Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Ernest Uno Interview
Narrator: Ernest Uno
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: Hawaii
Date: December 8, 1985
Densho ID: denshovh-uernest-01

<Begin Segment 1>

LD: Ernie, can you start with just where you were at the time of the war? Where you were living, how old you were, and take it from there.

EU: Okay. At the outbreak of World War II, that is, on December 7th, I was living with my family in Los Angeles, going to school and working part time. In fact, that particular Sunday morning I had gone to open a fruit stand in the market. That was one of my jobs. And it was while I was opening the market that the grocery man yelled over something about, "Hey, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor." And it just stunned all of us; we didn't know what to make of it. And, of course, subsequent to that, everything was chaotic. My employer, who was a man who had the fruit stand, he came in, but he didn't know what to make of it, didn't know what to do. And so actually, we really didn't open the store, as I recall the market, and although I hung around for a while, I subsequently went home and then found, of course, everyone at home kind of in a sense of panic, wondering what this was all about. Then immediately wondering what this implied, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, what it implied to us as a family, particularly with my oldest brother being in Japan. And the rest of us, of course, having felt the pressures of anti-Japanese feelings as we were growing up in Los Angeles anyway, what this would mean in intensity as far as our neighbors were concerned.

LD: You were in high school?

EU: That's correct. I was, at the outbreak of the war, I was still... well, I just completed, was in eleventh grade.

LD: You were saying that you had known what it was like, how people felt about Japanese. So when this man said, "The 'Japs' have bombed Pearl Harbor, did you immediately think... what did you think when you heard that?

EU: Oh, boy. Loni, for me to try and recall what it was like on December 7th is very difficult, because it's a long time ago.

LD: But in the weeks following, did you have the sense that you'd have to step carefully?

EU: Oh, you know, it wasn't... but just the next day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the first Monday when we went to school, one of my strongest recollections was... I think she was an English teacher, high school teacher, who made it a point to inform everyone that she had a friend whose son was a navy officer at Pearl Harbor, and she began to relate the acts of sabotage that had taken place on the part of the Japanese, you know, burning crosses in the cane fields to point the Japanese fighter pilots to Pearl Harbor and this kind of thing. That began the Monday after Pearl Harbor. And practically every day, we would get updated reports on how the Japanese were, had committed acts of sabotage where collaborating with the enemy, and these kinds of things that of course, there happened to be another Asian in this particular class who was Korean. Michael Kim, I think, was his name. I kind of remember that pretty strongly because toward the end of that first week, he came to school with a pin that said "I am Korean," and that was it. And here I couldn't put on a pin saying, "I'm Japanese." Because not having a pin meant that you must have been sensitive to the enemy or something. So it was just that kind of a beginning in school. And then harassment by the school administration, telling us that... well, actually, I was called in to the vice principal's office, and it was suggested that perhaps in order to ease tension around school, I ought to drop out. Well, there was no reason for me to have to drop out. And I checked at home, and, of course, my parents and all said, "No, you don't have to drop out of school, continue as long as you can." And so I stayed in school.

Then everything was kind of smooth, except that from time to time they'd try... there was one incident I will remember. I was taking a class in... oh, what do you call it? It was a manual arts class, and we were doing such things as learning bookbinding and leathercraft and things. I was accused of having stolen an incomplete wallet of one of the members of my class, one of my classmates. And they actually planted a wallet in my locker, the teacher and the vice principal came directly to my locker and said, "Will you open your locker and take out that wallet that is being made that doesn't belong to you?" I said, "Well, what do you mean? There's nothing in there that doesn't belong to me." Said, "Well, prove it." So innocently I opened the locker, and lo and behold, there's this wallet that was being made. Similar, somewhat similar to the one I had, I was making, but mine was in the shop in class. And they accused me of having stolen it, and on the basis of that, they were going to throw me out. And I just denied it, and there was no... because I said, "Why would I steal this? I have my wallet that's being made, it's in class, we have it in a special place there with my name on it. There must be some mistake." Somehow, I forgot how it worked out, but they backed down on it and never followed through on it. But trying to make life uncomfortable, and this is the kind of experience we went through.


EU: -- starts after February, and we were practically mustered out of school by then anyway.

LD: What city, school are you talking about?

EU: Let's see, I went to Marymount High School in Los Angeles, which today I guess is considered to be a hundred percent black. But in those days it was predominately a white school with a small AJA population. Very few blacks if any, and that was about the size of it.

LD: You had experienced some racism every day while you were going there. Were you surprised that this happened?

EU: Well, in terms of the plant of the wallet and that kind of thing, I was surprised. I was somewhat taken aback by the one, the eagerness of one teacher to show how terrible the Japanese were in Hawaii, to commit acts of sabotage and such, which, of course, later proved to be so untrue. But we didn't know it at that time, it's another case of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine was there, or I heard through the grapevine. But nothing but stories that had no basis in fact.

LD: Did you tell anybody in the family about this? Did you go home and tell your folks and your sisters about what happened to you?

EU: Oh, I told my mother about it. But she just said these things are going to happen and we just have to learn to just take it. Using the Japanese term gaman shite, "don't worry about it, all past." So had to learn to kind of just live with that kind of thing as long as we were going to mix in society. But I don't recall any other acts, overt or otherwise as far as discrimination, other than those direct ones I mentioned and happening in school. And I used a term I mentioned. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

LD: What about your life chances? Did you think that you could do anything you wanted with your life, or did you think there were certain limitations on you because you were Japanese? When you say those were the only two incidents, what about what you hoped to do, planned to do with your life? And as you looked around and see what other, what was happening to other people's chances, what did you think?

