than a minute or two. And we just started listening, was there any more there, what else was there? And it didn't seem like anything else was there, so we were kind of elated because we had been so fortunate. I did have one, one of my machine gunners was killed, but we had suffered no other casualties. So we found the platoon, they were in another, yet another hedgerow, and they were in bad shape. You could see in their eyes, I mean, they were just scared, they were incapacitated mostly. There were only two men who were still functioning. One was a platoon sergeant and another was a corpsman who was still administering (aid). I guess when you get into combat, if there's things to do, you do them and it takes the fear way. But if all of a sudden you're being (active), you stop fighting and you're there, the mind takes over and you just sort of be there scared. I wasn't scared because I was doing things. I was leading my platoon, and my platoon was actually (responding) there. So anyway, we found them, and they said there were three men caught in an open field in front. And I left one of my squads to help them move the men back, their wounded back to their company area. And I took the other two squads that I had and moved forward to try to recover those men caught in the field. And there was no way we could do that; one of my teams tried to get out there and one of my men got wounded because they were just covered. They were in an open area and they were just covered with fire.

TI: So at this point, is it a judgment call? I mean, it seemed like it's almost like a trap. I mean, it's almost like they're bait to get people out there, and knowing that, I mean, you, in some ways, have saved almost everyone else. What goes through your mind?

HY: Yeah, I figured, well, I knew where they were. They were in a hedgerow in front of these men. So I decided that if I can lay down a base of fire and pin them down, then these men, if they were mobile, they could get back to us. So two of the men were wounded but they were mobile. I finally made contact with them on the radio. So I gave them the signal, we laid down a base of fire, and those two had to get back on their own, but the other one was dead. And so we did that, we laid down a base of fire, and those men were able to make it back. So by that time, I said, fine, I got everybody, now we can get back. And the meantime, my other squad had taken back their wounded and helped them evacuate the area, the rest of the platoon had come back. And when they came back, they came under fire because the North Vietnamese had come back to the area that we had cleared. So now we were the ones who were cut off and had no contact with the F Company. But fortunately, instead of trying to go back to join F Company, we were next to the edge of a clearing and I could see that the battalion was over at this other village, it's called Chau Nhai. It was all open area, but it wasn't more than maybe four or five hundred meters. That maybe we could just go directly there instead of trying to go back through F Company. So I decided, we weren't catching any fire, direct fire at that time, but I knew if we tried to join with F Company, we'd go right back into the North Vietnamese. So I made the decision we're going to get back. And it wasn't very pretty, I mean, it was just get out there and move, and don't stop for anything.

TI: Because they were just in an open field.

HY: Yeah, it's just a series of open fields. So we got out maybe a hundred meters and then they started getting, we started getting long range fire. But I kept everybody moving, I didn't want anybody pinned down. And it was getting to be dark at that time, so that was to our advantage. So to make a long story short, we made it back and nobody got hit.

TI: Oh, amazingly.

HY: Yeah, 'cause it was dusk. I mean, we could see the tracers from the machine gun that was coming around, and there were a few mortars that were fired. In fact, it was kind of pretty because the moon had already risen in the afternoon, so we had a full moon, and there were some tracers coming at us. It was almost like a light show, and it was kind of pretty.

TI: So deadly, though, I mean, when you think about what was...

HY: Yeah, when you think back, but we made it back. So that was kind of my involvement, and the next... well, it wasn't quite done. Because when we got to the battalion perimeter we were told to take the section of the battalion for defense, and they didn't know if anybody was there. So I went out there, brought my men out, and as we moved into that area, we got hit again and I lost another man, one of my point men, so he was killed. So we backed off, and we could hear them talking, the Vietnamese talking to each other. And I waited for this other platoon to join me and we were going to make an assault, but by that time, they had left. So again, it was just fortunate timing.

TI: Because that would have been a very bloody firefight?

HY: Yeah, it would have been a frontal assault and it would be another firefight, but they had left. And what we assume is that they were probably an advanced forward position for the mortars that were a forward observer point, so they weren't there to really fight, they were going to move. So, again, I was very fortunate and I didn't have a major battle to fight. So we got some sniper fire during the night, but essentially that was most of the action. And next morning, in the meantime, the rest of my company, the other two platoons in that company, had been overrun on another hill, so they had suffered a lot of casualties and I had actually the least casualties among all the companies. So I was, again, very, very fortunate just the way things happened. Even though I had thought I was going into the worst part of the fighting, I actually came out in the best condition.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: Well, as you told the story, there were certain things that happened, like those North Vietnamese who jumped out of their foxholes or whatever. So after this, did you ever have a conversation with, I believe it was a lieutenant colonel who you had that conversation with, who ordered you to make this? Did you have a conversation with him about what happened?

HY: Yeah, and he was very appreciative of that. He put me up for a Silver Star. And I really, you know, if you heard what I said, I didn't do much, I just happened to be there. I didn't assault the enemy myself, it was just a serendipitous turn of events. But he put me up for a Silver Star and was endorsed by the regimental commander. And so after a while I started thinking, yeah, I'll get a Silver Star. But then that got denied by division and came back as a Bronze Star. And again, I thought, maybe this is discrimination. But when I was writing the book -- it was a good thing I wrote the book because as I wrote the book, and I saw what other people did to get a Silver Star, I knew I didn't deserve a Silver Star, I didn't even deserve a Bronze Star, I just happened to be the platoon commander when all these events happened. So I felt better about that.

TI: How do you feel about, in some ways, because of your experience and just how you think, you came back with a, essentially full unit, when everyone else suffered. I mean, it seems to me that that should be rewarded more than putting you in a very difficult situation, and you fight your way through and out with heroics, but you suffer all these casualties when you potentially could have avoided that. It seems that your actions, I think, deserve as much if not more merit than the other.

