Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Spark M. Matsunaga Interview
Narrator: Spark M. Matsunaga
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: April 17, 1987
Densho ID: denshovh-mspark-01

<Begin Segment 1>

LD: So let's start off by saying what it was that was the hardest for the Nisei.

SM: The difficulty over and above what men of the 100th Battalion, 442nd faced, facing the Military Intelligence Service language group, was that while the members of the 100th Battalion, 442nd could go out into combat, one battle, and prove their loyalty, the Military Intelligence Service people were not sent into combat as combat soldiers. They were there as interpreters, and they were translating documents, Japanese documents, and also interviewing captured Japanese soldiers. And, of course, the Japanese looked upon them as traitors. And the Americans did not quite trust them until such time as they could prove that they were indeed loyal Americans. And this was a difficult thing as I saw it. So, in fact, they were faced with gun pointing at them from the front, and, of course, gun at their backs even. Until such time as they proved that they were in fact Americans. And many a time, the results of the translation, of the interpretations were not immediately evident.

LD: How did you think the Nisei did prove, how do you think they went about proving who they were?

SM: Well, of course, in time, by use of their language, there were many who commanded the enemy to surrender. I know of a number of instances where the MIS men -- when I say MIS, Military Intelligence Service men -- were trained in Japan. They were the so-called Kibei group, Americans born in the United States but trained in Japan as a youngster. And some of them, because of the military training requirement in Japanese schools, had that training in order to be able to give orders to Japanese troops. And when they were dressed in Japanese uniform, for example, in Japanese officers uniform, well, the Japanese soldiers themselves, the troops, didn't know the difference. And when they gave orders to surrender, they did surrender in compliance with the orders issued by this American masquerading as a Japanese officer. And because his Japanese was perfect, then they, the enemy, didn't know the difference. Whereas we did, our American officers did. But whenever they put on that Japanese uniform, they endangered themselves against their own troop. Because American troops didn't know the difference, couldn't even distinguish one from the other. So, in fact, I would say that the MIS group out on the battlefield faced even greater dangers than we of the 100th Battalion/442nd did. I happened to serve with the MIS only after I had served with the 100th Battalion/442nd over in Italy, and having returned to be discharged because of my wounds. But then I was assigned to MIS basically to teach infantry tactics to the students. Although my principal duty at that time was to go into the Midwest and eastern cities to prepare the business community to accept those who were interned, Japanese Americans who were interned in the so-called "internment camps," which were, of course, in effect, American-style concentration camps.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

LD: Why don't you tell us about the fact that, when the Nisei were in the Twin Cities area, you took a survey of how much that city would be receptive to them and what happened? Will you start with that? We're talking about 1943, '42.

SM: 1942... '43, I was there for eight months, so from June... no, '43. June '43.

LD: We can just say during the war.

SM: June '43 to '44.

LD: "During the war, while the fellows were training in language at Camp Savage in Minneapolis, Twin Cities area." You can start that way. We're trying to establish...

SM: Okay. During the war, I was assigned, after returning from Italy, to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, primarily for the purpose of orienting the community, the business community as well as the social community, to accept internees from the camps in the hopes that they would fill jobs which were crying for workers. And we took a survey of the Twin Cities area and found that, of the seven hundred firms surveyed, not a single one would hire a Nisei. And so we conducted an intensive campaign over a six month period, talking to groups of businessmen, to the chamber of commerce groups, to the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, to the DAV and then to the various social organizations and audiences ranging in size from thirty-five to even three thousand at one time I spoke to, at a munitions factory, they called a stop-work meeting at which I spoke. Primarily to let them know that these were Americans who were willing to contribute to the war effort. And then we took a survey after the six-month campaign and found that every one of the seven hundred firms had hired or indicated a willingness to hire Nisei. So it was indeed a very successful campaign, and I look upon that period of my life as one of the most useful which I spent in service.

LD: What would you say to them? What was it that you felt was in their mind, and what would you say to them? What did you say to them? If I was such a person, what would you say to me?

