Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Gerald Nakata Interview
Narrator: Gerald Nakata
Interviewer: Frank Kitamoto
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: February 26, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-ngerald-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

FK: Some people call you Jerry, some people call you Joe. How did you end up with the name Joe?

GN: How did I get the name "Joe"?

FK: Yeah.

GN: Well, my folks, my folks had a barber shop in Winslow in 1920, and I was born in 1923. When I was about five, I hung around the barber shop a lot. And one of the customers came in, he tapped me on the head and says, "Well, gosh," he says, "you got a little dip in your head." And them days, the comic strip "Joe Palooka" was popular, and there was a character in there named Nobby, bald-headed and he had a dip in his head. So ever since then, they started calling me Joe. That's how I got my nickname Joe. And also, grade school and high school, all my classmates called me Joe. Some of 'em still call me Joe.

FK: You said you were born in 1923. Where were you born?

GN: Right in Winslow, right where the barber shop was.

FK: And barber shop was where?

GN: Well, the building my brother built in 1940 is still there. It's a gift shop now. That location is where I was born.

FK: What can you tell me about your mother and father?

GN: My father, mother and father? They just worked hard.


FK: What can you tell me about your mother and dad, like where they were from and when they came to the island and things like that?

GN: I think my dad came over in 1900, and he was called back into service in the Russian War in 1904. And it was over in 1906, and he went to Japan, married my mother, and they came to the United States in 1906. And my oldest brother, John, was born right here on the island in 1907. When I was a kid, I can remember how my folks worked hard, no vacations. That was, that was their culture. And I don't know how they started the barber shop in 1920 without any formal education. And money-wise, I don't know. Of course, I was, I was so young then. As far as the family, family operation, I didn't... 'cause I was number eight out of nine kids and I didn't have the responsibilities that my oldest brother had. But til this day, I don't know how my folks ever got started. But they did well, and most of the, most of the customers were, I would say, 99 percent Caucasians.

FK: So did they come straight to Bainbridge Island from Japan?

GN: No, they were in Seattle. And then they wanted hand labor help in Port Blakely Mill, so that's why they came over. That closed down in 1920, yeah, that's, I think that's when it burned down.

FK: So what year did they come over to the island, about?

GN: What year?

FK: Yeah, from Seattle.

GN: Well, my brother was born in 1907 on the island, so I would say around then.

FK: Okay. So where did they live at that time? Did they live at the mill then?

GN: At the mill, I think, I think. I'm not sure, I don't know.

FK: So how did they end up with the property that the family owns now?

GN: Oh, the farm?

FK: Uh-huh.

GN: [Coughs] Excuse me. The story goes, the Sumiyoshi family -- this was 1920s, early 1920s -- and my folks bought it from them. Of course, John was not old enough to... he was an American citizen, but I think you had to be eighteen to sign papers, and I think he, what I hear, Yone Nakao, he was four years older than John, so he signed the papers.

FK: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FK: In the early, early times when you were growing up on the island, can you tell me something about that, about when you were a kid on the island, where you went to school, who your friends were and things like that?

GN: Yeah, I have... of course, growing up at the barber shop, mostly Caucasian trade, and I grew up with more Caucasian kids than I did with Japanese kids. And I joined the Boy Scouts when I was twelve years old. Classmates, like I say, mostly were... I think there was eight Japanese kids in our class. But I fooled around a lot with the Caucasian kids, and we did a lot, lot of things together. Of course, Bainbridge was wide open then. It wasn't the city like it is now. So, I've got good memories about Bainbridge.

FK: So, did you play mostly with kids in your neighborhood then or were they kids from school?

GN: Mostly the neighborhood, but when we got to school, got to be friends with kids from Silverdale and Eagledale and Port Blakely.

FK: So, your family started out farming after they left Port Blakely, then, is that right?

GN: I'm not quite sure. My understanding is they started a barber shop.

FK: Right away?

GN: And then after a couple years, my dad started farming, I think around 1923. So about, I would say two, three years later. But he, while he was still farming, he would still come down and help cut hair. And I'd like to tell you the story about Mr. Sakai. He would never let my mother cut his hair. He didn't want females to cut his hair, so my dad had to leave the farm to cut his hair. [Laughs]

FK: [Laughs] Okay. Now, when did... how did your family get into the grocery business then?

