Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Dave Kawamoto Interview
Narrator: Dave Kawamoto
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary); Frank Chin (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: August 1993
Densho ID: denshovh-kdave-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FA: And how were you when Pearl Harbor broke out?

DK: About twenty-five, twenty-six.

FA: Really? So you were much older. And so when you went down to try to -- after Pearl Harbor broke out, you, did you try to enlist? And then tell me what happened.

DK: Well, some of the wrestling friends of mine, they want to volunteer, so I tagged along. And my turn came, I went up to the, the officer that was registering and I told him I would like to register in the Air Corps. Which I was, that was registered at that time. And he says, "We're not taking Japs." That's about three times he would repeat that. I didn't even have a chance to say I was born here.

FA: How did that make you feel when you were trying to volunteer and you were turned away?

DK: Well, I tried to find a place to hide. It made me feel, feel so humiliated.

FA: When, when you were, when evacuation orders were being talked about and they were posted, did you look to the Japanese American Citizens League for leadership, and what did you feel about their, their leadership and their response?

DK: Well, at that time, I think everybody went to the JACL office. But by the time I had gone to the office -- I left it as a last resort -- well, they were all gone; nobody was there. It was vacant, and nobody was there to help us. So we had to go find our own answers for what was going to happen. Went to the police station...

FA: But in terms of overall actions of the JACL around the time of the incarceration, then did you feel that they provided strong leadership or not?

DK: I would say no. They didn't provide any kind of a leadership.

FA: And how did you feel about that, Dave?

DK: Well, I thought that was pretty shameful for a group proclaiming to be our leadership, not there to help us.

FA: And you certainly expected that of the JACL?

DK: Well, I think everybody did at that time. That was the only organization that was organized to help us, but they weren't there to help us.


FA: The JACL at the time of evacuation, did it provide the kind of leadership that you expected?

DK: JACL did not provide the help that I expected, counseling and guiding. Especially the Issei people. They were the first, I mean, the first generation. I think they were taking it the hardest, and I believe that they're, more than we, wanted guidance and help from the JACL.

FA: Did the JACL provide the leadership, the kind of leadership for standing up for your rights, that you expected?


DK: Well, JACL didn't provide the help that I had hoped that they would. So we were less, more or less on our own. And went to the police department first of all, and find the rules and regulations. By doing so, like for instance, my radio, they took it to the radio shop and they cut out the shortwave coil. All you had to do was just unsolder one wire and take it off, and that was it. You didn't lose the whole radio for it. So I made a gain there.

FA: Did you attend, were there any community meetings in Mountain View, the JACL, JACL meetings, and did you attend those?

DK: Concerning the meetings of the JACL, it was held in San Jose. I belonged to the San Jose chapter and I attended several of their meetings, but they didn't provide any kind of a leadership that I expected, so I didn't follow up on any of their meetings.

FA: Dave, who spoke at those JACL meetings, for the JACL?

DK: Oh, it was usually the president that spoke up for the meetings.

FA: Min Yasui, Mike Masaoka, Joe Grant Masaoka, they come to these JACL meetings in San Jose?

DK: Well, if they did, I didn't know about it.

FA: Who was the president of the JACL in San Jose?

DK: [Laughs] Oh, I forgot.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: In camp, when you got to Heart Mountain, what was your first impression of the camp itself; physical layout, temperature, the camp, Heart Mountain?

DK: Well, the camp, our first impression at the camp when we arrived was really devastating in that they had this big dust storm when we arrived, and it was hot and that's what we were, have to put up with.

FC: What happened to your stuff in your farm? How did you, what happened to that stuff? How did you deal with your farm when you had to leave, had all your possessions?

DK: I left my farm equipment, my home and my car, I left it with a neighbor, Mr. Beecroft. And he said, "Oh, no problem, I'll take care of it for you. You'll be home in six months, everything will be over by then." So he said, "I'll take care of it," so I left it with him. I didn't even board up the house, doors or the window, and I left it just the way it was. And we came home to a home that was just the way it was.


FA: So tell me, Dave, just tell me about, you left with King, your dog King. Did you leave any pets behind?