SM: Well, they could not distinguish the difference between Japanese of Japan and Japanese Americans. In their eyes, of course, we all looked alike, and they looked upon us as enemies. And, well, it wasn't until I had told them my experiences on the battlefront with men of the 100th Battalion, and told them about men of the 442nd also, the younger brothers of the members of the 100th Battalion who were fighting in the European Theater of Operations, sacrificing their lives for their country, to prove their loyalty to help in the preservation of American heritage. And I told them of my messenger, for example, who practically died in my arms after he was wounded, was mortally wounded. He knew he was dying, and he said to me, "Lieutenant, I know I'm going to die, but I have no regrets. Because I know that as a result of my dying, those who will go back, and our folks back home, will be finally recognized as pure Americans and have a better life."

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LD: You know, one of the things I remember you telling me was you were standing next to General Mark Clark one time when he was seeing troops off. And there's always been a question about how the 442 fellows were being sent repeatedly into these impossible fighting situations and asked to do the job. What is your view on that? What do you feel about the fellows being asked to do so much, so many times?


SM: We of the 100th Battalion were being used as the point in an attack over and over again. And, well, as a matter of fact, Major Johnson, who was a high officer in our battalion, raised a question. And I happened to be a battalion liaison officer, so I happened to be at that meeting. And he raised the question with the higher authorities, "Why is it that you're sending the 100th Battalion as a point time and time again?" He said, "Is it because our men are expendable in your eyes?" He really said it in very concerned tones. And General Mark Clark said, "No, please don't think that because... we do it because we know the 100th Battalion can do the job as no other unit can." And then, well, when we were ordered to depart from the so-called point of departure, that's where the attack begins, in early dawn in one of the attacks, here was Mark Clark, the general, at the line of departure. Usually that's confined to company command, battalion commander, and even rarely a regimental commander's at the battle, the line of departure. But here was the army commander, General Mark Clark, at the line of departure, watching the men of the 100th Battalion cross that line of departure. And as I watched him -- see, I was at the line of departure with him -- I saw tears streaming down his eyes. And, of course, I knew then, and others who observed him knew then that his heart was with the men of the 100th Battalion. And I relayed this to the men, what I had seen, and so it's, over and over again, men began to look upon him as one who was really at heart with us. So after the war, he was invited, he and his wife were invited to Hawaii for a two-week vacation, fully paid by members of the 442nd/100th. And I happened to be the contact man. I traveled along, I was a traveling companion, tourist guide so to speak when they were in Hawaii. It was quite a thrilling experience to be able to return the favor, not in terms of actually keeping us out of battle, but sending us into battle with the feeling that we could do the job better than anyone else.

And, of course, the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, even to this day, stands as the most highly decorate military unit in the history of the United States, that is, a unit of its size. And General Mark Clark, even after the war, time and time again said that to listening Americans, and that has helped a lot. In fact, it did help a lot in Hawaii, attaining statehood. And, of course, when President Truman decorated the guidon of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with the 9th Presidential Unit Citation, he said that, he said to the men that... this was done right on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. And he said, "You fought not only the enemy, but prejudice, and won."

Amazingly, I have found even today, that prejudice still remains. In trying to get co-sponsors to a bill to compensate those Japanese Americans who were confined in American-style concentration camps -- truly, they were complete with barbed wire fences and watchtowers and machine gun nests, in truth, a form of concentration camp. And those who were confined there were without any criminal records. As a matter of fact, they weren't charged at all for any crime. There was no indictment, no trial, no hearing, and yet they were taken into these camps and confined for what reason? Just because they happened to be of Japanese ancestry. And because the nine-member commission who made a study of the situation in 1983, the report was completed in '83, found that it was purely out of racial prejudice, out of economic competition, which others, non-Japanese could not stand, because Japanese were so hard-working, especially among the farmers. And political... what is the term they used?

LD: Political leadership.