GN: Let's see, John, my oldest brother -- I think they got married in 1933. At that time, he was, learned how to cut meat from an old German, German meat cutter in Winslow, Charlie Brimmer, and so when Charlie passed on, my brother John took over the business. And he started small, just mainly, mainly butcher shop and then a few groceries. And then 19'... can't remember, 1939, he built that building that still stands, the Eagle Harbor Market, and then he converted that into a meat market and groceries. In them days, were sixty, seventy percent deliveries. Mostly the customers were from Hawley and Wing Point, and in the summertime, it'd be summer people that lived at Yeomalt on the waterfront, and a few, few in the country club.

FK: So were your parents still working at that time, then, when John started the grocery store?

GN: My folks?

FK: Yeah.

GN: Yeah, yeah. I think he had a... my dad was at the farm. Yeah, I remember when my dad raised a pig, and all the meat leftovers and the veg-, produce, my dad would cook that in a big, big oil drum and feed the, feed the pigs. And when it got big enough, he butchered it, and John sold it.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FK: Now, tell me, tell me about going to high school. What activities were you in, who were your friends?

GN: High school? Yeah, our class was fifty kids, eight, like I said, eight Japanese kids. And I really had fun in high school. I didn't study much, and I got to be good buddies with a couple of kids, Reese Moran, he was probably my closest, and then Earl Hanson, I got involved with him, and Hal Champlis. We were a real close-knit class, even after sixty-five years, we still, we still get together, and I think that's, it's nice. It's nice when you get in your eighties and you hash out all, all the world problems. [Laughs]

FK: Now, it seems like in those days, did you have, how did you get around from one place to the other? Did you have family cars?

GN: No, we used to walk. As far as I know -- there was the Lynwood Theatre, which was about 4 miles away from home, we used to walk as kids. They didn't have movies every night like they do now. I think the weekends, but we always get a ride home from people who lived in Winslow. But we used to walk there, and that was at least three, four miles.

FK: So when you wanted to meet your friends, they didn't, did they live close to you then, or did you have to move...

GN: No, no. I would say the closest was about 2 miles. And like Hal and Earl, Hal lived in Seabold and Earl lived in Eagledale, and Mike Terabocha, he lived in Eagledale.

FK: So what activities did you get into in school?

GN: Activities?

FK: Played basketball. As far as sports, that's about the only sport I got involved in, basketball. We had fun, basketball.

FK: So was sports more important to you than grades at that time?

GN: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. You can tell, I carried books home just for looks.

FK: Okay, well, did you have to go to Japanese school, too?

GN: Oh, after, after the public school, we went. But the main reason, you know, we, I didn't like working on the farm, so I went to Japanese school, I think it was about four to six. But then when sports, basketball, just forget Japanese school. I wish -- I didn't care to learn Japanese at that time. Of course, the war came along, it changed all that.

FK: So were there quite a few kids that were going to Japanese school at that time?

GN: Oh, yeah, there was quite a few, all different grade levels. Mrs. Ohtaki, Paul and Peter's mother, they lived right at the Japanese Hall there, right in the back, and she had a classroom there.

FK: So, most of the kids there, did they feel like they were forced to go to school or were they willing to go?

GN: I don't know if we were forced to go but we did what our parents told us to do. As kids, we really respected our elders. In school, we called female teachers "Miss," male teachers "Mister."

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FK: Now, tell me about what you remember about the day when the FBI came to the island?

GN: Well, I was, I was through high school -- I graduated in June of '41. And Pearl Harbor was December 7th. FBI came, I think, about a month before actual evacuation, and I was working at the market. My oldest brother John, Pauline, his wife, had our lunch ready, which was about a mile away. So I went, hopped in the car and drove up to the house. And as I was ready to leave with the lunch, the FBI drove up the driveway and they wouldn't let me leave until his house was thoroughly searched. That was about four hours. And my dad was really, really pretty nervous, 'cause he served in the 1904 Russian War. Because they were taking all the Isseis then that had dynamites, stuff for, for clearing the land. My folks', our folks' land was all cleared, but like I say, he was in the service, and so he was pretty nervous. But he never, they never did take him away.

