Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Joe Seto Interview
Narrator: Joe Seto
Interviewer: Erin Brasfield
Location: West Los Angeles, California
Date: July 10, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-sjoe_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

EB: My name is Erin Brasfield, and it's Monday, July 10, 2006. And we are at the West Los Angeles United Methodist Church in West Los Angeles, California. And the interview is with Joe Seto, a former internee. We will be discussing his experiences as an internee during World War II. And this interview is being conducted for the oral history program at Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, California, and will be archived in the site library. So, Mr. Seto, could you give me a little bit of your family history? So where was your family from in Japan?

JS: My father was from Gobo, Japan, and my mother from Tanabe, Japan, in, it would be equivalent to a county, Wakayama-ken.

EB: And who, what was their social economic position in those respective areas?

JS: My father was in the manufacturing business, and he was more or less the eldest son and succeeded his father. But it came out to be a disaster, so he consequently, he had visions of then immigrating to the United States. And he immigrated about age, I think it's about sixteen, completely on his own, much to the surprise of his family. And he arrived in... basically the state of Washington. And the kind of work that he did initially, he was a houseboy, domestic employee of the ambassador to France. And he cooked for the ambassador and did other household chores. And while at the job, he attended night school to learn English. And consequently was fluent in English, and this made it possible for him to advance in his efforts to make a respectable living. And I am aware that his place of employment was the Pacific Fruit Company, and later on, then he embarked on his own produce business.

EB: And what was your father's name?

JS: Toraichi, T-O-R-A-I-C-H-I.

EB: And tell me a little bit more about your mother, her name and how she came to the United States.

JS: At about, probably in his early twenties, my father went back to Japan. And as you know, most marriages were arranged, and got married. And my mother stayed behind for two years to learn how to be a housewife. So she learned how to cook and to do the cultural things such as flower arrangement, and I know she played the piano. And so after two years, then she came to the USA.

EB: And through what port?

JS: I think through Seattle, I'm not sure.

EB: Okay. And so after your mother came over, where did your parents live and what sort of work did they continue doing?

JS: Oh, as I mentioned, my father was already employed, so he continued the employment. I think for the majority of their lifetime, they lived at 1818 South L Street in Tacoma, Washington, and they were tenants or renters. And then about 1939, I think, they purchased that home they lived in, and they lived in that home until they passed away. My father passed away in 1968, and my mother about 1990. And then my oldest brother, who took care of my mother, lived in the family home until he passed away in the year 2000. And the year 2002, one of my older brothers, who was the executor of the estate, sold the family home.

EB: And was that in a certain neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington, and did that neighborhood have a name?

JS: In more recent years, it has been called the Hilltop because Tacoma's a hilly city, and it was on top of the hill, more or less. And during the past, perhaps, thirty years, it was an old neighborhood, so therefore it deteriorated considerably, and it turned into the "drug neighborhood." So it has a very bad reputation.

EB: Okay. You mentioned before, I remember, on the phone, that you had some brothers and some siblings. Can you tell me more about, like their names and when they were born?

JS: There were six boys. The oldest is Paul, born in about 1918; second is Hugh, about 1920; the third is Matthew, born in 1921; fourth is Tom, born in 1922; I was born in 1924; the youngest brother was born in 1926; and my sister was born in 1934. There were six boys and one girl.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

EB: You grew up entirely in Tacoma.

JS: Up until we were placed in the concentration camp in May of 1942.

EB: And what was the makeup of the neighborhood at that time? Was it primarily a Japanese American neighborhood?

JS: No, it was a hundred percent Anglo. And there was the low working-class, people were just, they had low-salary jobs, and they just were able to exist. It was always considered to be at the lower level of the economic scale.

EB: Since you did live in a neighborhood that's primarily, or all Caucasian, did you ever encounter any problems or prejudice growing up within your neighborhood?

JS: No, not at all. So our home, just by chance, happened to be the congregating point for the neighborhood kids.

EB: And what sort of games or things did the neighborhood kids do?

JS: Well, we used to play sports. Even though it's a concrete street, we played football and soccer, a limited amount of softball, but since it's rather restricted in terms of the space, it was not very safe to play softball or baseball.

EB: Can you describe for me your upbringing, your interaction with your parents and the home life that they created for you?

JS: My father was responsible for the genesis of the Japanese Methodist Church in Tacoma ninety-nine years ago. And so our activities centered around the church which was common among the Japanese community, the church, and the Japanese school. And since my father was the most active member of the church, every Sunday, we went to church, and he was superintendent of the Sunday school. And we had a Boy Scout troop at the church, and we also had sports teams which we participated against the other Japanese groups such as the Buddhist church, primarily.

EB: Was he Christian or Methodist growing up, or did he convert once he immigrated?

JS: That's not clear.

EB: Okay.

JS: But it's definitely known that he was very active in the Methodist church, almost since the day he arrived in the United States. And I believe there were some... one might describe it as missionary-type people, name is Miss Whitney, for which the church was renamed about forty years ago. It's called the Whitney Methodist Church, so today it's still called the Whitney Methodist Church. She was, I think, responsible for the organizing of the church such as Sunday school and so forth.

EB: Your mother, did she continue to only work inside the home as you were growing up?

JS: She never worked outside the home; she was the housewife.

EB: She was the housewife. She had plenty to do.

JS: With seven children. [Laughs] She was very meticulous, excellent cook.

EB: Did she cook primarily Japanese dishes?

JS: No, no. She did about half and half.

EB: Okay. What was your favorite dish growing up?

JS: Probably, if it was Japanese food, it was sushi as it is today. And for American food, probably was stew. Because I think in those days, stew was very common. It was more economical instead of having steaks. And, of course, we had roast beef.

