Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Victor Ikeda Interview
Narrator: Victor Ikeda
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: November 6, 2007
Densho ID: denshovh-ivictor-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: [My name is Richard Potashin and we are at the] Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are interviewing Victor Ikeda, a former internee at the Puyallup Assembly Center and the Minidoka War Relocation Center. The date of the interview is November 6, 2007, and we'll be talking with Mr. Ikeda about his experiences at both camps framed in reference to his life before and after camp as well. Our videographer for this interview is Kirk Peterson. Victor, I want to thank you very much for --

VI: You're welcome.

RP: -- sharing some of your morning talking about your family history and your camp history. Let's start our interview this morning talking a little bit about your family. First of all, can you give us your date of birth and where you were born?

VI: I was born February 4, 1927, in Seattle, Washington.

RP: And what was your given name at birth?

VI: It was Junichi, and Victor was added later on so it's kind of a complicated thing. If you look at my driver's license, it has J. Victor Ikeda. If you look at my latest birth certificate, it has Victor Junichi Ikeda. [Laughs] So...

RP: Can you give us any insights into the meaning of your Japanese name?

VI: Well, the first part, Junichi, "ichi" means "first"; but "Jun," I don't, I don't know what that means. Ikeda is kind of like a rice pond, so it's a rice field type meaning. That was what I was told. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your dad, first of all. What was his name?

VI: His name was Taijiro, and, of course, when he worked he had the name Tom, you know. But basically it was Taijiro.

RP: What can you tell us about his life in Japan, where he was born?

VI: Well, he was born in Takamatsu, which is on the island of Shikoku. It's a smaller island right across the sea from Hiroshima there. He was the oldest son, and how he made it here is kind of a... usually the oldest son stays behind, and the younger son leaves. But he came here, I think, in about 1908, I think.

RP: And do you know why he came?

VI: Oh, well, not real...

RP: You said he was the oldest son.

VI: Yes, so not really. I never did get it from him why he came, so there must have been a lot of reasons for a lot of people coming.

RP: Economics?

VI: Economics, and you had a war almost starting, you know, with Manchuria and all that, so...

RP: So he may have come to avoid the draft or something?

VI: Could be, but... yeah, but probably came more to make a name for himself because they all come over here with the idea of making the millions and going back to the home country. And he probably had the same idea. [Laughs]

RP: Like everybody else.

VI: Yeah, but I never did really sit down and talk to him, you know, about why he came.

RP: But he, he came to Seattle. He settled in Seattle?

VI: Yes. They came to Seattle. [Interruption] And I think he went back to Japan and got married and brought my mother. That's what most of the Isseis did. They came here, you know, single, and a lot of 'em went back and got their bride and came back. I think that was about 1918, and some of these dates I'm not that sure about, but then... and my older sister was born in 1920, and the next sister was born, that's Martha, and Hannah was born in 1922, I think, or '23.

RP: What was her Japanese name?

VI: Junichi.

RP: Oh, I'm sorry, your sister?

VI: It was Masako, but then it becomes Martha. And the other one is Hanako, and it becomes Hannah, so they went through life as Martha and Hannah, you know, so...

RP: And were you the only boy in the family?

VI: Yes, and I was the youngest, so I probably was spoiled. [Laughs]

RP: Well, yeah. Got to keep some traditions going here.

VI: Yeah. [Laughs]

RP: When you look back on your father, what do you see as a child? Can you describe him personality-wise and physically?

VI: Well, he was, he wasn't a big man, or he was just average, probably about 5'5", you know. And most of the Isseis were smaller than we were. And they weren't too vocal as far as talking about family. I think they had a tradition that they expected us to be good, and, you know, do things right. I mean, they don't hound on us. And you have kind of a language barrier because you're brought up in a public school so you speak English and very little Japanese except what you hear at home. So you speak, say, Japanese, to your parents but not the kind that you can keep on conversing. So we didn't have too many conversations about, you know... they just expected you to grow up and be good. [Laughs]

RP: Was he very strict with you, with the kids?

VI: As far as I remember, maybe he was stricter with my sisters than myself. I think they have a tendency to kind of coddle boys than they do the girls, so...

RP: What were some of his other -- you mentioned that he expected you to grow up and be good. Were there other expectations as well that you recall?

VI: No, except... oh, there's one thing that I think... you're brought up, and if you can do that, you won't have to worry about anything else. And that's what I tell my kids, "Don't ever disgrace your family name." And if you do that, that's all you have to do. Then there's no other words you need to tell your people, that if you don't disgrace it, then you'll probably grow up good. So that's about the things that I remember as we were growing up, that it's always, you protect your family name. That way, you probably won't get into trouble, you know, so...

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your mother. You said that your dad went back to Japan, and generally, from what I've heard, marriages would be arranged.

VI: Yeah.

RP: You didn't pick who you would marry.

VI: No, they were, yeah.

RP: But family members or other baishakunin --

VI: They called baishakunin, yeah.

RP: -- would arrange the marriages.

VI: Right.

RP: Do you know how they met and what the circumstances were?

VI: No, I don't, but I'll tell you a funny story. My wife's parents, now, they were matched by baishakunin. And whenever they got into arguments, the father would cuss the heck out of the baishakunin. [Laughs] My wife used to tell me that. So, we thought it was kind of funny, he'd always get, not mad at her, but he'd get mad at the baishakunin for matching 'em up. [Laughs]

RP: What was your mother's name?

VI: Tsuru.

RP: And can you tell us about the meaning of her name?

VI: I think that means "crane."

RP: What's the significance of the crane in Japanese culture?

VI: I think it's kind of a peace. Because one of the things that you'll notice, like at the Hiroshima memorial, that you will always see the kids doing a thousand cranes, that's always hung there. So I think it's probably kind of like a peace symbol, you know.

RP: Did your mother kind of exude that kind of feeling?

VI: Yeah, usually when the Issei women came here, they were pretty docile, and they didn't speak too much. They just raised their family, so...

RP: Right, they were very subservient to their husband?

VI: Right. Very, very, yeah.

RP: Their role was very defined?

VI: Right, so you don't see too many stories about Issei women, 'cause they were so subservient that...

RP: Victor, what else do you recall about your mom?

VI: Oh, she was always cheerful, you know. And sometimes I wonder as we grew up, the way we treat our kids, it's a wonder what things that we did that our parents and our mothers didn't get after us.

RP: Like what?

VI: Oh, just being, you know, being kids the way they are, just being naughty, or like we started smoking early when we shouldn't have been smoking and, you know, things like that. When you're young, you think you should drink. Of course, like in our family if I have a sip I turn beet red so there's no way I can hide if I was, had a drink or not. But they never said a word, you know. So if my kids did that when they were my age, I'd probably get after 'em. I know my wife would have, you know, so...

RP: Your parents kind of were pretty tolerant?

VI: Yeah, they were pretty tolerant.

RP: So when did you start smoking?

VI: I have a story on that. Do you want to hear it now or later on?

RP: Right now.

VI: Oh, we were in camp. And we were the first ones to reach Minidoka relocation camp, the first group. And, of course, you had a lot of things that weren't finished yet, and one of the things that weren't finished was the plumbing in some of the blocks. So what they had was what we called a "ten-holer," it was an outhouse with five holes on one side and five on the other. So we'd go in there after we ate breakfast and be sittin' there. And, of course, the smell is pretty strong so they'll pass a, start smokin' so everybody will everybody the cigarettes to try to kill the smell of the thing, and that's when I started smoking. [Laughs] And another story with that is, we'd always find some wisecracker that would light a toilet paper and throw it down there, the toilet paper down there would catch on fire while people are sittin' on there. [Laughs] So, you know, that's when I started smoking. And some of my friends started at the same time, and they didn't want their parents to catch 'em so they'd alternate who takes the pack of cigarettes home, and they take it home and they hide it in their shoes. And, of course, one day he came back with a real glum face and he says, "My mom found the cigarettes." Of course, she probably knew 'cause when you smoke, you walk in and you reek of cigarette smell anyway. [Laughs]

RP: Yeah, just like this room.

VI: Yeah, you can smell that. That's when I started smoking, and I was fifteen then.

RP: Fifteen.

VI: Yeah.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: What did your dad do for a living when he first came to America?

VI: Well, he worked on various jobs. He worked at the fish cannery... we had a very -- I don't know if you are familiar with the state of Washington, we have the San Juan Islands? And there was a cannery in Friday Harbor. And summertime, he and my mom, they'd go up there. He worked in the cannery, she helped cook and all that and bring the family up there. So we'd spend our summers in Friday Harbor.

RP: Now, was that just off the coast of Washington or near Seattle?

VI: Well, no, that's up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Canada and Washington. It's a beautiful place. And being about five, six or seven, we'd play on the beach all day long while they worked. When he came back afterwards, they leased a hotel and they ran the hotel, and they had about thirty rooms, I think. And then part time, he worked as kind of a handyman at a restaurant in the Pioneer Square area because they used that to support the family. And the funny part about this hotel -- you say you're not familiar with Seattle, but Seattle is built on hills. And they have this one hill up Yesler Way, which is right on top of the city, and the hotel sat right there. Except during those years, you never thought about scenery or view property. All we know is it's a hell of a long ways to walk up the hill, you know, if you had to go downtown. Now, if you bought -- and that was, they were replaced by a housing project, the whole area, so now they have a housing project there. I think eventually they will become all condominiums 'cause that's right on top of the city of Seattle. But the interesting thing about Seattle is before the World War II, I think the statistics were about 90 percent of all the hotels were run by Japanese. And they had leased all these hotels; and most of 'em were downtown, and they were smaller hotels. Of course, the other 10 percent were the luxury hotels downtown. So you had lots and lots of Japanese families leasing and running hotels. And after they took the hotel for the housing project, we moved up town a little bit, and he had an apartment that we had until we left for camp.

RP: Just to go back a little bit, the summers that you spent --

VI: Friday Harbor.

RP: -- at Friday Harbor. How many years did you do that? Was that --

VI: I think we did it three years, three summers.

RP: How young were you?

VI: I think I was six. My sisters went to school there for a while, and I hadn't quite gotten to kindergarten yet, so five, six, around there.

RP: So do you remember playing on the beach?

VI: And the thing I remember very distinctly was the Puget Sound has very low tides. And then that area of Puget Sound is known for octopus. So what happens is when you get a very low tide, you get these holes, you know, in the little caves. And the men used to go out there with lye, and they'd pour the lye down the hole which irritates the octopus to come out. And then they would grab it and turn it around, and right inside the octopus they have this beak, the mouth. And once you cut that, they just kind of die. So it was, you know, we'd watch 'em. It'd be late at night, but we'd go down and watch 'em sometimes do that. And I remember that distinctly. [Laughs]

RP: This is something that would happen at night.

VI: Oh, usually you'd get a low tide or something.

RP: And so was the octopus used for food?

VI: You eat it, yeah.

RP: Did you eat it?

VI: Oh, yeah. Octopus is a little tough but, you know, chewy. [Laughs]

RP: How would it be prepared? I mean, would your mom cook it up?

VI: Well, you could make sashimi out of octopus or you can put it in vinegar. But those were pretty nice days.

RP: Where did you live on the island? Was there company housing?

VI: Yeah, they had company housing. The cannery had company housing.

RP: Do you remember what that was like?

VI: No, I don't. [Laughs] Yeah, I'm sure it wasn't very permanent because a lot of the men came from Seattle and worked the summer and went back.

RP: Can you describe the island to us? Was it very lush?

VI: Oh, yeah. If I say San Juan Islands, most of the people that's been around... in fact, I had a friend from Philadelphia that I worked with for a long time, and he came over here, and we took him up to the World's Fair up in Vancouver 1962. And I took him through the, coming home, through the San Juan Islands. There's about five islands there, and you go through the islands with a ferry boat 'cause you dock. And he kept on saying, "Is this part of the United States?" because it was so beautiful, and you didn't have people living all over the place. The San Juans are really -- now they're getting to the point where I think they're getting overcrowded 'cause everybody's buying into the property up there.

RP: So you would take a ferry boat to get to the islands?

VI: Right. Right.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: And what type of cannery was it?

VI: It was a salmon cannery.

RP: These fish would be caught off --

VI: Right there.

RP: Right there and they were...

VI: Brought in.

RP: ...brought in. And that's where your dad worked.

VI: Right.

RP: Do you know what he did there?

VI: Well, he probably did what most of us do. As the fish comes in, you have people that butcher the fish. They...

RP: Fillet it?

VI: Fillet it. And they can it and put it in the retort. So what he did exactly I don't know, but that's what most of us did while we were going to school. When we were going to college during the summertimes, a lot of 'em will go up to Alaska and work the fish canneries for the summer.

RP: And did you ever do that?

VI: I did that, but I didn't go up to Alaska. I went up to Anacortes, they had a, Washington, which had a fish cannery, so we went up there and worked the canneries.

RP: That was just for a summer?

VI: Yes, just for summer.

RP: So it was to make some money for college?

VI: Well, yeah, for college, spending money, you know.

RP: Or a trip to Las Vegas?

VI: [Laughs] We came to Las Vegas in 1951, and there wasn't too much here. [Laughs]

RP: What kind of work is working the cannery? What was it like?

VI: Well, the fish, the tenders would come in and, of course, they'd dump the fish out. The first one you have is you have the sorters to sort out the different species of fish. And then they sent it through, they call it the "iron chink," which cuts the head off and the shoulders off. And then you got people cleaning the inside out, and then you go into it, and then they slice the, into strips which then you pack it into the cans and put it into the retorts. You put a salt capsule in there, and then that cans it. And then the best part of the salmon is their collar. I don't know if you people have ever eaten collar, but that's the real fatty part of the... and since they used to throw it away, they all used to cut the collar off and then put it in barrels and salt it and then bring it down. When they're through they would bring it down to Seattle, and we'd have salted collar which was very good. [Laughs]

RP: You remember having that as a kid?

VI: Yeah, yeah. Of course, nobody's real rich during that time so you eat things like that. But they were good, now you go to the restaurants, some of the Japanese restaurants still specialize in it. But you could only get it if they can get it, so that's good.

RP: Well, it sounds like you had a great, you know, great summers at the --

VI: We did.

RP: -- island. What a special place, kind of like going away on up for a three-month vacation.

VI: Yeah. And then when I look back at my childhood, and I look back at the childhood of people now, I mean, the kids now, I realize how lucky we were the way we were brought up so...

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Now, did you, as a kid growing up in Seattle area, did you fish yourself or did you go out with your dad on occasions to the beach?

VI: Well, you know, Seattle is a seaport town, so you have the waterfront. And along the waterfront you had all these fish houses that the boats brought fish in. And, of course, they'll throw the heads and stuff right into the water at that time. So we used to go, as kids, we used to go down there and fish. But what we used to do was take one of these barrels and take the barrel stays, and they were made of bamboo. And we'd get a gunny sack, and we'd make a little net out of it. Then we'd go to the fish house, and we'd get the salmon heads, 'cause they'll throw 'em away, and we'd tie it down there, and we'd go along the side of the dock and the side of the piling. We'd lower it down and leave it for a while, and then the shrimps would come. So we'd sit there and we'd slowly pull it up until we'd get to the top, and then we'd go fast, so we'd catch shrimps. And if we got about a pound or two, we'd take it, and we'd go to the fish house where they reel it, and we'd sell it for a nickel a pound. We'd take the nickel, go up town, and we'd get our hamburgers for a nickel. So we used to spend the summertime going down shrimping. And we used to go to a hamburger, hamburger place, everybody in Seattle knows about it. They make a little chili burger, but it's the greasiest thing you can get. And, you know, at that time we didn't worry about grease or fat or all that, the more grease you had the better it was. You'd take that with chili on it for a nickel, oh, you couldn't beat it. [Laughs]

RP: You'd go down and shrimp with your friends or with your dad or who?

VI: No, with our friends. Yeah. Two or three of us would go down there, and we'd lay about four or five nets down there. Meanwhile, we'd sit there and fish. So...

RP: What else would you catch?

