Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Richard M. Murakami Interview
Narrator: Richard M. Murakami
Interviewer: Larisa Proulx
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 19, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-mrichard_2-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

LP: Back after a break, this is tape three. And would you mind talking a little bit about the end part of being at Heart Mountain and going to L.A.?

RM: Okay. When we left Heart Mountain, we came back to Florin. And I left early by myself, because my mother wanted me to get back to go to school. So I came out early, about a month and a half early, and I stayed with my uncle and aunt, Bob and Alice, to go to school. And I guess I had two experiences about getting back. When I first came back to Florin, it's a very bad experience. Got back there and people called us "Japs" and all that kind of stuff. Well, like I said, very bad experience. And then after a semester at Elk Grove High School, I came back to Lakewood, and I was the first Japanese American coming back to Lakewood. But after the experience in Elk Grove, in Florin, I was kind of afraid of what would happen when I came back to Lakewood. But when I came back to Lakewood, it was a completely different experience, it was completely opposite. The first day I went back to school, I sat in the back row, and I really believed that the teacher explained to the class that I was coming. And I sat down, and he introduced me. And the first question the guy who was sitting next to me, you know what question he asked me was? "You play basketball?" I said, "Yes." "Oh, okay." And that day, the first day, they had elections. The first thing is I'm the basketball captain, next thing I'm the homeroom representative, and I'm elected for all these things. And the guy explains to me that the reason why is because at Lakewood Junior High School, if you get so many points by electing to this and to that, you get a letter. And it takes you a whole year to get a letter. I earned a letter in a semester, and I got more points in that semester than anybody else in the school. Well, it's because people in the class did what they did. And it was a completely different reception than what I had when I came back to Florin. I was really surprised. And I remember a couple of guys, because I had left lake Lakewood after the war, so it was completely different, not only a couple of guys, but it was just completely different. It was a completely different attitude and atmosphere for me. So that what happened was then what happened was that I was the first guy back, so then after, I don't know how many... about a month or so, then had two other... I was in the ninth grade, had two eighth graders come to school there. I was a hall monitor, and one day they came walking by, so I called them aside and said, "Okay, you guys, you guys better behave, 'cause I have a reputation here. Because if you guys don't behave, I'm going to get on you guys." So I became like a big brother. So that's one thing that I'll remember that forever for that. I've had nothing but good experiences in Lakewood. Like I said, the guy that helped my father, and then coming back here. And then went to Dorsey, same thing, never had a problem after the war in Southern California. So it was a total difference.

LP: Did you, after high school, go to college, or what were your, what was your path after...

RM: Well, remember I told you I was a bad student? After high school I thought I was going to... gardener was making good money. So I tell people this story, I was going to become a gardener but I always say somebody was looking out for me, because that was the hottest summer we ever had. So I said, "Richard was not born to sweat." So after staying out one semester, I went back to school. And luckily, when I went back to school, I took accounting, and my accounting classes I took with a guy that I went to high school with, Dorsey High School with, he was in the same class. So we started competing to see who was going to get the highest grades in the test. So we used to do that. So then I found out that I guess I wasn't as dumb as I thought I was, anyway. So then after about a year and a half, he comes to me one day and he says, "Hey, Richard, I've got accepted to go to SC." I said, "Oh, yeah?" So I said to myself, "Oh, if this guy could go to SC, I can, too." Now, mind you, I have no way of knowing how I'm going to pay for it. So I applied and got accepted, but I did not know how I can pay for it. So my last year at City College, I was going to City College, Los Angeles City College, I took sixteen units and I was working forty-eight hours a week. I had enough money to go -- that was Korean War time, so I made enough money to go the first year, and that's the second year, I don't know what I'm going to do. So I applied for deferment for the first semester, second semester I said I'm going to go for second semester, knock on wood, and hope I can finish, and maybe I'll get drafted after. Well, as luck would have it, I got drafted, but I went in two days after my last final. Talk about luck. It was during the Korean War, so I went in and then North Korea signed the armistice so I never had to go overseas. I spent two years... I try not to claim I'm a Korean War vet, but people say I am. I spent two years at Fort Ord, California, came back out, and went back to SC, finished graduating. One year I worked for the City of Los Angeles and I went to work for the state. I retired after thirty-six years.

LP: At what point did you -- so you left Heart Mountain a little bit earlier than other parts of your family? At what point did they leave Heart Mountain and where did they go?

RM: See, I left in August and they left sometime in September.

LP: A month difference or so?

RM: Huh?

LP: About a month difference.

RM: Yeah, yeah.

LP: And did they go to the same progression of, back to Florin?

RM: Yeah, Florin. We went back and lived in the same kind of auditorium that we did before we went into camp.

LP: That church or whatever.

RM: Church, yeah.

LP: And at the beginning you mentioned some things that had been stored in a basement and different things. So do you know what happened to some of those things?

RM: Well, the person that rented the house with my uncle, quote/unquote, one of his real good friends, claimed that there was a flood and the basement got flooded. So he cleaned everything out. Well, all I could say is the basement never flooded before and never flooded after, so we lost a lot of things, memorabilia things. Because, see, I went to this two-room schoolhouse, and I wanted to get this photo. I remember they closed the school, there must have been about fifteen students, I really wanted that photo to show that people that... I don't have that photo because it was in the basement. So there are other photos that we had, because we didn't take too many photos of our family. But that's one photo I really wanted to have, but those kind of things we don't have. Lot of people, we say they have memories, photos from before, but we don't have those things, so that's one of the things I miss.

LP: Can we get the name of the school, the two-room schoolhouse? Do you remember the location of where it was, or was there a name for it?

RM: Oh, okay, it was in Lakewood, but I don't remember the school. It was a two-room schoolhouse on Carson Boulevard, and there's supposed to be a monument there. I keep saying I got to go back there and visit.

LP: There was that one piece of equipment, the Caterpillar, that your dad got back, and so that one guy that was really honest. Did you get a sense that they were surprised about coming back and things not being there, what their reaction was? I assume that they were upset and frustrated by that, but did you get a sense of what their reaction was to coming back and all those things being gone?

RM: All I remember is they were happy to see us, and we were happy to see them. And Japanese, for New Year's time, we have this big feast, I remember them coming to our house after we moved to L.A, coming into our house to have a New Year's feast for at least maybe five years afterwards until he passed away, I remember that. Whitey, during the war, was a policeman in Whittier. They were really top notch people.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.