Then one incident I always talk about was my older brother, Moe -- he was a couple years older -- and he had a 12-gauge shotgun with a box of shotgun shells. And so FBI questioned me about this, "Whose is this?" I says, "That's my brother's," and he loved to hunt on Bainbridge 'cause there were pheasants you could hunt any place on the island you wanted. So after all the searching, after four hours, I escorted 'em down to the Eagle Harbor Market where my two brothers were working. And they questioned my brother Moe about the shotgun, and my brother says, "Well, I love to hunt, like to hunt pheasants with my friends." And he says, "Why should I turn against this country when I got my draft notice and getting ready to go in the service in a couple of weeks?" So he did go into the service, but he never experienced evacuation. But he went, went overseas with the 442 and came back.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FK: Now, March 24th... about Pearl Harbor, where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

GN: I was on the golf course at Wing Point, playing with Moe and the two Okazaki boys. It was a private club, it was nine holes, sand greens. And we got to know the pro real well, he treated us -- being a private club, we weren't members, but he let us play. And there was one, seventh tee, the tee box was near the, near the road. And my cousin Mas Omoto came by and says, "Hey, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor," and the first thing we asked was, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" We never heard of Pearl Harbor. And we finished the round and we came home, and everybody was listening to the radio and that was, that was an odd feeling, being Japanese. But the next morning, we went, I went to work with my brothers and the customers came in and sympathized with us, and I thought that was, that was special. But that's Bainbridge. Bainbridge is very unique.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FK: So do you remember when the soldiers came and posted the notice from, on March 24th, and what you were thinking at that time?

GN: No, I didn't.

FK: You don't remember.

GN: I can remember... I don't even remember getting on the armored truck when they rounded us up, but I can remember walking up to, walking to the ferry, going up the stairs, I can remember that.

FK: The stairs on the ferry?

GN: And then my -- I didn't know this, but my dad was up in the upper deck all along. And he was, as we departed, he had tears in his eyes. The Japanese, they don't show the emotions. And didn't think, I think he didn't... would see Bainbridge again, although he was an alien, 'cause this is where, this is where he raised his family and business. But they never did go back to Japan.

FK: Do you remember being on the ferry as it left or any of those things, or being on the train?

GN: I can remember getting on the ferry, and getting off at Coleman dock, and then there was a Pullman train. And we got on the Pullman train, and there was a couple of underclassmen, as we departed, running alongside the train. And that, that kid was Rich Barr, and he fought in the Pacific. And he came back and he says us guys are, "different than the guys I fought against." That's the kind of people we had on Bainbridge. Another story I forgot to tell you as we, departing, there was a couple of underclassmen kids that rode across Eagle Harbor to see us off, and for their actions they darned near got expelled.

FK: How about your close friends like Reese Moran or Earl Hanson or Hal Champlis? Did they come to see you off?

GN: Earl did. He was there at the landing, but we couldn't shake hands because there was a barrier there. And Hal Champlis was working at the shipyard that day, the superintendent wouldn't let him, wouldn't let him leave to see us off. But Reese might have been in the service then, I can't remember.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FK: So, what are your recollections about the train ride or arriving in Manzanar?

GN: Say that again?

FK: What do you remember about either the train ride or your impressions about when you saw Manzanar?

GN: Well, when we pulled up to Manzanar after we got off the bus, we saw all those Niseis, labor, putting up the barracks, I remember that. And the second day, the dust storms. Then I couldn't used to the public facilities where you had to shower, it was in the middle of the block. And the mess hall, that took a little while to get used to, but we knew where the good kitchens were. After every, most of the evacuees were coming in.

FK: You knew where the good kitchens were?

GN: Oh yeah, as kids, yeah. We would borrow the, the camp truck and go a half-mile away to a good kitchen as kids.

FK: So you looked for the good food?

GN: Yeah.

FK: Okay. What did you do for recreation in camp?

GN: Well, I coached the basketball team, teenagers, and then we had a baseball team. So we did, we made the best out of what was available there. I don't think we wasted any times. And then these professional gardeners from L.A., beautiful, beautiful landscaping. In fact, when I went to visit Manzanar about ten years ago, parts of the landscaping were still there. The cemetery is still there. My dad's friend, one of the first ones to die, his headstone and the cemetery was still there.

FK: Can you tell me more about that headstone?

GN: Well, I wasn't there at the time, but my understanding was Ken...

FK: Your brother Ken?

GN: My brother Ken found a huge rock, oblong rock, and he printed Mr. Murakami's name on there, date of birth, and when he died in camp. And then 1980, when I went to Japan, I visited that family. And they gave me 500 yen to buy a bouquet of flowers, thinking it was just a few miles away, but I was living on the island. It took me two years to do that, but I took some pictures and then I sent it over to the family.

