Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Sam H. Ono Interview
Narrator: Sam H. Ono
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 28, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-osam_2-01-

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is Monday, November 28, 2011. We are at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo. We will be interviewing Sam Ono. Ann Kaneko's on the camera, and I will be interviewing; my name is Martha Nakagawa. So Sam, I wanted to start with your father's name. What is your father's name?

SO: My father's name is Seiichi Ono.

MN: And what prefecture is he from?

SO: He came from Okayama.

MN: Do you know why your father came to the United States?

SO: Probably like the rest of the Japanese Isseis, to seek his fortune and then go back to Japan.

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about your mother. What is your mother's name?

SO: My mother's maiden name was Sunada. Her given name is Toshiko.

MN: And what prefecture is she from?

SO: She's from Hiroshima.

MN: Now, during your parents' era most people married people from the same ken. Do you know how your parents met?

SO: I don't know how they met, but it must've been an arranged marriage because there's, there was quite a bit of difference in age between my mother and father. He was her senior by fourteen years.

MN: How many children did your parents have?

SO: My mother and dad, just me and my older brother.

MN: And where are you in the sibling hierarchy?

SO: I'm the second child.

MN: And what year were you born?

SO: 1926.

MN: And where were you born?

SO: In Sacramento, California.

MN: Was your older brother also born in Sacramento?

SO: I think he was born in Sacramento, but I think he says Yuba City. But that's on the outskirts of Sacramento.

MN: Now, were you delivered by a sambasan?

SO: Yeah.

MN: What is your birth name?

SO: My birth name is Samuel Hiroshi Ono.

MN: Now, it's very unusual for Nisei at your time to have both an English and a Japanese name. Do you know why your parents gave you the name Samuel?

SO: Well, I believe my mother was more or less a Christian. That's why the given name Samuel. But my brother was named Yoichi, and he only had that name, and he, I guess, chose George for himself.

MN: Later in his life?

SO: Later in his life, yes.

MN: I think that was more common, it seems to be, with the Nisei, to have only a Japanese name.

SO: Yeah. But you know, my younger days, all my childhood friends called me Hiroshi. In fact, my cousins, that's the only name they went by.

MN: When did you start choosing to go by Sam?

SO: Well, it was probably when I started grammar school, but I think it was in my later years.

MN: So in school you were going by Sam and at home you were going by Hiroshi?

SO: Yeah.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: When you were born, what were your parents doing?

SO: When I was born my parents had a grocery store, a small neighborhood grocery store.

MN: Was this in the Sacramento Japantown?

SO: Yeah, it was on, in Sacramento on Sixth and P. Japanese Town was on more like Fourth and M.

MN: So it was kind of on the fringes of Japantown.

SO: Yeah.

MN: Who were their customers?

SO: I really don't know.

MN: Now, when you were three years old your mother left the home. What happened to her?

SO: She contracted tuberculosis, and at the time tuberculosis was like the plague in the Japanese community, you know. And it was pretty hush-hush, but when I was three she went to a place called Weimar, which is a sanitarium up in the more or less mountain area.

MN: How often did your father take you to visit your mother at Weimar?

SO: I don't remember, but I do remember whenever we went they wouldn't let the children associate with the people who had tuberculosis, so when he visited her we, we stayed in the car, my brother and I.

MN: So you didn't get to talk to your mother at all.

SO: No. So I really don't know her, and the only thing I know her, about her is from my aunt.

MN: So you're talking as if your mother never recuperated.

SO: No, she didn't. She was in the hospital for three years, or the sanitarium for three years, and then she passed away.

MN: Do you have any memories of your mother?

SO: No, none at all. Only pictures.

MN: So after your mother passed away, did your father remarry?

SO: No.

MN: Now, your family now doesn't have a female. There's no mother. Who did all the cooking and the ironing and the washing?

SO: Well, my father did all of the cooking, washing and ironing, but as we grew older we had to do it ourselves, not the cooking part of it, but the laundry and the like.

MN: So what kind of foods did your father cook?

SO: Primarily Japanese food. I guess it was wholesome. [Laughs]

MN: So you had rice every night?

SO: Yeah. I know we had bread around the house.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: So let me ask you a little bit about your father. I know that a lot of, you shared that a lot of things that you learned about your father was from your aunt. What did you do before the family, the children came along?

SO: That I don't know. You know, he, like all Japanese Isseis, they were pretty closed mouthed about their early childhood and their marriage and whatever they happened to be doing at the time, but he never really discussed what he did or how he earned a living. But I do know that after we were born he had several different, what would you say, vocations I guess. Like I know we had a boarding house, had a gas station, had another market -- this was all in Sacramento -- but after my mother died he was a pretty transient sort of person.

MN: So you mentioned your father had a market, and at this, this second market what, who were his customers?

SO: Primarily the neighborhood was Mexican. And my father was sort of a trusting sort of person and he gave them credit and they took off, didn't pay their bills, so that market was sort of a bust.

MN: Now, did you mention he also had a rice ranch?

SO: Pardon me?

MN: A rice ranch?

SO: Well, that was before we were born, I think. He was fairly prosperous, from what I understand, and we have a family picture, a family picture of my mother and father, and they were pretty nattily dressed, like they were fairly prosperous. But I understand he had a rice farm. He also had a rooming house, apartments. Then he dabbled in mercantile. I guess he had a trading company as well. But this was all before I was born, and I guess that he lost it all in the Depression. My earliest recollection is that we were, he was a foreman on a hops and lettuce ranch.

MN: When you were living, when he was a foreman where were you living?

SO: Well, it was, the owner's tenant shack. I mean, it really was a shack, and if you thought that the camp barracks were bad, these were worse. We had to plug up the holes, knotholes in the boards that covered the outside of the, exterior of the house with paper and stuff paper in the cracks just to keep the weather out.

MN: Now, you moved around quite a lot with your father.

SO: Yes.

MN: How many schools did you go to before you went to, graduated from high school?

SO: Probably about ten, eleven.

MN: And so when you were, when your father was working as a foreman on this ranch, was this when you started elementary school?

SO: No, it was later. When I started elementary school, I think I started kindergarten when I was with my aunt in San Francisco. But, I mean, that recollection is sort of faded, but I do know that my first grade was at a single classroom school in Yolo County. That's where my father was farming. And the way that you knew what grade you were in was by the seating. Kindergarten, or first grade, second grade, third grade, and they were all seated in rows. And all I can remember are flash cards that the teacher used to flash in front of the kindergarten class, but what we did while she was teaching the rest of the classes I don't remember.

MN: So this was really a one room school with one teacher?

SO: Yes.

MN: How many Asian Americans or Japanese Americans were in the entire room?

SO: There must've been only about ten or fifteen students, and my brother and I probably were the only Japanese in there.

MN: How did you interact with the other non-Japanese American students?

SO: We got along. I mean, there was no animosity.

MN: What was the name of the school?

SO: Monument.

MN: So after school what sort of games did you play?

SO: I guess after school, we had to walk to and from school, so after school we used to wander through these, they call 'em sloughs, and they were just stagnant ponds of water that would overflow from the Sacramento River. And we'd go looking for frogs and toads and insects, you know. Typical country bumpkins.

MN: Now, was it at this hops ranch that your father had raised rabbits?

SO: No, I think this was later, where the houses were really nice. I mean, they were plastered inside and stuccoed outside, and being that my dad was the foreman, we lived in the main, main house there, which was a nice house. Then we had a barn, and in the barn, in the horse stall, my father raised rabbits, and they were like, more like pets. But my dad considered them to be food, so he would kill a rabbit and, being that the rabbit was sort of our pets, I couldn't eat rabbit, and I never did eat rabbit after that. But oddly enough, in camp, our senior banquet, the main menu was rabbit, so I didn't partake in that. I gave it to the fellow across from me, who ate it with relish. [Laughs]

MN: What about chickens, though? Did you raise chickens?

SO: Yeah, chickens, they weren't considered pets, I guess, so we had chicken.

MN: Did you have any problems eating the chickens?

SO: No.

