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

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FS: I'm Fred Shiosaki, spelled S-H-I-O-S-A-K-I.

AD: Tell us first, before we even start about the war, tell us about growing up in the Hillyard area.

FS: Hillyard, during the -- and of course, this was around the late, late '20s and early '30s. Hillyard was a, Hillyard was a workingman's area. The Great Northern Railroad had major shops there, the roundhouse and the car shop and the ice packing plant and the tie plant. And so the area was, even in the hardest times, there were people working. So it, it was not as tough as many other places, economically. And it was, there were quite a mixture of people. There were a lot of Italian immigrants in and around Hillyard, and there were also, as I recall, I had German immigrant families close by. And as I recall, there were a few English, English families. I remember one guy we used to call "Limey." But that's what Hillyard was like. It was quite a mixture of people, it was a workingman's area. And it was a separate little town, or tended to be separate. Market Street had, had grocery stores and clothing stores and furniture stores and stuff, and it was very comfortable place to grow up.

AD: What was it like to be Japanese American?

FS: Well, you know, other than knowing that I was, and when I went home from playing in the street I spoke Japanese, I don't recall very many acts of overt, overt prejudice. I recognized that we were Japanese, that... I guess thinking back on it, other than playing with your friends and being invited into their homes, there was no social intercourse between my family and those other families. My family sought out other Japanese families from, who lived in downtown Spokane or even some of the people who lived at the railroad camp across the tracks. There was no, there was no social relationship with anybody else.

AD: What about -- let me start here. What about after Pearl Harbor? Did you feel any kind of shift in the way that people treated you?

FS: Well, my... of course, I was seventeen or so, and yes, the first thing that of course happened is that my father's laundry business just went down the tubes for a while. People just stopped coming in and it was, it was pretty skinny pickings for a while.

AD: So I'm going to have you say that again, and just put at the beginning "after Pearl Harbor" so people can...

FS: Okay. Oh, certainly. Well, after Pearl Harbor, the first thing that happened is that, of course, my father's laundry business just went, went down the tubes. He just, they, people just stopped coming in and I, for a while there, I know my dad was worried. He thought, geez, we're gonna, they're gonna starve us out of here. Then I think that he, he washed the industrial clothing, the work clothes for those guys, and there was just nobody else around who could handle that stuff, he had the equipment and stuff to do that. So they started drifting back. My favorite story about the laundry, though, and the aftermath... my father had a fellow who, who used as a mentor somebody to help him out through the bureaucracy. His name was Will Simpson, and he was a very ardent Democrat. And after Roosevelt was elected, he was appointed postmaster for the city of Spokane. He also ran a print shop behind us, job shop behind us, and so they were good friends, and my dad depended on him for help. The thing that my dad did in turn was he, he would, he would go drive up to his house on Monday, pick up his shirts to launder, and then when they were done, he would take them back, and it was just something added that my dad did for him. The day the war started, the Monday after the war started, he drove up to his house to pick up his shirts, and he said, he said Mr. Simpson unrolled the paper with this big, big black headline about the war, and he said, "Hey, Kay, what do you think of this?" And my dad says, "Oh, it won't last long, it's a stupid thing," and so on. And so Mr. Simpson said, "Well, I'm sorry, I just cannot do business with you anymore." And I think, I thought, when my dad came back and told us that story, I thought he was going to cry because this guy had been a friend for twenty-five or thirty years. What the outcome, of course, was that things were busier and busier at the laundry, and of course Mr. Simpson discovered that he couldn't find somebody to do his shirts. And so he came in some time later, and he asked him, "Well, say, would you do my shirts for me again?" And my dad said, "Geez, I'm really sorry, but I'm too busy." And so what goes around comes around.


FS: Well, when Pearl Harbor started, of course, it was in the morning in Washington. And as I recall, it must have been close to seven, I don't know for sure. But it was just, we were having breakfast or going to have breakfast and the news, came over the news. And of course it was just, just constant description of what is taking, is taking place or has taken place in Hawaii. I guess it was just, it was just a disbelief. We really couldn't believe that that was going on. But the news kept getting worse and worse, and I think at some point, I think we all understood what was going on. I know my mother -- or my mother and dad were really shaken, and I just, I think I was too young and dumb to really understand what, what the magnitude of this thing.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AD: What kind of restrictions were placed on you guys? After Pearl Harbor happened, there was a lot of curfews, limitations. What, maybe you could tell us about some of those and what it felt like.