FK: So what were your, what were your impressions of camp when you were in there? You mentioned the bathroom facilities, what were those like?

GN: Well, as a kid, it wasn't that hard.

FK: Yeah?

GN: We would...

FK: What were they like?

GN: What was the bathrooms like?

FK: Yeah.

GN: Oh, everything was open, no privacy. And of course, as kids, we showered when we wanted to. Most of the older ones were, showered later, later in the day.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FK: So how long did you stay in Manzanar?

GN: I stayed a little over a year. The, in the fall of '42, most of the young kids were in the service in this country, and they wanted farm labor help. So six of us from Bainbridge joined a bunch, group from the other camps, went to Idaho and helped harvest the sugar beets and potatoes. And that was real hard work. And some of those kids didn't see a Japanese before, so it was really a novelty to them. But I think they were really, really surprised we spoke such good English, and that made it easy to come back.

I remember going to, in a theater with a couple of L.A. people, and they were wearing these suits, they call 'em "zoot suits" -- no cuffs, tight cuffs, and their hair was just plastered with hair cream, plastered down. And went into this theater, small theater, about the size of the Lynwood Theatre, we sat about halfway down. The lights were still on, and as the movie was ready to start, the lights dimmed and I heard someone in the back says, "Geez, they got sideburns." In them days, the talk was about the rice-bowl haircuts that they used in Japan, no, no sideburns. And then after the movie was over, we went outside. We were staying in the FHA camp, I don't know how far away, but it was some of the kids that started throwing rocks at us as we left the theater.

FK: Now, where you there? Where were you at the... what city or what town were you in?

GN: Pardon?

FK: What town were you in when that happened?

GN: What time?

FK: What town? Where were you?

GN: Oh, that was in Filer, Idaho, a small town. And then when we went to camp, there was one huge room, like the Oddfellows Hall. And I can remember Reverend Fukuyama, he was an islander, he came to visit us. And some of the, some of the kids I knew, they didn't know, they didn't know he was a reverend, and every other word was a cuss word. And Reverend Furukawa was, I would say, if he was living today, he'd be about eighty-seven. I'll never forget that. [Laughs] That was kind of humorous, but being Tom, he took it all in stride. He came to give us morale.

FK: You said some of the kids were throwing rocks at you, what happened after that happened?

GN: The kids at the theater?

FK: Yeah.

GN: Oh, the other two kids were, they were ready to fight. But the kids were in a car, they didn't stop, they just drove by. And then that same... in Idaho, when I was in Caldwell, worked on the farm and were sortin' onions. And one of my crew bosses' brother-in-law was in the 442, and he came on furlough ready to go overseas, and one of the other workers, Caucasian kids, says, "Look at that Jap. He's in uniform, what's he doin'?" And he was ready to fight him, he was ready to take him on.

And one of our crew bosses' wife's brother, he just, he came back from overseas, 442, and he was one of the first one who got hurt -- he had a shrapnel in his, in the head, steel plate. And I took him down to Caldwell, Idaho, and he says, "I want to get a haircut." But on the sign there, door, it says: "No Japs. We don't serve Japs." He said, "I'm gonna go in anyway." 'Cause he had his, he had his Army uniform on, fatigues, and he went in there. He told me, "No luck." He says, "I couldn't get my hair cut." I remember that.

And then when we were in Caldwell, Idaho, I took my sister down to, to go grocery shopping. And my, Ken, my brother was with us, and another family, boy, his name was Min Yamaguchi. And Min and Ken were walking the streets in Idaho, Caldwell, Idaho, and Min had real thick glasses and bad eyesight. And one of the marines, just got out of camp and saw these, Ken and Min, they chased them. And Min, Min fell and knocked his glasses off. An [inaudible] came by and shoved the marine away, he says, "You just pick on somebody else." This happened in Idaho.

And we, family we worked with, the Dean family, they were really good to us, real true Christian family. And we worked for 'em for about two, three years. My brother-in-law was crew boss, and even after the war, they came and visited to, where my brother-in-law lived in Quilcene.

FK: You said Moe was in the 442, but did you hear anything from him while you were in camp or while you were in Idaho? Did you hear anything from Moe?