EB: Did you celebrate any Japanese cultural holidays like Emperor's Day or Boy's Day or Obon?

JS: The main holiday we celebrated was New Year's, which you're probably aware by now. It was one of the most important holidays for the Japanese people. But Boy's and Girl's Day was just in passing.

EB: And what was, you said you celebrated New Year's, what sort of activities did that involve, or things that your family did for that holiday?

JS: It was mainly the feast day, and friends came to the house. That was customary for friends... they'd come because it was eating all day long. The friends usually came in the evening, because in the morning is when you had a traditional Japanese breakfast, and then, during the day, the New Year's food.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

EB: And what language was spoken in the household?

JS: My father spoke to us mainly in English, and my mother was Japanese, and she did not speak English at all.

EB: So were there any kind of communication problems?

JS: Yes, in Japanese, of course. As children, we were all required to attend Japanese school. But I quit going to Japanese school when I attended high school. It was something that we were forced to do, and particularly the boys, they weren't very conscientious about studying, whereas the girls were. So consequently, after I grew up, I regretted it, particularly during my many travels to Japan meeting relatives and not being able to speak Japanese. Just the rudimentary words just to survive.

EB: Did your family make any return trips to Japan particularly before the war?

JS: Yes. My father took all, the entire family back before the fourth boy was born, to Japan.

EB: Oh, okay. And what year was that? Remind me.

JS: Well, that would be in 1921, '22, of course, he was born in 1922.

EB: And that was before you were born.

JS: Before I was born.

EB: And so what prompted the visit back to Japan?

JS: I think it was customary that those who could afford it would take trips to Japan. Not many families were able to economically. So in those days, my father was probably able to financially... well, obviously, he had to.

EB: And how long was that visit?

JS: I'm not sure, but I think for at least four or five months.

EB: Okay. So were any of your family members educated in Japan or brothers sent back?

JS: No.

EB: No?

JS: All educated in the U.S.A.

EB: So what schools did you attend and your siblings attend in Tacoma?

JS: Well, we went to Lincoln grade school, which was about four blocks from home. McCarver junior high school, which was about five blocks from home. All of the boys except my youngest brother attended Lincoln High School. My youngest brother attended Stadium High School, and my sister attended Stadium High School. There were two main high schools in Tacoma at that time.

EB: So tell me about your hobbies and your friends growing up.

JS: Well, our friends were the neighborhood boys, and then the church group, my age group, mainly, and a little older.

EB: What were your dreams and aspirations as a youth, then? What did you hope to do with your life? Or had you thought about it?

JS: Yes, because when the war, when we were evacuated, taken to concentration camp, I just finished high school. But I didn't have any aspirations that... my older brothers, including my oldest brother, graduated from the university. Second brother attended about two years, and the third brother attended about two years. And the fourth couldn't afford to, so obviously, when I came along, my parents couldn't afford to send me to college. So I talked about going to vocational school.

EB: And had you started vocational school before you were evacuated?

JS: No. See, generally, one didn't attend vocational school until they graduated from high school, and I graduated in the spring of 1942, the year we were taken to the concentration camps. And I have a document I'm going to give you about the consequences of my graduation and my fellow Japanese students.

EB: Okay. I'm looking forward to... we'll do that at the end.

JS: It's forty pages long.

EB: Oh. [Laughs] Wow, okay.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

EB: So at the time of Pearl Harbor I guess you were a senior in high school. Can you tell me more about how you, tell me about how you heard about Pearl Harbor and how that affected your family and your life in school and neighborhood, perhaps?

JS: I remember we returned from church about noontime, and the neighborhood boys came over and said, oh, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. So then we only had a radio, and we listened to it, and the family was rather subdued, I think. We didn't go anyplace on that day. So to me, it was quite a shock. I think in retrospect, we knew that it was imminent anyway, because I remember one of the neighbors, he had some connection with law enforcement, although he wasn't gainfully employed, but he was more or less a political appointee. And one of the physicians in the neighborhood was the county coroner, and I know he worked at the... well, this person who was the county coroner, which was not for many years. Anyway, which was common that I was over at his house, and he asked me, "Do you know that we're going to have war with Japan?" I said, "No." And he said, "You know that you're going to be placed in concentration camps?" I said, "No." And he asked me, he says, "What would you do? Would you join the army?" I said, "If I have to, I will." So that was one of the experiences I had before the war started.

EB: What was the reaction of your neighborhood, and did any prejudice emerge within your neighborhood shortly after Pearl Harbor?

JS: No, not at all. Only after we had left Tacoma, our neighbors told us about this one family who stated that they wished we never came back. It so happens this family was of German extraction. And when my parents returned to the family home, the ladies of that family were not, they kind of avoided us. If they saw us walking down the street, they'd walk across the street and avoid seeing us. But the man, he's the one that was this part-time law enforcement, he tried to talk to us.

EB: Did this have any effect on your father's job?

JS: No. My father, he was in the produce business all his life until World War II. And it was not possible to go back into business, so he worked as a gardener at the Tacoma General Hospital, one of the two main hospitals in Tacoma. And he did that until he retired.

EB: Were you aware of any restrictions imposed upon Japanese Americans like curfew or travel?

JS: Oh, yes, absolutely.

EB: How did that impact you, and how did you feel about it?

JS: Well, I couldn't quite understand it, why we were restricted. We couldn't leave the house after 8 p.m. at night, and couldn't travel more than five miles away. And so we lost this sense of freedom. So the neighborhood boys would come over.

EB: And how did this affect your siblings or your parents?