FS: Well, first of all, they immediately... I can recall that, as I recall, the bank froze my dad's assets. Of course, we didn't have a hell of a lot of assets, so, but you know, the cash accounts and the checking accounts, that to start off with. But we, we were -- and oh, I know. My mother and dad had to go down, had to register as "enemy aliens," and register as children, registered children. Well, and one of the things that I recall is that we had, he loaded us in the car, we went downtown and went to the FBI office, and they were interviewed by, by the FBI. And I recall that, just absolutely terrified that they would never come out of that office. The other thing, of course, for every, all the Japanese Americans, Japanese and Japanese Americans, the... we were, of course, we couldn't go out after nine o'clock at night. There were certain places in town that you could not, we could not go. For instance, we could not walk or drive past the telephone office or the Washington Water Power office, or the Upriver Dam. I, and of course, we had to get a permit if we went, if we had to travel more than ten miles away from home. And so I recall, I used to have to use the library downtown, and of course, of course I took the bus, but of course we were -- that was about the limit of the places we could go.

AD: How did you feel? I mean, how did, how did you and your family respond do that? What did it feel like to have those restrictions?

FS: Well, I guess we just felt like we were, we were... I think when you think back on it, we were kind of a pariah. Although they didn't, the kids I knew in the neighborhood, they didn't pick on me, they didn't, they didn't do anything overt or covert against me, as far as I know. I recall one incident, though, early in the war they had blackout restrictions. You had to, had to cover your windows, and nobody was really ready to do that. And of course, this very officious fellow who was our, was the neighborhood, neighborhood... what do you call it? Air raid warden or something, and gosh, he said, God, he came up to the door and he pounded on the door and he says, "I can see a light through your window up there." Of course, my mother had covered the windows with blankets, but I thought... I felt like we were being treated as enemy agents at that time. It was, it was really a strange feeling 'cause he was a guy we knew for years. But I guess he was drunk with power or something.

AD: Were you attracting enemy planes?

FS: Well, I don't know what, what we expected, but it was, we, we had to practice blackout.

AD: Tell us the story about when you got your camera confiscated.

FS: Oh, I was a, I was a senior in high school, and reasonably active in the, in the class. We, I was on the annual staff, we were putting together the annual, and I was the, actually the snapshot editor that year. So right after the war, they confiscated cameras and sporting guns, and we even had a little shortwave radio, my brother and I, and they took that. And I still had pictures to take around the school, so I borrowed a guy's camera and I was taking pictures inside. And then I went outside and took a picture, to take pictures of the entranceway to John Rogers High School. I was standing out there under the trees taking a picture, and that was fine. Until a few days later, I get a call in one of the classes to report to the, to report to the principal's office. And there was this guy in a suit and tie, and he said, "You were seen taking pictures of the school. What are you doing?" Obviously somebody had seen me doing this and called the FBI. And I said, "Well, I'm photo editor of the, of the annual, and I was taking pictures. And he said, "I want you to cut that out." [Laughs] And so I cut that out, you know. I said, really intimidating, first experience with the FBI.

AD: And tell, I mean, tell us how did it feel? You were seventeen, you're a kid, and you're being treated as...

FS: Well, I don't know what exactly, what they thought I was doing. I was just, thinking back on it, right then I was just terrified. I thought, well, God, they're gonna haul me off to jail or something. But thinking back on it, I thought, well, now gosh, don't you think somebody else is... [laughs]. Go pick on somebody else, I guess.

AD: What did, what did it feel like -- and I kind of asked this before -- but what did it feel like to be treated as an enemy, and that you were, were all these little incidents and sort of restrictions that were placed on you? You were, I mean, even looking back on it retrospectively, what...

FS: Well, you know, mostly being a young guy, you're really intimidated, so you walked a really, really fine line, you know. You didn't, you didn't overtly or covertly intimidate anybody. As I recall, I don't remember any overt actions against us. I don't think I was ever called a bad name. But the, the sense that this could happen was enough to, enough to scare you.

AD: Does it make you mad when you look back on it?

FS: What happened to me and my family really, we were not, we were not badly used, I would say. We'd lived in that same area for all our lives, and those people who were my friends stayed my friends, I think. I did not venture far from home during those days, early days.

