Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Rudy Tokiwa Interview I
Narrator: Rudy Tokiwa
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Judy Niizawa (secondary)
Location: University of California, Los Angeles
Date: September 13, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-trudy-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: This is an interview for the Densho project, we're interviewing Rudy Tokiwa. Interviewers are me, Tom Ikeda, and next to me is Judy Niizawa. The videographer is Matt Emery. Rudy, I'm going to start by thinking about what we've been doing the last three days. For the last three days, we've been at a conference about the redress movement. And you've heard a lot of people talking about things, and we're going to talk about that a little later. But first, I wanna just ask you, how did you first get involved with the redress movement?

RT: Well, I first got involved with the redress movement -- Judy was to blame. She talked to me about lobbying for the redress, and how it should be done, and she felt that I could talk to these people and it wouldn't bother me. And so then she told me that what they needed was some veterans. And so I happened to be the one that went to talk to a lot of the, lot of the senators and congressmen. And I went to talk to them, as a veteran.

TI: But Rudy, there were lots of veterans -- why do you think they chose you to be a spokesperson? What made you special?

RT: Well, I think what they were lookin' at was I was somebody that was used to talking to, to a lot of people and I had a lot to talk about. And I never -- I'd get into a conversation with people, and I was never lost for words. And I think this is the reason why they thought I'd do real well.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Realizing that you weren't getting paid for this, this was a lot of work. What made you motivated to do, to do this?

RT: Well, I guess I've been a person -- well, I'm similar to my father. My father was the one that was willing to do things for anybody. In fact, he was so willing to do things, why, he even used to let people borrow money and never returned it to him. He would say, "We shouldn't worry about that. At least we helped him and we can feel good about it." And you know, the -- with the government, the United States government, puttin' all the Japanese in concentration camps and stuff like this -- to me, was all wrong. Now, I had come back from Japan on the last boat that docked in San Francisco. And I'll tell you why I don't believe that Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack. Now, how could it be a surprise attack? When I was living in Japan, I knew that Japan and the United State was going to war. And it was known on the streets in Japan that the Japanese submarines used to go into Pearl Harbor, and they knew where all the big ships were, and there was no secret. And in fact, they didn't even try to stop to let you know how they were gettin' into the place. And they said it was real simple because when they saw a big freighter or something gonna go in, they said, "We take the submarine and just go right near 'em and go right on into Pearl Harbor."

TI: That's interesting. So you were pretty surprised when you came back to the United States that people weren't saying the same things, or knew about this?

RT: Well, what surprised me was -- see, when we... I was very fortunate. The boat I came on was the Tatsuta Maru. And it was the last one to dock in San Francisco. Now, can you imagine? Here they're, they're turning around and not letting Japanese people coming into the United States anymore and they weren't buying things from Japan anymore. In fact, Roosevelt had put up a blockade in Japan. And today, I've always said when people talk to me about Japan declaring war by bombing Pearl Harbor, I always put a smile on my face, because the way I look at it is when you blockade a country, you're declaring war against 'em. 'Cause you're not lettin' any country go in with any kind of supplies. See, and the thing with Japan -- Japan is not a country that can live on its own. It doesn't have the natural resources. And I'll tell you, like when I was living there, all the buses, cabs, everything was running on steam. They had coal burners that make steam and they'd run that, and I used to chuckle to myself because these poor buses, if they half loaded or something, it's real nice, they can go over the hills. But when they get fully loaded, they can't go over the hills, so the guys would get out and they'd push the bus over the hill.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JN: Did you have to prove to the congresspeople that you weren't on the other side on December 7th? What did you say to the congresspeople?

RT: Well, I told them I was an American. I was an American citizen and they wanted to know why I was in Japan, and why I was in Manchuria. So I told them, well, I was in Manchuria because my sister and her husband were in Manchuria and I lived with them. And they wanted to know what the reason was for me being in Manchuria and Japan. And I told them, like my dad, who happened to be a World War I vet. And he was one of 'em that was very unfortunate and never received the citizenship. And so he always thought that well, in this country here, the United States, if you're white, you can get along very good but if you was Asian, you're gonna have a hard time. And because they couldn't buy land, they couldn't do anything. They couldn't -- in fact, if they were to do farming and they went out and they rented a piece of land, they could only rent it for so many years and they gotta move on. And now, I look back at a lot of this stuff that my father and them had to go through. And they talk about the blacks, how they were being treated and everything -- I think the Asians were treated just as bad. And this country talks about how Hitler hated other nationalities and things; well, this country was no different. And I've always -- I think about it now and I've always felt real bad, because of the fact this country, up to Pearl Harbor time, would not let Japanese citizens buy land. And you know that Japanese families over here, they couldn't do anything until their oldest son became twenty-one so they can buy land or rent land under his name. Otherwise, they can rent land here for so many years and they gotta move on.