EU: I guess I have to admit that I always was optimistic about my chances, that we always had inbred in us the whole Horatio Alger concept and such, and America was a land of opportunity. And there were enough, I guess, examples of Nisei or older Japanese who had achieved, at least to a degree that they were looked upon as leaders in the community, and that we weren't totally denied opportunities for advancement for bettering ourselves, or with people in the professions. There were attorneys, there were doctors. Quite unlike other ethnic groups such as the Mexicans at that time, the Filipino immigrants especially, the older Filipino men who were even denied bringing their families to the United States, and so they were all single men, they didn't have opportunities, but we saw greater opportunities than them, so I was always optimistic.

LD: What did you want to be when you were in high school?

EU: Of course, I aspired to be, hoped to be a doctor of some sort, not really knowing what all that meant, other than the fact that I did want to pursue a college prep course in high school in order to be able to go on to college. Of course, with the, bringing on a war that kind of put a crimp in my plans for the future, because things became very in-depth, and I had no idea what we were going to do from then on, and with the evacuation and all, it just threw everything in a great big mess that we didn't know how we were gonna get out of. I've always reflected back in terms of, well, okay, we accepted the evacuation thinking that in six months we'll probably, everything will shift back to normal and we'll be home. But weeks passed and then months, and nothing was getting resolved. And then, of course, we were shifted from these assembly centers on to the more permanent relocation centers more inland. But even then, it was difficult, even talking with older people, it was difficult for us, even for me to conceive of when this whole thing was going to end, whether this was going to be the way we're going to live here on out. It was a big question mark. And so we lived from day to day, doing the best we could. Then probably the only break seemed to have come when the army changed its mind and we were able to enlist in the army.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LD: No one helped your family pack to go to Amache? Your father was picked up.

EU: That's right. My father was picked up... I thought it was early February, but it could have been just a little later than that. And so after his internment as an "enemy alien," then the only ones at home, of course, were my sister Hana... well, two sisters, Hana and me, and then my older brother Stanley. So they took over the responsibility really of helping my mother manage the household. And then when it came to packing up to prepare for evacuation, they pretty much had the responsibility of seeing what was to be done, how it was to be done. And those of us, the younger ones, kind of just followed suit.

LD: Mae has expressed some regret about the fact that Hana seemed to have carried so much of the responsibility for a lot of things that happened in the family. Did you, do you feel the same way?

EU: Oh, most definitely. I always have a very warm spot in my heart for my sister Hana, who as eldest at home, took on the responsibility of caring for the rest of us inasmuch as my mother didn't speak English, but just a smattering of it. And therefore when it came to any kind of dealings with, whether it was officials from the government or what, it was Hana who had to take the lead. And as a result, I think she assumed on her own shoulders the responsibility for making sure that the rest of us were cared for and whatever was necessary.

LD: Do you feel that that was a sacrifice for her in some way, that there were some things she passed up in life because of that?

EU: As I reflect on my sister Hana's life and what she had endured through the years, I've often had a personal sense of guilt that perhaps I was among those responsible for holding her back from aspiring for those things that she wanted to do. On the other hand, I look at it too that, you know, we're all part of a family, and each person plays his or her particular role in the family, and she had this role. Perhaps it may be unfair to think of it as such, but I think she accepted it quite graciously to take on the responsibilities that she had. Had she not, I think the family situation might have been quite different in the sense of everyone going their own way in total disunity. But thanks to both my mother and my sister, my older sister Hana, the family held together quite well, extremely well.

LD: What kinds of things were pulling it apart, and what kinds of things did your mother and your sister do to try to pull it together?

EU: When I think of our family and how it held together so well, I think there was an interdependence, and of course, there was a sense of loyalty to the family that is, I think it belongs to every Japanese family. We think of the family first before we think of ourselves. Perhaps if there was anything or anyone in the family that might have thought of breaking up or rebelling from this kind of unity, it would have been one of my sisters who always thought of herself as kind of the black sheep. She was the rebellious one. In fact, even in camp, in the... Santa Anita, the assembly center, had met a man who was much, a number of years her senior, but she felt that they wanted to get married, and over my mother's objection decided that she would get married, and she did. And that was part of the disintegration of the family somewhat.

LD: You always felt that your mother had an uncanny sense of being right, and, in fact, there's a certain phrase that you used about how your mother was always right. You said that was true of Hana and Mae and maybe you, too, I can't remember. What was, what did you say?

EU: As I always think of my mother, she was a very strong-willed individual. She, I think, probably was imbued with the Puritan ethic of work. She was a very religious person. Rather strict in those terms, in terms of morals and ethics, she was very absolute in those things, and she went according to what the bible said. She was not evangelical in terms that we normally think of people who carry the bible and go out preaching the gospel, but she lived a very strict life in terms of rules, what was right and wrong, and we had to pretty much abide by her rules as long as we lived under her roof.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

