Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Victor Takemoto Interview
Narrator: Victor Takemoto
Interviewer: Joyce Nishimura
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: October 7, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-tvictor-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

JN: Can we start with you introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about your family in, before, before the war?

VT: My name is Victor M. Takemoto, the oldest son of Yone and Saichi Takemoto. Before the war there were strawberry farmers living... they always say Manzanita. That's where I was born, Manzanita, but I always think it's Rolling Bay. But there's some... I don't know. I think, I still think it's Rolling Bay. [Laughs] Let's see... I have four brothers and one sister, all younger than I am. And all but one of those are alive yet. They're living in this area, Seattle area. My sister, the youngest, lives in Kingston, but she still works at the Marine Bank in Winslow. And we came back to Bainbridge in April of 1945. My family did, I didn't come back 'til two months later since I, I was graduating from high school. I thought I'd better graduate first. Then also I had to go to Los Angeles. I was scheduled to go Los Angeles for a army physical. So, I went there before I came home.


VT: I was born in October 27, 1926, at the time of the... when the war broke out I was fifteen years old and a freshman in high school. All of my brothers and sisters are probably about two years apart, my sister being the youngest. At the time of December 7th, she was probably two or three years old. I'd have to look at the sheet to find out what her birth date was, but she was still pretty young. That's all I can remember.

JN: Did you work on the farm then? When, in your...

VT: Well, I was a student, so I would work after school and on Saturday and some Sundays. I would have to help the parents, and since we were, I was the oldest, I had some of those responsibilities. At the time the war broke out, it was, I believe it was a Sunday. And of course we didn't have TV in those days but we did have a radio. And we were glued to the radio since we were concerned, my parents were concerned what has happened and what their outcome might be, since they weren't citizens. Rest of us were, the kids, were all citizens. It didn't matter, but both parents were not citizens and they were concerned.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

JN: When you heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, do you remember what some of your parents' concerns were, what, how did they feel? What did they express to you and your sisters?

VT: Can I start now?

Male voice: Yes, start.

VT: Yeah, they were concerned because they weren't citizens and they didn't know for sure what might happen if there was actually a war from, say, from the coast. As they started to come, come to Seattle, they thought that they may get put away someplace so that they wouldn't interfere with the, with the invasion if there was one. I think that was about the only concern. They weren't citizens so they knew that there wasn't much they can do about it. Pretty much had to do what government said you had to do. And that was probably the main concern. They knew that we were, the kids were all citizens, so we didn't think that if there was an evacuation that we would be taken with the... my parents. But as it turned out, we were all put in together when we were evacuated.

JN: So, was that farm that you had on the island, was that in your name then? Or, how did that work?

VT: It was in my stepsister's name. I was only fifteen so I couldn't own any property. But after the war, when I turned eighteen, it was turned in, over to my name, and we still have the property there. [Pauses] Let's see... I probably could say a little more about the day that the, December 7th. And as I recall, that was a Sunday, and we were glued to the radio and we heard that Pearl Harbor was bombed. We had relatives there in Honolulu so we were doubly concerned. But as it turned out, everything was okay, they were far away from the, the bombing. We didn't do much. I don't think that my parents called anyone. Just glued to the radio, see what was going on.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

JN: So, what do you remember about the round-ups, the FBI round-ups that came out?

VT: I really do not remember much about the round-up. I was in school that day. I believe they came on a Monday, Monday or Tuesday, and I was in school. Then I found out that they were around when I got home from school. Also, I had a part-time paper delivery route, and as I was coming home from my route I noticed, I went by one family and I noticed that one person was handcuffed and being taken away. And I kind of wondered what was going on, but after I got home I found out what, what it was. That they were rounding up people who they felt were leaders in the community or had maybe something that they weren't supposed to have. I know a lot of farmers used dynamite to clear their land. Instead of a tractor, they would use dynamite to blast the stumps and then probably pull 'em out with a, with a horse. A horse would pull it out after it had been blasted. So most every farmer had some dynamite, and their only purpose for having that was for blasting stumps so they can pull them out. I think that the FBI were after leaders in the community, too, and some of them that were leaders were taken in. Some of them were separated from the rest of us for, oh, I'd say five, six months even, some of them. And they were sent to various places, like I heard Montana and some had to go to Texas, I understand. But, but they were... most of all, all that I knew, they were able to get back to their family eventually.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

JN: What was your reaction and your family's reaction to the, the order saying that you had to leave Bainbridge Island?