SM: That's right, failure of political leadership.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SM: It's amazing, that even in the Senate today, forty-five years after the war has ended... see, I introduced a bill, as a matter of fact, re-introduced a bill just recently, a bill to compensate those who had been confined in these American-style concentration camps, because these were Americans we're talking about. In approaching the United States senators to co-sponsor the measure, I had one senator tell me, "Now why should I co-sponsor your bill?" He says, "Why should we compensate the Japanese? They started the war, they should suffer the consequences of their own action." And, of course, that shocked me. I told him, "These are Americans we're talking about, not Japanese. The Japanese were our enemy in World War II. Now, we're talking about Americans, many of us who donned American uniforms and fought against the Japanese." I said, "These are the ones we're talking about. Their parents were confined in these so-called 'relocation camps' while the sons were fighting overseas, not only in Europe against the Nazi forces, but in Japan as well, as interpreters, as translators of documents. Which in many cases led to American victories, which might have not have been possible. The Military Intelligence men of Japanese ancestry, in fact, have been given credit for shortening the war through their efforts." Now, this is what I'm talking about.

Because I would relate the case of my father, for example, that he had a, he was a Shinto preacher, he had a temple. And on December the 8th he was picked up to be sent to one of these camps, but my sister immediately phoned me. I happened to be in active service six months prior to Pearl Harbor on the island of Molokai. And so when she called me from the island of Kauai where my parents lived and said, "Sparky, you'd better come home. They've picked up Father and they're gonna send him to this concentration camp," or something, said, they're gonna jail him. And so I flew home, fortunately I had made available to me a military plane which took me to Kauai. And then I talked to the provost marshal, he was the general in command of the island of Kauai at that time. And he looked at me at that time and said, "Now, how can I incarcerate the father of a United States Army officer on active service?" and he released my father. But supposing my father did not have a son who was in Uncle Sam's uniform on active service? He would have been confined to camp. For what reason? No reason other than that he was of Japanese ancestry. The FBI as you know had cleared not only those of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii, but those on the West Coast also. Absolute clearance according to the FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover opposed the evacuation on the West Coast. And before, during, and after Pearl Harbor, there was not a single case of sabotage or espionage committed by anyone of Japanese ancestry, resident alien or American.

LD: How do you explain Secretary Knox's statement? Would you tell us what he said when he came after Pearl Harbor to look around, and then what he said in a press conference, and the effects of that. If you start there, when Secretary of the Navy Knox came to Hawaii.

SM: Well, I'm not sure what statement you're referring to.

LD: He said it was the worst case of fifth-column activity since Norway.

SM: Well, he was misguided. Of course, his statement was absolutely denied by the FBI and Naval Intelligence also, gave Japanese Americans and their parents absolute clearance, and he was guided by politicians who were as misguided as those politicians on the West Coast, and there some in Hawaii, of course. There was one, for example, who was head of the Hawaiian Electric Company, I believe, who advocated the evacuation of all Japanese and Japanese Americans from Hawaii. And he was the type of people whom Secretary of Knox talked with.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LD: The 100th and all of you fellows, you yourself was put under suspicion, and at one point they took all your arms away. Can you talk to me about that?

SM: Yes. Well, as I said, I was in uniform and on active service prior to Pearl Harbor. And so were other men of Japanese ancestry, in fact, there were about 1,565 of us. And so long as invasion wasn't an imminent matter, they raised to questions of our loyalty. We were out in the dugouts, down in the beaches, and we were guarding airfields throughout the territory, it was Territory of Hawaii at that time. There was not a single question raised at that point. But when it became evident that invasion was a remote matter, Battle of Midway had turned things around, then all of a sudden the War Department issued an order for us of Japanese ancestry to turn in our arms. And what a sad day it was for me personally, because I was called into the office by Captain George T. Cooper, who happened to be then my company commander. And he said, "Sparky, I hate to do it, but here it is, War Department orders. I've got to ask you to turn in your arms." And I still get emotional about it when I think about that moment. So I had to unbuckle my sidearms and turn it over to him. And so were all the other men in the company and in other companies throughout the territory.