AD: What about your parents? Do you think that, what, what do you think -- and obviously you're sort of conjecturing here -- but what do you think they felt at the time?

FS: Well, my, I know my father, listening to my father, he was first of all concerned. I recall his conversation at supper or something, that first of all, the laundry was right next to the railroad tracks, we were just half a block from the railroad tracks. And so he thought we were vulnerable, and he said, "I don't know what I'm going to do if, if they, if they pick up, pick us up," parents, "and move you, because you guys obviously can't take of yourselves." He was concerned about that. As far as the war was concerned, he was Japanese, of course, and he understood, but he didn't understand why, why Japan had gone to war. He just, he, for the life of him couldn't... of course, he was, he was not politically astute, just a dumb farm kid. But they were scared, but they were scared for us. And the one thing that was really of great concern to my mother and father was that, that they had sent my oldest brother George to Japan to go to college, and he got hung up there. And I don't think a day went by that my mother didn't, didn't worry about that, 'cause we didn't know what happened, what had happened, and we did not hear about him until 1946.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AD: One of the phrases you used when Rose and I came and talked to you, we were sort of asking you about what, what kind of general sentiment was felt at the time, and you used the phrase "being under a cloud," that the Japanese American community was, felt like it was really under a cloud. I don't know, maybe, maybe restate that and kind of describe...

FS: Well, I think, you know, talking about what, what, how we felt, and certainly I think the whole, whole Japanese American community in Spokane sensed this, that we were under the gun, that we were being watched, that they expected some sense, there was some feeling that, that people thought we were disloyal and that we were involved in this, in this attack on Pearl Harbor. And that more than anything scared, people were afraid that there would be some kind of retaliation against this Japanese American community in Spokane. And that was the cloud: don't do anything, don't do anything that would antagonize people. Don't do anything that'd make you stand out. But I'm too sure this isn't just a Japanese mentality, is that "the nail that sticks out gets pounded down" kind of thing.

AD: Talk more about that. What do you mean by that?

FS: Well, you know, Japanese are -- I think, and not being really Japanese -- they tend to be very conventional. They like, they like uniformity, they like conformity and stuff like that. So that's the idea. Under the circumstances, under the circumstances of war, I think they said just pull it in. Don't, don't wiggle your ears, don't make funny faces, don't antagonize anybody. I think that was the sense.

AD: What, how did you guys consider yourself in terms of, sort of, did you consider yourselves American? Talk about sort of patriotism and how you, how you perceived yourselves in America during that time.

FS: Well, I guess growing up in that neighborhood with all the other, with the Caucasian kids and stuff, always considered myself an American. I don't think I ever considered myself anything else, but I was certainly aware, even in those days, being young and dumb, that my parents could not be American citizens, and that was, it was a kind of a thorn in my side. But as far as I was concerned, there was never any question about where my loyalties were.

AD: Did those feel questioned, did those loyalties feel questioned after, after Pearl Harbor and sort of all the events?

FS: No, no, I don't think I did, nor did anything I say or do ever reflect that.

AD: But I mean, did you feel like other people were questioning?

FS: Oh, I'm sure that some people thought that, that we, there might be something wrong with us, that we might, we might be enemy agents, we lived down by the railroad tracks. And the people who lived in the railroad camp across the, across the tracks there, they moved them out of there. But they, they had, most of those people had moved to the railroad for thirty or forty years, and they closed up that railroad camp and moved them away.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 5>

AD: Why don't, so let's go back to enlisting in the 442nd. Talk about your thoughts on those who volunteered from the camps.

FS: You know, when I finally got down to Camp Shelby, the unit was already formed and we were, I was placed in a training company and we, the unit had already been training for several months and so the new people had to be trained separately. And so I was, I fell into the company of a bunch of guys who had volunteered from the, from the camps. And just talking with them, I thought to myself, "Boy, Fred, would you have volunteered from one of those camps?" It's one of those questions that I never, I couldn't answer, and I suspect that it would have been really hard for me if my mother and father were stuck in a tarpaper shack and we all lived together in, in one room, that I could have volunteered. And I guess I really admired those guys who said, "Well, what else could we do? We had to, we had to do something." And the shame of it all was that their, he, they and their families were sorely abused by a lot of those people in camps. Their homes, their shacks were vandalized, some of these guys were physically beat up and stuff. So that's a tough one. I'm not sure what I would have done under those circumstances.

