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

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

RD: Okay, Shig. Where were you born, Shig?

SY: I was born in San Francisco, California, June 13, 1932.

RD: And were your parents American citizens?


SY: My mother was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1907, and she was a two-year pre-med student at the University of Washington. And my father was born in Japan, and he left when I was a year old.

RD: Now go to "my stepfather."

SY: When I was four years old, my mother got remarried to an illegal alien. He jumped the ship, and he saw the United States, he wanted to stay, and he did. And he worked for, as a domestic worker, and he enjoyed working because of the fact that people were so kind to him. All the people he worked for all throughout his life were all Caucasians.

RD: What was his name?

SY: His name was Joe Okada.

RD: Okay, now, where did you go to school in San Francisco?

SY: I went to Galileo High School. And the reason why I went there was when I was at Marina junior high, many of the athletes asked me to go there to play basketball. And so I was glad I did go there because I did enjoy playing basketball. And they had a very famous basketball player that went to Stanford University, he was All-American, and he is the one that invented the one-hand push shot, set shot. So he used to come to Galileo High School to teach us how to shoot, and this is one of the reasons why I still play basketball. I could still shoot, but I can't run as fast as I used to.

RD: Show me that one-hand push shot.

SY: The one-hand push shot is like this. Now, the difference between that shot and now, people are shooting the same shot except a little higher, or some even higher. And even some of them are jumping up to shoot, which was not invented in those days. But prior to that one-hand push shot, people used to shoot two hands or above their head with two hands. But he invented this one-hand shot at the NCAA national championship, he scored fifty points, it revolutionized the entire game of basketball with the one-hand push shot.


RD: And this is just curious for me, what was the racial makeup of Galileo then? Because we used to call it, amusingly, when we were in San Francisco, "Garireo," because it was eighty-five percent Chinese.

SY: We had probably quite a few Italians, and a lot of Chinese, and very, very few Japanese. And most of the people went to either Washington High School or Lowell High School, but I went to Galileo. And the reason for that, there was players like Don Bragg, Frank Pavish, and they enticed me to go to Galileo, so that's why I went there.

RD: What was your life like in San Francisco?

SY: Well, my parents ran a cleaners, and something I really hated was going to Japanese school. They used to pick us up on a bus and bring us home on a bus, a little small school bus. But I went to Fremont elementary school when I was the only Japanese American. And I enjoyed the school because it was an outlet, something I really enjoyed. And my best friend was a fellow by the name of Russell. War broke out, they put all the Japanese Americans in the interior so we couldn't see the San Francisco Bay. But one day Russell and I went hiking way up in the hills, and we climbed the summit, and we looked down, and I could see the entire bay and I saw all these ships. So I ducked down and Russell asked me, says, "What is wrong?" I said, "I'm not supposed to see the ships. I'm not supposed to look at the harbor." He said, "Who's going to know?" So I looked again, and when I went home, I told my parents, I said, "The United States is going to win the war." I had never seen so many ships in my life. And ironically, right there at the foot of Golden Gate Bridge, at Presidio army base, they had an interpretive school called Military Intelligence School, or Service. And they were the Japanese that went to the Pacific.

RD: Do it again from Military Intelligence school, I mean, Military Intelligence Service.

SY: Military Intelligence Service, MIS, and they were right there at Presidio where they could see the ships coming in and out, and they went to the Pacific, and to decipher the codes of the Japanese ships. And so they saved a lot of American lives.

RD: What did you do for fun in San Francisco?

SY: Well, we did a lot of walks. We used to go to the Golden Gate Bridge -- excuse me. We did go on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 when it first opened up. And I still remember that, and the reason for that, because there weren't even cars or trucks permitted to enter the bridge. And the reason for that was because it was opening day. And I remember walking down where we could see the Spanish fort, and it was very colorful, bright orange. And one of the things I remember, there was this young man about nineteen years old, put me on the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge and leaned me over. And I was scared to move because I didn't want to be the first person, fatality.

RD: Little did you know it would later become a tradition. Well, Fort Baker's right under there, too, right? Or was, it's not there anymore, but Fort Baker was right under the bridge.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RD: Okay, now, do you remember the day that you were told you were going to camp?

SY: Well, the actual... it was probably a week or two when they told us that we're going to be leaving. And we met at the Buchanan YMCA, and they gave us an ID card, tag, rather. And they put us on the bus and we went to a train station. And we were really excited because, to get on a train, that was a treat. And we were supposed to go to Tanforan Racetrack, which was called Tanforan assembly camp. And when we got to near Millbrae, we could see Tanforan. So we assumed that the train was going to backtrack, because it was going so slow in entering Tanforan. But it kept going faster and faster, and pretty soon someone said, "I think we're going to the desert." And I remember seeing postcards in drugstores and whatnot, and I pictured Long Beach where they had the Miss California pageant, I remember seeing the palm trees of Palm Springs. I remember seeing the lights of Hollywood, so it sounded like a very glamorous trip. And, of course, they had the shades down so we couldn't see out, and I remember.

RD: But when did they put the shades down? Because you saw it.

SY: Just before we left, but we could peek out. The kids, we were not worried about the rules and regulations. And I remember when we were going by Santa Maria, the most fearful disease at that time was poliomyelitis. And so I remember my mother telling me, "Get under the cover and get plenty of rest because you don't want to catch polio, because you'll become crippled." Then we entered, we came to the Pomona assembly camp which is now the Pomona fairgrounds. And immediately we got out, the military police were searching all the luggage, and it was a real long, drawn-out deal. Five hundred fifty from the Bay Area went to Pomona. But the people knew that this particular train came from San Francisco or Bay Area. So I told my parents I'm going to look around because I was kind of wondering, "What is this all about?" Well, fourteen or fifteen or sixteen kids came up to me and the first one said to me, "Hey, you're from Frisco." I'd never heard of Frisco. I have now, but at that time, and being from a big city, we were very polite and courteous. I corrected him by saying, "No, I'm from San Francisco." Another guy said, "No, you're from Fog City." Again, I'd never heard of Fog City, so I corrected him, saying I'm from San Francisco. Well, I knew I was going to enter my first fight, because the little ones were kicking me and punching me and so forth. So I lied. I said, "Well, I don't mind fighting one at a time, but to fight fifteen or sixteen, that's impossible." So the biggest, huskiest kid said, "Yeah, you're right. You're taking me on." So he took me into the shower stall, and I looked at the floor, and I said, "Hey, look." I said, "We're both going to get dirty, look at the ground." He looked at it and he says, "You know, you're right." So they ushered me to a barrack, maybe half a block or a block away, and I said to myself, "That was really stupid of me. Now I could yell bloody murder and nobody could hear me." Well, the leader and I went in the middle of the room, and the windows were all closed, all the people were making sure I couldn't escape. So just the two of us in the middle of the room, and he grabbed my shirt, twisted it, and I noticed how strong he was. And he asked me, "Do you know how to do judo?" I said, "No." He said, "Good, we're going to do judo." Well, it turned out that my mother's cousin was living with us since 1939. He was what they called a Kibei, which means his mother and father was living in Seattle, Washington, but they both passed away, so he went to Japan to live. And he didn't like it in Japan, so he came to live with us. Well, fortunately, he was a black belt expert in judo. So he used to toss me around, and he really didn't like people like us, Americans, because he thought we were very wise. Well, fortunately, when this fellow, this leader, was going to do what they call a koshinage, which means a hip roll. So he was doing it in sequence, one, two. And just as, when he was ready to flip me, the third one he was going to flip me, I grabbed his head and went down. And I held on for dear life, and it seemed like it was an hour, but I'm sure it wasn't. But he pretended he was, he couldn't breathe, he was suffocating. And then later on, I was holding on because I didn't want to get hit or beaten up. And he whispered to me and he says, "I give up." So I let go and I said, "Sure," because I didn't want to fight the other kids. And then he jumped on me and he said, "You give up." I said, "Sure." But all throughout Pomona assembly camp and throughout Heart Mountain, whenever I saw him, although I was scared of him, I pretended I wasn't scared of him. And I flexed my muscle and I pretended any time, if you're willing to fight, I'm willing to fight. But in reality, I'm glad he didn't fight. [Laughs]