MN: Let me go back to the rabbits. Did your father skin the rabbits and sell the pelts?

SO: No, I don't think he sold pelts. He probably threw them away.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: So you're living in Yolo County, did you go to, did your father take you to the kenjinkai picnics?

SO: Yeah. We used to go. In fact, I guess our outing was going to Sacramento, and he'd go to the Buddhist church or we'd go in and see a movie or something, if we can afford it.

MN: What kind of movies did you watch?

SO: Well, there was a theater called Nippon Theater just on the outskirts of J-town that, for a nickel they featured, they had two, two feature movies. They had the news, they had a short subject, then they had a serial, like Fu Manchu or Buck Rodgers, some cowboy things, you know. I think that's what kept us coming back. We had to see the next serial.

MN: Is this the same theater you were talking about, about getting those bubblegums?

SO: Yeah, they had a bubblegum machine out in the front, and normally we had about ten cents, so in order to get into the movie it cost a nickel, so the other five we changed into pennies and we tried our luck at the bubblegum machine. If we got a star then you got into the movie free, so you had extra money for candy. But if you didn't get star on the bubblegum, you had bubblegum anyway, plus a nickel to get in.

MN: Now, did your father take you to see Japanese movies?

SO: Yeah, we used to go see Japanese movies at, it was a boxing and wrestling arena. It was called the L Street Gym, or the L Street Arena, and we'd go to see movies there, Japanese movies.

MN: Did you understand the movies?

SO: No. But if, if they were samurai movies you kind of got the action or understood what they were doing. It was always seemed like a revenge theme behind all of the Japanese samurai movies. But when they were a drama more or less, what we'd do is we'd go under the stands where the people used to sit and look for fallen change.

MN: What did you do with the money?

SO: Well, we'd buy, they'd have a tortilla with a dab of chili inside and we'd buy that, or a snow cone or whatever they had available.

MN: That sounds like a very mixed kind of a neighborhood. You know, the tortillas, you have probably like a Latino influence.

SO: Yeah, L Street was primarily Latino. Then you go further down to, like A, B, C Street, there was Chinatown. K Street was a main business area, I guess, clothiers and five and dime stores.

MN: So I think this is the era when your family, you and your brother and your father were moving back and forth from Sacramento to Yolo County?

SO: Yes.

MN: Now, when you were living in Sacramento, can you share, like you were talking about the Fourth of July, and you remember, how did you spend the Fourth of July?

SO: Well, we spent the Fourth of July, they allowed you to sell firecrackers at the time, so we'd buy firecrackers and they'd have these, what they call Roman candles, do you know what they are? They'd shoot flames, and every year I know the kids would shoot it up into the palm trees and cause a fire, and my particular recollection is that it was with this one Chinese place that sold firecrackers that always burned down. I mean, every year they'd burn down. At least it seemed the case. And the palm, palm tree fires, those are the things I remember.

MN: So what did you play with? What kind of fireworks did you play with?

SO: Firecrackers.

MN: You mentioned ladyfingers. What are ladyfingers?

SO: Ladyfingers are real tiny, tiny firecrackers. They're only about that long [indicates an inch or two] and maybe about an eighth of an inch diameter. We used to try to hold 'em in our fingers like this, and if you didn't, if you held too much of it you probably could blow your fingernail off. But you know, kids were dumb at the time. [Laughs] Or daring.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: So when you were growing up in the Sacramento area, who were your playmates? Were they Japanese Americans or non-Japanese Americans?

SO: Primarily Japanese Americans. We lived in a Japanese neighborhood, so primarily they were all Japanese.

MN: What kind of games did you play?

SO: Well, marbles and cards. You'd line 'em up against the wall and the closest one to the wall would take all the cards. I mean, it was like a gambling, like marbles, you win, you win the marbles. Or you flatten out soda can tops, I mean soda bottle tops -- you know, they didn't have canned soda at the time. They had the bottled soda with a metal cap on it. We used to flatten those out and you'd put a pile on the ground, and you'd slap your, slap the cans with another can top, and the ones that flipped over with the picture side on 'em you kept. So most of the games were gambling games, minor.

MN: How did you flatten the tops?

SO: With a hammer.

MN: And the card game, was this a deck of cards?

SO: No, these were like baseball cards. And some would, they'd wax them so that they became harder on the surface and didn't wear out as much, or they'd wet 'em and when they threw, threw 'em it'd slap on the wall and stick. So that was, I guess, cheating. And we used to play pretty rough games, like, I don't know whether you've heard of hop the chicken, where a person is it and he has to hop on one leg and try to catch other people, and if you, if the guy that was it dropped his leg, then you punched him until he could run to a safe area. Or we'd have break the donkey's back, where one person would stand up, straight up against the wall and the others would grab him and bend down and each progressive person would, would bend down and hang onto the person in front of him. And the rest of us would, the team that was competing, they would jump on the backs and pile on, try to pile on one person so that his legs would give away and collapse. And that's, I guess that's why they call it break the donkey's back. Then they had tag and kick the can, so we made up our own games. I don't think kids play that now.

MN: Share with us, what's kick the can?

SO: Kick the can, one person is it and somebody would kick the can and they would all go hide, and then the person that was it would go looking for them, and if he saw them he would say, "I spy you," or something to that effect, and that person would be caught and had to come back and be put in a, like a detention area. So if someone would kick the can, then everybody was free and they'd go hide again, and the guy that was it would have to find all of the people. When he found all the people, then somebody else would be it.

MN: What about roller skates? I know that was very popular at that time.

SO: Roller skates, we used to take 'em apart and put 'em on a two-by-four and then nail a box on there and call it a scooter. And I know it was popular in San Francisco where there were a lot of hills. Then skates, we used to put the skates on and get a broom handle, put it between our legs and ride down the hill, and the broom handle being between our legs, we would pull up on 'em and that would be our brake, but it was a dangerous thing.

MN: Did you ever get injured?

SO: Not that I can remember. I don't think I was that daring.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now, when you were living in Sacramento you also attended the Japanese language school. How old were you when you started?

SO: I was probably about nine or ten, but I only went for one semester.

MN: Did you go every day, or just Saturdays?

SO: I think we only went on Saturdays.

MN: And where were the classes held?

SO: At the Buddhist church. My father was Buddhist, so that's where we went to school.

MN: Did your father take you to church regularly?

SO: Well, we used to tag along with him, but that was about the extent of it. We, my brother and I never became Buddhists.

MN: What memories do you have of attending the Sacramento Buddhist Church?

SO: Pardon me?

MN: What memories do you have of attending the Buddhist church?

SO: Well, I remember the teacher was the Buddhist priest, and he would whack us with a, with a ruler. That's the only, my only recollection of Japanese school. And then we'd have to do shodou on newspaper. That's the only thing I can remember, the a-i-u-e-o, you know. But it wasn't very pleasant.

MN: Now, I think your family, you mentioned your family was living in Sacramento when your mother passed away?

SO: Uh-huh.

MN: How did you hear about her death?

SO: I guess my father told me. I just remember the funeral. My father, he carried me to the open casket and told me to say goodbye, but I was only about six, so it really had no meaning. And my mother was more or less a stranger, so like I say, it didn't have much meaning.

MN: You know, after your mother passed away did your father ever talk about sending you and your brother to Japan to be raised?

SO: No. The only time I remember was, I think my uncle wanted to take me back to Japan, and I didn't want to go.

MN: And then after your mother passed away, do you have recollections of going to the Buddhist church Obon?

SO: Well, we used to go to, I guess it was Obon, but more I remember kenjinkai picnics. But I think the Japanese community in Sacramento were... I don't know what you call it. Nichiren. Nichiren, they were more Nichiren people. So those are the picnics I remember.

MN: So the Buddhist church you went to is Nichiren?

SO: Uh-huh. Well, that my father was, he was pretty regular.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Now, from Sacramento your family moved to San Leandro. What sort of job did your father have in San Leandro?

