Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Roy Doi Interview
Narrator: Roy Doi
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-droy-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

Roy D.: I was born in Sacramento, California.

RD: When?

Roy D.: March 26, 1933.


RD: Where were your parents born? Were they American citizens?

Roy D.: My parents were born in Japan and immigrated. My father came in 1903 and my mother came in 1917.

RD: And did they become naturalized citizens?

Roy D.: They became citizens after World War II in 1954.

RD: So they didn't have a chance to before?

Roy D.: They didn't have a chance to become citizens until then.

RD: Did you feel that they were outwardly very loyal to the United States?

Roy D.: My dad was very loyal because when the choice came during the war whether to return to Japan or stay in the U.S., he definitely wanted to stay in the U.S.

RD: How about your mom?

Roy D.: Pardon?

RD: How about your mother?

Roy D.: Oh, my mother too. Because if they returned to Japan, there was no life for them, really. And so they wanted to stay in the U.S.

RD: Did both of your parents work?

Roy D.: My father was a migrant farm laborer. Actually my mother and father both worked on the various farms, and they were not educated very much. My dad had a third grade education and my mother had a sixth grade education, so they were not in an educated situation and so they did mostly farm work.

RD: And what was your life like when you were going to school in Sacramento?

Roy D.: Well, I went to school in, Loomis is a small town northeast of Sacramento, and life was pretty normal. Before we went to camp I was in grades one through five. And I remember just going to school, and I guess I was just a normal kid then.

RD: Well, you were a farm kid. Wasn't Chuck Uyeda one of your neighbors?

Roy D.: Right. Chuck was one of our neighbors, and most of the Japanese in that area, northeast of Sacramento, were in farming.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

RD: So do you remember hearing about when the war started?

Roy D.: No, I was too young, really. Although I knew something was happening because there was a curfew on and my parents couldn't go out after a certain hour, they had to be at home. But I was not too aware because I was nine years old when the war started.

RD: And do you remember the day that you were told that you were gonna go away?

Roy D.: Right. I mean, we didn't have too much notice. Like my sister got married one day before we had to be evacuated because she wanted to stay with her husband. So I remember a quick wedding at my brother-in-law's house, and they were married just the day before they went to camp, and so they were able to stay together. And then the next day we had to go camp.

RD: Do you remember what you took with you?

Roy D.: Well, I don't remember what I took, but my mother was very worried. And in one hand she had a suitcase, and in the other hand she had a big sort of canister of dried milk because she thought we wouldn't have anything to eat. So that's one thing I remember. And when we got to the station where we had to leave for the assembly center, I remember we went on our car, and my dad sold his car for fifty dollars, which was a paltry sum, although that's worth about five hundred dollars today, I guess.

RD: Yeah. Well, that's probably what you were able to live on in the camp.

Roy D.: Yeah. I don't know exactly how we lived on it in camp because after the assembly center when my dad and mother worked, they worked in the kitchen mess hall they called it, and they were paid I think sixteen dollars a month, and that's what they survived on.

RD: And where were your assembly camp?

Roy D.: Our assembly camp was in Arboga, Marysville, near Marysville, California.

RD: Pretty small, right?

Roy D.: That was a small one. It was a small camp, but it was for residents living mostly in Placer County and the Sacramento area. And I remember the barrack was very simple at that time, just a partition, but you could hear everything going on in the next room.

RD: How many people?

Roy D.: Well, in our room, let's see, there were six of us. I had, at that time, one sister and two brothers and my parents and I were living in this one room, about twenty by twenty-five foot room.

RD: Did you go to school while you were in Marysville?

Roy D.: No. We were in the assembly center only for about three months, and then we were shipped to Tule Lake, California, which was a large camp in northern California. And I remember going, I think, by train, Arboga to Tule Lake.

RD: We have pictures, you saw the pictures of the Tule Lake barracks, is that what you remember?

