Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Dennis Bambauer Interview I
Narrator: Dennis Bambauer
Interviewer: John Allen
Date: November 6, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-bdennis-01-0004

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JA: If that's one of your fondest memories, what's one of your worst ones?

DB: That's not too hard to... it doesn't take me a long time to think about that. The worst memories was that we were prisoners. Every night the searchlights would flash, circle around the camp and would come through the barracks so you would see the light out the windows, searching. The barbed wire fence, which held us in. The fact that we were prisoners, that's the worst memory. And the soldiers had to do their job, but there was a riot, and we heard that some people were shot, and I have read since then that that's true. But the soldiers were a little lenient, it seems, for us kids. They didn't try to be mean. We would walk by the towers, and they would chat with us. So that's a better memory about the situation, but that was because of the individuals more than the system.

When I got ready to leave camp, and I was called and told to, that I was leaving to go live with the Bambauers, and ultimately I was adopted by them, I was told that I had to stop by the officers, the military compound, before I could leave. And the purpose of them -- or my stop was so that I could be fingerprinted, and I'm six, seven years old, and I remember the soldier saying, "This is in case you do anything bad; we'll be able to catch you." That was a, that was a traumatic experience for me, and I'm sure that the soldier didn't mean anything of that, but it really knocked me for a loop. It was really... I was really sad. It didn't make me angry because at that age, you don't get angry. You get scared. So it just made me even more scared. I didn't know what I was -- I didn't know where I was going. I didn't know anything about the Bambauers except that they had come to the camp and they wanted to adopt a child and so they selected me. But other than seeing them, I didn't know anything about the family so it was a traumatic experience leaving my friends and a comfortable place, and then to have that, I just have never ever been able to overcome that.

JA: What were the circumstances then, because you were adopted and now in the custody of a Caucasian family, you were allowed to leave? What was the regulation that allowed you to go?

DB: I have no idea. Going back to that episode with the fingerprinting, at the same time they gave us a green card and that same person who fingerprinted me and telling me that he was going to catch me if I got bad, if I ever was bad, also told me that, that I had to wear that card because I was being allowed to leave the camp, and I had to have that card, he said, around my neck. I think the rules were that you had to have it in your possession, but for a six-year-old it'd be around your neck. [Laughs] And that I could never go without it, which when you add that to the fingerprinting, just compounds the fear even more.

So I don't know what the regulation was that allowed me to get out. When I got out, I got to have the privilege of the racial taunts because I was in third grade, and I was known as the "yellow Jap" by other students. And I understand how immigrants feel who have to go through this similar type thing.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.