GN: Of course, Moe got engaged right before, before he left for overseas, saw Cora was in Hunt, Idaho, then, so she heard a lot from him. We'd hear how we was doing. I think he wrote me a couple of letters. Yeah, it was, it was a nervous deal.

And while I was in Chicago... the Seiki family, they lived, they lived near the airport, they had a nursery there. And they were, they were our close friends. While I was in Chicago there was, they were our neighbors. And one of the boys was a 442, he was the same age as I am. And he was a real happy-go-lucky kid when we were going to high school. But when he went overseas, I'll never forget, I read that letter he wrote to his mother, and he was really nervous and he says, "I prayed every night." About two weeks later, he got killed.

FK: So did Moe come back with any injuries, or safely?

GN: Well, he had a shrapnel wound when he was in France, I think. And then he had an R&R at London for about a month. So he would tell -- he never talked too much about the war. But he says that was a "million dollar wound." I don't think he went back after he, after he left London, to go back into, go back into combat.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FK: Now, how did you end up in Chicago?

GN: Where did I live?

FK: How did you end up in Chicago?

GN: Oh, I left, I left Chicago after I left Caldwell, that was 1943. My brother-in-law was a doctor, and he worked for the Cook County Hospital, and he was a surgeon there. And I lived with them for about a few months, and then I worked at the meat market by the Northwestern College. It was about 15 miles north of Chicago. I left there about after about six months, and I went to Naperville, worked in a mushroom plant. I worked there until the war ended, and it was predominantly a German town.

And when I hit Chicago after I left Caldwell, I was real comfortable, 'cause didn't notice me, they were so busy. And like I said, I went to Naperville, and predominately a German town, we used to talk with the kids there, and they lived, they would tell their experiences, their uncles' experiences during World War I, how they were treated. And they had their homes burned down and stuff. We got to be real close to those kids. And the war ended there, and I hopped on a plane, and it took me about thirteen hours to get home. And I met, I met a reverend sitting next to me on the plane, and he knew Reverend Hirakawa. And I think we were flying over Montana or Idaho, and a beautiful sunset. And I mentioned the sunset, and he mentioned, he says, he says, "So many, many people believe in the sunset, but don't believe in God." When I got back to Seattle, Coleman Dock, my very good friend, Reese Moran, he met me at Coleman Dock. And coming back to Bainbridge, that's where my, I was born and raised, so it was nice to get back. And I didn't experience any haiseki, haiseki meaning "discrimination," and I remember Reese's dad, he raised his kids 'cause his wife was in the, was in the hospital. And he invited Moe and I to dinner one night. That was just a few weeks after we got back, so the anti feeling was still there. Later on, I heard comments about, "Moran invited two Jap kids." But it didn't bother me. This is where my, I grew up, and grew up with all these kids I knew.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FK: So who looked after your family property while you were gone?

GN: Well, the Loveridge family took care of the personal stuff. And the farm, I don't know. I was too young to know what was going on. But 'til this day, I'm glad they held on to the property.

FK: What about the store, Eagle Harbor Market?

GN: The store was sold right after Ben left it, thinking, thinking we wouldn't come back. This is what I heard. There could have been other things, too, maybe there was a chance to make some money on the property. But, of course, that's all water under the bridge. But my brother, oldest, he was never bitter. He was never bitter about what happened to him. He built a business, nice business on the island, and then we came back, and his heart was still in the grocery business. And Moe and Ed Loveridge started Bainbridge Gardens, and then I joined John in Seattle in 19', about 1948. And then four years later, John says, "I got a chance to get my old business back at the Eagle Harbor Market, but not the property." So he jumped right at it. And he went to, he went to the Washington Mutual on Capitol Hill, and Elmer Anderson, who I played basketball with, he was a couple grades older than I am, he was the manager at the bank. And John borrowed a thousand dollars, and John says, "You paid a thousand bucks back," he says, "You can have the grocery store at Capitol Hill." [Laughs] It took me a year to pay it back. And then John got his old business back, so he was, he was grateful for that, and a lot of the old customers welcomed him back. But that's Bainbridge. Bainbridge is special.

FK: And then how did things evolve into the Town and Country Market?

GN: Oh, in 19', I was, I was in Seattle, so in 1957, the Bainbridge Investors, they asked my brother, who had the Eagle Harbor Market, they asked Moe and Ed had the Bainbridge Gardens if they would like to incorporate and run the, run the Town and Country Market. So I guess they jumped right at it in 1957, so that's been forty-eight years, forty-nine years now, and that building is still there. The big problem now is parking.