VI: Oh, we'd catch little shiners which looks like little perches, or we caught rock cod. The, I have to tell you a story about fishing, this is about my kids. My oldest son had a birthday party, and he had about ten of his friends at the birthday party. So I made him a little fishing line with a pole on it, and I took him down to Main Fish which is on the waterfront, to let them catch these little pokies or shiners, and they were just biting like mad. And the reason why they were there is that the sewage from the city right into the thing so the fish would congregate there so you couldn't miss catching fish. [Laughs] Of course, I don't know if we ate it or not, but at that time we didn't think anything about the pollution or all that, so...

RP: It was just catching fish.

VI: And the kids had a ball 'cause they'd catch little fish.

RP: That was their first experience.

VI: Right.

RP: You want to catch a fish.

VI: Yeah. Living on the waterfront, you know, it's -- you have many, many good experiences.

RP: So how far were you from the waterfront?

VI: Oh, we were, let's see, we were on Seventh Avenue so we were about eight blocks down the hill to the waterfront, eight, nine.

RP: Is this where the motel was that your, that your folks rented?

VI: No, the hotel was at the top of the hill.

RP: Okay, this is another location then?

VI: This is as we walked down the hill.

RP: Walked down the hill to the waterfront.

VI: To the waterfront. In fact, they got the saying or slang "skid road," and that's where they got it. They slid the poles down the hill to the sawmill down there, so that's where they got the name "skid row." So we used to go down, and then at that time there were a lot of fish houses down by the waterfront. Now you go down there, and it's all the, built up, but with the businesses and the hotel, you have the Edgewater there, and you have the Aquarium, and you've got the... oh, the Pier 1s and Ivar's and the restaurants, so it's really different.

RP: Different town.

VI: Yeah.

RP: Different waterfront.

VI: Right. And then usually underneath the piers they'd have planks so that people could service the docks. And as kids, we used to go down there and go around the planks. Once in a while we'd fall in, but we knew enough to swim so that they would always have a ladder someplace around there, you know. So we spent a lot of time. Now, if my kids did that I'd be worried sick, you know. [Laughs]

RP: Right. But you had the, you had the freedom --

VI: Right.

RP: -- to roam around and to do what you want?

VI: Yeah. And I don't think we ever told our parents, you know... yeah.

RP: Yeah, you don't want to let them know what you're doing.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: What was the name of the hotel that your...

VI: I can't even remember. It's 707 Yesler, is the only thing I can remember. So I don't think it had a name as such.

RP: Just the address?

VI: If it did...

RP: Can you describe the building to us?

VI: It was a one-, two-, three-story building, and on the... it's on a slope, so on the side of the, on Yesler Way, there was a laundry there. And on the back side, of course, we had the furnace that was stoked by coal and wood for heat. And the first floor, we had one community bath for twenty rooms, probably, and another community bath upstairs. And they were housekeeping, so people can cook, you know, they had a little hot stove in the room. And we had one tenant, and he used to be a gold miner. And he'd go up to Alaska and pan gold. And we could tell when he did well, 'cause he'd come back and he'd be drunk for about two months. [Laughs] So, and then if he didn't hit it good, he'd be very sober for the time he's here, but I remember him distinctly.

RP: Did this hotel cater exclusively to Japanese?

VI: No, no, just anybody. Mostly, they were all single. 'Cause during that time, most of the hotels downtown catered to single men.

RP: Boarders.

VI: Boarders, right, right.

RP: Now, was the hotel located in what would be referred to as the Japantown section?

VI: It was right above Japantown, and if you went down the hill, then you had the Japantown.

RP: Jackson Street...

VI: Jackson Street, Main Street, Washington, and Maynard, they had the Nippon Kan, which was the community hall that we did all the activities in. Up Washington Street was the red light district, you know, and they'd have all the houses lined up where men will come and the women would sit there tapping. And right on the corner of Maynard... no, Seventh and Washington, we used to play baseball, you know, on the corner where home plate was on one side of the street, the corner, and left field was going up one street, and the right field was going up the other street, and we'd play ball there, softball. And what happens is these men would come up to the red light district, and they'll sit there and they'll watch us play ball. So any time the ball rolled into the porch, this red light house, madam would could up and take our ball. So it would break up the ballgame for a while, until the madam went in, and she gave us the ball back. [Laughs]

RP: Was this a red light district specific to Japantown?

VI: No, it was a Washington, for the city of Seattle.

RP: So the entire city.

VI: Right. And they were all, I remember they were all inspected 'cause they had inspections supposedly, health inspection signs down there.

RP: And there's just a long, you can remember a long row of houses?

VI: Yeah. In fact, there were quite a few streets that had the red light district.

RP: Do you recall any other interesting or colorful characters that frequented the hotel while you were growing up?

VI: No, I just remember him. I mean...

RP: The gold miner?

VI: Yeah, the gold miner. He'd go up there, he'd come back, and if he started to drink, you knew he had hit it. Not good maybe, but enough to keep him going 'til next year. And he'd be broke by then so he'd have to go up again.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Now, as you were growing up and getting older, did you have some responsibilities or chores around the hotel?

VI: Yeah, we'd have to help around, clean up a little bit. But...

RP: How about your sisters, were they more involved in...

VI: Yeah, my sisters and mother did a lot of that.

RP: And your dad pretty much ran, sort of, the office?

VI: Well, no, my dad would work, and he'd work at this restaurant.

RP: Oh, that's right. And what was this, a Japanese restaurant?

VI: No, it'd be one of the restaurants down in Pioneer Square which was probably the hub of Seattle at that time where if anybody's familiar with Seattle would know that they now really restored the whole area, the Pioneer Square area.

RP: So it's kind of the downtown area?

VI: Right, that's where the underground tours are.

RP: So it was more, sort of, kind of upscale?

VI: No, if you can, if you can envision like going up to Alaska and walk down the street with all these different taverns and restaurants. That was Pioneer Square, the whole area had many restaurants, and most of 'em, most of the people that went down there were single. Not too many families would go down there to eat, so you had a lot of single men down there, and they catered to them.

RP: It sounds like there was quite a flow of transient...

VI: There is.

RP: coming in and going out.

VI: Especially a seaport town like Seattle. Get fishermen coming in, miners coming in, you know, lumbermen, loggers.

RP: Did your dad, was your dad a cook at this restaurant?

VI: He might have been. [Laughs] If I had known, I'd have asked him before... well, he used to go down there and he surprised me 'cause after the relocation, he went back to Spokane because my sister was in business, and he was a baker at the Davenport Hotel, which is one of the first-class hotels in Spokane. I didn't know he was a baker, so he might have baked when he, or cooked, I think.

RP: He might have been a cook.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Tell me about, a little bit about your sisters. First Martha.

VI: Well, I can haul her here and let her talk to you, but she's here at this reunion. She's older, she turned, went to beauty school and became a beautician, and had her own beauty shop. She had that before the war, she had just started it.

RP: That was in Spokane?

VI: No, in Seattle.

RP: Oh, she started in Seattle?

VI: Seattle. Then, you know, when we got relocated, and when she left, she went back to Spokane, and then she worked at a beauty shop for a while, and then came back to Seattle.

RP: So she owned her own beauty shop in Seattle?

VI: Right, yes.

RP: How much older was she than you?

VI: She's about six years older.

RP: And how did you get along with your sisters? I know...

VI: They tolerated me, you know. [Laughs] So being, they probably tolerated and spoiled me, is probably what they did.

RP: I hope so. Everybody else did.

VI: [Laughs] 'Cause I can't, I can't remember any harsh words that they said to me. So they still treat me very well. My other sister, after relocation, she went to college, and she studied special education. And on a Fulbright scholarship she went to Japan to study special education. And the most interesting things that she told me is in the United States, if you have a retarded child, that child is usually cared for, or brought out in the open and try to do things. When you go to Japan, if you had a retarded child, they'd hide it. So you had a complete different idea of what special education was. So it was a very, very interesting subject and experience she had going back there and seeing the difference. And then she went to school in Japan for a little while and came back, and then she's been a special ed. teacher at the Oakland School for thirty years. Of course, she's retired now.

RP: That's in Seattle?

VI: In Oakland, California, yeah.

RP: I'm sorry, Oakland. Seems obvious.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: What elementary school did you attend, Victor?

VI: Bailey Gatzert.

RP: Bailey Gatzert.

VI: And our class was eighty-five percent -- maybe that's low -- of Japanese ancestry.

RP: Really, eighty-five percent?

VI: 'Cause that's right off of Japantown. And it was a very disciplined grammar school, we had a teacher called Ms. Mahon, and she had a collie dog with her all the time. Anybody that went to Bailey Gatzert school remembers that. And we'd have to march from class to class, and they'd have a triangle, and they'd have this, you know, the stick that they keep on ringing the triangle, the beat, so that we all marched to different classes. [Laughs] And then Bailey Gatzert was on a hill from Twelfth Avenue going down toward the Eighth Avenue.


VI: Yeah, trays, we have these metal trays that we used to use in the lunchroom, and then the school would keep all the old metal trays so that anytime it snowed, it was a nice hill that... the principal and the teachers would let us go on the hill and slide down the hill on these trays. And I remember that distinctly, because it doesn't snow that much in Seattle, so it was really a treat when it snowed, to slide down the hills. But like I said, it was a very disciplined school.

RP: Were your teachers Caucasians or Japanese?

VI: Caucasians. And one of the things that we noticed quite a bit is when we went to school, most of the teachers were single, so that they didn't have this dual responsibility of the school and taking care of the family. So they spent lots and lots of energy and time with the kids in school.

RP: You got some more personalized sort of focus.

VI: Right. And one of things that I always remember is anybody that came from Bailey Gatzert had very good penmanship, 'cause we sat there doing the O's and ups and downs. Now, I watch our kids, and the young kids, they didn't know how to hold a pencil, you know, or scribble or write, they print. But that was one of the things that we learned. Probably the things that are a negative is that you get so structured that it doesn't give you time to really think or innovate in a situation like that when you're young, or above a school that lets you, is not as strict and lets you...

RP: Lets you do some critical thinking.

VI: Right, express yourself.

RP: Express yourself. And then you went to high school in Seattle as well? Which high school?

VI: We went to Broadway High School, and that was about thirty percent Oriental, mostly Japanese.

RP: And what was the rest of the...

VI: They were Caucasians. There weren't too many African Americans or blacks, families. We knew most of the families that were black in, 'cause they lived within our community. Very good athletes, you know.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: So when did you first begin to get sort of an awareness that you gravitated towards sports and athletics? Starting in elementary school, did you...

VI: Yes, about elementary school. During that era, I think there wasn't very much for young people to do. We didn't have amusement centers and all that, we had one Playland, but it was some miles away. So you spent a lot of times doing sandlot baseball, football, or basketball. And usually there's a field house close by, so that you spent a lot of time there. So most of the... and another thing, if you played sandlot ball, everybody gets to play. You play Little League, sometimes if you're not good enough, you know, you don't get to play. And that was one of the advantages of having these sandlot games so that everybody that wanted to play, played.

RP: So when did you actually start playing?

VI: Oh, seven, eight, nine, ten years old. I mean, you know, I can't even remember when I didn't play or do something.

RP: Can you tell us how, how the league was organized in Seattle?

VI: Well, the Courier League was basically the newspaper, and you had... the editor, Mr. Sakamoto, I'm trying to remember his first name, he used to be a boxer, and he was blind. And he was the Courier's editor, and he established these leagues. And like I said, you had the A, B, C, double-A, A, B, C leagues. And so as you're younger, you join the C League, and if you became the champion of the C League, you automatically moved up to the B League and the new ones. So that way, the B League would move up to A, so eventually, people would be moving up to the double-A. And most of the kids I knew played ball in these leagues, in these teams. And it was basically a basketball league, and we had Collins Playfield, and the director was Gene Boyd, and he kind of adopted the whole Japanese community, he knew us all by name, from the people that played in the C League to the people that graduated. And he's been a real good friend to us through the war years and after it.

RP: Took a real interest in sports.

VI: Right, right.

RP: So, so baseball in particular was a way of developing social relationships and meeting new kids and folks that you're still in touch with, I imagine?

VI: Yeah, like one of the friends is, one of his latest remarks were that, "We've been together for seventy years," and he says, "Not very many people could say that."

RP: This is one of your buddies?

VI: Yeah.

RP: What's his name?

VI: Mas Watanabe, and he's on Tom's interviews.

RP: Oh, he's already been interviewed?

VI: Yeah, well, he's passed away, you know.

RP: So you started playing ball with him?

VI: Well, we started playing ball together, and we've grown up with each other all the way through thick and thin, the camp and the war years. And then our kids are grown up, so it's a very close community.

RP: That's special.

VI: Yeah.

RP: This Mr. Sakamoto that you mentioned, was the editor of the Courier?

VI: It was a newspaper.

RP: Was it Japanese?

VI: English newspaper.

RP: English newspaper?

VI: Yeah.

RP: But did it cater to Japanese readers?

VI: Yes, uh-huh. So it had all the sports news in there.

RP: So he'd report on these leagues?

VI: Yeah, the teams, who won and all that. One year, oh, must have been about ten years ago, we had a reunion, and it's too bad, 'cause all these reunions are done after many people have passed away. It's too bad we can't do it sooner, you know. Even like I was talking to Tom, he started interviewing for Densho, but too bad he couldn't start ten years earlier, 'cause there are so many stories there that you missed.

RP: We feel the same way about it, too.

VI: Oh, yeah.

RP: Even, yeah, even ten years would have made a huge difference.

VI: Ten, twenty, fifty years. He'd been doing it for ten years, but if he'd have done it ten years earlier, very colorful characters are around, stories...

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: So this reunion you were just discussing was a reunion of...

VI: The ballplayers, right.

RP: ...the ballplayers in Seattle? The Courier League.

VI: Yeah, the whole Northwest. It was kind of nice because people are scattered all over, and most of 'em were in their seventies, and the, get in their sixties, seventies.

RP: Relive their youthful glories.

VI: Yeah, that's right. Everybody remembers the good old days, you know, like yesterday I was talking to my brother-in-law, and he was telling, I brought up this sports thing that I had to do, he says, "I had a batting average of .331." He still remembers it, you know. [Laughs] So they're living their, we all live in our youthful glory.

RP: Did you, did you play teams outside the Seattle area as well?

VI: Right, we used to play, all the communities in the Courier League had teams throughout the, Seattle and Tacoma, Fife, Auburn, Kent, so we'd travel. In fact, I remember our baseball team went out to Auburn, and this was the Class C, the younger, the league, and we played in a very small gym, 'cause a lot of times you don't get the, for the younger teams, you don't get the big courts. So we had a zone defense, and we beat Auburn on a basketball game eleven to nothing, which is almost, sounds like a baseball game. And when I was younger, they used to have judo clubs, and also kendo clubs.

RP: You were involved in those?

VI: Yeah, we were involved in judo, and we'd have club meets with different communities. In Seattle they had two, two clubs. It was Tento-kan and Seattle Dojo, and we'd always compete. So they kept us busy with sports.

RP: Sports. And so what belt did you reach?

VI: Oh, I never, we were younger, and we left, so we never did get up to the black belt in anything. So we were still white, you know. But some of the people that were went back, and they'd become teachers and all that for younger kids.

RP: And when did you get out of judo, Victor?

VI: Well, I tell you, I could always remember two things. One thing is, the first thing they do is they teach you how to fall so that you don't get hurt. You roll if you fall. And the other thing is you develop certain instincts. Well, one time I remember I was riding on the back of the thing and the car stopped and started and we kind of fell. And the first instinct I had was just rolling over, so I didn't get hurt. But if you ever went down with your hands, you probably would have broke your hands or something, just trying to break the fall. The other one was, when I was in Minneapolis, right before I got drafted, I was working at the International Harvester, we were making 105 shells for the, for the guns, you know, for the... there was a janitor, and he was a little, I think it was a little mentally slow, so he was the head of the janitor's job. And he saw me and I think he thought I was the enemy. So he came after, he used a big shovel, so he came after me with a shovel. The first thing I did was, not even thinking about it, I grabbed him and I just kind of threw him instinctively, 'cause that's what I had learned in judo, which I hadn't thought about for five, six years. So you asked me what did I accomplish? Two things.

RP: Saved your life in two situations.

VI: Well, it wasn't really a life, but you know, I could have been hit in the head with a shovel. [Laughs]

RP: Did you also, were involved in kendo, too?

VI: No, no, I wasn't.