EU: I was going to report for induction at an army post in Denver. This was in about the second or third of August of 1943. My mother had received permission from, I think it was the Justice Department, to visit my father, her husband, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was interned in a PW camp. So we used this opportunity for me to travel with her to make sure that she got to Santa Fe, then I would continue on to Denver. It was a long bus ride. In those days, seats were at a premium. And if I recall, I stood in the aisle way of the bus as we traveled, and then had a chance to sit on my luggage for a while, but I saw to it that she had a seat. We didn't get a chance to talk much, but I think it was a time I treasured, because we were together, just the two of us. We got to Santa Fe, we checked into a hotel, we checked with the... I guess there must have been, the Justice Department had an office in town, we checked with them as to when my mother could go to visit her husband. And then we had dinner, sauntered around a little bit in the delightful summer twilight of Santa Fe. If you know Santa Fe, it usually sprinkles a little. There's a little light rain each evening, makes it very beautiful. And we walked the streets of Santa Fe for a while, just the two of us. So we were a little bit lost in ourselves, we weren't self-conscious in the fact that there were no other Japanese around. Then the time came for us, because I was going to have to get away early, something like three o'clock in the morning I was going to catch a bus. We went to, up in a hotel room and my mother, of course, she was to sleep in bed and I slept on top of the covers half clothed, I just took my shirt off because I didn't want to muss it. I took my shoes and socks off, but I laid on top of the bed and laid next to my mother and dozed. But I guess it was really a fitful sleep, because I didn't sleep well, and I know she didn't sleep, but we kind of dozed, and we were both kind of lost in the moment there until I finally got up. It was close to the time I'd have to leave, and then we chatted briefly.

And the thing I remember most vividly, and I can remember it thirty years, was how she had said to me that although she really wasn't in favor of my going into the army, and that she knew my father was opposed to it, she knew also that I had made up my mind and I knew what I wanted to do. However, my decision was, in her mind, probably a result of the fact that she had felt she lost control over her children because of the evacuation. And she cited, for example, the fact that when we went into camp, and it started there in Santa Anita, we, although the first couple weeks or so we all went to the dining hall together, stood in line together, sat down and paused and set a prayer, and then began eating, it wasn't long before we found friends and we didn't necessarily look forward to eating together, but rather looked for our friends to eat. And so she saw that as one of the things that she lost. And I remember when we were home, dinnertime was always the time where we all sat down together. We waited for each other; everyone came home to be able to have dinner together. The evening dinner was a very important thing in our family. And we sat around together. And dinner started after my mother said a prayer, and the food was blessed, and we ate. We lost this in camp. She didn't know where we were from the time we woke up in the morning to a time perhaps we came back at night into our particular unit. Because the way the barracks were set, those of us who were the male members of the family did not live together with the female members of the family, we were separate. So she never knew when we, knew about coming and our going. We never... well, it was a Japanese thing that whenever we left the house, we always said, "Itte mairimasu," which means we were going, we'll be home, which meant that she knew we were leaving the house. And then whenever we came home, no matter how late it might have been, we always cried out, "Tadaima," or, "I'm home." And the greeting from my mother would be, "Okaeri," or, "You're home now." This is tradition in all Japanese homes, but this was lost. We never said that anymore while we were in camp, and this is one of the things she regretted very much, and she felt was the disintegration of the family as a unit, and she no longer felt a sense of unity or control over those of us who were even younger. She could excuse the older ones, because after all, as adults, they did what they had to do. But that was my recollection of that particular trip to Santa Fe with her. And then we parted. I left her in the hotel room. Because it was dark, we didn't even put the lights on, I don't know whether any tears were shed. I don't recall my even shedding a tear on parting. But I caught the three o'clock bus for Denver.

LD: I know then you went and saw her at the end of the war.

EU: No, I saw her once... in fact, actually, I saw her twice later at Amache. Because at the finish, end of our basic training, we were able to get furlough. So I was home for something like two weeks. That's the time when I have records of my visit, because I have pictures in the photo albums, me in my uniform and such. My mother, by the way, was the only one, I think, in that area of camp that proudly showed three blue stars on a pennant that showed that she had three sons in the U.S. Army. She was very proud of that.

LD: She was the only one who did?

EU: Yeah, 'cause many, there may have been others who had three sons in the service, but they didn't want to show it because of the ostracism they experienced. Even when I enlisted and word of my going into the service got around, the Kibeis who were working in the kitchen used to razz us. They were egging for fights. We took a lot of heat from them. But I think we were able to prove that we were right and they were wrong.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LD: You wanted to go in very, very badly, and was willing to do anything --

EU: [Laughs] Yeah.

LD: You really wanted to go in.

EU: That's right. There was a group of us who buddied around together, and we were all the same age. We always said that...

LD: Go back and tell us that you're in Amache.

EU: Okay, that's right. We were in Amache, Colorado, which was a camp near...

LD: Start again.

EU: We were in Amache, Colorado, in a camp of something like six thousand people, sixty-five hundred, which was close to a whistle stop called Granada. Granada is on the line between Garden City, Kansas, and Lamar, Colorado, right in the middle of what I call the Arkansas River Valley dust bowl. When we got there, a bunch of us guys, there might have been, oh, eight to ten of us, had pledged that if and when we come of age, and if and when the army would ever allow us, we would all volunteer to go in the army, we would voluntarily enlist. Then when the army made enlistment available, opened up enlistment to those of us that were in camp, we all, of course, as we became of age, went down to the selective service in Lamar, Colorado, to register for the draft, and actually to enlist. And I among others were told that we were 4-F. And in my case, I asked him, "Well, what do you mean 4-F? I'm physically fit. What's wrong with me?" And the examining physician said, "Well, young man, you've got a double hernia, and we can't take you in the army that way." And I asked him, "Well, what would it take to get in the army?" He said, "Well, you'd have to have an operation to repair the hernia." I said, "Well, is that a big deal?" He says, "No, well, it's no worse than getting a broken arm fixed." So I said okay. I went back to camp and I went to see... in Amache we had a full blown hospital with at least two doctors. One of the doctors was in our particular block in camp, so I went to see him there in his office at the hospital, and then I went into see him. At that time, he had the name Dr. Higa. I went in and I said, "Dr. Higa, I need an operation to repair a double hernia." He says, "What do you want to do that for?" I said, "Well, I want to get in the army." And he chuckled and he says, "Are you sure you want to do that?" I says, "Well, that's what they told me, and I got to get in the army." So he consulted the other physician and they agreed to do the surgery. And so I underwent the double hernia operation, it took three weeks flat on my back. But by the time, well, mid-July rolled around, I was considered well enough, although I was still pretty well suffering from the effects of the stitches and such. In those days, because they kept us in the hospital flat on our back for so long, muscles atrophied and such. So when I reported down to Camp Shelby, I was still kind of doubled up, you know. I couldn't stand straight at attention like the other guys, it took a little time.