Roy D.: Yes, I remember Tule Lake. And one of the few things I remember was our address, which was 41-01-A. And the camp life must have been imprinted in my life because of the many places I lived in, I only remember the camp addresses. Like Tule Lake was 41-01-A and later Heart Mountain was 9-15-B. I lived in a lot of places, but those are the two places that are imprinted in my mind.

RD: And you had a family number, too, right?

Roy D.: Right, it was 24455. So that's been sort of imprinted. You know, we weren't tattooed, but I think it was tattooed in our brain, because I remember our family number. So it must have made a pretty firm impression, although I was young at that time.

RD: Do you know when you would have to use your number?

Roy D.: No, I never could recall having been asked that, except it was imprinted on all our baggage, I remember, when we were shipped from Tule Lake to Heart Mountain.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RD: So then after Tule Lake, do you know why you were transferred again?

Roy D.: Well, at that time, I think my dad --

RD: Could you look at me instead of looking over there?

Roy D.: Yeah. At that time, my dad was I think given a choice of whether he wanted to go back to Japan or stay in the U.S. And Tule Lake was the camp where if you wanted to go to Japan, you stayed there. But if you wanted to stay in the U.S., you went to other camps. And my dad didn't want to go back to Japan, so he decided to go to Heart Mountain at that time.

RD: Wow. What did you know about Wyoming?

Roy D.: I knew nothing, except it was maybe sagebrush country. But we did take a train from Tule Lake, I think it went through Salt Lake up to Billings, and then it finally arrived in Heart Mountain.

RD: All the people that I talked to said that the shades were down but all the kids peeked. Did you peek?

Roy D.: I can't recall really, but the only thing I remember was when we stopped in Billings, I got off the train for a few minutes and hopped back on, because the train was stopped there for a while. But I can't really recall the shades and all.

RD: Okay. And what was your first impression of Heart Mountain?

Roy D.: Well, I think when we got there it was summer, so it was quite nice weather. And the sky was really wide open. And that's one of the impressions I have about Wyoming where there was a lot of sky, and you could see Heart Mountain in the distance from the camp. And that was my first impression, I think, the big sky, sort of like Montana, I guess, the big sky country.

RD: Were there guards?

Roy D.: By the time I got there -- we got there in summer of 1943, and I cannot recall guards, although there were guard towers remaining and a fence was there. But I could not remember seeing soldiers at that time. But, see, I got there later than when Joan got there. I think she got there in '42, I got there in '43, a year later.

RD: Well, as I said, apparently the decision was made that those people had to go off to war, and if anybody escaped, they probably wouldn't make it past Powell.

Roy D.: Right.

RD: Do you remember the first snow?

Roy D.: Yes, but, see, in Tule Lake, we had already, I had already experienced snow. Because in Tule Lake we got there in the summer of '42, we spent the winter of '42 in Tule Lake, and there, there had been snow, and in fact, my dad had made a sled for my younger brother and me. And so we had gone sledding even at Castle Rock mountain there. So when I got to Heart Mountain, we got there in the summer, and then... but the experience in Heart Mountain was different from Tule Lake because we had blizzards in Heart Mountain, I mean, it was really bitterly cold compared to Tule, I think. So that was a different experience. And one day I remember my dad was very strict. He would never let me skip school, and one day there was a blizzard, and I really had to go through several blocks to get to school, and when I got there, the door was locked, and they had to cancel school that day because it was so bad. So I had to trudge back, all the way back to our block. And the way I did that was different blocks had these laundry rooms, and so I would get warm in one laundry room and go from one laundry room to the next to get to school, and then I took the same path back, and that's how I survived that blizzard. But it was very cold.

RD: Yeah, it gets to be easily twenty below there.

Roy D.: Yeah, and it's windy, too, it was very windy.

RD: And the dust. The dust storms, people talked about the dust storms. But if you lived near Sacramento, it snows not far from there.

Roy D.: Well, it snowed in the Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe.

RD: Yeah, I'm from Grass Valley, it snowed.

Roy D.: Oh, okay. Well, we never did go up in the wintertime.

RD: Silly. So what did the barracks look like?

