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-02-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

RD: So what did the barracks look like?

BS: Well, to me, it was just a square building or rectangular building. And it didn't bother me too much other than it was bare and stark, and we had single cots. But other than that, it didn't bother me too much. Initially, though, we had six in our family and the unit, about twenty feet by twenty-four feet, so it was basically wall-to-wall beds. And then my brother was born on December 26, 1942, so by that time some of the barracks had been vacated, so we were able to get another unit, so we had two units. And my older brother and myself were able to live in one unit, and then the rest of the family lived in the other unit.

RD: Were you with both your parents?

BS: Yes.

RD: Did your dad start to fix the place up, did he build any furniture?

BS: Little bit. I think he built sort of like a jewelry box or something, with a Heart Mountain shaped box top, shaped like that, and then a small drawer jewelry box for my mother, I believe. And we had that until recently, but not I'm not sure what happened to it.

RD: Do you remember any other furniture? Because a lot of people didn't have any.

BS: No, I don't remember other furniture. I think he made some boxes or stools, but that's about it.

RD: And, but you were comfortable.

BS: Yes, as a kid, I was comfortable, and wasn't too particular about that.

RD: What did your parents tell you about why you were there?

BS: We never really discussed it other than, "How come?" because we looked like the enemy, we were in camp, but other than that, never said anything.

RD: Did they say, "It couldn't be helped"?

BS: Yes, so the Japanese words, "Shikata ga nai," "that couldn't be helped." Or they always say, they use the word gaman. Gaman means to endure or put up with, so that's what we had to do. But I did miss my Hispanic friends back home going to downtown Broadway and the movies. But other than that, there was plenty of playmates in camp.

RD: How about the food?

BS: Food, I never was too particular about food. So that was okay with me, and I think every once in a while, especially in the summer, we used to get watermelon treats. So my friends knew I didn't care for watermelon, so they'd always try to sit next to me on Sundays when we had watermelon treat.

RD: Well, that's funny because that was the first time it was ever grown in Wyoming, I think. Tell me about the swimming hole.

BS: Oh, the swimming hole was, sort of I looked forward to, because I was a non-swimmer. And Boy Scouts and the whole community helped, sort of lined this, it was just a bulldozer came, I believe, dug a deep ditch or a hole, then we had to line it with bricks. So looked forward to doing that, it was lots of work, but it was looking forward to having this swimming hole opened up. But when it did open it was sort of muddy, but it was still nice, especially in the hot summer heat.

RD: But you're a non-swimmer. Did you go in?

BS: Yes. So I'd always try to swim. I was able to dog paddle, but that was it.

RD: Aren't you supposed to learn to swim in the Boy Scouts?

BS: Yes. That's why I was looking forward to that.

RD: And then how far did you get, did you get any badges in Boy Scouts while you were there?

BS: Yes, I was determined to be a good scout, so I did get up to Star rank. So it's Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, and then Star.

RD: And what did you have to do to do that?

BS: You had various tests, requirements, study the knots, first aid, hiking, camping, cooking. And then, in fact, I remember for hiking we had to do a fourteen mile hike. So we got a permit to leave the camp and we went to Ralston, the neighboring town, they told us that was about seven miles away. So about three of us went to Ralston and back to fulfill our hiking requirement.

RD: Did you ever follow any of the baseball or football teams there?

BS: Not too much. I mean, we watched it all and we participated in it. We had our own Boy Scout basketball leagues and Boy Scout softball leagues, so that was fun.

RD: Did you ever go into town?

BS: One time I was able to go. We had the so-called seventh grade basketball all-star team, and I was selected to go into Cody, Wyoming, and we played basketball against them. And I don't recall the results, but I'm pretty sure we were walloped. But it was just exciting just to get out of the camp and see civilization again.

RD: You don't remember seeing any signs about "Japs go home" or anything like that?

BS: Oh, yes.

RD: Tell me.

BS: It said, "No Japs here," and there were numerous signs there about "No Japs." So I was sort of, we had to be selective to go in to get something, bite to eat or something, because we had to avoid where it says "No Japs."

RD: So it wasn't everywhere?

BS: No, not everywhere.

RD: Do you remember a place that you would go?

BS: No, I don't remember any of the stores.

RD: And were your parents unhappy, could you tell?

BS: I'm not sure if they were, because I think they worked harder outside in civilian life, so maybe it was sort of a break from a seven-day work week for them. So my dad worked at the community enterprise office, so he, I think, sort of had to collect rent from the PX store that they had in the camp, so that was one of his duties. But other than that, I think...

RD: So your mom didn't have to work?

BS: My mom didn't have to work, just wash our clothes, and didn't have to prepare food, so I think she was a little bit more relaxed. And I guess she was able to meet lots of old friends and make new friends and use her Japanese language in camp.

RD: How was your Japanese?

BS: Poor. I went, as I mentioned earlier, I went to a Catholic private school, but we had one hour a week Japanese class. But my parents wanted me to learn Japanese -- I'm sorry, wanted me to learn English, not Japanese, so they never emphasized that. So I used to do my English homework in my Japanese class. But after we became young adults, she regretted that and didn't teach us Japanese because it was too late then.

RD: Do you remember, did you remember seeing Shig Yabu's bird, Maggie?

BS: Yes. Well, no, I saw a magpie at our reunion in 1998. And then he approached the magpie like he did in the book. I was shocked. So I have pictures of that, him entertaining the magpie in 1998.

RD: Oh, well, I need to see that.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.