AD: Talk more about why it would have been difficult to volunteer from that circumstance.

FS: Well, first of all, if you've seen pictures of those camps, they were just a whole series of tarpaper shacks. The living conditions were just, just, in the wintertime, were just terrible, and in the summertime it was hot and dusty. They were out in the, out in an area, these camps were in places where people don't live ordinarily. And to have, to have my mother and father living in, under those conditions, it would really have been a wrenching experience for me to volunteer. So I don't know. It depends on what kind of crowd I fell in with, I surmise.

AD: Talk about, what's your perspective on those who chose not to volunteer, the resisters?

FS: Yeah, the resisters. They had a point, and, and when they talk about taking the high ground on that, they say, "Well, you've incarcerated me, you've taken away my, taken away my family's property, and you ask me to volunteer and fight for this country when we have absolutely no civil liberties. You have guard towers, have machine guns that are pointed inwards, you're not protecting us from anybody." I can understand that. I, and under those circumstances, I think I could have, I could have taken that position. But being a dumb kid, you know, I might not. Depending on who said, "Hey, let's go volunteer," I'd have gone and volunteered. But in talking to the people who really felt strongly about this, and who led the pack, Gordon Hirabayashi and those others, I really admire them for taking that position. You know, in talking with my friends from the service, they say, "You know, that's fine, that these guys, these guys resisted. But what if we, what if we had all resisted? What if, what if ninety percent of the Japanese American men refused to go in the service? Do you know what would have happened to us? We'd have ended up on some garbage heap somewhere. They might have put us on a boat and shipped us back to Japan." So when you look at the best of the best of what has happened, it's been finally they upgraded the Japanese community and we gradually, things have gotten, things got better after the war. So it's, it's a tough one. The one thing that I keep saying about the resisters is that, "Hey, how many of those guys started resisting when they heard the casualty figures from the 442nd?" Maybe that's unfair. They're, my friends and I in the 442nd always bring that up.

AD: Tell me more about that.

FS: Well, you know, this all, this all takes place, you know, in the last twenty-five years when we, when I get to, we get together for our reunions, and the subject of the resisters comes up. And the leaders of that group were very, the real leaders, the guys who went, whose case went to the Supreme Court were real leaders. But there was a, there was an element of those resisters who were nothing but hooligans, who intimidated families and who intimidated guys who volunteered into the service, and actually agreed to, to be drafted. And that's, I guess, that's the element that I'm talking about. They didn't do anybody any service at that point.

AD: Talk about the sacrifice of the 442nd. What was, what was sacrificed there on behalf of the Japanese American community?

FS: Well, I guess the casualty figures and the heroics are all on the records. But I think the reality, what really has happened is that the 442nd, they had to form the 442nd. If, if we were just put in regular units, as just mixed in with the other, with other people, with the Caucasians, they couldn't see that we were, we were fighting the war as hard as we could. As a segregated unit, we, we were given an opportunity to say, well, okay, we're a segregated unit, we've got to show our stuff. And I'm sure this is part of, part of what happened in the 442nd. Why we didn't have our own PR people, the media did take up on the things we did after a while. The one, I guess -- people always ask me, "Well, how come they, how come you were such a crackerjack unit? How come?" But the Japanese American community was really small. 120,000 people on the mainland, and probably that same number in Hawaii. If you, if a guy screwed up, not only did the guys immediately around him, but the families knew and the family's friends knew. It was just a matter of pride that these guys did not, we did not fail. I always felt that was part of it. But it was, there was... and the Hawaii kids, particularly, were, were friends. They all came in as a bunch, they knew each other. God, if you screwed up, then that, this word got back to Hawaii, your family would have ended up being a pariah. That's part of it. But I think, I think somewhere along the line we realized that we had something to prove. That the families back in camp, all this business about being disloyal, preyed on everybody's mind. I, actually, I thought about stuff like that, finally, when the bullets started flying.


AD: -- what legacy, or maybe use that word if you could.