Roy D.: Well, I guess the barracks were tarpapered barracks, and segmented into little rooms. Our room was, I think, twenty by twenty-five feet, there were six of us living there, and I can't remember how it was partitioned at all because we didn't have material to partition off rooms. There was a potbelly coal-burning stove at one end, and I can't remember exactly how we all fit in there, but there were six of us in that room.

RD: Do you remember, what church did you go to?

Roy D.: I didn't go to a church... well, I did go to a church once, but I was not a regular church attender.

RD: Not your parents either?

Roy D.: Well, my parents, very interesting, were very religious, but I don't know if they went to church either. I don't know if they had a church that they could go to.


RD: Okay, so your parents were religious?

Roy D.: Yeah they were very religious, but they had converted to Methodism because my dad went to a Methodist church to learn English, and so he became a Methodist. So I grew up going to Sunday school I remember in the Methodist church. And that was before camp, and in camp, I can't remember really going regularly to a church.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RD: Did your dad, was he able to fix up your barracks at all?

Roy D.: Well, my dad was a pretty good little furniture maker, so I think he did get, make little chairs and things like that from scrap lumber that was around the camp. But I can't remember him making very elaborate furniture or anything, maybe little stools or little chairs, very simple furniture.

RD: Do you think perhaps he didn't want to make it seem like he was going to stay?

Roy D.: Well, that I don't know. Oh, the other thing he did make was getas, I guess you know what getas are.

RD: What?

Roy D.: They're little wood clogs, and we used them to go to, when we went to the shower room, we didn't want to get athlete's foot, but we all wore geta and took showers wearing these things.

RD: We've heard this one before, and also because of the mud and the dirt and all that.

Roy D.: Right, right.

RD: So the swimming hole, tell me, do you remember the swimming hole?

Roy D.: Yeah, I had a very scary experience at the swimming hole because I wasn't a very good swimmer. The one time I was swimming across, and I tried to stand up, and it was very deep there. And a neighbor, Richard Kishimoto -- I hope he's still alive -- but I was struggling and he pulled me out, pulled me to the side. And I had panicked then. But in order to get over that fear, again, I went swimming right across the same place, just to make sure I wasn't afraid.

RD: Yeah, well, I heard there was a little current in there, too, because they fed it from the irrigation ditch.

Roy D.: Yeah, I don't know. I can't recall that. But we did go to the swimming hole in the summer.

RD: And did you leave the camp?

Roy D.: Yeah. There were several times, one time I sneaked out of camp, actually. I don't know how my dad got me a bicycle, but I had a bicycle. And Jimmy Nishiyama, another person in our block, he had a bicycle, and he knew a family near Powell, the Kawano family, they had not been interned because they had lived in Wyoming from before the war. So Jimmy and I sneaked out, we took our bikes and we went by the hog farm, sneaked underneath the wires. And we pedaled, I don't know, it must have been maybe five to ten miles to get to the Kawano family house. And we were a little scared because the dogs of different farms would bark at us as we pedaled along. We thought we'd get caught, but we made it to the Kawano farm and we spent a real enjoyable day there baling hay and eating ice cream, drinking milk and all. And so we had a great day. But on the way back, one of those sandstorms came up. And it was blowing so hard and it was so sandy that we had to take shelter by a barn near the road, and we had to wait there 'til the wind subsided because it was so windy and sandy. And we finally got back to the camp around six or seven, it was dark already, and we snuck in, back into the camp. But that was one of our interesting experience I had.

RD: And you didn't get in trouble?

Roy D.: No, nobody knew we went. [Laughs] But near the end of the war, I think it must be in '45, I remember taking a bus with several of my friends to Powell. We went to a movie, and I still remember the movie was, it was called The Mummy's Curse, a real scary movie for young kids. And we did go to the movie, I remember. I don't know how we had money, I guess our dad must have given us money for that.

RD: I know they said they had some movies in camp. Did you ever go to the camp movies?

