Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: James T. Johnston - William R. Johnston - Dorothy J. Whitlock Interview
Narrators: James T. Johnston, William R. Johnston, Dorothy J. Whitlock
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Sedona, Arizona
Date: April 16, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-jjames_g-01-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

KL: Are there other connections that you've encountered in your adult lives, or after leaving there? Are there people that you've kept in touch with from Rohwer, did your family stay in touch with anyone from the administration and the camp?

WJ: Well, Dorothy and I both traveled back to Rohwer. She would stay with Barbara Gould, and I'd go stay with Joe Stroud.

DW: We did that --

WJ: We did that --

DW: -- two or three years after we'd moved away. I think the last time Barbara came to see me, I might have been in tenth grade or something like that.

WJ: I don't know whether we even met, because I want to say by the time I got to the seventh or eighth grade, Joe and I stopped.

DW: Okay. Well, if you were --

WJ: We used to go spend a couple weeks --

DW: Yeah. If you had been in eighth, I'd have been in the tenth. Somewhere about in then is when we just kind of were growing apart.

KL: What was the camp like then when you came back?

DW: There was nothing there. It was just weeds...

KL: What was that experience like?

DW: Now, that, she was, we were talking about this when you guys were gone, the monument. What else, what's the other monument that's still there?

JJ: This and one other. This monument's still there. That was to the Japanese soldiers.

DW: Yeah, I told her that one, but what's the other one?

WJ: It's the obelisk that's got an eagle on top of it? I put your description in the stuff I gave you here, but I failed to get a picture of it.

DW: Okay, I didn't know that.

KL: Was this monument put up during World War II time?

DW: Yes. It was there when they were living in the camp, and they added names to it as people died.

KL: Was it part of the camp, it was inside the camp?

DW: Inside. At the time, now, where it is now, I don't know. Did they move it?

WJ: It's still there.

DW: But it was in the camp, yeah.

WJ: In fact, here's a description of the Rohwer internees' memorial monument.

DW: Oh, yeah.

WJ: Dad as director, but when I saved that from whatever website I got it off of, I didn't get a picture. I just got the screen...

DW: Well, you guys, you have been back to Rohwer, and you have, Bill, and I have not. But that, as I understand, is all that's there, really.

WJ: It is. Little cemetery and those two monuments.

KL: When did you go back?

WJ: I've been back a couple of times. My wife and I, since we've retired, we travel around in that RV all the time, and we've been, we kind of like south Arkansas, and we go watch our grandsons play football and have ever since we retired, this fall was the last one. Anyway, when they'd get in the playoffs, they would wind up playing somebody in south Arkansas, and they lived fairly south Arkansas, Wynne. But we'd go down to that area, then we'd tend to visit other places...

KL: So that's been recent, like in the 1990s and 2000.

WJ: Oh, yeah. Well, between 2002 and now, that's when I've been retired. We've been twice. And stopped at a location close to the Jerome camp and talked to a fellow that has all kinds of information about Jerome camp and Rohwer. I cannot think of his name.

KL: What's his interest?

WJ: What?

KL: Is he just interested in local history, or does he have some --

WJ: He owns the land now where Jerome camp stood, and he's just interested in it as a historic fact, and what history he can dig up. I'm not sure if he owned it before the camp and then bought it back, I don't think so. I think he bought it afterwards, and I don't think he was even there when the camp was operating.

DW: Does somebody own Rohwer now?

WJ: Yes.

DW: The land? What are they doing with it?

WJ: Farm.

DW: They just farm around the monuments?

WJ: Yeah.

DW: Okay.

WJ: Where the camp is, grow your cotton or soybeans.

DW: I went back to Arkansas, what, October a year ago. Next time I go back, I'm going to go to Dyess.

WJ: Dyess or Rohwer?

DW: Well, Rohwer, of course. I'd like to go to Rohwer, I've never been back to either one.

JJ: It's a pretty good drive, but it's doable. You make it a round trip in a day, but it's a long day.

DW: That's a long trip, yeah.

WJ: Depends on where you start. If you get in an RV park in Lake Chicot, well, then it's not too bad a drive.

JJ: I'm remembering now that I totally forgot this. Mama and I went back to Rohwer after you all were gone.

DW: Did you?

WJ: Was anything left there when you went?

JJ: I have no memories. The last time I went was about, my wife and I went about six, seven years ago, and remember just what you were talking about. Don't have clear memories other than of the monuments itself when Mom and I went. This would have been in the late '90s or late '80s.

WJ: For a while there, I think it was overgrown, weeds and stuff. But there's a preservation society been developed, and they go out and clean up around. Last time I was there, they were well-tended, not great. Kind of like an abandoned cemetery. They cemetery's still there. It was fascinating grave, of course, there were four or five infants that died --

DW: Baby graves, yeah.

WJ: But Japanese Americans. Anyway, you take, it's a pretty small plot.

KL: Did your mom, do you remember anything your mom said that surprised you?

JJ: No. It's just a shame that no one was able to... she was full of stories. I can't really recall anything other than what we were just talking about. But she would have been one for this, because she kind of got into history, and she liked to, she would have loved to relay the stories.

KL: Well, and her interest in home economics, too, I mean, that would have been very interesting, I'm sure, for her, to see what people did with the living space.

DW: How they ate.

JJ: Yeah, well, of course, any of the people there working in that camp, I doubt any of them ever got a good interview did on some recording like you all are doing. And that's gone...

KL: I find the people who were teenagers and younger, usually. And so we have a better understanding of their thinking than we do with the older generation.

WJ: If you could find -- and I don't know of any kids -- a couple of the Miller boys would have been high school. But if you could find kids that went tenth grade through twelve, their impression was probably --

DW: In the high school at that time, I think. A little more, anyway, maybe. Hopefully.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.