Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Mits Koshiyama Interview
Narrator: Mits Koshiyama
Interviewer: Frank Abe
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: August 15 & 16, 1993
Densho ID: denshovh-kmits-03

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FC: Tell us about the short haircuts. Everyone in the picture has short haircuts or starting to look bald. Why?

MK: Well, we all decided one day to get a haircut because we, we heard that our lawyer wanted it that way, Mr. Menin. So we gave ourselves all short haircuts, you know, it was just more or less a fun thing. And it wasn't to really prove a point or anything like that.

Then when we were in court, the, I believe the federal marshals tried to call our names and make us recognize ourselves. But our lawyer says, told us, "No, don't stand up, make them recognize you." So when we didn't stand up when our names were called, the federal marshal and the judge became very frustrated, and the judge became so angry that he told our lawyer, Mr. Menin, to make us stand up. So Mr. Menin says, "Okay, boys, stand up and recognize yourself." But we didn't know if Mr. Menin was playing along with the game or he wanted us to still sit down or what, so we didn't know. So we just, we just sat there, we didn't stand up. And that made the judge more angry.

FC: Did you finally stand up?

MK: Yes, we finally got the message and we stood up.

FC: Tell us about Menin. Did he do good by you?

MK: Well, I thought under the circumstances, he did fairly good, but I thought that he should have more based our case on constitutional issues, because that's, that's what we wanted. To us, the Constitution issues were the most important thing. Unlike the JACL where they said that public image and showing loyalty was the most important thing, we all thought that the constitutional rights and constitutional issues were the most important things.

FC: What did, how did Menin argue, then, if he didn't argue on constitutional issues?

MK: Well, he did. But what I'm saying is that he should have based more on the constitutional issues, and why we were incarcerated in the concentration camps without due process of law. He did, he did say a lot of those things, but I'm afraid that the judge was, in my view, was very prejudiced already so they weren't willing to listen to anything like that.

FC: Who was it that took a, did the lawyers get in a fight, or somebody fell over in their chair? What happened there?

MK: I remember those things very clearly. At one time during our case, the federal prosecutor was rocking back and forth on his chair, and all of a sudden he just flipped over backwards, bang, he just sprawled out on the floor. Well, naturally, most of us young guys were in the front, so, whoa, we just laughed, you know, it was so funny. And the old federal prosecutor got up red-faced and says, "You won't be laughing when you hear the verdict." So I assumed that he already knew what the verdict was. He just gave himself away, and he got embarrassed, so he just sat down quietly.

And another one was when our lawyer, Mr. Menin, objected to what the federal prosecutor was saying, the federal prosecutor says, "Your honor, if that, that lawyer doesn't sit down, I'll go over there and make him sit down." And Menin, he's pretty tough, too, so he took off his coat and he says, "Your honor, let him try." So I still remember those things.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FC: You grew up on a farm.

MK: Yes.

FC: Tell us about Kose, and what it was like when Kose would come by.

MK: Kose was a well-respected businessman, being an older Nisei, one of the older Niseis in the Mountain View area. And his family had a small grocery store in the heart of Mountain View. You might call it Japantown, but it was only about half a block. And he had many friends, and a very respected, like I said, a very respected businessman. And a lot of his, people his age, even though they were older, were resisters, in the Mountain View area, so he had a keen interest, and he went to the trial from the Heart Mountain camp and aided us the best he could and brought back messages to our families in camp. And to this, to this day he really supports us, that we were right, and we really respect him for the help he gave us.

FC: Did he come by your farm, do you remember his truck?

MK: He didn't come to our farm because we lived in an area called Sunnyvale. But I heard from other people that he would go to the farms and bring his groceries and stuff like that. And he had a lot of respect from the Isseis and Niseis. That's why when he went to the Cheyenne trial and everything, he was one person that had the trust of the Issei because the Issei really lost faith in the older Nisei, who informed on them and turned them in and did everything possible to ruin the Issei life.

FC: So you weren't on Kose's route.

MK: No.

FC: Did another truck come by on your route? Were you on a route?

MK: Yeah, there was some come around once in a while. All the farmers had people coming around.

FC: Was that a big event when these trucks come around?

MK: Oh, yeah. These food salesmen used to come over and they didn't make much sales because of conditions of the time, but they came in and drank tea and spent a half a day talking to our Issei parents. In that way, I think our Issei parents enjoyed life that way, they didn't have money or anything but they had friendship.

FC: So these grocery trucks came, the drivers, salesmen came by and they spread gossip and news.

MK: Yeah, that's what it was, and Kose happened to be one of them.