JS: Well, it affected my father because he used to drive to Seattle, which is thirty miles away, pick up some produce and then bring it back to Tacoma, because, of course, he couldn't do that. But there were two things, because of curfew and any other things because of the prejudice with the, his customers, because many of them wouldn't purchase things from him anymore.

EB: What did your mother and father do with any keepsakes or mementos from Japan? Were the items burned or buried or sold?

JS: They really didn't have things that I know of, they didn't do anything about it, they just stored 'em. Because all of our personal belongings were stored at the church.

EB: Was your house ever searched by the FBI?

JS: No, no.

EB: Okay.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

EB: So how did you hear about Executive Order 9066?

JS: That was when the curfew was established, so that's when we heard about it.

EB: Okay. And how much time did your family have before reporting for relocation?

JS: I think about two weeks prior to that, we had a physical examination. And then one week before the date of departure, then we saw these posters all over the city saying that we had to report to the Union Station to board the train for the concentration camp.

EB: And what happened to your family's belongings?

JS: We stored them at the church, everything.

EB: Okay. And so I guess they were safe over the course of the war?

JS: No.

EB: No? Tell me about that.

JS: Well, the federal government was supposed to take care of our property, but to the best of my knowledge, one of the friends that I mentioned earlier, Ms. Whitney, and then I later learned that the family was, the Warren family, they had a wholesale dry goods business in Tacoma. And I understand that they kind of looked after the property and they had the keys to the church. But some things were stolen from the church during the war, I don't know how much, but I know we lost a few things.

EB: What happened to your house?

JS: We rented it.

EB: Okay, you rented it out?

JS: That was no problem because during World War II, the defense industry, there was a big shipyard in Tacoma. And there was a large influx of workers into Tacoma and they had no, the house, there was a housing shortage. So there was no problem renting the property. The problem was when my parents tried to return, because of rent control, it was difficult to evict the people renting it from my family. So they were delayed in getting back into the family home.

EB: How long was the delay?

JS: I think about three or four months, I'm not sure.

EB: Or did you have any pets?

JS: None at all.

EB: This is one story we hear a good bit, about pets.

JS: No, we didn't like cats or dogs.

EB: Okay. What did you take with you and how did you choose what to take?

JS: All I was allowed to take was my clothes, put it in a suitcase, which we were allowed about one or two suitcases per person, whatever we could carry, more or less.

EB: And what was the most difficult thing to leave behind?

JS: Well, actually, it was freedom. It was difficult to comprehend why I was placed in the concentration camp, being American citizens. That was the most difficult thing.

EB: Do you have an image, scene, or conversation in your mind that you can describe about leaving home for relocation? Is there something in particular about relocation that's still vivid in your mind?

JS: Well, I remember there was another house on our property, and it was a single parent, which we were very close to, obviously, they lived there for several years. And the night before we left, she told me that she would like to have me stay with them until I graduated high school. That was a wonderful gesture on her part. And the neighborhood boys went to the railroad station the day of our departure, and one of the neighbors drove my parents to the railroad station, whereas I walked to the railroad station.

EB: And how far was that from your house?

JS: I would say about eight blocks. The government didn't provide any transportation to the railroad station.

EB: And what day was that, that you relocated, or started the process?

JS: It was a weekday, that's all I remember. I don't remember the exact day.

EB: Okay. Did your family ever consider voluntary relocation?

JS: No, not at all. My third brother did.

EB: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

JS: He was attending the University of Washington at the time, which was thirty-five miles away. And before the restriction was placed, we couldn't travel, relocate east. The president of the University of Washington arranged for about twenty-five students to go to the University of Michigan, because the University of Washington president personally knew the University of Michigan president. But when they arrived, they found out the university could not allow them, there were about twenty-five Nisei that they continued, that they were not allowed to --


JS: They were not allowed to enroll because during the wartime, the major universities had government officers training programs. And the explanation given is for security reasons, the Japanese students were not permitted to enroll. However, there are very few who were enrolled, primarily in graduate school, they were not affected.

EB: And this brother, what was his name again?

JS: Matthew, that was the third brother. Because my oldest brother, he graduated, and the second one was, he had to drop out of school to work in order to support the family.

EB: Did your parents give you any advice about this upcoming period in your life where they have a certain belief that helped prepare...

JS: No, not at all.

EB: Okay. And did you know where you were going, did you go to an assembly center first?

JS: We didn't know... we were completely in the dark.

EB: Okay.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

EB: And so you left Tacoma, and where did you go?

JS: To Pinedale, California, which is about thirty miles east of Fresno.

EB: And how long did that trip last?

JS: I think two nights as I recall.

EB: Were you on a bus?

JS: Train.

EB: A train. And how long was your family at Pinedale?

JS: Until... they closed Pinedale and moved us to Tule Lake, I think it was, in July or August.

EB: And do you remember your family number?

JS: The residence? I think it was Block 57, they called it "Alaska."

EB: Okay. [Laughs] Like your family number.

JS: Oh, you mean my personal number?

EB: Personal number.

JS: No, I don't remember.

EB: Let's go back to Pinedale for a minute. What were your living conditions like at Pinedale?

JS: Well, they were typical barracks, but with dirt floors. And single iron beds, what they call army cots, they sank into the ground, of course. It was very dusty. Then the mattress was, we had straw, we had a mattress cover we had to fill with straw. And, of course, the outhouse, we used our outdoor facilities, washing and shower and toilet and mess hall.

EB: How did you, how did this impact you, to go from living in your private family home to conditions...

JS: Well, since we were all in the same situation, you just had to do the best we could.

EB: And as an eighteen year old boy, I guess...