But it's interesting, when I talk about Dr. Higa, he happened to be from Hawaii, and both he and his wife were, I believe, doing their residency at a hospital in Los Angeles, White Memorial Hospital, it was a Seventh Day Adventist hospital. And he was caught there in Los Angeles at the outbreak of the war and couldn't get back here to Hawaii, so he was evacuated with us. However, sometime at the end of the war, he and his family relocated back to Hawaii. Recently, within the past... I think it was past couple years, I had gotten a call from a Dr. Ben Higashi. So I picked up the phone and he asked me, "Is this Ernest Uno?" I says, "Yes." "Were you in Amache, Colorado?" I says, "Yes." He says, "Well, I'm Dr. Ben Higashi." I said, "Oh? Oh, you're the former Ben Higa." He says, "Yes." He says, "Ernest, I wanted to call you because you're the only one I remember who said that, you came to me and said that you needed to have an operation because you wanted to get in the army. All the other young men who came to see me wanted to see how they could be classified 4-F." [Laughs] That was my claim to fame as far as he was concerned.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LD: Did your father know you wanted to go? Because your father was sick.

EU: Yeah, they were both against it. My mother wasn't as resolute as my father. As I look back, and people from time to time have asked me, "Well, weren't you bitter about the evacuation and such?" I can't ever recall being a teenager at that time, ever recall any negative, strong negative feelings. I remember talking to people, and others who groused about having been herded like cattle and this kind of thing. But to give any serious thought to evacuation and the reason for... and then my role as an American, and my need to contribute to prove my loyalty, there was no question that that was something I had to do. I had in the back of my mind, Loni, a number of my classmates back in Los Angeles, whom I figured got caught in the draft or had enlisted in either the navy or the marine corps. And I remember that even as I read newspaper accounts of the war in the Pacific, those particular units out of California were consigned to combat zones in the South Pacific, and they were taking a dirty licking. I'm trying to think which division it was, maybe Sunshine Division, 40th Division, National Guard, some of my friends were... when they were in high school, had already joined the national guard. I knew they were facing combat. I could never think that I would go back to Los Angeles after the war and they would have been in the military and I would not have. I don't think I could have faced them. Strangely, I never saw any one of them, never looked them up after the war. But I knew that probably -- and this was through the high school counselor with whom I had talked after the war when I went back to check on whether or not I could get a diploma, I was told that there were a number of fellows in my class who never made it back. In fact, they had wanted, "they" speaking, the high school administration, had wanted me to show up at the graduation ceremonies of the class of 1946 as a returned war veteran. They wanted me in my uniform and all, and receive my diploma at that time. I said, "Well, what are my options to get my diploma?" They said, "Well, we can mail it to you." I said, "Do that." And they mailed it to me. [Laughs]

LD: You preferred to have it mailed to you because...

EU: Well, I wasn't going to allow anybody to make a show of my, this kind of thing. I did my duty, I felt. They were kind enough to say that I earned, because I was in the military, I earned enough credits to graduate, I didn't have to take any high school classes, kind of thing. I did that because I needed to find out what classes I had to take at City College to make up, in order to get on, enroll in college. That's the way it ended up. I didn't have to go back to high school or anything.

LD: This is the same high school that had [inaudible].

EU: Right.

LD: So it was a turnaround.

EU: It was a turnaround on their part, but they were aware. Well, there was a counselor... I think, you know, in retrospect, I should have been probably more willing to cooperate. Because there was a counselor there, a Mrs. Bailey, who I even have, I think, a copy of a letter I had written to her and her response to me when I was in camp. But she was very supportive of those of us who were attending Manual Arts High School and had to leave camp. And she did all that she could to keep us in touch with what was going on. And it was at her behest that I was asked to show up at graduation ceremonies, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It would have been a farce, the way I thought. You know, having been kicked out of that community and such, and then come back as a hero of the war, it just didn't make sense, and I didn't want to do that.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

EU: When I go back to my early days in the army, particularly going through basic training to become a soldier in Shelby, there are many nights I laid awake wondering why I was such a damn fool to do such a thing like that. It was painful; it was extremely painful. In fact, I suspect I suffered some adhesions as a result of my "heroics" of not having completely healed and still subjecting myself to the rigors of forced marches, twenty-five mile marches and such. Training was difficult. But I also take pride in the fact that I... I don't know whether I have my Kibei taunters to thank for it or damn for, blame for my having suffered through basic training, but I had them in the back of my mind. One particular Kibei stands out who wanted to pick a fight with me, I don't know how many times in camp. But he would, came out and said that I was yellow, I would be a coward, that in the face of the enemy, I would turn and run. That was a challenge. I would never make a soldier, I would never make it through. And by god, with that kind of a thing in the back of my mind, I made it through. There were times when we were on forced march that I wished to hell I could have dropped out, but I didn't. Why? Because I didn't want to be the first to drop out. None of us wanted to be the first to drop out. Some of us that were... I think there was one march I remember in particular, the pain was enough that tears were streaming down my eyes, but I couldn't quit. My squad leader carried my rifle for me for a while because, to lighten my load. It was tough, but we made it through.

LD: Had that kind of spirit leader, too.