VT: Well... my parents didn't say much. They were... as I said before, they weren't citizens so they pretty much had to do what the government asked them to do. They were sort of surprised that the citizens had to go, too, but in our case, we were all teenagers and younger, so I could see where they might go with their parents. But some of the older Niseis went with their parents, too, so all of them had to go to camp. Except a few families that went to Moses Lake. There was one group of three or four families that went to Moses Lake and were there -- like we were in camp -- they were in Moses Lake for three years, or three and a half years. And it was... I think that there was a few of our leaders went over to Moses Lake to look over Moses Lake. But, you know, for a family to pick up and move, you have to be pretty wealthy, too, to, or to be able to find a home and probably rent a piece of property to farm on. And that was a problem for most families. They just didn't have the reserve to take on a venture like that.

JN: How did you feel about leaving your friends and school and...

VT: Well, yeah, we were all sad that we had to leave. But we didn't think that we'd be gone very long. As it turned out, we were, we were back there in three years, came back in three years, just a little over three years.

JN: So, did you graduate in Minidoka then?

VT: No, I went to, I graduated in Manzanar. It's California.

JN: Well, preparing to leave, what are your memories of your family packing and preparing to go to Manzanar?

VT: Well, that was pretty simple. For us, my dad had to sell the crop that we were expecting that summer, and he managed to sell it to a neighbor. As far as packing, you can only take a few, few things, you know, clothes. There wasn't anything else you can bring anyway, so we did leave it in the house. When we returned, some were not there anymore, but most things were still in the house. Even our tools were still there. So, after they returned, after three years, they were able to start the farm again.

JN: So, they had somebody take care of their house? They didn't sell it?

VT: No, we didn't sell it. We didn't ask anyone to care for the house, so you know, there's always some burglarizing and that did happen, although we didn't lose that much, really. I think we had an old car, like a Model-T, that didn't run anymore, that was gone when we got back. But, we didn't lose much there.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

JN: What are your memories of March 30, 1942? Going to Eagle Harbor, leaving your friends, walking on the ferry?

VT: Yes. I remember we had to get up pretty early. I think the army trucks came by, oh, about seven-thirty, eight o'clock in the morning and picked us up. And in our case, it was... they just picked up our family and took us down to the ferry. But most everyone was already there when we got there so they must have had a lot of army trucks to round everyone up. And looked like everything was going pretty smoothly, no riots or anything. We did have some of our, our friends were down there to send us off. Some were in Seattle, on the overpass over Western Avenue. There was a few families that had friends up above while we were boarding the train. They would be waving to us. That's about all I remember.

JN: How did you feel?

VT: Well... didn't feel good, but I mean, what can you do? [Laughs] We were kinda anxious because we were going to someplace we've never been before. And when we got there, we had sunshine and the weather was nice. But they were just building Block 3, so the construction had just started. Block 1 and 2 were fixed, were already completed, but we were put into Block 3 and they were still building Block 3. The latrines weren't hooked up yet, we had to use water from a pipe outside. Lavatories were regular outhouses, you know, and we had that, we had to use that for several days until the plumbing was all hooked up. But I think it only took about two days or so, and we had normal showers and bathrooms and such.

JN: But on the day you left Bainbridge, do you remember walking down that Eagle Harbor to board the ferry?

VT: Yes, I was also reminded that some, some people took some pictures and I noticed that they had taken pictures of us walking down the, the ramp. We've... that's nothing new because we've always gone to Seattle and that's the way we board the ferry. So, it wasn't anything new. But someone did take a picture of us boarding the ferry.