JS: Well, I was accustomed to rather primitive living conditions because as a child, every summer, we had to go to the farm to pick raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and peas. And so we lived in these farmworkers shacks, which are really shacks as you might visualize. No running water, no insulation, just raw boards. So having lived under those conditions, it wasn't that difficult to contend with the living conditions in camp, so similar.

EB: So where was that farm that you went to?

JS: It's in Fife, about five miles outside of Tacoma.

EB: Okay. And then how did you spend your time during the day while you were at Pinedale? Did you have a job there?

JS: No. They simply arrived there, very few jobs, and we just sat around every day. We had some sports activity I know, softball. But other than that, we just sat around most of the day, sat in the shade because it was very hot.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

EB: And you said that after Pinedale you went to Tule Lake. And what was that trip like up to Tule Lake?

JS: Another train trip like we took to go from Tacoma to Pinedale, same type of train trip.

EB: And when you arrived at Tule Lake, was it morning or evening?

JS: I think it was midday.

EB: Midday. And then what happened once you arrived? What did you have to do?

JS: Well, then we had to decide who our neighbors, who we'd like to have as neighbors. So we elected to have the same neighbors as we had in Pinedale, name was Shig Wakamatsu. He was a newlywed the day of the evacuation, and we knew him very well, of course. Subsequently he turned out to be the national JACL... you've heard of the JACL? National JACL president. He lived in Chicago. At the time of the war, he was a pre-med student, at that time called College of Puget Sound, it's a Methodist college. So he was fortunate when... that must have been in 1943, he got a job at Lever Brothers, the soap company. He worked as a chemist, and then he was very active in the JACL. He was a civil rights activist. And Lever Brothers, when he was president, being president, required him to travel throughout the United States, and Lever Brothers did not dock him for, during the days that he missed his work. So Lever Brothers was very generous.

EB: Do you know where he would travel?

JS: Well, he traveled to the various JACL offices such as the ones in Washington, D.C., and New York. Salt Lake City was the main office.

EB: And what else do you remember about your arrival at Tule Lake?

JS: Well, everybody was able to be employed, and I think you know about what the levels of employment, the salary is, you've probably heard from others. So since I was very active in athletics in high school, I worked in the special activities office where we organized sports events for the people in the camps. I know I umpired in softball games, reorganized the games and schedule, played a little baseball there. So I worked there in the community activities, sports activities. Then about September, the sugar company says, you're probably aware, in the western states... the sugar farmers, sugar beet farmers had no one to harvest their crops. And so they persuaded the federal government to allow the sugar companies to recruit sugar beet workers to harvest the sugar beet crops. So I jumped at the opportunity because I wanted my freedom. And that means I left the camp. And one of the ten individuals was Shig Wakamatsu again, and his wife, and about nine other men. And we went to the Montana-North Dakota border and we harvested sugar beets. All but Shig and his wife and George Watanabe and myself refused to return. We just stayed there, everybody else returned to camp, because we wanted our freedom. And I went east further to Minot, North Dakota, which is the largest city. We were in a town of probably five hundred people, there were no employment opportunities. And we got an unofficial document to travel out of the Western Defense Command, that was, as you know, as far east as Montana. And George Watanabe and myself, we went to Minot, North Dakota, to try to seek employment. And we were there about two days and we got a telegram from the FBI saying that we don't have the official permission to leave the Western Defense Command, and so we will return to Sidney, Montana, the main city of the sugar beet company, to haul the sugar.

And I should interject one experience we had. We left, it was Minot, North Dakota, and we went to Williston, North Dakota, and we checked in a hotel. And we went out to eat, and we came back, and the police were waiting for us to return. And I went to the room and George went to another room to visit Shig Wakamatsu who was also on that trip. And the police came up to the room and knocked on the door, and George Watanabe had the radio on. And they inspected the radio, seeing if it had the shortwave, presumably sending messages back to Japan. And that was a bad experience, of course, unexpected. And then we went on to Minot, North Dakota, there to receive this telegram. So instead of being arrested by the FBI, the Holly Sugar Company representatives were aware of that, so they drove to Minot, North Dakota, and returned us to Sidney, Montana. That was an all-night journey.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

EB: I want to back up a little bit, I have a few questions about the sports that you were involved in at Tule Lake. How much money did you earn each month as your, through your job in the sports activities section?

JS: Perhaps you can help me along. What were the three wage salaries?

EB: Well, it changed later on.

JS: At the beginning.

EB: Nine... nine, thirteen, maybe?

JS: And sixteen was the professionals? We're in the middle.

EB: So thirteen.

JS: Yeah. And since I was there only a month or two, I don't think I ever received a paycheck. I was there such a short time before I volunteered for the sugar beet harvest.

EB: Hmm. [Laughs] And you said you played baseball, what team were you on?

JS: It's the office where I worked. But we just had a pick-up team. We didn't belong to a more organized team, we only played two or three special games.

EB: Okay. Did you attend any of the other organized sports games?

JS: Oh, I was involved in tumbling. And we participated in the all-camp outdoor shows. I remember participating in one of those. So my experience in camp was relatively short in contrast to most people you probably interviewed.

EB: Yeah, yeah. And so when you went to harvest sugar beets, what wages did you earn?

JS: It was piecework. So since there were, in our crew there were about ten of us, and so we divided it in ten. The ten of us, and one was a female and she was our cook. So she got one share. And I recall, I think, after the sugar beet harvest, probably I maybe had about thirty dollars. And when I left camp, my mother gave me ten dollars, that's all the money I had.

EB: And how many hours a day did you work?

JS: Oh, we worked probably from seven to seven, weather permitting. Near the end it got very cold, I remember our hands frozen.

EB: Did you live in a barrack-style...

