Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Floyd Schmoe Interview II
Narrator: Floyd Schmoe
Interviewer: Elmer Good
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 22, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-sfloyd-02

<Begin Segment 1>

EG: Let's talk about after the war in 1945 when camps were beginning to empty. What was your role with -- what did you do in helping people to leave camp and get resettled in Seattle?

FS: Well, I was on the campus, and I found a great deal of sympathy and concern for the people returning to houses that had been vandalized, and equipment that had been stolen, and people who were not welcoming, and neighbors who didn't welcome, some did. But, anyway, we found it easy to organize work parties to go to these farms on Vashon Island and over in the Sammamish Valley, and help the people replant their strawberry fields, recover their rhubarb sheds, and so forth. A picture of a group of us on a truck, flat bed truck, managed Time Magazine, and there was also a story in the Saturday Evening Post, which was still publishing then. But there was also opposition. And down in the Valley, the Smith Brothers' Dairy, which had already taken over some of the Japanese farms, were very antagonistic. And when we held, when we held one meeting I remember down at... in the Valley, they came, sent people to break it up. To... to try to prevent our attempts at helping these people come back.

EG: Who were the people that were working with you? What group of people was it that you were working with at this time?

FS: Well, as I said the Smith Brothers' Dairy.

EG: That was the group that came by to break up your meeting, but who were the people on your side?

FS: Oh, all the University people, young people -- Aki was one -- but, we had no trouble getting a group, a volunteer student group, on Saturdays to go. I remember one Saturday, we went over into Sammamish Valley, where a farmer had had large sheds of rhubarb growing under a slatter shade, and we were able to get whole truckloads of their plants back into production. I haven't thought of this recently and so my memory is a little dull, little confused.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FS: But, there was sympathy and as Gordon Hirabayashi found out there was a great deal of support for a redress. When he got, he and a Philadelphia Quaker lawyer at the Supreme Court, Charles Evans, got what amounted to a, an apology, and the appropriations out of $20,000.

EG: As the reparations, yes.

FS: Yes. I thought, that is so many words, the money wouldn't actually appear, but it did. I don't know how many of the people, but Aki told me that she got the $20,000. And... I don't know whether Gordon got it or not, he was imprisoned.

EG: Do you remember when he got out of prison?


FS: No. When he violated curfew by spending a night with us in the city, and turned himself in, he was tried in court in Spokane -- [interruption] -- sentenced to three years in federal prison, but held in jail, in the county jail in Spokane, which was a pretty miserable place. So he complained to the sheriff that since he was a federal prison, he shouldn't be held in the county jail; and the sheriff said, "Well, I could send you to a federal prison in Arizona, but I don't have anyone to send with you." And Gordon said, "Well, you give me bus fare and I'll promise you I'll go alone." So he got bus fare and then he hitchhiked through restricted zone without any problem. He got down to work camp in Arizona. They hadn't been notified that he was being sent, and they wouldn't take him in. [Laughs] So he had to go to a motel and wait a day or two before the local sheriff, local prison authority, would accept him. But I don't know, I don't remember when he... he came completely clear.

EG: But he was part of the reparation process? He took part in that?

FS: What?

EG: Gordon took part in the reparation process?

FS: I don't think he was ever in camp.

EG: Oh. Okay. I thought that --

FS: He went to Spokane soon after the order for internment and... I don't know. My memory for dates is very bad. I remember he was at McNeil Island when Esther gave birth to twin girls, Mitsi and Mari, and he wasn't able to -- he was able to see, but not to touch his babies until they were six months or a year old and he finally got out. I don't remember.

EG: A parole? A parole? Paroled so he could leave the jail? Parole?

FS: I don't hear.

EG: Parole? Given a vacation from the jail?

FS: I don't hear.

EG: No? That doesn't matter. That's all right. That's all right.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

EG: What can you tell me about -- let me see. Most of your work seemed to be with the people on the farms out in the Valley. Did you work with people returning to the city? And what was the attitude of people of the city when the people were coming back from the camp?

