Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: John Nakada Interview
Narrator: John Nakada
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: July 23, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-njohn-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site. This morning we're talking with John Nakada and our interview is taking place in the Marriott Residence Inn at the Portland airport in Portland, Oregon. Our interviewer is Richard Potashin, our videographer is Mark Hatchmann, and we'll talking with John today about his experiences at the Pomona Assembly Center, the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center and then finally the Gila River Relocation Center. And of course his memories of before during and after camp will also be included in this discussion. Our interview will be archived in the Park's library. And John, do I have permission to go ahead and conduct our interview?

JN: Yes.

RP: Thank you very much for coming today and sharing a very special compelling story that you have. I'd like to start at the very beginning and have you share your birthdate and where you were born.

JN: Okay, I was born in Los Angeles, California, January 14, 1931.

RP: And what was your given name at birth, John?

JN: Beg your pardon?

RP: Your given name at birth?

JN: John Hachiro Nakada, middle name is H-A-C-H-I-R-O. And the meaning of that is that's the eighth son, just information, that's all. [Laughs]

RP: And so where did the name John come from?

JN: My parents were basically... had a Japanese religion and then when they came here and after a few years they went to Christianity. So after the five or six people were born, after that we were all given Christian names, American names. So that's kind of how it came about. So after all the Japanese first names became all English first names. But then middle names, they always kept the Japanese in it, that's why my middle name is Hachiro.

RP: Now did you have a nickname while you were growing up?

JN: No, it was always John. And when I went to interview, when I went to Japan, you know, I told them my name was John Hachiro Nakada and they never mentioned John, they always said Hachiro. [Laughs] Crazy, huh?

RP: Let's talk about your... some of your family background starting with your father. What was his name?

JN: It's Ginzo Nakada.

RP: And where was he born and raised, John?

JN: He was born in Kin, Okinawa, Japan.

RP: And do you know roughly what year he was born?

JN: The year he was born? He was born March 14, 1884.

RP: And do you know much about his early life in Okinawa?

JN: Not very much, all I know is he was a farmer there. His parents were farmers and mainly they grew a lot of sweet potatoes because that was kind of the food that the Okinawans ate instead of Irish potatoes. But you grow sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes the same way roughly.

RP: Now was he the oldest son in his family?

JN: I don't remember. I don't know very much about his family and also I don't know... I've never met his parents and I really don't even know his uncles or aunts or anything. So I don't know anything about his family, that much.

RP: And Kin, Okinawa, Kin would be the village?

JN: It's a town in the southern part of Japan and it's a warm place. It's like Hawaii. They have papayas and bananas and it's real nice, it's warm. When I visited there it was nice.

RP: Now when did you visit there?

JN: I visited there four times now. So the last time I visited was two years ago.

RP: And are there still members of your father's family living?

JN: I have some cousins but that's about all. All the rest of them have died off.

RP: Were you able to discover more about your family history on your trips to Okinawa?

JN: Yeah, I did. Like about six or seven years, seven or eight years ago when I first went to Japan, my aunt was still living and so I talked to her and it was a lot of fun. She told me some good stories about my mother. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: And do you recall roughly when your father came to the United States?

JN: He came to the United States, let's see... oh, he entered United States September 14, 1916, in San Francisco. Actually, he first came to United States in 1907 and then he came back, he worked and then he went to Japan and he got married and then he came back, had five kids. And then he made enough money, he, during the Depression in the '20s, 1916, at that time, he farmed and he knew how to grow potatoes so he grew Irish potatoes. And so that was big demand in the United States because that was basically what the Americans ate. So that's where he made his money, does that make sense?

RP: So he came --

JN: Yeah, he came here, he first came in 1907.

RP: Do you know, did he settle in the Los Angeles area?

JN: Yeah, he settled in the Los Angeles area.

RP: And he was like most of the Isseis, you know, he came to rich and then go home.

JN: Yeah, just like all immigrants you know, usually that's what their intention was.

RP: What do you remember most about your father when you think about him in terms of personality or just physical features? What struck you the most?

JN: Well, he was very short, he was only like four foot ten and half inches tall and he only weighed hundred and nine, five pounds. So he was small in stature, he's a small person but he was very hard working, worked very hard and when he became a Christian he was very religious and he made us go to church every Sunday. And if you didn't go to church you had to work on the farm so we went to church. [Laughs] And he always... I know one thing that he mentioned to me is in Japan they have prejudices too and so he said that when you talk to some Japanese they're going to say that, "Where you from?" And he says, "Well, my parents are from Okinawa." And he says that a lot of people in the main part of Japan think Okinawa is kind of a sub or lower class people. And so they were kind of minorities so you might get some prejudices among the Japanese because you're from Okinawa.

RP: And did you during your life? Did that come up?

JN: Yeah, when I was dating a girl in Los Angeles and she said, "Well, I want you to meet my parents." And so I went to meet the parents and the parents asked me, "Where is your father from?" I says, "From Okinawa," and they wouldn't let me take her out again. So that prejudice came all the way across the ocean. Does that make any sense? [Laughs] So, you know, in America we have prejudice and in Japan they had prejudice too. So it's crazy and we all look Japanese.

RP: Do you... were you able to get an understanding of what exactly mainland Japanese... what was the rationale, I mean, there's really no rationale for prejudice but what were they basing their prejudice on towards the Okinawans? Was it the language they spoke or dialect or just that they were involved in lower class occupations or did you ever get an understanding of the basis of that prejudice?

JN: Well, I think... I read the history of Okinawa and way back when, Okinawa was an independent nation. And before Perry even came to Japan to trade, Okinawa was an independent nation and they traded with everybody. And they were a very peaceful country, independent country. And it was just a small island, see. And so when Japan went and conquered Okinawa they were peaceful so they didn't have any weapons so Japan just overtook 'em. And so Japan thought, oh, they were lower class people, they don't even have guns or swords or anything. So I think that's one of the reasons I think that they think the Okinawans are lower class and also they traded with everybody. Like in Australia and China and Philippines and so they think that our blood is all mixed up. So I don't know, that's just my own personal opinion on why there's prejudice and that's kind of the way it is. And one of the things that the Japanese told me is, you know, the Japanese says Okinawans look different. How do you say that? Don't we look Japanese? He says, "Oh yeah, you look Japanese but your face is darker, your skin is darker and also you have a double eyelid," like everybody has double eyelid. Most of the Japanese don't have a double eyelid, it's a single eyelid, it doesn't fold down. So that's why Okinawans, we can tell what you are. [Laughs] I don't know whether that situation we were black or white but they notice that.

RP: It's interesting you make that distinction in terms of prejudice in that respect to what you had to deal with as an American citizen here in your own country. So it's almost like two different levels, you know, other Japanese are looking at you sort of as an outcast. And then eventually the American government sees you the same way.

JN: The American government didn't consider Japanese and Okinawans different because my father says, "I'm not Japanese, I'm Okinawan." But they still put him in camp. [Laughs] See, my father, he still thinks he's Okinawan and not Japanese.

RP: Right, so he's living back in the time when you were...where Okinawa was still an independent country. And please don't lump me in with everybody else, you know. That was a good try to stay out of camp, you know. "You're taking Japanese not Okinawans."

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your mother. And can you pronounce her first name for us?

JN: What was that?

RP: Her first name?

JN: It's Kagi Ikehara. That's her maiden... so she became Kagi Nakada so it was Kagi Ikehara Nakada.

RP: Okay, and so your dad goes back to Okinawa and finds his bride. They get married there and then they come back here.

JN: Yeah.

RP: In 1916. Tell us about your mother. Share some reminiscences about your mother.

JN: Well, I think she was a very peaceful person and she was very hard-working. And she's very demanding and she didn't like the wifely things that women do like cleaning the house and all this, so she delegated a lot of the work to the kids in the family. And so my older brother said that... I'm way back down below so he says, "You're lucky you didn't have to change diapers and clean the house and cook." Because my mother wanted to be out on the farm with my father and work on the farm. So that's what I remember about my mother and then also when they went back to Japan in the 1920s, even in America the women didn't have any rights. But she said she wanted all her children to be born in America so that's why we came back to America. Now isn't that crazy? So that's one thing I remember about my mother is, you know, when she has her thoughts and she's saying this is what it is going to be, that's what it is. [Laughs]

RP: She kind of wore the pants in the family.

JN: Yeah, oh yeah, she demanded a lot of things and my father listened to her. [Laughs]

RP: That's unusual for that time.

