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

<Begin Segment 1>

Q: Min, tell me a little bit about your birthplace here in Hood River.

MY: Well, Hood River, of course, is a small rural community. Back in the early days, there were probably seventy-five to a hundred Japanese American families here. We were the Japanese American family that lived in town, I think there was one other family, so that as far as the Japanese Niseis are concerned, we knew most of the rural people. But the people here are obviously mostly farm people, these were our friends.

Q: What did your family do?

MY: Well, Father and my uncle ran a dry goods store, a food and provisions store. In the old days they used to provide food for families who were working during the summer. When the crops would come in, of course, it'd settle up by New Year's. So primarily it was a curio store as well as food and provisions. The interesting thing was, of course, Dad spoke English. As a result, he was able to negotiate many kinds of contracts and deals, leases and so on, with the landowners in this area.


Q: What did your father do?

MY: Well, as I said before, my father was actually running a general store with my uncle. The store was called the Yasui Brothers, they sold curios, food, and provisions. And according to my recollection, many of the farmers here would ask to charge on credit their supplies for the year, which would be supplied to them. And when the harvest came in, they would pay off, of course, their debts, and this would go on year after year. So in effect, Father was really a general store operator. However, because he spoke English, he certainly assisted in the obtaining of leases in regard to contracts. He began to develop interest in farm operations in the Hood River Valley.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

Q: What was December 7, 1941, like for you?

MY: Well, very specifically, I was in Chicago, Illinois, and I did not return to Oregon until probably the mid part of January 1942. However, my mother and my younger brother, Homer, and my younger sister Yuko were here. It's my understanding that Dad was picked up by the FBI a week or two after (December) 7th. So at home, Mother and the two younger siblings were living in Hood River itself.

Q: How did the non-Japanese population react to your family and your other Japanese American friends?

MY: Well, immediately the reaction was very negative. My dad was known as probably the biggest "Jap spy" in the whole area, and I was probably number two, particularly after March. Because I remember the sheriff in Hood River telling me that it wasn't safe for me to be walking down the street, because some could take a shot at me. So the feeling was very intense, it certainly was very much opposed to the presence of Japanese Americans in this area. We need again, of course, to go back into history, and as we recall the anti-alien land movements back in the '20s, particularly about 1924, Oregon did pass an anti-alien land law. And as a consequence, there was considerable feeling against Japanese families in the Hood River Valley.

Q: Were there any incidents that occurred shortly after Pearl Harbor?

MY: I do not specifically know. As I say, I came back from Chicago to Hood River, and then almost immediately thereafter, I opened a law office in Portland, Oregon, during January 1942. So I did not reside her continually. This, of course, is my brother's farm. He was here during that period, and he probably would be able to recount what did specifically happen. I have no personal knowledge.

Q: You were in the Reserve Officers Corps. What did you after the attack?

MY: Well, very specifically, when I was in Chicago, I immediately resigned from the consulate general of Japan. Probably a week later, I received a telegram for me to report for active duty at Camp Vancouver in Vancouver, which is right across the river from Portland. I did come back to Portland and I did report for active duty at Camp Vancouver, but it's my recollection that some ranking officer, probably about a colonel, told me that I would not be accepted immediately at that time, but they would let me know. Well, frankly, they never did let me know, so I never did join the United States Army as a commissioned officer.

Q: How did you feel about that?

MY: I felt terrible, because I was perfectly willing, and I did come back with the expectation of serving my country. And to be rejected on the grounds that, "Well, we don't know, we'll let you know later," was certainly a disappointment.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: Can we go back? Do you remember any incidents of what you call hysteria in Chicago or just generally?

MY: Well, very explicitly, in Chicago, I remember that Mayor Kelly, immediately after Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th, had issued a proclamation declaring a blackout in Chicago. And I guess the genesis of this is back in 1937, the Russian bombers had flown over the North Pole and landed at Vancouver, which incidentally, Fort Vancouver was commanded by General Marshall, who later became Chief of Staff. With the capability of aircraft crossing the North Pole, although it was a one-way trip, there was a fear that certainly the Japanese enemy could send bombers over Chicago. And as a result, we did have a very explicit blackout. I also remember a family by the name of Maruyama, who ran a curio shop on the north side. And during the night, somebody threw a rock or a brick through the front window, and there were cases of vandalism. There were two or three such incidents, but obviously, Chicago being a city of three and a half million people, the presence of Orientals, particularly not distinguishing between Chinese and Japanese, we ran into no particular personal incidents.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

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.