TI: It was hard.

RT: Yeah, and this is what is called freedom. And I don't understand this country at all.


TI: Rudy, going back to your lobbying efforts, tell me what it means to lobby Congress.

RT: Well, when you're gonna lobby Congress, you have to have something that you're fighting for. And what we were lobbying for was for the United States government to have to pay the people "x" amount of dollars for the government of the United States puttin' citizens and non-citizens into concentration camps.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: And this was during a time when the Congress was very conscious of budget deficits and they were trying to save money. How do you go about convincing congressmen -- and oftentimes congressmen who are much younger than you are perhaps don't understand the war experience -- that they need to do this?

RT: Well, the way I would, I used to explain it to them was: they put us behind barbed-wire fence. And like with some of 'em, I used to tell 'em, "Now, we in this country, all the whites and whatnot in this country, complain about Hitler puttin' the Jews behind barbed-wire fence. But you did the same thing here, in this country." Now, and what I used tell 'em that, "It really aggravates me to think that you people think that you can put American citizens, without a trial, just pick 'em up and throw 'em in a concentration camp. No trial, no nothing." Years went by, they never tried anybody. And to me, it was terrible because I had left Japan, thinking I was an American. You know, sure, I was living in Manchuria and Japan but even all that time I was there, I always believed that I was an American.

TI: In addition to that, you had your war experiences also. You were a veteran and there was a conscious effort or strategy to bring in veterans. How did that come into play?

RT: Well, you see, we felt that if the veterans would come in to Washington, D.C., to lobby, a lot of these congressmen and senators could not talk against us, that we weren't true Americans. Because what more true Americans can you find? You know, our outfit was made up of all volunteers. You don't find an American outfit made up of all volunteers. So, what more can they ask for to show loyalty? 'Cause, there's... our loyalty was willing to put our life on the line.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: And so, did you end up talking with primarily congressmen who were also veterans, so there was a connection between you and the people, the congressmen that you lobbied?

RT: Well, we talked against some of 'em that were vets themselves, but there was a lot of 'em that weren't. And, you know, it always comes back to me -- I lobbied this one fellow from Florida (Senior Congressman, Charles Bennett). And we had a nine o'clock appointment with him, there was three of us that went there, and all three of us were volunteers. In other words, we had served our time in the army. And so, we went to see him because he was supposed to be a tough one. And we had a nine a.m. appointment with him. And so we got there a little bit early, because we don't like to aggravate these people. You know, you've got to do everything right. But he wasn't there. And we waited in his office until nine-fifteen. And he comes walking in there and... well, I shouldn't say it like this, but I will, what happened -- but he was a very foul-mouthed person. And he come in there -- we were sittin' there -- and he comes in and he says, "What in the hell are you son of a bitches doin' in my office?" So we said, "Sir, we had a nine o'clock appointment with you to talk about the redress." And his answer to that was, "My goddamned government doesn't have to apologize to any son of a bitch. You understand what I'm sayin?" So we said, "Yes." He says, "Then what the hell are you still sittin' here for? I want you guys to just get the hell out of my office." So two of them stood up and they started to walk out, and I stayed there; and he turned around and looked at me, and he said, "What the hell are you still doin' here?" And, you know, I had been very fortunate -- there was a lady by the name of Judy Niizawa, and she had a book that she called Bible of all the politicians...

JN: By Grant Ujifusa. (The Almanac of American Politics by Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa)

RT: Yeah, and this was written by Grant Ujifusa. Well, it told you who was congressmans, who was senators, and what they were like. And I studied the one on this congressman and I found out that he was a veteran and that he also was wounded during the war. And it's an identical wound like I have. So when he kicked us out but I stood behind and he wanted to know what the hell I'm still hangin' around for, and I turned around and I said to him, "Sir, I just want to thank you." And he said, "Thank me for what? I'm not going to do a goddamned thing for you guys." And I says, "No sir," I says, "I wanted to thank you because you became a congressman right after the war ended. And you're still a congressman. And I happen to know you have a wound just like mine, so when you wake up in the damn mornings, you hurt like a son of a bitch." And I says, "Sir, even with that, you take all this pain and everything, to help run our government." So I said, "I'd like to certainly thank you, you're a damn good man." And I looked at him and I could see his eyes got a little watery and I thought to myself, "I think I've got this son of a bitch." [Laughs] And so I says, "Sir," I says, "I'd like to say thank you and I'll shake your hand," and I shook his hand and I walked out.