FS: Yeah. Well, let's see. When we talk about, about what the 442nd did and its legacy, it, I think it's, when you say "coming of age," I'm not sure that's correct. But we were able, I think, as a result of the 442nd and its sacrifices, the Japanese American community came to the fore as a result. Well, first of all, there was, they could not question the loyalty of the Japanese American community. There, we ended up with a very, finally realizing that we had to be politically active. And the political action began in Hawaii where they, where the bulk of the veterans of the 442nd returned, they went home to Hawaii. One of, the saga of this thing is that they, they organized unions to start with and got more pay for working on the sugar cane field. Of course, that ended up being the demise of the sugar business in Hawaii because the, because of the financial demands. But not only that, but they became politically active and they started electing representatives to their, to their regional, territorial legislature. As part of that organization, they started to go after statehood for Hawaii, and that's one of the big things, I think, that came out of the 442nd, is that they had all of these Japanese American veterans united in this effort to validate their, their war record. And so it was, there was a push to, to grant statehood to Alaska and Hawaii. And the logical sequence would have been Hawaii because it had greater population and had greater economic importance to the States. But there was substantial opposition in the legislature. And so Alaska went first, and they became a state in 1957. And then, statehood for Hawaii came up to the legislature, and there was substantial opposition. And there was a legend that, that the then Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn was adamantly opposed to it, and was heard to say that, "Hey, I'm better than the little brown folks who live on the island," and he was very summarily reminded that it was those little guys who saved that battalion of Texans in the hills, in the mountains of northern France. And so he, he became one of the supporters and that's how -- legend has it -- is that Hawaii became a state.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FS: But there are other things that took place. For instance, we talked earlier -- may I proceed? For instance, we talked about my parents and other first-generation Japanese and the exclusion act did not permit them to become citizens. And during World War II, they modified that and Chinese, Chinese, Asians, Chinese immigrants become citizens. It was not until 1952, 1953 that the laws changed and people like my folks and Lily's mother were eligible to become naturalized citizens. And so the great mass of the first generation, Isseis, became American citizens at that point, and that was really a major, it was quite an occasion in our family. I can recall standing in the back of the room watching my mother and dad being sworn in and I said, the thought passed my mind, "My God, Fred, you had a piece of this one." It was really a very satisfying, gratifying thing. It was not until 1962 that the State of Washington cancelled the alien land laws. It was not until then that -- the state has always had alien land laws. That people from, particularly from Asia could not own property. Of course, by then, my sister and brother were old enough that they could own the house that we lived in, for example. And then my folks became citizens so it didn't make any difference. But this, the law was on the books in the state of Washington until 1962. But these were all, I at least would like to claim this is part of the legacy of the, of the 442nd.


FS: The, one of the things that happened when they changed the law was that they said people like the Issei, like our Issei parents did not have to take the test in English, and was, that's always been the law, that they have to... so we were given these crib books for, to help my mother and father pass the test. And so my older brother Roy and I would coach them in this thing. They learned well, Mother and Dad were not dumb, but they had trouble with the English language, and I can recall this, they said, "Where was the, where was the Constitution signed?" And, "The Constitution was signed in Hooloodaufiya." And "Mom?" "Hooloodaupiya." And it, the Philadelphia just would not come out, you know. There are just not letters in the Japanese language that, that pronounced like that. But it would, my brother and I would just roll on the floor when trying, but it, they did pass, they become American citizens. [Laughs] But it was, oh, God, that was quite an occasion.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FS: When we were, when we first got to Camp Shelby, we were told by the officers, and these of course were Caucasian officers, said, "You are, here, down in the South, you are white. You are not to use black facilities; not the toilets, the water fountains, or you are not to ride in the back of the bus." And that was very, very clear. And the people down there did not, well, did not treat us like black folks. It, in those days, in the '40s, it was very, very apparent. I tell this story, I heard it, I didn't see it. But the, one of the guys in my company said when he was, when he got to the recruit detachment in Camp Shelby in Mississippi. They, they were watching the formation, retreat formation, a white platoon, or a white company, and a white commander, they're going through the drill, and this black recruit walked along the edge of where they were forming. And the officer stepped forward and punched this black soldier, black recruit, knocked him down, and then went about his business. And the black soldier didn't do anything; the black recruit just got up and walked away. And it's a story that, that when you think about the South, represented the worst of southern Mississippi. It doesn't happen all the time.