RD: Wow, that was great luck. Okay, so what was your first impression when you got into the holding camp?

SY: The Heart Mountain?

RD: No, no, first into Pomona.

SY: Oh. It was extremely hot, and my friend, Akira Yoshimura, he changed his name to Aki Yoshimura. And ironically, he was born in San Francisco and he was born on the same day as I was, June 13, 1932. So we would walk and walk around visiting people, hoping to find people from San Francisco. And one of the things we noticed was a lot of the men were carving beautiful birds and painting them. I don't know for what reason, but they would paint them. And I remember one person, and I have never seen one after that, they got a toothbrush, on the end part, and cut it and made geta. Geta is a wooden slipper, wooden slipper, and very tiny. I'm sure if you use it for a bracelet or for your ears, earrings or whatnot, and made little hearts, and I was really impressed with that. And I've never seen one anywhere exhibited on that. I wish I could see that.

RD: I mean, did... you had barracks there, too?

SY: Yes. We had nine people living in this particular one room, very small room, and we slept on the floor but they gave us, like a sheet, like a great big pillow, and we stuffed it with hay and we slept on that. And we had two families living there. And adults were always complaining about the heat, because the people from San Francisco couldn't stand the warm weather.

RD: We fade when it's over seventy. You know, it's a heat wave. It sounds like you knew that there was a difference between the camps -- how did you know that there were all these different places, like for instance, somebody said, "I think we're going to the desert."

SY: Well, when you see Tanforan miles and miles away, somebody assumed that we were going down south. And anywhere beyond San Jose and beyond is hot. So I think it was not a question of desert, it was a question of heat that they were referring to.

RD: And so then you were there, do you remember how long you were there? Do you know how long you were there?

SY: We were there about four months.

RD: That's a long time. But nothing ever got better there, right?

SY: Well, the one thing I remember, that we lined up in the mess hall, especially in the afternoon. Long lines, they would run out of a certain type of food, so the cooks had to make something else. And every once in a while you see somebody fainting, then an ambulance would come and pick that person up. But it didn't happen just once, it happened quite often. Especially with the seniors, because they wore a sweater and they wore a top coat, a suit. And whereas we just wore the lightest thing, so that we won't be real hot.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RD: So on the day when you left for Heart Mountain, did you know where you were going?

SY: Well, they told us they were going to Wyoming, but they didn't say where. But one of the things I noticed about the camp in Pomona was a lot of the, some of the people used to say, "Would you give us your sugar if you didn't use it?" Like when they gave us cereal, they gave us a little package deal such as you get at McDonalds, you know, the sugar. And you could only use so much sugar. And some people have a little gallon can, empty can, and they would fill that up with sugar. And I often wondered, "What on earth are they gonna do with all that sugar?" Someone, later on, a couple years ago told me that they were probably making liquor.

RD: One of the things we were talking about, because we know that, you leave people in there long enough, they're finding some way to make some kind of wine or some kind of, yeah, exactly, and you need that. The sugar was very valuable then, too.

SY: Then I grew up in the era of cowboys and Indians, and I always assumed that the Indians were real bad because if you look at the movie, they're always attacking. And so when they said Wyoming, I was really excited because I thought, well, here's my opportunity to see horses and cattles and cowboys and Indians. But all the way up there, we didn't see a single one. But one evening, somewhere near Salt Lake City or a little beyond, they says, "Well, you guys will get to go eat in the dining room in the train." Oh boy, that was really high tone, really plush for us. I was the first one in line. And my mother was behind me, kicking me along, "Hurry up, hurry up." Well, the first, the next train we entered were all military personnel, whether it was navy or army or coast guard or marines. They didn't have air force at that time, they had an army air corps. And I'm assuming that they were going towards Seattle to go to the Pacific, that's my assumption. But they also had their girlfriends or wives or whatnot, and some were laying down, kissing, embracing and whatnot. And all of a sudden they open up their eyes and they see a bunch of Japanese Americans with slanted eyes and black hair, and we were afraid to talk to them and they were stunned. And they were very nice, they didn't say a word. But I remember that because it was kind of a fearful thing to see so many of 'em. The next train full of military, the next train, then we went to the dining room to eat. Then we had to go backtrack and see the same people.

Then we went to Billings, Montana, and we saw a bunch of kids staring at us. I said, "Hey, come on over and talk to us." Well, the kids kind of backtracked and kind of wondering, "We don't want to see these enemy." So somebody had some leftover boxed lunches like cooked and apples and oranges, "Hey, would you want some orange, want some cookies?" Well, they came to the train and talked to us. We were there for about half an hour. And it was a pleasure talking to these people because what else is there to do in the train? It was a four-day trip.

And then we came to Heart Mountain late at night, it's cold, and an open-end truck, and they told us exactly... it was real confusing for the elderly, saying, "You're going to go to Block 14, you're going to go Block 20, we're going to let you off here." Don't forget, when you go to your barracks, there's no latrine, there's no running water, you have one light, and you have army beds and army blanket. And so we went to our barrack, it was Block 14-2-C. And my parents sat down on the bed, and I remember this real, one lightbulb, real dim light. And immediately we wanted to learn where the bathroom was, and they said, "In the morning and lunch and dinner you're going to hear a bunch of bells all throughout the camp," they had different sound. Because some people use a tire, some people use some kind of other metal, so they all had different sounds. So at breakfast time, we hear all kinds of different noises all over. But that was one way we knew what time it was. None of us had wristwatches or pocket watches or anything else, so that was the only way we knew what time, the approximate time.

RD: Was it just you didn't have watches because of your age, kids didn't wear wristwatches? They didn't take them from you or anything.

SY: Well, we couldn't afford them.

RD: Yeah, right. Okay, now let me ask you this. Let's go back to the train for a second. Again, the shades would have been down, right? Were there guards in your cars on the train?