Now to continue the story about him, when it came time for the vote to come up on the redress deal -- we were back in Washington, D.C. And we were sittin' in Congress there to see how the votes were going to come out. Well, you know, they have an area there that's strictly for handicapped people. So I was sittin' in the handicapped zone, and I had my crutches and I was leaning against them like this and... this congressman was supposed to talk against the redress bill. And he had the full time of three minutes. And they announced for him to go up to the podium, and that he has three minutes to talk against the redress bill. So he got up -- and I was watching and as he walked down the aisle between the seats, I saw him, he looked up and he stopped once and he stood there for a while, and all of a sudden he walked to the end of the row, went down the stairs, and instead of taking a step up to the podium he went right out the door. And I was confused, I was sittin' up there -- what the hell is he doing? He was supposed to talk for three minutes against the redress, and I couldn't understand that, until I looked at... you know, in the House there, they have all the congressmen's name and at the end of each row, there's a blue button, there's a red button. Red button, you're against; blue button, you're for. I see, I looked at his name and he's voted for the redress bill.

TI: Wonderful.

RT: So, gee, I was... whoa, that's great -- I don't know what the hell's the matter with him, must be gettin' sick or something. So I looked up there and I see all the junior congressmen -- they're all voting for it. And then, that I can understand because since the other guy was a senior, they were all following his suit. And that brought us eight more votes.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: What a wonderful story. Did you ever go back and talk with him about his thinking?

RT: Oh yes, I went to see him. In fact, right after that I went to Congressman (Mervyn) Dymally's office because it wasn't too far from where they do the voting and everything. And I walked in there and I says to Congressman Dymally, "Can I use your telephone?" And he said, "As long as you don't make long-distance calls." I says, "No," I says, "I'd like to call 'Congressman So-and-So.'" And he says, "Hey, now there, what the hell you gonna call him for? He's our enemy." And I says, "No," I says, "we just picked up the eight votes." He says, "What?" I says, "That's right." I says, "You remember he was supposed to get three minutes to talk against the redress bill?" He says, "Yeah, didn't he?" I says, "No, when he was supposed to go up to the podium and talk about, against the redress bill. And as he went down the aisle -- at the end of the row, there's those buttons -- I guess he pushed the blue one and I saw him walk out the door. And I couldn't understand it, and I looked up there and I saw his name -- behind his name was a 'yes' vote -- a blue one." Then I says, "All the rest of 'em started to light up." So he says, "Well, what can I do?" I says, "I want to use your phone. I want to call him. I want to call him and thank him, personally thank him for it." So Dymally finally -- he was so excited after that, he called him up and handed me the phone. So when the congressman answered the phone, I says, "Sir, I just want to thank you personally from my heart. I don't know what changed your thoughts, but damn," I says, "I'm sure glad that you did." And all he said to me was, "Ha, you son of a bitch, what the hell was I gonna do? I looked up there and I saw you in those goddamned crutches, and I remembered what you said, that I have the same injury that you have." And he says, "I thought to myself, 'that son of a bitch walked way up to the top, there. And it must have hurt like hell while he was goin' up there.' So, as I thought about it," he says, "what the hell could I do but vote for that damn thing." So I say, "Well, sir," I says, "I don't care what you say, but I would like to thank you." And I said, "Now, in the future, may I come down to your office?" And, "I would like to shake your hand, sir." "Well, come on down anytime you want, I'm always here." That's what his answer was. So I was very pleased.

Now, to me, just getting that one guy was worth it. But I lobbied against some of 'em that were real SOBs. I had one guy that we went in to lobby for -- and mind you, he was a California congressman. And we went in and he wouldn't even let us set our butt down on the chair. And the first thing he said to us was, "I don't know what the hell you guys are complaining for. You know, when you guys went to those camps, you had a ball. Everybody got together; you played games and whatnot. You had a ball."

JN: This was a much younger person.