FK: So, how did you evolve into, how did the Nakata family evolve into all these other grocery stores in the area, then?

GN: That's Don.

FK: Who's John's son.

GN: John's son, John's son. He would be a Sansei like yourself. And if it weren't for Don, you would never see six stores. But that's how... he's so positive and optimistic, the things he did. And it shows what he did five years, six years ago. He passed away five years ago, but it shows what he's done. Like he has 80 acres there where McDonald's is, he owns that, and Ace Hardware. Of course, the Town and Country owns that, and then the Town and Country bought the old farm from, from the, John's kids, Don, Wayne, Bob and Vernon. And Vernon kept 5 acres of that property, and so now the Town and Country owns that. I think eventually what will happen, they'll put a, they'll put a corporate office there. And Don's plans were to put a retirement home for the Japanese. And I think Don would have done that because what he said, he would do.

FK: Now, when you came back and started your own grocery store business in town, didn't you end up back on the island also?

GN: Yeah, that was 1959. 1958, I sold the old market, well, I dissolved it, I got rid of everything and worked for the, I worked for a market right behind the old Paramount Grocery, it was a big market then, it was called Foodland. 'Cause I worked for them for about a year, and then went to work for Magnolia Thriftway, Magnolia. No, excuse me, before that I went to work for Albertson's for about ten months, and then I went to work at Magnolia Thriftway. Then in 1959, '60, my brother Moe, who was partners with Town and Country, says, "We got a chance to get the Lynwood Market, where the Lynwood Theatre is." So I jumped on it and I ran that market for about eight years for the Town & Country. Didn't make any money, but made a lot of friends.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

FK: You said when you first came back, there was some feelings about the Japanese here, some feelings against the Japanese here. What kind of things do you remember as far as people having some feelings about the Japanese coming back? Do you remember...

GN: Well, I didn't see any anti-feeling. I didn't look for it.

FK: Now, why do you suppose that was? Why don't you think there were any feelings? I mean, a lot of communities had feelings about the Japanese coming back, why do you think Bainbridge didn't have them?

GN: I just, growing up on Bainbridge and the good memories and the good friends we had, and like my brother got his old business back, the grocery store. You know, Frank, I guess I was, I never experienced racism, I guess they used to call it. I just remember the good times. [Laughs]

FK: Okay. Now, you had mentioned Walt Woodward before, what does Walt Woodward mean to you?

GN: Oh, yeah. I didn't know what he did, but I hear a lot of things through Paul Ohtaki who was a junior, a Japanese kid who worked for Walt during the war, or before the war. And I remember Paul telling me when, when Pearl Harbor happened, I think it was Sam, Art and my brother went down, and Walt told 'em, "You people here, Japanese people, don't get together, that's bad." This is what Paul told me. And then when the war -- well, you know what Walt Woodward stood for, he says it was the right thing to do. This, I hear all this about what Walt Woodward did. I would say he's my hero, and my other hero is my friends and classmates from Bainbridge. So, well, 'til this day, Walt -- we talk about Walt. And I think Mary Woodward is doing a good job carrying on that philosophy of feeling what his folks, folks had.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

FK: You said that your class is very close, your high school class is very close and you still have reunions and things. Tell me about your class of, it's class of '41, right, 1941?

GN: '41, right.

FK: Yeah, tell me more about the class.

GN: 1951 was our tenth reunion, and then we had our twentieth, so about every ten years we had a reunion. And this year would be our sixty-fifth reunion. At our, I think at our fiftieth reunion, we had a very informal... at one of our classmate's home, here on the island. And we never talked about the evacuation with our classmates, 'cause I didn't know how they felt. But I remember Sadao gettin' up and saying a few words...

FK: Sadao Omoto?

GN: Yeah, he was our class president. And he said a few words about his feelings and the Caucasians' feelings when we left and when we came back. But what he said brought our class closer together. I can remember Bryant, I think his name is Bryant, he came up to me. Like I said, I never, I never knew how the kids felt toward us, he came up and he says, he had tears in his eyes, he says, "What you guys went through," he says, "I don't know how you did it." This is kind of how close we were. 'Til this day, every Thursday at 10:30 we get together, about six of us, at the Central Market to have coffee and hash over, hash over the good times. So that's... it's important, our age, to get, to have friends so close. I would say our '41 class is probably the closest class, mainly because of the war.