EU: It helped all the way through.

LD: How would you describe that unity the 442 guys had with each other? How would you describe what was it they would say to each other or do for each other? What did you know going into battle? What did you know about your relationship to each other?

EU: I'm not sure. Because I never lost that sense of being somewhat of an outsider. I was a kotonk, you have to remember, and so even as close as we all tried to become, in a sense, I was still an outsider within the squad and platoon in which I belonged. When they talked about... and the other fellows kidded about being from Paia and Puunene and Haiku and such, and Kahuku, even Aiea, those were strange sounding places to me. And they were able to kid each other about it, the rivalries between communities, and I was totally outside of this. But still, I felt a oneness with them when it came to a spirit of, the esprit de corps as far as the total unit was concerned. And I think it just happened to be that we were all Nihonjin, Japanese. Whether you're Buddahead or a kotonk, you still have that yamato damashii, you know, that sense of, well, that ganbare, whatever it might be. You stick it through regardless. And that's common whether you're a mainlander or whether you're in Hawaii.

LD: You got that from your family, you had that from your family. It was a very mother.

EU: Yeah, and I think that's Christian ethic. I don't see anything un-Christian about family loyalty to one another, a sense of service to others before yourself, this kind of thing.

LD: How would you... what is the difference between your "go for broke" experience where you're going all out and being self-sacrificing, how is that different than kamikaze? How is that different from kamikaze spirit of the Japanese soldier?

EU: Well, I guess when I think in terms of my, our "go for broke" spirit, I wonder... no, I don't wonder. I think there is a very distinct difference between the sense of loyalty we give to a nation with the mission of... well, I got to go back to...

LD: Because you applaud damashi, right? Yamato damashii. How is that different than the Japanese soldier then?

EU: Okay. As I think of the kamikaze pilot, there was a, more of a blind trust or a blind willingness to give themselves to a, following the dictates of the emperor. I don't know, maybe there isn't a difference, I'm not sure. I'm not sure that I could define a difference. If it's yamato damashii on one hand and "go for broke" on the other, we're all pursuing what we feel is for the sake of an eternal goal, I don't know, a deity or something, I'm not sure. I don't feel like I was like one of the early, an early crusader, you know, that fought for the grail, the Holy Grail or something, that wasn't that kind of a spirit.

LD: Did you have a pact among... I have heard that there was some understanding, spoken or unspoken, that you would not leave each other out on the field, wounded or dead, you'd go and get the bodies and bring them back. Do you have that sense going back, that the other fellows would really stand by you? Do you have that kind of feeling?

EU: I'm not sure that I ever got a sense of complete interdependence or commitment to help each other, except in what I saw. For instance, in terms of our machine gun squad, when one of the members of our squad inadvertently ventured beyond the line and was cut down by a German machine gun and was wounded, he was out in the open field. The squad leader immediately told the rest of the squad, "Everyone down, because I'm going after him," and he went after him. Of course, he had exposed himself, and in the process was killed. At nightfall, the medics, I think Chaplain Yamada and them went out and was able to retrieve not only the wounded fellow in our squad, but he also brought back the dead squad leader. But that was an act of self-sacrifice on the part of the squad leader. I think he would have, I don't think any of us would have hesitated to emulate him. But there was no pact. I think we would have been... well, it's funny, you know, among, I guess the Japanese are that way. We don't make pacts; we have understanding. I think there was always a danger, if you make a pact, you might break it. You might not be able to live up to a pact. Yet if there's a quiet understanding, okay, if you don't live up to it, there's no dishonor, except that individual himself might feel that he let the other guy down. And there were times where some guys did let the others down, and it's only natural. We weren't all heroes, we weren't all iron men. There were a number who suffered breakdowns. We don't hold it against them, this is the nature of combat.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

LD: When you were out there, were you thinking about your family much, and to write home much? Did you give any particular thought to how things might be better for them, or what was happening with them? Was that on your mind, or do you think that was on the mind of your fellow soldiers?

EU: I think in terms of the number of letters I used to write from the foxhole, on these v-mail forms that we used to get -- I don't know if you're familiar with the v-mail. Recently my sister Hana returned to me a whole packet of the letters that she had saved, letters I had written. There was a time when I didn't, wasn't very good about writing, and I had to be reminded by one of my, a sergeant who was friends with my sister, who apparently had gotten word that I, they were wondering because they hadn't heard from me. He gave me royal bejeezus because I hadn't written, and they were wondering at home whether I was okay.

LD: If sergeants did that, they would...

EU: Yeah, there was a sergeant, but he was not my sergeant, he was from another company, actually, but he was a friend of my sister's. And she had written and asked him, I guess, to look up and find out if I'm okay.

LD: And what did he say to you?

EU: Oh, gave me hell, that's what he did. [Laughs]

LD: He said what?

EU: Well, in essence, he said, "Ernie, what's wrong? How come you're not writing to your sister? Your family's worried about you. Don't you think you should write?" Okay, I got chastised, and I reluctantly said, okay, I'll drop a line. But I did write. And my sister Hana and I were very regular correspondents.