FC: Could you say that?

MK: Yeah. I would say that Kose was a good salesman, good businessman, and he got along with all the Issei, and in his own way, really helped the community.

FC: Give candy to the kids?

MK: Yeah, I heard all kind of story. I said, "Gee, why didn't Kose come to my place?" because I heard that Kose gave out candies to these little kids and stuff like that. [Laughs]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: Mits, in the courtroom, do you recall the photo -- you were there in the photograph, you were in the front row.

MK: Yes.

FA: I know you were there. Do you recall the photograph being taken, and what directions did the cameraman give you?

MK: I don't remember too much about the directions but I remember that since we were young, young guys, we wanted to sit in the front row and see what all the action was, you know. And that I don't think we got any particular orders how to look or... I guess we were kinda asked to look into the camera, take our pictures.

FA: You were only eighteen years at the time, going to federal court on trial for draft resistance.

MK: Yeah, I was eighteen at the time.

FA: How did you feel that day coming into court?

MK: Oh, anytime you go into a jail and face, face the federal government, it's not a very positive feeling, especially when you know that your community leaders and Japanese American leaders were against you. That's what really hurt my feelings.

FA: Speaking of Japanese American Citizens League, what did you think of the Japanese American Citizens League then?

MK: At the time in camp? I thought they were very weak. They did everything to accommodate the government, did everything to hurt anybody that dissented, dissented, or against anybody, any Japanese Americans, for fighting for their constitutional rights, and to them, good image was far more important than good constitutional rights, where we as resisters believed that good constitutional rights was far more important than good image.

FA: And all the editorials in the Heart Mountain Sentinel were run by the JACL?

MK: Oh yes, completely. I believe the Heart Mountain --

FA: What did you think about the... oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MK: I believe that the Heart Mountain Sentinel was thoroughly controlled by the JACL and WRA, that's why they were allowed to write anything they want, because they knew that they will never write anything against WRA and the government, and the JACL especially. I know that's true because if you look at any of the old Heart Mountain Sentinel, the editors never protested against the incarceration and evacuation. All they wrote about is how glorious it is to accommodate the government.

FA: And those editorials said that the resisters, you, Mits, were weak-kneed, delinquent draft dodgers. You read that in camp, how did that make you feel?

MK: Well, it made me feel real bad, but, that our Japanese American leaders chose to take that route, that condemning us would make them look good in the eyes of the government. And I hate to say it but it really worked, because the government let the JACL control everything.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FA: You were, again, only a kid then, Mits. What attracted you to the Fair Play Committee and the draft resistance?

MK: What attracted me to the Fair Play Committee and the draft resistance was that it was something I really believed in. I didn't do good in school but one thing that my teachers instilled into me was the Constitution of the United States and how it's supposed to protect all minorities and all of its citizens. I learned about the inalienable rights that every citizen should enjoy such as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. I know that it wasn't true in our lifetime because we were minorities and there was a lot of prejudice against us and our parents, but I still believed in the Constitution and I think that's, always believed that's the only thing that will protect us. Not good image.

FA: Even going back to the evacuation itself, Mits, the JACL, when they cooperated with the government, what did you think about that?

MK: Well, I think that was wrong. Even though I was a member of the JACL at that time, I felt strongly that our leaders should speak up. I always thought that any leaders would speak up against racial and prejudiced laws and actions by the government.

FA: Was there a time, Mits, when you realized that you were going to refuse to report for physical induction?

MK: Yes, I believe from the very beginning that I thought that Selective Service out of the camps was not right. I asked how can we, I as a Japanese American citizen, be put into camp, denied my constitutional rights, denied my day in court to prove that I'm innocent, and yet I'm supposed to go out and volunteer or be drafted into a segregated army unit to fight for the very democratic principles that are denied me. I said, why should I go fight for the democratic principles and the free world for the very people that are oppressing me, and I just couldn't understand that from the very, day one.

FA: JACL and the boys who did volunteer said it's an act of faith, that we're going to prove to the white people of America that we are loyal, they think we're Japanese, we'll prove we're American, this way.

MK: Uh-huh. Well, I tried to understand their viewpoint, but to me, I have nothing to prove. I am an American citizen, I never did anything wrong, and I don't have to prove myself. My very actions of living in America, obeying the laws and being a good citizen, is example that I am a good citizen, and I don't believe that I should have to go prove myself.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: Let's say I'm George Yoshinaga, even today I say that you were nothing more than a draft dodger. What do you say to me?