RP: Now, was the judo club, some of the judo clubs were organized around Japanese school. Was this independent of that?

VI: Yeah, they were more independent, yeah.

RP: And you had a facility that --

VI: Facility that they had the mats, you know.

RP: Well, sumo wrestling was also very popular.

VI: Well, except sumo is basically a big person's sport, and we had, some of our older, then they fooled around with sumo, but that wasn't quite as popular in the United States as it is in Japan.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: How much, how involved was your father in your sports experiences and adventures?

VI: To come and watch us in the tournaments. But usually they left us alone. You know, they maybe registered us for the thing, and then from that point on, they just kind of left us alone.

RP: I know Issei weren't known for their...

VI: Outspoken, outward, right.

RP: ...outward expression, but did your father ever show any pride related to your...

VI: I don't know. I've got cups, but he never gave us congratulations. I guess he expected, I don't know. But I think our whole --

RP: You definitely weren't bringing any shame on the family.

VI: No. And I think that's kind of the way I brought up my kids, too, you know. That we don't show as much emotion as our kids showed toward their kids. Because the way we were brought up, we were just, one generation between our kids and our parents. So I think, I expect my kids to do well, I expect my kids to don't shame our name, and then let it go at that and support 'em. And as long as they know I'm supporting 'em, I think that's what... you know. And I'm sure my father had supported me, too.

RP: Just in a very quiet, introspective way.

VI: Right, right, they don't show the... yeah.

RP: But you can sense it.

VI: Yeah.

RP: Did you sense it as a kid?

VI: See, another thing, too, you know, Isseis are, were not very touchy like hugging. You never saw an Issei hug another. Niseis are, you know, a little bit better. As we get older, we're more...

RP: Sanseis are all over each other.

VI: Yeah. [Laughs] Yonseis, you gotta keep 'em away. [Laughs]

RP: You gotta break 'em up like a wrestling match. So that's really interesting you bring that up, you could see the change...

VI: It is. You could see, you could see the change.

RP: ...over two or three generations, you have to have that timeframe to see that happen.

VI: Right. Things like that you don't think about 'til you mention it or we start talking about it.

RP: And your mom was pretty much the same way?

VI: She's very, she didn't show too much emotion.

RP: Did she hug you at all?

VI: I can't remember really being, you know, hugged.

RP: But there were no ill feelings.

VI: No.

RP: It was just, "That's the way my mom is."

VI: Yeah, I mean, that's the way it is.

RP: The way the parents are.

VI: I know how Tom, I may kick him in the butt, but that's a friendly kick, you know. [Laughs]

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: You were describing earlier your memories of Japantown just down the hill from the hotel. Do you have any other experiences or memories of particular businesses or places that you went?

VI: Well, Japantown had all the...

RP: Maybe give us a, kind of a portrait of how you remember it as a kid growing up.

VI: Well, Japantown on Main Street had about three, four restaurants, and they had couple of restaurants we used to go to. But they used to have a restaurant called Gyokkoken, that was the name of the restaurant. And I think anybody that went to Japantown will, will remember their sweet and sour, they called it pakui, and the egg foo young, and things like that you really remember. Because, and they try to duplicate it, but I think the reason why food tasted so good during that time was they used lard and fat and all the tastes that you don't get nowadays. They had Sagamiya, which is a Japanese pastry place, they made cookies and all that, and they had bathhouses. Because most of, like even our hotel, we only had one bath per floor, so my dad would take me down and we'd go to the public bath. And it'd be hotter than heck, you can barely move, it's so hot. But if you ever take a hot bath like that, you really get tired out, you know, it just saps you.


RP: Victor, we were talking a little bit about your visits to the bathhouse in the Japantown.

VI: Bathhouse.

RP: Yeah, the water was really, really hot so you, they'd have a cold water faucet, and we'd turn the cold water faucet and just sit by that because the water was so hot. I remember that. And then, of course, the Isseis didn't like that because they liked the hot bath and make us turn it off. But the hot water will sap you out so when we'd get out, Dad would ring the bell that's on the counter, and the attendant would come and bring us this Orange Crush. Little things like that you really remember 'cause at that time it tasted good. You know, your memories are, you never, Orange Crush doesn't taste like this, the way it used to. And one of the interesting experiences was one of the bathhouse, of course, you have it separated between men and women, and you have this partitioned wall. And I'd go with my dad, and my dad would want my mom to wash me so he'd shove me under the partition, and I'd pop out on the women's side. [Laughs] And she'd wash me, and I'd pop back out on the other side. So that's where I learned how to swim underwater. [Laughs]

RP: So can you recall how early or how young you were when you first went to the bathhouse?

VI: I can't because I remember going to it when I was young. Now we've gone back to Seattle and they still have the replica of the old bathhouse at Panama Hotel. If you ever get back to Seattle, they still have that, and they preserved it. But what happens, after the war they had it, and we used to go down after a ball game or went after mushrooms or something in the mountains, we'd come back and go to the bathhouse. But then we had environment, we had the different restrictions and all that, so the bathhouses all had to close down because of health reasons, and everything got more sanitary so they don't have any more. But when we go to Japan we look forward to going to the hot springs. In fact, once a year, our friends, we go up to Canada to go to the Harrison Hot Springs. We just kind of enjoy just sitting around in the hot tub. [Laughs]

RP: And they serve you an Orange Crush.

VI: [Laughs] Yeah.

RP: So you're describing the bathhouse a little bit, but there was one large sort of public space for the men and one for the women?

VI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RP: Were there also private tubs?

VI: No, there were always community for the women and community for the... and you never got in there until you washed yourself. So they have a bench or the ledge there, you sit there, you get a pail of water and then you wash yourself, and you rinse off. Then you get into the hot water and then always a shower. You could always take a shower, I remember. So...

RP: And how often would you go to the bathhouse?

VI: Maybe once a week, maybe every other week or something. It was kind of a luxury thing for us, I think, to go to the bathhouse.

RP: So Japantown had its special...

VI: They had, I think they had three of 'em there.

RP: Three bathhouses.

VI: Right.

RP: So it was an important place for you to go maybe for a special meal, to bathe.

VI: For a restaurant, bathe, right.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: And then you also mentioned this community hall where --

VI: Nippon Kan, right.

RP: -- social events took place.

VI: Right.

RP: Can you recall any events that you attended with your family?

VI: Well, they had the judo tournaments there, they had the kendo tournaments, they had plays there. And it was kind of funny, a lot of activity went on there, so the younger kids wrote their name on the walls, and this was way back. My sister had her name on there, and this was what, seventy years ago or so. That's the first graffiti, I guess. [Laughs] And what they did is they preserved the wall.

RP: They did?

VI: Yeah.

RP: Is the building still there?

VI: The building is still there, right.

RP: And so is the graffiti.

VI: Now, they don't use it as much as they used to because there's not that many Japanese activities in town anymore. In fact, you don't really have a Japantown in Seattle.

RP: I was going to ask you about that.

VI: Yeah. No.

RP: How much has it changed?

VI: Yeah, it's really changed.

RP: I imagine.

VI: And it's funny, you can see this happening. What's happening is the Vietnamese are at the place where our parents were, what, eighty years ago? They come and a lot of 'em can't speak English so they have to do the little restaurants, the little markets, the communities. They raise their kids bilingually, they're going to public school, they're learning English. And you can see this thing really developing. And of course, it's developing where like Japantown used to be or around that area. And when you look at it, it's really kind of reminiscent of what it used to be, a little bit in a modern sense, but...

RP: Yeah, because you're kind of outside looking in at it.

VI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RP: Before you were kind of right involved with it.

VI: Yeah, yeah. See, like if you look at the, who owns like the dry cleaning shops, the Koreans did that. You don't have to really speak English that well to run a... the Japanese used to run hotels. You didn't have to speak that kind of... so you get into occupations where the language is not that much, that important. And you can see that right now.

RP: Through the different cultural groups.

VI: Right, right.

RP: You were talking about the events at the community hall. Did your parents drag you to traditional Japanese events like kabuki theater?

VI: Well, they had theater but --

RP: Movies, Japanese movies?

VI: Whether we got dragged or not we went, I don't remember. But we used to go down there quite often.

RP: Quite often.

VI: Yeah. In fact, in fact, that was the community center so everything happened around there.

RP: I know your dad, it sounds like he was really busy working in a restaurant, but...

VI: Yeah.

RP: ...and the hotel as well. But did he get involved with the community in terms of joining organizations like Japan organizations?

VI: Not as, no, not as much. I think he was too busy working. And he wasn't very political so that when they had the, right after Pearl Harbor where they rounded up all the people, he didn't get rounded up so he didn't belong to or subscribe to things that the FBI thought was subversive or radical.

RP: Yeah, in some cases it helped to be just a common worker. Because at least you stayed with your family.

VI: Right.

RP: You didn't get separated and cause another sort of trauma as well.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Gonna ask you how involved your family was with any religion or church affiliation?

VI: Well, basically they are Buddhists, they started out like that. We went to a Congregational church, my sister and I. My mother went, started Seicho no ie which is kind of like Christian Science. So it was a kind of a combination...

RP: Combination Buddhist?

VI: But, and then my wife's side is Catholic. But what happens usually is the community you live in and the church that is there, you belong, and all of a sudden you become that religion. So unless your family is really a Buddhist, my sister is Buddhist, my wife is Catholic, I used to be Congregational, now I don't know what I am. [Laughs]

RP: Can you elaborate a little?

KP: Can I just ask a quick question?

VI: Yeah.

KP: I don't really understand what Shintoism was in America. Do you --

VI: You don't have too many Shinto. You don't have very many Shinto priests in America, but if you go to Japan, that is one of the, I won't say radical, but the old strict religion of your Shinto priests. And I think that's more martial, or...

RP: So in Seattle when you were growing up --

VI: We didn't have any Shinto, no, it was regular Buddhist. Of course, you have different Buddhists like Nichiren, which is another branch of Buddhists. What I don't really -- of course, Buddha went all over, so now you go into Seattle you have Vietnamese Buddhists, temples and you have this kind of Buddhist temples, you have different monks, and I don't think they have anything to do with, like, the Buddhist church in the Japanese community. I think the teachings are probably the same but through a different... but Shinto is a very, it's a very strict religion. I remember when we visited Japan, we went to the top Shinto shrine, and we got blessed and the whole bit. And you really don't get, I don't think you get that as much with the Buddhist religion as much as you do with, like, the Shinto who made a lot of offerings and so...

RP: What was the focus of the Congregational church?

VI: It was Protestant.

RP: Protestant.

VI: Yeah, it's like Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational.

RP: Did religion play an important role in your life growing up?

VI: Not my life, but a lot of my friends that went to the Buddhist church, they had the baseball teams and the basketball teams and all that. It was from the church, you know. In fact --

RP: The church sponsored the teams?

VI: Right, right. So a lot of the different teams like the basketball teams were sponsored by the churches, the Methodist team, the Buddhist team.

RP: They provided your uniforms?

VI: Because a lot of times -- and they had the facilities so that there were a lot of sponsors, especially before the war anyway.

RP: They provided your uniforms?

VI: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

RP: Equipment?

VI: Right.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Victor, you were talking a little bit about how language functioned in your family, that your parents spoke very little, very little English and you spoke English predominantly in public schools and a little bit at home. Did your parents send you to Japanese language school?

VI: We went to Japanese language school.

RP: And what was that like for you?

VI: We went because I think we were supposed to go; we had to. We didn't study as hard as we would have in public school, we met a lot of people. We made our schoolteachers -- which were mothers of some of our friends -- cry because we were so bad. Of course, the people that studied, studious, they got a lot out of it. But a lot of us, it was kind of a place we had to go, and we learned some but not as much as we should have or I wish I had learned during that time. So usually right after school we'd go to our Japanese language school for one hour each day. They had other classes where they went on the weekends, but like the Catholic Maryknoll, they had their own language classes. But most of the teachers were the mothers of, they weren't quite teachers as teachers, but they were mothers that taught these students.

RP: Now, how strict were they in comparison to your public schools?

VI: Oh, the principal was strict, but the teachers, I think the students took advantage of 'em and they weren't that strict. Yeah.

RP: So you were able to get away with things?

VI: Yeah. We used to do, we used to do bad things in there. [Laughs]

RP: Oh, want to tell us about them?

VI: We'd always sit in the back of the class, so that if it got boring we'd just jump out of the window. We used to be in portables which... so they didn't have the discipline that we would have had at... but people learned. I learned a little bit, but I wish I had learned more.

RP: Was the school part of a Buddhist church?

VI: No, it was the Japanese community.

RP: It was in Japantown?

VI: No, it was out of Japantown, at the edge of Japantown. Right now, they're trying to make that into -- the interesting part about that is it's a pretty big school so when the people came out of the relocation centers, if they came back to Seattle, they had no place to go or live, they lived at the old Japanese language school until they found a place.

RP: So it functioned like a hostel?

VI: Yeah, for a while, right.

RP: For a while.

VI: Then after everybody moved out, I think the JACL may have had offices there. Tom was there when he first started with Densho. Now they're trying to make that into a cultural center so they are fundraising and all.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: On the subject of social activities, do you remember attending any prefectural picnics, kenjinkai?

VI: Yeah, they always had picnics.

RP: What were those like for the kids?

VI: Oh, they always had games. We used to have a Japanese community picnic up at Jefferson Park, I remember, which is up by the golf course. And they used to be an annual thing, and I think they used to have races and the whole bit. I think the kenjinkai, see, our kenjinkai, there was only two families. [Laughs] So you don't have a big picnic, three at the most, I think, depending on what prefecture you come from. Now, if you come from, like, Hiroshima or areas where you are close to the sea or times are hard you get more people here, and you get certain kens that are not that populated or you don't see too many people from those. If we had a party, we could have had it --

RP: In your hotel.

VI: [Laughs] Backyard or hotel or someplace. Right. But now, I go to my wife's, and she's Kagoshima which is a big one. We just celebrated, well, the 100th year of the kenjinkai in the United States, in Seattle. And we had the mayor and the dignitaries come over from Kagoshima for this celebration. So depending on the certain kens, you know, Hiroshima, Kagoshima, they're pretty big, and they are pretty active yet, so...

RP: So what was, what had the greatest influence on you growing up in Seattle? Was it sports?

VI: Probably sports. Sports.

RP: And was there a particular individual person that also influenced you in your thinking and your behavior? Anybody you looked up to?

VI: No, I don't think, I can't think of any one particular person. It's the community that kind of influenced the way we were brought up.

RP: Did you pretty much tend to stick to your own kind in terms of your Japanese American friends, or how did you interact with Caucasians, particularly in high school?

VI: We just... some wouldn't, I played freshman football, and then you interact with the Caucasian. But as a rule, since we lived in the Japanese community, we just kind of associated with the Japanese, all the friends. So it's only after we started working, going to college, that we interacted.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: Other Niseis who grew up in the Los Angeles area in, during their teenage years, they recall there were places that were off limits to Japanese like certain public pools or theaters and that type of thing. Do you recall wanting to go somewhere and being told that you couldn't?

VI: My, Tom's father-in-law, he lived in a white community, and he was denied entrance to a swimming pool. But as far as we were concerned, we had so much water that we didn't have to worry about swimming pools; we went to Lake Washington or we went to Alki. And I think most of us remember they used to have streetcars running up and down Seattle from downtown to the lake. And they used to cost two cents, so our mothers would give us a nickel. So we'd pay two cents going, and then coming home, we'd try to get somebody to throw us a transfer out the window so we don't have to spend the two cents so we could buy two cents' worth of candy. [Laughs] But that's why like swimming pools and things, we didn't get too involved with as far as feeling like you were restricted.

RP: Any early experiences with prejudice?

VI: No. That's why like we didn't feel it that much because --

RP: You stuck together.

VI: You stuck together so you didn't feel that. In fact, when we played against certain... if we played, that we'd beat the other team so that you felt as if you were at least equal or better or whatever it is, you know, you feel.

RP: And they respected you?

VI: Yeah, as far as, or I think they did. [Laughs]

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: Other than, you said that you did play football as well as --

VI: Right.

RP: -- baseball and...

VI: Basketball.

RP: Basketball.

VI: Right.

RP: Football games were... you didn't have too much protection, did you?