DK: Yes, we did. We left our, our two pets with the neighbors. At first I was going to put 'em to sleep, but my neighbor says, "Oh no, no." He says, "We'll take care of 'em for six months," so I left it with them. And the small dog, after several days, it started to eat. By my dog wouldn't eat or drink. She put out water for him and feed for him, and just wouldn't touch it. And walked around the house and just left a path, and just passed away lonely and sad.

I'd like to relate one incident where... it was during vacation, school vacation, and I was working on my car. And about three or four of the wrestler friends came, came over. And you know how they stick their hands out to shake hands? I don't know where my dog came from but he grabbed that hand and wouldn't let go. And he left a big gash in his hand, so we had to take him to the hospital. But he went wherever I went, and I believe just before the executive order, he felt something different because he had his tail between his legs and just moping.

FA: How did you get the news that King died?

DK: My neighbor wrote a letter, and she gave me the progress of what the animals were doing. And she says she couldn't get 'em to eat or drink.

FA: How did you feel about that?

DK: Well, I think we all cried in the camp. [Laughs]

FC: Any dogs in camp?

DK: No. Towards the end, I guess, I seen some house pets.

FC: What kind of dog was King? Shepherd?

DK: It was a German Shepherd.

FC: Say that King was a German Shepherd.

DK: King was a German Shepherd, and a friend of mine gave me the first choice of his litter, and there were two males, and one was a small puppy and the other one was much bigger. But for some reason or not, I chose the smaller dog, and that grew up to be the bigger dog. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: In Heart Mountain, Dave, when word of the draft and reinstitution of the draft came down, what was your first awareness of the Fair Play Committee and the draft resistance?

DK: Can you repeat the question?

FA: Sure. How did you first become aware of the draft resistance in Heart Mountain?

DK: I became first aware of the draft being instituted in the camps through the camp newsletter, or newspaper. And, well, before they instituted the draft, as you all know, we were classified 4-C as an "enemy alien." So that had to be clarified first, before they could classify us 1-A. So when I found out, I wrote to the draft board asking they straighten out my classification. But did you know that I never got a response from the draft board?

FA: So you didn't hear back from them, so how did that affect your feelings when you read in the Heart Mountain Sentinel that they were going to reinstitute the draft for the Nisei, and you had already tried to enlist?

DK: Well, that all the more soured me on enlisting voluntarily into the segregated service.

FA: Spell it out for me, Dave. Why did that sour you? Spell it out.

DK: Well, first we were evacuated without due process of law and held without trial, and now they want to draft us. I don't think that was right. I think they should have clarified our status before even attempting to draft us.

FA: So did you, when did you decide that you weren't going to obey this draft, or the idea of the draft from the government?

DK: Well, as soon as I heard the news, or read the news, I was determined not to go.

FA: Dave, why were you determined not to go?

DK: Because our status as a citizen was not clarified. I think if we're gonna go fight, we should have the right as any other citizen to be able to travel on your own wherever you want to go.

FC: When you were evacuated, did you feel you were being treated like a criminal?

DK: [Laughs] Oh, definitely. I was devastated when we were evacuated; we had to walk between the soldiers with their bayonets out. And here we are, only two luggage, and older people, there were more older people and young kids. And then they had the jeep with a mounted machine gun behind these soldiers, going back and forth on both sides. And we had to walk through that to get to the train.

FC: Were you wearing your luggage tags? Family tags?

DK: Family tags, yes.

FC: Would you describe those tags?

DK: Well, at that, the family tags at that time, I believe it had just a name. I don't recall if we were given a number yet.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

FC: How did you answer questions 27 and 28? 1943.

DK: Let's see. How was the question...

FC: Are you willing to serve in the [pause] are you willing to serve in the United States Army, defend the, or defend, serve in the service and defend the United States against all enemies, is 27. 28, are you willing to renounce your, any loyalty you may have to the emperor of Japan?

DK: I, the questionnaire, questions 27 and 28 were very confusing so I answered with a qualification. I answered my questions qualifying the answer.

FC: How did you qualify it?

DK: We would be willing to serve in the armed, armed forces of the United States provided they return our constitutional rights and return us, my parents and my sister, back to where I, I have a home, and I will comply with the selective service.