<Begin Segment 5>

Q: Again, what thoughts went through your mind after Pearl Harbor? Did you have, did you have any idea of anything like this?

MY: Well, when you're talking about Pearl Harbor, we're talking about December 7th. I was then in Chicago and my immediate reaction, of course, as an American citizen, I certainly wanted to get into the war as a member of the armed forces of the United States. I held a commission in the United Stated Army, and therefore felt that it's only logical that the commission should be called up and I would be in the armed forces of the United States. This did not happen. But when you ask what are the specific thoughts, it's a little bit hard to recollect specifically on specific times.

Q: What were you thinking of when you decided to violate the curfew?

MY: Well, this was not a sudden decision. As I've mentioned, all kinds of rumors and all kinds of conditions prevailed up and down the West Coast. As a consequence, I did discuss this with the various attorneys who were prominent in constitutional law. I did discuss it with member of the FBI, particularly those who went to law school with me, and I did it deliberately after having consulted with many of the other Japanese Americans. What we were looking for, really, was an ideal case. A young ex-GI who had been honorably discharged, married with a couple of kids, because we wanted to create sympathy. But at that time, knowing the uncertainties, I could scarcely blame anyone for refusing to go ahead and deliberately violate the law. And it seemed to me that someone had to do it, and the ultimate choice became, since nobody else would do it, I did.

Q: How did you get arrested?

MY: Well, that's a long story. But actually, I was on my office on the 28th day of March, which is a Saturday evening. Waited 'til 8 o'clock, Rei Shimojima was my secretary, had her call -- incidentally, Chiye Tomihiro was there at the Foster Hotel. And we had Rei call the police, the FBI, to notify them that there was a Japanese person in violation of curfew walking up and down Third Avenue. And I've told this story many a time, but I walked and walked from eight o'clock, and the record will show that I was not actually arrested until 11:20 p.m. I walked for over three hours, and during that period, I got tired of walking up and down Third Avenue. So I did approach a police officer, and being a smart aleck and being an attorney, I pulled out the proclamation pointing out that it was in violation of a military proclamation, I had my birth certificate with me, and I proved that I was a person of Japanese ancestry. Asked the officer to arrest me, and the officer says, "Look, you'll get in trouble. Go on, run along home." And that certainly didn't serve my purposes, so I went down to the Second Avenue police station and talked to the sergeant and explain what I wanted done. And the sergeant obliged me and he threw me into the drunk tank. So that's how the case began at 11:20 p.m., 28th day of March, 1942.

Q: What was your family's reaction to your arrest?

MY: The thing, of course, my father had been interned and sent off from Multnomah County Jail. Best we knew, he was in Missoula, Montana. I knew my mother would be worried, so when I was bailed out on Monday, I did call my mother. And I told her, "Shimpai shiteru deshou?" "You're worried, aren't you?" And my mother's response was, "Shimpai dokoro ka. Susumeruzo." "Worry? Nonsense. I will encourage you." Which I thought was quite remarkable, considering the fact that she was in Hood River with a son and a daughter, fourteen and twelve years old at the time. So the response of the family was excellent. I know my older brother and my younger brothers all supported me in this effort.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

Q: How were the Japanese Americans from Portland evacuated?

MY: The orders were issued towards the end of April. It's my recollection that the date was April 29th. The notices were posted, of course, in all the places where Japanese Americans gathered for restaurants, hotels, on the telephone poles. We were ordered to report to a specific WCCA, Wartime Civilian Control Agency station, and thereafter, of course, they were instructed within the five days to report to North Portland, which is a livestock barn out on the Columbia Slough. Again, because I had already violated the curfew order, I felt that an additional violation of the evacuation order would add but very little as far as I was concerned as far as penalties were concerned. So I decided upon notifying the military, that I'd come on back to the Hood River Valley and I did. I left on the 29th of April, came to Hood River. However, a week later, we got a telephone call and we were notified that a detachment of military police would be here to pick me up. So I waited for them to appear and sure enough, within the week, here comes a second lieutenant with a jeep full of soldiers and they're all armed. Came down to our home, 712 Twelfth Street, and said, "Yasui, let's go." Because I knew that they were coming, I had arranged with Molly then Kageyama, who wanted to be married to Milton Mayeda, in the North Portland Assembly Center. So we told Molly to get her stuff ready, and between myself and she, we went down to Portland, Oregon, escorted by the second lieutenant in some sedan in front of us with a jeep behind us, and we had a cavalcade from Hood River down to Portland. And the two of us, Molly and I, entered the North Portland Assembly Center.

