Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Mas Okui Interview
Narrator: Mas Okui
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: April 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-omas-01-0019

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: Can you share with us like that story of the MP who used to watch you boys?

MO: Oh, yeah, yeah. I told that story in the Manzanar Fishing Club. We used to go over there, and we'd have this string with a traditional safety pin, and there were worms there, and you could put the worm on there, but the worm was, and we'd try to catch... we never caught anything. And so what we would do is we would put rocks across the stream in sort of a weir, and occasionally there'd be a fish in there and we'd chase it around 'til we caught it with our hands. And we knew that someone had been shot because they'd gotten too close to the fence, and I can't recall who that was. I know in the back of my mind what the circumstances were, but I don't remember who it was. And we would see the MPs patrolling outside the fence. And we're playing in the creek, and we're afraid of the MPs because they have a rifle, and we know that there's this dead zone area that we're not supposed to be in. it was a zone that indicated a certain distance from the barbed wire. And it's true of all prison camps where they have a dead zone. So we don't know whether Bairs Creek is in the dead zone, but we're playing in the stream. It's a nice place to play, and it was kind of in a gully there and you'd play. If you're really careful you can sneak up through the creek and go under the fence, but we didn't do that, because we always thought we'd get shot.

And then one day, this MP motions to us, and I'm there, so I walk over there, and I don't know what he wants and he tosses us his bag over the fence, brown paper bag, and in it are these little frames. And they had fishing line wrapped around them, and they have a hook on it. And they're called, later on I learned they're called drop lines, and I remember using them out them on the barge out in Santa Monica where you had a drop line. I wish I had kept those. But they were fashioned out of wood and it was a frame where there was a green string around it. We never caught any fish with it, but later on in life, when I was doing military service and you'd see newsreels of World War II, the American soldiers are going through an area and all these kids were following 'em, and the soldiers are saving the orange wedges from their C-rations and giving 'em to the kids, chewing gum, giving 'em to the kids. And maybe that's what happened. He saw what we were doing and went out of his way, it was an act of kindness.

MN: Now later on, when you buys were able to go outside of camp, you witnessed something very unpleasant at Shepherd's Creek... a little boy broke out...

MO: Oh, yeah, yeah. Nob. In those days, a lot of the people would smear their bodies with Vicks, you know, the decongestant, because the water was so cold, they thought it would keep them warmer when you went swimming in Shepherd's Creek. And I remember this one guy... was it Nob or was it Cal Maruki? Anyway, one of the older guys dived in there, and the moment he came out he had this horrible case of hives all over his body, and he had trouble breathing. We didn't know what to do. Yeah, we thought he was going to die, he was kind of choking. And I don't know if it was the Vicks or the cold water, I suspect it might have been the Vicks. But yeah, that really scared us. 'Cause, see, we could walk out there at that time. They had no guards there at the north entrance, and you could just walk along a dirt road and go all the way out to Shepherd's Creek. And there was that one area below the reservoir where you could swim, they had kind of a check dam down there, that's what we would do.

MN: Is it at Manzanar that you started to have a love for fishing? 'Cause you're like Mr. Fly Fisherman.

MO: I don't know if I... I certainly didn't have any success. After we left the camp, my uncle was an avid deep sea fisherman, and he would take me out to the barge in the evenings, because you could go out and fish from the barge, and it was cheaper to fish from the barge at night than it was during the day. And when I was in high school, we used to go up to Tujunga Canyon and we'd catch trout up there. And so we'd make it a point of going up there or to Frenchman's Flat, which was on Highway 99 at that time, and you could catch trout and bring 'em home. And then we heard that if you go up to the Sierras, there's more fish, so we started going to the Sierras and harvesting fish. I remember my father used to like these little ones about six inches long, he said, "You got to keep all those." Bring 'em home and my mother would make tempura out of it, cut 'em up and eat it, bones and all we would eat. We'd cut off the head and the tail and fins. Yeah, yeah, that became something we did all the time.

MN: Now while you were in Manzanar, one of the camp prisoners who snuck out go to fishing, he never made it back.

MO: Yeah, that was Mr. Matsumura. They didn't include that story in the Manzanar Fishing Club. I think they might include that on the DVD as an outtake, and they asked me for historical advice on the film, and I said, "Why don't you put that in there?" And they wanted to cut it down in terms of minutes, and that's maybe a three to four-minute episode. And so they cut it out, but the story was that he and friends were up there, and they decided to come back. And he decided either to fish some more, or apparently he was an artist, to do some artwork, and they had a whiteout. And they came back, and he didn't come back. What I remember about that incident was that his son Wahoo, or Isao, was a classmate of mine. And they were gonna send out a search party, or maybe... yeah, send out the search party. So we were there while they were getting it ready to go, and all I remember is that they never found it. It's my understanding that some hikers at a later time, maybe in the late '40s, found his body, and apparently he had fallen or died of exposure. But conditions up there were just brutal, because they're up there about ten thousand feet. Yeah, I still remember Wahoo, he had tears in his eyes.

MN: Since we're talking about death right now, you know, the Manzanar cemetery is very iconic now. Did you know people who died and who were buried there at that time?

MO: No, no, because we never went to a funeral. I don't recall... maybe my parents did, but I didn't. Because the funerals were held in the churches, which were Barrack 15, and they're really small. And then when we had the auditorium built, they held the funerals there. No, no, I don't think I knew anyone there.

MN: Do you remember seeing the ireito being built, the cenotaph?

MO: I remember parts of it, but that's it. It just didn't... it was not something that concerned me.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.