SY: No.

RD: Oh, so you were totally peeking. And you never saw any cowboys.

SY: Well, we were very obedient. We did whatever was asked of us to do. We weren't looking for trouble, but we were eager to get to Heart Mountain. And the reason for that is, wow, we're going to go to a destination where there's gonna be eleven thousand people. You know, just the number itself was exciting.

RD: Eleven thousand Japanese people, Japanese American people. Well, you would have been sort of in a minority in San Francisco.

SY: That's true.

RD: The Japanese community then must have been much smaller. It's not that big now compared to the rest of the city. Would you say that for me? Because I don't think a lot of people realize that.

SY: Well, there was a, what they all Nihonmachi, which is Japantown. And most of the people lived pretty close to Japantown, the Japanese. And the reason for that, they were not permitted to live in the outskirts unless you worked for someone. Whereas my father and my mother worked as domestic workers, so sometimes they did live out. But 1948, when Sammy Lee, a Korean-born diver, was a gold medalist for the United States, he became a hero as a gold medalist. And so he became very popular and so he went to buy a house somewhere in Orange County, and they said, "You're Asian, you can't buy in certain locations, you can only buy in certain areas." Well, at that time, Congress passed a law that says you can't discriminate any race. If you have the money, you could buy in any area. So pretty soon, people started to migrate outwards.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 5>

RD: How did you get money?

SY: You know, I never got any allowance. My parents... well, even if we had money, we didn't need money. And if we went to the canteen, my mother will take us, and she'll buy ice cream or whatever. So there was no need for money -- oh, with the exception of movie, but that was a nickel or whatever, and my parents gave us the nickel to go see a movie.

RD: A movie in camp or the...

SY: No, no, right in camp, in one of the barracks.

RD: They made you pay for the movie in the camp?

SY: Oh, yes. Well, it's really typical of any movie that I remember, in San Francisco I used to go to the Hardy Theater. And when the cartoons came on, everybody screamed and hollered and yelled. When we were in camp, we did the same thing, we hollered and yelled because it was so entertaining. But the nice thing about it was we knew exactly what was happening with the European war, conflict, and the Asian, the Pacific. Because we knew how the war was going, as time went on, we knew that it was a matter of time that the Germans were going to surrender, and also Japan was going to eventually surrender.

RD: Well, as part of that information, because of the beginning of the movies they'd have the newsreels?

SY: Newsreel. But the newsreel usually was a month or two late. And that was the time when we saw, also, the sports. I remember Buddy [inaudible], Frankie Albert, these were big heroes of ours. And after the movie, we would imitate how they ran and played sports. So we weren't restricted to sports. As kids, we had a lot of opportunities to play football, basketball, softball, go hiking, swimming, ice skating. Even though, as young as I was, I had lots of dates. We didn't have to ask the girls, the girls used to ask us. So it was a fun time, and they also had talent show where we used to learn and see and hear the modern Hit Parade songs.

And even at the swimming hole -- at first we started off swimming in the ditch, which you can't swim very much. And then we eventually, some of us went in the Shoshone River, it's too cold and dangerous, the current. And then there was a pond near the Shoshone River, and all of a sudden one day they said, "Hey, there's a snake in here." He said, "Well, obviously it's not poisonous." One of the boys said, "Well, it's got a rattler on the end." Well, we sprang out of that pond and we never went back into that pond. And there was a canal for the irrigation, and we used to go into that. Until one boy, a Boy Scout that belonged to the same troop as I belonged to, 333, died in there, drowned. But I heard later on that he had a heart condition. So I'm assuming that the Heart Mountain people built a swimming hole. Not a swimming pool, but a great big hole. The irrigation water will come in, go into the swimming hole, and then it would go out, continue with irrigation.

RD: Oh, so it was kind of clean.

SY: Yeah. But we enjoyed it. There was a fellow by the name of Quinn Ishiba, who was the best and fastest swimmer in camp. And every time we went swimming, we would just, everybody would stare at this guy because he was so good. He looked like an Olympic star. But we noticed the people from Hawaii, they had their ukuleles, and they would sing. And they would sing the Hawaiian war chants, and they would sing a variety of songs like "Manuela Boy," which you ask a Hawaiian now, they never heard of it. But we heard, so we would imitate their singing. And then they sang the Hit Parade songs, and I remember my mother used to say, "Oh, what is this generation coming to? Oh, my gosh." They couldn't understand it.

RD: Now, speaking of the sports, were you on the basketball team or the basketball and the football?

SY: At camp? No, I wasn't...

RD: You weren't old enough?

SY: No, it was just our block. See, we had about thirty blocks, different, separate blocks.

RD: But there was a football team.

SY: That was a high school.

RD: Right.

SY: Yeah. But we played, like, intramurals within the upper fourteen and lower fourteen, or if we're lucky, the older guys say, "You want to play?" and then we get to play with them.

RD: Did you ever go to any of the...

SY: Oh, definitely. It was so exciting to see all these, I hate to say, a cliche, these great big white guys. [Laughs] I mean, humongous ball players, and the Japanese ball players are extremely small, but talented and fast.

RD: This fellow that we just talked to said that they got creamed. Here's his theory: his theory was that they came, and he said it was so exciting for them, and they heard, the rumor was that even though there were only playing six-man football teams, because their town was only six hundred people, right? What was his little town? Byron. And he said they just had this little tiny town, so they didn't have any coaches, they didn't know what they were doing. And they said they [inaudible] eleven-man team, but you were just really being nice, so just brought out the six to pound them into the pavement. He said it was, he said the bigger teams wouldn't come because they've heard.

SY: Oh. I do remember in the eighth grade, there were big boxes, and this was a PE class. And they opened up the boxes and there were all kinds of uniforms, and probably from high school. So we start wearing these football pants, and where the knee pads were supposed to be here, the knee pads were way down here. And we put on the shoulder pads, and a lot of us didn't know whether it was front or back, but we enjoyed wearing it. So that was one game that I remember, there was fifty players on one team and fifty players on the other team, all Japanese. And all the little guys, the skinny guys, all played on the line, all the big guys played in the backfield. And I was a skinny guy so they put me on the line.

RD: Do you remember the first snow?

SY: Well, you know, we welcomed the snow, because in San Francisco it doesn't snow. And so making that first snowman was fun, having snowball fights was extremely fun. And I remember we had these snowballs and we placed it in the laundry room, and then when the people came out from the lunch area, we would throw 'em. Well, somebody put water on the snowball and it turned into ice ball. And a pretty girl walking by, I threw that. The minute I let go I realized how hard that snowball or ice ball was. It hit her right on the head. Fortunately she didn't pass out.

RD: That's not one of the girls you were dating?