Q: What were the conditions like?

MY: The conditions were terrible. The livestock barn, of course, is a place not fit for human habitation. They did calcimine the stalls and the walls, they did lay down a layer of asphalt. It wasn't so much the physical interior that was so depressing, but the exterior, the livestock barn itself was surrounded completely by man-proof barbed wire fences. And on each corner they had watchtowers. On the watchtowers, they had mounted not only searchlights, but machine gun nests that were sandbagged. It was literally a concentration camp, and to crowd 3,600 people into a big ramshackle leaky building, particularly in the summer months, was a horrible place. It was hot and stuffy, and obviously if you have a livestock pavilion, you're going to attract flies. And the flies were just horrendous. I could remember seeing the rolls of sticky tape, and they'd have contests to see how many flies they could catch. And one kid would say, "I killed 10,468," and someone would say, "That's nothing. I killed 15,000," and so on. But I remember particularly the congestion, the heat, the stuffiness, the impossibility to have any privacy.

Within the barn itself, they erected stalls as it were with plyboard. These extended probably eight feet high. But since the pavilion itself soars twenty, thirty feet above you, the tops were open so you could hear everything that went on in the next cubicle, whether it were a family, perhaps a child which was crying or an old man who was sick. So you had this whole feeling of constantly being hemmed in by humanity, and no ability to go out and be by yourself. I think, too, the food was another aspect that was really terrible because obviously they were trying to feed us cheaply as possible. They had equipment, there was tin plates and tin cups. We had no coffee, they used chicory. But on the plate, a tin plate, it was hot, they'd throw on the rice, the fish and some vegetables and jell-o. And the whole thing would swim around together.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

Q: What was your sense of how the living conditions affected other people?

MY: The congestion, the uncertainties, the worries that people had, I know I drove some people completely out of their minds. I particularly remember one young lady who used to come into my particular cubicle and sit there for hours just staring. Others, of course, tried to make the best of it. There was a lot of karuta going on, a lot of go being played, the ladies were doing embroidery and so on. But it was a period of just sitting and waiting to see what would develop. The worst part is the uncertainty of what was going to happen.

Q: What was your emotional response watching this happen?

MY: Well, it infuriated me because it seemed to be a tremendous waste of human talent and energy that could have been used for far better purposes. Here are a whole group of people who were actively living a life and contributing to society, to be all of a sudden locked up in complete idleness was the height of folly, it seemed to me. It infuriated me.

Q: Were there any non-Japanese people who had joined in your family of friends there?

MY: Yes. Definitely as far as non-Japanese are concerned, the spouses, and in most cases, I would say in all cases that I can recall, they were the wives of Japanese Americans, primarily Nisei. In one or two instances, I remember a Issei married to a non-Japanese person, the wife then would join the husband, and particularly so if there were small children. I remember the Sugai brothers who came in, George Sugai had a Chinese wife, Benny Higashi had a Chinese wife. There was another family whose wife was Caucasian, these families also joined the relocation center as well as the assembly center.

Q: Was there any, what's your sense of any special problems for them?

MY: Oh, I think very definitely, because they were deprived of liberty even as we were. And I think they felt the same sense of outrage, certainly the same sense of being frustrated in trying to do what was necessary to protect and to help their particular families. Conversely, however, anyone who went through that experience was accepted, it seemed to me, as one of the people who were being literally put upon, and consequently there was no feeling among the evacuees, in my knowledge.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

Q: What was the train trip like to Minidoka?

MY: I'm sorry, I didn't --

Q: The train trip like going to Minidoka.

MY: Oh. The train trip, as I recall, from the North Portland Assembly Center to the relocation center in Minidoka was about five or six hours. The immediate impression I had was that they certainly must have dug up World War I troop trains, because they were coaches, they had the rattan back seats which in many cases were torn or broken or ripped. The thing that we felt particularly sorry for were the families with small children. Because every time we'd come to a siding, the fast freights, of course, had priority rights to proceed to the West Coast, and we'd be shunted off to a siding. The freight trains would roar through, we'd be sitting there in the hot sun. The other thing that I distinctly remember is the requirement that we draw all blinds. It was a very stupid thing, because many of us had been up and down the Columbia gorge, we knew the valley, and we certainly knew where we were and where we were at the particular time. However, as we got into Idaho and the train trip stretched on and on, we really wondered where indeed they were sending us. Eventually we landed someplace in the middle of a desert on a siding. And as they unloaded the baggage from the cars, many of the people went out, of course, and sat on their own baggage and literally cried.