JN: Oh yeah, in the '20s and '30s, women didn't have any rights at all and especially in America and in Japan it was worse yet. The women didn't get their rights way after, way, way after America did. So it's really a crazy culture. [Laughs]

RP: And where did your mother and father settle when they came over in 1916?

JN: They first settled in the Los Angeles area and it's an area called Fruitland and it's between Vernon and Maywood in California in the Los Angeles area. And that's where they did their farming.

RP: And you mentioned earlier that your father had this expertise in growing potatoes. Is that primarily what he grew at that time?

JN: In the beginning, yes, that was what he grew but then after a while he grew other things too.

RP: What else did he grow?

JN: Oh, he grew... afterwards, after that time he bought a place in Azusa, California, which is about twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles and so he grew a lot of things. He grew loganberries, boysenberries, he had... the farm was an orange grove so he grew oranges and then he grew cantaloupes, watermelons, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce. In southern California you grow four crops a year, you know, winter and summer. And in the spring we mainly grew strawberries 'cause you make more money on strawberries than potatoes, so that's basically what happened. But he grew everything, he grew everything.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: At this time why don't we talk a little bit about your siblings? You had a family of twelve kids so if we could go down in order of their age, oldest to youngest.

JN: Okay.

RP: And maybe just share a little story or reminisce that you have about each one of your siblings.

JN: Alright. Okay, my oldest brother was Yoshio Nakada, and that's, you know, they used Japanese names, okay, and he was born February 8, 1917 so right after they came back to America they had the first kid. [Laughs] And he couldn't have any children so he adopted a girl called Nadine. And so basically that's what happened and he was kind of the person in the family, being the oldest, took care of everything. So that's why he... and in fact when we went into camp my mother and father didn't speak that much English so he says, "Well, the oldest son will take care of you during camp." So they didn't draft him so he took care of us in camp so he was with us in camp all the way through. To me he was just kind of... he was like a father to me, he took care of us. And so that's my oldest brother. And my next brother... and also he went to college also and got a degree and everything. And the one thing about my father is after high school you either go to college or you work on the farm. And so nobody wanted to work on the farm so they all went to college. [Laughs] So all my brothers got degrees, so my father was very educational-oriented.

RP: That was a strong motivating force for going to college.

JN: Oh yeah, I mean, they hated the farm, yeah, had to work ten or fifteen hours a day and you hated weekends and you hated Christmas vacation and summer vacation because you were working all the time. So that was the motivation.

RP: Who comes after Yoshio?

JN: Yoshinao, and he was born February 8, 1917, so right after another year and he didn't have any children either and so he adopted (Niki) and so that's what happened there. Of course... oh, he adopted two actually, Niki and Cheryl and he married Suma and so Yoshinao was one that, he was kind of the, to me he was kind of the person in the family that my father and mother kind of favored. Because he was the first one to go to college and that was before, you know, 1942. And he went to college at Cal Tech which is a very prestigious school and it cost a lot of money.

RP: I was going to ask you where did the money come from for that?

JN: Yeah, see, and my father said we were poor. Anyway that's what happened to him and that's what I remember is he was the one that my father and mother kind of favored. Does that make any sense? Okay, the next one was Saburo, he was born December 17, 1919. See, all these are a year apart. And he never got married and he also got a degree, went to college and everything. I don't remember too much about him. I noticed that... I remember him working on the farm and after college he came back and worked on the farm and helped my father. So that's how I remember Saburo. And then the next... the fourth son is Minoru Nakada and he was born January 15, 1921, in Los Angeles and he married Rose and they had three children, Patricia Jean, Scott Matthew and Mari Rebecca. And to me he's... I remember him as being a very outgoing and very intelligent. He got a master's degree in engineering and a PhD in, I don't know, some high tech stuff. So he was to me the smart one in the family. I mean you got to be pretty smart to get a PhD, right?

RP: Where did he go to college, do you recall?

JN: He went to college at University of California at Berkeley and, see, he got good grades and so he was able to get into a college, a state college which is not as expensive.

RP: And he was born in 1921 so roughly he, would he have been going to UC Berkeley about the time the war broke out? Figuring he'd be twenty-one when he was... in 1942.

JN: Yeah, I think he went into the army and then came back and finished college and then he went back east and went to college and he went to all kind of schools. And, you know, he got a PhD, I forgot where, but he was very smart. He was the intelligent person in the family I think. And he and I got along real well, he's probably one of my, you know, person I look up to as a brother. And so he always, in fact he's the one that told me when I got out of the army, he says, "You ought to go to college." I says, "I'm too dumb, I can't go to college," and he's says, "You're not dumb, you just didn't study." [Laughs] So he's the one that encouraged me to go to college, and so if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have went to college. I was in the service so I had the GI bill so I was... I can go to college. So he's the one, in fact, when he died, his wife said he wanted me to speak at his funeral. And that's the first time that I was ever told to talk for the family. When you have all these older brothers you always have somebody else doing the talking, you know. So that's the first time that I was ever asked to speak on the family behalf. So that's how I remember Minoru. And Minoru, he has a middle name, Paul because a lot of the teachers couldn't pronounce Minoru so they give him the name Paul. [Laughs]

Okay, the next one is Henry Nakada and actually, his name is Isao but the teacher couldn't pronounce his name so they gave him Henry because it's Isao. He was born October 12, 1922, and he married Mitzi and he had three kids, Robert, Michael, and Chris. And I remember Isao as being kind of the wild one of the family. Right after school, high school, he ran away from home, he left home and he went to work on his own. He just left. "I'm not going to work on the farm anymore." But he had a cousin like in Fresno or something so he went over there and worked on the farm for his cousin but not for his father. So he's the one that kind of wild and he drank a lot and he smoked and he's kind of the wild person of the family. [Laughs] And of course he got a degree too and he went to college and did well. And I couldn't understand why he became a teacher as wild as he was. And he came to visit us before he died and he was still drinking. He came to visit me and he says, "I want you to go out and buy me some booze." [Laughs] He was already in his eighties then, he was old. But that's how I remember Henry and he was the fifth son (and he had a PhD in chemistry). And then, let's see --

RP: Is it George?

JN: George, and see, by this time Henry was Isao and then my parents became Christians and so now George was his first name and his middle name is Michio, so it's George Michio Nakada, the sixth son. And he was born December 18, 1924, and he married Sachiko and he had four children, Stewart, Nancy, Janet and Wayne. So that's kind of the way it was and George was kind of... he's kind of the, to me the... he was kind of wild but not as wild as Henry. But he was the athlete and so he played football and he played football in high school and in college. So it's an amazing for some small person that's Japanese playing football in college. So he was kind of the athletic type. And then the seventh son was James Nakada, see he just... I don't know if he got a Japanese name or not, but he was the eighth son, he was born October 18, 1926, and he married Virginia and they had a son, Mark. And Jimmy was kind of... he was kind of the sissy of the family, I think. He was really my mother's favorite because he did a lot of the work for her. So to me he was kind of the sissy of the family. [Laughs] I don't know if that makes any sense or not. But that was kind of my mother's favorite son. And then my (sister) came along, first (sister), she was married December 25, 1928 and she married Masato and they had two kids, Richard and John Okamoto and I guess my sister, I kind of looked up to her because she was older than I was and she kind of took care of me a lot. So it was pretty good and she's always been kind of --

RP: Oh, John, can you give us the name of the sister?

JN: Oh, Grace Hisako Nakada. See, she got the American name. She got a middle name which is Japanese. Okay, and then I came along, so my name if John Hachiro Nakada, the eighth son and like Hachiro, like I said before is the eighth son. And I was born January 14, 1931, and I married Sue Barry and I had four children, Chet, Laura, Mitch and Noriko... Lisa. And Mitch, we adopted him, we adopted him, and he was Korean and so I had four children, three biological and one adopted. And I didn't know that the Japanese were prejudice against the Koreans because I remember talking to somebody from Japan and she said, "You adopted a Korean?" You know, I guess a lot of Japanese think Koreans are a lower class person. [Laughs]

RP: And also the history of, you know, Korea was a colony for many years.

JN: Yeah, well, in America it doesn't make any difference, you know. And I just thought I'd mention that I married Sue Barry and of all the people in the family I was the only one that didn't marry a Japanese. So I'm really the oddball. [Laughs]

RP: And so did how did the rest of the family respond to your decision?