FS: There were a few people who agreed to return to Japan, but not many. There were quite a few, and about 4,000 students, and quite a few adults that we helped, American Friends Service Committee and other agencies, helped get sponsorship and jobs beyond the restricted zone. Some of those people are very wealthy now. There was one family from Bainbridge Island, [Coughs] -- excuse me -- family from Bainbridge Island, Fred Noda. Who got a job on a 300-acre apple orchard owned by a Quaker family, Tom Deque. And Tom sold Fred ten acres of the orchard, and then Tom died. And I don't know whether Fred bought or was given the rest of the orchard, a million, multimillion-dollar operation. Another girl, another person, a girl whom we, got acceptance at a Detroit Michigan University, wrote me saying that the evacuation, the resettlement, was the best thing that ever happened to her; because otherwise she would still be chopping beets in Yakima Valley. But now she was the wife of a professor at the University. The old people suffered most, loss of property and loss of a...of a feeling of security. They all had friends, but in many areas the enemies outnumbered the friends. People who had lived neighbors with Japanese family almost invariably were friendly, welcomed them back, but people who lived farther away listened to the propaganda, and the anti-Jap propaganda were still antagonistic.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

EG: Let's go on and talk about the end of the war with the dropping of the atomic bomb and then your work after that, about that.

FS: Well, after August 6th, 1945, [Coughs] my concern shifted entirely to Hiroshima. I was in Hiroshima three or four years ago with my daughter and with Jean Walkinshaw of public television. And I was the first American invited to take part in the August 6th memorial service. And when the mayor, Mayor Hamai of Hiroshima, introduced me, 60,000 people stood up. There was perhaps 10 acres, elbow to elbow, of people at the ceremony. After it was over the mayor took two or three of us who had come from foreign countries to them, to a luncheon at a hotel; and while I was there, I was handed a note saying, "The chief of police wants to see you." I think maybe I told you this before. Well, anyway, I couldn't imagine why the chief of police wanted to see me, but I went to his office. He met me with both hands, said, "Schmoe-san, thirty-five years ago you built a house for me and my family. We're still living in it, but this is the first chance I've had to tell you, 'thank you.'"

EG: Now, that's a terrific story, but tell us how come you built his house.

FS: What?

EG: How did, how you built his house? You didn't tell us about building houses.

FS: What?

EG: You didn't tell us about building houses in Hiroshima.

FS: Well, I thought... I was shocked at the bomb. I thought it was an atrocity, even in warfare. Mass destruction, 30,000 children with no guilt for the Pearl Harbor at all. But I thought if I went back to Hiroshima and said so sorry, so sorry, they would likely have, and rightly show and rightly mobbed me as we would've a Japanese apologizing for Pearl Harbor. But I thought if I went, and with my own money, and my own hands, and built a house for a surviving family, they would understand. And I sent a letter to a few of my friends, and immediately collected four or five thousand dollars and quite a few volunteer workers. On the first trip we had Reverend Emery Andrews, who was the Nisei pastor at the Japanese Baptist Church here, and Daisy Tibbs, a Afro-American woman who headed the Head Start movement in the Seattle public schools, and a college student from the University of Arizona who was about 6 feet tall and red hair -- we called her "Pinky" -- and we took a ship to Japan, the President Wilson. The mayor of Hiroshima was in Honolulu on his way somewhere, and he knew we were coming. And he came aboard the ship to meet us and welcome us, and he couldn't find us. We weren't first class nor second class, we were traveling steerage with mostly Chinese, some Indian people, returning to the Orient, so he didn't find us. But, we were given a very friendly welcome when we arrived by train from Tokyo, by the mayor and by the Methodist minister, Reverend Tanimoto, Tanimoto. Doesn't seem to be quite the right word. But, anyway, the pastor of a Methodist church in Hiroshima, Tanimoto, who was made quite famous by John Hersey, who wrote in the New Yorker magazine a story about Hiroshima bomb. And we were given bunk space in a shed, temporary shed, which was attached to the gutted ruins of Tanimoto's church. And I guess it was the first morning after we arrived, Mrs. Tanimoto came rushing upstairs, very excited, and said there was a delegation from the provincial office with a message from the emperor, and I said, "Send him up." And I had on only a yukata, a Japanese bathrobe, that came only about to my knees. My legs were bare. And here come three men in more formal morning dress, tails, with a tray on which there was a letter which was too important for them to handle. They brought it on a tray and presented it on a tray. It was a message from the Emperor Hirohito thanking us for coming. And he said -- I don't remember the exact words. I've lost the letter, I think. But, anyway, he said our gesture of offering help to survivors was a... something 'token of peace' to which I, to which... I wish I could remember the words.