EU: When I was in the service, sure, I used to think an awful lot about home. But not so much in terms of what was happening with the family. I guess, at that time, still just being an eighteen year old, I knew at that time that even the government was taking care of my mother, my brothers and my sisters. I didn't have to, necessarily, to worry about them. I knew that my two sisters, Hana and Mae, were... although they were in camp, they were going to go up to Minneapolis where Hana was going to get a job and such, they were leaving camp. Since my mother and my three, my two younger brothers and my sister Kay were going down to Crystal City to stay with my dad in an internment camp. So I really didn't think too much other than just to keep up correspondence with my sister. One of the reasons I used to write to her was that, like everyone else, we used to write home to request for goodies. Oh, I knew that she could get, from, even from some of the delicatessens in Denver, things like, oh, pickled radish and such that we all looked forward to. But one thing Hana was going to send me -- and this is one of the reasons we corresponded so regularly -- is because, after this guy got on my case, was that she was gonna send me a wristwatch. I didn't have a good wristwatch, in fact, I had one that didn't work very well. So she was going to send me a good wristwatch. And I kept asking her about it, and she would write to tell me that it was on its way and such. It was very interesting because several of our letters contained reference to this wristwatch. I noticed when she turned over to me this packet of letters I had written to her, those were all censored, not only by the army overseas, but they were postmarked in Colorado, in Lamar, Colorado. And the letters themselves, inside the envelopes, were stamped with a cancellation. And they were underlined, wherever reference was made to a wristwatch. And apparently there was some suspicion that a secret code was going between Hana and myself, and must have had some connection with my father's internment. But in my own mind I see some connection, although I can't... I don't have any additional facts to make any kind of a case for it. It's very interesting that those things that had reference to a wristwatch were underlined by a censor on the mainland.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

LD: What do you remember about your time in the combat unit, in terms of what are the key things that you remember about that time? Both things that you remember or would like not to remember, as well as the things that you're glad happened?

EU: Boy, that... when I think in terms of trying to remember what were some of the good things and what were some of the bad things, that's a difficult question. Because I don't think combat leaves many fond memories, if any at all. The loss of certain people, certain friends, are sad memories. I think in terms of Ted Fujioka, who enlisted from Heart Mountain, when he enlisted, he was, according to Hana and others of us who knew the Fujioka family, Ted I think was the student body president there at the high school in Heart Mountain. A brilliant young man, and he was good-looking. He was, to me, kind of my role model, kind of guy I wish I could be. I always pictured myself somewhat as a loser, he was a winner. I think when I saw his body at the battalion aid station there in, outside of Bruyeres in the Vosges Mountains, it was one time I went to Chaplain Higuchi and asked him, "How come? A guy like this who had such a brilliant future has to die," in place of someone like me who really didn't have that much of a future. And Chaplain said, "Ernie, God works in strange and mysterious ways. You never know what He wants of us, except that, you think about it and make the best of your life in order that Ted's life was not given in vain." Well, that was pretty powerful, but that I remember very distinctly. And I've always thanked the chaplain for that.

LD: You said that being in World War II affected you very much, had a big effect on your life.

EU: Last night, I did it in jest, but there's a lot of truth to, sometimes, in humor there's a lot of truth. We had our 442 Veterans Club dance class, Christmas party, and I was the emcee. At the beginning of the party, I asked everyone to grab a glass with their beer or punch or whatever and I said, "Okay, let's all raise our glasses and three banzais, and we had three big banzais. And I said, "You know what that was for?" And they all looked quizzically and I said, "Today is December 7th, and we are saluting our banzai, are saluting the Japanese." I said, "Because if it wasn't for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we would none of us be here together." [Laughs] The irony of it all. And that really brought down the house. And, see, that changed our lives. And I've always thought that had it not been for the war, whether I would have ever been able to pursue what I wanted, to become a doctor or whatever else, and what my life would have ever been like. Certainly I might have ended up like so many of the others had ended up, with college degrees in their back pocket, working in fruit stands and on the farm, because that's about as far as we could go, being Nihonjin, Japanese. But instead, I think having been in the army, of course, we opened up a lot of opportunities, but I was always -- and I still am -- quite conscious and proud of the fact that I was with the 442. In fact, it's a point of vanity, and I admit to my vanity, I made sure people know I was one of the original 442, not a replacement. That's a big thing. Because being an original meant that we had to voluntarily enlist. We put our lives on the line, we didn't have to be drafted. That's my whole outlook on life changed because...

LD: Why?

EU: Well, I know I'm not haole, I'm not Caucasian. You can't take away the slant eyes and yellow skin. But I'm aware of what I am, and I've aspired in spite of that. And from time to time, because of that, have probably been denied opportunities. And that's one of the reasons why I'm here in Hawaii instead of somewhere in California or the mainland. Because the limitation of job opportunities, being Japanese.

LD: You had that happen to you?

EU: Oh, no question. A beautiful example: I had completed studies to go into the YMCA. I graduated Whittier College, marvelous school, by the way, in spite of its reputation with a particular lawyer. And I went for an interview, and went before a personnel committee of the YMCA, the Young Men's Christian Association. And this question was posed to me: all things being equal, if you were competing for this job as a youth work secretary with a Caucasian young man, would you be willing to take the job at a lesser pay? Hey, I didn't need more than that. That was enough to tell me color still makes a difference.

LD: This is after the war.

EU: This is in 1950. And that's always... that was burned indelibly in my mind, this is the way people react or will act.

LD: And later that happened again.

EU: And then in later years, and this... I expressed this when they did the filming on Guilty by Reason of Race. At another time, I was in San Diego as a branch executive of an interracial YMCA, interracial meaning it was predominately black. There was an assessment, an evaluation of my work over the past five, ten years, and as a result of it, one of our regional directors came down to counsel me.

LD: When was this?