JN: Very well. They really accepted her and she was accepted completely. It was pretty good. In fact before I married her I took her up to meet my sister Grace and I wanted to see if it was okay to get married to her and Grace liked her and so she said, yeah, so I married her. [Laughs] I had to get approval you know. And I asked her, "You think the rest of the family will accept her?" and she said, "Oh yeah, no problem." So everything worked out real well.

RP: Now just go one generation further, talking about your kids and the other, your other brothers' and sisters' kids, have they married Japanese or have they married outside their --

JN: Some married Japanese, some married outside.

RP: So, yeah, it's seems to be a little more acceptable in this next generation.

JN: Yeah, it became very acceptable. In fact I have probably the most... well, a person said that I have the most diverse family that they've ever seen because Henry, or Chet Henry married a Japanese, okay. And Laura Yukiko married African American, black, and Mitch, he married a white and then Nori married a Filipino. So it's a pretty diverse family and this friend of mine said, "You have the most diverse family that I've ever known." [Laughs] You know, you have a Japanese, you have an African American, you have a white and you have a Filipino. [Laughs]

RP: You have your own melting pot.

JN: Yeah, well, I actually when I worked, I worked for the forest service for twenty years in Bend, Oregon, and I was on the civil rights committee there and so we tried to talk to people. And so I worked with, you know, whites, I worked with the African Americans, the Filipino, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, all the different nationalities. I got to know them real well. So I think that's why I told my kids, "You don't accept the person for what he looks like, you accept the person for what he is. What's inside his heart and what is in his mind," and so I think that went to my kids. That's what I feel anyway, I don't know if it did or not. Because I still remember I brought this Indian to dinner one night and he was wearing beads and my son was like ten years old and he says, "Hey, how come he's wearing beads? Men don't wear beads." I says, "That's part of his culture," so these are little things that happened and so I says, "That's what happens, different cultures have different things." But you know, you don't see men wearing beads, right? Even now, the adults don't wear beads but the Native Americans do. Anyway, that's a little bit about me.

RP: And then there's Hannah?

JN: The next one's Hannah. See, I couldn't write all this on the paper, right? Yeah, it's Hannah and her middle name... they gave her a middle name Miwako Nakada, the second daughter. So I was another oddball, I was born between two daughters, old one and the young one. [Laughs] She was born June 21, 1932, so she's a year younger than me. And she married Bill and they had two children, Ruth and Susan Yamamoto. And I guess Hannah to me is kind of the yes, yes person of the family. She kind of accepts everybody and she went along with the whole thing. So that's what I remember Hannah as being.

RP: Sort of go with the flow.

JN: Yeah, just go with the flow. And Stephen is the ninth son. He was born January 16, 1934, in Azusa. He married Jo and they had two children Ronald and Pamela. And then Stephen and I don't know, I guess I don't have any thoughts about Stephen, he's my younger brother and you know, the way it was. And then my... after Stephen is Aiko Nakada and she's the third daughter and she was born March 23, 1936, and she died October 6, 1936. So she was, you know, only about a year old when she died that's why I don't know too much about Aiko. And why they gave her the name Aiko, I don't know. They didn't give her an English name. So these are things that I don't know. So that's basically the family.

RP: Thank you so much, John.

JN: Does that make any sense?

RP: Sure does, yes. Did your parents ever share with you why such a large family? Was it essentially a labor force for the farm?

JN: No, they never said why they had all the kids.

RP: They just had 'em.

JN: They just had 'em.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: In 1924 your mother and father decided to move back to Okinawa. Do you know why?

JN: Well, I guess my father made enough money so wanted to retire in Japan and so that's why they moved back. And that's when they changed to Christianity.

RP: And do you know why they chose to become Christians? Were they originally Buddhist?

JN: They were Buddhists there and I guess when they were in America here they joined a church that's called a Japanese Holiness Church and it was Christian and so they became Christians then. And then when they went back to Japan and so all the way up to five children they all had Japanese first names. And another reason when they went back to Japan my mother tried to convert the Japanese to Christianity and they wouldn't accept it, see. And then all the kids, they were Japanese and they looked Japanese but they didn't speak the native languages like the Japanese did so the kids in Japan had prejudice against them and they had fights and everything. And says, "Oh, you're not Japanese, you're American, you can't speak Japanese the way you're supposed to," and all this and they got into fights and this kind of stuff. And I still remember my oldest brother, he was like (six or seven) years old then and he said, oh, I hated Okinawa because I had to get in fights and they didn't like me and all this kind of business.

RP: So that worked into the decision to come back to America?

JN: No, two reasons I think they told me that my mother got pregnant and she wanted all the children to be born in America and second, the kids couldn't get along with the kids there in school. And third, she wanted all the kids to be born in America and so my father went along with it and it's kind of the way it was.

RP: 1924 is a very important year in Japanese American history because 1924 is when that immigration act was passed that kind of shut the door to any additional immigration of Japanese into America. So it sounds like they got in just before that door closed.

JN: Yeah, I think so.

RP: Because you know, whenever you see that date, that's it, you know, a lot of people came back to America from Japan.

JN: I don't know any part of that history but I know this is what happened to them. They came back and had the rest of the family, total of twelve. [Laughs]

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Tell us what you remember... what was it like growing up on a farm?

JN: Well, even at ten, eleven years old you still had to work on the farm. You had to pull weeds, you had to irrigate and so working on the farm, I really hated the farm because I hated weekends, Saturdays or Sundays, you had to work or else you go to church. And you know, all your vacations you had to work and all the holidays you had to work and every summer we had to work. So that's my recollection of working on the farm.

RP: What did you do on the farm as far as chores go?

JN: Huh?

RP: What type of chores did you have on the farm?

JN: What kind of what?

RP: Chores.

JN: Stores?

RP: Chores, what did you do on the farm?

JN: Oh, well, we farm work you know, you irrigated, you pull weeds, you harvested all the fruits and vegetables and basically that's the farm work and you go tractor and you'd in the early days you had to drive the horse and that's the work we did on the farm. Hard work and it's not eight hours a day, it's like sun... early in the morning 'til dark at night. [Laughs] Hated the summers because the work was even longer.

RP: Did your father own, originally I imagine he leased land and then later on did he --

JN: When he moved to Azusa in 1931, that's when I was born, he bought ten acres, a ten acre orange grove in Azusa. And he started raising his fruits and vegetables between the orange trees and then after a while he cut all the orange trees down and had a regular farm. And so that's basically what happened then. And to me he bought a ten acre farm that had a house and the house had only two bedrooms and it wasn't big enough for the family, so he added on four bedrooms to that house. Now he had to have money to do that and he told me he was poor. [Laughs] Can you imagine that? When I go through this and hear all the history from my brother and sisters on what happened and he never bought things on payment, he bought things on cash. Can you imagine buying a ten acre farm with a house for cash? So he had to have a lot of money on the farm in Fruitland to come to Azusa and bought this... so my dad was rich, he had plenty of money. [Laughs] Even after having twelve kids he had plenty of money and he grew potatoes, that was the main thing that made him rich. And then after a while strawberries but his farming, he made a lot of money farming, he had to. [Laughs]

RP: You mentioned some of the activities that you recall were New Year's celebrations.

JN: What's that?

RP: New Year's celebrations, celebrating New Year's?

JN: Yeah.

RP: And then also the other memory that you had was the Okinawa picnics.

JN: Oh, every summer I remember we used to go to a picnic in Los Angeles where they had, they had an Okinawan club. So every summer they would have a picnic there and then they would have a separate picnic where the... well, let's see, they had a separate picnic for the small community of Kin where my father grew up. And so they had a separate picnic for that so every summer we went to two picnics. [Laughs]

RP: What do you remember most about attending those picnics?

JN: Well, what I remember is I knew some of the people because I had relatives and everything but especially the Kin one. I still remember that they were kind of a small village so they were just kind of really proud of that area and so it was kind of unusual to be that kind of group of people like going back to a home town, and so that's kind of the way it was and it was just kind of amazing. And I had a lot of relatives that I knew there at that Kin picnic, you know, so it was interesting, that's what I remember. And then the Okinawan picnic, that was huge 'cause they're a large, large people from Okinawa in the Los Angeles area and it was twice, three, four or five times bigger than the Kin picnic. So it was a large community there, that's what I kind of remember about the picnic.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Where did you... what schools do you recall attending when you were growing up?