SO: Well, I remember when we moved to San Leandro he had rented a little store, and I remember the front window was a bay window that we had to whitewash, so we had this one big space with a little kitchen and a bathroom. And at the time I think my father was gardening, then he later got a job with a nursery. They raised plants, nursery plants.

MN: So initially you were living in a storefront?

SO: Yeah.

MN: And then your father was gardening, and then you moved to, your father found a nursery job. Did you move to the nursery property?

SO: Yeah, we moved to the nursery property and we lived in the, a house where the workers shared the house, and I guess we were, occupied one room. Then my dad built a little room in the place where they used to store dirt, and that's where, we eventually moved into that one room. But we ate with the rest of the workers.

MN: How old were you when you moved to San Leandro?

SO: I was probably about eleven or twelve.

MN: Did you have to help your father out on the nursery?

SO: Well, the nursery, they employed me, and I used to make these nursery boxes. I got paid a penny a box, these little flatbeds. And I can remember also, apparently at the time they didn't have child labor laws, but we went to slice fruit. In the summertime we'd slice fruit. We'd cut 'em in half and then they'd dry 'em, like pears, peaches, plums. I don't remember what the pay scale was, but apparently it was, it was fairly cheap.

MN: And when your family was living in San Leandro your older brother left the house? What happened to him?

SO: Well, my older brother was, he was pretty self-sufficient and determined as to what he wanted to do, and he heard of this high school in Berkeley, Oakland, that specialized in math and science, so that's where he wanted to go. So the owner knew some wealthy people, Caucasian people, in Oakland, and he managed to get my brother a houseboy job. So I guess he was, well, he was in high school.

MN: What did your brother want to become?

SO: He wanted to become an aeronautical engineer.

MN: What inspired him to want to become an aeronautical engineer?

SO: I don't know, but I know he kept, he read a lot of these paperback novels about flying and airplanes and stuff. He used to like to build model airplanes.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now, how long did you live in San Leandro?

SO: Probably a couple years.

MN: And then from San Leandro your father moved to Southern California, and then you went to live with your aunt and uncle in San Francisco, is that right?

SO: That's right. My father was asked to help a contractor build nurseries, and he set off on his own and sent me to my aunt's place. And my brother was just starting college. Or he may have been, still been at, in Oakland, but I went to live with my aunt and my father moved to Southern California.

MN: Now, your aunt and uncle, where did they live? Did they live in a house?

SO: No, my aunt and uncle had a restaurant in San Francisco, and right across the street is where they lived, in a hotel. They had rented three rooms, one for their own bedroom, the center unit was for their, like their parlor, and then the next room adjacent was a bedroom for my cousins, male and female. They were older than I.

MN: So when you went to go live with them, where did you live?

SO: I lived in a separate room. They rented a room for me.

MN: Now, you're in this room by yourself? Is that right, in this hotel room by yourself?

SO: Uh-huh.

MN: What was that like?

SO: Very lonely. You know, my brother was, often commented that I was the one that was able to go to San Francisco and have fun, but really I didn't want to go. But I was sent there and, being that I had to sleep in the room by myself, it was very lonely. Listening to the foghorns, that was a very, to repeat, lonely sound.

MN: So when the family gathers in the evening together, were you not part of that gathering?

SO: For a while, but they'd send me off. I'd have to go to bed early.

MN: Now, your aunt and uncle, you said they had a restaurant business? Where was this located?

SO: That was on Kearny Street. I don't know whether you know San Francisco very well, but Kearny was one block off of Chinatown, and it was right near the, I guess the city hall. It was in the area where the International Settlement was, close to Chinatown, close to Italian Town.

MN: So who were your aunt and uncle's customers?

SO: They were the neighborhood people. I mean, they had regular customers, but they also had a lot of people coming that were merchant seamen. They'd, they came from Hawaii, and what they'd do is they'd come to my aunt's place and they'd let her take care of their money. Otherwise they'd blow it all in one night, you know. So she'd dole it out to them.

MN: So it sounds like there was a lot of trust and your aunt was sort of a mother figure for --

SO: Yeah.

MN: And, and I'm assuming a lot of these merchant seamen from Hawaii were Japanese American?

SO: There were, I can only remember a couple of them that were Japanese American. In fact, one of them married my cousin. But most of them were Samoan or Hawaiian. That's why my aunt used to talk like them. She'd pick up their pidgin. And for a while I kind of talked like them too. [Laughs]

MN: Did your aunt do anything special for them during the holidays?

SO: Yeah, she used to make Japanese gotsou for them. And they'd bring frozen poi. We'd have to, I'd have to stir it, and I think the fumes must've been intoxicating because it made me a little woozy. But having made that stuff, I never could enjoy it. It looked like paste, and according to some people it tastes like that too.

MN: So how often did you help out at your aunt and uncle's restaurant?

SO: By helping out...

MN: Did you have to work there?

SO: Well, yeah, I used to wash their dishes, or wash dishes, help them wash dishes, dry the knives and forks. But other than that there wasn't that much that I could do, but being a kid, I tried to avoid it. I'd be out playing and my cousin used to really get mad at me for avoiding work. [Laughs]

MN: You mentioned how they served poi on the holidays and your aunt had gotsou, but on a regular basis what was on their menu? What kind of food did they serve?

SO: They served stew, curry, roast pork, roast beef, I guess things that a restaurant would serve, steaks, pork chops.

MN: Mostly American food, then.

SO: Yeah.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about your school while you were here. When you were living with your aunt and uncle, which school did you attend?

SO: Well, I can remember, like I say, I went to kindergarten, I don't remember the school name, but primarily I went to a... let's see, how old was I? Might've been in junior high school. Francisco, Francisco Junior High School, and it was comprised primarily of maybe ninety percent Chinese, ten percent, nine percent Italians, and the rest were Caucasians or Japanese or whatever.

MN: Now, you were going to school, you said there's a ninety, about ninety percent Chinese American students, and around this time Japan was invading China. Did you have a lot of problems with the Chinese students there?

SO: No, not in school, but -- in fact, I had a couple of very good Chinese friends -- but the people that gave us most problems were these shoeshine kids that would hang around the different parks, and we used to get into scuffles with them all the time. Like my brother used to, like I say, make model airplanes, and we'd go out to the park and try to fly them, and these kids would chase them and try to take them away from us. And they'd make comments about that we killed their grandmother in China when we really had nothing to do with it. That was the primary source of problems with the Chinese people.

MN: So your friends when you were living here, who were your friends? Were they Caucasians, Chinese, Japanese?

SO: Well, my best friend was a Japanese fellow whose parents owned a cleaning establishment that was maybe three or four blocks away from my aunt's restaurant, and we used to hang around together. They had two older daughters that were my older cousin, cousin's age. Then the older brother and then the next person I, was my friend, guy named Masa Takatoshi. But I guess we were best friends only when I was there. [Laughs]

MN: What did you two do on your free time?

SO: We'd go on picnics. We'd scrape together enough money to buy what they call broken cookies, then we'd get day old bread and maybe we'd have enough for wieners or something, and we'd go to the marina and have a wienie bake. We'd just hang around and play Monopoly with his, he had two younger brothers. Just fooled around.

MN: Now, when you were living with your aunt and uncle, did your father correspond with you?

SO: No, he never wrote.

MN: How long did you live there?

SO: I must've lived there maybe a year, a year and a half.

MN: And then you moved down to Southern California to be with your father. Right?

SO: Yeah.

MN: Okay. Do you remember what year your father came down to Southern California?

SO: Probably in 1938 or '39.

MN: And then you came down, you said, about a year and a half later?

SO: Wait a minute, wait a minute. No. See, I came down in, in '41. It was either '40 or '41. I was in the tenth grade, so...

MN: So it'd be like maybe end of '38 or '39 that your father came down here?

SO: Yeah.

MN: So how did you feel about moving back in with your father?

SO: I really had no feelings about that.

MN: So when you moved down here, where was your father living at that time?

SO: Let's see, where was he living? Oh, he was living in an apartment, not an apartment, but in a house that the people rented the upstairs, and he had a bedroom and probably a kitchen. There were other, there was a bachelor, and his sister and husband and child. I think there were three families living there.