Q: How were you treated during the train trip by, say, non-military personnel?

MY: Well, the military personnel was not bad. I mean, they were under orders, and we certainly understood it. The thing that I found is that the black porters, and there were a few black servants, porters, whatever, that were assigned to each train, and they were extremely solicitous. I'm trying to remember, they must have fed us on the train because there was that unspoken communication commiserating with our particular situation on the part of the blacks.

Q: What was the camp Minidoka like when you got there?

MY: Well, when we first arrived in the middle of the desert and we'd see these army trucks and buses coming over the hill, we could not see the actual camp. But as anyone would know, you disturb the virgin soil of any desert and you just raise clouds of dust. And I can remember those trucks coming over the hill and just literally roiling up the dust, permeating everything.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

Q: What was the Japanese American Citizens League's reaction towards your violation of the curfew?

MY: Well, I don't think the Japanese American Citizens League met to consider the issue. However, Mike Masaoka was the field secretary and executive for the JACL. His position was that at the time of these particular orders were being issued, that the JACL and the Japanese American community would cooperate fully with the military in order to show their loyalty to these United States. I have no disagreement with that particular position, however, he felt that anyone who violated any order would make it more difficult for the Japanese American community. I then think and I think now that he's absolutely wrong. That the reservation of rights certainly was a obligation that we owed, certainly as an American citizen, as a lawyer, and as a person who believed in these United States. As a matter of fact, Mike got a little rough, he was talking about self-styled martyrs, and I resented it and obviously disagreed with it. I proceeded with my case despite the opposition from JACL. On the other hand, I didn't ask the JACL for any support or help. I do know that the San Francisco people in the Topaz camp and in Minidoka did assist me, both financially and morally and so far as indicating they were willing to support me in every way possible. I think one of the funniest things is that the market gang, the market group who worked in produce was generally a rough, tough bunch of guys. And to some degree I was held up as a hero among the market gang, and consequently I had no problems either at the North Portland Assembly Center or at Minidoka, because indeed I was challenging the legality and validity of the military orders. But so far as the JACL officially is concerned, they took the position that no test case should be started back in 1942, that they reserved the right to test the legality of evacuation at a later time. As a lawyer, I can tell you that unless you protest the time that the injury is done, you've waived your right to protest. Therefore I disagreed completely with Mike Masaoka.

Q: What, what's your reaction to the feeling that the Japanese American Citizens League could have taken a much stronger stand?

MY: I think it's a bunch of poppycock, because there's no question that there was no power other than the executive heads of the army and the War Department, the Department of Justice, and indeed, the President of the United States that could have reversed the trend. There was an overwhelming sentiment to evacuate all persons of Japanese ancestry, and certainly the JACL or any other organization, in my opinion, could have done nothing or very little to prevent the evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry. I'm convinced of that.

Q: What about the sense, I mean, of helplessness?

MY: Oh, that, no question. As far as the evacuation is concerned, we were caught in a situation where we were absolutely helpless. We had to conform to military orders, and those who protested were summarily arrested and detained and sent off to other places. And so there was no question that it was impossible to mount a mass protest at the time. The other thing that needs to be considered, I talked about being escorted into Portland, Oregon, under armed guard. Sure, we could have protested there in Hood River, Oregon, but those guys with machine guns could have opened off and not only killed me, but anyone who was standing around. So if you think of these kinds of consequences, obviously when they're confronted with armed force, you're gonna obey.


MY: Too many people think JACL could have done something. JACL, in my opinion, could have done nothing.

Q: But it just seems to terribly unfortunate that there's not a lot of open discussion on that issue --

MY: I'll discuss it anytime with anybody at any time.

Q: -- that remains, that remains such a big split in communities.

MY: Yeah. The other thing that's really bad is the source of information for a number of arrests and so on. Now, as to that, I can't speak, because I don't know. My record is an open book. So if somebody wants to turn me in as being treacherous and dangerous, fine. So be it, I'll face it. But there evidently was a certain amount of information being passed back and forth. I have no knowledge of this. I don't want to know.


Q: How did the people in camp feel about the JACL?

