Densho Digital Archive
Whitworth College - North by Northwest Collection
Title: Fred Shiosaki Interview
Narrator: Fred Shiosaki
Interviewer: Andrea Dilley
Location: Spokane, Washington
Date: 2003-2004
Densho ID: denshovh-sfred-02-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

AD: Tell us now, Fred, about sort of the, the events that led up to your enlistment in the war. What was your, what was the impetus between, why did you decide to enlist?

FS: Well, being young and dumb, I was -- well, the reason I had volunteered, is that first of all, I was going to college, and college was very difficult because Gonzaga University was an all-male school, and had converted to the naval, naval officers training school, the V-12 program. So there were only a few civilians there, I think there were two other Japanese Americans and a couple of, one or two women and a couple of guys who were 4-F. And so we were, we stood out like sore thumbs. And so I, college was extremely difficult, just trying to get organized and study and stuff. And I was working, by then I was working part time in the laundry helping my dad and mother. Again, I didn't, I didn't, there were no overt acts against us, against me or my friends. But there's just a level of discomfort. It was like wearing a hair shirt every day, there was just this level of discomfort. I heard about the formation of an all-Japanese American unit, and it was something I pondered, but I had earlier volunteered to go into the military, the Military Intelligence Service as a Japanese-language translator and interpreter. But that fell through almost immediately because I didn't know enough Japanese to, I couldn't read or write it, so that took care of that. So I, when I heard about this, the formation of the 442nd or the Japanese American unit, volunteer unit, I talked to some friends, and some of the guys I knew said, "Well, I'm gonna, we're gonna volunteer." After not thinking about it at all, I just went down and volunteered. It was, it was just that, I just, one day after class I went down to the draft board in the armory, old armory, and said, "I'm volunteering for the 442nd" -- or the Japanese American outfit. It was --

AD: Was it because you felt a patriotic urge, or what was...

FS: I really, I don't think so. And thinking back on it, I think it was just a need to do something. It was, it was not really a statement, I think it was just kind of a beep, you know. "Hey, you've got to do something," I think maybe I did recognize that I had to do something, or the Japanese Americans had to do something. But that was not, that was not the primary thing, that was not in the front of my mind. I just was flunking out of college, I felt really uncomfortable at Gonzaga, and then there was, heard a story that they were forming this unit, and so it was just -- [laughs] -- it was just, it was really a sudden act.

AD: What, what did it feel like to be reclassified as 4-C?

FS: Well, that was probably, that's like, like being kicked in the butt. I was just --

AD: I'm going to have you say that one more time, but start out by saying, "being reclassified" --

FS: Being, well, I went down and signed up for the draft, my brother, my brother Roy had already been drafted in February of 1942. And so my expectations are that I would be drafted as soon as I turned eighteen. I turned eighteen after I graduated out of high school and I signed up. And by then, the other kids in the neighborhood had all disappeared already, the guys I played with on the streets and went to high school with, they all turned eighteen before I did, and boy, they were gone. And so that was my expectations. Being a very naive and dumb kid, I thought, "Well, I'm no different than those guys, and I expect to be drafted." So I went down, of course, and I signed up for the draft. And in due time, I was notified that I was 4-C, and under that it says "enemy alien." Even now, I'm mortified by it, just being classified an "enemy alien." I'm sorry I didn't keep the card, the draft card. But that's the genesis for finally volunteering, trying to get into the service through the Military Intelligence Service and then finally volunteering for the 442nd. I had some close friends, well, friends, one of my friends from Montana volunteered, and they came through here and said, "Well, we're going." And so I guess that was part of it. Yeah, I did. I finished the school year at Gonzaga, and sometime after that, then they shipped me to Fort Douglas, Utah.