JN: Was the mood going, boarding the ferry, were there... how did you feel about having the guards, people all there, and seeing all the families going on the ferry?

VT: I think that as a group, we were all pretty well-behaved. There was no one saying bad things about, you know, what was happening. We figured, I think most of us figured that this is... hopefully that it was just temporary, that it wouldn't be too long before we'd be back on Bainbridge Island again. So, I think that the feeling wasn't too bad, I don't think. I... well, it's natural, everybody was disappointed that they were taken out of, taken from their homes, but at least I felt that it was something that we just had to bear for a while.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

JN: We'd like you to share some of your personal stories about Manzanar, what you did there. You were fifteen, so were there other kids your age? And what kind of things you did at Manzanar? How'd you feel?

VT: Yes, one thing I remember about Manzanar -- the first thing that really hit us was the food that we were given. One of the things that they served more than once was lima beans, and I just didn't like lima beans. [Laughs] But I could understand that the camp was just starting up and I'm sure they didn't have a good supply of food there yet since we were in Block 3 and that Manzanar had thirty-six blocks. So, this was right at the beginning at Manzanar, camp at Manzanar.

Another thing that was bad there was once in a while we would get very strong winds, and we'd have real bad dust storms. I've seen some dust storms in eastern Washington, but that's nothing compared to what we got down there. There were times that you couldn't see halfway down the block because it was so dusty. And although that sort of let up after, oh, a year or so because I guess people started planting things and, and that kinda reduced the dust. It's a sand flying, you know, real dusty. And I... we've never experienced that before, that was terrible. The barracks weren't... well, they were built fairly good, but the sand would come through and it's inside your house, too. So that was kind of miserable there for a while.

We, as far as us young kids, we were enjoying ourselves because the kids -- at least my age, fifteen -- had our friends there. But then the... that didn't last too long because we got there in '42, April of '42. But early in '43, most of the Bainbridge people left to go to Hunt, Idaho, and just four or five families remained in Manzanar. And it was real sad for us when our friends left, because most of our friends left, although we eventually had a few other folks in our block that were still there, didn't go. Most of them were from California, L.A. area.

'Course, we all liked to play sports. But at the beginning we pretty much had to arrange our own games, you know, pick-up games, and baseball, mostly baseball and basketball. But like high school kids, that's what we did. But 1943, after the Bainbridge people left, I had by then some classmates that were, I became friends with, and people from the L.A. area or some, some even from the Sacramento area. And so we did have some high school friends that we'd play together with for a couple of years. I left there in '45, so ... so actually about a year and a half or so.

JN: Do you remember or can you explain why your family decided not to go to Minidoka?

VT: Yes, my dad said he liked the weather down there, and he didn't see any reason for havin' to move back to Idaho. He, he, I think he kinda thought that Idaho was too cold for him, but I didn't know. I didn't know what the temperature was up here but I wanted to go because my friends went. But that's the only excuse that I got from my dad anyway. He thought the weather was just good or better down there so he decided to stay there.

JN: Were you, were you upset that you couldn't go with your, with your friends?

VT: Yeah, I was, but... there wasn't much I could do about it.

JN: Do you remember anything more in, in terms of at Manzanar? Like were there other people that came or left? Were they, were you able to come and go? We have some stories of people, you know, in the course of the war years, being able to leave the camp in Minidoka to, to work on potato farms and things like that. What, what did you...

VT: Yes, I... as long as you went inland, the only thing they couldn't do was go back to the coast. They can go east, a lotta them went to Salt Lake and, or went further east to Chicago. They also had some people from New Jersey, recruiting people to work in a farm in New Jersey. The name of that farm escapes me right now, but I know that they were recruiting families to move there. And as it turned out, those people that went there did well and there's still some people there in that area. I really didn't know of anyone that went there and then came back. I only know about it because of what I was able to read in newspapers and ads that they put out.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

JN: So, what did you do in Manzanar? Did you work...

VT: Oh, I had to finish school.