VI: Not when we played in camp.

RP: How about... did you play football before in Seattle?

VI: When I was a freshman at Broadway, I played freshman. And what happens is, I think Orientals especially, they mature early. So a lot of them, like my kids, by the time they reached junior high and into sophomore high school, they had attained their full height and weight and all that. So like in freshman, I was playing guard. Now, I never had played that probably by the time I got to be senior because I had not gotten any bigger. So I did play some ball in high school, but that was just freshman ball. But in camp we played, but we put on more clothes so we don't get hurt. [Laughs]

RP: Any padding you had.

VI: Yeah.

RP: And what did you play when you were playing in the leagues in Seattle, baseball? What was your position?

VI: Baseball, I always played out in the field probably. I usually played center field. And when I played basketball, I used to play the forward because I was a little bit taller than the people that played guard, you know. [Laughs]

RP: Yeah. Tell us about some of your best friends that you had growing up.

VI: Oh, we grew up... I had this one friend, we used, he used to walk to high school every day, he'd come and pick me up. I had friends that we played baseball with, we played basketball with. But a lot of our close friends really got close was when we were in camp and we were together day in and day out. Then we got real close. And of course, they were friends that we knew in Seattle, but they may not have been our next door neighbor type of friends that we played around with.

RP: Camp gave you the opportunity to get to know people.

VI: Right.

RP: Better than you had.

VI: Because at least when we were still in Seattle you had family, so a lot of the activities revolved around the family. You'd go to camp, you don't really have the family, so you have groups. So you have friends in camp and friends in the army that you get very close to 'cause you live together day in and day out.

RP: Other than sports in high school, were you involved in any other clubs or other activities?

VI: Not too much because I was only a freshman. I was just going into sophomore year, so when you look at our high school annual, some other friends, older friends were very involved in all sorts of activities, but being a freshman, you just get to know what high school is all about. So I didn't get too involved in high school when I was in Seattle. And then when we got to high school in camp, I hate to say it, but it was kind of like a joke, so... [laughs].

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Tell us a little bit about what you recall about December 7, 1941. Where were you when you heard --

VI: Yeah. My dad used to take us, take me to the movies on Sundays, so we were at the Atlas Theater on Sunday morning. And all of a sudden they stopped the movie and an officer got in front and told all enlisted men or all military men to report to the thing, that we had, Pearl Harbor had been attacked. So I remember the thing closed down so we all went home, and I remember going home, and my dad and my mom and two sisters, and we kind of sat there and says, "What happens? We need to know what's gonna happen." But we figured whatever happens wasn't going to be very good. And we didn't know whether we would be split up because they were nationals and we were citizens, or if anything would happen at all. So it was kind of a trying day, I remember, of uncertainty, you know.

RP: But families spent the day together kind of contemplating?

VI: Yeah, kind of contemplating. And after you did that, then you got into, all of a sudden, into rationing and things like that, so that you were more engrossed in what we can get and what we can't get until you got the executive order that we had to get out. And that was always kind of interesting. They had a curfew at 8 o'clock, so we used to go to the movie with an alarm clock so that at 7:30 it'd go off so we'd get up and go home. [Laughs]

RP: Sometimes in the middle of the movie?

VI: Right. [Laughs] So, and then being Seattle, a waterfront town, of course, that's a restricted area, the first one would be the waterfront. So you had areas that were restrictive where you couldn't cross the street because it was restricted. And the grocery store might be on the other side so it was kind of ridiculous, dramatic, whatever you want to call it.

RP: What was your personal reaction to the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

VI: Well, you never really thought about that 'cause you never consider yourself to have any kind of relationship with Japan. Of course, the folks did. They used to tell us stories about it, but they were stories. So as far as we were concerned or I was concerned, that was about as far as you could get because I've never been there. So it's kind of a mixed emotion. And that's when you start thinking about, you know, my Japanese ancestry. Until that time it never dawned on us that we were --

RP: You were just different.

VI: Yeah, we were different, but so were the Italians and so were the Jewish people.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

RP: Victor, you were sharing some of your recollections about December 7th, and the changes in your life that occurred as a result of it. You mentioned about the curfew and there were prohibited areas that you were not allowed to go. What was your overall feeling about --

VI: And one of the things that I recall was, you know, Monday, we went to school, and all of a sudden it's a very strange feeling, that people you knew or people around you, we never used to think about it, but now, all of a sudden, you're feeling as if things are a little different, and they were, you know. So it was kind of a funny feeling, going back to school and talking about it, or reading about what was happening.

RP: Were there any students that came up to you and offered, or voiced their support?

VI: Yeah, some of them, they came. Mostly, mostly when they found out that we were gonna be evacuated, you know, they couldn't understand why, since they remember growing up with us or going to school with us.

RP: Why you?

VI: Yeah, uh-huh.

RP: Did your teachers discuss the situation?

VI: No, the teachers, my teachers, were very noncommittal about talking about it. And of course, when you're at a, a high school where, say, thirty percent are Japanese ancestries, it's, it's a little odd, you know. I could imagine how odd it was when we got evacuated, when a third of the -- one day, they're gone. You look around, and there's four, four of you left in the class, the rest are gone, type of a thing. I can imagine Bailey Gatzert, you know.

RP: It's interesting you bring that up because I recall seeing a picture yesterday of a classroom at the school after, after...

VI: Kids left?

RP: ...evacuated. It was just almost deserted, I think there was four or five students in the class. 'Cause you mentioned it was almost, what, eighty percent...

VI: Right, uh-huh.

RP: So it had a huge impact on, you know, a number of institutions, particularly in schools.

VI: And the thing that I think bothered me was some of the Chinese -- I don't blame 'em -- started wearing pins around saying, "I'm Chinese."

RP: Chinese students as well?

VI: Well, not as much students, but I used to see sign, the pins on them, you know.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

RP: And I imagine Seattle had a Chinatown area.

VI: Right, right next to the Japantown.

RP: It was right next to the Japantown?

VI: And we were very close friends, you know, the Chinese and Japanese. We grew up together, so went to school together.

RP: There were no, no animosities based on what was going on across the ocean with the invasion of China by Japan?

VI: Not the younger generation. I don't think they even knew about it. I mean, they read about it, they might have heard about it, but it just didn't affect them. So yeah, maybe the older, the first generation might have had animosity, but they stuck very much to their own communities. And the younger kids, of course, went to school together, so they were not affected as much.

KP: What were the two relative sizes of the Japanese...

VI: Oh, the Japanese community was much larger than the Chinese community, and that was due to the immigration law that didn't affect the Japanese as much. So they were very, I mean, in relationship to the Japanese community, the Chinese community was small, very small.

RP: Right, because the door had been shut on them really early.

VI: Yeah, so they didn't get a chance to develop families and things like that.

RP: Were there other communities that bordered Japan --

VI: It was a Jewish community.

RP: A Jewish community?

VI: Right.

RP: Right near Japantown?

VI: Well, that was north of, I mean, east of Japantown. This is a -- so the, so...

RP: What was the interaction like between --

VI: Very good. In fact, lot of our friends that went to Garfield High School, that's the high school in the Jewish and the Japanese community, uptown from Japantown. Japantown went to Broadway, anybody from Fourteenth and up went to Garfield, and they had a lot of the Jewish community. So the Japanese community was very friendly with the Jewish community, they still are. It was, and we had some colored, or the African American families, and they were mostly in the Garfield area, so they went to Garfield. But there were only a few of them, too. I mean, the --

RP: But that changed after you were evacuated.

VI: Right, and after, what happened is when you had the war production, then you had a lot of people that came to find jobs that stayed and then, stayed in the more reasonable, cheaper areas to live in.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: In the days and weeks after Pearl Harbor, do you recall hearing any rumors as to what might happen to Japanese Americans? Of course, you started to be aware of Issei being picked up by the FBI.

VI: Yeah, yeah. And that's what started a lot of question marks of what's gonna happen.

RP: "If they go, when do we go?"

VI: Yeah.

RP: Half entering your mind.

VI: Right, something was gonna happen. Now, we were one of the lucky families 'cause our dad wasn't picked up, but I could imagine a family that the father, one day he's there, next day, boom, he's gone. What are we gonna do? I could really see kind of the trauma they were in, and wondering, hey, the whole community's, once they were picked up, wanted to know, you know, what was gonna happen.

RP: And you were still, at this time you were still living in the hotel?

VI: What happened is after the, right before, I think 1939 or so, the city took over the whole property. So by then, we got an apartment, and that was oh, about seven blocks east, going into the Broadway district -- I mean, Garfield district. It was one, two, three, four story apartment.

RP: You leased it?

VI: Leased it, right.

RP: And ran it.

VI: Yeah. 'Cause most of the apartments and hotels were leased because they couldn't -- first, you couldn't own it, and first you'd need to have money so that they leased it. And that was '39, Pearl Harbor was '41 so he really, it just got started when he had to just kind of give it up, walk away.

RP: So you were responsible for all the maintenance in the apartment building?

VI: Maintenance, the furniture, the equipment, everything else. You lease the building and you, you buy your own things to furnish it. So when you buy an apartment, you buy the lease from the owner, and many times you buy the equipment from the former lease, or lessee.

RP: And you lived in the building, too?

VI: Yes.

RP: And you just had an apartment?

VI: Yeah, I had a small room down in the basement level, which is kind of convenient because the door opened up to the go to the street, so I didn't have to go through the family to go out. [Laughs] And being a teenager, thirteen, fourteen, it's a, some advantages, having your own entry into the house.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: Last night we were talking a little bit about nicknames, too. And wanted to kind of get you going on that a little bit. Now, you had a nickname.

VI: The nickname Junks.

RP: Junks.

VI: And that became --

RP: Who gave you that?

VI: I really don't know whether I said it or somebody said it. There were about three Juns, so two of 'em kept the "Jun," and somehow I got nicknamed "Junks." But I wasn't the only Junks with the nickname, there was another one. So there were two of us that picked up the nickname Junks, and it kind of just stuck. And you find that during our era, our times, people had nicknames. And if you were with a group, you probably picked up a nickname. And we had all different nicknames, we went through the whole thing. And you pick it up because you did this, or we had, like Pheno. Now, we gave him that nickname because one day he had this Phenomint gum that we had, which was a laxative.

RP: Phenomint gum?

VI: Right, and we gave it to him and took and he's just chewing away, we were all watching him, you know. From that point on, he was nicknamed Pheno. [Laughs] His brother was called Edgewater because every time we talked, he's putting his word in edgewise, you know. My brother-in-law, we called him Gypo because we saw a movie and Victor McLaglen was playing Gypo, he says, "Call me Gypo," and it sticks. We have, a girl, we called her "Onion" because one day an onion kind of rolled to her and then she picked up and somebody called, "Hey, there's Onions," and that stuck. So everybody's got a nickname. And we had nicknames Pancho, and we have nickname Nag, and we have nickname... oh, you could go through the whole works. But the interesting part was when we had our first reunion back in 1983, and people came from out of town...

RP: This is the Minidoka?

VI: Minidoka, it was a class reunion, our fortieth class reunion. And people came from out of town and they all had nicknames. And my daughter was going to the Arthur Andersen training school, and she met another person there, Japanese American, and he said, "Oh, my mom's in Seattle, she's at a reunion." And Karen, my daughter, asked her, "What's her nickname?" And he looked at her, and says, "How do you know she's got a nickname?" [Laughs] And her nickname was Knuckles, 'cause her names was Naoko, so she got the name Knuckles. And he says, "How did you know she had a nickname?" Well, when she went back, she wrote me a letter says, "My son met your daughter." [Laughs] So nicknames are, we have... Tom may be talking to Lucius, and some of his friends got some weird nicknames, you know. And the way they turn out was like, one of 'em we called 8 Balls, he turns out to be the head of the college now. We call guys, we called a guy Boner, he says, "Please don't call me Boner now, call me Fred." [Laughs] So we go through this whole bunch of nicknames.

RP: Right, especially when they've achieved levels...

VI: Right, right. So they just don't like, I guess... how would you like to have the head of the college called 8 Balls, you know. And we got a guy named Egghead, the whole bit.

RP: But yeah, it was kind of a form of affection in one sense.

VI: It was, it was.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

RP: Now you had a group of, I don't know if they were older guys or your age, but it was a group of fourteen guys that were...

VI: We had a group that was, it was mixed age, and I was always the youngest. See, one of the things that, advantage of being young and if you're fairly decent in sports, is you get to play with the older kids so they accept you. So I was always the youngest of the group. Like I think you're gonna interview Mr. Kaseguma? Now, he's six years older than me, but with the same group, you know. So they accepted me. That became a pretty close group.


RP: So you were saying that yeah, you were really cohesive and very successful.

VI: Right, and then you know, I learned how to play bridge because the older people used to play cards and play bridge. And we were very sports-minded, we had two teams, we had dances.

RP: Was this all in Seattle?

VI: No, this is camp.

RP: Oh, this is camp.

VI: Camp, yeah.

RP: But you had a, but you were a group before camp.

VI: Well, not too much. In Seattle, you were a group with your baseball or basketball team, and that group stuck around pretty close together, because there were neighborhood, usually neighborhood teams.

RP: So the OTs really didn't take shape until...

VI: 'Til we went to camp.

RP: 'Til you went to camp. But you knew some of these guys before.

VI: Right, right.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

VI: And some of these people I played ball with in, before I went to camp, so we knew 'em. So in, in Seattle, most of the groups were based on your basketball or baseball teams, or your church affiliation, or if you went to school, your school...

RP: And I imagine there were some pretty strong rivalries?

VI: Yeah, you always had rivalries. You used to always have rivalry between the better teams, you know.

RP: Like who did you...

VI: We had, the older people had rivalries between the Tacoma teams and the valley teams, that's the farmers that were in the valley, they had good teams against the Seattle teams, you know.

RP: The rural versus urban.

VI: Right, kind of.

RP: Which valley are we talking about?

VI: It's the White River Valley, which is a valley between, all the way from Seattle to Tacoma. It takes in Auburn, Kent, that area, Fife. And they had some good teams out of, good ballplayers there, too. So that's where you got the close-knit, in Seattle, anyway.

RP: Would you be considered the semi-pro teams of the time?

VI: Some were, some were pretty good, yeah.

RP: So who did you look up to in terms of major league players?

VI: Well, we used to have the Seattle Indians, which was a professional team, and we used to look up to, you know, the players of the Seattle Indian teams. And the nice part about that time is the professional teams usually had players, the players stuck with that team until they retired, so it was very cohesive, a community thing that you can associate with. So we used to know the shortstop, Dick Eiselman, he played, you know, and all these different people that started with the team and ended with the team. So we looked up to them, we looked up to your high school and college athletes. But now, everything's changed; money talks and people move around, especially professionals.

RP: Right, this whole, the whole issue of loyalty in sports is almost bygone.

VI: Is not there, right.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

RP: Well, let's, we kind of jumped over from post-Pearl Harbor to, back into sports again. We'll probably be doing that a little bit more. But what, what do you recall about the moment or the time when you heard actually that you were going to be evacuated? What was going through your mind at that time?

VI: Reaction? Well, when you look at the, it was hard for people to realize how we felt, what kind of situation we were in, especially with Pearl Harbor and all that, and realizing that our parents were Japanese nationals, and we knew something was gonna happen. And people ask us, you know, why did you just go along with it? Well, in that kind of an atmosphere, situation, there wasn't very much choice, so you accepted it, what the army was doing. Now, people look back now and look at the executive orders and that wasn't right and all that. It's easy to say that now, looking back, but at that time, it was not much of a choice of what to do. First of all, a lot of the fathers were taken away. When you do that, you almost are in a position of "you're the enemy" type. And so that the feeling was, like they say in Japanese, shou ga nai, you know, que sera sera. It's happening, so we will go along with it. I know being a teenager, you don't think that much about it, but I'm sure like my parents who had just bought the lease of the apartment and had all this furniture, they have to either sell, give it away, or what. And nobody was gonna buy it 'cause they know we were leaving, so it was, what, ten cents on a dollar? And if you had good friends that could run it for you while you were gone, but we didn't know if you're gonna come back or not. So you've got this decision of what do I do, try to get somebody to run it, sell it, take whatever you can, give it way, store it, all these decisions. And not knowing at that time what was gonna happen. Most of the people just kind of says, "Give me what anybody would give me."