MN: And then once you moved down to Southern California, what school did you go to?

SO: I went to Venice High School.

MN: And what was the ethnic makeup of Venice High School at the time?

SO: Well, there were quite a few Japanese there, because it was a farm community, you know. Venice was a farm community. And in fact, there were kids that played on the baseball team or the basketball team. They were active in gymnastics and even football. But I tried to get on the swim team, but I couldn't do that because the pool that the swimming team used for practice, they wouldn't let, allow Japanese in there. So there was still discrimination.

MN: So which teams did you go out and try out for, since you couldn't get on the swimming team?

SO: Well, I got a letter in, if you would believe, E basketball. [Laughs] Now, they don't have that anymore. Then I tried out for the gym team, but I couldn't even chin myself, so didn't, didn't make out very well there.

MN: Now, you also mentioned when you moved down there you joined the Boy Scouts?

SO: Well, we tried to form a Boy Scout troop, and we tried to start a drum and bugle corps, so yeah, I joined the Boy Scout troop there.

MN: Who was sponsoring the Boy Scouts?

SO: It must've been the Japanese Venice Community Center, because the person that was our scoutmaster was a fellow called Kenny Kirohiro, and he was active, pretty active with the Community Center.

MN: Now your father, what did, what did he do for fun?

SO: He used to go downtown, Japanese-town, and I think he got in a group called Jurori. That was people who sang accompaniment for Noh, Noh plays, but as far as I was concerned, it was grunting.

MN: Was your father a drinker? Did he drink a lot?

SO: Yeah, but he couldn't hold his liquor very well. I remember in my younger days, I'm sorry to say, he used to go into the Buddhist church in Sacramento and drink with the priest and we'd have to go get him, and embarrassingly, we'd have to, my brother and I, would have to kind of hold him upright and bring him home. So it was quite an embarrassment.

MN: Did your father make his own liquor?

SO: No, he never did that. But like I say, he couldn't hold his liquor. I mean, a few drinks would get him, pass him out.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Now let me get into the war years. Let me ask you, what were you doing on Sunday, December 7, 1941?

SO: We were probably playing. We heard the news over the radio. It was quite a traumatic experience for, I guess, most Japanese Niseis or Isseis. You know, we never expected it.

MN: What was your reaction to the news?

SO: Well, I think it initially was sort of shame, being that we were associated with Japan through our ethnicity, so we couldn't understand why Japan would invade the United States.

MN: Next day was a Monday. Did you go to school?

SO: Yeah, I went to school. A lot of my friends decided not to go because they were afraid of what the reaction of students might be, but I went and they were, they were polite. There were a few jokes about being Japanese, but other than that it was no different, a no different day.


MN: So after Pearl Harbor, how did that affect your father's job?

SO: Well, after Pearl Harbor they set a limit as to how far you could travel -- I think it was five miles -- and that decimated my father's livelihood because he'd have to travel to, like Gardena, where he was building a nursery. So that really limited my father's working hours, and we had no income. In fact, we had just bought a refrigerator from Sears, so we stopped payment on it because we didn't know what was going to happen and they repossessed it.

MN: Now, at the end of February '42 the Japanese Americans on Terminal Island were kicked off. Did any of them come and live in your neighborhood?

SO: Not that I can recall. We did have a lady and her older daughter, grown up daughter, that came to live with us, because they wanted to go to wherever... well, I don't know why they came, but they came on the pretense of their being my father's sister, but they eventually went to Manzanar with us.

MN: What about your older brother? What happened to him?

SO: Well, he naturally had to quit, quit going to college. He had to, his, he started his freshman year at Berkeley and he came back to live with us.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Now, how did you hear that you had to go into this place called camp?

SO: Pardon me?

MN: How did you hear that you had to go into camp?

SO: Well, I think they posted signs all over that said we had to, we were going to be incarcerated. But they never definitely stated where, so the only time we knew that we were going to be in Manzanar is when we got to Manzanar.

MN: How did you feel that you learned that you go into a camp?

SO: Well, I think the general consensus was that we were all going to be deported to Japan. But you know, being the docile Japanese, whatever the government wanted to do, they, we accepted.

MN: Now, like the large furniture and your car, what did you do, what did your family do with that?

SO: Well, the car we had to sell. I presume it's for a pittance, but I don't know how much we got for it. We didn't have that much furniture and stuff because we moved so often, but whatever we had we stored in the Venice Community Center. They had a gym that was converted into storage.

MN: Now, after the war, were you able to get everything from the Venice Community Center?

SO: No. That's the tragedy of it all, is that some people used to send for their stuff, so it was a common occurrence for a van to be backed up to the Community Center warehouse and people were just sending for their stuff. Well, people, unscrupulous people vandalized the contents of the warehouse, and ours was amongst the stuff that was taken, so any pictures or memorabilia that we had they took. And like I said before, it's probably in some, buried in some dump site now, so we have no concrete memories of our past, like pictures primarily.

MN: I think you mentioned also your family had a steam trunk. Is that where you left...

SO: Well, steamer trunk.

MN: A steamer trunk, yeah.

SO: Yeah, that's where we probably put all our valuables in.

MN: Now, do you remember the day or the month that you left for camp?

SO: No, not specifically. But I do remember that we left from the Venice, I guess they call it the city hall, but -- that's where the Building and Safety, Department of Building and Safety, was housed -- but everybody says, currently they're trying to put up a plaque on Lincoln and Venice Boulevard, but I don't remember leaving from that point. I more remember leaving from in front of the Department of Building and Safety on Venice Boulevard.

MN: How did you get to the gathering point?

SO: I don't remember how we got there. [Laughs]

MN: Did any of your Caucasian friends or teachers come to see you off?

SO: None of my friends. But apparently there were Caucasian people there.

MN: Were there a lot of army soldiers at this place?

SO: Oh yeah. Army soldiers with bayonets. In fact, when we loaded onto the buses I think one of them got on with us.

MN: What kind of buses were these?

SO: As I recall, they were the red buses that used to go between L.A and Long Beach, and they were the rattan seats.

MN: You have any idea how many buses were there?

SO: No, I don't recall.

MN: But more than one bus.

SO: Oh yeah. Must've been at least, maybe ten.

MN: So once you got on the bus, did they have the windows closed?

SO: Yeah, they pulled the shades on it.

MN: What was going through your mind when you got on the bus?

SO: Probably where we were gonna end up, you know? 'Cause none of us knew that we were going to Manzanar.

MN: You were younger; you were in high school. Was this more of an adventure, or were you scared, or how were you feeling?

SO: No, I wasn't scared, but like you say, it was more like a, going on some adventure.

MN: Did the bus make any pit stops?

SO: Not that I can recall. It must've, because it takes about four and a half hours to get up to Manzanar.

MN: So your group did not go to an assembly center. It went directly to Manzanar.

SO: Right.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: What was your first impression of Manzanar?

SO: Well, I peeked out the window and they had oil burning stoves, so that created a haze over the, over the camp, and we got there just at dusk. And I peeked out the window and here was this bunch of barracks, black barracks covered with this pall of smoke. That was my first glimpse of Manzanar.

MN: What were some of the first things that you did when you got to Manzanar?

SO: Well, the first thing they, they, of course, registered us and assigned us to a barracks, and gave us a mattress cover that we filled with straw. It was a sack that we filled with straw and took to our barracks, and that was our mattress.

MN: Some people got allergic reactions to the straw. Did you have any problems?

SO: No, I had no problems with the straw.

MN: Which block were you assigned to?

SO: We were, it was Block 18. I think it was 18-7-4. It was an end barrack, anyway.

MN: Block 18, Barrack 7, Apartment 4.

SO: Yeah.

MN: So who were you assigned to? Who, who did you live with?

SO: Well, we lived with the people that came with us. That was my father, my brother, and I, there was a bachelor, his sister-in-law, husband, and small child, and then this mother and grown daughter.

MN: You had ten people.

SO: Yeah.

MN: How were you able to fit into this unit?