FC: How educated were you at that, when you went into camp? How much college did you have...

DK: Well, I had, I just lacked a quarter of, quarter of schoolwork to graduate.

FC: From university or college or...

DK: College. University of San Jose.

FC: Say that in one sentence: "I was one quarter away from graduating from University of..." San Jose State?

DK: Yeah, I lacked one quarter's work from graduating San Jose State.

FC: Did you feel you understood the Constitution of the United States when you went into camp?


DK: No. I had a, I believe I had a good understanding of the Constitution in that in my grammar school, we had a ethnic teacher, and she was really versed on the Constitution and she made us memorize the Constitution forwards and backwards. So I had a pretty good knowledge of the Constitution.

FC: Can you still recite the Preamble?

DK: I used to be able, but I can't do it offhand. [Laughs]

FA: Dave, when you -- back to Heart Mountain, you received your... well, let me back up. Let me ask you again. I still don't understand, when did you first become aware of the draft resistance movement in Heart Mountain? You said you heard about it, when you read about it in the Sentinel, you knew right away you weren't gonna do it.

DK: Right.

FA: Cooperate. Were you gonna do it alone?

DK: I was going to do it alone if it came down to that. I was going to resist that by myself if need be.

FA: But then what happened that got you linked up with others?

DK: Well, when I first heard about the draft being instituted in camp, I heard about this lawyer, Mr. Okamoto, who was going to work with the Civil Liberties Union in our behalf. So I looked up Mr. Okamoto and asked him his question and he, at that time, said he was going to organize this Fair Play Committee. So, gee, I said I'd appreciate that very much.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: Did you go to any meetings? Do you recall any meetings of the Fair Play Committee in Heart Mountain? What were they like?

DK: The meetings, it was well-organized. We had speakers, and I got elected as a treasurer. And, but I only attended, I think, one or two meetings because I was picked up.

FA: Describe to me, Dave, what was the attitude, the spirit of, the kimochi of the meetings, the feeling of those meetings?

DK: The feeling... I can't recall if it was after the second or the third meeting, they took a vote at the mess hall, which was filled to the brim. And I would say ninety-nine percent said they weren't going to go, by raising hands. So it was quite elating to hear that.

FA: Again, the feeling there of you and the others? Was, were you bitter, were you angry, or were you... you said, or were you guys happy, or excited?

DK: Excited for...

FA: Well, that word, but, I mean, what was, what was the feeling?

DK: Oh, at the meeting?

FA: Yeah.

DK: Oh, I was glad to see that so many were going to take that route.

FC: Were you... at these meetings, were those who did not want to resist, those who were considering accepting the draft, did you or anybody at these meetings intimidate them, or intimidate anyone or bully or pressure anyone to resist who didn't want to resist?

DK: After the meeting... [coughs] excuse me. I believe it was the last meeting that I attended. After the meeting, somebody got up and spoke that, that the group was doing the wrong thing, and they should show their loyalty by complying with the civil service. There was several people that got up to try to, they formed a small group, and they were trying to advise these young fellows to comply with the selective service.

FC: But as far as you know, no one went out and beat 'em up for what they said.

DK: No.

FA: Dave, did any of the speakers at the meeting tell the others, listeners, what to do, how they should go?

DK: The speakers at the meeting never directly told them to resist the draft. Only, only advice they gave was that if you're going to resist, there will be a lawyer affiliated with the Civil, Civil Liberties Union, and will be helping us.

FA: Who spoke at the meetings, Dave? The meetings you attended, who spoke? Did you speak?

DK: Well, I introduced the speaker, Paul Nakadate.


FA: You introduced the speakers, you introduced Paul Nakadate. Was he the only speaker?

DK: At that meeting, yes.

FA: What kind of speaker was Paul Nakadate?

DK: Oh, Paul Nakadate was, he's a good speaker. I thought he was a very good speaker. And he told us, he advised us, rather, as to what could happen and that we'd have to go to trial and we'd be sentenced to whatever the going rate at that time was for selective service violators.

FA: That's what he told you, Dave. I'm asking you what -- I mean, I wasn't there. I never met the guy.

Male voice: What was the mood like? Was everybody angry and shouting?