SY: No, no. But I always wanted to meet her as an adult to apologize, because at that time I was so scared to apologize, because if I killed her, everybody would have heard about it. But probably the worst snow was the blizzard. The howling wind and the cold penetrating. And the first year, the first snow, the blizzard we had, we were not ready for it, clothes-wise. We come from Southern California or California, we didn't know what an earmuff was, we didn't know what a glove was. We didn't know why people wore all these silly hats, we didn't know why they had mackinaw, Pendleton shirt, we couldn't afford them anyway. But our parents knew, by ordering through the catalogs, to order longjohns and shortjohns. But we were so ashamed to wear those, because if you go into a public restroom, you had to lower your pants and unbutton all these buttons from the rear end, it's so humiliating. And so we didn't mind the cold weather, instead of wearing the longjohns. And if we did wear the longjohns, we made sure that we had shirts that could cover up the longjohns so nobody would know.

RD: Yeah, we heard a story about one of the guys there who said that the military were supposed to issue coats.

SY: I'm sorry, military?

RD: That the army was supposed to issue coats?

SY: Coats?

RD: Coats, jackets. But then they never arrived.

SY: Well, I never seen it.

RD: They said they never saw those coats.

SY: But we ordered through catalogs, you know, Sears or...

RD: But they didn't give you any coats.

SY: No. And as a young boy, oh my gosh, we wanted a glove with rabbit fur inside. And they kept on saying, well, mittens are warmer because your hands are together, but that didn't look masculine, so we preferred the regular gloves, but my parents never bought any gloves. And in fact, we played marbles outside, and our hands would be so chapped it would be bleeding, but we still played. And as young boys, we didn't want to use cold cream or Vaseline or anything else, we'd rather have that bleeding knuckles.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RD: Over a period of time, I heard that the barracks, that yet everybody tried to make them into real homes.

SY: Yes. In Block 7, which was next to Block 14, it was a half a block. Half of the block was for school, the other half was with a basketball court and swings and so forth. But they had a great big mound of wood leftover from the barracks, from the mess hall, administrative building, high school, and so forth. And people will take all those wood back to their barracks and make furniture, whether it's benches or seats or tables or whatnot. And the leftovers obviously which you couldn't use you put in the stove, our potbelly stove, to get the fire started.

RD: We saw some pictures from the government that are hysterical, that they're like propaganda pictures where they show these lovely little cottages with little curtains and sort of the modern couch and we're thinking, probably not. Do you remember one particularly nice one, though? Is there somebody who had the talent to make a really nice place?

SY: Well, I think what was available was the wood. Now, those that weren't talented in carpentry will use an orange box or something to make seats out of. But as time went on, you soon find out who were the carpenters and they would say, "Would you make one for us?" and so forth. And a lot of people enjoy showing off their skills. And so, of course, you didn't need a sink, because there was no water, but they did make, some people actually made a chest, different things, store things away.

RD: Yeah, that's interesting, because the government pictures shows us a kitchen. It shows a kitchen, it shows this little, it shows a Japanese man with his son, and he's wearing like army boots, like laced up to here and he's holding a little kid like this. And there's also one where the guys have suspenders and a pipe, and then the mother's over at the sink like this doing the dishes. I'm thinking, that's not how I heard it. [Laughs]

SY: Uh-huh.

RD: So, now, I imagine some people had funds, some people had means. I mean, weren't there people that, like, people that you considered to be rich people?

SY: I would say as a young boy between nine to thirteen and a half years old, I remember all types of entertainment and fun. Because kids have the ability to create fun. And at the very beginning, where most of the people that did their washing clothes, they had sinks and they had a lot of people, the children would be crying and so forth. But on the other half of the room was like a community center. And the older kids would teach us all types of different games. We would play yo-yo, chess, checkers, blind man's bluff. We could get knives and poke it between our fingers, and the faster you do it, the more coordination you're supposed to have. One real, the dumbest game I ever saw was we all held our hands and one person will stick a knife into the electric socket, and the person on the end would get the biggest jolt. And so we would all take turns being on the last. Until one summer, there was a fellow by the name of Tom Omori, says, "Hey, remember we used to get..." he had a knife, and he says, "Let's do it again." Well, we were too smart. We said, no, we don't do that anymore. Well, he stuck his knife in. Fortunately there was plastic or something, insulation, and that thing exploded. And so it was fortunate that he didn't stick a metal piece with his hand because he would have been fried.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

RD: You still see Aki, right?

SY: Yes. He's the one that got me into Troop 333.

RD: Okay, so tell me about Troop 333.

SY: Well, one of the things... I went in there with a different name. I went in there as Shig Okada, because it was, that was a social event. Just the school I had to go with my real name, Yabu. But one of the things that they really pressured us into was working to get your first tenderfoot badge and learning all your skills and so forth. And we also had a patrol. So in our patrol, we would go to the dry river bed and practice our cooking. Well, actually cooking is opening up a package of Lipton soup and we thought that was the most delicious thing in the world. But we had to bring our own water and cook out there, which was not that far away. But we did go to the Shoshone River to camp overnight, and it was the coldest evenings, and my mother used to use safety pins, and use the army blankets to make a sleeping bag. Well, when you sleep on a slope, you're sleeping up here at night and you're on the bottom of the terrain in the morning. And then they said where there's water, it's the coldest, and that's where we slept, right next to the river. But some people were able to rent out sleeping bags and so forth. But my mother, being a pre-med student, was so conscious about cleanliness. She washed the army blanket so often, that it was so thin, that it was cold even in their barracks. So on a cold winter morning, or after sleeping, all you have to do is just go, huff, and you could see steam coming out. That's how cold it was.

RD: Did your barracks ever become a place it was comfortable?

SY: What do you mean?

RD: I mean, did your mom, I know your mom and your dad would have tried as hard as they could, but you know, you said you didn't have much in the way of money. What were you guys able to do with your barracks?

SY: Well, my mother had a friend, her name was Estelle Ishigo, and she was one of the only Caucasians living there. And she lived in Block 14, so whenever we had breakfast, lunch or dinner and there was an opening, she would say, "Mrs. Ishigo, here's a seat for you." And my mother enjoyed talking to her because she was bilingual. And I would also see her talking. My mother didn't work while she was in camp, and she was a PTA president because she went two years of university. So that didn't help me because I was a super clown, because I knew my mother would bail me out if I got in trouble, being the PTA president.


RD: Okay, do you remember any... you told me about the drowning, and you told me about, do you remember any particular tragedies when you were there?

SY: Oh, yes. One day my friend Sam Iyamoto and I decided to go to church. Not for religious purpose, but to meet some girls. And we only walked between lower 14, halfway to upper 14, and he wanted to lay down and sleep. And so I discouraged him from laying down, and I felt a lot of weight, so I decided to bring him back to the boiler room, probably about, I'm guessing, 25 yards. And later on I visited him, and his mother said he had frostbite on his cheek, his nose, and his toes. Well, I went to a Barron's reunion probably about ten years ago, and I told Sam, I said, "Hey, Sam, do you remember the time you were gonna go to church and you wanted to lay down and sleep on the ground?" He says, "You're the guy that saved my life." He says the doctor told him that if he did sleep, the hypothermia, he wouldn't have never got up and he would have died. So he thanked me, but I didn't realize I saved a life as a young teenager.