Roy D.: Oh, yeah, our camp, Block 9, had a movie theater. And there were several experience I remember there because one movie we saw was The Sullivans. I don't know if you remember the movie where these five Sullivan brothers were on a navy ship and it got sunk and they all died. After that, the navy never let brothers go together on a ship, I think. But there were about five or six of us in the front row, and we were all crying, it was such a sad story. But we used to see movies like that, and we also, on Saturday mornings we used go to see Buck Rogers. There was a whole series, every Saturday morning, Buck Rogers would be one, so we used to enjoy that. And I think it cost us a nickel each to go to the movies.

RD: I just paid thirteen dollars, too. Do you remember -- I know you were pretty young for this, but do you remember when Ben Kuroki came to the camp?

Roy D.: No, I don't remember that.

RD: Because he was the famous bomber.

Roy D.: Yeah, airman, yeah.

RD: And there were some people... he doesn't like to talk about this very much, of course.


RD: So no guards. Do you remember a bird?

Roy D.: A bird?

RD: A bird named Maggie?

Roy D.: No. I read that book recently...

RD: By Shig, yeah.

Roy D.: But I don't remember the bird. Magpie, it was a magpie, wasn't it?

RD: Uh-huh. But nobody knew that they could talk. There wasn't a lot of talking, I don't think.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

RD: So what else did you do when you were there?

Roy D.: Okay. One other thing I remember very much, and I've written a little short story about it, but nobody wants to print it. One morning a group of us decided to go on a rabbit hunt. And there was one older person, he was about fourteen, I guess, he was sort of very bossy and he said, "Okay, we're going on a rabbit hunt." So about nine of us I remember went out, went a little bit north of Block 9. And we made a line, and he says, "We're gonna all go very quietly and try and corral the rabbit out there." But as soon as we saw a rabbit, we all ran, and we chased the rabbit until we got to the fence of the camp. And the rabbit just sort of looked back at us and then he just snuck right underneath the fence. And we were all sort of frustrated because the barbed wire fence was there. And so as we stood there, a very interesting thing happened. It was right near the edge of the camp, and the road was there, and a little car came up. It was with a rumble seat and there were two white boys in the front and one boy in the rumble seat in the back. And they stopped and they started yelling, "Oh, you dumb Japs," and everything. And then they started throwing rocks at us. And we were very... I can't understand why, but we just stood next to the fence, and they started pelting us with rocks. And we didn't fight back or anything. Ordinarily you would think we would have gotten mad and thrown rocks back at 'em. But no, we just stood there, and naturally we didn't want to get hit, so we started walking back from the fence and finally they just drove off again. But in my story that I wrote -- I remember the morning was very nice, sunny, and the sky was blue. And as they started pelting us, it got real cloudy. You know how in Wyoming the clouds would suddenly come up. Well, we walked back in the rain back to the barracks from the fence. So it was sort of a poignant story. And I've often wondered why we were so reluctant to fight back at that time.

RD: Well, I would think that you would think, just even as little boys, that you've already been put in jail.

Roy D.: Yeah. Well, we must have felt that... I don't know why we were so reluctant to even shout back or yell back anything. But I remembered at that point we were just so silent, and we walked back.

RD: You know, you can now publish short stories on your own on Kindle.

Roy D.: Yeah, maybe I should try writing up the... I've written up the story several times.

RD: Send it to us, we know how to get it on Amazon.

Roy D.: Oh.

RD: Well, no, people can download it to their Kindles, so you don't have to go through a publisher anymore. So you could create your, Garrett's got Cowboy series, I have a bunch of books, and it's not that hard anymore. Because I think publishers the way they are now are going to go away. I think it's all going to change. I would love to read it.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

RD: Now, do you remember the day that you left camp?

Roy D.: I can't really remember except I remember getting on the train, and it took several days to get back. And it's amazing, this train came all the way back to California and it stopped in the very town that we left. Now, Loomis had only 250 people when we left, and when we came back, the train stopped and just let our family off the train. Fortunately, one of our family friends was there with a pickup truck. I don't know how... it was maybe just coincidental or he just happened to be there, but we got off the train with our few luggage, maybe three or four suitcases, and he took us to our little shack, which was our prewar home.