EG: Well, the event is the important thing.

FS: -- to which he was in full sympathy of.

EG: Yup. But there aren't many people that get letters from the emperor like you did. The important thing is that you got such a notice from the Emperor.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

EG: How many houses did you build in Hiroshima in all, do you know?

FS: We went to the mayor and told him, Mayor Hamai, why we had come and what we want to do. And he suggested that we build a library for the children of Hiroshima using books that had been, had belonged to an army camp, occupation people, which were totally inappropriate for a children's library. And anyway, we came to build a house. And so they put us under the direction of a local daiku-san carpenter and we built two duplexes. So we housed four families that first year. We went back, with different groups of people, and built a total of only about twenty houses, I think.

EG: That sounds pretty impressive.

FS: What?

EG: That sounds pretty impressive to have done that. It sounds like you were the founders of the notion of Habitat for Humanity. You beat Jimmy Carter to the building of houses for people desperate in need of them. Did he ever thank you? [Laughs]

FS: We found a local architect, Harry-somebody, who had been trained in the University of California who designed what we called a 'model house'. We didn't want to do what most of the missionaries have done, when they tried to put American clothes and American houses on primitive peoples. We didn't -- we wanted to build a Japanese house, but we did decide to build a house of three rooms and make one room hard floor instead of tatami mats. And also to build a, design a stand up kitchen, while all the kitchen work, cooking, so forth, of a typical Japanese family was done on the floor, squatting on the floor, over a hibachi charcoal fire. [Laughs] Interesting thing. The second or third trip we made with American volunteers, including Japanese young people also, we found that the Japanese had beautiful apples. Apple pie is my favorite dessert, so I decided to teach the Japanese girls how to bake apple pie. Well, apple pie... First place, we found some flour, but the only cooking oil was rancid whale oil and the only fire we had was a charcoal fire. And we built a sort of an oven out of an empty gasoline can and what we got was a sort of a apple pizza, [Laughs] dried apple pizza.

EG: How did it taste?

FS: But then a year or two later, my wife and I were working in Korea, and we stopped in Hiroshima on our way. No, we stopped in Tokyo on our way home. And one of the girls from Hiroshima came 300 miles on a crowded train with an apple pie in her lap for us to take on the boat; and she proved to us that now they can bake regulation apple pie.

EG: I'd still like to know how that first apple pie tasted.

FS: What?

EG: How did that first apple pie taste? Did you really eat it?

FS: Oh, it was good.

EG: Oh, it was good?

FS: It was good, but it wasn't....

EG: Your description kind of turned me off. [Laughs] Especially the rancid whale oil.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

EG: Let's talk a little bit about the redress movement. You were one of the early people advocating this, and formerly, you advocated to some committee that was involved in the setting up of the program or something?

