Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Richard Kosaki Interview
Narrator: Richard Kosaki
Interviewer: Mitchell Maki
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: March 19, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-krichard-01-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

RK: After I graduated from the language school, I was assigned to a team to go out to Southeast Asia. But the last minute I got pulled out, and they said they wanted me to teach. I said, well, my Japanese was quite good in terms of writing and so forth. One of the interesting assignments I got when I was teaching at Fort Snelling was I taught some, in this Japanese language school, I taught some English. The army had drafted Kibei who knew more Japanese than English and they were a valuable resource because we lacked mainly people who could read Japanese. But then these people's English was limited, so they had a difficult time in translating.

MM: Right.

RK: So here I am, teaching English grammar -- [laughs] -- in this language school. It was quite an experience. And, of course, I only taught the elementary Japanese. But then I got selected to go to Officer Candidate School. There was, when I look back, segregation in the army, because the 442nd was segregated. The 100th infantry battalion preceding the 442nd was made up of draftees of Japanese descent before Pearl Harbor. And the language school, although we had a mixed group, there was Mr. Boggs, a haole man in our class and there were some Koreans and others, but they also had at Camp Savage, special classes for Caucasian soldiers. And these were very bright language specialists. Lot of 'em had PhDs in French or Spanish or German and a good pedigree. You know, Yale, Harvard, University of Michigan, and they had a program which was quite different from ours, but once a week in the afternoon, since they wanted the haole soldiers to hear Japanese, they had some of us meet with them, one-to-one. And we had to speak Japanese to them. And one of the ironies is that one of the partners that I got to know and like was a Mr. Brower, Robert Brower. And he was a brilliant student. He was the valedictorian when that class graduated. But anyway, when they graduated, they became second lieutenants. When we graduated, we became tech fives or corporals; although some of us eventually, when I got to teach at the language school, I was made a staff sergeant. But in order for me to get my commission as a second lieutenant, I was sent to infantry school, one of these, what do you call them, "thirty-day wonders," "ninety-day wonders," yeah, it was ninety days of torture, physically. Well, it was quite a program, but I was young and I could take it. I guess I graduated one of the smallest, lightest second lieutenants in the infantry. I guess I only weighed 124 pounds, or whatever -- [laughs] -- when I graduated. Two months later, my uniform wouldn't fit me. But any rate, so we had to go, I had to go through all of that. And I said to myself, well, the war with Japan was still on then. And I think, oh, okay, why the infantry? Well, I guess when we invade Japan I've got to be there. I think I figured my assignment was going to be with the 6th Army, which was going to invade Kyushu. But at any rate, the war ended, so I got spared that. But in a sense, the discrimination was that the haole persons got to be second lieutenants, and we only got to be techs, corporals, or sergeants.

And the interesting story about Brower -- when I was in occupation duty in Osaka, 6th Army was quartered, General Kreuger was quartered in Kyoto, and I found out that his personal interpreter was Brower. Captain Brower, I think, at that time. Later on, I go to -- I'll continue this story with Brower. Later on, I go to graduate school at University of Minnesota and I wanna be a, get a PhD and be a regular scholar, so I thought I had to pass two languages. I'm going to pass the Classical languages, French and German. Although my dissertation had a lot to do -- at that time I thought about Hawaii or something like that, about cross-cultural and democracy or something. Lo and behold, I passed my French thanks to my wife who had high school French. But anyway, I took some night courses, and I passed my French largely because when I went to take my French exam, the French professor opens a book and says to me, "Read it." And a few minutes later, he says, "Translate." I started to translate, and I made some real boo-boos because French has some words that can be falsely mis-, will mislead you. But he looked at me and he said, "Young man, where did you learn your English?" [Laughs] At any rate, I passed my French exam and I was taking night classes in German. I thought I'd pass German, which I found very difficult. But then, my father-in-law became very ill with cancer. And we had to -- my wife and I decided we'd better get back to the Islands, so I saw my advisor and I said, "I'm sorry, but I may not be able to finish my language requirement this year, this semester because I have to go back." He says, "Well, what are you trying to -- " I said, "Well, I was trying to learn German." He says, "You know another language?" I said, "Well, I've taken Spanish, but I don't really know it that well. I've taken Latin, but of course I can't pass that. But I know some Japanese." He says, "Well, take Japanese. It's okay for your dissertation." So I went to the Japanese department, and lo and behold, who's my examiner? Brower [Laughs] And he gives me the roughest exam because he was of that type, of that school, no favoritism.

MM: And he remembered you?

RK: Oh, yeah, but it was a fair exam.

MM: Uh-huh.

RK: And we, after, we had a delightful time. That's another interesting spin.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.