RP: So what, how did it play out for your parents?

VI: I think they got five hundred dollars for the whole thing, you know.

RP: For the furniture and everything?

VI: Furniture and everything, yeah.

RP: So they took a financial loss. Did you have vehicles, automobiles?

VI: No, we didn't at that time.

RP: Did you store any items at all?

VI: No, we just...

RP: Sold.

VI: ...everything, we left everything behind.

KP: Did you personally have anything that was confiscated as being contraband?

VI: Yeah, all our cameras and radios were all confiscated as contrabands. So everybody had to turn their radios...

RP: To the police.

VI: Yeah, contrabands.

RP: The other thing, to kind of follow up on Kirk's question is, a number of families, fearing the wrath of the FBI, destroyed items that kind of linked them with Japan.

VI: They might have, yeah.

RP: You don't know if that happened in your family.

VI: In our family, we had really... I don't think so. I don't know.

RP: Dolls, samurai swords, pictures of the emperor.

VI: My dad might have, but I wasn't aware of it, 'cause I didn't see it around. Like some people that had strong ties, they had it as things around the house, as memento, things to show off. Now, they might have got rid of that, because it tied 'em too closely to Japan, but I didn't.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

RP: During this really difficult time, were you, did you step up and did you have to assume some more responsibilities in helping your parents out, or how about your sisters? How did they...

VI: Well, my older sister had a lot of responsibilities, I think, helping out the family.

RP: She had her own issues with the beauty shop.

VI: Right, yeah. She had just started that, too, so she had her own issues. She took lot of the brunt of all the problems and all the responsibilities. And I kind of always, felt kind of bad about it -- of course, I was, what, fourteen, and at fourteen, you don't think, anyway. You're just kind of a teenager that just go with the punches. But I know she did a lot for the folks, lot of responsibilities, worry about 'em.

RP: But she, was she still single at that...

VI: At that time, yes.

RP: And was she still living at home, or had she moved out?

VI: No, she was living at home.

RP: She was living at home, but running her business.

VI: Right.

RP: How about your other sister?

VI: Well, she was in school, so I think she'd just gotten out of, no, she was... I think she had just gotten out of high school. So most of the responsibility, I think, went to my older sister.

RP: Did you, you mentioned earlier about some folks, friends particularly, came to you about this time and offered their support?

VI: At school?

RP: At school. What, can you give us an example of maybe what would they tell you?

VI: They tell you, "I don't see why it's happening to you," us personally. They don't say, "I'm sorry it's happening to your group," but they always related everything between he or she and me kind of a thing. And they felt that they were sorry that things were happening. But what happened is after a while, lot of us kind of quit going to school. I mean, we may go, but we'd skip classes. Because we could see the handwriting on the wall, especially after the executive order, we knew we were gonna leave so why, why go? School became kind of a second thought toward the... for me, anyway. Now, other people are, were probably more, more active, but I was...

RP: So you withdrew from school?

VI: Yeah, kind of. Even if I went to school, your mind wasn't there. Attended in body, not in mind.

RP: Not in mind, uh-huh. Did you get a chance to see Japantown in the weeks before people began evacuating? There was, I've seen a few pictures of it last night.

VI: Place was closed up...

RP: And all the storefronts boarded up.

VI: Boarded up. No, I think we were more concerned about ourselves so that we really didn't go. And I can't remember if Japantown was off limits right away or what. I know the waterfront became off limits pretty quick. No, at that time, I didn't see all that or didn't notice it. If I was living right there I might have, but see, we had moved uptown because of the apartment.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

RP: Were you aware of the initial evacuation order that covered the Bainbridge Island group, March 24th?

VI: No. All we know is we were gonna be evacuated.

RP: And when did, when did you actually, when did that happen?

VI: I think it was in May. Bainbridge Island went in March, was it, April? Early May I think we went. And we went to the, you know, Puyallup Assembly Center.

RP: Where did you, where did you assemble to go to Puyallup?

VI: Well, they had certain meeting places where you had to go, and they picked you up and took you there. And the Puyallup Assembly Center, which we called "Camp Harmony," -- [laughs] -- was the fairgrounds and three parking lots. Now, we had Area A, B and C, which was the parking lots, and Area D was the fairgrounds.

RP: A, B and C were the...

VI: Parking lots, right.

RP: And then they constructed barracks.

VI: Barracks on there.

RP: On those parking lots?

VI: Parking lots, and they constructed barracks inside the fairgrounds and the racetracks. Our barracks was under the Ferris, not the Ferris wheel, but the...

RP: Grandstand?

VI: The Big Dipper, the...

KP: Roller coaster?

VI: Roller coaster, roller coaster, right under the roller coaster, right.

RP: Right under the roller coaster?

VI: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, it was right by there. And then the barracks are just one long building, it was just partitioned into certain level, so you could hear all the way down, up and down the place. So you had no privacy at all.

RP: And then, so people were also put in horse stalls there.

VI: Yeah, 'cause underneath the grandstands where the horse stalls were, they just, you know, cleaned it out, made rooms for... and they had the straw blankets, I think, in there.

RP: One, just one question, I think, hope we can get it in before the tape ends, but what was the atmosphere like when you met to go to Puyallup? Whether your parents were very stoic about it or not...

VI: Yeah, they were stoic. They didn't express too much one way or the other, I mean, they were very...

RP: How about your sisters?

VI: They were probably more... I don't know what word to use, but I think it affected them more, so it was harder for them to accept.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

RP: We were talking yesterday about the family's arrival at Puyallup.

VI: Right.

RP: And can you, [inaudible] our interview by having you maybe share some of your initial impressions about what you saw when you arrived at Puyallup.

VI: Well, we got there and Puyallup, like you probably heard, is a fairground. It's got three parking lots, and there were barracks built on each one of the parking lots, and they were distinguished as area A, B and C, and the D was a big fairgrounds which our family was in. And we were under the...

KP: Roller coaster.

VI: Roller coaster. [Laughs] That always seems to go in my mind. These were barracks, and I understand that they put up all of "Camp Harmony" in seventeen days, so you know that they were shoddily put up. There were partitions that went about three-quarters of the way up, and it was open from there on, so there was really no privacy as far as sound was concerned. And I remember distinctly, we had friends that were on one side, and some were on the other side, and you'd holler, "Hey, you ready to go to lunch or something?" [Laughs] That would go through the whole barracks. It was sparse, all they had was cots. And I think by that, by this time we were able and willing to accept anything because of what had happened and how we were taken away. And at least you were all of a sudden now with people you felt that were in the same position, they were all in the barracks. We had a curfew of ten o'clock so, of course, at ten o'clock we'd have to come in. We had this person, Harry Yanagimachi, we called him Haribo, and he was the -- he played with University of Washington, and he was big, and he was the marshal. So when he says ten o'clock, everybody went in.

When we got there -- being young, you don't get assigned jobs, but you volunteer for it. So what I did was volunteer for the dishwashing crew. And the only reason I volunteered and some of my friends did was because when we washed dishes, everybody has to come through the line after they eat to bring the dishes. And this way here we spotted the girls as they come by, and once we saw somebody pretty we'd go the "hubba hubba." [Laughs] And we were known as the "hubba hubba" crew, dishwashing crew. So we had fun doing that. Sometimes if our showers would break down we'd be marched over to some other area to take showers 'cause you get pretty messy.

There's all kind of different experience like I'm sure you heard the one about the middle of the night that one of the MPs thought they heard noise, and it was a cow next door. And, and the rumor is that he shot the cow because the cow won't stop and won't obey. [Laughs] But we didn't actually see it, but it sure came around the, 'cause we heard gunshots, and they says that was the cow that they got. So we had, there, we played ball, and we killed the time in the evenings community singing and things.

But what happened is because of the food, and like we had this Vienna sausage we get all the time, they had food poisoning. So in the middle of the night you had the runs so you had people running to the latrine which was after ten o'clock; and the guards got kind of frantic 'cause they thought there was going to be a riot on because everybody was heading for the latrine. So you had stories like that. We didn't stay there too long, we had the racetrack so we, of course, formed teams and we had different relay races just to keep, keep us busy.

RP: And in shape.

VI: Well, I don't know about in shape, but busy anyway. [Laughs]

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

RP: You mentioned there were A, B, C, D areas. From what I've heard, you were not allowed to go from one area to the other?

VI: Right.

RP: But did you guys do that anyway?

VI: Well, you couldn't go -- the only time we went was when we were escorted from one area to the other.

RP: You had to be escorted.

VI: And it had to be on a special occasion like if our showers broke down, I guess they felt sorry for dishwashing crews, so we'd be marched over to take a shower. One interesting thing was my -- one of my best friends had a girlfriend over in Area B. And then we found out that if you went into the isolation ward and went to the bathroom and opened up the window of the bathroom, we could talk across to Area B. So it was arranged so we'd go into this area, open the windows, and he'd talk across the street to his girlfriend in Area B. But you know how people are, they find ways to get around different rules and regulations. We shouldn't have been in the isolation area 'cause, you know, that was not -- it was a restricted place, but...

RP: Found a way around it.

VI: Yeah, we found ways around.

RP: Were there organized teams in the camp or did you just --

VI: Just kind of pick up. So we'd play softball, and, of course, the area we played was very limited so it'd be hit into the barracks or it'd be hit into the latrine area. [Laughs] But at least it kept the people busy.

RP: Did your mother or father -- you said that you washed dishes -- did they have any...

VI: I can't remember. I don't think they did as such. My dad could have helped as, in the kitchen, 'cause for cooking that, for that many people, you'd have to have quite a bit of help. Of course, my mother never did work while she was in camp, assembly center or in camp.

RP: Was the camp arranged in blocks like Minidoka or different --

VI: Not really. The barracks were just built wherever you had space. So some areas it was built straight, other areas you had diagonal barracks and things. And one example that was given by one of the friends was that he had gone up into the racetrack, up into the stands, and when he looked down he realized he saw rows and rows of barracks. It never really hit him until he got up that high to see what it looked like 'cause when you're down on the ground you see barracks, but they're just buildings.

RP: Little different perspective.

VI: Right, the perspective was very different.

RP: Did each area have its own mess hall?

VI: No, it was one consolidated mess hall.

RP: One large mess hall.

VI: Right. And that's why we volunteered as dishwashers, 'cause we would see everybody come through that. [Laughs]

RP: Well, let's see, you were what, about sixteen or seventeen?

VI: No, I was still fifteen.

RP: Still fifteen. But you were very, you were starting to get interested in girls though.

VI: [Laughs] By fifteen we were finding out about girls.

RP: The hormones were raging.

VI: Right.

RP: Did you date any girls at Puyallup?

VI: No, not really. It was just...

RP: As they say, "eye candy"?

VI: Yeah. We'd have -- Saturday afternoons we had dances because the swing band from Seattle, the Mikado swing, was still organized. So Saturday nights they'd play the music, so we didn't know how to dance so we'd watch the older people dance. So...

RP: By older people you mean older Niseis?

VI: Yeah, anybody older than me.

RP: Were there any Isseis that ever danced?

VI: Not really. I can't remember any Isseis dancing.

RP: And the Mikado swing, swing band, they were also in the camp?

VI: Uh-huh, yes.

RP: Well, that was real special to have live --

VI: Live music there.

RP: Live big band music.

VI: Right.

RP: Were there occasions where people had brought records in and you created a concert in the mess hall?

VI: Not really. The only music I can remember was the band that played, got together and played Saturday evening or Saturday night. So...

RP: What about your little group, the OT group?

VI: Well, that was probably the beginning of the OT group.

RP: So it started in Puyallup.

VI: Right, 'cause we started out with the "hubba hubba" crew, we were dishwashers. And then what happened is they evacuated us from Puyallup to Minidoka area by area, so that the Area D people all went and stayed in the same area in Puyallup so, therefore, you became friends, yeah. So the friendship of the OTs started out in "Camp Harmony" with the "hubba hubba" crew and a couple of people that worked the sanitation crew, but basically from Area D. And, of course, we knew these people in Seattle because we came from the same area from Seattle to Area D.

RP: Kats was recounting a story about friends who, I think it was actually a teacher, who came to visit him at Puyallup, actually handed a note through the fence 'cause his mom had been ill and had to stay back for a while.

VI: Oh, okay.

RP: Did you, did you have any, you know, visitors from outside?

VI: No, we did. But we have heard about some of the teachers that would come and visit. And the people that came from the valley -- 'cause Puyallup is in the valley area -- now, they had Caucasian friends coming over to visit them. And I've heard of different people that were in high school maybe had a high school teacher come over and visit 'em.

RP: The fairgrounds was ringed by barbed wire, and there were guard towers.

VI: Yes. There were guard towers along the thing, and there were guard towers on top of the buildings, too, or guards on top of the buildings.

RP: Did you ever have any contact with any of the MPs in a positive or negative way?

VI: We tried to avoid them as much as possible. [Laughs] So at our age we probably were better off not contacting MPs, so we kind of avoided them.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

RP: When it came time to go to Minidoka, were you told that you were going there or was it kind of another big secret?

VI: Well, it was kind of a secret, but we had heard that we were going into Idaho or someplace. We got in the train not knowing where we were going. It took us, I think, a couple of days to get out there. And I remember when we got there the train stopped at Eden, and that was the end of the line, it was kind of a transfer point. And then when you got out you looked around and wondered where in the devil we were. [Laughs] I remember we left in August so you can see it was pretty dusty and hot, and it was kind of like a God-forsaken place that we landed up in.

RP: It's interesting you mention that because that was a quote that I just read recently as, "God, we've arrived at the end of the world."

VI: Right. Eden seemed like the end of the track and the end of the world. [Laughs]

RP: The end of the line.

VI: Right. And we were the first group to reach Minidoka, that train.

RP: What did you see when you got to Minidoka?

VI: We got there, and, of course, we went through the gates and there were, the guards were there. And you looked down, and all of the sudden you could see the barracks. You could see some barracks in Block 1, 2, 3, 4. They were building other ones, but it almost looked like a prison camp because they were just tarpaper barracks. It was dusty, I remember.

KP: Can I ask a question here? What about barbed wire and guard towers when you first got there?

VI: Right. When we got there you had a guard tower, and you had guards, and there was barbed wire right at that point there. There was an administration building there so you had to come through that to get into camp. And then they had barbed wire around part of the areas. The other part was a canal, so...

RP: On the north side canal?

VI: Yeah. It goes all the way --

KP: Probably the boundary on the north side.

VI: Yeah.

RP: Okay, right. There were some, some books mentioned that there was very little barbed wire early on, but then in the fall they began construction --

VI: Construction of barbed wire.

RP: -- of barbed wire fence. And then because people had obeyed the boundary signs, they were incensed that the government would be putting up barbed wire --

VI: Barbed wires.

RP: And towers.

VI: Yeah. Basically, the Japanese community are very law-abiding. And they used to say things about the people in Seattle, middle of, midnight it'd be pouring rain, and you had a stop sign, no cars, and the light says "red." You see people standing there in the rain, no cars around, at midnight waiting for the signal to change. [Laughs] So that's the type of mentality. So if you have boundaries, you probably observe the boundaries so... another thing, when you looked around, out of camp, there's no place you want to go, so whether they had barbed wires or not, I don't think it would have really mattered. But there wasn't too many barbed wires 'cause you had the canal on one side, and on the opposite side you had some wires.

RP: That's very much the way internees describe it at Manzanar, "Where were we going to go?" Mountain ranges, too hostile communities.

VI: Yeah, that's right, that's right. So, you know, it's not like the assembly center where you had barbed wires and guards. You just came to the main gate, and that was about it. In fact, after you got a little established, a lot of, like my dad and stuff will go out to sagebrush to get the sagebrush wood. Some would go after rattlesnakes and bring it back so they could eat the rattlesnakes. So it was pretty wide open, so I don't think anybody thought of like the illegal coming over, crossing a desert or anything, 'cause there's no place to go.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

RP: Was that the first time you'd been to the desert?

VI: Yes, yes.

RP: And so what were your feelings about it? Were you intrigued with these marvelous large vistas?