MY: Well, basically and overall, I think most of the people agreed with the JACL position, that there was no organization at that time among the Japanese American community could do anything about evacuation. That indeed, the position, the official position that there would be cooperation was helpful. I had no quarrel or argument with that. The only question I had so far as Mike is concerned is the personal references and some of the reservation of rights that seemed to me should have been made more clear. So as far as the camp itself is concerned, particularly North Portland, there was a great deal of undercurrent, some feeling that people who are associated with JACL were taking advantage of inside information in order to be able to get special leave or special privileges. However, as I indicated, I was in North Portland only from May through September, and thereafter at Minidoka from September until November, so I was not in camp during the great "no-no" questionnaire that involved questions 27 and 28. I did return afterwards in 1943 during August, and at that time, things quieted down to a great degree.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

Q: What were the prison conditions like?

MY: The specific prison that I was put in was the Multnomah County Jail. And I will give credit to the jailers, they really wanted to be sure that I was protected. They felt that if I were in the common jail with the rest of the prisoners, some harm might befall me. So they gave me a private suite, in effect, a solitary confinement cell, and there I languished for nine months. It's about 6 foot by 9, an iron cot with canvas stretched across the bunk, an open toilet bowl, a open washbasin, and that was it. And you couldn't see the outside, there was no sunlight or starlight or anything. So it was a rather desolate existence.

Q: How did you pass the time?

MY: Well, first I started, of course, asking for a typewriter. And they wouldn't give me a typewriter because they thought Japanese were so clever that I'd fashion some kind of a key or a weapon out of it. Consequently, they did give me paper and a stub of a pencil, so I was doing a lot of writing. I got so bored, frankly, that at one point I was trying to transcribe the Bible in shorthand until I ran across words like Nebakanezer and Balthazar and so on. So I gave up on that.

Q: Did you receive any visitors during the time?

MY: Yes. I received a series of visitors. One in particular, the Olivers, Buddy and Cora Oliver would come up, oh, probably every other week. And particularly, they would bring in Chinese food. I also had a law school mate by the name of Bernard Clicks, who used to send books, would come up to visit possibly once a month. And then occasionally church people, particularly from the Methodist church, would drop by with some kinds of messages. But existence in a solitary cell is hardly to be characterized as living in a resort. It was a very dreary existence. I think the thing that sustained me is that I felt then and I feel now that I was right in my position. And that, of course, was the basis on which I continued to endure this.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

Q: What was your hearing like?

MY: Well, the hearing itself, I have very vague recollections. Because it was extremely perfunctory, the facts of the situation was very simple. There was a military order I deliberately violated. The two interesting questions, of course, related to whether or not the military could impose military orders upon a civilian population, and secondly, whether the military could distinguish between citizens on the basis of ancestry, both of which I felt were absolutely wrong. So the hearing itself, as I say, was not of great importance. The amicus curiae briefs that were filed by the various attorneys, the research that was done was really the heart of the whole case.

Q: How did you feel about being sentenced?

MY: The sentence was really unusual because the judge, James Alger Fee, ruled that military orders were unconstitutional and unenforceable so far as the United States citizens are concerned. However, by some freak reasoning, he ruled that I had dual citizenship and therefore, because I worked for the Japanese consulate general, because I'd gone to Japan as a child at the age of nine, because my father had received a medal from the Japanese government, I had renounced my American citizenship and therefore was a Japanese national. As a Japanese national, these particular military orders could be enforced. The other thing that startled me, although I did not particularly protest, was the maximum imposition of a fine of one year in jail and a five thousand dollar fine, which I thought was a little heavy for the particular test case that I was involved in.

Q: Tell us what the solitary confinement was like.

MY: The prison in which I was confined was the Multnomah County Jail. And I will frankly say, I think the jailers were being solicitous of my welfare, because they did not throw me into the general tank where the other prisoners were. They were concerned that someone might do me harm, so therefore they gave me a private room and there I languished in solitary confinement for a period of nine months. The solitary isolation cells are approximately 6 feet by 8 feet, the floor is concrete, the walls are, of course, bars. The back wall was steel, the ceiling is steel, they have steel bunks with canvas stretched in between, and open toilet bowl and an open wash bowl, and there's very little that you can do. I can remember walking back and forth, taking three steps forward and then turning around and walking three steps back. It's very confining.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

Q: What was your involvement with draft resisters?

MY: Back in 1943, during October, after I had been given temporary leave from Minidoka, I was in Denver, Colorado, to rejoin my mother and my younger brother and sister. During that time, Joe Grant Masaoka was the regional representative for what we call the Tri-District or Tri-State Council, including Colorado, Western Nebraska, and Wyoming. Because we had a great number of so-called "no-no boys" that came out of the, particularly the Heart Mountain camp, we felt that it was important to make the rounds of the camp to insist that, "As long as you are protesting actions by the government," that they fulfill their obligations. It put the protesters, it seemed to me, in a far better position to say that, "We have fulfilled our obligations and therefore our rights are due to us."