RD: Oh, you got to go back to where you were.

Roy D.: Yeah. And this shack had no indoor plumbing, had only a single cold water tap, and apparently had been used during the war by some farm laborers. But in reality we came back to almost the poor conditions at the camp which had hot and cold running water.

RD: And a swimming hole.

Roy D.: And a swimming hole.

RD: And a movie theater. Well, that's the first time I've ever heard that one. What did your parents tell you about why you were going and what was going on?

Roy D.: You mean during, at the beginning?

RD: Before the camp, yeah.

Roy D.: Well you have to remember, my parents spoke mostly Japanese. My dad spoke a little English but my mother spoke very little English. And they didn't, I can't recall them actually sitting down and telling us what was going to happen, but they were, I think, sort of accustomed to being told what to do in life. So they just followed the, I guess, what the army had told them to do to pack up and move out. So I cannot, to be honest with you, I cannot really recall them ever telling us anything.

RD: Nobody did. You're not the only one. To a person we've talked to, nobody's parents told them anything. But do you have children?

Roy D.: Yes, two.

RD: What did you tell your children?

Roy D.: Well, I guess I've told them about, a little bit about camp, and I've been writing an autobiography so I've written down a lot about the experience. And they're aware of what happened. The ideas, we haven't discussed it very much.

RD: What do you think would happen if they tried to do that to American citizens?

Roy D.: Oh, right now they would rebel, probably. [Laughs] They would be angry because it's the third and fourth generation Sansei and Yonsei who have really been outspoken about the injustice of the evacuation.

RD: I think the Sansei were very active in trying to get reparations.

Roy D.: Right. They were... well, they had become lawyers and everything and I think they were more aware of the unconstitutional action of the government.

RD: Did you get reparations from the government?

Roy D.: Yeah, I think we got twenty thousand dollars, you know, for three and a half years of incarceration I don't think is much, especially in today's money.

RD: Of course, they like to say, the black people didn't get the forty acres and the mule they were promised either. [Laughs] And why do you think it's important for, particularly for the Yonsei to know? Because we've noticed a lot of Yonsei don't know.

Roy D.: Right, right. Well, I think they ought to know that bad things could happen, and there could be a lot of injustices that shouldn't happen.

RD: Shouldn't happen to anyone?

Roy D.: Yeah.

RD: So when your parents came back, how did you end up going to college and becoming, well, you?

Roy D.: Well, it's a funny thing because my parents never told me to go to college or anything. But it was a given among most of my fellow Niseis that we went to college, so I did go. And it was during my experience in the army that I really decided to go to graduate school. And because I was with the research unit in Japan during the, right after the Korean conflict, I had, I was working in a research group and I asked, "Colonel, how does one become a researcher?" and he said, "You have to go to graduate school to learn how to do research." So after the army, I went to graduate school.

RD: Who was it we just talked to? Oh, yeah, it was you, when you said, "How do I do that?" right?

Roy D.: Oh, yeah. I said... I asked him, "How do you become a researcher?" I didn't even know what graduate school was at that time.

RD: And now tell us what you ended up being?

Roy D.: Well, I went to graduate school, got my PhD at the University of Wisconsin, I did some postdoc at the University of Illinois. My first job was at Syracuse University where I was assistant professor in microbiology. And then UC Davis offered me a job, so I came back to California finally. I was worried I kept going east, from the Midwest to New York, my first teaching job was at Syracuse University in New York. But I was happy to get back to California because I was coming home, really. And I taught there for forty-three years, a long time.

RD: And now you're starting a new life. Talk to me about Joan. Tell me how you met again.

Roy D.: Yeah, well, the first time I saw her was in Las Vegas at a reunion of our Heart Mountain class. And she was widowed and I was separated, and after forty-five years, I had a crush on her in the eighth grade in Heart Mountain. But we had separate lives for forty-five years, but we finally met again. And so after a very brief romance again, we got married in Reno. The two of us snuck away, got married on Valentine's Day, and it's been eighteen years since.

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