SO: We managed somehow. The only way we could maintain any visual privacy was to hang a, one of the blankets on the ropes that were strung across the rooms. Now, I don't know where we got the rope, but they gave us two blankets.

MN: So when you arrived at Manzanar, was the rest of the camp still being constructed?

SO: Yeah. That's why they put so many families in one room, because they didn't have enough apartments to accommodate all of the people that came. So eventually, when the camp was finished, we were moved out to the farther, furthest corner of the camp, which was Block 35 and -6. We lived in Block 35.

MN: So who moved out?

SO: Well, we all moved out.

MN: So when you moved out to Block 35 who did you live with?

SO: We, that's when we got our own apartment.

MN: With your father, you, and your brother only?

SO: That's right.

MN: So when you moved to Block 35, where did everybody come from?

SO: They came from all over. There was a mixture of people there. I mean, we had arrived from Venice with a lot of L.A. people, there were some people that came from up north, but it was just a conglomerate of people from different areas.

MN: When you first arrived at Manzanar, what was security like?

SO: It was very tight. They used to flash the spotlights that they had on the guard towers, they'd flash 'em along the fences, make sure that, I guess, we didn't get out, not that they wanted, that they were guarding against people getting in. If that were the case the towers would've been on the inside of the fence, rather on the outside. So yeah, that was meant to keep us in rather than other people out.

MN: Now let me ask you a little bit about the food. What do you remember of the food at Manzanar?

SO: Well, at the beginning I think the food was terrible. We had powdered milk, powdered eggs. I don't think they had provided for rice at the time, which was odd being that the inmates were all Asians. I can remember repeated meals of Vienna sausage and sauerkraut. To this day I can't eat Vienna sausages, or I can't eat apple butter. Those are the things, I think, that were most frequently served.

MN: Now, early on, did you have any problems with diarrhea from the food?

SO: No.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: What were some of first jobs that you had at Manzanar?

SO: Well, these were summer jobs, more or less, and my first job that I can remember was a junior cook. I worked in the kitchen chopping the vegetables, lettuce and, you know, for salads. Then the second job I worked delivering oil. I remember working in the camouflage, weaving nets.

MN: Before we go on to camouflage, tell me a little bit about delivering oil. Was this delivered in a truck?

SO: No. At the end of each block they had these oil tanks that were filled by different oil trucks, and we'd have these five gallon cans that we'd fill and load onto a little hand truck, and we'd pull that around and... you know, the apartments didn't have any oil, or locks on them, and some people who were trusting, we'd just walk in the door and fill their heaters. And others, they'd have, I don't know where they got 'em, but they had five gallon containers, glass containers set up outside of their apartments, and we'd fill those. So that's how we delivered oil. There were three of us.

MN: And was this the entire camp?

SO: No, no. It was, each block had their own delivery service.

MN: So how many blocks did you, you did your own block?

SO: No, we just, I did the adjacent block, Block 35 -- 36, rather.

MN: And these are, what are these oils, kerosene oils?

SO: No, it was crude oil.

MN: And then you said you went to the camouflage net.

SO: Yeah, I worked there for a little while.

MN: What was that like?

SO: Well, it was enjoyable. We'd, they'd set a quota of three large nets or five small nets, and I guess a team was maybe four or five persons and what they had was a pattern, and we'd put an empty net in front of the pattern and follow the weave of the pattern. And we used to finish in a half a day. Then we'd play pinochle for the rest of the day to conclude the hours. Then they said we had to work eight hours a day. Well, when we, I think we went on strike and said that if they wanted to work us eight hours a day then they would have to pay us the same as the, same wages as the people that were doing the same thing outside. But they shut it down. I think there were rumors that we were aiding and abetting the Japanese by weaving codes or something into the nets. But anyway, they shut the facility down.

MN: So after this, is this when you went to work for the guayule project?

SO: Yeah. We had a chemistry lab in Block 35, and I was just a gopher. I didn't do any of the experiments or anything, but I helped the chemists out there.

MN: For those who may not be familiar with the guayule project, can you sort of briefly tell us what it was trying to do?

SO: Well, the guayule is a rubber producing shrub, and apparently it makes better, better rubber than the latex. But they had a project going in Manzanar and they had a bigger group that was doing research up in Fresno, I think it was, but the group down in Manzanar were able to propagate the plant from cuttings, which the Fresno group wasn't able to do. They developed a machine to extract more guayule per plant, and it was headed by a physicist that used to teach at University of California, Berkeley, guy named Shimpe Nakamura, and another doctor, which I can't remember his name, Caucasian fellow. Gosh, slips my memory. But anyway, they were responsible for developing the product from the plant, and I think that that product was kind of shot down because the bigger manufacturers of tires, they were developing their own synthetic rubber. But currently I understand that the only thing that they're making from guayule is hypoallergenic surgery gloves, 'cause it's supposedly nontoxic.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Let me ask you about some of the clubs that you joined in Manzanar. You mentioned a club called the Wing Nuts? What is that?

SO: The Wing Nuts were a group of fellows that made model airplanes. In fact, there's a group picture -- I think Toyo Miyatake took it -- and I'm in there. [Laughs] But it was just a group of model airplane enthusiasts, but we, they met every once in a while in the firebreak to fly their planes, and if you had a successful flight you lost your plane because it flew out of the camp and you couldn't go retrieve it. But it was just a group of guys.

MN: What were you making the model airplanes from?

SO: Balsa wood. I think we used to get the wood from either Sears or Montgomery Ward's, some of those catalog companies.

MN: Do you know how the club got its name?


SO: My brother made a box, maybe that was about eight inches by three by two, that he had put the Wing Nut logo on, and it said Ono Brothers on it, that I donated to the National Park Service up in Manzanar.

MN: What's the Wing Nut logo look like?

SO: It's a nut with wings coming out from it.

MN: Makes sense. Let's see, you also shared that in Manzanar you and your friends got involved with gymnastics?

SO: Yeah. We used to go around, there were three of us that hung around together and we used to go around and watch these kids that were very proficient at, on high bar, which is the horizontal bar. And we came back and we put up a horizontal bar made out of two-bys and a one inch pipe, and we, we became pretty proficient at it.

MN: Where did you make the horizontal bars? By your barrack?

SO: Well, it was, our particular one in our block was between the laundry room and the women's bathroom. But we were more daring than wise. I know that one of the friends in another block, he broke his leg falling off the high bar. But we were more daring than wise. [Laughs]

MN: What was on the bottom of the bar to cushion the falls?

SO: Dirt. [Laughs] Like regular gymnasts have these mats, foam mats, but ours were outdoors, so when we fell we fell on dirt.

MN: Now, was this common for other barracks to have horizontal bars?

SO: Oh yeah, I think every, every block had some sort of equipment. In fact, San Pedro had the rings as well, in Block 9 or 10.

MN: You're talking about the Terminal Islanders?

SO: Yeah.

MN: Why did the Terminal Islanders have such a bad reputation?

SO: Well, because they're, I think they were, occupied maybe two or three blocks, so they were there in force and the younger group, I think, tried to be the top dogs, so they terrorized a lot of people. In fact, I think the Bainbridge group had to move because of them, because they were always being picked on.

MN: Did you get along with the Terminal Islanders?

SO: Oh yeah. In fact, one of my good buddies was from Terminal Island.

MN: I guess he wasn't part of that group that was terrorizing the camp.

SO: No, no.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Did you get involved in any team sports?

SO: We used to play pick up baseball, pick up football. In fact, I split my finger playing baseball. My hand went in the glove before the ball did. My father wasn't very sympathetic, you know. He called me baka for playing such a game. [Laughs]

MN: So does that mean you went to the Manzanar hospital?

SO: No, I think they had a little clinic, and they sewed my finger up there. It took several stitches, but the preparation for numbing my hand was worse than the actual stitching. It hurt more.

MN: They didn't just give you a shot of Novocain?

SO: Oh yeah, they, it was this finger here [points to right ring finger]. They stick needles in between your fingers here and try to numb the whole finger. That hurt worse than the stitching.