MK: I think he is wrong. He is steeped in patriotism without really knowing the facts. We were never draft dodgers. We faced the issues squarely on. We were never cowards. I think the cowards were the people that didn't face the issues. They still believe in the fairy tale that good public image is better than good constitutional laws, and that the people that say that, "I obeyed the laws no matter how prejudiced and wrong they were," I think those people are copping out because they didn't have the courage to fight for their constitutional rights during wartime. And now they're trying to say that, "My parents taught me to obey all laws," that's really a cop-out to me because that shows that they didn't have the courage to fight for their own rights.

FA: Are you saying that you feel the people who volunteered who are, did the dishonorable thing, Mits?

MK: No, I wouldn't say they didn't.... we were never against the people that went into the army. You could look through all our records, wartime records and you won't find anyplace, anyplace anywhere that the Heart Mountain resisters were against anybody that went into the army. They had their rights. If they wanted to go they should go. But for me, I wanted my constitutional rights returned to me and my family before I went. And we asked for redress even in 1944, that we be compensated for our losses and let us go back to California and resume our normal life, then we'd be happy to go. We never said that we won't go. And a lot of my friends went into the army, some went into the 442nd. I have three brothers that served in the armed forces of the United States. And nobody is gonna say our family is disloyal or something un-American and stuff like that. That's a bunch of crap. People just don't want to face the truth. And one way to get, hurt the resisters trying to say that we're against the 442nd or against anybody that served, that's not true. Lot of the resisters, the younger resisters served in the Korean War. Now if wearing the uniform was that important, then why should they condemn the resisters because most of them served.

FA: And in fact, when it comes to eligibility for the draft, what should we know about the resisters about whether or not they would have passed even the draft physical in the first place?

MK: Yeah, there were... I believe I can make a true statement and say that many of the resisters were 4-F. Some of 'em, why, if they took their glasses off they couldn't see two feet in front of them, and one of my friends was a tubercular victim even before the war, he was in a sanitarium, I believe. And then... but he strongly believed that the draft was wrong and that we should all get our rights as free American citizens before we served in the army. And that poor guy, I remember him working in the rain, he just wanted to be a regular fella, and he worked in the rain and everything out in the Tacoma area, and he became ill again and that really shortened his life. But he had moral, strong moral principles and I admire him. You can't call a person like that a coward and stuff like that.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: Why do you think so many resisters came from Mountain View area?

MK: I can't answer that really. I don't know why. I guess maybe the Mountain View area was stronger in teaching constitutional laws in school. That's what I think.

FA: And why do you think that the largest organized resistance to the draft came at Heart Mountain as opposed to the other camps?

MK: Well, I think we had a lot of people from Los Angeles in Heart Mountain, and a lot of those people were well-versed in the Constitution. Well, I'll mention two names is, two or three names is like Kiyoshi Okamoto, Paul Nakadate, Frank Emi and those people. They were well-versed in the Constitution, and organized in an honorable fashion to fight racism and prejudice. Somewhere down the line, when you get pushed back so much, so far, someplace down the line you have to take a stand someplace. That's what happened.

FA: Do you think leadership was a factor, and if so, tell me.

MK: Well, I believe we had very good leadership, people who really believed in the Constitution, who spoke constitutional issues, citizenship rights, I think the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee was organized with that in sight, the constitutional issues, and that we had very good leaders. Kiyoshi Okamoto at the beginning called himself the Fair Play Committee of One, and he went around, all around camp talking about the Constitution in those days, and why it was wrong for us to be put into camp. Because he wasn't a JACL person he's not recognized. But if he was a JACL person he'd probably be a hero today.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: Going back to the trial, at the trial, those funny things happened, then the verdict comes down, the verdict is guilty, how did that make you feel?

MK: I felt real bad because maybe I was naive, but I felt that we had a very strong case. After all, we were put into a concentration camp, denied our constitutional rights, then asked to fight for the very things that were denied us. That's the main point I'm trying to say. And that we have every right to protest. Article One in the Bill of Rights says that if the government denies you the right of American citizenship, that you have a right to redress it. And nowhere in the Constitution does it say that good public image is more important than constitutional rights. If people could find that, let me know.

FA: You did go to prison, a lot of the resisters were told that they'd be beaten with two-by-fours or beaten by other inmates. What was your experience?

MK: Well, I didn't fear that. Naturally I was naive to say that I feared, I didn't fear going to jail. Everybody feared, we were brought up that way. We didn't believe that going to jail was the right thing, but under the circumstances, when something like this happens, your citizenship status is at stake, I'm willing to take that chance, to have to go to prison to fight for my rights.

