Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: George Maeda Interview
Narrator: George Maeda
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Santa Ana, California
Date: October 13, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-mgeorge_6-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

KL: Do you recall either reputations or encounters that you had other members of the WRA? Like what people's impressions were of Ralph Merritt or of Roy Nash? And you were young...

GM: I don't know Roy Nash, I remember Mr. Merritt, but I had no encounter with him. I did have... the police department had some Japanese Americans in it and some Caucasians, and this one day, I think four of us decided that we were going to sneak out from camp, dig a hole and sneak out the fence, and we successfully did that and we traveled three, four miles up toward the mountains. And I remember a trout going upstream, so I took my t-shirt off, I ran into the creek, and I actually caught this fish. And it was a pretty good sized fish, and I said, "What do I do with?" And everybody said, "I don't know," so I let it go again. It was a great day until we got back and we were caught by the camp police. And we were taken in this jeep to the police station, that was the one and only time I ever saw the inside of that police station. We never got in trouble, but I was so scared, I remember one policeman that said, "Just scare the thing out of them." [Laughs] And they did. And we never did that again.

KL: Did they tell your parents?

GM: No. Oh, I would have been whipped. [Laughs] Although my father, thank god, he never laid a hand on me. But I used to be so scared of him, I did not want him to be angry at me. I guess someone asked me, "Did you respect him or fear him?" And I said, "I don't know which was worse, one or the other." But when he said jump, I say, "How far? How high?" I admired my father.

KL: The police force, did you have, what were your feelings about it aside from that one instance? Was it a part of your life there?

GM: That's the only time I had anything to do with them or really saw that. But I remember an interview that I saw recorded from an internee, and I don't know if it was Manzanar or somewhere else. Oh, it was this interview that I told you about, the high school students, and I don't even know if it was Manzanar, but a group of people went to complain to the camp director to ask if they could unarm the guards that were armed with machine guns. And the camp director said, "Well, they're armed to protect you." And his comment was, "If they're protecting us, why are they pointing at us?" But I remember seeing that on the same interview that I had, sort of comical, that's all.

KL: Did you ever get any... some people remember their parents warning them about the fence and the guards? Did you ever get... I guess two parts, did you ever get any, sort of, direction for how to stay safe or how to interact with the fence and the guards?

GM: I guess we were told just to stay away from it, except for that one day we decided to break the rules.

KL: How old were you that day?

GM: Well, I was there between nine and twelve, so I had to be in between, probably ten or eleven.

KL: And you said you guys dug a hole under the fence?

GM: Yeah.

KL: That's impressive.

GM: [Laughs] I thought so too, at the time we did it.

KL: How long did it take?

GM: I don't remember. I remember the fish that I caught. Later on they, after the first year or so, I don't know if the guard, they removed the guards, but (some people) channeled the creek and made a swimming pool outside the camp. So our camp swimming pool was really outside the camp.

KL: Did you spend time there?

GM: Yeah, we used to go there.

KL: What was it like?

GM: People would just jump in the water. That's the only... there was nothing like that within the camp, but there was water that was over your head.

KL: That was on the south side, in the creek? There was the reservoir that was northwest of Manzanar.

GM: If you enter Manzanar, I would say it's on the right side, a little past the fence. You know where the hospital used to be? It was past there.

KL: Okay, so that's the reservoir, it was concrete-lined and stuff?

GM: It wasn't concrete-lined, no. I don't remember that. It was just a huge hole.

KL: So you said you were kind of up with the sun and playing a lot, and you mentioned the barbell club and sort of the junior version. Where did you play? What other places do you remember?

GM: We were never short of ideas. Later on, in the middle of the block, they built a basketball court, and we used to play basketball there. Played baseball, and on weekends they had a movie in the fire block, we used to go see. We were never short of things to do.

KL: Did you stay in Block 15 the whole time you were in Manzanar?

GM: Yes.

KL: We've excavated a lot of the gardens at Manzanar. Do you remember any ponds or any small gardens that stick out in your mind?

GM: I never paid too much attention to it. But is it Bear Creek? I remember a couple places there that we used to go to once in a while. We didn't go around too much there. On the... is that the north? As you enter the complex, it's on the right side.

KL: That's the north.

GM: There used to be a garden there, very impressive garden, I remember that.

KL: When did Shizuko leave Manzanar?

GM: She was one of the first ones to leave when they allowed us to leave, and I don't remember when that was.

KL: Did she date at all in Manzanar? I know you said she married later.

GM: I don't remember her dating in Manzanar.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.