FS: But you've got to think, when you talk about segregated units, you've got to think, first of all, that the army was segregated in those days. For instance, most of the, like the service units, truck drivers and stuff, there were a lot of black segregated truck driver units, and stuff like that. They formed the all-black 92nd Division. But it was pretty much the, it was pretty much the standard for, for the military. Units were segregated.


FS: Well, that's, you're right about, about being considered white. But I guess they only had so much prejudice to go around, and so we were not, we were not treated as, as blacks. Like I say, I would have expected, going to the South, that they would have made us ride in the back of the bus, too, but it did not happen.

AD: Was that, I mean, did you think about it at the time as being anything strange?

FS: Yes, I was. I was... well, I grew up in a community where there weren't any blacks, and I didn't think much about, about whether, about segregation at all. But I knew about segregation in the South, and when we got down there and saw the, the segregated, all of the segregated facilities, everything was segregated. The water fountains, turn on, says, "black" and "white," you turned it on and the water's the same. [Laughs] And of course, you see the, when you're walking down the street, if you walked down the street, the black man gets out of your way. "Holy cow, this is tougher than living in Spokane by far." It was, it was difficult, difficult to watch, actually.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FS: Well, I guess by way of background, the general for the 36th Division was a fellow named General Dahlquist, and he was really gung-ho. He was one of Eisenhower's favorites, several classes below him or something, I don't know. But anyway, and he was, he was ready to make a name for himself, and so he, he would push his troops hard, and they were, it's a good outfit. He would push them hard. And this particular battalion was ordered to take a series of ridges that approached St. Die. And of course they were overextended. The units beside them could not push because of the terrain, so they got overextended, and the Germans recognized it and immediately combined and cut them off. The other, other elements of the 36th attempted to get into them for three days and were repelled. So in the meantime, the 442nd was also on line, or elements of the 442nd were on line. Our battalion, the 3rd Battalion, had been pulled off line for rest, we'd been in combat, in combat for several days, a couple weeks. And so they pulled us off line and we were sitting at a little crossroad there at one little town, little crossroads. And said, "Okay, you've got five days' rest, you gotta take a shower and get some clean clothes, and you're going to get a hot meal. And this was in the afternoon. That morning at two o'clock they came through, and they roused us and they said, "We're moving out." And, well, a grunt, a GI Joe doesn't know anything. All he does is when somebody says, "Jump," you say, "How high?"

And so we rode out, and usually you wait for three or four hours until somebody decides we ought to... within thirty minutes or an hour we were moving out. It was absolutely pitch dark, could not see. What we did was we hung on to the pack in front of us and we walked up this, it seemed interminable. Finally, we climbed up this, first of all, it was a corduroy road and then it turned to mud. And so you would, you'd just hang one and if somebody fell down, you'd hear 'em curse, and the line would stop and then you'd start again. But we, finally, when it broke light, there was, there was started small arm fire, and then along with the small arm fire came artillery. And I don't know how far we marched that morning, or where, finally where we stopped. But we stopped, we just could not move any farther. Fire, the small arms fire and the artillery fire got so bad we could not move. And so we did this for about four days. We'd move a hundred yards, losing men, artillery coming in. And finally... but every morning, the general would come up there and jab us, and I'd see him up there arguing with the, our battalion commander to get him to move. And argument, from my viewpoint I could see this, and there were, I thought it was gonna end up in fisticuffs because our colonel obviously was saying, "We cannot move until you give us more artillery support or something. But every day, we would, we'd move a hundred yards or 150 yards. Finally, and we were gradually losing men from the artillery, small arms fire. The general came up the next to the last morning and he had his aide de camp with him. All of a sudden there was this burst of machine gun fire, and somebody said, "Hey, the general's aide got killed." And then of course the general came back and he was bloodied, but he never, he didn't come up again anyway. The story came up later that the aide de camp to the general was Wells Lewis, he was Sinclair Lewis' son.