FA: When you went to prison, were you beaten with two-by-fours?

MK: No way. We were treated very good. People respected us over there.

FA: Why?

MK: Because the camp we went to had lot of Jehovah Witnesses, conscientious objectors, they understood what we stood for.


FC: Are you familiar with the principle that as an American citizen you are innocent until proven guilty?

MK: Yes. I am familiar with those words because I learned them in school, that we are innocent until proven guilty. But we were never given the chance at court because the government could never find us guilty of anything. I've said that over and over again. That's why they wouldn't let us go to court to prove our innocence, and that I always say that in American law, the punishment must fit the crime. Okay, what crime did we commit to be punished so severely? Nobody has ever answered that question to me.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FC: Tell us about Jimmie Omura and the Rocky Shimpo.

MK: I...

FA: Did you read the Rocky Shimpo?

MK: I read one of his writings and naturally I was kind of impressed. Here is a man that has the courage to speak the truth. To me that was the truth.

FA: Who are we talking about?

MK: Omura's saying that we had a right to protest, legally. And that made a lot of sense, organize an organized resistance.

FC: How did you become familiar with the Rocky Shimpo and Omura's writing?

MK: Only thing I, only thing I became familiar with Omura was that one of our neighbors subscribed to his paper and one day he came running over with that article and said, "Hey, look at this, look at this," you know. So I just took a look at it. I already had my mind made up already though, but I was happy that there was people on the outside that would support our cause.

FC: Were you bullied into resisting?

MK: No, not at all. I can safely say I did it on my own.


MK: No, I guess in reference to talking about the Fair Play Committee leaders and stuff like that or the, some other people on the Fair Play Committee, no, nothing like that. I did it on my own. I didn't know who Frank Emi was, I didn't know who James Omura was, I didn't meet him until 1974, thirty years after our trial.

FC: Just say the words, "Nobody forced me to resist."

MK: That's true. Nobody forced me to resist. They're trying to blame my parents and all that, but that's not true. I did it on my own. I was eighteen and if I didn't have my own mind then, there was no hope for me. Like I say, I never was a scholar or anything but when I went to school I really studied... in fact, the teachers drilled the Constitution into my mind, test after test after test, if I failed it, boy they made me take it home and read it over and tell me what's wrong and all this, so they really, one thing they did was really drill that Constitution into my head.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FA: People say now those "no-no boys," resisters, they beat up all the good Nisei boys who wanted to volunteer for the army and they intimidated them and beat them up. Did you ever do that?

MK: No, no. We never, I never had any intention, I had a lot of respect for the people that went for their physicals. I know many of 'em didn't want to go but they went, and never was against them. I think a lot of those beatings and stuff was... I'm not sure but I would say they were exaggerated because lot of times they say that in December of 1945, that in some camps, there were, army vets were beaten up. The camps were closed by then, see? So I don't take a lot of stock into all that kind of rumors.

FA: I'm going to ask you again, could you say that -- did anyone, any resisters you know of beat up any volunteers?

MK: No, no. That's, that's the last thing... lot of the resisters had brothers in the 442nd and relatives in the 442nd. Why should they go out and beat up people? People that say that about Heart Mountain, they're really, really not telling the truth.


MK: I did not participate in any beating up of any whatchacall... veterans or people that were going into the army or WRA sympathizers or JACL people. They had their own mind and I had mine. And I respected their thinking and that was it. None of my friends ever beat up anybody. That's a fact. If they said that there was a beating up in camps, then name the names and where it took place. You can't say vaguely that they were beaten up and stuff like that.


MK: No, I did not beat up anybody that volunteered. I never had any hard words with anybody that wanted to go into the army. My personal experience is that many of the draftees didn't want to go because what was happening during the camps and since so many of the Heart Mountain people were returning 4-F, they decided to take the chance of becoming 4-F.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FA: When you worked as a gardener after the war in the high school, they asked you to write an article in the paper.

MK: Yes.

FA: Okay. You were, you wrote the article, why did you feel... why did you write the article -- they asked you, obviously, but why did you write it when they asked you?

MK: Well, I felt, I felt that I should tell the truth, especially about the Japanese Americans in Heart Mountain, and that it was sort of a obligation on my part. I couldn't stand that good, good story that people who went to camp were happy and they did everything the government did because they wanted to do it. I wanted to write that that was wrong, that's completely wrong, and that Japanese American historians that write Japanese American history write just to, just to please white America and they're willing to stretch the truth. The reason I spoke up is because I want the people, especially the Sansei and Yonsei to really know what really happened in the camps.