JS: No, it was just an old building, and there were two bedrooms, and four of us in each, and Shig Wakamatsu and his wife, they slept in the main room where we had our table where we ate, and the stove. Very crowded.

EB: I had another question... maybe it'll come back to me. Oh, I know what it was. So how many months were you harvesting sugar beets?

JS: Probably about a month.

EB: Oh, only a month? Okay.

JS: And what happened... we purchased the food in this one store, and this is all on credit. So at the end of the sugar beets, the farmer paid the groceries back, the food that we purchased, and then he'd give us the balance of the money which we split into ten shares.

EB: Okay.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

EB: And I want to talk about Tule Lake a little bit more, ask you about Tule Lake. So can you, can you remember your full camp address in Tule Lake?

JS: No, all I know is Block 57.

EB: Block 57? Okay. And do you have any impressions of the mess halls at Tule Lake?

JS: No, it was just a big building, and then we went and ate there, had our own time. We didn't eat as a family unit, I just went alone most of the time and just sat with... because most of the Tacoma people we knew. I don't recall ever going with my parents.

EB: I've heard that a lot from others who said that they didn't eat with their parents. But I think when I interviewed your wife, she said, "Yes, my parents eat together every meal." So she said, "We wanted to eat with our friends, but they made us eat all together." So are there any other impressions of... I know you didn't spend much time at Tule Lake, are there any other impressions of camp life that you'd like to share or experiences that maybe your family had after you'd already left?

JS: Well, I remember that we attended church. And since there were several church denominations, we attended the one, the minister was Reverend Tanabe. He was a student minister at our church in Tacoma before he got married. He married and his wife was a Tacoma person, her name was Haru Semba, and she lived to be ninety-plus and just passed away about three years ago. And I was in Hawaii to attend my sister's golden wedding anniversary. And Reverend Tanabe, at the age of ninety-eight, was still alive. And I visited him because my sister had kept in contact with the reverend all these years, and he remembered who I was at age ninety-eight. And so it was a wonderful experience. The last time I saw him was when he was serving in the ministry in Tule Lake.

EB: That's amazing. What kind of occupations did your parents have at Tule Lake, or did they work?

JS: My father worked as the... he took care of the food ordering for the hospital, managing the food supply, which was natural since he was in the produce business for many years.

EB: And did your mom work?

JS: No, she didn't. She just stayed at home, she didn't work at all.

EB: Okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

EB: So you went to Tule Lake and you went to harvest sugar beets in Montana.

JS: Yes. And then in January of '43, I finally got my release from the Western Defense Command, and part of the application required that I have a job. And my brother who I mentioned earlier, he went to the University of Michigan but then he couldn't enroll, so then he went to Minneapolis hoping to get into the University of Minnesota and he encountered the same problem. So he got a job as a busboy at a restaurant. So he got me a job as a busboy together with my brother Hugh. So in January of '43, went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and worked as a busboy.

EB: And how long were you in Minneapolis?

JS: I was in Minneapolis until I was drafted into the army in 1945.

EB: Okay. And so what was life like in Minneapolis?

JS: Oh, here I was an eighteen-year-old, never been away from home, I had to support myself completely, and low-paying jobs, as a busboy, I got twelve dollars a week, plus two meals. And I had to pay my room rent and all my expenses. And then I realized I wasn't accomplishing much, so while working as a busboy, I attended Central High School as a special student, and I took academic courses which I should have taken when I was in high school because I was so involved in athletics as a high school student in Tacoma. And so I took math and physics, and I got a better job and I enrolled at Augsburg College, a Lutheran college, because the university would not allow me to enroll. And the church colleges were very receptive and helpful. So then I would participate in sports at the college, and the people were very sympathetic and helpful. And then the University of Minnesota changed their policy whereby I was required to go through an FBI investigation for over two hours in order to qualify to attend the university. So I had this two-hour investigation. And over the years, I've been trying to get my FBI file. And the first was about maybe six or eight years ago when I was back in Washington, D.C., I visited the, I went to the FBI and they told me I had to fill out the paperwork, and they said they can't find it. I don't have an FBI file. And last year I got another letter from them saying that the FBI files are destroyed under chapter so-and-so or statute so-and-so. So I appealed that, and I still haven't had, received an answer.

EB: Wow. So what was that FBI investigation like?

JS: They asked about every detail of my life and my entire family. And they weren't very polite.

EB: Was it just one officer or two?

JS: One FBI officer and a second recorder. In those days they didn't have tape recorders, it was taken by shorthand.

EB: And so did you pass? Or what happened after that?

JS: Well, by that time I was drafted into the army. And then when I got out of the army, by then, the university would accept Japanese.

EB: So when were you drafted?

JS: In 1945, the last year of the war. So then I was required to go to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and then they sent me to basic training in Camp Fanin, Texas. And before we were able to finish, well into basic training, the war ended. That was August. Then after that they sent all the Japanese to Fort Snelling in Minneapolis to go through the Military Intelligence School, I think, you know, what we refer to as the MIS. But my Japanese was not proficient enough, so I was relegated to an administrative job. I worked as a, I was assigned as a company clerk. So we just ran the office for all of the students who attended classes. And then we moved the camp to Presidio Monterey, California, which is wonderful, Monterey, California.

EB: I happened to be in that area last week. So how did you feel about being drafted while your family was still interned, I guess?

JS: Five of us boys were in the army.

EB: How did you feel about that?

JS: I wanted to be in the army.

EB: You did? Okay.

JS: My oldest brother was one of the first draftees, one or two years before the war started.

EB: So tell me a little bit about your other brothers who you mentioned were drafted. What...

JS: Two of them served as interpreters there in the MIS.

EB: Where were they stationed?