And anyway, so we finally, I think our battalion commander recognized that we're losing men at such a, at such a rate that we would never be able to push again. So he, he rallied us. He stood along that trail and he said, "Okay, we're gonna go." And I can see him down there now, great big guy, six-four, six-five, wearing an officer's trenchcoat. And the rest of us grunts were laying on the ground looking up. And this is where I told you I saw my friend Gordon dead. But he's waving, standing there waving his, had his pistol in his hand and waving his arms and saying, "Let's go, let's go, let's go." And there was this major -- well, major, but this fire and movement thing going on, shoot, move, shoot move. So when I got up to run I got hit by shrapnel, but I wasn't badly hurt, so I kept going. But the guy who was responsible for that, that battle, being prosecuted was Colonel Purcell, because he stood down there before God and all the people and I thought, "Geez, somebody's gonna pick him off," but they didn't. He was a great officer. Finally you moved and moved a little bit at a time, and all of a sudden, the fire, battle was over. And I described that it was, I don't know what time it was, but it was just absolutely dead silent. Pretty soon these guys filtered back through it, but that was the battle. We, I don't know how many guys we lost right there on that hill, but we, there weren't many of us left.

The battle was over, and these guys came back. And the few of us that were left were ordered to attack further, to move up and occupy this hill. And there were so few of us at that point that every morning, we'd get up and fire a few rounds and claw back on our, our slit trenches and wait, and finally they pulled us off. But I can remember they pulled the trucks in and the whole company got into the back of one big truck. That was all that was left.


FS: They, the Allies, the American, was making an effort to capture St. Die, which is north and east of where our present, of where our lines were. And they were, their general was eager to complete the task. So he pushed his troops too hard and the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Texas Division was cut off in the Vosges Mountains, in the hills north of Bruyeres. They attempted to rescue them with their own troops and failed. They were driven back by the Germans who had established a really elaborate strongpoint. Our, our regiment, the 442nd, was ordered to the front after a relatively short period of rest and we were instructed to rescue that, the "Lost Battalion." They had already been cut off for three days, and so we fought for, we fought for four to five days, moving only yards at a time. And finally, on the fifth day, we broke through at tremendous cost to our regiment. We had more than six hundred casualties, and we rescued two hundred Texans. It was considered one of the major battles of World War II. The battle itself is commemorated by a painting in the Pentagon, and it was considered by the War Department as one of the major battles in all of the wars that the United States has fought. As a result of that, our regiment, the 442nd, was given at least two presidential citations. One of the men in our company, part of the action, was given, granted posthumously, got a Congressional Medal of Honor. But it, I see it as a turning point as far as the 442nd was concerned. We were, we were already an outstanding, combat unit, and were able to kick butt as far as the Germans were concerned. But in this particular battle, as I see it, we were Americans rescuing Americans. I think that, that was really the key to what the 442nd represented.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FS: I see it, the rescue of the 442nd represented...

AD: Or the rescue of the "Lost Battalion."

FS: Rescue -- I'm sorry, rescue of the "Lost Battalion" represented that we were not just fighting Germans. What I'm saying is that we were really Americans and we wanted to save other Americans. And I think we, the 442nd really justified all the confidence that the War Department and other people put it, is that we, it's something that had to happen. My story about it is this... this story. I was, I was on my way home from Europe, I landed in Newport News and there was, it was right after Christmas of 1945. Riding the train from Newport News, Virginia, to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, to fly home. And on the, I was on the train, and the train passed through Washington and stopped there. And it's the old Union Station, and you could see the Capitol Building, so I was looking at it. And somebody came by in the aisle, in the train, and saw my patch and he said, "Hey, you were with the 442nd." I said, "Yeah," and he said, "You were, you were, were you at the Lost Battalion?" I said, "Yeah." "I was one of the guys in there." And I can, no way I can explain what I felt like. I was angry. I kept thinking of all the casualties we had taken, and how many, how many people were rescued. And I said, well I, he didn't, I had words about that. I was angry. You know, and he, he started to walk away and he offered me his hand, and I refused to take his hand, and so he left. And I thought about that for years. I thought, "God, you're a real jerk, aren't you?" But, and I think about that, and I think, "That's what made the 442nd, the rescue of the 'Lost Battalion.'" They can never take anything, you can take everything else away, but we rescued the "Lost Battalion," it was Americans rescuing Americans.


FS: As part of, part of my story about the statehood, and the Speaker of the House opposing statehood for Hawaii, the story came out that of course we had rescued this battalion of Texans. And so as a gesture of friendship to the, primarily to the kids in Hawaii, the Texas legislature and the government, governor signed this proclamation naming the, the 442nd from World War II as honorary Texans. And so we have this big plaque that says, hey, you're an honorary Texan. So I get my cowboy boots and hat on, you know, when I... [laughs].