JN: Well, I went... grammar school I went to Center School which is in Azusa and it's kind of a suburb school, it's a small school, very small school. It had three teachers, one teacher taught the first, second, and third grade, one teacher taught the fourth, fifth and sixth grade and the principal taught the seventh and eighth grade. So that's how big that school was and we had, you know, real small classes even then. Even like when I went to first grade, there was second and third... first, second and third graders in the same classroom and the teacher taught all three. [Laughs] So that was just an amazing school and I liked to always remember everybody in the family graduated from that Center School except me. I graduated in camp. So that's another reason why I call myself the oddball of the family. [Laughs]

RP: Do you remember the racial makeup of the school?

JN: It was basically Caucasian, they had a few... we're probably the only other Japanese family, maybe one or two other Japanese families and they had a few Hispanics but mainly it was all white. So it was basically a white community.

RP: Azusa.

JN: Yeah.

RP: Were there other Japanese American farmers?

JN: Yeah, but they were not in the Azusa area, they were out in West Covina and other cities around that area.

RP: So you grew up predominantly with Caucasians then?

JN: Yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Do you recall your first experience with prejudice or discrimination?

JN: I guess my first experience of prejudice was, well, in 1941 December 7, 1941. That's when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. And on Friday everybody in school was my friend and Pearl Harbor was on a Sunday. When I went back to school on Monday, two of my friends were the only ones that would talk to me, the only ones that would go to recess with me, the only ones that would eat lunch with me. Now when you're in grammar school and that happened to you, that prejudice is very, very... that was my first... I didn't know prejudice was, when you're in grammar school. And so all those parents must have told their kids that I was the enemy because of Pearl Harbor. Now to me that's... I still remember that so vividly. I still remember my two friends, John Corbin and Pete Masters, and that's what you call a true friend, and I still know them now. Isn't that amazing? [Laughs] So that's my first experience of prejudice. My second real bad experience of prejudice was when we came back after the camp, came back to Azusa, because we had a home to come back to, and when we came back there was only one market that would even sell us food. All the rest of the markets had "no Japs allowed." And the reason that Safeway, the manager knew us and they, sold us some of our produce. So the manager says, "Yeah, we'll sell you food," you know. So we could've starved there if it wasn't for that one market and that person that... thing. So to me that prejudice and all the stores that, "No Japs Allowed," couldn't go to a movie --

RP: This is after the war.

JN: Right after the war, the war was done they still had all these signs, "No Japs Allowed," so that's the two things that I really remember prejudice.

RP: So how did that make you feel?

JN: Pretty rotten because, see, when I got out, I graduated grammar school in camp and I was a freshman in high school and I was getting into fights every day because they would call me a dirty Jap, a sneaky Jap, and yellow Jap, you know, and when I heard "Jap" to me that's derogatory so I was in fights. And in camp I learned judo so one on one I did real good. [Laughs] But when ten people jump on you, there's nothing you could do.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: This is tape two of a continuing interview with John Nakada and John, we were just talking about some of the experiences you had with prejudice and discrimination before or just after the war and before the war broke out. What do you remember about your life after Pearl Harbor and before you went to camp? Were there any changes that you were aware of restrictions towards Japanese in the Azusa community?

JN: Well, in the beginning it took a long time after Pearl Harbor, and when they decided that we're... we couldn't be trusted, we were put on curfew and so we had to be in our house before dark. And you had to be there until in the morning so didn't like the idea of being in curfew, you couldn't do anything. So I think that was kind of bad and then of course the President signed 9066 and they put us in the camp and went to Pomona. But even at that time they took, in grammar school the teachers said, you know, "Treat him like you did before," so the teachers were okay but some of the students still had prejudice against the Japanese, against me, you know. So it took a while before that kind of wore off. And the thing that really shocked me is I grew up in basically a white community and all my friends were white, see. And then when we went to camp I'd never seen so many Japanese in all my life. Even the picnics were Japanese but then this was huge, thousands, you know, hundreds and thousands of Japanese. And the white culture and the Japanese culture is very different. So now I had to get used to a Japanese culture, so to me that was kind of a shock. Does that make any sense? [Laughs]

RP: Yes. And do you recall what your feelings were when you learned of the news that you would be removed from your home? Any emotions that you recall seeing with your parents or some of your other brothers and sisters when it dawned on you that you would have to leave?

JN: Yeah my... well, I was eleven years old so I just did what everybody told me. But my brothers, they said, "This isn't right, this is wrong, according to the law this shouldn't be done." And my parents were... they came from a Japanese culture and you just do what the government says because in Japan they brought this mentality back from Japan to America that, you obey the Emperor, you obey the police, you obey everybody in authority and you do what they say. And so that's the thing that they said and so my dad always said that you just kind of do what you have to do. And they have a word for that, you probably heard it maybe, shigata ga nai. Anyway, that can't be helped, you just kind of do it. And I grew up with that word, my parents used that to me all the time. So when I read that in books and things, you know, I knew what it meant. It can't be helped. And I know this one woman, she wrote some books on the camp and I forgot what her name was but she said that shigata ga nai, to define that, it's like a woman getting raped, she had no control, see, couldn't be happening so they said shigata ga nai. So that's a pretty good definition I think. Can't be helped, you have no control over it, just happens. Anyway, that's kind of the situation there.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: How did your family prepare for, quote, the "evacuation"? What did you do with the farm, the house, if you can recall any details with preparation?

JN: See, I was eleven years old so I really didn't know too much but when I talk to my brothers they kind of told me a little bit about what happened. And so we had about less than two weeks to take care of everything and go to Pomona Assembly Center and the farm was in my brother's name so the government couldn't take it away from them.

RP: Oldest brother?

JN: Oldest brother's name. He was an American citizen so they didn't take it away from us. But if it was in my father's name, which some of them had... they were not allowed to even buy property, see, but some of them did anyway and they lost everything. But we didn't lose anything, we still had a farm, we still had a home. So that's basically what happened. And for myself my mother said, "You can only take what you can carry," so... a suitcase... so you just take clothes, that's all you can take, no toys, you know, no bikes, no nothing. And you couldn't take any pets, no dogs or cats or anything. So that kind of made me sad because, you know, you kind of get attached to a dog and a cat, you know, a pet in the house, it's amazing. We had a cat called... we call her Mama Kitty because every year she would have a litter of kittens. [Laughs] So she was Mama Kitty, that's her name, Mama Kitty. Isn't that crazy? And so what I did was I liked marbles so I hid a bunch of marbles in the pockets of my pants so that was the only toy I took to camp, if you call that a toy, I don't know if it's a toy or not. That's just my own personal experience of what I did and the adults, you know, they had other things. And two of my brothers were drafted before Pearl Harbor, they were in the army. And so it was crazy that I learned later that when December 7th happened all Japanese were considered "enemy aliens," and the army classified them as 4-C not 1-A, "enemy aliens," so my two brothers that were in the army, already in the army, they said, "You can't train anymore. You had to just do menial duty, you had to pick up papers, you have to clean the toilets, you have to..." when my brothers told me that, it was crazy, I thought. So these are some of the things, stories that I heard from my brothers.

RP: So they were drafted before?

JN: They were drafted, yes, before the war.

RP: Do where they were when the war broke out? What camp they were in?

JN: They were in... see, what's that camp up north, northern California?

RP: Fort Ord?

JN: Fort Ord, right, Fort Ord.

RP: And that would have been... which brothers were they?

JN: That was Yoshinao and Saburo, the second and third. Yoshio they didn't draft him because he had to take care of the family.

RP: Were they any other siblings that had already moved out or married by that time?

JN: No, they moved out but they were not in the area, they were going to college or school or something and so there were only about eight of us that went into camp, the younger ones.

RP: That's a great story about that sneaking the marbles in. Who did you leave your cat with, you also had a dog too?

JN: Neighbors took care of them.

RP: And who took over the farm while you were gone, do you recall?

JN: Well, we had a banker that said he would manage it and so that's what happened there and so he took care of the taxes and, you know, whatever had to be done on the farm.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: And you were first sent to the Pomona Assembly Center?

JN: Yeah.

RP: And do you remember, did you take bus to the assembly center?

JN: Yeah, took a bus.

RP: And do you remember anything about the day that you assembled to go to get the bus and go to the assembly center?

JN: Yeah, I just remember that we had to gather at a certain location at a certain time and we got on the bus and then we went to Pomona Assembly Center and I still remember a couple of my friends said goodbye to me. So that was pretty good, you know, John Corbin and Pete Masters, amazing people, and when I say a true friend, that's what you call a true friend. To me... I'll say a positive thing, went into Pomona Assembly and I said, "Oh, I don't have to work on the farm anymore." [Laughs]

RP: So many kids your age, many Nisei kids your age saw this experience as kind of an adventure, would that characterize your feeling when you went into the assembly center?