And then, on short notice, we were placed aboard the SS Maui. From Molokai we were shipped, we were sent over by interisland ship to Schofield Barracks, all of us were converged at Schofield Barracks from throughout the territory. And without even a chance to see our folks to say goodbye to them, we found ourselves aboard the SS Maui, a converted freighter, into a troop ship. And where we were going, we knew not. And we sailed and we landed in Oakland, California. From there we were sent all across the continent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. And when the train came to a screeching halt -- and this was a great treat for us because we hadn't, many of us, or most of us, had never ridden a train before. [Laughs] There being no real trains in Hawaii except for freight trains and sugar cane hauling trains. It was quite an experience for us. But when the train came to a screeching halt, the first thing we saw was a barbed wire fence. And so the skeptics said, "Well, here we go, concentration camp." But we learned that the barbed wire fence contained the two Japanese prisoners of war which our men had captured at Waimanalo Beach. And our first task was to guard -- the whole battalion, mind you -- to guard these two prisoners of war. With what? With wooden guns. We were given wooden guns, mind you. And we were veterans, now. We had... well, so many of us were expert riflemen, sharpshooters, etcetera. And we were doing daily routine drills, close order drills, right turn, left turn, about face, with wooden guns, that's what we were doing.

And then we signed a petition to the President of the United States. Every one of us in the battalion signed that petition to the President asking him to send us, to return our arms to us and send us against the Japanese to prove our loyalty. What we didn't know was that they were censoring our mail. After the war broke out, we had a censoring system, but the company commander was normally the highest censoring official. But our letters were being censored at high headquarters. And the letters which were coming in from our parents and letters which we were responding to our parents were being censored. And that is what I think could motivate it, from what I've been able to gather, the President to grant us our petition. Because in those letters, our parents had been writing to us, translating the Japanese proverb, you know, "Umi no oya yori sodate no oya." Meaning, "You owe your loyalty to the land of your adoption rather than to your land of birth." And so they themselves felt that they, although born in Japan, now resident in the United States, owed their loyalty to the land of their adoption, that is, the United States of America, rather than to the land of their birth, Japan. And this was being written by our parents to us. And then, in my case, for example, my father always used to say, "You are an American even more than we are. Because we cannot become naturalized citizens." Many Americans don't know that there was a law, an American law, which said that Orientals could not become naturalized citizens. The Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924 said if you were an Oriental, regardless of how much you wanted to become an American citizen, regardless of how long you lived in the United States, you could not become a naturalized American citizen. And our parents used to say, "Well, despite that law, we feel that at heart we are Americans, and that you, of course, were born an American. You owe your loyalty to America. Just remember that." And, well, this type of letter I think convinced the Military Intelligence people that we could be trusted, and recommended to the President that we be given back our arms and be trained for combat duty. And when Colonel Turner, the battalion commander, called an assembly of the battalion and announced that he had just received orders from Washington, the War Department, that our arms could be returned to us and that we would be trained for combat duty, boy, you should have seen the hats fly, the hands wave. Here were grown up men cheering and rejoicing. For what? To be given a chance to perhaps give up their lives even for their country. And whereas they could have had the opportunity to just stay back. Okay, if they don't trust us, we'll just stay here for the rest of the war. But no, we were begging to be sent to combat to prove our loyalty to our country. And that is the spirit I think which drove the 100th Battalion and the 442nd to such great heights in combat, to become the mostly highly decorated unit in the history of our country.


SM: Well, once the 100th Battalion proved itself in combat to such a degree that it was outstanding, the War Department decided to expand the battalion to a regiment perhaps, and to have recruits for replacement, and they called for volunteers. In ten days, three thousand had volunteered in Hawaii. And what was even more amazing was that a similar number or thereabouts volunteered from behind barbed wire fences, those who had been thrown into these American-style concentration camps volunteered to serve. And, of course, I think the circumstances were such that those who volunteered from behind these barbed wire fences had a greater emotional obstacle to overcome than those of us in Hawaii. I recall at a social function when I suggested to those who were present -- and this was part of my recruiting effort, too, that I was asked to do, to talk to Japanese Americans to volunteer for service either with the MIS or with the 100th/442nd. This was after I was assigned to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, with the MIS. And at one gathering, I talked about what a good thing it would be for those -- this was in the Chicago area after some of them had been relocated -- and so that we should make an effort to volunteer for service to prove our loyalty, even beyond any question. And there was a Dr. Tashiro there, and he told me about his own experience in one of the camps. He said his father and his son, his grandfather, grandson, were playing pitch-catch ball. And see, there was a regulation there in the camp that after six o'clock, you were not to be seen between the two barbed wire fences. And, of course, the inner fence had a gate through which you could go. So the grandfather missed the ball, the ball rolled between the two fences, and it was broad daylight still although it was after six o'clock, it was during the summer months. And the grandfather ran after the ball. And the guard at the tower yelled at him and says, "Get back." And the father, Tashiro's father, or the grandfather of the child, yelled back and said, "I'm just going after the ball," and he kept on going. And the machine was blasted, killed him right there on the spot. Just imagine what trauma the grandson had to go through, and just imagine what Dr. Tashiro... and he asked me, he said, "Sparky, if you were in my boots, could you volunteer?" he asked me? And I said no, I could not, I told him.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LD: So you understand, what is your understanding of the position, the motivation, of those people who refused the draft, who resisted draft, the sixty-three or so that came out of Heart Mountain and ultimately went to Leavenworth. What do you feel about draft resisters?