FS: The ironic thing was that Gordon Hirabayashi -- Nisei, convicted criminal, ex-prisoner -- sued the government with the help of some friendly lawyers, and won. Won first an apology and then an actual money compensation. I don't think Gordon was ever in a camp. My daughter Esther had been a classmate of Gordon's at the University. Both of them acquired Master's degrees in Sociology, and he had spent quite a lot of time at our place in Lake City. And Esther volunteered to drive a truck from one of the Japanese farmers who had gotten a job outside the barbwire and was therefore permitted to leave and needed his truck. Gordon was in Spokane at that time. Esther picked up the truck in Auburn, drove to Spokane where she picked up Gordon, and then they drove together to Minidoka in Idaho. And I guess on that trip they became engaged, and they were married somewhat later in Spokane, I think. I don't know. This doesn't gel when I attempt to recall, but where they were... I know Gordon was on trial in Spokane. I remember a jury was being selected. Each side had the privilege of refusing certain jurors. I remember... my memory doesn't hold water. Anyway, Esther objected to one of the jurors and Gordon asked her, "Why did you object to this person?" She said, "I didn't like his looks." It was the best excuse she had.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

EG: Let's talk about some things, ideas, and things that are important to you. Let me start with something that is important to me, that you know a lot about. What do you think is the future of Japanese Americans in the United States?

FS: The United States includes Hawaii.

EG: Uh-huh.

FS: And 30 or 40 percent of the people in Hawaii are Japanese. (Daniel Inouye), their senator, lost an arm in Italy. The mayor of Honolulu, I think he's Japanese -- was when I was there, Japanese. But they're not going to dominate, they're not gonna take over the country.

EG: Let me tell you something that I think is happening, and you tell me what you think about that. You know that a majority of the young Japanese people are marrying out of the group. Some of your own grandchildren, I guess. Well, your own daughter, of course. But I think that's going on, and in not too many generations, I don't think there're going to be people that think of themselves as Japanese any more. What do you think?

FS: Well, not only the Japanese, but every other non-American, including the American Indians, tends to dilute the American heritage, American blood. So that most of us are native-born Americans, but few of us are 100 percent American.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FS: I have a young grandson, great grandson, in Issaquah Public Schools who delights in telling his classmates that his, my grandfather was a pirate.

EG: Oh?

FS: And he's probably really true. Because on my father's side, go back three or four generations, and they apparently originated in the Fresian Islands, off Denmark, at a time when about the only income the Fresian Islanders had, was by raiding Viking, Norwegian, Swedish ships, and so in effect they were pirates. The Fresian Islands are simply sand dunes that are pushed up in the shallow waters of the North Sea, and there's almost no agriculture except some dairy business, and fishing. And so piracy was at a time, their means of survival. Today, today they have a --

EG: There aren't many little kids in the school that can say their grandfather, or great grandfather, or that they came from pirates. You have a tremendous family, with so many people in it now that the different children can tell all kinds of stories, I'll bet.

FS: I got seventy people there, I think.

EG: And then there's some additional since that time. There's some more family members since the picture was taken.

FS: This is at my one hundreth birthday party.

EG: Your one hundred what?

FS: One hundreth birthday party.

EG: Hundreth birthday party. I thought you said 110th and I said, Come on. You don't look no 110.

FS: On my next birthday I'll be 103.

EG: Yeah, yeah

FS: And in the meantime there have been several additions, one darling little baby. I just got her picture. She's only about three weeks old now. And several of these are adopted.

EG: How far does it go to the young ones? The youngest would be great grandchild?

FS: What?

EG: The youngest on there would be a great grandchild? You don't have any great, great grandchildren, do you?

FS: Well, this last one is the granddaughter of a granddaughter. I guess that makes her a great, great granddaughter.

EG: Yeah.

FS: There is only one of that generation so far.

EG: That's some kind of a family. Boy.

FS: Yes. I'm the oldest person in this retirement home, and I'm also -- we had a Father's Day luncheon on Saturday. I was the father of the largest family living here.

EG: They had a gathering here, they had a gathering here of families?

FS: Yes.

EG: And you had more than anybody. You had more than anybody.

FS: Yes.

EG: Yeah. I'm not surprised.

FS: But most of these people are not local now.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FS: My second son, Bill, just back from Africa, South Africa, on a what? On a...

EG: Safari?