MN: Who stitched you up?

SO: Probably it was a nurse or something.

MN: Japanese American nurse?

SO: Yeah.

MN: Now, your father, what did your father do in camp?

SO: He worked in the carpenter shop. Now, I don't know what he did, but I know he worked in the carpenter shop.

MN: Did he take any classes in Manzanar?

SO: No, I didn't take any classes.

MN: No, your father, did he take any classes?

SO: No, I think he continued with his Japanese singing, but that's, I think... I remember he used to copy these different songs on these folded, folded pieces of paper. But I guess he was fairly educated, because he gave some books or something to the wife of a friend of mine and she was very impressed with what he was reading. [Laughs]

MN: Now, when you went to the mess hall, did you eat with your father?

SO: At the beginning, yeah, because people were strangers, right? But towards the end we'd go wherever we wanted. That's a sad part, I think, of camp, in that the family structure broke down. The parents weren't aware of where their kids were, and I guess they didn't really need to because they were in the confines of the camp. They couldn't get into any mischief, I guess, so parental control became very lax.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: When you were in Manzanar, did your father ever talk about wanting to return to Japan?

SO: Yeah. In fact, when the "loyalty oath" came out he wanted to take us back to Japan. But I remember heated discussions with, between my father and brother, and my brother was determined to go to college here, so only at the intervention of our next door neighbor did my father allow my brother to go. He would've gone anyway, you know. But my neighbor, in fact, he's, I don't know whether you've ever heard of Kango Takamura?

MN: Who's Kango Takamura?

SO: Kango Takamura was a studio artist that, he taught sumi-e in the camp, and I wish I had taken advantage of that. [Laughs]

MN: You were talking about your brother. What was your brother doing in camp?

SO: My brother, I think he was, he tutored, but he only stayed in camp for maybe six months, then he went out on a work furlough, and from there he went to New York and got into the University of Syracuse.

MN: Now, how about yourself? You started Manzanar High School in the fall. Where was the high school located?

SO: The high school was in Block 7.

MN: So you had quite a walk, from Block 35 to Block 7.

SO: Yeah.

MN: Now, during lunchtime which mess hall did you go and eat at?

SO: Well, whichever mess hall was convenient. But generally we'd come back to our mess hall. They had pretty good food because our chef was formerly a bakery chef, so we always had good desserts.

MN: I thought sugar was rationed at the time.

SO: We were able to get sugar.

MN: So tell me about the high school. What was it like in the beginning?

SO: Well, in the beginning we didn't have any furniture. We used to sit on the floor. In fact, our chemistry class was held in the laundry room. The guys would sit in the tubs. But the school wasn't very well supplied at the very beginning, then later desks and blackboards and stuff came in.

MN: Who were your teachers? Were they Caucasians?

SO: Yeah, primarily most of them were Caucasians, but I remember our science teachers were both young Japanese. Inouye and Nakagawa or Nakashima. I remember the coach was, physical ed coach, was Japanese. His name was Higa, was from Hawaii.

MN: And probably Okinawan.

SO: Maybe so.

MN: Higa.

SO: Well, with the name Higa, yeah.

MN: Now, how would you compare the education you got at Manzanar High School to what you were getting at Venice High School?

SO: Well, I guess the education at Manzanar was adequate. I mean, they weren't the best teachers, but they were, they must've been dedicated to have come to Manzanar just to teach a bunch of Japanese kids.

MN: Now, before the war your, you moved around so much that I imagine it'd be hard to make friends, and now you're in this camp situation. Was it really hard for you to make friends early on, and then when you went into Manzanar?

SO: No. I've always, it was easy for me to make friends, but lasting friendships, because of the short time of acquaintance, was very difficult. But I think my lasting friends were the kids that I knew in Manzanar, because like I say, that, other than Sacramento, that was the longest stay of any one place. But even then it was only, what... couple of years.

MN: So what year did you graduate from Manzanar High?

SO: I graduated in 1944.

MN: What was your graduation ceremony like?

SO: Well, we were the first graduating class from the new, well, the auditorium that was built, and we had commencement ceremonies, got up on stage. Just like a regular high school.

MN: So you got a cap and gown?

SO: Yeah, we had cap and gowns.

MN: Did your father come to the ceremony?

SO: That I don't remember. He may have. I don't know.


MN: You, did the ceremony have a commencement speaker?

SO: Well, the only one I remember speaking was, he claims he wasn't a valedictorian, but he did give a speech, and that was Arnold Maeda. But other than him I don't remember anybody else speaking.

MN: But you and Arnold are in the same class.

SO: Yeah. You know Arnold?

MN: He's the brother of Brian Maeda.

SO: Yeah.

MN: So after you graduated from Manzanar High you applied to college. What prompted you to pursue a college education?

SO: Well, I think my brother sets a precedent, so you want to follow in his footsteps, right? Then there was a teacher, my English teacher, Mrs. Umhey, who encouraged me to go to college, and I think she handled all the arrangements, and I enrolled at Morningside College.

MN: How did your father feel about you going to college?

SO: Well, being that my brother had gone to college, I guess he, it was a foregone conclusion with him that I'd be going.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about the Manzanar riot, which happened in December of 1942. Where were you when that happened?

SO: Well, as I recall, I was with a group standing in front of the police department when these soldiers lined up, and one guy was set up on the machine gun, but nothing really happened so I went to watch a baseball game, so it was shortly after that that the shooting started.

MN: So when you were at the police station, was there a huge crowd already outside?

SO: Oh yeah, there were a lot of people just mingling around.

MN: Now, later that evening, I think you said there was a commotion at your block. What happened?

SO: Well, my next door neighbor, like I said, was Kango Takamura, and he was the father-in-law of Togo Tanaka. And the people who caused the riots came looking for him. That's the only incident of the riot that I recall.

MN: Do you know why they were looking for Togo?

SO: Well, apparently Togo Tanaka was pretty high up in the JACL and they blamed the JACL for, or the dissidents, anyway, blamed the JACL for having us put in camp, or cooperating with the government to have them put us in camp, so that's why they were looking for Togo Tanaka. But apparently he had been spirited out earlier.

MN: By who?

SO: By whoever ran the camp.

MN: For his own protection.

SO: Yeah.

MN: So the riots happened a few weeks before Christmas. What memories do you have of that first Christmas in Manzanar?

SO: I don't even remember Christmas because we really never celebrated Christmas in our family, so I guess it was just another regular Christmas as far as I was, I was concerned.

MN: What about Oshogatsu?

SO: Didn't have any meaning.

MN: Did your block do any mochitsuki?

SO: Yeah, they had mochitsuki in our camp, in our block. We used, they used to pound mochi in the laundry room. But I remember mochitsuki after the war.

MN: Now, you mentioned the "loyalty questionnaire" earlier, so when the actual "loyalty questionnaire" came out, I'm assuming that your father answered "yes-yes" 'cause he did not go to Tule Lake.

SO: I don't know what he answered. Both my brother and I answered "yes-yes."

MN: Was this ever an issue with you?

SO: You know, come to think of it, one of the questions, "Would you forbear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan," well, that was sort of a silly question because we never said that we were allied to Japan. And naturally, though, the other question was, "Would you defend the United States in case of attack?" Well naturally, we were, we considered ourselves being American, right? We didn't know any other life.

MN: Let me ask you some random questions. Like judo and kendo, were there, did you take judo or kendo at Manzanar?

SO: No.

MN: Were, were there classes?

SO: Yeah, there was a judo hall that the Japanese put up, and there was also, it was more like an area with little storage cabinets for equipment, and a platform for kendo people, but other than that I never got involved. I just know about the facilities.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: And let me ask you about your college experience. You were sent to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, in the winter of 1944. How did you feel about leaving Manzanar by yourself, and out of state?

SO: Well, it was the first time I've ever left the family, gone out of state, but I really didn't consider being away from the family because I had done that so often before. And I left with Bruce Kaji; he and I went to the same school. And there was our predecessor, Yoshindo Shibuya, that, he had gone there a semester earlier. So my thoughts of leaving family, it was not, really of no concern.