JS: In the Philippines, and one was in India-Burma during the war. Well, he was in earlier, so he, I think then he was discharged from there. My third brother, Matthew, he served in Fukui, Japan, in the occupation forces. And he was able to visit our relatives in Japan while he was in the service. And then my oldest brother, he was the chief accountant at Camp Crowder, so he wasn't sent overseas. And then my youngest brother was, he was also at Fort Snelling, but his Japanese was not proficient enough. I know one of his duties was he was a lifeguard, plus a supply sergeant.

EB: And in the meantime, your parents and sister were still interned.

JS: You're well aware of the segregation of the camps, those who said they were loyal or they're disloyal, and they were, the loyal ones, they were sent to Minidoka. And while they were in Minidoka, my father then got a job at Pacific Fruit in Boise, Idaho. So my mother would visit him and my mother stayed in camp with my sister, and they would, weekends visit my father. And then at the first opportunity to return to Tacoma, my father returned first. And after he was able to reoccupy our family home, then my mother and sister then returned to Tacoma.

EB: From Minidoka?

JS: Yes. He was one of the first to return to Tacoma. And what he did was -- this is something I just found out on July 4th when I was in Seattle. And my older brother, Matthew, he showed me a document saying that my father had opened the hostel at the church, so the people who were returning, they didn't have any place to stay, so they made the best they could and they slept at the church until they could find their permanent residence. So my father did that until he was able to reoccupy the family home.

EB: And when was it that your, they transferred from Tule Lake to Minidoka?

JS: You have to tell me because I don't remember. I was out east when the segregation --

EB: I think the "loyalty questionnaire" came out in '43.

JS: '43?

EB: I'm pretty sure it's '43, yeah. I'll have to look. [Laughs] I have to check on that. I'm just curious.

JS: I think someone of your interviewees should know.

EB: Yeah. I can look it up when I get back to the office, I can figure out after what time they might have arrived. And we have copies of the camp rosters. I know you've been to Manzanar, and we have a copy of the camp roster, and we have, from the National Archives, microfilm copies for the other camps. And probably if I look in there, I'll find a listing for your...

JS: So I don't know if because, from the Japanese National American museum, on their website, had copies of the, our family about camp files they have, very abbreviated form. So in that, maybe.

EB: It probably tells you.

JS: I have copies at home. When I was back in Washington, several trips, I went to the Archives and got those records.

EB: Okay. Let's see... so do you know, you said your parents were loyal, and do you know much about how they answered the "loyalty questionnaire," how they decided to answer?

JS: Well, they, I think it's a "yes-yes," so they were "yes-yes." So basically my parents and my sister spent their entire time in camp, whereas the boys, we all gravitated to Minneapolis.

EB: Okay. So... I'm trying to think where we left off and what we jumped back to.

JS: You were asking about when did my parents go from Tule Lake to Minidoka.

EB: Minidoka, uh-huh.

JS: And then we, prior to that, we mentioned about when our family returned to Tacoma and then also my experience reentering the university and my FBI files and so forth.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

EB: When were you discharged from the army and what did you do after you left the MIS?

JS: I got discharged in December of '46. Since the war was winding down, and most of the servicemen were being discharged, those who were accepted at the university got an early discharge, and I applied for that, so I got an early discharge. So I served roughly eighteen months in the service. I got an early discharge to go back to Augsburg College. And I went back to Augsburg College for a year and then I transferred to the University of Minnesota where I graduated.

EB: And what studies did you pursue there?

JS: At the University of Minnesota? Biochemistry and microbiology. Let's see... Hugh, Tom, myself and Dave, four of us graduated from the University of Minnesota thanks to the GI Bill.

EB: And what sort of degrees and careers did they pursue?

JS: Well, Hugh majored in philosophy, Tom was in biochemistry, and I was in biochemistry/microbiology, and Dave, the youngest, is in physics.

EB: And so after you graduated from the University of Minnesota, where did you go next and what did you do?

JS: Well, it was very difficult to get a job. And so I went to Chicago and worked as a technician at the University of Chicago and then at the University of Illinois medical school. And then I realized that it wasn't a very gainful employment, I couldn't probably support myself. So I went back to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. So my brother Tom and I, he got his PhD at the University of Minnesota in '57, and the same year I got my PhD at the University of Wisconsin.

EB: And then did you start teaching after that, or did you do research?

JS: Then I was employed by the Upjohn Company, and he was employed by Pfizer, a well-known pharmaceutical company. Then I didn't like working in the industry, so I came to Los Angeles and I did a post-doctoral here at UCLA with influenza viruses, for which I was doing research. And I've been at California State University since 1959. Retired in 1987, but I don't know if you remember, I still have my research lab and office, so I still go to the university as a retiree.

EB: Yeah, I think last time I was here in March, we were talking, and you were very excited to go into your office the next day and do some lab work or something like that.

JS: We had some critical experiment to do. And then a year ago, we were invited to an international influenza meeting in Berlin. Because as you know, I don't know if you're aware of the influenza interest nowadays.

EB: Yes, bird flu?

JS: Yes, avian influenza, possibility of a human pandemic. So I was invited to the international meeting in Berlin. I was one of the chairmen of the sessions.

EB: That looked interesting. When you came back to Los Angeles...

JS: In 1958.

EB: '58. And what area of Los Angeles did you settle in?

JS: Well, UCLA is right nearby. So then that's how I got involved in the church here.

EB: And that's how you met your wife, Grace. And remind me what year that you two married.

JS: '59.

EB: '59, okay. And you have two children, right?

JS: Yes, oh, you remember?