RD: You know, you've talked to me about some of your friends in Boy Scouts and that you met during the reunion, but did you, when you left, keep in touch with anybody?

SY: We went to a Heart Mountain reunion and Troop 333 reunion, and we went to Heart Mountain, Cody, Buffalo Bill Museum, we went to Yellowstone, Jackson Hole. We went to Topaz relocation center, and then we went to Salt Lake where we had the Heart Mountain reunion, and then on the way back we went to visit one of the Scouts that couldn't make the trip, he was too ill, and he lived in Las Vegas, so we visited him.

RD: But that was kind of later. Weren't you all brought together by that young guy who was in the Scouts?

SY: No. Oh, Aki Yoshimura was the only one that I've been in contact with. And then Bill Shishima, he works at the, volunteers at the Japanese American museum. And I see him once in a while.

RD: So what does Aki do now?

SY: Aki was either, somewhere between 20, 22, I don't know which one. And I think Bill was up in 28, and I was in 14.

RD: And where is Aki, in San Francisco now?

SY: No, Los Angeles.

RD: Los Angeles. What does he do? Is he just retired?

SY: He's retired.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RD: I want you to tell me, something that we talked about before when we were talking on the phone, which is that how your parents dealt with their particular hardship without sharing it with you. Because I think in a lot of other cultures it would have been different.

SY: Well, in my mind, I think that most parents didn't want to share their feelings of how they felt. Well, number one, being a Issei, first generation, or illegal alien, he was very... more American than anyone I've ever met. But we couldn't communicate as well because he was talking more in Japanese than in English, broken English. And I can understand more than I can speak it, so we didn't really talk that much. But my mother loved to talk, but she was one of these that wanted to make sure that everything was correct and right. To give you an example, when I was six years old, when I was going to Fremont elementary school, we had a cash register in our cleaner. And I learned how to open the register by holding the "no sale" sign, or button. And then I took six cents and I went to the candy shop, and I bought Tootsie Rolls and these little dots with different colors, and I was so sick of eating sugar. Six cents, you could buy a lot in those days. But I had to eat it all up because I couldn't take anything home. Well, when I approached my cleaners, my mother was out there waiting for me. She said, "There's six cents missing from the cash register." Well, I knew I was going to get punished so I went through a great act and said, "Who would want to steal six cents? I can't believe, are you sure you didn't miscount?" and on and on. Well, all through camp I heard it, all through high school I heard it, all through my navy. But when I hit forty, I said to myself, "You know, every time I go home, they remind me about that six cents. I'm going to confess." So after dinner I says, "I want to talk to you both, I have a confession. Do you remember that six cents that was missing from your cash register?" I said, "I took it. I stole it, and I bought candy with it." And their answer was very stupid. They said, "What six cents?" And I heard it all throughout my life. But I thought that was a great way of training not to steal, because that confession, I realized that they knew, they knew exactly, and they would probably still be talking about it even to now if they were alive.

RD: So what do you think is the greatest thing that you came away from, as they say, from the camp? Was it morally or intellectually...

SY: Well, I think, like any young adult or young kid, we always talked about the things that we did back home. It was always getting out, going back, going to the Golden Gate Park, going to the Playland, going on the Golden Gate Bridge, walking on it, going to Coit Tower. There was anything that was dramatic and entertaining. But also, too, we talked about that delicious hamburger, the hotdog, the milkshake, the banana split that we couldn't get at Heart Mountain. And we would compare the cities and other kids that came from other towns, and ours was better than theirs and theirs is better than ours. And so that's the thing that we talked about most, that's the thing that we cherished. Now that we could get all of those things, it doesn't mean a thing. But as a kid, when you can't get something -- and I'm sure that the military people, they went overseas, they talked about the things that they remember mostly.

RD: Oh, that's good. That is just so all-American, too.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RD: So in the sense that you were hanging out with your friends, you're listening to music, you're going to movies, did you feel like you were in an American town?

SY: Well, I thought it was just like any other town because we had a police force, we had a fire engine, or not a real engine, a truck, but we had a fire department. We had a block manager, we had warehouses, my stepfather was in charge of the rice and the beans and so forth. The mess hall people, the doctors, the hospital.

RD: And you had churches, right?

SY: Pardon?

RD: And you had churches?

SY: We had churches, library, a small library.

RD: But there were different religions, right?

SY: Absolutely. But probably the most people went to was the Buddhist church. And the reason for that is because of the parents that were mostly Buddhists.

RD: Was there any division between the Buddhists and the Christians?

SY: Well, they even had Catholic, and I don't think there was any dissention, it was only on Sundays. So to me, I don't go to church, but to me, it's a wonderful social activity It's great for the elderly to meet the other groups of people, it's good for the children, it teaches them the same things. So I think regardless of what church they go to, I think they don't do any harm, they do more good than... but as a kid, I didn't like the long sermon because we wanted to play. We had things that we enjoyed doing. And one of our favorite activities was playing marbles, and so I used to have holes in my pants and our parents used to sew 'em up, or my mother used to sew 'em up. And my last name is Yabu, and Yabu means "torn." And so my nickname was "yabureta pantsu," torn pants. And even when I see Aki Yoshimura, he always refers to me, "Hey Yabureta, how are you?" referring to the torn pants I used to wear.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RD: When you came back, you went back to San Francisco?

SY: No. We went as close as possible to San Francisco. We went to a town called San Mateo --

RD: Say when you came back.

SY: Yeah.

RD: No, say that: "When we came back, we went..."

SY: When we came back, we went back to San Mateo, California, which is nineteen miles south of San Francisco. And it was temporary quarters, we lived in a little house which was really a church. And probably we stayed there less than three weeks, and my parents found a job in Burlingame.

RD: It's a halfway house, right?

SY: No.

RD: It wasn't a halfway house?

SY: Oh, you mean the church?

RD: Yeah.

SY: It was a church, well, I think they just allowed us to stay there temporarily. And we worked for George Fuller, he was the Bethlehem Steel president, and they allowed me to stay, I had my own room. And I went to McKinley elementary school. But living in the mansion, a lot of these kids, they didn't come out and play. They had their own great big territory, and the only way I could entertain myself, I would walk to McKinley school with the hopes that they'll let me play basketball with the bigger kids. And when somebody got hurt or somebody got tired they'd say, "Hey, kid, you want to play?" Then I would get to play. And two miles away it was San Mateo, and there were times I would walk down to San Mateo to see some of my old friends.

RD: What happened to your parents, what happened to your parents' business?

SY: Oh, we let it go. We just sold it, gave it away. Whatever we could sell we sold, and left everything. All of the cameras and flashlights, knives and things like that, we turned it into the police department, and after the war, it was no longer there. But that's okay, radio... hopefully somebody could use it.

RD: That's quite an admirable attitude that you have, Shig.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RD: Okay, Maggie.