MN: What was the train ride to Sioux City like?

SO: You know, I don't remember anything about that train ride. Bruce said there was some guy that was riding with them, with us who later became a doctor, but I don't remember that. The only thing I remember is getting off the train at Sioux City, and it was cold. And being a Southern Californian, I had light clothes, so the first thing I did was get off the train and go to a clothing store and buy an overcoat. That's my recollection of arriving at Sioux City.

MN: Where did you get the money to go buy an overcoat?

SO: Well, the government generously provided us with twenty-five dollars to leave, when we left camp.

MN: Did you blow that whole money on the overcoat?

SO: I can't... probably the better part of twenty-five dollars.

MN: Twenty-five dollars.

SO: Yeah.

MN: Where did you stay when you got to Morningside?

SO: I stayed at one of the deans' house. Bruce and I both got a room there, and I think we paid something like five dollars apiece for the room.

MN: And did you eat with the family?

SO: No. We had to provide our own food. In fact, they didn't allow us to bring any food into the room, but we used to sneak bread and baloney in there.

MN: What major did you choose at Morningside College?

SO: Pardon me?

MN: What major?

SO: Engineering.

MN: Why did you choose engineering?

SO: Probably because my brother was an, was in engineering.

MN: How did you find the academic level at Morningside College?

SO: I guess it was okay. I only stayed there one semester.

MN: What was the ethnic makeup of Morningside College?

SO: I think there were only one native Sioux Citian that was there was Japanese. It was a girl. Then Yoshindo, Bruce and I, so four Japanese. And the rest, a lot of 'em were navy, navy and military personnel. But probably, I can't remember, I think most of the students were comprised of women.

MN: I guess most of the men were in the army.

SO: Yeah.

MN: But you're saying there was a lot of navy personnel there?

SO: Yeah.

MN: How did they treat you?

SO: No, they treated us fine. We were probably more an oddity rather than the enemy. Although, on one occasion I remember -- we probably had sneakers on -- walking down in the basement on concrete floors, and I was walking behind a lady and I guess she didn't hear me, but she turned around and real startled when she saw me, and she, her first comment was, "My, you people walk quietly." I thought, what the heck is she talking about, "we people"? [Laughs] As if I was trying to sneak up on her, you know?

MN: So what was the first job you had in Sioux City?

SO: The first and only job I had was working at a diner. It was a corner diner and it was run by Mom and Pop Schwartz. But Yoshindo Shibuya worked there and I guess I got the job through him, so we'd work breakfast, lunch and dinner for food and five dollars. I don't know whether it was five dollar a week or five, probably five dollars a week.

MN: This was a full time or part time job?

SO: It was part time because I had to go to classes.

MN: So how were you able to afford tuition at, with a part time job?

SO: You know, I don't remember where -- the tuition at the time was three hundred bucks. I don't remember where that came from. I was just happy that somebody paid it. I don't think my dad did. And I don't remember if there was a scholarship either, but the, it was handled by my English teacher.

MN: So you were sharing that when you were at Morningside College you entered a ping pong tournament. How did you do?

SO: Well, this guy from South America and I, we were the co-champs, so I really thought I was hot stuff, you know. So I joined the, I got into a tournament, the city tournament, and I just got wiped out, so it was a very humiliating experience. [Laughs]

MN: You also were able to join the swim team. What was that like?

SO: Well, the swim team, I went out, I got into diving. And I soon quit that because I found out I couldn't dive very well. [Laughs] So those were probably the two ego busting experiences that I had at Morningside.

MN: But at Sioux City there, was there no restriction on Japanese Americans going to pools?

SO: I guess not. At least not at, not at the pool that we trained at. But, you know, you get into the Midwest and the East and apparently discrimination wasn't that prevalent as it was on the West Coast because I don't think the populous felt any competition from the Asians, whereas on the West Coast the farmers were competing with a lot of the Japanese farmers.

AK: We have three minutes on this tape.

MN: Let me see if we can [inaudible]. How did you learn how to swim?

SO: My brother threw me in the pool.

MN: How old were you when you --

SO: I was about ten years old.

MN: And where was this?

SO: It was at a pool in Sacramento called Fleishhacker Pool.

MN: So was this pool a segregated pool? Were you only allowed to go on certain days?

SO: No, no.

MN: So this pool in Sacramento was also not segregated.

SO: No.

MN: Was it just in Los Angeles area that they had segregated pools?

SO: I don't know, but this particular pool that Venice High School swim team trained at was segregated.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: So you're in Morningside and then, now, Bruce Kaji left Morningside College within two months. What happened to him?

SO: He got a letter from Uncle Sam. Was drafted.

MN: When did you get your, when did you get drafted?

SO: Well I was able to complete the semester, then I got my draft notice. I went to Fort Snelling to be inducted, and from there I went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to receive my clothing allowance. This is the history of my service. [Laughs] Then I went to Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado, to receive my training in becoming a medic.

MN: How did you end up there?

SO: I don't know. You know, with the army, they're famous for putting square pegs in round holes. I was an engineering major and they put me in the medics. From Denver I went to Palo Alto, to Dibble General Hospital, and worked in the psychiatric ward. Then from there I went to take my basic training up at Fort Lewis, Washington.

MN: Now, where were you when they declared VJ Day?

SO: VJ Day, I think I was taking basic training.

MN: At Fort Lewis?

SO: Yeah. This was in September, right?

MN: No, August.

SO: August or September. Well anyway --

MN: '45

SO: -- I was one bivouac at the time, and we always assumed that we were gonna go to the Pacific Theatre because we though they were hurrying our training, basic training. We were through in six weeks, whereas most of the infantry people, they, I think, get seventeen weeks. But anyway, I was on bivouac when VJ Day was announced.

MN: How did you feel when you heard the news?

SO: Sort of relieved. You know, the war was over, and it's a relief to feel that you don't have to go into combat.

MN: Now, the unit that you were training with, was it a segregated unit?

SO: No. It, they were... in fact, I, during basic training I think there were only two or three of us that were Japanese.

MN: How did the other non-Japanese American soldiers treat you?

SO: Just like I was a regular guy, no differently from anybody else.

MN: But you mentioned that when you were stationed at Fort Lewis you were restricted to post. What, why were you restricted to post?

SO: We were restricted to post because the Hawaiian guys, they'd go up to Seattle and they'd really raise a ruckus. I think it was because they'd get drunk and they'd crash different dances, social dances, and they were of the opinion that the guys up in Seattle told the women not to dance with these Hawaiian guys. In fact, we were, a friend of mine and I, we were leaving a, one of the socials and as we went outside about four or five Hawaiian guys came up to us and they said, "Hey, where you guys from?" Said, "We're from L.A." Says, "Okay, you can go." But if we were from Seattle they probably would've beat us up. But anyway, that's why were, the Hawaiian guys were raising so much ruckus up in Seattle we were restricted to post. Well the Asians, anyway, or the Japanese.

MN: So when you were in the army and you were part of this medical corps, what were some of your responsibilities?

SO: Well, I became what they call a ward master, and my duties were just to clean up the ward. Make the beds, sometimes we were allowed to give shots, but most of it was the dirty work that the nurses wouldn't do.

MN: Did you have to do any traveling?

SO: When I first, my first duty was to take a troop train, or hospital train, down to El Paso, Texas. These were guys that were wounded in service overseas, so we just took a troop train down to El Paso. That was my first encounter with the medic, medics.

MN: Did any of these wounded soldiers have any problems being administered by a Japanese American?

SO: No. In fact, the guys that were most seriously wounded due to the war, they were more closed-mouth than these people that got hurt just by an accident, maybe like a, stepping off a truck and broken their leg or something. They were the most vocal. They complained the most. But the guys that were wounded in battle, they hardly ever raised any ruckus.

MN: And when you say, I mean, complaining, they're not complaining because of your racial background. They're just --

SO: No, no. They're complaining because of their, they're hurting.

MN: Going back to VJ Day, and you know the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and your mother was originally from Hiroshima. How did you feel about that?