JN: Finish school.

VT: I graduated in '45 and then the very next day I came home to Bainbridge. And, of course, my parents put me to work. But I had planned to enter the University of Washington summer school, and so I only worked for several weeks and then started summer school at U-dub.

JN: What was high school like in Manzanar?

VT: It was different in that high school was in a, classes were in a barrack, you know. We eventually had an auditorium, but I believe that we only used it for about a year after it was built. And then people started leaving, so... and then the camp closed shortly after that. But all the classes were in barracks, and they were in one area, one block. And lots of times, no chairs, you'd have to sit on the floor for a while until they got chairs. They did have some good teachers that were recruited for the school. California has a pretty good education, education system, so I was fortunate that we did stay in Manzanar and finish high school there, because I had a friend who went to Idaho and he graduated -- he was my classmate -- he graduated one whole year before I did. But he went on to the university but was unable to get in because didn't have enough credits in the proper courses, I guess. So he had to go to a special school in Seattle. It was a school called Broadway where they could take additional courses to qualify.

JN: How many people were in your school? Can you tell about... in Manzanar? How many high school students were there, about?

VT: Oh, well... I think our class had about a hundred, hundred or hundred and twenty, or something like that. So I would guess, what, four times that would be the population in the high school, roughly.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

JN: Okay, so after the war, tell us little bit more about what, what were your reasons to go... coming back to Bainbridge and what you did.

VT: Yeah, the reason my folks came back early, as soon as they could come back -- they were able to come back that first or second week of April -- was that strawberry farmers put in their next year's crop in April. Otherwise you'd lose a whole year where you wouldn't have any income. So that was the reason for coming back at that time. It was right after they opened up the, the coast and they were able to come back first or second week in April. They had quite a mess to clean up, because the fields were full of weeds.


JN: Okay, we were talking about when, you know, what, when you came back to Bainbridge Island after the war. And since you were one of the first families to come back, how did the community on Bainbridge treat you? What was their reaction? How did you feel about blazing the trail basically to come back to the island? And what, how was, how did your parents feel? And just... before you went back to Los, or went to Los Angeles? Do you remember any of that?

VT: Far as I know, most cases we were welcomed back. The neighbors that had taken care of our, the car we had at the time, it was a pickup truck, and he was using it and so it was in running order when we came back. After I got back I met some people who I knew before we left and they had welcomed me back. I did not have anything bad said to us on Bainbridge. I did have a problem one time while I was going to the university, I was walking to... walking home, and I was staying at, with a family. And then one fellow opened a door and he yelled at me. But that was the only instance that I had any problem with anyone saying anything to me. I did read some articles where some people were not too happy that we came back, but that was in reading the newspaper. But never really was told, you know, that we weren't welcome back. I know that when my parents were starting to farm again, they were really busy cleaning all the weeds and everything. We did have Reverend Andrews, he was back in Seattle at that time. And he had gotten a few people together that came over and helped my folks clean up the farm so they can plant new strawberries. I don't know how many people there were, but I know my parents told me that they came to help, help with planting.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

JN: So, tell me about why you went back, went down to Los Angeles. This was after the war you came...

VT: Well, the war wasn't over yet when I had to go for a physical, army physical, in Los Angeles. We had a whole busload of people who turned eighteen and were in... drafted. And we had to go down -- this is from Manzanar -- we had to go down to Los Angeles for a physical, and we were gone for several days getting a physical down there. I don't know why they had to ship us clear down there, but that was a long bus ride there. Seemed like it took five or six hours to get there. But there were some people already back in Los Angeles, Japanese back in Los Angeles at that time. So, we did see a few people down there.

JN: How did you feel about getting drafted?