VI: Well, at Twin Falls, I mean, at Minidoka, I can't remember any large vistas. It was just kind of sagebrush out there, hills, but not -- you don't think about things like vista and views and all that. [Laughs] We had a very interesting thing that happened. Going to Minidoka, there was a bachelor that died on the plane, I mean train. So when we got to Minidoka, of course, I guess they took him to the mortuary to embalm him or something. They had to do something so they set up kind of a cemetery to bury him. And being young, you volunteer for anything. So some of us volunteered to dig the hole. So they gave us the dimensions, and we started out 4 feet and 6 or something like that. And the ground was pretty hard so when you start out, you start out at the dimension. As you go down it gets narrower and narrower, but we hadn't realized that. So after we thought we were through, when they had the ceremony, apparently they lowered the casket and about halfway got stuck because the sides weren't... they had to pull it out. And this Haribo that I mentioned to you, this football guy, he had to go down with an axe and chip along the side in order to lower the casket. So we had some strange things happening. And we volunteered for everything.

RP: What else did you volunteer for?

VI: We volunteered to be the mattress people and the bed people. So what happened is, since we were the first ones there, as the new groups came in they'd be assigned to the various barracks so that we'd take the beds and the mattresses there. Well, we go there and we take the mattresses and we look to see who's in the family. So if you had a pretty girl, the word would come around that Block 13 A, B or C, you know, there's a pretty gal there. [Laughs] So at least by being in the mattresses you saw everybody coming in, and you could pick and choose who you see.

RP: You could assess them.

VI: Right.

RP: So were there other things that you did to help prepare for other internees coming in?

VI: Yeah, there were things like people were getting ready. It wasn't that it was hot so you'd have to worry about coal crews or things like that, but basically to get 'em ready, you had to get the cots, blankets, and the mattress. And that's the part where I got involved. I'm sure there was other things that other people did, but...

RP: And at Puyallup, I was told that you had to stuff your own mattresses with the straw.

VI: Yeah. I guess my folks must have stuffed it 'cause I didn't do any stuffing. But I had heard that the bachelors, the bachelors were at one time scattered around the camp, and eventually they figured that wasn't such a good thing so they put the bachelors in the stalls underneath the fairgrounds where the animals used to be stalled. And they had to stuff the straw into the mattresses. And a lot of them, I recall very distinctly that didn't have beds but the mattress was on the ground. So it was about as bad as being an animal underneath the racetrack where the stalls were. And I guess, being bachelors, you could probably treat them a little bit harsher than a family with kids.

RP: When, in Minidoka, did they also sort of have a particular block where the bachelors lived? Like at Manzanar there was Block 2 for the bachelors.

VI: Bachelors.

RP: Yeah.

VI: I don't remember. I can't recall.

RP: Did you ever get involved with any of these bachelors or have a contact with your group with some of these older guys, the single guys?

VI: Not really 'cause we were more of a teenage, older and younger teenage group, so we didn't get too much in contact with other, especially with bachelors in the older people.

RP: They kind of stuck amongst themselves?

VI: Right, right.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

RP: Victor, you know, they were still building the camp when you guys got there, and there was quite a bit of, sort of, wood to scrounge. Many folks scrounged wood to build crude furniture for their barracks. Did you, did you do any of that?

VI: Not really. But my wife's family, somehow they got the furniture that was, some of that was stored in Seattle, over to Minidoka. I think, I don't know if you heard of Reverend Andrews, but he used to be the Baptist, Japanese Baptist minister. And he went with the relocation people, he and his family. And he had two daughters and a son, and the daughters were very close friends to a lot of Nisei girls that played basketball and all that. The whole family went to Minidoka, and he took trips back and forth from Twin Falls to Seattle and brought things back. That's an interesting story; and if you ever get a chance to talk to, like, Brooks Andrews, which is his son, he was probably more discriminated against than we were because all the sudden here came this "Jap lover." He rented a house, about a month or so they kicked him out. So he had a very hard time, he and his family, in Twin Falls. But I think he brought some furniture back for my wife's family, but basically you had to scrounge around to make your own furniture. As far as our room was concerned, I just remember the cots, the pot belly stove, and a desk that my dad had put together. Tom has some interesting interviews about these respectable people going and finding lumber to make different articles for the furniture, but as far as we were concerned, we didn't have that much made except the bare necessities.

RP: Early on, in the camp, there was really no sewage treatment plant in the --

VI: Right.

RP: -- facilities. And you shared a story about...

VI: Right. First time we went, since we were the earlier ones, that some of the sewage plants were working and the... so what they did was they built an outhouse, oversized outhouse, and we'd call it the ten-holer because there were five holes on one side and five on the other. So until they got the sewage and things working, we had to use that. So we'd eat breakfast, and all of a sudden we all trundled down there, and we'd sit. Of course, the smell wasn't the nicest thing, so somebody would always get the cigarette and says, "Let's pass the cigarettes and light the cigarettes so the smoke will kind of kill the smell." And that's where I learned how to smoke is that they'd pass the cigarettes, and, of course, I'd volunteer. Whether you inhaled or not it didn't matter, but you learned how to inhale. Then we'd always have some wiseacre that decides that he's through so he lights the toilet paper, and he throws it down there hoping that the toilet paper would catch on fire. Sometimes it did, but most the time it just kind of smoldered and sent the smoke up. [Laughs] But we remembered that until they got the sewage system fixed. And so by the time the rest of the people came, the sewage system was fixed so they didn't have to go through this ten-holer bit. In fact, some say that when they were in the assembly center when they were in the parking lot, that they had some outhouses because the sewage facilities wasn't adequate. But the ten-holer was a daily, daily trip that we all took down there and it became kind of a social joke, the whole bit, you know. [Laughs] Because you could imagine what kind of noises and things you hear when ten of us are sittin' there or four or five are sitting there. [Laughs]

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

RP: One of the things that you said you did as far as recreation was you ice skated on a cesspool?

VI: Right. Well, wintertime... well, some of the, a couple of my friends used to play ice hockey when they were young in Seattle. But when wintertime came, the ponds started to freeze over, and we had some smaller ponds around where it'd freeze over. So we have a Montgomery Ward catalog, we called it "Monkey Ward." So I ordered a pair of skates from there, and I used to be -- I could skate on a regular skate. We used to go to a lot of skating parties so when we got, when I got the ice skates, there wasn't that much change so I caught on very quick. So we used to skate on the smaller ponds, but that's not very fun because you can't go anything. But down by Block 22 where they had the cesspool for the... it was a big pond, and that would kind of freeze over. And we'd try to wait 'til it froze over hard so that... usually, usually it would freeze over hard, but still as you skate, you know, the skate will scrape the ice so you'd have loose ice on it. So you learned very quickly not to fall. [Laughs] So what we used to do is we got some boxes and stuff we put on, and we challenged people to jump over the box. And as you go at the end where you jump and you have a little, we put a little space on it so you'd have to stop with your skates and spray the ice. So sometimes we came home not smelling very good, but you sure learned how to skate well and stay on your feet. It is a big pond so you could skate around. It was like an ice skating rink.

RP: A lot of folks did that?

VI: Not too many.

KP: Not in that particular rink though.

VI: Yeah, 'cause not too many people had ice skates, and not too many people had skated in Seattle before they left. My friends had so I kind of joined them, but...

RP: You mentioned ordering the skates out of "Monkey Ward's" catalog.

VI: Right.

RP: Was mail order as big a thing in Minidoka as it was for Manzanar people?

VI: Probably, because that's the only way for a while, yeah. Later on, people got a chance to go to Twin Falls, you know, buy things there. But basically I remember getting the ice skates. I remember buying a sport coat from the "Monkey Ward's."

RP: Anything else?

VI: That's about all I can remember. Did I give you -- no, that must have been about all I had.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

RP: In your life before camp, you mentioned how important fishing was, and you shared some experiences about going down to the waterfront. Did you have the opportunity to fish at all at Minidoka like in the canal there?

VI: No, no. We used to go swimming in the canal all the time, not fishing, 'cause I don't think fish could have lived in the canal. But there might have been some fish. Minidoka had a swimming hole that you could swim in, but we used to go to the canal to swim. And we used to, in Seattle, we lived by the lake, so we were pretty good at swimming. So we'd go up the canal and we'd go all the way up to Block 39 which was the other end of the... and we'd hop in the canal and we'd drift down, all the way down to Block 8. So, and then in the canal, you'd have little island where sometimes, you know, you'd skirt this side or that side. So you half swim and you half float all the way down until you got down by the swimming pool or swimming beach, and we'd dock. The river was, the canal was pretty swift, and I remember at one time, one of my friends that didn't know how to swim were at the edge of the thing, and he got in there and he got into a little current where he couldn't get back to shore. So we had to kind of go in there and pull him out, but it was swift enough so if you didn't know how to swim, it was kind of a dangerous place. But we'd hike all the way, or hitch a ride all the way up to the other end of camp, and we'd just kind of float and swim all the way down. And it was quite, it was very neat. Things like, you really went with the canal, so you really had to just kind of float and knowing how not to get in trouble. But being young, you didn't know what trouble was.

RP: Yeah, no definition of that. Yeah, I remember when I visited Minidoka, it was very fast-moving water.

VI: It is fast-moving water, right.

RP: Did you swim in the small pools as well?

VI: Not too much, 'cause we tried to hit the...

RP: You were more adventurous.

VI: Yeah. 'Cause like when we were in Seattle, they were building the floating bridge across Lake Washington, so they'd have pontoons. So we'd swim from pontoon to pontoon across the lake and back. So we were swimming from an early age, so it was not, we thought it was not as dangerous as it turned out to be.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

RP: Tell us a little bit about the OT club in Minidoka. You guys really kind of formed a bond...

VI: Yeah, what had happened is a couple of our friends' parents were the chief cook and the cooks at this Block 5. We lived in Block 7 and some people lived in Block 6 and some in Block 3. Some lived higher, but we kind of started eating there, because you kind of eat with your friends. And the cooks tolerated it, 'cause usually it's rationed out that you get so much for your block. And the people in Block 5 seemed to tolerate us, I guess they didn't complain. So we started, you know, as a group from "Camp Harmony" getting together, and then as your sports season began, we became more of a sports club. So then it became closer, and that's the way it kind of formed the OTs. We had a... the, we had about ten members when we first started out, but as we played ball, it got bigger and bigger, so it was a pretty big organization, sports organization by the time the sports season rolled around, 'cause we had two softball teams, the A team and the B team that played ball. Of course, we played cards, and I think Mr. Kaseguma must have told you how we'd be playing cards and the older guys would make us go to school. [Laughs] So they tolerated us and they took, kind of took care of us. And the parents, in a situation like that, they don't worry too much of where you are 'cause you can't be too many places and get into trouble. And we were pretty good at sports, and we had some pretty good-looking guys in our group, very cocky, so all of a sudden one of the guys started to say, "Yeah, well, we'll be OTs." And I told you, I don't have to go any further. [Laughs] And we kind of kept it a secret because we didn't think it'd be proper to let people know what we thought about ourselves. So they always ask us, "What's the OTs?" "Well, we're oldtimers," or something. And it was kind of funny, we developed kind of a, being like a gang, quite a reputation. So that once we, one harvest, we went out to Berkeley, and there were some younger girls that were going out to pick potatoes, too, and they heard that the OTs were going to be out there, and they were worried sick. [Laughs] But we treated 'em real well, so they says they were never treated as well. So now, when we come to reunions like this, they remember us from the Oakley days, which sometimes we forget. But it was very competitive sport-wise.

RP: There were other, other groups of kids that organized their own events, too.

VI: Right. Because of the way that the camp was located, along the canal, you had a breaking point about one, two, three, four times in the camp. One broke at about Block 7, 11, 12 it stopped, and it started off at 12, 13, and that area, a lot of it was the people from the farming areas, the valley. So Block 16 was a very prominent group that, good ball players. And up around Block 30, they had the Portland people, and they were, had a very good athletic program, ball team. And you have some in between. So there was about eight, eight teams in our league for softball, but it probably landed up that there were only three that were very competitive. And it got to a point where it became very, very competitive between us and the people from Block 16, which was from the valley. In fact, it got so competitive, it got kind of competitive with girls, too. At one time, one of our fellows was going with a girl that was going with a guy in Block 16, so they got in this big argument and they had a, almost had a fight, we had to break it up. But like gangs, it's, "Okay, we'll meet you people at the movie theater at eight o'clock," or something. So word got around that there's going to be a big fight. So of course our friends heard about it so they came, and we went to the movie, we came out, and the Block 16 people were there. But what had happened was we had enough friends with us that they looked us over and I don't think they wanted to fight us, so a couple of 'em got together and jawboned it out. But we had some people in our group that came up from Tule Lake, you know, and they had quite a reputation because they were from California with the zoot suits and the whole bit. When you compare that, probably a lot of 'em went to Manzanar. In the Northwest, they didn't wear zoot suits, they wore the straight pants and the short hair. So, and when they joined us, I think Block 16 didn't want to tangle with us anymore. [Laughs] But it was very competitive. We'd play softball against them. We also played football against them, couple of games. And it'd be tackle football, but we wore heavy, more clothes, and we'd get a skullcap, and that was our equipment.

RP: This was, was it... one of our interviewees this morning mentioned stuffing clothes in...

VI: Oh, in your shoulder pads? Yeah.

RP: So you would just play out in the firebreaks?

VI: No, we had this, we played baseball, but it was also, you could play football. So it was a regular football field.

RP: Was the football organized, or was it just kind of pick up?

VI: Just kind of a pick up. "We'll play you people against ours." We got all the biggest people we could find, and so they did the same thing, and we'd play a couple of times.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

RP: Now, you also were on the high school baseball team.

VI: Yeah, I played out in the outfield on the high school baseball team. We played, I think, in 1944, they played eight games. I didn't play all of them because I think I left before they finished the season. But they won eight and lost one, so that was pretty good. They played the different, some of the towns that were close by, like Twin Falls, Jerome, Burley. They played Jerome twice, and I was talking to one of the fellows that played in the game, he says, "I'll always remember we went into Twin Falls and beat 'em 24 to 1." And he says he always would remember that game. But we beat 'em pretty bad. Of course, it's kind of a disadvantage, 'cause some of these smaller towns were very small in population, so they didn't have too much to pick from. And of course, we had the whole Seattle and Portland group we can pick from, especially in high school, so we had a pretty good team. The high school team played the semi-pros, and we beat 'em twice and we lost once. Except the semi-pros, lot of the people that were on the original team had left camp, or some had gone into the army. So it was not the same team that went out and played the different cities and tournaments. They were just what was left over, so it really wasn't like we beat the pros or semi-pros. [Laughs]

RP: Did you, did you travel out to play all your games, or did these teams come into the camp?

VI: They came in a couple of times, but most of the times they went out to play.

RP: Your high school?

VI: Yeah, that's right. Can't remember that well, 'cause we were talking about it, says, "Do you remember when we went or where we used to" -- no, we went, but it's hard to remember. That's not one of the things that really stays with you, because it was, we have a tendency to forget those things. But most of the time we went out and sometimes they came in, 'cause our facility wasn't that, that great.

RP: Were there, was there a main baseball diamond with bleachers?

VI: No bleachers, it was just, people just on the side.

RP: Backstop?

VI: We had a backstop, at least we had a backstop, we used to say. [Laughs]

RP: And how important to you -- it sounds, obviously, that baseball was a really important part of your camp experience.