SY: Maggie. Well, we went, we had a fellow by the name of Ken Suo, and he was probably... well, he was the best slingshot shooter in Heart Mountain. And he was able to get rubber tubes from the place where they fixed trucks and so forth, and he showed us how to make slingshots. It was a real unique way, made out of pinewood and real small, and we would shoot it from way back behind our head, and we became known as the slingshot block. But we also, he had twelve pigeons, and I don't know whatever happened to 'em when he left. I had a horned toad, I had a lizard, I had a sparrow, I had... the animal that could live in water and...

RD: Salamander?

SY: Salamander. And I had a ridiculous worm with no head, no eyes. But I left it in the Coke bottle and I tied a knot on it, it could untangle itself, and I still can't figure out, nobody, even the biology teachers can't figure out what that was. But we called it a horsehair, because somebody said, well, some horse left a hair and that turned into this worm, which I know is not true. But one day Ken asked a group of us to go hunting, and you know, Wyoming is known for a lot of hunting.

So we went down to the Shoshone River and we could hear magpies way out, and because of the hills, echoing and so forth. We could see hundreds of magpie nests, and one boy said, "I bet you you cannot hit that nest." Why we selected that one, so we all started shooting. And many of us had marbles as well as ammunition, because we played for keeps, we had extra marbles, and perfect bullets. And eventually we could see the magpie nest kind of moving, and all of a sudden we could see it halfway, and next thing it hit the ground, it's pretty high up. It rolled down on the ground and stopped. Well, we were curious as to know what in the world does a magpie nest look like inside? So we looked at it, and this little baby magpie bird begging for food with its mouth wide open. We looked for food, bugs or anything, from the Shoshone River we tried to give him some water. And one of the little older boys said, "You know, that bird's going to die." I said, "Why?" He said, "The mother bird will reject that bird because it's on the ground, they can't bring it up to a nest." So at that moment I said that bird is gonna live with me and I'm gonna take it home. So the symbolism of this bird was that bird became an internee. It was free living out in the open, Shoshone River, out in the forest, and here we walked back to camp and here the barbed wire fence, each one of us opened it up for each other, and I held the bird, and I crawled back into Heart Mountain. That bird became an internee just like we were, forced into camp.

So here's this little baby bird, I'm carrying it, my mother greets us with her arms folded, with a big smile, and she sees this, what she calls a "dirty black bird," white and black bird. "Kitanai," that means "dirty." Pre-med student, she sees bacteria, viruses and all the communicable disease, "Take it back where you found it." Well, I knew that the bird's gonna die if I take it back. So I pleaded with her. Well, she didn't want anything to do with it. But fortunately my stepfather was very much a nature boy, knew exactly what to feed the bird, made a beautiful cage. And every day I always thought Maggie and my mother hated each other because they would scream at each other, yell at each other, and laugh at each other, but never touched it.

Whereas I wanted this bird to be trained. The first time I stuck my hand in there, pecks on it, it'll bleed. Eventually it would crawl up my shoulder, oh, was I proud, I trained this little scavenger bird. My mother was so conscious about cleanliness, magpie birds are scavenger bird, eats dead meat. So when we get food from the mess hall, all the dishwashers saved all the best meat for Maggie. On the bottom of the cage was dirt, Maggie will bury the meat, because that's nature, that's their instinct. My mother will go and scoop all the meat, because she didn't want that bird to have dirt on the meat. And our concern was, is she gonna survive the harsh winter? Well, the closer it got to winter, the feathers started getting bigger, and every night I would peek in the cage it would curl its head, and with just one leg, it would sleep. But it was first to get up every morning. People going to the bathroom, they're going to the mess hall, that bird will run back and forth and jump up and down, and it had two layers of wood, it would jump up and up. And when they can't see that person no longer, she would come back, the next person, she would get excited, and on and on, so she loved people. And a lot of them would say, "Oh, be quiet, shut up," because it was really noisy.

But I would say, whether I'm coming home or going out, I would always say, "Hello, Maggie." Coming home from school or whatever, playing with the kids, I would say, "Hello, Maggie." And one day that bird said, "Hello, Maggie." I said, "Oh, no, no. Is there somebody around? Somebody playing tricks on me?" So I went to the bird, we were face to face with each other, and I said, "Hello, Maggie," and the bird said, "Hello, Maggie." So I went and told my friends. "You're a big liar." "Well, come and see for yourself." Well, the bird said, "Hello, Maggie." Well, next thing you know, the word got out. The whole camp knew that there was one bird that could talk. So people would come visit, whether it was young, old, regardless of the age, it was fascinating. Well, what else is there to do? Next thing you know the bird started using other words like, "Come on, Maggie." "What you doing?" Or, "Baka," which means "stupid" in Japanese. Ohayo means "good morning," so it would say, "Ohayo." It whistled. The catcall was amazing. And what my mother used to observe was a pretty girl would be walking by and it would make a beautiful catcall, wolf call, rather, and the girl would turn around, look around to see what guy is calling. Well, it's the bird. Can't see the bird in the cage. But it could whistle any tune that you give him, and it will mimic you. And we put a bowl of water in there, it just loved to take a bath. When the Troop 333 would meet in front of my house, barrack, the bird felt it was part of the troop.

And then what was interesting about it was my stepfather said, "You know, if we clip the wings, I mean, the feathers, it's can't fly away." And we were afraid if it fly away, it couldn't survive, it was too domesticated, it wouldn't know to hunt, the instinct is gone. And so... and plus that, it'd be too friendly with other animals. It would go to the other animal and it would eat him. So we cut the wings, and it would go between our barracks. And it would socialize, it'd go from one stairway to the next. But in the middle, across from where we live, there was too elderly ladies that used to sit and talk in Japanese, and laugh and talk and laugh, and next thing you know, Maggie's in the middle of the two ladies, and you'd swear there was three old ladies laughing and talking. It was so comical, everybody used to laugh at them, including the bird. On the end there was a gentleman that had a little dog, and Maggie was not afraid of the dog. That dog was afraid of the bird because it would chase the dog. And once in a while, Maggie would move to the next barrack and get confused, because, gee, you know, they all look alike, I mean, the barracks. So all of a sudden you see a man say, "Come on, Maggie," and it would follow the man all the way back to our premises between our two barracks.

So that magpie was really a charming bird, everybody knew about her, and it was my best friend. But I think probably... not probably, it was, August the 14th, 1945. It was a windy day and we were playing basketball outside of Block 7, and where we shoot, if the basket is over here, we would shoot way over here with the hopes that the wind would carry the ball towards the backboard. Knowing that it's impossible to make it because it's so windy. And we heard the siren go off for the first time at Heart Mountain. Not just once, but maybe for half an hour. And as I told you before, we watched the newsreel and we knew that the war is coming to an end. And so we said the war ended, assuming that's what the siren was about. We laid on the ground, tears in our eyes, laughing, now we get to go home. And it was so windy, there was a little whirlwind, looked like a little miniature tornado, and we could look up. And of course my hair was full of dirt or sand, and we didn't care, we were that happy.

