Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Henry Miyatake Interview III
Narrator: Henry Miyatake
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 21, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-mhenry-03-0004

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TI: Well, one of the reasons I'm interested in the fuel stations is that -- the ones that you went to when you were on, finally got flight status -- was the interaction that you had with the native population.

HM: Well that's when I first found out about the Aleuts. You know, we were down in the Aleutian Chain I think Randall or Port Heiden I forgot which base it was. Anyway, a big storm came up and we had to tie down the airplane. And in Alaska when you have one of these williwaws, you know, it's about maybe twenty minute notice that you're gonna have -- you can see the storm clouds coming up.

TI: What'd you call it, a williwaw?

HM Yeah. It's a horrendous change of, of weather all of a sudden. And you know you get like the wind would be maybe, prevailing winds would be about like twenty, twenty miles an hour or somewhere in that vicinity. And these williwaws would come up and it would be over a hundred miles an hour within a twenty minute time period. So you get the warning and you're gonna tie that airplane down if you're not gonna take off and get out, get out of there immediately. You have to tie it down because that airplane's gonna fly by itself. That's the only way of us getting back to Anchorage, so we were very dependent upon that airplane. So anyway, once we got the warning we used to tie the airplane down with these cable straps that on the landing gear, and hook the airplane down as, the best we could for that field. And then we'd have to seek shelter into one of the major buildings. And if you're caught outside you're in bad trouble because these windstorms, and especially in the wintertime when it's mixed with snow, they'll blast you. It's a horizontal snow. It's not vertical anymore, it's horizontal. And it will smash the snow up against the building so hard that you'd have to use a pick to get the dumb snow off the side of the building. This is how bad it gets. And I thought to myself, they fought World War II in the Aleutian Chain. In fact Japan occupied Attu, Kiska, some of those different islands out in the end of the Aleutian Chain and they used those bases as their operating base. And I thought to myself, how the heck do you fight a war when you get these williwaws? You just don't fight. You just gotta cover yourself and try to keep from gettin' blown over because that's the state of affairs. But anyway, we were, we were called into this base and it happened that there was a native family there. And one of the, the sons was an employee of the FAA. And so he had brought his family to visit this base, and this williwaw came up. So it was kind of enforced process of them staying through the williwaw, and through the night to keep themselves from getting in a, in a bad weather condition. So this son started talking about the family lived in a cannery for awhile. So I said, "How come you lived in a cannery?" And he started talking about what happened during World War II. And he said, "Well there were a lot of families that were hauled up and put into the canneries. And then they separated the men from the, from the rest of the family and they put 'em into road gangs." So I thought that, gee this is strange. I never heard of this kinda stuff before. And he started explaining what, what happened, transpired and he was too young to go to the road gang, so he stayed with the, with the mother. And this was just the normal happenstance of the Aleuts. They, they, when the military, U.S. Army took over some of these areas in the Aleutian Chain, they felt for the security of the people, and I think there're some other reasons too, they hauled all the people off the Aleutian Chain areas. And the, the males went into labor camps, and a lot of them went to build the Alcan Highway as conscripts for labor. And the rest of the family was sent to abandoned canneries that no longer were being used, and then they had to fend for themselves. And the basic subsistence stuff was brought there, like bread n' the flour and things of this nature, but they had to fend for themselves rather, rela -- for the rest of the food. So that's the first instance where I found out Aleuts were conscripted for labor, and also for the, the families being put into canneries.

TI: Now were they taken by the military and were they sort of guarded to stay in the canneries, or how did --

HM: No they were left alone once they got in the canneries, but they were just dumped there. And the military, the U.S. Army did haul them outta there. And it was like a fifteen minute notice. They were told to pack up their stuff and, and they were gonna get moved to a different area, and then they segregated the men at that point and they said, you know, "The men come with us and we will transport the rest of the family to these different places." But they didn't know they were going to a cannery. They had no idea where they were going. And, that was the first instance where I got kind of introduced to this Aleut situation.

TI: Did he describe some of the hardships that they, they went through while they were in these camps?

HM: Oh yeah, because they were lacking in food and supplies didn't come regularly. And they had to fish for themselves when they could and then they dried the fish and just for survival functions.

TI: 'Cause my readings show that there was a fairly high death rate among the people who --

HM: Well, there's a high death rate among Aleuts anyway because there's a lot of pleurisy and different problems that exist, tuberculosis and things of this nature, because they, they have a high alcoholism rate, and they, survival functions during the winter is kind of rough for them. But when I thought about that, I recalled going back to the Puyallup internment, that there were some people from Alaska that the parents couldn't speak Japanese or English. They were native Alaskans. And the kids were able to speak English. And during one of my situations were I got hauled out of the, the Block 1 line and I got -- I was trying to eat with my friends and they got hauled out for being in Block 1 instead of the other blocks that these guys were residing in. I ended up at the end of the line, and this kid that was about eleven years old or so, we started talking to each other and I was trying to talk to his mother, and I tried in English, and I tried in Nihongo and no response. So, I asked this kid, well where did he come from? And he said, "Saint Petersburg." So I said, "Where the heck is Saint Petersburg?" And he said, "Oh, it's up in Alaska." And I said, "What are you doing down here?" And he says, "Well, I don't know. They just, they just took us into custody and this is where we came."

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.