FS: Well, you know, you're talking about battle and the "Lost Battalion," but combat, there's just moments of just absolute terror and then a great deal of boredom when you're not, not fighting. But the most important thing, and this is what we were taught during basic, your one, the most important thing that you do is stay alive, because you stay alive and fight the next battle. But you look after yourself and then you look after your buddies, and you do as you're ordered by the officers. If they say, "Charge," you say, "How far?" And so that's, that's what war is about, is that the guy who makes the bayonet charge and gets killed hasn't really accomplished a hell of a lot, except to get himself killed. And you don't, you don't get, the officers don't get medals for killing off a bunch of their men. So that's the important thing about battle, is staying alive, prosecute the war, and, well, of course, kill the enemy. That's, I just... that's what war is all about. Yeah, we, we may talk very high-mindedly about the war now, but when you're, when you're up to your knees in mud and snow, and you haven't eaten for three days, the important thing is to stay alive.


FS: Well, I look at Sidney and I think, "Now, this little girl just has unlimited opportunities. None of the, none of the restrictions, none of the things that were encumbered with as Nisei are gonna happen to her. She'll be able to go where she wants to, she can work with, at what she wants to. The, the legacy of the 442nd is that we are providing -- hopefully, with the sacrifices that were made by the 442nd, and obviously they were, they have been highlighted, is that, is that hey, the opportunities are there, they can do with themselves what they want. There's no other way to explain what will, what has happened and what will happen now. My, my children had ample opportunities, they go to college, they work at what they want to. When I was growing up, there was no -- the possibility of taking a, getting a job with any level of government was almost impossible. I guess when I was growing up, I could foresee myself ending up working in my dad's laundry. But as, as you see, I've done some things and enjoyed my life, enjoyed the work, and have a, have a lovely family. And I don't live in a segregated area like the Japanese originally in Spokane lived in a little, kind of a little enclave like a ghetto in those days. And so times have changed, and only for the better.


FS: We, as a result of the beginning of the war, went through a very dark period for the entire Japanese American community in this country and in Hawaii, there was a question of our loyalty, we had great visibility, and as a result of that, we, we were sorely used, placed in concentration camps, and abused. The outcome, of course, is feeling that we, we have been able to, to lift ourselves up from that, and the mechanism of whatever happened is a result of the actions of the guys, not me, but the guys in the 442nd who were killed and wounded, and they, their sacrifice is, has produced this very salutary community. We, we, I think we can do whatever we aspire to.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FS: To be perfectly frank, I've never talked about the war to my family. Never talked to the kids about it. Lily is amazed, my wife Lily is amazed when she hears these stories when I get together with my friends in Hawaii and we talk war, or maybe we lie about war. But anyway, we talk about it, so she hears stuff that she has never heard about us, and about what had happened. I guess it's a revelation to her, that her real mild-mannered husband is, was involved in all of this stuff.


FS: You know, we talk about freedom and wars, but I guess first of all, we have to consider why we fought the war, why the United States fought the war in Europe and Asia. And, and for that, that period in the '20s and '30s and into the '40s, there were these totalitarian, totalitarian forces who took the liberty, took the freedom away from any number of people. And I think of all the wars, I guess this is more justified than, I think, any that we fought any other time. But on a, on a personal basis, on the basis of the Japanese Americans, it represented, first of all, our civil rights were completey abrogated. Our people were placed in concentration camps, our rights were taken away, and I think that as a result of sacrifices of the guys who died, were grievously wounded as a result of the war, fighting in the 442nd, that it shows that freedom is not something that you, that you're given. You earn those things; you work for them. And that's what, what the Japanese American community has to recognize, that this stuff, the sacrifices of our parents, the sacrifices of the men of the 442nd, were our way of earning that freedom, the right to be called an American, not a hyphenated American. And that's, I guess that's my message to all of, everybody, is that you don't, this stuff doesn't get given to you, isn't given to you, you've earned it. And every generation earns it in some way or another.


FS: Well, anyway, what I see right now in the contemporary world, is that it appears that the Arab American community is going through, in probably a smaller way, the things that occurred to the Japanese American community at the beginning of World War II. People, people are frightened by what has taken place, and as a result, I think they're striking out. The vast, vast majority of Arab Americans are loyal Americans. It scares me to see that there have been incidents of abuse, of vandalism and so on, against the community.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.