Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Bill Shishima Interview
Narrator: Bill Shishima
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-sbill-02-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

BS: We reported to a church on San Pedro Street, 120 North San Pedro Street, before noon on May the 9th. There we boarded buses, and on our bus we had armed soldiers with fixed bayonets. And then we had a police escort to a place in Arcadia, California. A big thing in Arcadia, California, was the Santa Anita horse race track, which was the so-called "assembly center."

RD: Were you there at the beginning?

BS: No, not the beginning. I believe it probably opened up in April of 1942. We didn't get there 'til May, and then we stayed there about five months before we were, again, relocated to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

RD: Do you remember as a little kid, do you remember the searchlights at Santa Anita?

BS: Oh, yes. We used to play games with the sentries at Santa Anita. I say play games because in the evening, when we had to go use the latrines, the spotlights would pick us up and follow us wherever we go. So if we went into the latrine, they follow us there and waited for us to get out. So as we got out, we used to play games with them, hide behind the barracks, so they couldn't follow us.

RD: Weren't you afraid?

BS: Not really, because it was just a game for us. I said, "Gee, why should the spotlights be on us just because we're going to the latrine?" So we used to just play sort of hide and seek from the spotlights.

RD: But these were armed guards. I mean, you're a little kid, weren't you afraid you were going to get shot?

BS: Not really; we thought it was fun.

RD: Okay, then Santa Anita. Did you ever see, you probably got there too late, but you heard stories of cars being burned at Santa Anita? You didn't see that?

BS: No, didn't see anything like that.

RD: Okay, so then you're there for a little while, and then, how did your parents tell you what was gonna happen next?

BS: They didn't know.

RD: Say, "My parents."

BS: They didn't really tell us too much.

RD: Say, "My parents."

BS: Oh. My parents really didn't talk too much about what's happening because I believe they didn't know what was happening. So they weren't able to communicate with us other than us kids. Well, backtracking a little bit, when we were going into camp, I thought, gee, I can't join the Boy Scouts. I was looking forward to joining the Boy Scouts, I was just eleven years old, and my brother was in the Scouts already, so I was waiting to become twelve years old. So that was my first disappointment about going into camp. But then what happened? We had Cub Scouts in Santa Anita Assembly Center, so I joined the Cub Scouts and really, to me, it was really exciting because I got to join the Scout program and then had hundreds of childhood friends all around us. We had school on the grandstand, but school was a little distracting because the open grandstand, we had thirty or forty or kids clustered in the grandstand with the teachers in front of us, but the backdrop was that we could see the young men and women making camouflage nets. So behind barbed wire fence and armed guards, they're helping the war efforts by making camouflage nets, so we're distracted by watching them. And also on the racetrack, that was our PE playground. So kids are playing baseball or football, so we're really distracted even though we had classes in the big grandstand.

RD: Wow. Had you ever been to Santa Anita before you went there as a prisoner?

BS: No, never. But I did go there after.

RD: Yes, we took Kaz and Nob there, and they told us the same stories about the searchlights.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.