HY: Well, when Colonel Utter presented me with the Bronze Star, he was apologetic almost. He said, "You know, when I originally recommended you for," and he said I did a tremendous job, and he was almost embarrassed to award me a Bronze Star rather than a Silver Star. But, you know, that wasn't... I didn't deserve that because I didn't charge an enemy position, I didn't risk my life rescuing somebody in the field of fire.

TI: But you went in -- we kind of touched upon it -- he thought he was sending you, it was almost like a suicide mission. That you were, maybe not suicide in terms of the whole unit, but he was thinking you were going to get hammered.

HY: Yeah, because he didn't know what was out there. But you know, so that's why he felt that way, and he was so apologetic about that. But as I was writing my book about what other people were doing, it became very clear to me that I didn't deserve any medal at all compared to what other people had done during this. And in fact, I could have messed it up because if my team leader, fire team leader, had not initiated that I was ready to get my men on the line and do a frontal assault, and I could have gotten a lot of people killed. Luckily I didn't do that, it was only a split second and the grace of God that I did not do that. But that's what I was going to do, because that's what I was trained to do. So it was just the grace of God, it was just that God got... the gods of war or whoever, that the timing and everything, that I did not do that and have more men killed.

TI: Wow, that's an incredible story, Hu. Thank you.

HY: So, yeah, you know, I was kind of disappointed because I thought I was going to get a Silver Star, but I feel great about that. Because I didn't deserve it and the way things turned out, that was a blessing, that was the award.

TI: Yeah, to have brought so many of your men back was probably...

HY: And if anybody should have gotten an award, you know, and I did get an award for that fire team leader that got that grenade, and for my squad leaders, and I was able to get them awards. And that's who deserved it.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

TI: We only have, like ten more minutes in this session before I have to give this studio up. I wanted to bring you back to stateside, and first, at one point did you tell your wife what you just went through? When did she hear what, not only this one, but the other things that you had gone through? I know you've told me other stories about that one time early on where I think you got ambushed, and they now have a monument there.

HY: To the Viet Cong.

TI: Right. And so you have gone through horrendous, sort of, fighting situations. At what point did your wife find out what you did?

HY: Not.

TI: Still to this day she doesn't know?

HY: Well, you know, now that I'm writing this book and she's starting to hear about that. In 2016, I was in a company conference in Vietnam, and I did go back and visit the battlefield. And I told my wife some of this.

TI: And was she there traveling with you?

HY: No, she didn't travel with me. But I've never really talked to her about a lot of things that happened.

TI: And is it because she, you think she doesn't want to know? Or why wouldn't you tell her this? Because it's such a, I don't know, just such a deep part of your life.

HY: Yeah, I guess I don't want to bother her with that. Another story of why I left the Marine Corps, because I could have had a career in the Marine Corps. But one day, after I came back I was a duty officer at the camp, we were at Camp Pulgas, and a telegram came in saying a Marine was seriously wounded, and his wife was still living in the area, wife was a nineteen-year-old or eighteen-year-old, and so I needed to go out and notify her. But the chaplain wasn't around, so I decided I'd ask my wife to come with me. So she agreed and she came with me and we visited this young girl. And, of course, she was, even though the husband had survived, he was seriously wounded and she was devastated. My wife was wonderful, she was helping me comfort her. It's not like I would say, "Your husband's been seriously wounded," but my wife consoled her and I just saw what she was doing. And I understood then what wives were going through. Because it's not like today with the internet and everything, they didn't know what was happening. And so as I saw that, I said, you know, if I go back to Vietnam, I'm going to put my wife through this same ordeal again. Because she was, my wife was also living alone there and not knowing what was happening to me day by day. So at that point in time, I decided I'm going to leave the Marine Corps and not put my wife through any more of this. So that's, I think, what changed my mind, because I had wanted to be a Marine officer and make a career of it, but I decided then that it's not worth putting my wife through this again.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

TI: I'm curious, kind of connecting some of the things that we talked about earlier, have you ever talked with, or were you able to ever talk with either the cousins who were in the 100th or your uncle Heek in the 442 about what you went through?

HY: You know, I wish I did, I wish I'd talked to my uncle about it. I remember he came over once, and I thought maybe we would talk, but I guess I was waiting for him to talk about it and he was waiting for me to talk about what I experienced. But, yeah, I wished... that was a missed opportunity, I wished I had talked to them.

TI: Do you think he knew what you went through?

HY: Yeah, I'm sure, because he was in combat. You know, there's a lot of people who are in Vietnam, but very few were in combat just like a lot of people in World War II probably were not in combat or in intense combat. I think my uncle, because of Anzio, that he had been in combat. You know, there's a, I've seen some studies done, and it says that people who were intense combat probably were able to handle things in life better because they had been in combat. And I can understand that, because in my career, in my business, I would always ask myself, "What's the worst that could happen?" And I'd already seen the worst, so I can move on and do things. So I think that's the same with my Uncle Heek. He had a very good life afterwards.

TI: So my last question as we're kind of finishing up here, when you think about all that you've just told me, and you think about, we didn't get into your family, your kids, but future generations, if you had grandkids or great grandkids, what would you want them to know about you and your life? Because you've lived... I mean, it's just a very powerful story. We didn't even get into your business career, which I think is really interesting, too, but what thoughts do you have if you wanted to share something with a future generation?

HY: Yeah, I believe that God has a plan for your life. And sometimes when you think there's these huge disappointments that maybe it's there and something better will come out of that, so don't be discouraged when things don't go the way you think you should go. Because I think there is a plan. That's the main thing.

TI: Well, Hu, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. This was... it was, for whatever reason, I'm very moved by this interview, so thank you so much.

HY: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about things.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.