Q: In regard to the 442nd Regiment, do you feel that those men were sacrificed for Japanese Americans?

MY: To a great degree, yes. We know certainly that the 442 were thrown into situations that were really horrendous, that the casualty rate that they suffered is enormous. The casualty rate, as I understand, exceeded something like three hundred percent, whereas the ordinary army unit, when they suffer ten to fifteen percent are pulled out of the line and given a chance to rest and recuperate. Whereas the 442 boys, in the cases of emergency, were immediately thrown back into the line, and as a consequence, suffered tremendous casualties.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

Q: After all you've been through, the imprisonment, your feelings about the evacuation and loss surrounding it, why is your belief in the United States still strong?

MY: Well, because I think that there is no other country that would recognize errors in the past, would try to make efforts to redress those errors. Secondly, I believe that the judicial system that we have in this country, faulty though it may be, gives the best hope of rectifying that which was done. And finally, this is my country. I come from the Hood River Valley and it's a beautiful place, I was nurtured by the soil, I know what the summer sun is, the summer rains, and this is, this is my home. And certainly having that kind of a feeling, I want to make this, our country, the best in the world.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

Q: What is the importance of the reopening of these cases?

MY: The coram nobis proceedings were started again this year. It's based upon documentary evidence that was uncovered by Peter H. Irons, a professor of political science, now at the University of California in San Diego. The thrust of the whole action is that in the course of arguments and presentation of evidence, the United States Department of Justice, through its attorney, misrepresented, withheld, and indeed distorted evidence that was presented to the United States Supreme Court. Consequently, we say "a gross miscarriage of justice was perpetrated at that time." The coram nobis proceeding allows the defendants, who have already served sentence, so the statue of limitations does not apply, we are permitted to reopen the case on an appeal basis. This is what is being done. The latest development, of course, on October 4th of this year, the attorneys for the United States Department of Justice in effect have admitted error, saying that, indeed, forty years ago, rather than disparaging the decisions made at that time, in view of the public policy to put all of this behind them from forty years ago, that they are willing to vacate the convictions, that they are willing to dismiss the indictments, and therefore close the case on this particular series of coram nobis action. Frankly, it is in effect an admission of error by the government, but we feel that the government should at least accede to a actual finding of fact by the Court so that it will be a matter of record that indeed the government did err in 1942 and that the evacuation and military orders were unconstitutional and unenforceable.


Q: To you, to you, Min, personally, what does this reopening the case mean and including the support that you found that you're having now as opposed to what was available then?

MY: Oh, it's extremely gratifying so far as support is concerned. The significance of this case simply is that in talking about redress, no matter whom we talk to insofar and the Congress is concerned or to other lawyers, it is always brought out legally that the United States Supreme Court did sustain the constitutionality of evacuation. Our purpose in this particular appeal is to undercut the foundation and basis of that Supreme Court decision. It is true that the record of the Korematsu case, Hirabayashi case and my case will remain so far as the United States Supreme Court decisions are concerned, but if we undercut the grounds on which those particular cases were based, it seems to me that no one thereafter can say that evacuation or military orders were constitutional or valid.

Q: When you were sitting in solitary, did you ever feel that, "Maybe no one will ever notice I'm doing this"?

MY: No. The fact of the matter is, having heard and read the decision of James Alger Fee stating that the military orders were unconstitutional and could not be enforced against citizens of the United States, it gave me a tremendous boost. Certainly in our appeal to the United States, I was very hopeful that the United States Supreme Court, because the Fee decision was so well-reasoned, very excellently researched, and it certainly had foundation for its conclusions, I was hoping, of course, the United States Supreme Court would sustain the Fee decision in my particular case. That is to say that the evacuation and military orders were unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Q: With the resolution in your favor in these cases, and if Japanese Americans were given redress, would that satisfy you? Would that...

MY: Satisfy? No. Even if we are successful in this case, it won't erase completely the agony of the people or the frustrations that were endured by 120,000 people. But more than that, the record will show that the United States did err, and that forty years later, this country's big enough and great enough to acknowledge such error and to go on from there. So the hope that I would have is that in the redress proceedings, we will be able to establish a trust fund to protect the rights of all persons in these United States so that this kind of a thing will never again recur.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.