And I think there was a few anti-feelings, I can remember an underclassman telling me -- she was very close to the Japanese, and she had a real close friend that was, was anti. And she says she would get Christmas cards from her, but she would never reply. In fact, she was one of the ones who was happy to see us leave, 'cause I didn't know this until a few years ago, but she told me. She says one day GIs came over to Bainbridge, oh, a couple, three days before they pick us up, they rounded us up to get the ferry, they came to their house to borrow some water. And she says, "No, what you guys are doing is wrong." But her mother stepped in and says, "No, they're doing their duty because they were ordered to by the government," a New Jersey girl. And that's, her name is Rhea Williams, she's still around. You know, those, those things are special to me, the personal friends I grew up with.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

FK: So why do you think we had to go to concentration camp?

GN: Why do you think we had to go?

FK: Yeah.

GN: Well, our appearance, face, 'cause of the resemblance to our ancestry. That's the only reason we went. We weren't spies. We didn't have any what you call due process. We were guilty before we were innocent, and usually criminals, I understand, they're innocent before they're proven guilty.


FK: Again, tell me why you think we went to concentration camp? Why were we forced to leave the island, why did we have to go to concentration camp?

GN: It's our appearance, our resemblance to the enemy. The only guilt I had was my face. When I get on the ferry, the first thing that crossed my mind was, "Why me?" well, that thought. But it was pretty special when you see your friends come over to say goodbye.

FK: What do you think about reparations?

GN: Reparation?

FK: Yeah. What are your feelings about the reparation?

GN: Well, I attended the meeting at the Congregational Church for about two years before that. They were giving us a lowdown on what's gonna happen. I never thought much of it, but I didn't refuse it, I didn't refuse the money. But I can remember my neighbor, he was an ex-Coast Guard man, retired thirty years, and he read about us Japanese on Bainbridge, the first ones to leave and the government was thinking of giving us $20,000 or $25,000, and he came over. And I says, "Red," I says, "when that time comes," I says, "I'll fly to D.C. to accept the money." And he didn't say anything. He was a good friend, he was a good friend, but I'll never forget that. And I gotta quote what Senator Inouye said: "Your country put you in a concentration camp," and then he says, "what was really great was when the country apologized for what happened to us."

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

FK: Now, do you think... have you ever talked to your kids about that period of time?

GN: Not until they saw the video... what was that video in 1990?

FK: Snow Falling on Cedars? Snow Falling on Cedars, that one?

GN: No.

FK: After... Visible Target?

GN: Visible Target. And of course, my daughter saw it, it was... I think she was, she was through school, or when she graduated from Bainbridge. She saw that and my wife told her that we were, we were in that group that left Bainbridge. She says, she says, "You guys went? You guys were born and raised on Bainbridge, weren't you?" That's what she said. And my two boys, they didn't say much, until, until you got involved, heavily involved with this reparation bit, I mean, the evacuation, within the last, what, fifteen years? And like I always said, you did a lot, the community was happy then and up 'til today. My daughter was twelve years old, well, she's thirteen just the other day, and she wrote an essay.

FK: Your granddaughter?

GN: Yeah.

FK: Yeah.

GN: About "Unsung Hero," talking about me. I gotta show it to you.

FK: What did she say?

GN: She says that it shouldn't happen again. What happened was because of what we look like. In other words, the Japanese phrase, Japanese, "never let it happen again."

FK: Nidoto nai.

GN: Yeah, she wrote that. I have it in my car, I'll show it to you.

FK: Okay, good.

GN: And that special letter Earl Hanson's boy, grandson, he's fourteen years old. And I don't know if I showed you that or not, but he wrote a beautiful essay about what, what happened to me and how close his grandpa was with us. And that was, that was, come from a fourteen-year-old, that was special.

FK: Why do you think it was so hard for us to talk about it to our children?

GN: That's the Japanese way; we never talked about it. I guess, I guess we were, I guess we were ashamed. What's the other word... it's a stigma, to this day, what happened to me, 'cause I never dreamed of going to war with Japan. Growing up on Bainbridge, fooling around with more white kids than I did... you know, I probably thought I was white. One Japanese gal, Japanese gal says, "You're a banana." White inside, yellow outside, but you're white inside.

