Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Shig Yabu Interview
Narrator: Shig Yabu
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: Camarillo, California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-yshig-02-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

RD: So when you came to Heart Mountain, so you get off the train and you're on the truck and then you see this mountain, right?

SY: Right.

RD: And did you know anything about the mountain?

SY: Well, we didn't even see the mountain because it was so dark.

RD: Oh, so then you wake up in the morning. So what happens when you wake up?

SY: Well, my friend Akira Yoshimura came and visited me, and we wanted to go explore. And we couldn't go beyond the barbed wire fence, so we went as close as we could to the barbed wire fence and we saw a lot of sagebrushes and a lot of loose, sandy dirt, or sand, and there was a little mound there with a little hole. So we got a stick and we probed it, we wanted to make sure that there was no rattlesnake in there. But a little bug that resembled a potato bug, and my friend Akira says, "Hey, let's find something so we can take that back as a pet." And we looked for a cup or something to bring it back, but when it started to try to sting us, then we thought, well, how do we know that's not poisonous? It was a scorpion. And so we'd never seen a scorpion, because we were from the city.

RD: Were there, there was a guard tower there?

SY: Well, as kids, we were not afraid of the guard tower, we were not afraid about the barbed wire. And the reason why is because we wanted to get close to the military police or army, and the reason why is because we want to see their guns, we want to see their dog, we want to see if they had pistols, we want to see their ammunition. We were fascinated with their uniform and whatever medals they had, or any stripes, anything. As kids, we enjoyed that. In fact, 1939 we went to the World's Fair, and at that time we saw the Japanese army, the navy, the United States, the military, the various countries, that was a year-long ceremony, and it was very exciting. That's where I saw Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams. And I learned to swim without even taking any lessons because of the fact that I used to practice on my bed. And then when I went to the Russian River, I was able to swim, and people couldn't understand how I learned so quickly.

RD: Johnny Weissmuller was Tarzan.

SY: Yeah.

RD: Exactly. He could always swim like this, too. [Laughs] I used to work with a guy who was, he was the first, Buster Crabbe. I used to work with a young man who was his grandson, who looks just like him, and it was the same kind of swimming thing, just like the other Tarzan. So how were the military people... so the guards were all military people, because the people who ran the camp were civilians or WPA workers, right? So there was a pretty good military presence when you got there?

SY: Well, they never bothered us.

RD: As kids, did you go talk to 'em?

SY: Yeah, but they didn't really want to talk to us that much, you know. Because we were kids, and what could they learn from us? But eventually, it didn't take us long to open up the barbed wires and crawl out and go hiking. But we could get day passes, you know, we could go to Cody, Powell, even Yellowstone National Park. And after a period of time, they realized that we're not going to escape, where are we gonna go? It's a long ways to the Pacific Ocean, and even if we went to San Francisco, where are we gonna stay? In reality, we had no choice but to stay.

RD: Right, it's not like you can go hop a train or anything. Now, Roland Washburn, who was the property manager there --

SY: Who?

RD: Roland Washburn, he was the property manager, he distributed whatever came into the camp. He didn't seem to have a lot of, as an administrator, didn't seem to have a lot of contact with the other members of the camp. But he said that it wasn't long, that the guards weren't there for very long.

SY: No, no. Because like I said, no one's gonna escape, and where are we gonna go? But I understand the people in Cody, they had night watches, watchmen, watching their town. Because with two or three thousand population as opposed to eleven thousand, they were really afraid of us with only twelve miles distance, and they thought that we were gonna attack them. We had no ambition of going over there, taking over a town.

RD: Well, we heard too that there were signs. Did you ever hear any signs like the "no dogs," "no Japs"?

SY: Yes.

RD: Tell me about the signs.

SY: Well, when we saw it, we just ignored it, we just didn't go into the premise. And Alberta Cassein, who was my eighth grade teacher in camp, she took a group of kids to Cody, and she was so embarrassed to see a sign that says "No dogs or Japs allowed." But it didn't take long before the people, the businesspeople of Cody or Powell or any other city, because that little green paper money, they welcomed that. And so pretty soon, at first they were afraid of us, they welcomed us with open hands, they said, "Come on, buy whatever you like." And that's typical of any business.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.