Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Minoru Yasui Interview
Narrator: Minoru Yasui
Location: Hood River, Oregon
Date: October 23, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-yminoru-01-0004

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Q: When did you first hear of the evacuation plans?

MY: Well, evacuation was not really certain, even during the first several months of 1942. There were a lot of rumors. As a matter of fact, as I understand, during the latter part of December, things were fairly calm on the West Coast. It was not until towards the end of January, the beginning of February when the newspapers began to play up the fact that the Bataan Death March occurred, that the presence of Japanese on the West Coast constituted a military danger. It's my recollection that early in the year of 1942, Walter Lippmann began to write about the necessity of evacuating all persons of Japanese ancestry. Prior to that time, there'd been discussions, and certainly a lot of talk about taking all of the males and putting them into work camps. There was also talk about, the Nisei would not be affected, but certainly the Issei would. There was a lot of confusion. So there was no clear-cut pattern until the latter part of March when the Presidio of San Francisco began to issue its series of military orders.

Q: During the time of uncertainty, how did the Japanese Americans react to all this discussion?

MY: Well, there was a lot of confusion. For one thing, there was a opportunity to so-called "voluntarily evacuate," and particularly in California, the first hundred miles is considered Zone A. Many people did move out of Zone A, and in the Los Angeles area, the Terminal Island area was considered a very sensitive area, as was Bainbridge Island near the Bremerton Naval Academy or naval port in the Puget Sound. Those families were moved early. It's my recollection at the present time, they were moved probably during February. But after they had moved into Seattle or the main part of Los Angeles, there was no great hue and cry at that particular time to move them all. But the interesting thing is that there was a period of so-called "voluntary evacuation," many people did move off the West Coast into the interior several hundred miles, and I would guess in Los Angeles particularly, they went on to Fullerton or Pasadena or someplace that was several miles away from the West Coast. Certainly in San Francisco, they went to Sacramento into the valleys, but there was no great mass movement as far as I could understand.

Q: How did you interpret the evacuation orders?

MY: Well, it came, of course, in stages. The first order was the setting up of the Military Zones A and Zone B, which is certainly a logical and reasonable step. The third order that actually came out, Proclamation No. 3, was the curfew order and the travel restrictions. It's my recollection this is on March 24th in the Presidio San Francisco, ruled that all "enemy aliens" of Italian descent, German descent, and all persons of Japanese ancestry would have to conform to a curfew from 8 p.m. 'til 6 a.m., and further, that these people would not be permitted to travel more than five miles. Now, to me, this is certainly an infringement upon the rights of American citizens, and definitely I could not accept it as being a valid, legitimate order.


Q: Did the Japanese Americans in Portland have any fears of what would happen to them after Pearl Harbor?

MY: Oh, yes, definitely. So far as the Japanese American population in Portland is concerned, there was a great deal of literally chaotic thinking because we heard about the Jewish camps that the Nazis were imprisoning a great number of Jewish prisoners, sending them to work camps. We began to hear reports -- this is certainly later in March -- about the Bataan Death March. Consequently, we began to hear all kinds of rumors that the Japanese Americans would be work camps, and then we wondered indeed what would happen after the work camps. We began to hear that the military was going to use the Japanese Americans as hostages and trade them for prisoners of war, that we'd be kept there for the duration of the war, which, of course, no one knew how long. For the younger person, certainly the unattached person with no responsibility, it was an exciting period of time. And for those who had children, who had families, who had business, it was a very difficult time for those kinds of people because there was no certainty as to what would happen to them.

Q: What, really, what was your immediate emotional response to when you heard of the evacuation orders?

MY: Well, specifically, of course, the evacuation orders was done on a piecemeal basis. As I recall again, Bainbridge Island sometime early in February and certainly surrounding the Bremerton naval yards did not seem to be a terribly unreasonable requirement. However, when the general evacuation orders began to be issued, and this as I recall began in March, I thought it was a completely unwarranted kind of military action certainly done by executive fiat with the result that it was completely arbitrary with no consideration or relationship as the actual military dangers involved. And I say this because they were taking the young people, the children, the old people, they were taking females, and it had, in my opinion, no basis in law. And this certainly strengthened my resolve to continue to test the validity of military orders.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.