RT: Yeah, he was much younger. And he was from San Diego. And so, I felt like just reaching over and decking him one -- the way he talked. 'Cause how can you have a man that is as stupid as he is? And it shows when they vote for a man like him, and they put him into such a job as a congressman, it shows the weakness of your country. This is the reason why a guy, that jackass they called Roosevelt, got away with all the racistness that he did. 'Cause, you know, he was one of the guys that didn't like the Japanese at all.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: That gives me good insights in what lobbying's all about. Let's now think about the last three days, you've been in lots of sessions where they've talked about the redress. People have talked about their roles, what they've done, sort of their strategies. I just wanted to ask you what you thought about the last three days and any thoughts have come from these three days?

RT: Well, I sat in a lot of the sessions. I've heard what people said they did and how they did it -- and why they did it. And to me, I felt real good inside because of the fact I was thinkin' about, "My God, just not too long ago, we couldn't even think about coming and asking for a bill to be passed." Now, you know, we... there was quite a few of us volunteered for the 442nd. We went over to Europe. And we were an outfit that took the worst beatings that could happen in World War II. You know, we never gave an inch, we didn't believe in it. And a lot of people would ask me, "How come you guys didn't believe in giving an inch?" I says, "All right, say it took two miles of turf, and you got pushed back two miles of turf, how many people do you lose while you're being pushed back?" Now, if you lost fifteen people to take that two miles, you're gonna -- the best you can do is lose another fifteen people to take it back. So you're gonna lose twice the amount of people that you should have. So if you're gonna lose that many people, why not just stay there and lose it? Why go through all that misery of having to run and hit the dirt and everything? Why not just stay there? And we always felt that we're not an outfit that's gonna go backwards. I've -- I actually shouldn't come out and say this -- but we were Japanese. When you really come down to it, we were Japanese Americans. And I always remember when I was a kid, that I was always told, "You are Japanese. You are the best. You never lose at anything you do." And I believe that this story wasn't just told to me. I think most of the Japanese families, the parents told their kids this. And we never used to get in trouble, because we were always taught that if you get in trouble -- and you get punished for it and everything -- it's shameful. So, can you imagine, we had, well -- 19,000 people went through our outfit. But you will not find one AWOL record in our outfit.

TI: That's impressive.

RT: This is something -- you never see something like this. And even when we were back in the States training... these Caucasians and whatnot, they couldn't understand it. Because the average height of our outfit was about five feet, four inches. There was some of 'em that didn't quite make the five feet mark. Yes?

JN: There's an effort to seek congressional Medals of Honor for some of the men who received the Distinguished Service Crosses. Do you think that might happen? And how do you think that might come about?

RT: Can I get back to that as soon as I talk about this? You go to a Caucasian outfit. Now, I'm 5'5." And in our outfit, I'm up towards the tall guys' end. If I was in a Caucasian outfit, I'd be down there in the short guys' end. But even at that... we went on a 28 mile forced hike. And we had to do it in eight hours. Do you know, we hold the record for doin' it in the least time of any other outfit? Not only that, we did not have anybody drop out. And like, a lot of people would say, "How in the hell can you go 28 miles like that, on a forced hike, and nobody drops out?" Because in order to do it, what you do is you double time for so much, and then you quick time for so much.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: As you talk about this story, it reminds me -- what I'm curious about is -- did this same spirit, did you see any of the same spirit during the redress movement? Or were you able to bring some of the same spirit? When you think of the people you worked with, and what you did? Sometimes it looked like the insurmountable obstacles, and not wanting to give an inch and as you made gains -- did that come into play? Did you see that?

RT: Well see, yes I did. Because when we came it was first time that they had asked the veterans to come and lobby. And so all of us veterans stuck together, we divided up, went to see all the congressmen. And it's like -- well, a good example is when we came up against this grumpy old congressman and the other guys -- two guys walked out. And when I finally walked out there, what they said to me was, "What the hell was you doing in there? We were gonna get together and go back and -- " we use the phrase, "bust 'em up." So I just said, "Well, I don't think that we have to do that." And I told them what I had done and what I had told the man. And I says when I talked about his injuries and I know that he wakes up every morning with back pains and everything, but he still comes and puts his time in as a congressman and everything. And I had to take my hat off for him and thank him. I says, "You know, I saw his eyes get watery." So I says, "I don't think he's going to be real mean to us anymore." I didn't know -- I didn't think we'd win him over completely to our side.

TI: That's part of the spirit -- you were in that room...

RT: Yeah.

TI: You didn't want to give up, give up an inch. You were there and you realized you were that far, so go ahead and keep fighting...

RT: Yeah.

TI: Since you were there.