So now the WRA suggested and recommended, "We're gonna close. We'll give you twenty-five dollars per person, you could take a free train trip to any destination in the United States and go as soon as possible." Well, every week, not the train station, we would go to the railroad, because there was no station, there was just a railroad. We would go there and we would see hundreds and hundreds of people departing. And we would say, "Bye, good luck," and whatnot, and they would be laughing and smiling. And then when we turned around, going back to our barracks, it was the loneliest feeling. The camp started to become like a ghost town, and the mess halls started to close, consolidating. Where at one time there were sixty mess halls, now it's twenty, now less than that. Now we had all the privacy we wanted in the shower room or the bathroom, but it was very lonely. So Maggie and I had quality time, and we would talk. "You know, when we get to San Francisco, we don't know whether we could actually have, the city ordinance might not allow you to be in the city. Maybe we might donate you to the Fleishhacker Zoo. That way I could come and visit you every weekend. And not only that, you have entertained all these internees at Heart Mountain, now you could entertain all the people from all over the world that comes to visit. Because how many birds could whistle and talk and make a fool out of themselves and making a fool out of the other people?"

So now, October, first time I saw Maggie on the bottom of the cage, eyes flickering. And I carried the bird on my chest, and I could hear my mother behind me crying. But I was determined, that bird is gonna get well. And I put the bird in a little shoebox, placed it under my bed, and got up early the next morning and she was hard as a rock. So I buried the bird, put a cross up. And even now people ask, "Do you know exactly where you buried that bird?" Well, I went back there looking for the area, can't even find the barrack I was in, so there's no way I could tell where I buried the bird. But November 15th, the camp closed. Well, we were not on the last train, we were, we left the week before the closing day. My stepfather left the month earlier, looking for a job and a place to live. So my mother and I boarded the train, and we talked about Maggie all the way home to San Mateo. Still, I didn't realize how closely she was connected to Maggie. I was, I knew that. Then my half-brother, fifteen years younger, lived in San Francisco, visited my mother. Two weeks before she died, she heard my mother in her sleep saying, "Shigeru, Shigeru," that's my name. And then she yelled for Maggie twice. Then I realized she was like a mother to Maggie. I didn't realize how closely she associated with that bird, like I am.

And when I wrote the book Hello Maggie!, I learned more about my mother, the sacrifices she had. For example, she never bought any warm clothing while she was at Heart Mountain. All the things that she had was the things that she brought. She bought clothing for me, but not for herself, because she remembered the Depression days. She remembers being a single parent, she remembers putting me in babysitting service. And so this is her way of sacrificing. And so as I was writing Hello Maggie! book, I learned the close associations she had with Maggie and with me, and the sacrifice she did for all of us. And so that book really brought home how close we were, especially when the camp, when the WRA said, "It's time for you guys to leave," and we couldn't leave. And fortunately Maggie was my best friend. And animals are my best friend. As you could see how close Uma is. You could see how close my other dog Brutus was.

RD: You told me a story, I remember, about a friend of yours saying why Maggie died. I want you to tell me that story exactly. Remember, you said that he knew that Maggie knew.

SY: Well, according to a fellow by the name of Peter Duchow, who is a writer with Hallmark, he mentioned this to me. He says, "You know, Maggie did not want to leave Heart Mountain, did not want to leave Wyoming." And Maggie felt that she kept all the internees' spirits up by entertaining to us by her speaking ability, being close, and being associated with all of us. And although two years ago I was at a Heart Mountain reunion in Las Vegas, a gentleman came up to me and says, "You know, I've never met you before, but I lived in upper Block 14. But," he says, "you have a real bad bird." I says, "Well, you're the first person I have ever known that mentioned that she was bad. Can you clarify that for me, because I'm real curious." He says, "Your bird cussed at me." I said, "Really? Well," I said, "I did not teach the bird to cuss, my mother did not teach her to cuss, but I think the older teenagers taught her, because the bird will mimic whatever you teach her." And so we parted friends, and he understood.

And so Maggie still, I still have great feelings about that bird. And Barbara Bazaldua, who wrote this book called A Boy of Heart Mountain, saw the original book of Hello Maggie! and she said she wanted to do something with the story of the internment camp and myself and the bird. And I just got it yesterday, and I saw there's two chapters about Maggie. And I did not want to write an autobiography, and I'm glad, and I really commend Barbara for doing this service for Maggie and Heart Mountain and so forth.

RD: Maggie was kind of an ambassador, wasn't she?

SY: Oh, definitely, definitely. And even when Estelle Ishigo, the Caucasian lady and my mother would be out there talking, it was really interesting because it seemed like the bird understood that she was an ambassador, a friend. And the one thing that I always remember, my uncle, Sam Horishige, from Seattle, Washington, was in the 442nd, the famous U.S. Army regiment. And we had a little star that was on our barrack window, and below that was Maggie's cage. And years later, when my mother passed away, I joined the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board and I donated that emblem to the foundation. And I told them, I said, "I understand the stem is broken, it's discolored and it's old, and if you get rid of it I can understand it." But when my mother used to get a letter from her brother and would read that story or letter in front of Maggie, it appeared to me that that bird was, seemed like she understood. Maybe it was the tone of voice or whatever it was, because the bird would listen with her head cocked back and forth, and won't say a word, didn't clown around like she normally would. So I would say that bird had more meaning to all of us than we realize.

RD: It's too bad that the bird couldn't have gotten her freedom.

SY: Yeah. And so I associate people, like people with animals. And I always ask people, if they're from Wyoming, "Have you ever seen a magpie? Do you know about magpies?"

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, the reason why... well, number one, I went to the first Heart Mountain reunion in Los Angeles, and I felt like a misfit, out of place, because all the people were older than I was. People from the eighth grade below did not attend. Those that were in the ninth grade and above, it's like a school reunion. So when I first went there, I looked around with the hopes that I could recognize someone that was at Heart Mountain. So the second day I had a nametag, and I listed I had the only talking magpie, I lived in Block 14-1-C, a marble champ, and anything I could think of, I listed, and everybody looked at me like a weirdo. But Shig is a very common name. So when I heard Shig, I would turn around with a big smile, it was the wrong Shig, it was somebody else. So I said to myself, I'll never go back to another reunion because it's for the reunion for the high school kids. And what was interesting about that was after about the fourth one, there was a Heart Mountain reunion in San Jose and my mother was a widow, and I was up there in the Bay Area basketball tournament for the seniors, so I said to myself, "I'm going to take her to the Heart Mountain reunion." And she really enjoyed it. The only time she got mad was when they asked the people, "Those that are a certain age, sit down." And when her age came, seventy-nine, she had to sit down. And somebody in the ninety won that award, which is just a recognition, he was ninety-something. And I don't think she was really mad, but she just couldn't believe somebody was older than she was.