JN: Yeah, to me it was kind of an adventure, it was something that was different that, you know, I never experienced and I think my father and mother, I think they experienced that they never had so much free time in all their lives 'cause on the farm you're working all the time. And so they had leisure time and they were able to do things that they never did before. So maybe some of these are the positive things about going into camp.

RP: What was it like being in Pomona Assembly Center?

JN: Well, I know we lived in a barrack and like there was eight of us in one room and I know that my mother, we hung a blanket between my mother and my two sisters lived on the one side of the blanket and the rest of the male because they got embarrassed, you know, when they had to dress and whatever. So that's one thing I remember in the camp, what happened. I still remember I've never seen so many Japanese in all my life. [Laughs]

RP: So what did you do in the few months that you were at the Pomona Assembly Center? Did you meet up with friends or did you make new friends?

JN: We had a few friends, not too many, and we still had to go to school. And the thing that I didn't like about it is, you know, living in one room and then you had to go to a bathroom, a central bathroom and a central mess hall to eat and all this. And I still remember in Pomona, the food was terrible because they just gave us C rations, you know, the army food until they can get... make arrangements to do things better. But until then it was terrible, I hated the food in Pomona, it was terrible.

RP: Did you get a chance to use your marbles at Pomona?

JN: Yeah, a little bit. Other kids did the same thing I did, I think, because I have friends that had marbles too. [Laughs]

RP: How did you get those marbles in there, you know.

JN: So that was probably the only entertainment we had 'cause we still had to go to school and everything.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: Then a short time afterwards you were on a train heading for another camp?

JN: Yeah, and that's where we went from Pomona Assembly Center to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. So from southern California to Wyoming it must have taken us over a week to get there. And normally it would only take, you know, two, three days but the war was on and so we were the least high priority on the train track so we were always on the side of the train track to let the, you know, the main people go... use the main railroad, you know, the soldiers, the construction material, the people that are building tanks and planes and guns and everything else, they were the top priorities. We were the last priorities on the list so we were always on the train track on the side there waiting to get on the main line. So that's why it took us so long. And see, we just sat and ate in a chair, just a chair, in the coach, and that's how we traveled. And even as an eleven year old, I remember having to eat and sleep in a chair for a week. That was terrible I thought, that's the part I really hated is that train ride, oh, I still remember that. And then the soldiers came through all the time to make sure we were all okay. And every time we came to a city we had to pull the shades down because the soldiers said, "We're protecting you because the people outside might shoot you or something." So we had to pull our shades downs every time we came to any kind of city, and I still remember that. The only time we could put the shades up was when we were out in the country.

RP: And were there soldiers in each car, in your car?

JN: Yeah, counting and everything, yeah, in fact in Pomona Assembly Center they came through to make sure that we were all there in every room.

RP: Like a roll call?

JN: Yeah, roll call, just like in a prison.

RP: And that was done by the soldiers?

JN: Yeah, and they called numbers out because they couldn't pronounce all the names.

RP: Oh, family numbers?

JN: Yeah.

RP: Do you remember yours?

JN: Yeah, I have a whole list of them there. Well, our family number was 10561, 10561.

RP: And each one of --

JN: Each one had a letter and my letter was G, 10561G. I don't know why. And on this list there that they have, you know, I guess my oldest brother was A, my father was B and my mother was C, another brother was D, another brother was E, sister was F, I was G, sister was... younger sister was H and the youngest daughter was... or son was I. And I also had another brother had a different number he was... he went in as a bachelor so his number was 10577.

RP: That was Paul.

JN: Paul, yeah, Paul Minoru Nakada.

RP: So let's shift over to Heart Mountain, when you get to Heart Mountain, what were your initial impressions of the landscape and then the camp which was to be your home for at least a year?

JN: Well, the living quarters were a little bit better than Pomona because it was permanent, you know. But it was located in the desert and the sagebrush and it was in an isolated area and I noticed there was a fence, barbed wire and soldiers guarding with searchlights at night going along the fence line. That was at Pomona too they had the same thing but in Heart Mountain it was a lot bigger camp, a lot more people, so that's what I kind of remember when I first went there. And I remember that winter was so cold it was terrible.

RP: You mentioned that your mother had been confined to a wheelchair?

JN: Yes.

RP: And why was she in a wheelchair?

JN: I think I have that information here. She had multiple sclerosis so from the waist down she was paralyzed.

RP: And how long had she had that condition?

JN: Oh, gee, probably, well, it was before we went into camp. It must have been five years before we went into camp she had that situation.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: You were just beginning to share with us how cold that first winter was. Can you give us some details? What do you remember most about that winter?

JN: Well I remember that our barracks were located about two blocks from where we took a shower and went to the bathroom. And I still remember I had a crew cut, short hair and I took a shower and by the time I got back to the barracks I flicked my hair and it was icicles, that's how cold it was. And I couldn't imagine that could happen but when it's cold, I guess it could happen. But that's a memory that I still remember very vividly, very very vividly.

RP: Did you experience snow while you were there?

JN: Oh, yeah, they had snow and the wind was terrible. It's south of Yellowstone National Park so it's out in the middle of the desert and the wind just blows and it's cold and it gets dusty 'cause they had to clear it off to put the barracks in the camp. So it was dusty and muddy and it was terrible. And I just didn't like it at all there and you couldn't go anyplace, you're confined in the camp itself and so it was terrible and we still had to go to school.

RP: And what was school like at Heart Mountain?

JN: The school was, the school I went to in grammar school was small, few grades. Here it was just one grade and there were forty, fifty people like in one grade. And they had a teacher that, you know, that taught us and that was just a different experience and then I found that I had a hard time in school because the competition was real terrible. I guess lot of the people are pretty smart, I felt I wasn't that smart so I had to really study to even get by. So that's what I experienced in the school, it was terrible.

RP: Was there any particular teachers that stood out in your mind, either positively or negatively?

JN: Well, the positive thing is they had a few teachers that were Japanese that were they were teachers before camp. And that's the first time I remember both in Heart Mountain and in Gila, is most of the teachers there were from the peace organizations that were against the war and so they were Quakers, lot of Quaker teachers. And then people from the Amish country in Pennsylvania, I don't know if you heard of them, but they were peace oriented too and those two organizations didn't think that was right for us to be put in camp because they were against war. And so as an eleven, twelve year old I never heard of peace organizations but that's the first experience I had with peace organizations so that was a learning experience for me, that was amazing.

RP: Did that influence you later on in life?

JN: Well, I just had a lot of respect for them. You know, what could you do? And the one thing I remember about school is we were in a concentration camp but every morning we had to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag even being in a concentration camp. You know, the words to the pledge allegiance to the flag? it's crazy. [Laughs] So I still remember that very vividly.

RP: You felt that as a twelve, thirteen year old.

JN: Yeah.

RP: The irony of --

JN: Honoring the flag and honoring America and being in a concentration camp.

RP: And wouldn't that have been one of the values that your parents had instilled in you?

JN: Well, I just, you know, I used the word shigata ga nai, can't be helped, it's there and things like that. And the thing I really didn't like is there's no freedom, you couldn't go any place, that was pretty bad.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: So what did you for recreation in Heart Mountain?

JN: Well, I played marbles.

RP: Where did you play marbles? On the dirt or did you find a nice cement area?

JN: On the dirt, no, it was all on dirt, everything was dirt there wasn't any cement anywhere.

RP: What kind of marble games did you play as a kid?

JN: Oh, we played keeps and we played hide away and stuff like that. And there's all the other people that brought marbles there. And actually they had other things too because we were able to buy things, through Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and what was... but most of the people didn't have enough money to buy things so we couldn't buy too much.

RP: What did you remember buying?

JN: I don't remember buying anything really. My parents bought things and my older brothers bought things but I didn't buy anything. And we couldn't have radios, you weren't allowed to have radios or cameras so you know. And everything that came in that had to be searched so to me it was a prison.

RP: You had an opportunity to learn judo in the camp. Tell us a little bit about that.

JN: Oh it was... I never heard of it before because I grew up in a Caucasian community and so that was a Japanese culture that I never knew anything about. And so it was a good experience and I found that it was amazing how a person can do things with their body and protect themselves.