VT: Well, all citizens were being drafted. But, I... turned out I had, I was 4-F so I didn't have to go. Although I thought they were gonna call me and they were gonna... I needed surgery, and -- hernia surgery -- and they told me that they may call me for surgery and three or four weeks after that you're in the army. But, that's all right. My parents couldn't afford to pay for surgery at that time, so it woulda been nice to have the surgery over with, 'cause I eventually had to have it. 'Course, you know, there were a lot of people that volunteered for the service, too, you know. So, you really don't feel too bad. It's just a fact of life: you get drafted. Some people volunteered, so, we didn't feel it was a bad thing. If you get called you have to go.

JN: Did you feel relieved or did you feel upset that you were a 4-F?

VT: Yeah, I was kind of relieved, although there was a chance that they may call me in for surgery and then put me in the army. But, that's all right, I was willing to go if they were willing to do that.

JN: Do, do you have anything else you want to share about this time in terms of... we'll go on to today, but before we get to that point, just what your feelings are or anything else you want to share about just, during the war years? How did your family feel in terms of what was going on? What about your sisters?

VT: Well, there was... I don't know, my family never said anything about trying to get out of going to war. They know that people were getting drafted and it was just a fact of life. So, they didn't have anything bad to say about it. They... both of my parents eventually became citizens anyway, so they were concerned for us and what might happen if we went to, had to join the army. There's always a chance that might get hurt or killed, as far as that goes.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

JN: After the war you went to the University of Washington? After...

VT: Yes.

JN: And led a pretty professional life. Do you, did just your experience going to camp influence how you felt in terms of your achievement? How you...

VT: I think that one of the things, because of my age at the time and then because of the insistence by my parents that I should go to further schooling to have a better chance at a better life down the road. So, they were willing to help me get through school and, in a way, I feel that I did go to school at the right time. Probably if I didn't go to school right away, right after high school, I probably may not have ever gone beyond twelfth grade. I know that while I was in high school in Manzanar, some of my friends were talking about goin' to college. And I suppose that had something to do with the decision I made to go to school. But I think my parents had always told me that I should, shouldn't quit just after twelfth grade, that I should go to further schooling. Although my brothers, three of my brothers... well, actually two, two joined the service and made a career. My second brother was in the air force for twenty years and retired after twenty years and came back and was able to get a job at Boeing doing just about the same thing he was doing in the air force. And my third brother also joined the air force out of high school, and he spent twenty-eight years in service, and got a job working for the air force after he retired from the air force. So, both of my brothers did pretty well. They didn't go to school beyond high school. My fourth brother, he... I forgot whether he was drafted or he joined. I think he might have joined... I think he was in the air force, too. But he ended up in Korea and had a health problem, so he was sort of disabled for the rest of his life. But he received about a hundred percent, or ninety percent, anyway, disability for the rest of his life. And he's still living.

JN: Did you feel when you were going to school -- 'cause there are probably not a lot of Japanese Americans going to the university at that time...

VT: Well, the first semester there weren't too many. There were some, and I met some. Some of them were advanced students. Probably some that were, been in, going to college for three or four years but they haven't received a degree yet. The second semester I was there, a lot of the fellows came back from the service and were, started university about that time, too. So I met a lot of them, too.

JN: Did you feel you, at any time, had to prove you were a good American? Either through your achievement in school or your...

VT: No, not really. I don't feel I was... I never felt that way. The first semester I had to even take ROTC so I even had some ROTC. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 11>

JN: Today, when you... how do you feel about what happened to you and your family during World War II? And how do you feel about the memorial?

VT: Well, as far as what I, what happened to me during the war and after the war -- 'course, I was only fifteen years old, so my parents, it was bad for my parents because they didn't have an income after they left Bainbridge for a while. But I was still a student, so... there's really no different. But I think that while I was in Manzanar, I did get the feeling that I really needed to go to more schooling, that just high school was not enough. I know that on Bainbridge there were some Niseis who were out of high school and were working on the farm with their parents. For them, their income was interrupted, so I could see where they'd be really upset about goin' to camp. Everybody had to go to the service, so you can't really be too upset about that. I mean, if you're a citizen, there's a good chance that you're gonna be in the service, too, unless you're 4-F like I was.