FS: Safari. He and his son, my grandson, went a couple of months ago to southeast Africa. My grandson hunting with a camera only. I expect to get some of his pictures pretty soon, but my son had a license to kill an elephant and a rhino. Well, this is his third trophy trip, and his office has fifteen or twenty mounted heads of animals, but he never killed an elephant or a rhino. He killed a hippo, but he didn't want the hippo head. He killed the hippo only to get meat, bait, to attract a leopard, and so he has a leopard mounted in the round. Most of the other trophies are simply heads or rugs. I argue with him, and don't approve of killing just for trophies. And I told him an elephant is a very intelligent animal, got more brains than some people and a better memory than most people, and I wouldn't in any way feel justified in killing one. But the local people, Botswana people, would be glad to have all the elephants killed because it's almost impossible to raise a crop of corn without the elephants trampling it down. But the rhino is a much more rare animal, and I don't know how he got a license to kill a rhino.

The rhino horn is worth its weight in gold in China, and he said he sold it on the spot in Africa; but he's bringing home, to his home in Jackson, Wyoming, the elephant ivories. I talked with him last night on the telephone, and asked him if he got home with his ivory and he said, "No. It'll take a while." So I don't know. He has to get permission, I think, to even have it. The only place you can sell elephant ivory is in Hong Kong, and he's not, he doesn't want to sell his.

EG: Well, I'm not surprised that you say you didn't approve of his hunting. I didn't think you would.


<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

EG: Okay, here we go. When you look back over your life, of all of the wonderful things that you have done, and the things that you've been involved in, what seems most important to you?

FS: Most important in what area?

EG: I don't know. What area would you pick as what you're most proud of? That's a tough question, huh?

FS: Well, you lead me into my religious belief.

EG: Okay.

FS: There was in Rome, a couple thousand years ago, a very erudite Roman, named Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius became emperor, but the important thing in my opinion is what he said. Marcus Aurelius said, "It is no more possible for something to become nothing, than for nothing to become something." In other words, 'what is, will be.' And I believe that, and I believe chemistry and physics bears it out. You can change things, but you can't completely destroy them. Water, for example, can be mist. It can be ice. It can be H2O, but it's always H2O. And so I feel that those of my family -- my wife, my oldest son, an infant daughter -- who are on the other side, are waiting for me to join them. And I rather look forward. I don't want to set a date. I don't want to play God. But I also will not resist. I'll tell my doctor, "Don't do anything to keep me alive when it's time for me to go." And I look forward to that reunion. Now I've forgotten what the question was.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

EG: Well, I was saying -- I was asking what, looking back over your life, is the thing that you're most proud of having done or been a part of. That's not exactly what I asked, but that's kind of what I'm asking.

FS: My oldest son, Kenneth, who was seventy-six years old when he died, and the father and grandfather of a large family, was taken -- I don't know a better word -- in such a... in such a unusual way, that it would seem, it would seem almost contrived, a trap set for him. He was walking up a trail just a hundred yards from his home on Tiger Mountain, above Issaquah, after a 2-foot snowfall a year ago. Last Christmas. When a large branch -- about 8 inches -- of a maple tree overloaded with snow, seemed to be set just for the vibration of his foot, and fell; hit him across the back of his neck, as though he'd been struck by a baseball bat. His neck was broken. He was pinned down facedown in the snow. And he lived, I think, only two or three minutes after being hit. His wife, who was with him, was not hit and she put her jacket under his head and ran back to the house. Called Medic One, and her, their son had a chain saw; but when they got back to Ken he had already died. And actually, it looked like an execution. It was such a bizarre accident that you can hardly accept it as anything but planned. Some people believe that there is purpose in all things. This may be true, but it's very hard to find the purpose in a death like that.

EG: Yeah.

FS: He was very useful person, helpful to everyone.