FA: After the war, Mits, you went through many years of silence, didn't talk about it to anyone, why didn't you talk about it, in your experience?

MK: Well, to be honest, when we came back, the first priority was to make a living, and I can honestly say that most of the Japanese Americans and their families in the Santa Clara Valley worked seven days a week just, just trying to get back to normal, it took 'em many, many years. And that's, that's where we were silent because we didn't have the time. Survival was much more important at that time.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

FA: Books came out, Bill Hosokawa's Nisei, 1972, another Hosokawa book, another Hosokawa book, no mention of the draft resisters. How did that make you feel?

MK: Well, I think Hosokawa being the editor of the Heart Mountain Sentinel, it reflects his thinking that anything unpleasant to him shouldn't be written even though it's true history. And that he's never been a supporter of the resisters and so I can expect that from him.


MK: Japanese American historians, as far as I know, never were able to tell the truth about what happened in camp until Michi Weglyn wrote her book about the Years of Infamy. I don't know why Japanese American historians think this way, but I think they still believe in the JACL thinking that good public image to please white America is far more important than good constitutional laws. That shows a weakness in Japanese American historians.

FA: And how did it make you feel even up 'til then that we've been talking about redress, and we talk about the camps again, but still nothing about the draft resisters?

MK: Well, I believe that people in the JACL have to admit that we were right. Redress proves that they were wrong during wartime. They, all they talked about was accommodating the government and cooperating with the government, then fifty years later, they said to pass redress that their constitutional rights were violated. That shows that at one hand in 1944 they were one way, and then in late 1980s they changed their mind and went the other way, see? But the resisters were always firm in their belief, they never wavered.

FA: And Mits, for so long you were talking about this, even writing in high school paper about this, but still no one listened to you, no one wrote about it, the historians ignored you. Now you're getting some attention finally, hundreds of people come out at reunions in San Jose and Los Angeles.

MK: Well, I think the young people, they're willing to study it and create what really happened during the wartime in their own minds. Like I said before, the Nisei that said, "Oh, I did everything, I obeyed all prejudiced laws, and prejudiced against Japanese Americans because my parents said to obey all laws no matter how bad they are," and like I said before, that's just a cop-out, because they want to blame their parents for their own shortcomings that they didn't have the courage to fight for constitutional laws.

FA: How do you feel now that people are finally paying attention, learning about your story?

MK: Well, it's the Sansei and Yonsei that's interested. The Nisei, I'm afraid...

FA: Sure. But Mits, how do you feel now that anyone is paying attention to your story?

MK: I feel very happy, I feel very happy. Hey, when I'm, sometimes when I'm walking with my wife down the street in San Jose, a couple come down the street and the wife will say, "Oh, that was a nice article that you wrote in the paper and I'm happy for you," but the husband, he's lookin' at the sky, you know, you know how he's thinking. You could tell right away the people that are against you.

FA: Even now?

MK: Oh yeah, they refuse to even talk about it. You know they're not stupid or anything, they read. They don't want to admit it. Do you know what I mean? They don't want to admit their own shortcomings.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

FA: Mits, after all this time, any regrets about what you did?

MK: No. I think if it happened today, Sansei and Yonsei, they'll do exactly what I did. I know by talking to them. And that when I talk to Robin Toma of the JABA (Japanese American Bar Association) of greater Los Angeles area, I'm more and more convinced that the young people, educated young people, see it our way.

FC: Do all the guys feel like you?

MK: Huh?

FA: Do all the resisters, former resisters, are they all as enthusiastic about the resistance and what they did, as talkative about it as you?

MK: I'm afraid not. All the resisters aren't really positively into talking about the resistance because somehow I feel that they feel sort of insecure.

FA: Are there elements in the community that are still out to suppress the resisters or suppress the news or to characterize you as bad guys?

MK: Well, today, no, because if it ever got out that we're being oppressed again, I think the Sansei and the Yonsei would speak up, and they're afraid of that. You don't see JACL bragging what they did during the wartime today, but we resisters are willing to speak up today what happened because we're proud of what we did.

FC: Do you have children?

MK: Yes.

FA: They know that you resisted?

MK: They do. My children, they're not really into civil rights and things like that because it really hasn't happened to them, see. But I feel that if they learn more and more, that they will really support it. But I know that children of even veterans support the resistance and all that. It's amazing thing.

FC: Are you proud to be a Japanese American after all this?

MK: Am I proud to be a Japanese American? I would say so. Let's put it this way: I have no choice. [Laughs]

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.