DK: No, they all sat quietly and had to listen to, as to what he had to say.

FC: What kind of speaker was he? Did he swear a lot, did he yell, did he scream?

DK: No, no.

FC: Did he have a microphone, a megaphone, did he use a lot of gestures, was he quiet?

DK: Paul Nakadate was a, well, he's a college grad so he was quiet and collected and a very good orator.

FA: Again, Dave, I never met the guy. I need to understand myself. Why, why did people like him? I hear this a lot.

FC: Why listen to him?

FA: Why, why do people say he was a good orator?

DK: Well, how, how Paul Nakadate was able to, to describe what the Fair Play Committee was going to do for the potential selective service resisters.

FA: Did you think he had a lot of guts, or was he kind of a shy guy?

DK: I think all the FPC members were pretty gutsy.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

FC: Was it worth it? Looking back a few years, looking back to what happened to some of the guys, the years of silence, the years of being ignored... how old are you now, anyway?

DK: Three-quarter century.

FC: You're three-quarters of a century old. Was it worth it? Was it worth going to jail, was it worth all grief?

DK: Was it worth it? I would say yes. It was a good experience. For one thing, we got better food than the camp. [Laughs] Yeah, the food was so much better. And clean clothes every, every day. So in a lot of ways it was much better. But one thing that we missed was the women, there was no women, except at the office where I worked. We'd get to look at some women.

FA: You said that you felt that the Fair Play Committee leaders were very gutsy. I want to ask you, in a related way, why do you think that the largest organized resistance occurred at Heart Mountain and not at the other camps?

DK: Well, the... our Heart Mountain camp, I think, was organized. These leaders we had, like I say, they're, they were gutsy. A lot of 'em probably wouldn't ever pass the, the examination, but still they stuck their neck out for their comrades.

FA: Do you think that this situation at Heart Mountain was different from the way it was at the other nine camps, and in what way was it different?

DK: It was different that we were organized and we had a focus. We had a deed to accomplish, and we all stuck together.

FC: You say the leaders held the organization together.

DK: I believe the leaders did hold the organization together.

FC: So what, what Heart Mountain had that the other camps didn't have was leadership?

DK: Leadership, yes.

FC: Could you say that?

DK: I believe the Heart Mountain resisters had good leaders for them to do what they did.


FC: What was it about Heart Mountain, given that at every camp there were people ready to resist, there were people who objected to the draft being reinstituted for the Nisei. What did Heart Mountain have that led to an organized resistance that the other camps didn't have?

DK: Well, I believe Heart Mountain had, well, good leaders, and they were able to convey that message to the general camp population. So, and plus the fact that they had focus to accomplish what they were out to do.

FC: Did you feel these leaders expressed what you felt about the draft? You agreed with what they, with their stand? You were comfortable with them speaking for you?

DK: Yes, I believe in the leadership of these leaders from the camp, and we had the same common goal, which was to have our constitutional rights restored. And these leaders were providing the message where we can achieve that.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: Dave, I want to ask you about being picked up by the FBI, your arrest. And just in brief, what was it like the morning that you were picked up? Tell me about that.

DK: Oh, the morning I was picked up by the FBI, they came bright and early. They knocked on the door and I says, "Well, let me get a few clothing, underwear and stuff." "No, no, you won't need that." So he says, "Come with me to the office," so we went to the office. And then they tried to get you to change your mind. And I says, "No, I'm standing by my convictions. I want this constitutional, civil rights restored before I go." I says, "If you can do that, I'll be glad and willing to go."

FC: How many agents came to your door?

DK: Two agents, then the two camp officials. So you had to talk to four of 'em. They kept firing questions about how you're going to embarrass your family, and how you're going to get beat up in the, the "big house."

FC: The FBI and the camp officials, all white people?

DK: Yes.

FC: And they said you would be beat up in federal penitentiary?

DK: The camp administrators said that you could be beaten up.

FC: Let's get this straight. Four guys came to your door.

DK: No, two.

FC: Two guys came to your door?

DK: Two FBI came.

FC: And took you to a room.

DK: They took us to, took me to the administration building.

FC: They took you to the administration building.

DK: Yes.

FC: And there, two agents and two administrators.