EG: Yeah. Well, thank you for giving me an opportunity to meet you. It's one of the important things in my life. Thank you very much.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

EG: This is the Densho Project. Their purpose is to make an oral history of the Japanese experience of moving to America. And they want to get the stories of the Issei, and -- especially the Issei and they're fading very fast -- and the Nisei of coming to America, settling in America, the war, and internment and coming out of the war and reestablishing themselves. Some people have got concerned that these people are dying and soon they won't be available to tell their story, and so they want to quickly get it on tape and preserve it. It's being archived with all the modern digital processing of the tapes, so that people in the future who want to write history or want to research some part of the experience of the Japanese people, can pull these tapes and just by pushing a button, can get the specific information that they want. If they want to know about Camp Harmony, they can pull Camp Harmony from a lot of different people who were there and what happened to them, or farming in the Valley, strawberry farming, or anything. It's all being stored up in such a way that it's immediately available and useful to people who want to do research in this area. Matt is interested in knowing when Aki's family came back from camp. Did you meet them? Or when did you meet them after she came back?

FS: I don't remember. Aki... We sent Aki to Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. Where she lived with my wife's family. And I remember her, seeing her there, at one time when we were passing through Wichita on our way somewhere. Then she came back to the University of Washington where she finally got a Master's degree, and she was working toward a Doctorate, but...

EG: She was interned, wasn't she? At some point she was interned in camp?

FS: Yes, sometime she was in camp and she got that $20,000. But I don't remember when or where she was in camp. I remember her in Wichita, and then back in Seattle. Must have been Minidoka.

EG: Okay. Is there anything you would like to put on tape as history that your grandchildren, great grandchildren, might see? Is there any message you have for them?

FS: Well, I'm very happy that you are doing this because the whole incident, deplorable as it was, is part of the history not only of the Japanese American people, but of America. It will fall more or less in the category of the confusion of the Civil War when the black Africans, American slaves were set free and had many of the same problems in returning to normal life that the Japanese have had. An interesting thing unexplainable to me, is that the German and Italians, who were even more numerous -- more Germans certainly than Japanese in America -- were not subject to this unnecessary and painful and... experience of segregation.

EG: How do you account for that?

FS: Prejudice of color.

EG: Yeah, yeah. Race. You can see a Japanese man walking down the street, but you can't see a German or Italian man walking down the street very necessarily.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

EG: Aki hasn't been gone very long yet, but what do you miss about...

FS: What?

EG: What do you miss of Aki being gone most?

FS: I miss her wonderful, wonderful enthusiasm and optimism. She used to come every Sunday and take me to Friends' meeting. I miss that. And... when she was in my office, she was no great shakes as a secretary. She couldn't take dictation, she couldn't type, she wasn't fluent even in Japanese language; but she was a shining light in the office. At the same time there was a Church of the Brethren girl who is secretary. And Dan West, who is the head of the Brethren Service Committee, and a wonderful chap, came to my office at the Friends Southern, near the University, one day. And this Church of the Brethren girl came into my private office, and said, "There is a man here who wants to see you." And I said, "Is he FBI?" She said, "No. He's not smooth enough to be FBI." I did find FBI and naval intelligence in every case, gentlemen. And then she said to him -- Dan -- that she knew he was driving south. And her family lived in, her mother lived in Olympia. And she said, "You'll be going through Olympia about noon, and I'd like to have you stop off and see my mother there." And he said he'd be happy to do that, and then he left. And she called her mother and said that Dan West was going to stop, and could her mother offer him lunch, or hospitality at least. And her mother, in effect, threw up her arms and said, "No." She was cleaning house. She wasn't in position or mood to entertain anybody and she didn't want Dan West. And I can't remember the girl's name. She said, "Well, you'd better get ready because he's on his way." Then I heard no more about it until the following Monday, I guess, and the Brethren girl came back to the office. I said, "Oh, how did your mother get along with Dan West?" She said, "You know, Mom now has Dan all mixed up with God." [Laughs]

EG: You just never know when he was going to drop in on you whether you are ready or not, huh? Okay. Thank you very much.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.