VI: Yeah, one of the things that, if you realize, if you're in a camp, there's not much you can do. And we had nine fields, quite a few small fields all over the camp where you can play baseball, where you don't have, if it's a hardball, it goes, you need a bigger playing area. So there's not much young people can do, so they formed these different teams to play baseball, especially during the summertime.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

VI: Now, during the fall, just about everybody went out and harvested because the farmers didn't have any, any help. I remember the first year that we got there, I think it was 1942, in the fall, they were looking for people to pick the potatoes. So some friends, they were older, of course, and there were eight of us. We paired up in pairs, and we went out to pick potatoes. Where we went was a farmer had a whole pickup truck, so instead of having to come and pick us up in the relocation camp, he gave us the use of the pickup truck, so that the people can drive back and forth. Now, we had, I was with a group that had a couple of people that were through college, so they were older, so they drove the trucks and all that. We'd go out there and we'd pick the potatoes, and he had a good deal 'cause after he got through picking the potatoes he sent us back, so the camp will feed us. So only thing he gave us was, I think, sandwiches for lunch or something. Well, we were doing this for a while, and one day we came back, and as we got to the gate, all of a sudden here were all these soldiers with guns, machine guns, aimed at us. We came and they stopped us, they told us to get out with the guns pointed, lined us up, and they started searching us and the pickup truck. What had happened, we had no idea what was happening, except it sure didn't feel good when they lined you up and they're pointing guns at you. What we found out was the farmer's son had come home and decided that he wanted to, while we were picking potatoes, decided he wanted to go hunting or something, and he took the shotgun and he left the house. And so when the farmer came back and saw the shotgun missing, he thought that we had taken it and he had called the, the military police at Minidoka. [Laughs] So as we drove up, they not knowing whether we had the shotgun or not, they just lined us up. We missed our dinner, and after the farmer found out that his son came home with his shotgun, he apologized and the next time we went in, he bought us dinner. So that was quite an experience.

RP: So you went out every day?

VI: We used to go every day, and we'd have the use of the trucks in the evening, and of course when you have trucks, you need gasoline. And the way you get gasoline, if you don't have a gas station, is from another truck. So some of the people used to have trucks, and one day we saw this truck on the side, parked on the road, and we thought, "Well, there's a good chance to get some gasoline." So we got in there and we had a tube, and we siphoned some gasoline. And we looked up, and here was this guy looking out the window, and he happened to be the chief of police, and that was his truck. [Laughs] He realized what we were doing and he realized the situation were in, and he just kind of looked and nodded. And we stopped and left, but that was the extent of it. He didn't do anything to us, realizing that it's bad, but under these circumstances, it's probably tolerable that we got a little gas.

RP: He's the chief of police of Twin Falls?

VI: No, no, in camp.

RP: Oh.

VI: See, so he had his own car.

RP: So you, after this trip in the fall, or this farm experience in the fall, the following year, did you also go out on farm furlough? Where did you go?

VI: Just that we went to Burley, Idaho, and we stayed at a farmhouse. This is the time that eventually that these younger girls were there, too, to pick, and we were the OTs going there. And this was quite an experience at Burley, Idaho, the next year, because we were, we were potato sackers. In other words, the truck will drive down the row where the potatoes were picked, and we'd have to grab it and throw it onto the flatbed so they can stack it. Trouble is, we being short, that we'd really have to take effort to do that using our knee, we'd kick it up there. Now, if you got a tall Caucasian, he'd just pick it up and throw it up there. So it was really a chore. We thought we were there to pick potatoes, not to throw potatoes on the truck. But we did a lot of that. Once you finished the season, you leave. But in the evenings it was a school, abandoned schoolhouse, so they had gyms and auditoriums. We'd make believe that we were bands and things like that, to spend the evenings, so the younger girls got a big kick out of... so they always remember us not as the bad OTs, but, "You took good care of us when we were there." [Laughs] But most of the people went out to the sugar beets or potatoes. Of course, I was still going to school, so I was restricted to how long I could stay out and come back.

RP: And did you, did you go out again after that?

VI: No, by that time I was ready to graduate, to leave the camp.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

RP: What about your educational experience at Hunt High?

VI: Hunt High, it was horrible. I was a pretty cocky kid, if I say so myself, and playing in sports and being with an older group, I think you develop an attitude of, you know, little cockier than just a student. If my kids knew how I went through high school, I'd say, "Do as I tell you, not as I do." Of course, when we went to school, there were hardly any books. You go to chemistry class, I mean, you didn't have any equipment or experiment, you know, projects. Classes were big, teachers tolerated a lot of things that, you know, you won't do in public school. Before we'd go to school, you'd play cards or something, and the older people sent us to school. And one of the reasons this Block 5 tolerated us eating there was our group, some of our group was on these food delivery, so they always seemed to manage more food to give to Block 5. Well, when they come by, we'd wait for 'em, I'd wait for 'em to come by, and then I'd get in the truck with them and help deliver, 6, 7, all the way down 'til we got to school, then I'd hop off. And I remember that was my chemistry class, the first class. Of course, when I got there, I'd never be on time. So what I'd do is I'd get an apple from the delivery truck, and walk in there very cocky and give the apple to the teacher and then sit down. [Laughs] It's a wonder she tolerated that, 'cause I sure wouldn't tolerate it now. But I was kind of cocky then; school didn't mean that much because our future didn't look that promising, you know. Of course, there are people like Mr. Okamoto, that he was very studious, and he studied and all that. Spanish, I took Spanish, and I got along with the teacher, but I didn't learn very much, and she was willing to pass me. I took woodworking because that sounded like a good thing to do. I attended not too many classes, and when it got time to give my report card, he says, "Well, are you in my class?" I said, "Oh, yeah, I signed up," so he just gave me a passing grade. They weren't gonna flunk you because they didn't have really the facilities. And I've got a strange feeling that by the time we got into 1944, the War Relocation people were more than happy to get you out of school and get you out of camp, so they weren't gonna do anything to try to hold you back.

Now, I was a mid-year student, and I don't know if you realize what a mid-year student is? In Seattle, when you started high school, you either started in September or in February. So if you started in September, you went the four years and you graduated in June. If you're a mid-year student, you started in February, and if you got lot of credits, you graduated in June but that's three and a half years. If you didn't have enough credits, you graduated the next year. Well, I was a mid-year student, so when I went to camp, I was able to, I guess, accumulate enough credits so that I graduated in three and a half years. And I'm glad I did, because the grades that I had in high school in Seattle were good grades, the grades I had in Hunt were very, very poor. I would have never got to college if I had those, but combining them, was able for me to, enough to qualify for college. But as far as I was concerned, camp was... school was more of a social event than a studying event.

RP: Secondary in your life.

VI: Right, right, something we had to do. We had to go, so we went.

RP: Going to camp.

VI: Right, right. Not knowing what the future was, whether we'd ever go to college or not...

RP: Right, and so, so you did have an opportunity to go to college, but did you also want to get out of camp, too?

VI: Yeah.

RP: You were giving up your friends, your group.

VI: Since I was with the older group and I was the youngest of the group, and I think you talked to Mr. Kaseguma, he was six years older, and they accepted me. So a lot of 'em started leaving, so by the time, you know, '44 rolled around, quite a few of 'em had enlisted, or volunteered for the army or left, or went back to college, or went to work or something. So all this OT group was getting smaller and smaller, so I was willing to leave as soon as I can.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

RP: Just a, to go back on what you just said about the group, was there a schism that developed in the group between those who wanted to, wanted to affirm their loyalty...

VI: Right, what had happened was... it was a fairly large group, and out of the group when they first had a chance to volunteer, the fellow I went picking potatoes with, my partner, he volunteered, and some of the other people volunteered, which is, you know, it's kind of a thing that, "I'm going, so hey, I'll go, too." And I think you got the biggest volunteer group out of Minidoka of all the, you know, relocation camps. And then all of a sudden, you had some people where their parents were picked up and sent to the, the other camps for the Isseis that were picked up. Well, their families were a little bit more oriented toward the Japanese custom, and so they, they were kind of torn. Where they would say that, "Well, my parents were taken away from me, you threw me in prison, and you expect me to volunteer and go?" So as you know, you had these two questions, you know, "Would you serve," and so you got the so-called "no-no." In our group, our group, we probably had the most people saying "no-no," I think about four or five of our group. And then at the same time, we had three, four people volunteering. So, you know, it's torn. Like at that time, I was, what, seventeen, so I was too young to volunteer. Some of the other people that didn't volunteer, they got drafted. So there was a break there, and of course, when they went with the 442, some of them got killed and a lot of their friends got killed, so they were very patriotic or they felt that they were really... and of course, people that went with "no-no" that landed up in McNeil Island, they were, felt that they were correct in not going. But what happened was after the war, when everybody came back to Seattle, that was when... I had no feelings one way or the other. They were my friends, so whether they went and volunteered or whether they went to prison, I mean, they were my OTs, they were my friends. But not all of our group felt like that.

And I had never realized it until when we were in camp, we had a big basketball tournament, and so we had teams coming from Chicago and the various different areas. And the team that people came back from Chicago, a lot of 'em were the OTs, formerly, they came back. So I thought I'd have a big party for them, you know, to get together. Well, that's when I found out that there was really a, really a split. That the people that said, "no-no" felt very, very, that they were going to be discriminated against, they felt bad, and the vets that came back had a very, very strong feeling about how they didn't volunteer or they didn't serve. And there was a big, big split, and they're, up to this day, there still is a split between some of the people. Not all of 'em, some have mellowed out. But that was, at that time, our OT bunch just kind of broke up. We stuck together like at Fort Snelling.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

RP: Victor, tell us a little bit about leaving camp. Why did, you said you went to Minneapolis?

VI: Right. I graduated in 1944, June. And as soon as I graduated, most, a lot of people were leaving camp at that time so that, well, I decided I want to leave, too. So this best friend of mine -- he was a little bit older, and he had graduated the year before -- and he was ready to go back. But being a minor, I had to get somebody to sponsor me. Well, a friend of the OTs, one of the OTs, had a big brother that was over in Minneapolis, so I asked him. He said, yeah, his big brother would sponsor me, act as a sponsor. So we picked, picked to go to Minneapolis. We didn't know where we wanted to go, we just wanted to get out. So we decided we'd go to Minneapolis so my friend and I, we left camp, and we went to Minneapolis. We got to Minneapolis, and they have a hostel that you can go to until you find someplace else where you can live. And I remember getting to Minneapolis and finding out that I had five dollars to my name. [Laughs] So decided the best thing to do is probably find, find a job at a restaurant so at least you could eat. Well, one of the reasons why I was able to leave camp was that I applied for a trade school, Dunwoody trade school. They accepted me, so that way now I was going to school so the camp people said, "Well, you can leave." So, of course, I went to Minneapolis, and I went to Dunwoody trade school, and I was going to be an electrician so I studied electricity and all that. At the same time I got a job at a restaurant peeling potatoes so that at least I knew I had one good meal.

We left the hostel, and we moved to a big home where a lot of the people from all over, from California, they were all Niseis, it was this big house, boarding house that they're living in. And we had one room that had two beds, two double beds, and there were four of us there. And this is in Minneapolis. And there were people from California downstairs, we met a lot of the friends. This was right in the heart of Minneapolis, and right below us was a couple of lakes, Lake Lorraine, which was hooked up to the other lakes. They used to freeze over, so we used to go down there and ice skate through the lakes. Of course, we were kind of clumsy-like. I remember a little kid coming up, says, "Mister, you want help?" But anyway, so we worked at... I went to Dunwoody. I took one course in electricity, so I fulfilled my schooling because I went to school. Then I quit, and I went to work for Pentz company because, and a shipping clerk, so that I could earn a few bucks so that I didn't have to depend on just the job at the restaurant. This restaurant was -- I forgot the name -- but some of the guys that lived in the house worked down there. And we used to peel potatoes. And in the evenings about 9 o'clock they'd close, and then we'd have a chance to eat what was left over.

See, but we were in Minneapolis. When you first went, the Military Intelligence school was at Camp Savage, and then Camp Savage moved to Fort Snelling. Of course, once they moved to Fort Snelling, all of a sudden some of my friends from the OTs were coming through Fort Snelling, so they'd come in over the weekend. And at that time cigarettes were hard to get, so the only ones that can get it were the soldiers, so some of them would collect from the other nonsmoking soldiers, and they would bring cartons of cigarettes to us. They'd come to our, where we were living the 416 Clifton. I had people sleeping on the floor, we had one kid named Beryl, he was sleeping in the bathtub. [Laughs] But they'd come over for the weekend, and when they'd come over after our shift at the restaurant was over, we'd have 'em come in, and we'd give 'em ice cream. So we still kept in touch with the OTs. And as one group left, maybe another two or three may come by, so it was kind of a hangover from camp.

After, then I found out that I could make more money working at this International Harvester. And there was a war plant that was making 105 shells for the howitzers, and that's where I kind of mentioned that one day I was working away, and here came this guy, a sweeper, that had this big shovel that he sweeps into it. He saw me, and I think he thought I was an enemy, so he came after me. I mentioned that I had taken judo for six years when I was little or so. Instinctively, I grabbed him and I threw him, which was enough to stun him and get him down, and by that time there was enough people to stop things. So I worked there for a couple of months, I think, not too long, when I got my notice greetings for my draft. So I came back to Spokane.

RP: You did?

VI: Yeah. But when I was in Minneapolis, there was really a pretty strong Japanese American community there because a lot of the wives and the families of the people that were at Fort Snelling were there.

RP: And you got involved in that community?

VI: Yeah, because they used to have dances and things like that. So we got to know some of the people that were living in the community, so it was kind of like a second home. I always remember Minneapolis very fondly, my second home type, and it was a good time.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

RP: So you mentioned you got called.

VI: So I came back to Spokane because my family was there.

RP: Oh, they had...

VI: Yeah. My sister had left in about '43. And after I had left, a few months or six months later, she called my parents to Spokane so they were there. So I went to Spokane 'cause I had my draft paper, and then once I got there I spent a couple of weeks there. And then I was drafted and told to report to Fort Lewis. And I think I was the first Japanese American to be inducted at Fort Lewis because most the people were inducted at Fort Douglas, Utah, because they couldn't go to the restricted area. So then I got inducted at Fort Lewis, and this was in July, I think it was '45. By that time, the war in Europe was over but they were still fighting the Pacific War. So as soon as I got inducted at Fort Lewis, Washington, being up north, they outfitted me with winter clothing. Then they told me that I'd have to report to Fort Wolters, Camp Wolters, in Texas, so Fort Worth, Texas. So they gave me a train ticket from Seattle through Denver all the way down to Fort Worth to Camp Wolters. I remember it was kind of a long trip. I looked like, a little stupid because I had my winter uniform on, wool, and I'm going, "This is the middle of summer." It's kind of interesting, though.

But when I got to Forth Worth, I got off at the train station, I went into the train station, and I was going to the bathroom. I looked up, and I saw "colored" and "white." And I stopped and figured, "Now, where do I go?" So I looked at that, and I said, "Well, one way or the other they'll kick me out." I looked at the drinking fountain, they had "colored" and "white." So I went into the "white" bathroom, and nobody seems to object. So I went to the "white" drinking fountain, and I drank out of the "white" drinking fountain. So then I had this bus to go to Camp Wolters. I got on the bus, and there was "white" in the front and "blacks" in the back. The "white" area was full so I just sauntered and went to the back, and nobody seems to complain. So I sat in the back because they had seats back there until I got to Camp Wolters. So at that point I didn't know what I was supposed to do. [Laughs] But once I got into Camp Wolters, of course, we were with the white group. Now, there was a training camp for black soldiers at the camp, too, but we trained, this was with the infantry so we had infantry training of eight weeks at Camp Wolters.

And the interesting thing was by the time that we were there, the 442 had rescued the "Lost Battalion," but we didn't really know about that. So I remember one time -- we used to go on weekends into Forth Worth. And one time I went in there, and I went into this drugstore type to buy candy or something. A lady spotted me, and she came right over, and she asked me if I was Japanese American. I said, "Yes," -- sorry -- I had a button that was coming off. And she came over, she said, "Come on over." She took me and sewed the button up for me. Excuse me. And then she took me home for dinner. Then I found out that one of her sons were up there, and he had been saved, yeah. It kind of gets to me because I remember that. It was the first time it hit me like this, usually it doesn't bother me. But when I remember that, it was kind of touching.

So when we were in Texas, we were treated pretty good. In fact, a friend of ours that used to be a flying, where they taught airplane flying, so he thought me being such small stature -- he was a Caucasian friend -- he was taking flying lessons. He says, "Come on." He says, "We'll learn, we'll teach you how to fly." So I used to go with him, and we'd take lessons in flying the Piper Cubs. We'd get up there, and you got no instruments, you fly by the horizon, if the wing is straight you're okay, if your nose you can see. Then he says, "Well, why don't you join the Air Force 'cause they're looking for fighter pilots on your size?" Of course, they weren't accepting us at that time so that was beside the point. But that was another interesting experience while I was there.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

RP: So you actually trained in an integrated group of soldiers?

VI: Right, integrated soldiers.