SM: Well, of course, there were many like Tashiro who went through experiences such as that. There were, in fact, five recorded killings of those -- at least five -- of those who had gone to close to the barbed wire fences and killed on the spot. And there were other instances, many, where, well, the Commission's report, the nine-member Commission report, which was submitted to the Congress in 1983 relates many incidents such as, where the father of the family, the elderly, was in dire need of medical assistance, medical treatment, but was given none because there were no medical facilities in the camps. And he died as a consequence. There was a case of a retarded child who was not allowed to go with the family into these camps. They wanted to take the child, too, because they said they wouldn't allow any retarded child into the camp. So the child was left at some foster care home, and shortly thereafter died. And if you had had these personal experiences, well, it takes much, much more than human effort to say, "Okay, I will volunteer for service, I'll go to combat to prove my loyalty."

LD: What about those draft resisters or army protesters who were already in the army who decided to not go on to the service who felt that they were not only not willing to cooperate because the government mistreated, but also who felt they were defending their constitutional rights?

SM: Well, I think as Americans, they were trying to prove a point. And they were those, as you know, who violated curfew laws in order to be intentionally arrested. There was the case of Yasui, for example, who unfortunately passed away before his case could be reheard by the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court has now decided to hear those cases because of new evidence which had in fact been suppressed by the government prosecution. And I think if those cases are reheard now with the new evidence put into trial, I think they might come forth with a new decision on the part of the courts. And if that happens, it will prove that those who had objected to complying with orders which they felt unconstitutional will have a really, perform a great service to this country. Because in this bicentennial year, when we celebrate the adoption of that great document we call the Constitution, the one big blot on that document is the treatment, the denial of life, liberty and justice to a group of Americans for no reason other than they were of Japanese ancestry. And I have appealed to my colleagues in the Congress, especially the Senate, and I was able to get a co-sponsorship, a total of seventy-one, for my bill to compensate those who had been confined in these camps. I appealed to them on the basis that in this year of celebrating the bicentennial of that great document, let us remove that one blot on it by passing the redress bill. And that has, I think, brought about the response that I have received so far.

LD: They do see that? Do you feel that when you make that argument, they see it as a blot on -- your colleagues -- have seen it as a blot?

SM: Yes, and many of them have decided to co-sponsor with me because of that.

LD: What do you think of someone like John McCloy's, John J. McCloy's position?

SM: Well, I think he...

LD: "I think John J. McCloy..."

SM: He made a position, he took a position from which, whether because of age or because of refusal to admit to an error at the time, he keeps on saying what he does. But Earl Warren, on the other hand, who was very active in the evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and California in particular, when he was attorney general for the state at that time, in his autobiography and before a group of Sansei, Yonsei, that is, Japanese Americans of third and fourth generation, apologized to them. And he admitted in his autobiography that it was the greatest mistake he ever made in his life. So there are those who, upon reflection, find that it was a mistake, prompted more by political expediency at that time.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

LD: Do you understand why the MIS were kept under wraps so much? I mean, why is it that we know so little about them? Will you start with that subject, "We know very little about the work of the Niseis..."

