Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Saburo Masada Interview
Narrator: Saburo Masada
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Fresno, California
Date: September 11, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-msaburo-01-0010

<Begin Segment 10>

KL: Tell us about your departure from Fresno, and where you went and what it was like.

SM: Yeah. Well, I remember taking a train, and we had to sit up all the way, sleep and eat and whatever, and I think our food, I remember seeing brown paper bags, like sandwiches or fruit or whatever. And I remember, I don't remember all the details, or much of the details, but when we were going through Colorado someone said, "Look up there, that's the highest bridge in the world." And I remember looking up and it was about this big [shows with fingers], way up in the sky. So I remember things like that. When we got to Rohwer, I don't remember too many, remember details of getting from the train to our barrack, but one thing I'll never forget is the first supper we had there. It was mutton soup, and it was, grease was all over the surface, and we ate it and everybody got diarrhea because it was mutton soup and I guess it just didn't agree with us. And that's, I might say that's the only meal I can remember ever eating in camp. Marion remembers not liking this and not liking that because too much of it, but I remember eating everything we had and just went out to play. Food was not an issue for me. I don't remember getting milk, but I'm sure, according to stories or pictures, I've seen children, little children given milk.

KL: That was a very early meal, you said, or your first meal, that mutton soup?

SM: The first supper after arrived, we arrived there, was mutton stew or mutton soup.

KL: What were the toilet facilities? How did you deal with that area?

SM: I don't remember that. I don't remember that part.

KL: Did you have any other first impressions of Jerome?

SM: Well, it was a wood, we were in the corner, so it was closest to the forest, so we had a lot of trees in our block. And the first thing that was going on was people were cutting down certain trees or bringing trees from across the fence to our block, and everybody was chopping wood and sawing the tree limbs so that we could have wood for our stoves in the barracks. So we had a big pile of wood for fuel that they were, that's the first thing, first busy activity that, as soon as we got there, that was part of our, the work to do there. So we all helped out in one way or another. But we didn't all have stoves, when we first got there, but that was for future fuel supply. And we had a guard tower right, the corner of our barrack, of our Block 43.


KL: We just paused to let the voicemail finish its thing. So I was asking you about your relationship to the guard towers and...

SM: No, we just knew that, what the rules were. We never had to think about breaking the rules or getting into any kind of trouble. It didn't take long for things to relax, so we could go out into the forest. And I think the government knew before we left Fresno that this was a big mistake, because by June, see, we were put in there in May, by June 17th there was no way that Japan was going to invade the West Coast, which was not even possible, even without it, but Japan lost major battles in the Pacific and there was just no way, and only 17,000 were in the concentration camps when, at that date. But they decided to keep going because they couldn't, I guess they couldn't stop the ball from rolling. And DeWitt was such a racist that he, he sort of ruled the roost by saying, "We don't want them here and they're not coming back," which the government had to overrule. But he didn't want us back at all, and he didn't want any Japanese American soldiers either, to fight for our country. But he was just an out and out racist, and that's why I believe, firmly believe that if it wasn't for the forty year history of anti-Japanese movement on the West Coast and for General DeWitt, who happened to be the commanding officer of the Western Command, this would not have happened. The FBI, all the intelligence agencies said we don't need to do this. And Curtis Munson, two years before Pearl Harbor, was sent by the State Department to study the West Coast problem, and he said there's no "Japanese problem." But because of the forty years of anti-Japanese movement to try to get rid of the Japanese competition and Japanese people, and DeWitt's swallowing all these rumors, it happened, and nobody was going to stand up. Politicians wanted to be elected, so they joined in to get elected, which Earl Warren did, testified that, "The very fact that they haven't done anything wrong is proof that they're going to do it, when the right time comes." And in his memoir he said that was a big mistake, but then... so General Emmons of Hawaii, where there were 150,000 Japanese, refused to do what DeWitt was, recommended they do. And so DeWitt was kicked out '43 and Emmons took over. I think the government was already, even with the questionnaire, I think that was, somebody thought that if they could do that they can start releasing people to join the army and people to move out of the camps, but the damage was already done. So it was very tragic.

But my feeling is, unfortunately, most people still people think that, because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, it was necessary to evacuate. Had nothing to do with the war, had nothing to do with the security of our country. Had everything to do with these anti-Japanese movements exploiting the war and DeWitt accepting all these rumors and lies as evidence of -- and there was no evidence, only public opinion. So if a public opinion leader said we should do it, that's all it took to allow DeWitt to have his way, which was really unconscionable. So I believe it, we need to get the story straight, especially those who still think that for the national security it was important to, for this to happen. There was no national security issue. Not a single Japanese American has been arrested or accused of being a spy or saboteur. There were seventeen or eighteen who were arrested, none of them were Japanese, during the war, World War II. So the story needs to be heard and understood, that our history, our stories of our history of why it happened is not accurate, and people still have the impression that, "Well, it was too bad, but that's war. You have to protect our country," and things like that. It all had to do with these anti-Japanese movements. And they were failing, and I think I mentioned earlier that by the end of '41 forty-two percent of all the commercial truck crops were grown by Japanese American farmers, which is twenty-two percent of our nation's total. And ninety-nine percent of all the vegetables in California at that, end of '41, was produced by Japanese American farmers. So you can imagine the competition that was not appreciated by the farmers, the farm bureaus and the grower-shippers, but those were the, some of the key organizations that kept pushing to get rid of the Japanese on the West Coast, and when Pearl Harbor happened that was the perfect time to get rid of them forever. Of course they failed again, but the public, I don't think, really understands how that played into what happened. Had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, except ignorant people who swallowed all the rumors and propaganda.

KL: And the results were, that change in military events, in Jerome, was that you saw a real, a relaxation?

SM: Oh yeah, right away.

KL: So when you arrived it was much tighter than, say, a month...

SM: Yeah, at the beginning, right. Just like, at Fresno it continued all the way through, the searchlights and the curfew, but by, that's October we went to Arkansas, and by then, I mean, there was no report of people trying to escape from camps or... and the administrations of the camps, they were, administrators, they were all surprised that it was so easy for them to administer these eight thousand, ten thousand people in the camps.

KL: Did you ever have any contact with staff or with local people who predated the camps?

SM: No, not really. Except Dr. ... I forgot his name right now, the professor (Harold) Jacoby, who was the security director of Tule Lake camp before it became a segregated camp. But he wrote a book (Tule Lake: From Relocation to Segregation) in his retirement, and he wanted to teach his grandchildren and others that it was not a concentration camp. He said the women had it easy; they didn't have to cook, they smiled a lot. And he said, "I can't even remember any guard towers being around Tule Lake," and he said, "Gee, was there a fence around Tule Lake?" He says, "I can't remember." Well, I think he's dementia by then, and then he's trying to write a book saying that these were evidence that the camp was not anything like a concentration camp. He said, "If it were, why would these young people who were, went out the camps, come back on Christmas to visit the families, if it was a concentration camp?" And he said, "They even have camp reunions. They've invited me to the reunions in Sacramento." Said if it was a concentration camp -- well, the Holocaust people, they get together. So, I mean, he was really, either he was trying to hide his part in this, which he didn't have to, but... yeah, so it was just unbelievable.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.