I know that you had asked me earlier, earlier about what I thought about the memorial. I think it's a good idea to have this down in video form or in a booklet so that it could be passed on to further generations, and what happened during World War II will never be forgotten. It would always be reminded by something like the memorial or some books that someone has written. I don't know if any of the students nowadays know much about what happened after December 7th, and really not taught very much through their elementary and secondary schooling. So I think it's a good idea to have something like this written down either in video form in a booklet.

JN: How do you feel about how it's related to the current events with the Middle East issues, and do you feel this is, this might help in the kind of decisions we make in, for the current issues?

VT: Well... I'm a little upset at what's happened over in Iraq. So many people are being killed by roadside bombs or some terrorists. And the poor soldier doesn't have a chance over there. For one thing, I think they should have had more people over there, more soldiers. I think they only have a hundred and thirty thousand, a hundred and forty thousand. I think earlier, someone, someone in the service had suggested we oughta have at least two hundred, two hundred fifty thousand soldiers over there. But I guess Rumsfeld didn't agree with that and never did increase the number of soldiers over there. I feel that if they had more people over there, that they wouldn't have this trouble where a roadside bomb, someone set it off and kill people.

JN: Do you, do you feel that the American citizens of Middle East descent in the United States could have the same kind of discrimination that happened in World War II?

VT: I think that there might be. I mean... it could be the same thing that happened to us. I mean, hopefully it never happens to them. I... I'm sure that most of the people in the United States are gonna back the United States and not fight for the enemy. So, yeah, I would hate to see them sent to a camp like we were. Yeah, I guess that's about it. [Laughs]

JN: Do you have anything else you want to, you want to say or talk about... whether it's your early years on the island, what you remember, the war years, after the war... your, you went into biotech field, is that is my understanding? And how, even as an adult after the war, how you think your experiences were affected in your, how you live your own adult life. And anything in general?

VT: Well, I can't think of anything I could add. I tried to live a normal life and I really never was an activist, where I would get out and say something about something that happened to myself or to my friend. But... maybe that's what was brought on by my parents, the way we were brought up that we shouldn't get out and say bad things about other people and, and get in trouble.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

JN: Do you have children?

VT: Do I...

JN: Children?

VT: Yes, I have three.

JN: Do you tell them of your story?

VT: Well... I probably didn't say as much as my wife has, you know, kept them abreast of what happened to us. And my older son has really been interested in some of the things that went on, and he'd been reading books and... yeah, he'd buy books to read about what happened, you know, during World War II.


JN: The other reason I ask some of these questions is like I know my parents never went to the internment but they were really careful in how they, they raised us to... and I see the parallels with how, you know, we had to be, not make waves, you know, and be, and not bring attention to ourselves and not have the conflict. And I see some of your family traits to have some of those values that, just to stay under cover so you don't create any more trouble than what's all around you. And...

VT: On the other hand, there are some people who even during the... after December 7th, there were some students going to university who really were against what was happening, happening. And I think this one fellow turned out to be a, a conscientious objector. He never went to service but he was a PhD, and so he knew what he was talking about. [Laughs] And he, turned out, he's done well. Well, he was, I think he ended up being a professor in Canada, I think, in sociology.

JN: Do you come back to the island a lot? Do you, I know you...

VT: I used to, until my mother passed away. We would probably be on the island, well, at least three or four times a year or so. And bring the family and... but since my mother passed away a few years ago, I haven't really made it a point to come back to the island very much, only for special events. I would get a call and I'd come. [Laughs]

JN: So your parents lived on the island all these years?

VT: Uh-huh, yes.

JN: Do you want to say anything about maybe, how was their life like on Bainbridge when they came back? Did they feel they were well-taken care of and, and they liked it here?

VT: Yeah, they, as I said earlier, that they both became citizens. And they did, after they retired, they did a little bit of traveling, mostly to Japan, and been to Hawaii several times where we had some relatives. And, so... they had a hard life, but it turned out they were able to enjoy some of it at the end there before they passed away.

JN: Did they remain farmers?

VT: Yes.

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