RP: Were there other Japanese Americans?

VI: Yeah, there were about three of us in our... and they were all from the Northwest so I knew a lot of 'em. And a lot of 'em, 'cause some of them were from Seattle. When we got through our training, we were supposed to go to Fort Meade to be shipped off to Europe, but then by that time the European theater was slowing down so they didn't need a replacement. So all the Niseis that were in, we were sent up to Fort Snelling to the language school.

RP: You went back to Minneapolis.

VI: Went back to Minneapolis. I felt like coming back home. I knew all the friends back there so it didn't bother me a bit going back up there.

RP: So what was language school like for you?

VI: Well, we went there and usually, when people come in before they start to school, they put you in what they call the "turkey farm." And this was a paper shack building with a pot stove in the middle with five beds along this pot belly stove. And they kept you there until you took a test and school started, and then they'll move you up to the barracks, and you lived up in the barracks up on top of the hill. Meanwhile, you lived on the "turkey farm." Well, at that time I decided, and I think a couple of my friends, that we didn't want to go through school again. We didn't want to go through the Japanese school experience. Of course, we had six years of it so it's kind of hard to say that you don't know Japanese. But anyway, they gave us a test. And we took the test, and we kind of made sure that we didn't quite make the grade on it so we didn't have to go. So they brought us back to the "turkey farm." Sometimes I regretted it because it was the middle of winter, and if you ever spent a winter in Minneapolis in a paper shack, it's not very fun. You get snow, and then you have the pot belly stove right in the middle of the shack, and you had people coming to fill the coal, the coal crew filling the pot belly stove. The soldiers being lazy, they won't come all night. They'll come, and then they'll fill the stove with coal 'til it got red hot. So you're so hot that you're kicking off your thing, but they'd never come back so that by the time you got halfway through, the fire went out, and you're freezing. [Laughs] So that was quite an experience. About that time, they came to us with a proposition because the war in Japan had ended, and they were needing people to do interrogation of people coming back from China or Russia. So they gave us a choice: we could go to school or I can go to the CID, which was a class starting up in Helgenberger, Maryland. And this -- I don't know if you ever heard of them.

RP: That was a counterintelligence organization?

VI: Kind of like. It's... and what they were going to do with them was they're going back to Japan. And they were the ones that were kind of... it wasn't counterintelligence as much as... I forgot the actual synonym of that. But they're back to Japan to make sure that the GIs weren't black marketing things, and watching the soldiers as well as the Japanese. So I had a choice. I can go there to go to school, and that was the first class they were going to have, or, "If you volunteer for one year we'll guarantee that we'll let you out in a year." So he said, "Well, take your choice." So I says, "Well, if I volunteer, they'll give me a furlough to go home. Otherwise, I'd have to go there and go back to school, I guess." I said, "Well, I'll volunteer, and I'll take the furlough." So instead of going... I think I should have went because the people that were in the class really had a ball when they went back to Japan because they weren't doing interrogation, but they were just kind of freelancing up and down seeing that the GIs weren't doing wrong.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 46>

VI: But anyway, so I went back to Spokane for about three weeks for my furlough, and then I came back to Fort Snelling. And by that time they realized that we weren't going to school so they sent us down, all the people that weren't going to school, down to Camp Campbell in Kentucky with the Third Division. And since my background had electrician or electric training, I was assigned to the Signal Corps in headquarters. So we went down there, and I remember I had no knowledge of equipment at all 'cause I just went to school. And we had a case where they got a call saying that some of the equipment had failed 'cause it wasn't working, so, "Could you please send somebody down?" So they said, "You all go on down there and see what's wrong." I didn't know what I was going to do. But I went down there looking around, looking around, and I found out that somebody had pulled the plug out, out of the socket. It had somehow come out, and so I plugged it in, and the thing worked, so I got all this credit. [Laughs] I went back, they promoted me to a corporal. [Laughs] So they gave me a T5 which is technician in the fifth grade.

Well, I like sports, so I went to play touch football. And in playing touch football, I hit a kind of a gopher hole, and I broke my ankle. So next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. And they set the ankle, and I was in a cast. And being with the Third Infantry Division, they don't need people with crutches and casts, so I was in the hospital all this time with crutches and casts. And I had nothing to do so I'd take the crutches and cast and go to, go to town, go to Clarksville to see the movies and come back. When they finally got my foot healed enough so I can get along without it, they gave me a medical furlough for thirty days 'cause they don't want to keep me around. So I went back to Spokane again. [Laughs] So by the time I got back to Camp Campbell, I was getting pretty close to my, halfway through my one year. So they said, "Well, we can't send you overseas anymore because if we get you there, you have to come back." So they said, "Okay, we'll send you and get you ready for discharge," and they sent me to Fort Ord, they sent a whole bunch of us there to Fort Ord. Well, we got to Fort Ord in the fall, and if you know Carmel, Monterey Bay? Around September, October we get there, and we got six months, we were getting ready to be discharged. We have nothing to do. They assigned us, "Well, maybe you can work at the commissary office." But basically, by that time, all the training has stopped at Ford Ord so it was kind of like a ghost town waiting for people to come back to be discharged. So my military experience was not the 442 type or the MIS. It was a kind of thing that, yeah, I was in the army, it was during World War II, I broke an ankle. [Laughs]

RP: But you fixed a radio.

VI: But I fixed a radio and got my technician. [Laughs] T5.

RP: You were a hero.

VI: So what happened is, at that time, Fort Snelling closed. They were closing, and they moved Fort Snelling to Monterey, and that became the language school. Now, some of the people that I trained with at basic training, we went up to Fort Snelling, the ones that flunked the test on purpose. A couple of 'em were Japanese teachers' sons that flunked the test. [Laughs] They landed up as cooks. So when Fort Snelling moved, they came over to Monterey and they were cooking there. And I had a good friend that was the supply sergeant for sports equipment and all that. So he'd get the golf clubs for the officers. So they were at Monterey now at Presidio, and I'm at Fort Ord with my friends. And we had nothing better to do, but weekends we'd go and we'd flip a coin and said, "Should we go to Los Angeles or San Francisco?" So we'd go up to see the guys up at Monterey. And I liked to play, I learned how to play golf, so that we'd play some golf. And I remember one time we were out there playing golf during the daytime, and the colonel of Monterey saw us and thought we were students up there. So he was going to get the MPs to get after us until this sergeant, this supply sergeant, told, "No, they're from Fort Ord." I played Pebble Beach for ten dollars a round at that time. So as far as my military experience, it wasn't a hardship as a lot of 'em had to go through. But I served my time.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 47>

RP: Did you, after your military time was up, did you resettle in Seattle, did the family eventually come together?

VI: Right. My folks came back, and they leased a hotel right down in old Japantown. And it was, it had sixty-four rooms in it, so it was a nice hotel, big hotel. It was more for transient single people. So I came back, and then I stayed there. Now one of the things of being a veteran, you had the GI Bill of Rights. So I came back not knowing what to do. But if you went to school, they'd pay your tuition, the books, and give you seventy-five dollars a month. And the more I thought about it, it was better than working. So I thought, well, I'd go to, I'd go to college. Except I was kind of concerned because the grades I had in camp were so low, would they accept me at the university? Well, it was high enough where they accepted me.

So I enrolled at the University of Washington, and since my second half of high school was nonexistent, I was deficient in a lot of things. So first thing I had to do was, quote, take "dumbbell English" so that I could get the grades to keep on going. [Laughs] I went and decided -- you know, I shouldn't tell you all this 'cause if my kids heard about it -- but anyway, I looked it over, and I said, "Well, what's the easiest thing?" I always wanted to be an engineer, but the engineering school seemed so tough. I says, "Now, what's the next best thing to do?" I says, well, the easiest thing to get in is business school at that time. So I said, "Well, okay, I'm going to be a business school major." So I applied for business school. Then I looked at the business school and I says, "Now, what's the easiest major I can have?" and I saw transportation. I says, "Wow, I don't know what that is, but it sure sounds easy." So I said, "I'll major in transportation." Of course, when you take transportation you got to take all the accounting courses and the various other, but basically it was transportation. The more I got into it, I thought, "Boy, transportation, air travel, is just starting." Boeing was, had their... the Pan Am Clipper was flying, Boeing was flying their four engines cross-country. It was taking six to eight hours or twelve hours to get across. So I took up transportation and did a couple of papers on air transportation.

And then also it dawned on me that, you know, there's not a better job than being a travel agent, because if you become a travel agent, people come to you, and they're all happy because they're going on a vacation. So you're always dealing with happy people. So I said, "I'm going to be a travel agent." Anyway, so I went through the whole bit, and I graduated in transportation. I had talked to Northwest Airlines, and they had thought about, "Would you be interested," but I'd have to travel. And I didn't want to travel, so I refused it. And like every, every good Seattleite graduate does, they work at Boeing. So I started working at Boeing and became kind of a draft person to begin with.

So my, and then when I went through the University of Washington, I was back with the OT group again because they all came, a lot of 'em came back. Now, we didn't call ourselves OT then after we got back, but the same people that we grew up and went through camp and went through the OT thing and the military were now all at the...

RP: At the college?

VI: At the college. At the University of Washington they have what they call the SYNKOA club, which was a live-in house for college students before the war, and they were able to keep that. And then, so we got it back, so a lot of the people that weren't living in Seattle came to dorm at the -- this is for the Niseis -- at the SYNKOA House to go. So we had the SYNKOA club at the SYNKOA House, which again felt like being back in camp with the OTs. [Laughs] And the SYNKOA was named after five of the students that were killed. They took their first name, and they came out as SYNKOA. So my wife's brother was one of them. He was the "K" of that. But then...

RP: They were killed in combat?

VI: Yeah, combat in Italy.

RP: That's 442nd?

VI: Right, 442nd. So they were college students when they left and they came back. So SYNKOA Club was kind of a social hall, too. Except most of the people there were vets so the vets were a little bit more serious than the kids coming out of high school. So it was back again toward the camps, the camp life. We had a good time in SYNKOA Club.

RP: Kind of relived some of it?

VI: Relived some of the experiences.

<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 48>

VI: And I graduated and got a job.

RP: At Boeing.

VI: Boeing, yeah.

RP: And you stayed with Boeing?

VI: No, I stayed with them, and all of the sudden-- I had this transportation major. I thought travel agencies was a good job, but I didn't want to travel at that time. Then all of the sudden, there was an offering for a transportation, transportation agent with the Department of Army with the Quartermaster Corps. And the job was a transportation agency to deliver food to all the armed services. So I applied for it, and I got the job. So I got a civil service job, federal job, as a travel agency with the Quartermaster, they called it Quartermaster Market Center. And what we did was we sent all the food to all the military installations around the Northwest. Well, we sent it, the Quartermaster Market Centers supplied all the military installations around the world. So we supplied Fort Lewis, we supplied the, we had the four area, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and we supplied food to them.


VI: So from there, I stayed there for about eighteen years. Being with the Quartermaster Market Center, I had a chance to take trips all over the military installations around the Northwest, and I became a purchasing agent, and I was able to replace some of the other purchasing agents of other regions, like the Chicago region, so I got a chance to see the military installations there. I had a chance to go up to Alaska, we supplied the so-called, the radar sites, the site stations up there. And they used to say the perfect supply was when you threw the last can of beer into the ocean, the supply ship was coming in. [Laughs] Anyway, I stayed there, and then they says they're gonna consolidate the, the account savings into a smaller, so all of a sudden they had a job with OEO, Office of Economic Opportunity. So I applied, and I was with the military for about eighteen years. I went to Office of Economic Opportunity, it was completely a different thing, because now, you had a whole bunch of people that were in the Peace Corps, and they were, the office of -- I don't know if you know what OEO did, but they had these community action agencies throughout the Northwest, throughout the country. And they were the ones that supported the community, the poor and all that, so they would send grants to OEO and they'd grant 'em, and I became a budget officer with them. But it's quite a different experience; you're with a strict military-type job, and then you go here with "flower children." [Laughs] They had flowers sticking out of their cubicles, all had master's degrees, they attended the Peace Corps. Well, we lasted for about three years when they consolidated it, and then we were in the same building as the Department of Labor. By that time I was a budget officer, purchasing agent, so I applied for a job with the Department of Labor and then I spent the rest of my working life -- which was about fifteen years -- with the Department of Labor.

RP: You spent a lot of time in the government.

VI: Yeah, thirty-six years. And then I finally retired as the regional administrator for Region 10 with the Department of Labor, which had the Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and... Washington, Oregon, Alaska... I'm missing one. I guess that's it. Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and... yeah, Idaho. [Laughs]

<End Segment 48> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 49>

RP: Victor, I wanted to ask you, did either one of your parents become naturalized citizens when they were allowed to?

VI: They both did. Right, they both did. It took my mother a longer time because she didn't have to speak English while she was there, so she had to learn. And she learned enough to become naturalized.

RP: And did you attend the ceremony when they actually were sworn in as citizens?

VI: No, I didn't. I don't think I was in town during that time.

RP: How did they feel about finally having the opportunity to become citizens?

VI: Well, I think after the camp experience, coming back after the World War II, I think they had already made up their mind that they were not Japanese citizens, but they had spent so much of their time here and their children were all here, that they would rather be American citizens than...

RP: Just formalized...

VI: Right, right.

RP: ...what they probably already felt. Also, were you involved in any way with the effort to obtain redress?

VI: Redress? Not directly, but we supported their efforts.

RP: Were you involved with the JACL?

VI: Well, this is a strange story. JACL and the veteran organization in Seattle did not get along together, they didn't see eye to eye. I don't know if you knew that or not, but...

RP: What was the, what was the conflict?

VI: Well, the conflict, I think, comes back from when the people came back from the World War II, the 442 people, they were strong, strong pro-America, and they thought JACL was not as pro-America as they should be, so there was a very, a strong conflict there. And then the people that were joining the JACL were not the 442 veteran type, so you had a conflict between that. But by the time the redress came around, it was much closer. But we supported, but not directly as involved in the actions. More of the attorney types were in there. And the story I had to tell probably was not as exciting as somebody else could tell, or convincing, to give us reparations. So I didn't get that involved in it.

RP: And you did receive an apology letter?

VI: Yeah.

RP: Did that mean anything to you?

VI: Well, the apology letter, sure, the money is good. What we did was just gave it to the kids, you know, 'cause they can probably make better use of it then, especially if you have five kids. [Laughs]

<End Segment 49> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 50>

RP: Did, did you have any difficulties in sharing your stories with your kids?

VI: Well, the kids never asked, you know. And we never said anything, even the camp life or something. But every so often, when all the young kids got together, and they'd be sitting around, we'd start talking. And we'd start talking, and they'd sit there listening. Like Tom really didn't know too much about it until he started listening and he got involved. The more he got involved, the more he learned, and he got to a point where he probably knew more about the 442, the Military Intelligence, about relocation, because he got interested. But for the longest time, we didn't speak about it. And now, I think the Sanseis are kind of getting interested because now they got kids... about what grandparents did. But it takes a little time, 'cause everybody got their own little niche that they, you know, protect.

RP: And then your son went on to establish Densho?

VI: Yeah. Yeah, I've got one son that's a doctor in Sacramento, and Steve has been working thirty-something years for Boeing, and Tom, and John works for the FAA. And Karen, my youngest, she's quite a story. She worked her butt off, she studied, got into Arthur Andersen, worked her way all the way up in Arthur Andersen, she finally became partner. The year she became partner and bought into the partnership, the Enron thing happened, and Arthur Andersen collapsed. So everything she had worked for -- but now she's working for a consulting company and doing real well. But she was kind of an interesting story, too.

RP: So overall, how do you evaluate your camp experience when you're looking back from this point in time? Did you learn any valuable lessons from the experience?

VI: Well, you learned lessons of tolerating, rolling with the punches. But in a way, I say to people, "We were in camp, we had evacuation, we went to war, we went all through that. We are the only generation that went through something like that." And there's no other generation that went through such a different phase, and it's experience in life itself. I look at my kids, you know, they went through school, went all the way through. When you compare that with the Isseis that went through one, but we had to go through the war, the relocation, the whole bit, and then try to make a living, raising your kids. And that's probably an experience that I cherish.

RP: Thank you, Victor.

<End Segment 50> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.