DK: Yes.

FA: In a room, there was nobody else in the room but these guys and you.

DK: Right.

FA: They kept you there how long and talked with you?

DK: Oh, about... God, I can't recall correctly, but probably about half an hour, maybe.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

FA: Dave, at the time of your arrest and the whole resistance, the Heart Mountain Sentinel and the JACL. Let's stick with JACL. JACL was saying, was saying some very nasty things about you, that you guys were delinquents, weak-kneed, draft dodgers. What did you feel about all that? How did that make you feel?

FA: Well, from the JACL, we more or less expected what they're gonna say about us because we were 100 percent against what they were trying to propose.

FC: Which was?

DK: Which was comply with the selective service.

FA: That was expected, but still, how did it make you feel and what did you think about it?

DK: Well, it made me feel kind of betrayed because of your own group trying to work with the government, or in fact, they're the ones that instituted the drafting of Niseis from the camp. I think the WRA was against that.

FA: Did you know any JACL people in Heart Mountain personally, and did you try talking about this?

DK: No, I didn't know... well, there were members I know, some of 'em, but they're inconsequential.

FC: The day you got your draft notice, how did you, did you get it in the mail, was it a telegram, hand-delivered to you? How did you get your draft notice and what did you do immediately upon receiving it?

DK: Draft notice came through the mail, and says, "Oh my goodness, maybe they answered my inquiry." No, it was just that you are supposed to report to the... what did they say, induction and physical examination. So I just tore it up.

FA: Didn't change your mind at all.

DK: No, I didn't change my mind at all.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

FA: Dave, can you tell me, what were the circumstances of your being taking to the assembly center? How did that all happen?

DK: Well, I was, and my family were taken to the railway station after we got that executive order, what was it? Whatever. My neighbor and her family and my other neighbor, they were German people. Their family, in fact, they provided the truck, had two luggages each, so they provided the truck and took us to the railroad station in San Jose. And there we got onto a cattle car, it was all blacked out. They told us not to ever raise the curtains. So no air conditioning, it was hot and close in those cars because the windows we couldn't open.


DK: We were taken to the, to the train station by our neighbor, one was Mr. Beecroft and his family, and Mr. Kratz, a German family. And he provided the truck whereby we put all our luggages on, which was two suitcase per person, and went to the San Jose station of the Southern Pacific. And we got on the cars with the windows all covered, and we weren't supposed to raise the cover or look out, and we had to go to every siding every time a train come by, or freight train come by we had to relinquish the right-of-way to the coming cars. And we were supposed to go to Santa Anita, that's where we had our luggage and everything destined to go, Santa Anita. Our luggage went there and we went to Pomona. [Laughs] So we went for about a week without any change of clothes, and it was quite a mix-up there.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

FA: Dave, when you get to the trial at Wyoming, you were in the photograph in the trial photo, right?

DK: Yes.

FA: Do you recall that photo being taken?

DK: Yes.

FA: What was it like that day? What do you remember of that day, when you first walk into court? Your first impression of the court.

DK: My first impression in the court, it was no different. I went to the court in Sunnyvale when my dad was hit.

FA: Do you recall the photograph being taken?

DK: Yes, oh yeah.

FA: What do you remember about that, that moment?

DK: Let's see, I don't remember the photographer, but he had this panoramic camera so he took the picture.

FA: Did he give you any kind of directions at all about how you guys should sit, what you should do?

FA: Well, he says, "Don't hide your face. Keep it so we can take your face," so everybody had to dodge around, keep the face in the camera.

FA: When the verdict came down, jumping ahead, the trial, testimony, verdict, came down, how did you feel?

DK: When the verdict was announced, I think we were all expecting, well, expecting the worst, but since we got the three-year we were kind of... not enjoy but more or less elated to the, to the shorter sentence because they all said we probably would get five years.

FA: And right now, let's say I'm George Yoshinaga or Mike Masaoka, or George Yoshinaga and says you guys were nothing but draft dodgers. What do you say to me?

DK: How would I answer that question?

FA: To me.

DK: To you? I don't think I put a gun to your head. You did what you want to do and I did what I want to do, that was your prerogative.

FA: Thanks, Dave.

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