SM: Unfortunately, the exploits of the Military Intelligence Service group, that is the Japanese Americans, were kept under wraps for much, much too long. And for some strange reason, the Department of Defense, CIA or whatever the authorities they might have been, just would not release the... well, deep secrets, they kept in secret what the Americans of Japanese ancestry were doing in the war against Japan. We find that as the military, as the commander of the Military Intelligence Service stated, I'm trying to think of his name right now, his name skips my mind, but he said that the members of the Military Intelligence, that is, the Japanese Americans, shortened the war by a considerable number of months. I forget exactly.

LD: Willoughby.

SM: Was it Willoughby?

LD: Yeah, he was chief of intelligence for MacArthur.

SM: Oh yes, that's right.

LD: And [inaudible] said the same thing, he said we never, as a whole... that MacArthur in New Guinea and Philippines knew more about the enemy disposition than any general in the history of the military, any world history. But he was talking about --

SM: And, oh yes, I was thinking in terms of Kai Rasmussen, who was the commander of the MIS at that time.

LD: Did you understand why the fellows did not get the proper rank, can you talk about that? It was not only that it was a thorn in their side, it actually made it very difficult for them to do their work. Can you talk about that a little bit? Because they were promised, many of them were promised what they were going to get, commissions, but they did not, of course.

SM: Well, unfortunately, the men of the MIS were not company commanders, platoon commanders, they were just interpreters. And they had, they did not have any slot calling for commissioned officers who were doing the tasks that they were doing. And they should have been given commissions, really, and upon graduation from the kind of work they were doing, they should have been commissioned because non-Japanese Americans were commissioned officers who were attending the Intelligence Service Language School and went overseas as officers. But none of those of Japanese ancestry were commissioned officers. As a matter of fact, even the 100th Infantry Battalion, when we were training at Camp McCoy, there was an order from the War Department that we were not to be promoted beyond the rank of first lieutenant. And so while there were many of us who had spent time in rank and were fully eligible for promotion to captain, by department orders, we were kept down to the rank of first lieutenant. And only those who happened to have been promoted before that order was issued had the rank of, beyond first lieutenant, and there were only two of them at that time. So, well, there again you have prejudice going all the way through. I don't know whether or not it was based on fear, mistrust. But unfortunately for those of us of Japanese ancestry -- and I say unfortunately because that was the basis of the distinction -- we looked foreign to most Americans. We had Oriental faces; others all had European faces, and they constitute the overwhelming majority in control, and that made the difference.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SM: I think the difference lay in the fact that in Hawaii, the Japanese Americans constituted a large majority. That is, they were not in the majority of the total population, but we were the largest minority group to the extent that we were dominant in community life. Many of us were in politics, for example, whereas none of the Niseis were in politics on the mainland before the war. There were politicians of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii. And then, well, I could relate many incidents after we were sent to the mainland, and we were joined by the Nisei from the mainland at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, when the 442nd was being organized and trained, even before the 100th Battalion left for combat overseas. Well, the Hawaiians would be walking down the sidewalk, and a group of Caucasians, Caucasian soldiers would come from the opposite side. Well, we would just continue walking on the sidewalk. But the mainland Nisei would step off the sidewalk and let the Caucasians go past. And it was a striking example of the difference between the Hawaii Nisei and the mainland Nisei. The mainland Nisei were much more subservient to the Caucasians, whereas... well, we looked upon Caucasians as equals. Well, we were as good Americans as they were, so we looked at others at an eye-to-eye level. And the experience that we had at Fort Snelling outside, for example, in towns which we visited during off hours, well, it was a time when some of us who looked more black, this is, because they were part Hawaiians -- there were part Hawaiians in our group, and were dark-skinned. When they were refused treatment, or refused service, rather, at restaurants, well, our men would rebel. We would talk to the manager, complain about it, and say, "If you are not going to serve him, then we are protesting this to the camp commander. And you won't have any military personnel coming here. You're gonna lose a lot of business. And he is not black, he is Hawaiian." See, it would go to the point of challenging the orders. Whereas the mainland Nisei, if they were told, "Sorry, we don't serve Japs around here," well, they'd just leave. Well, that I think was the primary difference. I think because of the lifestyle in California, for example, where they were subjected to so much prejudice, and even brutal physical action against them purely on account of their racial ancestry. But in Hawaii we didn't have that. We were at least treated on an equal basis among racial groups. Of course, we were subjected to discrimination when it came to promotion, etcetera, within the plantation. In the plantations, of course, we were treated like slaves, practically. But then we would outlive that. We worked through that, and we went into the business community, and then the public education system, I think, was a great one in Hawaii. Where, see, the majority of the students there were of Oriental ancestry. And we were taught that we were Americans. We were as great an American as those of any other racial strain. We didn't know the difference. But those on the mainland were minorities within white schools, and they were treated as minorities from the time they went to school. I think that made a lot of difference.

