Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: Dave Tatsuno Interview
Narrator: Dave Tatsuno
Interviewer: Aggie Idemoto
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 20, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-tdave-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: We're going to move on now to wartime experiences, and this would put you at, oh, approximately twenty-eight to thirty-two years of age. It's Sunday, December 7, 1941. Would you please recall the precise moment that you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

DT: Oh, yes. I can tell you that precise moment was... you see, it was December, of course. And the wholesalers downtown were open Sunday. So we had been going down to the toy wholesaler to buy toys for our store. And on the way back, on the radio, says, "Pearl Harbor has been bombed by unidentified enemy planes." And that's when I first heard about Pearl Harbor.

AI: How did you feel when you heard that?

DT: Well, naturally we're shocked, number one. Number two, you see, in our store, we had customers come by on the way to Japan. The ship was, from Los Angeles come to San Francisco and dock, and the customers would come in to buy merchandise to take to Japan. And the way they acted, you see, that there might be something untoward happening. And so I had kind of a funny inkling of, that there might be something going. And sure enough, Pearl Harbor.

AI: Would you describe what it was like when your family was forced to move upon short notice? How did everyone feel about having to move?

DT: Well, that's a very, very easy answer, easy question to answer. That here we were, innocent, we didn't do anything wrong, and we're asked to go behind the barbed wire, with hardly any preparation, with hardly, with very little luggage to take, and then, you see, my dad, he's Issei, and he was saying that, shikata ga nai. Pearl Harbor was such a big blow in history, that the Japanese Americans were affected by prejudice or hysteria, war hysteria. That you have to get -- well, actually, very interesting, I went to the hearing by the Tolan Congressional Committee, because at that time of Pearl Harbor, I was president of the San Francisco JACL. The former president was Henry Itani, and he took the job of taking over as a paid worker to help the evacuees, so I became the president. And I still remember we went one day to the Tolan Congressional Hearing, Mike Masaoka, Henry Itani and myself. And as we sat there, they said, "Did you know that they cut sugar cane, they cut arrows in the sugar cane pointing toward Pearl Harbor? Did you know that one of the Jap aviators shot down had a University of California class ring?" All we could say is, "We weren't there. We don't know anything about it." They were not true. They were not true, but that's what they told us, you see. So, what a shock.

AI: I'd like to follow up on what you just mentioned, being president of the San Francisco JACL at the time of Pearl Harbor. Did you have certain responsibilities or actions that you felt you needed to voice or, or do as president of a civil rights group?

DT: No. At the time of Pearl Harbor, you couldn't see anything. Everything was turmoil, you see. It's not just like a ordinary peacetime. It was a terrible, Pearl Harbor was a terrible disaster and a big blow. And what could you say? What could you say, really?

AI: What about the membership of the JACL? Were there people stirring up some, some thoughts about what happened?

DT: No. Everybody was cowed. Remember now, bang, out of a thunderbolt, Pearl Harbor happened. We were shocked, we don't know what to do, you see? It's nice to talk about it historically now, but when it happened, oh, it was quite a blow.

AI: So you were numb.

DT: Yeah. See, people that study it now as history, you could look at it objectively. But not then. We were right in the middle of it, subjectively. So wow, Pearl Harbor.

AI: And did, did you carry this leadership role for JACL into camp? Did you continue that --

DT: No, no, I was just president at that time, and then in camp, see, I was, that was San Francisco JACL, and in camp, they didn't have, for a while, I don't think they had JACL. But I was active, very active in camp. See, I taught Sunday School, I taught young people's classes, I did a lot of things in camp. Kept me busy, plus the fact that I was manager of the co-op dry goods store, and I had to go back east three times to buy. Can you imagine buying in the wartime atmosphere? And what happened, I was running the -- because I had the previous dry goods experience, at Topaz when I got there, they called me and said, "Dave, will you help manage the new co-op dry goods store?" And well, they said I had dry goods experience. Well, the first thing that happened was this: the people, the WRA people in charge of co-operatives had a meeting in St. Louis, and St. Louis, they have two big stores Ely 'n Walker and Rice Stix. And they said, "You know, they're gonna have a camp co-op store. Maybe we could find some merchandise." Now remember, these directors had no dry good experience, no experience with Japanese Americans, and so now the fellow that, in camp, Mr. Honderichs, nice fellow. Very nice fellow. But then they took him around, saying he should buy some of this, buy some of that, buy... and you know what? They said, "Hey, this is a chance to get rid of your dead stock. So sell 'em all the dead stock that you can." So he went around, and gee, the bill was way up high, and they got scared. So they said they'll cut in half and send half of it. So what happens? They ship it to Topaz. In the meantime, I, they asked me to be store manager. "Oh, the merchandise has come in to the warehouse. Would you go take a look at them?" And I look at it, and what happens? Size 17 collar shirt, no Japanese would wear that. I could see that all the stock was dead stock, they wanted to get rid of it. And I said, wow, we have to sell it at the store. Well, no matter how hard you try, you can't sell a 17 collar, big shirt to a Japanese American.

AI: So you were continuing your retail skills in camp.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.