EU: This was in 1960... latter part of '62. And I was, I wanted this particular evaluation done because I had felt that at that particular time in my career in the YMCA, about the twelfth year, I didn't... I felt like I was getting pigeonholed as a, quote, "interracial specialist." I wanted to get out of that particular mode, and wanted to venture into something that was more meaningful to me as a, in terms of a career ladder. And in counseling me, the regional director said, "Well, as far as your skills, and your administrative skills and all, you rate number one. There was no question you are capable. However," he says, "unfortunately, there are no YMCAs that I know of here within the region where you would be accepted at the level of an administrator that you want, unfortunately, because you're Nisei." That was really a discouraging news, so then, soon after that, things seemed to work in cycles. Soon after that, a dear friend of mine who happened to be black, whom I had gotten to know, was an executive with the Pasadena YMCA, who had took a job here in Honolulu as the executive of the branch here. And he wrote to me saying that he was looking for a program director, knew the pickle I was in, wondered if I'd be interested in coming to Hawaii. And I wrote back to him and said, "You don't have to ask me twice, my bags are packed." Because I felt there was no career future for me on the mainland. I thought if I came to Hawaii, at least I could make it on my own, irrespective of my being Japanese or not. But it took a black man to give me that opportunity.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

LD: When you were growing up, you said your father used to travel around with a...

EU: Dry goods. He worked for a dry goods, yeah.

LD: The pesticides.

EU: Oh, yeah, there was that, right.

LD: Traveling with your father, I'd like to talk to you about, a little bit about your father. I know it's going back in time. Thinking back about your father, when you were going around with him, I don't know how old you were when you were traveling with him, ten, twelve? You were quite young.

EU: I was twelve, thirteen, probably I was fourteen at the oldest when we used to go with my dad out to the country from time to time, out to see the farmers, to whom he was trying to sell pesticides and such.

LD: Let's talk about that a little bit. How old you were, you would travel with your father. What do you remember about your father and also about the world out there, that you would do that? What did you notice about your father and about what his life was like? Start with, when you were fourteen.

EU: Oh, boy. Perhaps the thing that maybe I'd like to relate to you, Loni, is how much of a... well-educated my father was, but the fact that he was self-taught, he was a self-made man. We were always so extremely proud of him because he spoke English as good as any Nisei, although he came to this country when he was twenty, came to the United States, and he had to learn English from scratch. He wrote beautifully, and his penmanship was something to behold. So we were always proud of him as such. But more than that, he was interested in animal science, more specifically in entomology, and as a result he became a self-taught entomologist. I even have evidence of his having had a membership card in Southern California, County of Professional Entomologists, he had an honorary membership in that. Because they, although he did not have the college degrees, he was as well learned an entomologist as many of them. But he'd go out to the farm and was able to talk in scientific terms with many of these young Nisei sons of farmers who were doing farmwork, because that's all they had, were able to do. And I used to admire how he would be able to talk in scientific terms with them. He was very good at that. This way, he wasn't trying to fool a bunch of older Issei who may have been illiterate, trying to fool them with maybe a new product, but he was being very up and up with their son because he was able to prove to them in terms that they could understand and would understand, the validity of the claims he made on the product he was trying to sell and get them used.

LD: And you saw that.

EU: Oh, yes.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

EU: Okay, when I came back after the war, it comes to my mind from time to time the contrast of homecoming between the fellows from Hawaii and those of us who had gone into the service from out of the relocation centers. In my case in particular, my homecoming was somewhat of a painful one because, to begin with, we had lost our home, of course, as a result of the evacuation. My parents were in an internment camp, I think it was kind of a PW camp that was managed by, I think, Justice Department, or it could have been Immigration and Naturalization Service in Crystal City, Texas, just outside of San Antonio. When I came back from overseas and I had, I was on leave, I was able to hitchhike airline, airplane rides on air force planes from O'Hare -- at that time it was just O'Hare Airport outside of Chicago -- to Dallas, Texas, and from Dallas I wrote in the belly of a B-29 bomber to an airfield outside of San Antonio. In fact, when we got to San Antonio, some of the other GIs who had hitchhiked with me on that plane said, "Hey, why don't you stick on, buddy? We're going to Tokyo. You can have a free ride to Tokyo." I said, "Yeah, but how do I know when we get back?" I said, "Well, you know, they're shuttling these things, they're bringing the old B-29s back, you can get a ride back home." I said, "No, I've got a limited time, so thanks." And I left the plane.

And from San Antonio, I took a bus ride down to Crystal City. I had to ride ahead in order to get approval to visit my family in Crystal City. That was the first strange thing about homecoming, because I had to get approval to see my family. Second, when I got to Crystal City I had to call the camp administration, and they had to assign a time when I could come out to camp, and according to their rule, sign in at the visitors center. I would meet my family in a visitor's cottage, and would have an hour to visit. I had hopes of possibly going into the camp, visiting their living quarters, because I was told that Mom had, was able to cook, and she was all prepared to put together a real nice dinner for me. We could relax and just sit around the dinner table kind of thing.

But no, instead, I remember riding up to camp in a taxi and getting out of the car. [Cries] Boy, it's painful. I still have visions of my folks out there, away from where the taxi had driven up. And I heard their voices greeting me. And I went up to the fence, touched their hands. My mother said, "Okaeri." She said, "I knew you'd come home." I asked her, well, how did she know I was coming home? And she said, "I prayed."

After that it was just a formality of going in, signing in, then having to go in the visitor's cottage and sit at a couch, but then armed guards standing behind us with a pistol on the side. You know, just standing and overseeing us as we had this family reunion. We had one hour. I don't know. You know, I've thought about that time and again, written about it, it's never really bothered me too much other than the fact, if there was a reason for my ever to be bitter, I guess this could have been one the reasons. And yet, darn it, forever the loyal American. This is something we had to take, part of the shit we always take. That was the fact of life we had to live with. But it was enough, though to see that both my parents were well.