SO: Well, they, in order to show the effects of the bomb they could've dropped it offshore, just to show the power of the atomic bomb. But then to drop it on Hiroshima and then again on Nagasaki, that was to me unconscionable. You know, they could've shown the destructive power of the atom bomb very differently, and I thought at the time it was an atrocity.

MN: When were you honorably discharged from the army?

SO: December of '46.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: And then once you got discharged you returned to Southern California where your father was living in Boyle Heights. Is that, is that right?

SO: Yeah. He was living with a family.

MN: And then once you returned, what did you do?

SO: I applied to, for the University of Southern Cal. I was gonna go into architect, architecture. And waiting to be accepted to go to school, I think we had heard that the farming up in the Sacramento Valley was really a profitable situation, so a group of us got together and -- I think there were three of us, four of us -- we got together and we went up to Sacramento to work on farms. Our first job was cutting asparagus, so we went, we went to the farm and we got up at four o'clock, they woke us up at four o'clock in the morning and we had breakfast and they took us out. It was still dark, so the guy says, "This is how you cut asparagus." They were cutting what they call half, half green, where the upper part of the asparagus is green and the rest of it white. So he says, "Here's how you cut the asparagus." And we looked down at the ground and says, "What asparagus?" We couldn't see because it was dark. Well, we worked one day and I think we made a dollar an hour. We made eight dollars apiece. This wasn't for us, so we quit and we found a job just moving sprinkler pipes. They, they'd pump the water into long tubes that went the width of the field and they had sprinklers on 'em, so we'd sprinkle for ten minutes, then we'd break it down, move the pipes over, set it up, then sprinkle some more. So we did that for about, probably a week, and then we came home. [Laughs] Farming was not for us.

MN: And then meanwhile you're waiting to get into USC on the GI Bill, right?

SO: Yeah.

MN: What did you end up becoming?

SO: I ended up becoming an engineer, civil engineer. I transferred from SC to UCLA.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MN: Let me go, skip a few years and go to your first Class of 1944 Manzanar High School reunion. When was the first one held?

SO: The first one was held in 1964, at the Ambassador Hotel, and that was Class of '44 only.

MN: And the Ambassador Hotel is no longer with us.

SO: Nope.

MN: Did you attend your Venice High School reunion?

SO: No.

MN: Have you attended all your Manzanar High School reunions?

SO: Yeah. I've attended all of them. In fact, the second one was twenty, the second one was held at the Proud Bird in Inglewood. Then we started in Vegas in, our fifty years, in 1994.

MN: And you are very active with the Manzanar Committee, the Manzanar High School Reunion Committee.

SO: Yeah.

MN: How did you get, when did you join and how did you get involved?

SO: Well, I actually got involved because a friend of mine lived in the same tract as I do, and he loved fishing, so the meetings were held on a Sunday at Bruce Kaji's office, so Sundays were this fellow's day off and he would ask me, he says, "Would you take --" he was the treasurer -- he says, "Would you take my report in and give it to the committee members?" So I said okay, so I took it in, and he did this to me several times and before I knew it I was on the committee. So that was my first experience with the committee.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MN: Now, you were really instrumental in getting the Manzanar camp diorama, or the replica that's displayed at the Manzanar Historic Site put together, but this project almost didn't happen. Can you share with us, like, how this idea came about and what the process was?

SO: Well, the committee said one thing missing up in Manzanar is a model of the camp, and Bruce Kaji says, "Oh, we've got one at the museum," Japanese National Museum, so a group of us went up and looked at it, and he says, "Yeah, this'll probably be nice for the camp." So we found out Bruce knew who built it, guy named Hasuike. Well, Hasuike got a group of people together to build one at, at the museum, so we said, well, let's see if he'll make it. So we contacted him and he says, "Well, you guys can use my shop and you guys put it together." He says, "Whatever molds I have for the buildings and stuff," he'll let us use. Well, in the interim he died, so that created a dilemma. I says, "What are we gonna do?" Somebody suggested, "Why don't we build it?" I says, yeah, but who's gonna do it? So I said, "Well, I do a little woodworking. I can make the buildings, but they're not gonna be plastic and as intricate and detailed as the one at the museum." So they said okay, so I started building the little models, the little buildings, and I made a sample board of a block and they all seemed happy with it. Then Archie Miyatake says, "Well, I'll paint 'em." So he and I... I made the buildings and he painted the barracks. So then I got a cabinetmaker -- he'd just so happened to remodel my kitchen -- and I asked him to make platforms for me, so he said okay, so I thought we were gonna pay him but he ended up donating the thing. Then we got the committee together, but in the meantime Archie and I had made all the buildings and we got the committee started maybe in February. And I broke some branches off of the heavenly bamboo; that provided us with the trunk of the trees, and we got some moss and stuff and made trees out of -- anyway, we put it all together. There were about thirteen of us on the committee at the time, so we finished it in time for the dedication of the auditorium, the interpretive center.

MN: Did everybody work out of your garage? That's a lot of people to be working.

SO: No, my brother-in-law, he donated a little building, the space for us to work in that he wasn't using. So we all went and -- this was in Harbor City -- my brother-in-law had a trailer, boat trailer repair shop, so we commandeered part of his buildings to put the model together.

MN: So in total, how many months did it take from the time you started on your own to when the committee came to finish it?

SO: Archie and I started in November, and I think, wasn't the interpretive center dedicated in March?

MN: April, they had the big shindig in April at the pilgrimage. That was when they, it was huge crowds of people, in April. I think it was 2005, I want to say.

SO: Anyway, we finished it in time for the dedication, and then a few of us went up and put, put the model together.

MN: Now, that's a pretty big model that I see in the interpretive center. Did you have to bring it in parts?

SO: Yeah, we created, we made it in sections, and it was so divided that where the panels joined together happened to be the street that went around the blocks. So they're little odd-sized shapes, but that, that's what predicated the size of the platform. But it turned out the scale of the model is about four hundred to one, but the buildings are out of scale. They had to be bigger, otherwise they would've been real tiny little things, so we made 'em bigger. And the scale up at the museum is really out of whack, but you wouldn't know it.

MN: Is this where your engineering background comes in?

SO: Maybe. I like to fiddle around with wood anyway, so...

MN: Where did you get the measurements for the scales?

SO: They had a map in one of the Park Service pamphlets, so that's where we got the scale.

MN: You also donated your artwork for the cover of the Manzanar High School program. How did that start?

SO: [Laughs] Well, that started, we used to get covers from Union Bank and they were the same covers that they produced every year, but then the austerity program came about and Union Bank said they would no longer donate it. So we had to have some kind of a cover, so that's when I just threw in my sumi-e drawing.

MN: When did you start your sumi-e drawing?

SO: Well, it's probably been about twenty, twenty-five years now. The way that came about was the teachers had a spat. They broke up, and at the time I was taking bonsai, where -- you know, bonsai club -- and one of the members there said, "Hey, Sam, we need students. Why don't you come?" I said okay, so I had always wanted to take some kind of art. That's how I got started.

MN: Okay, I've asked all me questions that I want to ask you. Is there anything else you want to add?

SO: No, nothing that I can think of. Not off the top of my head, anyway.

MN: You're still active with the committee?

SO: I, for the last two years I only provided the pamphlet, the brochure. But this year we formed a new committee and, you know Rosie Kakuchi, she included my name, so I guess I'm drafted.

MN: And now you're not just the Class of '44, is it? It's like all Manzanar, isn't it?

SO: Yeah. It started out the Class of '44, then we added the Class of '43, '44, then we added the Class '43, '44, '45. So actually those were the three classes that graduated in Manzanar, so then they decided, being that a lot of the '43, '44, '45 members have passed away, we thought we'd keep the reunion going by adding all classes, so it eventually turned into Manzanar School reunion, so K through 12. Actually, it's K through 12, relatives, and anybody else who wants to participate, but we don't want to call it an all camp reunion, otherwise it would probably become unmanageable.

MN: Okay, thank you, Sam.

SO: You're welcome.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.