LD: It was also true that so many of the Hawaiian Nisei had a much better command of Japanese language. They were better translators for the military.

SM: Yes. Yes, because many of us spoke the language, our parents came from Japan. I, for myself, I myself learned my Japanese from my parents, and we had Japanese language schools to which we were sent by our parents on a compulsory basis. We had to attend Japanese language schools to learn the language so we could communicate with them. And I'm grateful for that, because I find now, in my adult age, that it proves very helpful. It works to my great advantage now in dealing with the Japanese, for example, on trade matters, on political matters. So I have no regrets at all.

LD: What do you... one thing occurred to me recently is that the, one of the hardest things of the MIS was that anonymous service, because they could never prove anything for the sake of their families, right?

SM: Uh-huh.

LD: What do you think of that?

SM: Well, that was an extra burden that those who served in the Military Intelligence had to carry, that they could not publicly be recognized because they were on secret missions most of the time. And if we had revealed to the Japanese that we had Nisei who were translating all their codes and their messages, not only sent overseas to fleets of vessels, and from one commander to another, but right on the battlefield where the company commanders were giving orders. Take the case of Merrill's Marauders, for example. They survived because of the interpreters who happened to be with General Merrill, and they knew every order that was being given by the Japanese before they executed the commands. And the Americans were ready for the enemy. Well, the fact that it was not known to the Japanese that their orders, their messages were being intercepted and interpreted by a Japanese American, served to the great advantage of our own forces. Had the Japanese known that their code had been broken down, or that the orders were being translated directly by interpreters of Japanese ancestry, well, they would have changed their code or they would have used a different method of communication, and the war would have been lengthened. And has so frequently been said by generals in command of the forces in the war against Japan, these interpreters really shortened the war and saved thousands of American lives.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

LD: How do you see their role, how do you see the role of Nisei in the occupation postwar period in Japan? What do you think of the kinds of things they did? What was their role there? Also, especially because the Japanese people actually didn't see them as Japanese, and they thought that their Japanese for the most part was rather poor or not as good as it could be because they were Kibei. What about their role there and how they were seen by the Japanese public as well as...

SM: I've always maintained that a common language is the strongest single bond of unity. And when our Americans of Japanese ancestry went over to Japan and occupied Japan, and could relate to them and overcome the difficulty of communication which the Japanese would have had normally with Americans, I think that helped tremendously in bringing about an understanding among the Japanese that while the Americans were there in force to occupy Japan, that we were there to bring about a situation where peace would be brought about to the country, and that America was in fact bent upon helping Japan to get back on its feet again. And had it not been for these interpreters, many of whom had relatives in Japan, and who were trusted by them, to the point where the Japanese people began to believe that, in fact, America was now there to help them, I think the occupation forces would have had tremendous difficulty. But I think the interpreters of Japanese ancestry served a purpose not only in combat, but in peace which was won. And I think prior to the war, the Nisei were looked upon as second class Japanese when they'd go to Japan, because their Japanese was not altogether fluent. But after the war, they helped so much in the transition from war to peace, that the Japanese changed their attitude towards the Nisei. Now here they were Americans who were really bridging the gap between the two nations.

LD: Besides language, do you think there was something else the Nisei brought to that situation? What do you think they... besides technical language, which they certainly had more than any other American soldier I think would have.