EB: Uh-huh. I actually listened to Grace's interview a few weeks ago, so it's a little fresh, but some items, some things were fresh and some were a little fuzzy. And I want to go back for just a second. Did your parents ever talk about camp after they left, or was that something that was not discussed in your family?

JS: No, we really didn't. We've never had much conversation about that.

EB: Okay.

JS: I think maybe it's because of their religious background. They try to take a positive outlook in life.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

EB: Did anything, some things become more important to you after camp compared to before just because of your experience, your variety of experiences?

JS: Well, I've been interested in social action. For example, in this document, which I'm going to leave with you, I was involved in getting my high school diploma, which we didn't receive in 1942, together with my Japanese classmates, and I don't know if you recall, we may have briefly talked about that. And fifty-nine years after graduation we finally got our high school diplomas. And then the main thrust of my interest in pursuing that matter was the valedictorian of Lincoln High School, the graduation class of 680-plus students, that year was to be George Kurose, a Nisei. That year, because it was a Japanese, the faculty in February of 1942 decided -- they already knew he was going to be valedictorian -- they eliminated the valedictorian. And so I wanted to do justice to George and wanted us to get a diploma. So together with Dr. Magden, who was the author of Furusato, he wrote a book in 1998 about the Japanese in Pierce County, the county that encompassed Tacoma. And through his help and the former superintendent, the Tacoma School Board decided to give us a diploma fifty-nine years later. And then sixty years after graduation, at the class reunion of Lincoln High School, their 60th class reunion, George Kurose, for some fortunate reason, his children suggested and encouraged him to attend the reunion. And his good friend George Hayashi, a classmate, strongly encouraged him. And they attended the 60th reunion. And when our class president saw the replies from former graduates, he saw the name George Kurose was going to attend, so he arranged with the superintendent of the Tacoma Public Schools that the class be allowed to award George Kurose the valedictorian medallion, which the superintendent approved of. And much to the surprise of George Kurose, he received the valedictorian medallion sixty years late. So I was, played a very active role in that. Then as you know, my wife is very active about historical matters, and she's just in the process of submitting her book to a publisher about her parents. (Nisei Mom and Issei Father). And we were very much interested in the patriotism memorial in Washington, D.C., I think, and we donated to that, and we attended the ceremony where they officially installed it or whatever you want to call it. And we donated toward the Japanese American Museum. And so I'm glad to hear that you are involved in the sorts of things that we're interested in preserving.

As I mentioned, every year I give a talk at the local high school history class, I've been doing this about ten years. I give a lecture about my experiences during World War II. And last year I heard from the high school at Inglewood High, in the graduation forum that the students made out at the end of the year for this high school history teaching. They said that the best thing that they had for the school year was my lecture. So that made me happy. So I'm very grateful to people like yourself and Richard, that you're preserving the heritage at Manzanar camp. And it's nice to hear that this is the most successful of all the camps. I think that's very important.

EB: Uh-huh, I do, too. It's a pleasure to...

JS: And when I, on occasion, the people that I come in contact with at the university, when the opportunity arises they ask me about it, and so they're very... most of them were not aware that we were placed in concentration camps, so they were very interested. In fact, one of my colleagues, my successor at the university, her son did a junior high school project and he interviewed me. And he got an A grade on his interview.

EB: So I was thinking of your career. I remember when I interviewed your wife, she was telling me about your sabbaticals in Germany.

JS: Yes, I spent my four sabbaticals in Germany.

EB: Can you tell me a little bit more about that and what it was like living in Germany?

JS: Oh, we enjoyed it immensely, the entire family. I was fortunate that I got the first sabbatical on 1965, I got a United Health Foundation award, and they paid for the expenses and travel and everything for the entire family. The second sabbatical in 1972, I got the Alexander Humboldt award. It's for a senior scientist, and they had just inaugurated that program in appreciation to the United States for the Marshall Plan. I think you are aware of the Marshall Plan. And this entailed the awarding of sixty scientists a year, senior scientists, and they supported my sabbatical year. So it was a very generous award, financial award in Germany in 1972. 1979, the third sabbatical I got the Visiting Professorship Award from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, it's the equivalent of the National Science Foundation. And then the fourth sabbatical, I got a return award and the visiting professorship from the German National Science Foundation. And I've been invited back every year since 1987 for annual research conferences with a colleague from the University of Giessen, and a colleague from Japan who was the head of the virus research and vaccine control in Japan, and now he's one of the six or twelve members of the World Health Organization for influenza virus. So the German government paid for my yearly research conference back to Germany 'til my host died three years ago. After that, we were invited back for a special lecture under the generous support of the German government. So in all, I've been to Germany thirty times.

EB: Oh, wow, quite traveled.

JS: Thank you for the German Science Foundation, they supported all my travels.

EB: That's wonderful.

JS: So my children went through the German schools. The last time my children went, my daughter went to the university and my son went to the gymnasium.

EB: Uh-huh, wonderful. What a great experience.

JS: Very fortunate.

EB: Yeah. Let's see. Have you been back to the site of Tule Lake or Minidoka?

JS: No. The only place is Manzanar where my wife was, and then to the Puyallup Assembly Center outside Tacoma. I wanted to see the plaque that they placed, and it's in a very obscure place and you could hardly see it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

EB: You mentioned some involvement that you had with the different projects. Did you have any involvement in attaining redress? Like did you attend any rallies or donate money or go to any hearings?

JS: That's the only, I donated money. One of my good friends was the, he was one of the commission members.

EB: And what was his name?

JS: Bill Marutani. Do you know the name?

EB: I've heard the name.