RT: I was quite amazed, because instead of -- after we go to see one guy like this -- going to have a cup of coffee and saying, "Well, what the hell did we do wrong?" or anything like that, they're ready to go to the next man. You know, everybody -- these guys, there was no such thing as, "Well, why don't we take a break?" And I know at the end there, we sort of kidded each other. We said, "Hot damn, this is like a forced march in the army, or trying to make an attack," or something like that. And everybody would say, they'd say, "Oh yeah, but nobody's shootin' at us." So you see, everybody was fightin' like hell and we wanted to see as many of them guys, talk to as many of them as we can, to make 'em change their minds. And we felt that we didn't want to stay there long after we got through talkin' to 'em. Because then you got 'em looking at you. And they see that you're Japanese. You're Oriental. So we felt the best way to do that is get through talking with them and leave. This way, they've just had... some veterans come in and talk to them. And we felt that that was a better way of leaving and letting it sink into their minds.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Coming back again to the three days of the conference, what were some things, as you were listening to people, that really made you feel proud to be part of the redress movement?

RT: Well, what really made me feel proud of being in the redress movement was that all these people -- they didn't just come to Washington, D.C. once. They came over, and over, and over again. There was one little thing that I was very disturbed about. But where this one guy -- if I was feeling better, well, I'd have probably knocked him on his butt. But when I talked about something that had happened, he more or less told us, came out and said we were lying. And we know what we did. So the way I felt was, "Who in the hell does he think he is, anyway?" And I think Judy knows about it because she came over and she sat down next to me real quick because I think she felt that I was getting very angry. And this really disturbs me. Because, here's a guy that belongs to a big organization -- and he's trying to build himself up as somebody that's a big shot. There shouldn't be such a thing as a big shot in an organization like that. The little man works as hard as the guy up on top. The guy up on top gives more orders, but who in the hell's going to do that order? It's that little man down below. Now, this is just like, just like in the army. We never -- you never see a sergeant belittling anybody below him, not in our outfit. Because the sergeant knew when he gives an order, these are the guys who he's going to have to give the order to. And they might -- and if they're mad at him, they're liable to tell him, "Why don't you go do it yourself?" I think, I've always felt that anytime... well, I ran a company -- and I used to have, I used to have close to seventy people working for me. And I never would go out there and tell a person that's workin' for me, "Hey, what the hell's the matter? How come this is so sloppy?" And the reason why I would not treat a person like that is I don't want to be treated that way, myself. So why -- what gives me the right to treat 'em like that? So if I saw some work that was pretty lousy or something like that, I never talked to him, I would talk to the foreman of that section. And I'd say, "You know, I think this should be done a little bit better. Don't chew him out, but show him. You do it -- you show him." And I think this is the way you should handle people because otherwise, if you always try to tell a guy, "All right, dig it a little deeper," one of these days when you tell him, "Dig it a little deeper," he's gonna give you the damn shovel, he'll tell you, "Dig it yourself."

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JN: Do you think the interaction between the generations this week has been a good thing, in general?

RT: Well, yes and no. Now let me -- that's a crazy answer to give you guys. But let me -- as I throw the things that went through my mind -- this is while I was here this time. And most of the people were real good. But, it's like I say. Some of 'em up on top, I didn't like the way they tried to handle things. Because I've always said -- and I've always thought this way, even in my business -- that you're not too good to have to go pull that piece of grass up. If somebody else can go over there and pull that piece of grass up, then you should be able to do it, too. And if somebody over there says, "Oh yes, I've already worked on that section," and I walk through and I feel that it wasn't worked on, I'm not going to tell him, "Hey, how come you're lying to me?" I will wait 'til the proper time and I would tell whoever's in charge of that group, "You better show him how to do it a little better."

TI: Right. And so you feel like that same sensitivity -- that same feeling isn't carried over with some of these other people at the conference?

RT: Yeah.

TI: That's what's going on.

RT Yeah, I've felt -- I was pretty perturbed there for a while.

TI: And this is probably indicative -- I know that during the redress movement, there was some friction between the various organizations and it sounds like those are similar sentiments that were being felt eight to ten years ago also.

RT: Yeah. And I could, maybe -- I could never understand these things. And the reason I think I can't understand them is, I look at things in the front lines. I had a real odd job when I was in the army.

TI: Rudy, I'm going to have to interrupt you because we're going to have to end the interview right now because we have another one coming in but we're going to interview you more later, especially about the wartime experiences and the Medal of Honor question. I wanted to do that. So, why don't we stop? Thank you very much.

RT: Okay. Yeah.

TI: This was a very good one, and thank you, Judy.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.