Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Bob Utsumi Interview
Narrator: Bob Utsumi
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: July 31, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ubob-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: So how long, then, were you in Topaz? When did you leave?

BU: I left, I think, June 4th is the day I left.

MA: And that was --

BU: Of '45.

MA: -- 1945.

BU: I think 4th, I'm not sure. Maybe June 6th, somewhere in there, just a couple days after I graduated from high school.

MA: And you were part of the last graduating class at Topaz High?

BU: Last class, first class to graduate from junior high, two years later, graduated from high school. And the reason that happened was, the reason I only attended two years of high school was that when I left Oakland, I was in low nine, okay? Yeah, because normally, if you didn't have that winter class, that would have been high nine or high ten, or eight, one of the two. But when I went to, when they started school in Topaz, they didn't start the half semesters, so they, our whole class, which was the January '46 class of high school, we were all put back to the ninth grade. And after the first year, in 1943, when we started school in fall of '43, rather than start the sophomore year, they pushed us up to high sophomore. And then in the fall, the next school year, starting the fall of '44, we were high, low senior, yeah, low senior. But somewhere in that semester, they advised our whole class that we were eligible to graduate in June of '45 rather than January of '46. And under Utah's system of education, we were all qualified to graduate. So then they pushed us all forward and made us a class of our own, with the June of '45 class.

MA: So that's why you were sixteen, younger than normal when you graduated.

BU: I was sixteen when I graduated, sixteen when I started junior college. But I missed a full year of high school, so I didn't get the physics, I finished the chemistry, didn't get the physics, I didn't get trig, or fourth year of English. Anyway, the fourth year of high school, we didn't get.

MA: It seems like that's another example, though, of how your education in camp just got so disrupted.

BU: Yeah, we got, we got kind of messed up. But that, among our class, that small class of ours, my close friend George Kobayashi went to Berkeley, he became, got his PhD in microbiology, taught at Washington University med. school in St. Louis. Shin Tanaka became M.D., a urologist. Dorothy Harada... now, these are Westlake people, junior high. Dorothy Harada got her PhD in nursing, teaching at the San Francisco med. school. And then Marty Oshima, I think she became a schoolteacher. Then in our, oh, in our other class, June of '45, one Rosie Kumakawa was the assistant to the governor of Rhode Island. A hakujin, Caucasian classmate, Paul Bell, became a PhD in teaching at Penn. State.

MA: You had a, a Caucasian classmate in Topaz?

BU: Uh-huh?

MA: How did he get there?

BU: He was, his father was an administrator at Topaz. And the first year, Paul went to school in Delta, Utah. And after the first year, I forgot what reason it was, he wanted to go to school with us at Topaz. So he joined us in Topaz, and he did everything we did except he couldn't eat with us at the mess hall because he was an administrator's kid. So I guess his folks told him not to eat with us, take food away from the inmates, I guess.

MA: That's interesting.

BU: But Paul is one of our active members in our reunions, in the class of '45, and starting in 1970, the day after I retired from the Air Force, we had our first reunion, our twenty-five year, we met every five years until 1990, whatever, I forgot now. And then after that, we had a luncheon every year, every year.

MA: This 1945 Topaz class?

BU: Class of '45. We were unique, 'cause we went all the way through high school together. And even the ones that left camp and then graduated from outside, we were still classmates, and get together.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.