And I got this postcard from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, "Would you join the foundation?" Well, I set that postcard aside because I said, "Why would I want to go back to Heart Mountain when all we did was talk about leaving?" So after about three weeks, I was ready to chuck all the junk that I didn't need, and I noticed it said "Dave Reetz, Patricia Wolfe, John Collins, Rick Eric, Eric Muller, Douglas Nelson, Ann Noble, these are all Caucasian. I felt sorry for them, I says, "Why are they helping the Japanese Americans?" So I sent my twenty-five dollars in, and the next thing I know, I get a newsletter, and the newsletter says they're looking for artifacts. Well, here was my opportunity to give my envelope. And then I got thinking, I says, "We could only carry in just two suitcases, and we could only carry out two suitcases." So I thought, how many people carried out a bunch of stuff that they would donate for artifacts? So I wrote this little story about Maggie, I was just fooling around with the new computer I had, and I got a letter from a lady by the name of Patricia Wolfe. I never met her, and she says, "I went to Heart Mountain," she lived in Powell, which is thirteen miles away, and says, "I took flowers, and only you and I will ever know that the flowers was for Maggie." I said, "Man, this bird died fifty years ago." I called her up, I said, "I want to thank you for that nice gesture of giving that flowers for Maggie." I said, "I really appreciate that." She said, "Could we use your story about Maggie?" I said, "Sure, go right ahead." Next thing I know, I expected a condensed story about this big, well, two pages. I thought, "Oh, my god." And then she says, "You know, we're having a meeting in California, why don't you attend?" I assumed it was going to be in Los Angeles so I said, "Well, I'll attend. What restaurant are you going to meet in in Los Angeles?" "Oh, we're meeting in San Jose." And I said to myself, "I'm going to travel almost three hundred miles to say thank you?" But I says, you know, she didn't have to give flowers for Maggie, she didn't have to do all the nice thing about the newsletter.

So I went out there. And then next day, says, "You know, there's a board meeting. Would you like to come?" Well, I had nothing else to do, I had no excuses, so I'll attend. And here Dave Reetz is talking about, "Well, we cannot build any structure up at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, the actual center. But where the military grounds were, we could build, we could purchase fifty acres of land." And they talked and talked about the pros and cons about this fifty acres. Well, I came to Camarillo because I started a Boy's Club here in Camarillo, in a condemned building with three thousand dollar grant. And when that three thousand dollar grant ran out, which included my salary, that was the end. That would have been history of the Boy's Club.

So after a period of years went by... well, prior to that, I had this old asphalt driveway, and we extended that with the cement, concrete, donated, and we made a basketball court, outdoor basketball court. And when I was washing the basketball court because it rained and all the mud was on this outside court, Joe McCray came driving by, and he looked at me and he says, "You know, Shig, you deserve something better than this." Little did I know that he was gonna donate the brand new gymnasium at this new complex at the Boys and Girls Club of Camarillo, which turned into a 27,500 square foot building, which I owe so much to Joe McCray.

RD: Oh, that's fabulous. You know, where they're building the interpretive center, so that's below where the camp was, right?

SY: Yes.

RD: And where were the gardens, I mean, all the stuff that they grew that they put in their root cellar?

SY: Oh, it's between the building and Heart Mountain. From the building you could actually see Heart Mountain, okay. And, oh, at that --

RD: Remember all the stuff that they grew, the produce?

SY: Well, there's like seventy-two vegetation that they grew. Somebody went to California and got the seeds and was able to plan all these vegetables, and people in Wyoming says, "No way," and they did it. Well, they were great farmers anyway. But when Dave was talking about this 50 acres of land, and I knew what I had to go through with the Boys and Girls Club of purchasing land and so forth, I said, "Gee, I heard this same story before." So I made a check out for a thousand dollars and I gave it to the Heart Mountain Foundation. And so that was the start of the purchasing of the land. And what was leftover, they did the walking tour and they built a flagpole and a little area where there's concrete with emblems honoring the 442nd, all these different people. But the interpretive center I really have to give credit to the people from Powell, Wyoming, the Caucasian people. Without them, that building wouldn't have even been started.

RD: Yeah, it looks like they're going to get a million dollar grant also from the National Park Service.

SY: Not quite, but almost.

RD: Pretty darn close. I liked it when they actually did that $999,000 thing, it's like 99 cents out of a dollar.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RD: I have one more question for you. Ben Kuroki, were you there to see him?

SY: Yes, I did. Ben Kuroki, the reason why I wanted to see him was he was a hero. He was in the army air corps, they didn't have an air force at that time. And so we wanted to see his uniform, we wanted to see his badges or whatever, stripes he had and everything, we knew he was a sergeant, and we didn't know too much about him. And so we heard he was coming just for where the Block 14 was, bottom of the hill, it was Troop 379, drum and bugle corps, and a group of people marching up towards the administration building. And I marched behind this group, you know, real proud. And I don't remember a word he said about the speech or anything else, he was trying to recruit people to join the army. But later on, he lives right here in Leisure Village in Camarillo. And I wrote a letter to him and I told him I marched behind him. And he called me up and says, "We got to have lunch."


But I learned the entire history, I got his book, and Cal Stewart was the author and they were buddies. And on December the 7th, day after, his father told Ben Kuroki, "You and your brother, you go join the army, U.S. Army." He went down to the recruiting station and said, "Sorry, we can't take you, you're Japanese American," although he was born and raised in Iowa. Later on, not too much longer, they had a person on radio saying that they're recruiting army air corps. So he called up and says, "Are you really recruiting?" They said, "Sure am," says, "come on down to sign up." He said, well, you have to understand, he is of Japanese ancestry, you know, American citizen, born here in the United States. He said, "I don't care what you are. I get two dollars for every person that signs up." So he went down. Then Cal Stewart met up with Ben Kuroki on a ship towards England, and they became buddy-buddies all through their life. And he took a, he flew over Germany, thirty flights, and all you need to do is twenty-five and you can come home for good. But England, or the British was having a terrible time in Africa, so a group of, they needed people to volunteer, so twenty-five bombers went down to Africa. And on the way back, many of them were shot down, the bombers. Well, his plane survived except he ran out of fuel in Morocco, he became a prisoner of war. But the living condition was so bad as a prisoner, he escaped to the American side.

And then the army generals said, "Hey, we really honestly have a Japanese American hero. Why don't we send him to the ten relocation center and recruit Japanese personnel to join the armed service?" Well, the first one he went to was Heart Mountain, and then I believe the second one was Minidoka and Topaz. And then he told the army official he no longer wanted to do this, and so he says he wanted to go to the Pacific. Well, the high officials in the Pacific said, "Wait a minute, he may have relatives here." But he had enough clout in Europe in the United States, he's okay, he's a great military person, so he flew over Japan. And in one of his remarks, he said, "You know, I really felt sorry for the people in Tokyo, because not just one bomb, but many, many bombs, just flattened the whole city up." But that was the only time he got, he got injured. Some American military person stabbed him and he almost bled to death. He never talks about it. In fact, people in Camarillo, even in Leisure Village, don't even know he exists. I'm one of the few people that has met him, and I'm honored to have met him.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.