JS: He was in Pinedale, that's where I first met him, and Tule Lake. Then I met him again in Fort Snelling because he became an officer. After his army days he attended the University of Chicago law school, and he was a prominent attorney in Philadelphia, and he was a judge there. He was active in the JACL. So I've seen him, the last time was at my oldest brother's eightieth birthday celebration in New York, and he was there the last time I saw him. One or two years after that, he passed away, unfortunately. So I kept in close contact with the redress movement. But you're doing a fine job in Manzanar.

EB: Thank you. I've got one last question for you. If you were giving advice to young people today, and I know you do through your PowerPoint presentations, what would you tell them about life in general based on your experiences?

JS: One year, one of the high school students asked me what are my thoughts about the atomic bomb, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And my response was, as an army person during World War II, war is war. So whatever happens, that's the consequence of the war. And the other question that I recall, one student asked how many years was it that I didn't see my parents. Because I left the concentration camp to go do sugar beets, completely on my own, I had to support myself from thereon. And my first visit to see my parents was when I was in the army, I got a furlough in December of 1946. So I didn't see them from 1942 to 1946, never saw my parents. So there are these rather touching questions the students would ask.

EB: It's a really good question. Wish I'd thought of it. [Laughs]

JS: So I think the question that they're most concerned about is how I was able to support myself as an eighteen year old.

EB: Yeah, that took a lot of work.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

EB: Is there anything else that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share with me today?

JS: Well, as I said previously, I'm very pleased at the kind of work that you and your staff are doing, and I think that this, my main interest today is something that is documented, history, historical aspects of what happened during World War II. It's wonderful that the government, the federal government has supported your efforts to do this. I have a question for you.

EB: Sure.

JS: How many of the camps have now declared official historical park sites, or what do you designate them as?

EB: Well, Manzanar is a National Historic Site.

JS: And how about all the other camps?

EB: The only other camp that is under the Park Service, National Park Service in the Department of the Interior is Minidoka. And it's currently Minidoka Internment National Monument, but I recently read an article in the New York Times that there is some debate about the name. There's a couple of different interest groups, and that some want it named to be Minidoka National Historic Site like Manzanar, and there's another group that would rather it be named or called Minidoka Concentration Camp National Monument. And I'll have to find a copy of that and send it to you, but I just happened to be traveling a few weeks ago and picked up a New York Times, and I opened it up, and there's this article about Minidoka. And I talked to my supervisor, Alisa Lynch, our Chief of Interpretation, said, "Oh, I found this article." She's like, "Oh, yeah," she's heard about this and I guess been asked to comment on it, but it's I had heard, and there it was in the New York Times. But that's the only one, those are the only two that are preserved through the National Park Service. And Tule Lake was named a National Historical Landmark which is a very special designation, and that happened I think on Remembrance Day of this year in February.

JS: Are they supported financially by the federal government?

EB: Just Manzanar and Minidoka right now.

JS: Well, how about Tule Lake then?

EB: Tule Lake is not. I think it's a private organization. But you know, there's hope that many of the camps will come under the jurisdiction of the Park Service and gaining legislation through, as a National Historic Landmark is one of the first steps in the process of becoming a National Historic Site and that sort of thing. And actually I have a handout for you, it's called Camp Connections, and the staff at Manzanar put it together a few years ago about all the different preservation efforts at the different camps. And so we'll have to look in there and see more about Tule Lake and who's actually preserving it. But in some way, it seems like many of the sites are preserved. I know especially the camp down in... well, they're on Native American land now, and you have to get permission, I believe, to go, to return and visit those sites. And I think some of the area that was camp is now cropland, so the archeological features and the buildings are not as easy to see as, say, Manzanar. But the camps in Arkansas, University of Arkansas Little Rock has an oral history program, and they're working to preserve those two camps, are highly involved in that.

JS: We had a big event there recently. And Rockefeller provided several million dollars.

EB: Oh, really?

JS: For that event. They invited speakers, I think Roger Daniels was one of the speakers. Boy, that was quite a big event. It was publicized in the Japanese newspapers, the Pacific Citizen. So do you envision that all of the camps will eventually come under the Park Service like Manzanar?

EB: I don't know. I don't know if maybe my supervisor would have a better idea of that. I think there's a good chance that there could be more camps designated and acquired by the Park Service, but who knows? Or if not the Park Service, hopefully a state historic system, state park system, or some other private organization could do more with any of the camps to preserve them and that sort of thing.

JS: So if I understand, Manzanar is, has sufficient financial support?

EB: Uh-huh. It does.

JS: My wife is going to go on this trip, pilgrimage was one that was organized.

EB: Yes, yes, September.

JS: September 23rd or something. So she's going to go on that. It's only a small group, only about one busload.

EB: Okay.

JS: Well, you've heard about it before.

EB: Yeah, Richard and I are excited about the group coming.

JS: Now my wife is saying, "Why do they have to go so far to go to a Japanese restaurant?"

EB: It's the only one around.

JS: Have you heard about that?

EB: Yeah, in Bishop.

JS: Isn't there any around Lone Pine?

EB: Nope. [Laughs] Lone Pine isn't quite that exotic. You can get some Mexican food in Lone Pine. There is a French restaurant in Independence.

JS: They had a good restaurant in Lone Pine, American food. We ate there.

EB: Yeah, there's a couple of good restaurants. And actually the Japanese restaurant in Bishop just moved down there. It was the gentleman that owned the restaurant up in Mammoth, and he opened one up in Bishop back in December. So it's still fairly new, and it's always crowded. That's a pretty far track, but I live in Bishop and I do the drive every day. It's a pretty drive, so I think it'll be worth it.

JS: Well, thank you.

EB: Thank you. It's been a great interview, and I appreciate your time.

JS: Sure, I'm happy to do this.

EB: Thank you.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.