The strange part of it is -- and this is one of my favorite stories -- is that, is that the induction, the induction center for the Northwest was Fort Lewis, Washington. And, of course, Japanese Americans, or Japanese ancestry people were not allowed into the Western Defense Zone, so they shipped us all to Salt Lake City, to Fort Douglas, Utah. And so when I got down there, they were processing, well, processing guys from, from Washington and Oregon, from the guys who volunteered from the camps, were all processed at Fort Douglas, Utah. We, I ran into guys there, and then I later ran into them at Camp Shelby where the 442nd had formed up and were training. And we, we were poked and probed and tested and all that kind of stuff, and finally, on the chosen day, those of us who passed, they said, "Well, there'll be a swearing-in ceremony at 0-something hours. All of you who have completed your, your induction physicals and so on will report to the auditorium at such-and-such a time, except for the following names." And they read eight or ten or eleven Japanese surnames. "And they are to report to the adjutant general's office." And so I can't remember how many of us went down there, and this was our separate swearing-in ceremony. My recollection is that with the major in front, and there were four officers, one at each corner, we lined up, there were two rows. And the two, the two officers in the front that I could see were looking really at us intently, as if we would cross our fingers or something when we were swearing in. I didn't think very much about it until long after the war. And I said, "Isn't that strange that we volunteered in the service, they don't, they don't believe that we're gonna join the army and be loyal soldiers." [Laughs] Anyway, it was just one of those incidents that just kind of hang with you.

AD: Tell me a little about that in terms of, here, again, going back to your reclassification as 4-C, and a U.S. citizen, you're reclassified as "enemy alien" and you're serving for a country that has taken your civil liberties. I mean, what...

FS: [Laughs] You know, being a dumb kid, I didn't think much about it, I guess. I, hey, they said I'm an enemy alien, but now I'm in the army, so I'm in the army. I guess it's something I didn't dwell on very much.

AD: What do you think about it now in retrospect, even if you didn't ponder on it much then?

FS: I... well, I guess just classifying us, the Nisei, the Japanese Americans, was just, just bureaucratic fumbling. For the life of me, I don't understand it. They could have classed us 1-A and then not drafted us, too. And it's strange, because my brother who lived in Montana, was, was drafted right away. And they were, at that time, there were a lot of Japanese Americans already in the service, drafted prewar and drafted in the first few months of 1942. So definitely guys have been drafted.

AD: What about how the drafting process, you look back on it and sort of consider how it all came about, that the 442nd was formed as a result, in part, when they were drafted from internment camps.

FS: Now, they volunteered. Nobody was drafted, now. The original unit was all volunteers, so, but the, at some point in time, somebody in the, in the federal bureaucracy probably part of President Roosevelt's... somebody recognized that this was some kind of a travesty. So they had, the President had this statement about "citizenship is not a matter of race or color, it's the spirit of this thing." I know that afterwards, President Roosevelt did not write that. His secretary, one of the secretaries, Burns or somebody, wrote it. And that's, that's how this all happened. Well, they decided that they would form some kind of unit and call for volunteers. The original notice went out to Hawaii and to -- I guess I never saw a notice about it, just word of mouth. But they did post those notices in the, in the relocation camps up in various places around, in the western states. And that's, that's where the volunteers came from. The original, the great, greatest number of volunteers came from the Hawaiian islands in those days. Two-thirds of the original outfit was, they were Hawaiian, kids from Hawaii, and about, again, about one-third were mainlanders.

AD: Talk more about sort of the, even, again, in retrospect, the irony of having, it was a segregated unit of individuals who were fighting for liberty abroad when their liberties at home had been...

FS: I, you know, again, it's, it's something that when I was that age I didn't dwell on. Thinking back on it, of course, I might not have volunteered, but I was still an American kid living reasonably free. The restrictions they placed on me were not that, so onerous that I felt that I could not, could not go in the service.


AD: So tell us back, pre-Pearl Harbor, what, was there an element of anticipation there, any kind of, did you or your parents foresee the war and sort of what came after?

FS: I'm surprised, I -- well, as far as I'm concerned and my family was concerned, they didn't know what was going on. Of course, you know, they were poor, they were poor working folks, and the thing that I know that my folks followed, and we used to get Japanese newspapers from Seattle, a Japanese printed paper because they, they really had trouble with reading English. And of course, they would, there was this ongoing Sino-Japanese war, and they knew that was going on. And I'm sure that they were aware that, that the United States was backing Chiang Kai-shek. But I don't think they ever expected that this would elevate to this level, that Japan felt that, that the United States was, was going to attack them in China. Again, I can remember my father's disbelief that this war had started.

AD: Interesting.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.