RP: And as you mentioned early that was important later on in life when you came out of camp.

JN: Oh, yeah, when I went back to high school.

RP: So did you just of your own interest become a judoist in camp?

JN: In camp I continued being judo and there and in fact they have colored belts, the best belt you can have is a black belt. So I had a green belt for young kids, you're one of the better ones of the young kids so I had a green belt, worked my way up to a green belt. And when you first start it's a white belt.

RP: Where was judo held in Heart Mountain?

JN: They had a recreation hall where they had it.

RP: I hope you had some mats down on the floor there.

JN: Yeah, they had mats, they took care of us pretty good.

RP: Then you talked about your mother being confined to the wheelchair and that created a situation during the wintertime that forced you to transfer to another camp. Can you share those details with us?

JN: Well, in Heart Mountain my mother was basically confined to the room 'cause, it was pretty terrible. And when we moved to Gila River, Arizona, we talked to them and we were able to build a ramp from the door to the ground so she was able at least get outside. And in Heart Mountain it was too cold to go outside anyway. So that part was okay and so it was a lot better in Gila River, Arizona, for my mother. And while I was in Heart Mountain my father had to do, you know, take all... do all the bathroom work for her, you know. She had to do all her potty work right there in the room and father took her to the toilet and did all that. So my father did a lot of work in the camp taking care of my mother.

RP: That was a pretty much a full time job right there.

JN: Oh, yeah.

RP: Did he also have another job in camp?

JN: My father didn't work at all. My older brother did, he worked in the hospital.

RP: Yoshio?

JN: Yeah.

RP: Hospital orderly?

JN: Yeah, he was an orderly in the hospital.

RP: And so he would be --

JN: But the rest... nobody else worked, he was the only one that worked.

RP: How did you keep warm on those cold winter days in Heart Mountain?

JN: You didn't, you didn't keep warm, it's just terrible, couldn't hardly sleep. I've never seen so many beds close to a fire. [Laughs] It was pretty bad.

RP: What type of heating did you have in your room?

JN: It was a coal stove and that was one of my chores, that was one of the chores they gave me. I had to go get all the coal and bring it in there and keep the fire going all the time.

RP: Did they have a coal pile in your block?

JN: Yeah, I had to make sure that... I had to make sure that it never went out because my mother was there, see. So I had to keep that thing going day and night, used to keep that thing going and going and going.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: So, John, do you recall who requested the transfer to Gila? Was it your dad or your older brother?

JN: My oldest brother did, Yoshio, he the one that really took care of us, he did a good job. He was like a father to me. And he did a real good job with that.

RP: During the time you were at Heart Mountain did you... were you able to make any new friends?

JN: Yeah, I knew some friends because they were from the area I was from and so then I made a few friends like we went to school so you made friends, you know. It was pretty good so I had more Japanese friends there than I ever knew possible. Because a lot of 'em had farms in the same area we had so we knew each other.

RP: Can you ... first of all what block were you in in Heart Mountain?

JN: Block 2, barracks 2, C and D.

RP: So you had two rooms?

JN: Yeah, we had eight people there.

RP: So who stayed in C and who stayed in D?

JN: I don't remember. I just know that my sister and mother stayed in one room and then other room, the men slept and then part of where my mother and sister lived, some other people lived too. So it was kind of a crazy arrangement.

RP: Do you recall anything about the block that you lived in, Block 2? Was there any recreational equipment there, did you have a small little baseball field or gym equipment?

JN: They had a recreation room where they had meetings and things like that and they had no baseball field, they had a baseball field for maybe two, three, you know, blocks but they didn't have a baseball field specifically for our block. So the recreation was not that good.

RP: Basketball, baseball?

JN: They had special areas for all the people.

RP: Do you remember any gardens or landscaping around your building or in your block?

JN: In Heart Mountain it was bad, there was nothing. In Gila River, Arizona, it was a lot better. They could grow things there, it was hot, it was really nice. And so people there they had gardens and everything so it was a lot better. But I remember when I went to Gila River, Arizona, it was really hard for me because when I went there I didn't know anybody. And all the people there are for a year so they knew each other. But we were complete strangers and those people that were in the area were basically from different part of California than we were. They were from Guadalupe and areas like that and so didn't know anything about that so had to make new friends, new things all over again. It was just terrible, it took me a long time.

RP: Do you remember any details about your... I imagine you took the train again from Heart Mountain to Gila?

JN: No, we took a car. We took a car all the way down so it wasn't too bad.

RP: Whose car was that?

JN: Somebody loaned us a car and I guess they trusted us because we had seven brothers in the army so my brother, Yoshio drove the car all the way down. We must have looked crazy because we suitcases and everything packed on the top of the car and the trunk.

RP: So your whole family fit in the one car?

JN: Yeah, well, by that time there were only about five of us, six of us, so we were all in one car.

RP: So were some brothers --

JN: The other brothers were in the army by that time.

RP: And they volunteered out of camp to go into the army?

JN: Yeah, they got volunteered or drafted, both. I think most of them volunteered. But see, the government changed their minds you know, first we were enemy aliens and then when we got in the camp they needed soldiers, they needed interpreters. So they say well, we're going to change this now, so we're going to put you in the army. So they drafted us, so one day they were prisoner of war the next day they were a soldier for the U.S. Army. To me that didn't make any sense. And so, in fact, especially in Heart Mountain they had a group that said, "Unless you release my family I'm not going to go into the army," so they put 'em into prison, they were draft resisters.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Did your parents encourage their sons to join the military?

JN: My father told all my brothers that, "You should join the army, join the army. Because you're an American and even though we're in camp, you're still an American so go into (army)." So I don't know. That's better than a lot of parents that are outside of the camp.

RP: And some parents received sort of negative reactions about that in some of the camps, you know, that they had encouraged their sons to go to the army and there were other people in the block that didn't quite agree with that attitude.

JN: Yeah, they had a questionnaire before they did that, you probably heard about that.

RP: The "loyalty questions."

JN: Yeah, "loyalty question" and the two questions they had was would you fight for any enemy, will you fight for America or and the other one was would you be loyal to the emperor of Japan. And those are the two questions that were in question. And if you said no to both of them, they had a group they called the "no-no boys" and so they were actually the ones that went to you know, went to prison out of the camp. Or they were put into a different camp.

RP: Tule Lake.

JN: So that's kind of the way it was there.

RP: Do you remember that "loyalty questionnaire"? I know you were too young to have to answer the questions but --

JN: You had to be... I wasn't... I think you had to be seventeen and even the women had to answer that question.

RP: Do you remember when the questionnaire went around and if there was a discussion within your family or some of the other?

JN: Yeah, there were a lot of discussions and questions and everything. And a lot of the people that did that, they didn't like the idea that there was kind of a prejudice right in the camp there, some of the people that said, you know, didn't answer the question, the other one yeah, yeah, okay. So there was friction right in the camp there.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your experiences at Gila. How was life like at Gila, you mentioned that you had some issues with different groups that you didn't have any familiarity with. How was Gila compared to Heart Mountain, of course it was hotter, warmer?

JN: It was... after I got to know people and things I thought it was a lot better, it was a lot better. And people had gardens and there were trees and bushes and so that part of it was pretty good. And in Gila they set up a farm outside of the camp because a lot of the Japanese are farmers anyway so they raised crops outside of the camp, just a few miles outside of the camp. And so they raised fruits and vegetables there.

RP: One of the crops they raised was watermelons.

JN: Yeah, well, I thought I'd tell you about my watermelon story. As an eleven, twelve year old well, they had organized sports and stuff for the older people but for eleven, twelve year olds they didn't have anything. And a lot of the people that were older, they got either drafted, went into the army or they can get jobs outside of the camp that were on the interior. And they went to college, where colleges accepted them in the Midwest and East Coast. But when you are an eleven, twelve year old you couldn't do any of that. So about five of us decided that we heard there was a watermelon patch about a mile outside of the camp. So we're going to go to this watermelon patch and so two o'clock in the morning we went out, we dug a hole under the fence because the fence is electrically monitored so if you touch the fence the alarm goes off, see. And they had a barbed wire on the top anyway. And so what we did was the searchlight would go down and when it went up we would dig, up, went up, you dig 'til a hole was big enough under the fence. And then when it was big enough we would crawl under and when it was down, no, when it would crawl up, dig, go, crawl. [Laughs] So we did all this with the searchlight, monitoring the searchlight, you know. And then we finally went to the watermelon patch and in those days the watermelons, they didn't have seedless watermelons like they have now. They had black seeds around the outer edges and the heart was no seeds at all. So we broke the watermelon open and just ate the heart of the watermelon. [Laughs] And I think to this day it's probably the best watermelon I ever had, two o'clock in the morning it's cold too so it was tasty. And then we came back and we did the same thing, you had to watch the searchlight and then we didn't want anybody to know that we did this so we had to cover the hole up. So we watched the searchlight, cover the hole up and then the five of us said, we're not going to tell anybody, this is a secret for just the five of us. When you are eleven and twelve you had these secrets, you know. So that was the secret we were going to have. So I went back and went back to my barracks and went back in there and I snuck in and I went back to sleep and my brothers and sisters, mother and father, they didn't even know I left. And then I told them later on. [Laughs] It's crazy. We could've got shot, the soldiers, their orders were anybody that left the thing you would shoot 'em. So we could've got shot, maybe that's why the watermelon was so good. We got away with something. That's my watermelon story.