FK: Yeah, but bananas have a peel, though. [Laughs]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

FK: You know, you go out to school quite a bit with me, you go out to school quite a bit with me, what's important to you for the children to -- not only children of Japanese descent -- but all children, what's important to you, the message they get from us going out and talking to them?

GN: Well, first of all, what you're doing, I think, the message is pretty, pretty clear by observing, observing these kids. There's very few restless kids during your presentation, whether you have it one hour or five hours. And the questions they ask is pretty impressive to me. I think, I think those kids, what they're learning from you through your presentation, it'll stick to them.

FK: What do you think they're learning?

GN: Pardon?

FK: What do you think they're learning?

GN: Learning?

FK: Yeah, what do you think they're learning?

GN: Well, American history. Like you say, from a different point of view what happened to us, and hope it doesn't happen again. But yeah, I've been doing it for thirteen years at least. I remember the first one I went to was Tacoma. Think it was Tacoma Baptist? I remember you asked me to go, I hesitated to go because I didn't want to talk about it. But the more and more I get involved with your presentations, I'm comfortable talking about it, even with the coworkers I work with. Some of the coworkers, they weren't even born. I remember one kid says, "It was the right thing to do," I said, "What do you mean? I'm American just like you are." I don't know what he meant by that. Some of them will say, "Well, it was to protect you."

FK: What did you answer to that?

GN: Pardon?

FK: What did you answer to that when he said it was to protect us?

GN: Well, they put us in camp, yeah, but never believed by being in concentration camp. He says, and then I says, "You work for a company that's owned by Japanese that were evacuated," he didn't say a thing. So I... but I can truthfully say if I hadn't gone with you on these presentations, I can pretty much stand up for myself. What you've said, I learned a lot, just by the reactions of the, of the kids and even adults we've had. I was impressed when we went to Blanchett High School, it was Martin Luther King Day, I think. And there was at least nine hundred kids there, and what you were saying, you can hear a pin drop. Those things, I think the more and more you do it, all the generations you present your slides to, that's important for their kids, like my granddaughter, she learned a lot, that class of elementary school in Redmond, and she was so impressed. That's the reason we went to Whidbey Island couple months ago. I talked to Yuka last night, she's says, our daughter-in-law, lives in Redmond, she says Mrs. Wilson, a teacher there, was, she was thankful that you went up to, to Whidbey, to her brother's class. So it means a lot, there's no doubt.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

FK: Now, we're doing this memorial out at Eagledale where we left. What are your feelings about the memorial?

GN: Oh, yeah, I hope it happens. But money's a big problem. And I think it would happen... and on the wall, I would, my feeling is that's fine to put what I say, all the Nisei or Isseis gotten involved or experienced all this, so I think we should get the community, non-Japanese, how their feelings were, on the wall. I think it would happen, whether I'll be here or not, I don't know.

FK: Do you think we'll see it in our lifetime?

GN: My lifetime?

FK: Our lifetime.

GN: Oh, sure.

FK: What would you like the wall to say to... what would you like the whole memorial to say to people when they leave? What message would you like them to have when they leave?

GN: What was that again?

FK: When somebody comes to the memorial, to see the memorial, what message would you like them to get from the memorial?

GN: Well, so it won't happen again to any other groups.

FK: So you think it has some relevance or some relationship to what's going on right now as far as...

GN: Oh, you mean the Iraq deal and all that stuff?

FK: Uh-huh.

GN: It's just too bad they can't get along. But we don't know what the politicians' gonna do. Too much people who want power. But I guess war will never cease as long as there's, like the good book says, as long as there's man on earth. Like Walt Woodward's brother-in-law -- a very humorous guy -- he says, "Four or five hundred years from now, there'll only be one race." He says, "Even there, there's gonna be discrimination." Your hair is different, your ears are big, your nose is small, your nose is big... yeah, he was an interesting guy. Lot of truth in what, the humor he had. There's a lot of truth in what he said.

FK: Well, if you could have changed anything about your life, is there anything you would change?

GN: No, I don't want to change anything. You know, well, I knew I was Japanese when the war struck, but I wasn't... no, I'm proud of what I am.

FK: What's your wish for your, what's your wish for your children?

GN: My children? I hope they have a good, healthy life, and safe life.

FK: Any, any other things you'd like to say I haven't covered?

GN: No, I think you're pretty thorough.

FK: [Laughs] Well, I think you did a good job, Jerry. Thanks, all right.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.