I like to... well, I don't relate this to many people, but I think for the sake of the record, you might appreciate. There were ten of us, and, you know, when a woman bears children, she has to give up something. One of the things, as I understand, women lose, are their teeth, because of calcium. My mother had to lose almost all of her teeth. She might have had one, as I recall, maybe one or two teeth in her mouth when I had last seen her in Colorado, before my last, before we shipped out. When I saw her in Crystal City, praise the lord, she had a full mouth of teeth. The government had put dentures in her mouth. And you know, those teeth did her well even up to her dying day, and she looked beautiful. You look at any pictures of her, she has a nice smile. Always, she always hid her mouth, she was always, that was the one thing she was embarrassed about. As a youngster growing up, I always remember, with pain, how embarrassed we were that my mother didn't have a full mouth full of teeth. This is the one thing she had. And painful as homecoming was there in Crystal City, I was happy that she was able to smile and smile beautifully. That's my story of homecoming.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

LD: Because you said, how come you're not a crotchety old man, you said.

EU: Yeah.

LD: How come, "I don't know why I'm not a crotchety old man?"

EU: Oh, I don't know. I should be, maybe, but I don't think... there have been too many good things in life, too many blessings. I guess in the nature of the work, the career I have chosen, through the YMCA, with all of its faults, it taught me to be able to work with people, and to look for the best in people and I still do.

LD: Do your kids know all of your stories?

EU: No, they don't, almost none of it. My children have, I think, maybe they're embarrassed to ask me. I've been reluctant to sit them down to tell them my life story, we don't do these things. Hopefully maybe at some time, they'll want to, they'll be curious enough to ask, plan to share with them what our life was like growing up.

LD: Why do you think they haven't asked? We've heard this about the Sansei, not being able to ask their Nisei parents about their stories.

EU: I sometimes wonder about why our children may be embarrassed to ask about it, our growing up days. But I think it may be because enough times they heard from their parents, and we've told our kids, "Hey, you don't know how hard it was growing up." Tell 'em, "Hey, if you think things are bad now, we knew what poverty was like." Well, they don't want... I don't think they want to embarrass us by having to ask us, "What was it like to be poor? What was it like to go without rice on the table?" Because I think that'd be terribly embarrassing. They ask for so much, we give them so much materially, that it would be difficult for them to ask us, "Mom, what was it like not to have a dog you wanted for Christmas? A pair of shoes you wanted for your birthday? What was it like to put cardboard in your shoe in order to cover the hole so that you didn't have to walk bare feet?"

LD: I guess you would also like them to know about what your mother and father were like because...

EU: I think so.

LD: What would you want them to know about your father and your mother? What would you want them to know?

EU: Well, I think what I would like... and I think my son has somewhat captured the essence of what his grandfather was like. Mainly that he was a pretty proud individual, he was a self-made man, a very talented man, he was an artist, all kinds of things. Because if it wasn't for his admiration for his grandfather, he wouldn't have named his son George. Then he doesn't know his grandmother on his father's side, my mother. We've not talked too much about my mother, because she died at an early age. But he remembers very dearly Grandma Setsue on his mother's side, who in her own right was a marvelous, marvelous woman. She was the greatest.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

LD: Your father took up painting really late in life. Tell me about that painting he did, when he did it.

EU: I'm not... you know, it surprised all of us that Dad took up painting from, I guess when he was bout seventy is when he actually started. Well, my premise is that the prolonged internment, and internment per se, as such, I think broke the spirit of many of the Issei men. Whether it was in internment or evacuation, and these men were taken from their homes, taken from their families at a time when they were at the apex of their productivity. They struggled, and they were at the point where they were achieving, and all of a sudden this was all taken away from them. They were broken spiritually. And Dad was not an exception. But after the war, I know he piddled with various things, never got into anything, until finally he was of age when he could begin to collect social security, then he was considered retired. He never owned anything as a result, therefore he was shunted between his children, the families of his children, those of us, we kept him for a while, as long as we felt we could stand him, then we'd shunt him off to another brother who kept him as such.

And it was while he was with one of my younger brothers, and he, I guess, decided he wanted to take up sumi-e, a skill he had learned as a teenager in Japan. And he had learned well, I guess, learning his characters, use of the charcoal brush. So he began to practice his characters, then he began to practice drawing flowers and such. He always had a talent for drawing, because one of the ways he made a living before the war was to be able -- because he was interested in entomology -- was to replicate with pen and ink the anatomy of bugs: beetles, aphids, you name it, he drew them to scale, and to the last wingtip, perfect. And these were often used, photographed, and then put on folders. I think the various insecticide companies, they'd use, the company had a black flag, I think, they used some of his drawings, they reproduced them. And example, the kind of beetles and such that their insecticide killed. So anyway, he was talented anyway in drawing.

Then he began to do enough that people in Boulder, Colorado, I guess there was a public park there that they had art classes. And he started teaching, and he taught sumi in Colorado. Then he made a name for himself somewhat, and then he came to San Diego, lived with us. And at the Y, he taught art classes, taught sumi. And a number of people who remember getting lesson from him would proudly show his drawing.

LD: How about this painting?

ED: I'm not sure, but he... I had asked him if he would do a school for me at some time, and that was when he was living here in Hawaii with my sister Kay. Then he went back to California to stay with Edison. And it was while he was with Edison that he had drawn two scrolls, two or three, I think. There was a couple like this, and he sent them back to us, one for us and one for Kay. And this was just his gift to us. I wish... I don't know, I think probably on a three-by-five card there is an explanation for this someplace, but I don't know where, it's filed somewhere. But if I could read Japanese, it would have told the date he had done that, and his age when he had drawn it. This was probably one of the last things that he had drawn, and his health started to go down.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.