RP: That's great.

JN: And whenever I go to grammar schools, high schools, and colleges that's the one story they always remember is my watermelon story. [Laughs] 'Cause I wouldn't be alive here.

RP: What you do for a good watermelon. And you just did that once, that was the only time you ever snuck out of camp?

JN: Just one time, just one time.

RP: How did you take to the desert? Did it grow on you a little bit?

JN: No, sagebrush and --

RP: You know, the desert has its own interesting creatures out there. Did you run into rattlesnakes or scorpions or any of those type of things?

JN: Oh, yeah, they had all that. They had gila monsters too.

RP: Well, it's Gila River.

JN: Yeah, and they could hurt you. [Laughs] Yeah, it was not too good, so trying to escape and go out of camp was not too safe.

RP: What else do you remember about Gila?

JN: Well, grammar school I always remember the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, in Gila we did the same thing and the same thing, all the teachers too. And Gila was a lot better I think than Heart Mountain in respect to the weather was a lot better and I think by that time they trusted the Japanese more and so the people were able to get passes to go into town and back. But if you are eleven years old you couldn't do that see.

RP: How did your mother do there?

JN: Huh?

RP: How did your mother do in that --

JN: No, my mother didn't really go anyplace.

RP: No, I mean how did she do in the new --

JN: New surroundings? It was pretty good. We made an arrangement and made a ramp and so she could go in and out, she could even go to the mess hall, she could go to the bathroom, everything like that. But my father still had to, you know, push her get there so in that respect it was a lot better.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: So you were... you spent about a year in Heart Mountain and then went to Gila and when did you leave Gila?

JN: Let's see... we left Gila January 26, 1945.

RP: And where did you go?

JN: We went to our farm, Azusa, California. And that's where... well, I told you about the prejudice there. But also, you know, we said the banker was supposed to take care of the house and everything, manage it. But they didn't do a very good job because the house... the windows were all broken, the furniture was all stolen so we had to replace it all. And so that part was pretty hard on my parents I think and so that part was not too good. And so that's where I kind of remember going back to the thing. And our neighbors were still good, they really treated us good. And our cats and dogs were still alive. [Laughs] Amazing.

RP: Mama Cat, right? Was it Mama Cat?

JN: Mama Cat, Mama Kitty. We call her Kitty even though she was a mama. [Laughs]

RP: How did you travel from Gila back to Azusa?

JN: We had a car. We bought a car and my brother drove us back so five of us went back.

RP: And what was the feeling of the family emotionally about leaving Gila and coming back to Azusa?

JN: I think we were kind of scared because we didn't know what it was going to be like outside and we were worried about what was going to happen to us. I mean we didn't have soldiers to protect us or anything and so in that respect we had to be careful. And then when we went back there was prejudice, so it was there.

RP: And the war was still on too.

JN: Yeah, the war still on but we had land and we had people in the service so they trusted us, so they said, "Yeah, you can leave, you can go."

RP: You came back just shortly after the exclusion order had been lifted, you know, allowing Japanese Americans back to the West Coast. I think that was January 2, 1945. And so three weeks later, you were coming back, might have been one of the first families that --

JN: Yeah, we were one of the first families back in California. That's why the prejudice is really there.

RP: And fortunately you still had your house and you had your --

JN: Yeah, we had a place to go. Most of the people didn't have a place to go see. And see during, right after the war, you know, Japanese couldn't find a place to live because the soldiers were coming back and they were the first priority. They'd rather rent to a soldier than a, you know, than somebody that's Japanese. So they had a hard time finding a place so on our farm we converted our cellar to an apartment and our barn to an apartment so we had two families living with us 'cause they couldn't find a place to live. So that was an experience too. And as soon as... after a few months they found a place to live so they moved out. But then during that period of time, you know, we had three families living in one place.

RP: Were these families that had lived in Azusa before the war? Did you know them already?

JN: Yeah, we knew them before, we were good friends.

RP: But they had just had no place to come back to so you supported them?

JN: Yeah, we helped them out.

RP: Do you remember their names, the families?

JN: One was Kishimoto and the other one was... my mind is... in my old age I forget everything.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: So you went and attended Citrus High School?

JN: Yes, that's a small high school between Azusa and Glendora, California, and it doesn't exist anymore. They have a Glendora High School and a Azusa High School. And now it's part of the junior college.

RP: And is that where you got into the fights with other students?

JN: Yeah, that's where I got into fights. Before that I never got into fights. [Laughs] Amazing, huh?

RP: You told me that you had a little more confidence from knowing judo and did these people back off from you once you dealt with them a little bit or did they become --

JN: Yeah, one on one they backed off, yes, but when, you know, ten or fifteen people jump on you, you can't take care of that, only in the movies.

RP: Did experiences like that make you wonder about your ethnicity or did you always have a strong sense of pride in being Japanese American?

JN: I think that's what my parents instilled in us, that we should be proud of being Japanese American and proud of being Okinawan Japanese and they always instilled that in us. And they always said to be proud to be an American. Those are the three things that they really instilled in us which I think is pretty good.

RP: Was your family very much like other Japanese American families in terms of talking about your camp experiences? There wasn't much talk, was there?

JN: No, there really wasn't too much talk between families. Every once in a while they just kind of mention it but there wasn't any real big discussion. In fact I'm really probably the only one that really talked publicly about the camps and most of the people really didn't talk too much about it. They say it's an experience that you should forget about and so a lot of them didn't talk about it. That's why they're having this interview because a lot of people don't know and... especially the kids, lot of the kids don't know about it. And so it's an experience that they need to learn about.

RP: Why did you personally decide to begin talking about your experience?

JN: I think when I did the civil rights thing it gave me the incentive to educate people on my experience. And that was part of being prejudiced see. So I think a lot of people should know about it and so that's why it's... in fact, in Bend, when I was in Bend, I talked to the grammar schools and high school there on my own because the teachers knew about it so they said, "Why don't you come and talk to the class?" And so I even talked to them on this. Over here in Portland, they have the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and so they're the ones that schedule things for me. But in Bend I just did everything on my own.

RP: And how did the students receive you?

JN: Very good, they all accepted me real well. And I noticed that every time I spoke to a group I always told 'em that I'm an American, I've been in the army and I'm proud to be an American and I've been to Japan and this is the still the best place to live. And I'm going to say some things that Americans did that were wrong, but just remember that I'm still loyal to America. So in my talk just remember that, you know, that's why I always mention that in the beginning of every talk I give. You just mention that, you know, there's no problem on that but just remember that, you know, I'm still an American and I'm going to be an American. [Laughs]

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: This is tape three of a continuing oral history interview with John Nakada. And, John, can you share with us a little bit of your life after camp? You went to college and just kind of give us a brief kind of synopsis of what you did after got back to Azusa.

JN: Well, when I got back to Azusa I finished high school there at Citrus. And then I worked on the farm with my father and then I got drafted in the army. And I volunteered for Korea but they sent me to Alaska. 'Cause I wanted to go to Korea... at that time I wanted to go to Japan so I said, send me to Korea. I said, they're right in the middle of the war and they didn't send me there. They sent me to Alaska, crazy. So I was in Anchorage, Alaska, for two years in the army and I was drafted. I didn't join the army, I was drafted.

RP: Why didn't you join?

JN: Huh?

RP: Why didn't you join the Army?

JN: Well, I think I was peace oriented and I was against all war. And so they drafted me and that's the way it goes. That make sense?