SM: I think the fact that we knew the customs and the habits, the basic beliefs of the Japanese, helped a lot. Even today we find that in the area of commerce between the United States and Japan, for example, we suffer a great trade deficit with Japan. And we complain about the Japanese setting up barriers against the American goods and not buying American goods, when in many instances American goods are superior to Japanese goods. But you take the case, the simple case of golf balls. The American manufacturers of golf balls are saying Japanese just refuse to buy American golf balls. And it was discovered that the Japanese were refusing to buy American golf balls because they were packaged in fours. And in the Japanese superstition, four is bad luck. Ichi, ni, san, shi, shi means "death." And heavens, no golfer is going to take balls to the golf course which would mean death on the golf course. And then they began packaging golf balls in threes, and then American golf balls started selling. So these are the things which can come about only through those who understand the cultures, the beliefs, and the superstitions of the people. And I think in this respect, the Nisei, the Japanese Americans, had help in bringing about understanding. And I find now that many American firms are hiring Japanese American lawyers, for example, because they understand the practices, the beliefs, the superstitions of the Japanese, and can be much, much more helpful than one of European ancestry.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SM: Let's see. What has helped me in my personal life, being of Japanese ancestry? I find that just as I talked about the parents writing to us while we were in combat, encouraging us to do our best for our country America, because we were Americans, and that we owed our loyalty to America. Of the teachings which came to us and personally to me from my parents, many a time, for example, people would ask me what my secret is, that I don't seem to age. [Laughs] And my father at age eighty-two used to be mistaken for a man of sixty. And when people used to ask him what his secret was, he used to recite an old Japanese maxim which I translated to mean, "A soul completely immersed in one's work reflects a youthful face." See, he had jet-black hair and he was in good physical condition because he immersed himself in work. And when I was kid, he used to say, "If you want to stay young, Son, work, work, work. If you're a ditch digger, you be the best ditch digger. If you're a doctor, you be the best doctor. The only way you can be the best is to work, work, work. And then, my son," he would say, "you'll be rewarded. You'll never grow old." And then I used to complain from time to time, being born into a poverty-stricken family of seven children, in order to supplement the family income of the plantation, my father ran the furo, the camp furo, the public bath. And my mother ran a tofu factory, which meant that we kids had to really work. And I used to complain once in a while, said, "The other kids are playing, why can't I go play with them?" Well, I took it as part of my suffering as a kid. And he used to tell me that, "Furo ga atte fukai jinsei ga wakaru." Meaning, "a deeper understanding of human values comes through personal suffering." And he said, "Someday you're going to thank me for this." And it is true, because of my personal suffering through those years, I have a much and better understanding of the human suffering of others. And as a United States Senator, in passing laws, I can look upon the needy, the disabled, the handicapped, the poor, with much greater sympathy, and with a feeling that I want to do something for them.


SM: Because I wanted to go to college, but because of the poverty-stricken situation of the family, I could not. Then in 1937, good fortune fell upon me. I won a thousand dollar prize in a newspaper contest, and I gave six hundred dollars to my father, and I pleaded with him to let me go to college. But then, see, four hundred dollars would pay for tuition, registration, etcetera, but insufficient to pay for room and board. And there was only one university in Hawaii at that time, and this was in Honolulu, and we lived on Kauai. Then I happened to be yard boy for the Hanapepe Christian Church, which was affiliated with the congregational churches in Honolulu. And Reverend Takie Okumura, the first Christian missionary to be sent from Japan to the United States, who built that beautiful castle church in Honolulu near McKinley High School, heard about my case, and he offered me free room and board if I would teach Sunday school at his church. And it was through the efforts of the members of the Hanapepe Christian Church, for which I said I was a yard boy. I didn't want to hurt my father because he was a Shinto priest. And so I approached him, I asked him if he had any objections to my accepting this offer by this Christian minister, which meant that I would have to live with him at the Okumura home, dormitory, and teach Sunday school. And to my amazement, he told me, and I put it in verse. He said to me, "When I think of the foolish fight that men over religious difference wage, I can see mortals in blind flight, headed towards one goal, whatever their age. As waters run from different heights and ferry rivers to a common sea, so do men make different rights and found religions to one great deity." He said, "I have no objection. In fact," he said, "America was founded on Christianity. You're an American, maybe you ought to become a Christian." And on that note, I accepted this offer to live at the Okumura Home.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.