RP: And then you got the GI bill and decided --

JN: Yeah, I had the GI bill so when I got out and my brother talked me into going to college. So I went to college, got a degree in mechanical engineering at University of Nevada, Reno. See, my grades were too poor to go to a cheap California school so I couldn't go to University of California, UCLA or Cal or anyplace like that. So I had to go to out of state school so that's where I got my degree. And then I worked in a whole bunch of other jobs. I worked as a mechanical engineer, aerospace engineer and then civil engineer. So I got tired of working in the aerospace industry because I only worked for two years for every job because as soon as the contract was over they lay you off. So I was in the LA area and I got tired of commuting so that's why I went up to Bend, Oregon, and got the job there with the forest service.

RP: Tell us about what you did for the forest service.

JN: Well, I was a civil engineer and so we did construction projects, we built roads and trails and buildings, stuff like that. So basically that's what I did and they had what they call a Redmond air center which is what the fire people use to fight fires. So we took care of all the buildings there, we took care of the recreation centers, areas. But I'd like to talk about the best part of my job. Since was skier and I knew all about chair lifts and everything, I was what they call a tramway engineer, and so I inspected chair lifts all over Oregon and Washington. And so, and every time they have a new chair lift I would inspect that to make sure it was built right and so in the wintertime I would inspect these different areas to make sure they were operating correctly. So I would, like in Bend, you know, of course it's Mount Bachelor and so I would go up there and inspect to see if they were operating correctly and so I would inspect the lifts and check their maintenance schedule and make sure they are operating correctly because most of those areas are on forest service land. And so the public could sue not only the area but they can sue the forest service if it's not operating correctly. So that's why we had to manage that part of the operation. So that's what I did was I managed it and make sure their maintenance records were correct. So after I finish, you know, maintaining all that I got to ski free. So I got paid by the forest service to do my job and I got to ski free. [Laughs] Now how many people can say that?

RP: Now that sounds like a government scam to me.

JN: That's really good and so I went to all the different ski areas in Oregon and Washington that were on forest service land and so I skied all the areas in Oregon and Washington. And then I also had to go to you know, since I did this quite a bit, well, they thought I was pretty good so they had me train people in California and other states to do what I'm doing. So that part of it was good. But that was just a percentage of my job. But that was the best part of my job.

RP: While you were at the forest service you also got involved with promoting civil rights within the organization?

JN: No it was pretty good, like I was with a civil rights organization there and so I promoted that and I also told them about my experience in the camp and so they accepted it pretty good. And I think the forest service is real good at that.

RP: And so did you go to other areas promoting diversity?

JN: No, just in Oregon and Washington, we didn't go outside of the area.

RP: But you were able to definitely to draw on your own experiences in sharing that with folks you were addressing.

JN: Yeah.

RP: So your camp experience had a real profound effect on your life.

JN: Yeah, I think so, I think it really made a big difference. And I think meeting other people of different ethnic... directly I think really made an impact on my life. 'Cause I really didn't have any experience with African Americans and I didn't have any experience with the Native Americans, the Indians. That was the first time I even talked to 'em. So I learned a lot about our culture and how different it is and how many problems they have with their, you know, nationality. But I think that their main focus was to accept the person for what he is, not what he looks like, 'cause if the whole world would do that we wouldn't even have any wars. Look at Israel and Ireland and England, my goodness, if they would accept the person just for what he is... and the Muslims and the Americans, I mean, it's crazy. But that's just my own personal idea.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Can you share with us your thoughts about the movement to obtain redress and reparations in the '70s and '80s?

JN: What's that?

RP: The movement that developed to obtain redress and reparations for Japanese Americans during the 1980s. Everybody eventually received an apology letter.

JN: Oh, the redress, yeah. Yeah, I thought it was a real good idea, I got 20,000 dollars and it took over forty-three years to get that done and the people that lost the money didn't get anything because my mother and father died by then. They're the ones who lost the money, as an eleven year old, I didn't lose anything. So with 20,000 dollars I bought my first house. So in that respect it was good and I got a letter from the President saying this was a mistake, you know, we apologize for this. So that's another reason why most countries wouldn't do that. I think America's pretty good to say, yes, we made a mistake, we apologize and we'll, you know, we'll give you... this whole country is based on economy, at least we'll give you some money for... what's the price of freedom? What's the price of freedom for three or four years in the prison? I mean, nobody has... I think we first asked for 40,000 because that was maybe the salary at that time but they settled for 20,000 but that's the government. And at least it's something so I think that's real good. I think it's a good idea. Does that make any sense?

RP: Have you returned to either Heart Mountain or Gila River over the last sixty years?

JN: Yeah, I went to Heart Mountain and Gila both. And the first time I went to Heart Mountain it was devastating because all we saw was, you know, foundations and hardly any buildings or anything at all and the same with Gila. And at Gila they had a good program too, they had a lot of experience and so I really enjoyed that. But, yeah, I've been back to both of them and it just caught memories and I walk through Block 2 Barrack 2 and saw the foundation there. So it's an experience that you always remember, it's amazing.

RP: Did you take any of your kids with you?

JN: (Not to the camp, but to one reunion).

RP: You just went by yourself?

JN: (No. My wife came with me to Heart Mountain once to a symposium and to a dedication. I have been to both Heart Mountain and Gila River).

RP: And when you were there did you feel a little differently about what you had experienced as a mature adult looking back at your eleven year old... an eleven year old's experience?

JN: Well, as an eleven year old I guess I'm just saying that this is what happened in my life and I should just let go and continue and make the best of what's ahead of me. And it's good to hear what other people have thought about being in that concentration camp and their feelings about it too. And a lot of them still used the word shigata ga nai, "it can't be helped" but then you got to move on and make life for what it is. I don't know if that makes any sense to you or not. But it's something that is good to remember though. And that's why I like to give these talks too and I get good questions from the audience. I learned from the audience too.

RP: And you give these talks in the Portland public schools?

JN: Yeah.

RP: And so how often do you speak with groups?

JN: I probably speak maybe ten times a year, probably that many times. I spoke someplace in Washington too, you know, right across the border, Vancouver and places like that that are in the area.

RP: Mark, do you have any questions for John? John, are there any other stories or reminisces that you would like to share with us we haven't mentioned yet?

JN: No, I don't think so. We covered just about everything.

RP: Oh, I do have one other thing and that's later on when the law changed to allow Isseis to become naturalized citizens of this country, did your parents take that opportunity and become citizens?

JN: They both became citizens before they died. In fact, I even got the dates here. Ginzo Nakada got naturalized on July 30, 1953, and Kagi Nakada got naturalized September 14, 1953. They were both in Los Angeles.

RP: Were you there for that ceremony?

JN: No, I was not. I was in the service during the Korean War so I didn't experience that. But being in the service that's... I was in the service 1952 to 1954. So that was right in the middle of my service time so I didn't make that trip.

RP: Did they ever share how they felt about that... about becoming citizens?

JN: They were really happy to be Americans and they said, "All my kids were Americans so I want to be an American too."

RP: And it sounds like in thought and in their heart they already were, it was just the legal document.

JN: Yeah, the legal part of it. I think they were, even before the war they were pretty Americanized. And especially when they came back to America to raise the other children. I think they were really Americanized then definitely. When they went back to Japan the first time I'm not sure but when they came back here I'm positive that they were.

RP: One final question about your brothers, seven brothers who served in the military during World War II, correct? And how many of those actually saw action in the 442nd?

JN: Well, two of my brothers were in the 442nd, Henry and George. And they were both wounded but they did pretty well and they came back. And my other brothers were in the MIS, Military Intelligence and so they were interpreters and they were in Hawaii, Australia, Japan, the Philippines and things like that. And so the one thing I'd like to kind of share is when I talked to one of my brothers that was at MIS I think in Australia, you know, at that time they don't have segregated units and so they had Japanese in a regular unit that was all white. And so my brother said they had to have a soldier guarding them twenty-fours a day because they look Japanese and they thought maybe they were a spy that stole the uniform and so he says, "When I'm sleeping there's a guard there over me." [Laughs] Isn't that crazy? But the commander says you got to do this because a lot of people don't know that you're an interpreter. But isn't that a crazy experience though?

RP: Yeah, to have a bodyguard.

JN: Yeah.

RP: To make you feel special. Well, John, on behalf of Mark and myself and the National Park Service, I want to thank you for sharing your stories this morning and we appreciate it very much.

JN: Okay, thank you, you're welcome.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.