Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Susumu Yenokida Interview
Narrator: Susumu Yenokida
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: July 5, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ysusumu-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history interview for the Manzanar National Historic Site. Today we're talking with Susumu... what's your last name again, I'm sorry?

SY: Yenokida.

RP: Yenokida.

SY: Yenokida. For some reason, when Dad came to this country they put a "Y" instead of an "E" because it's called "eh," but then "Yeh." You see what I mean? And then I've had difficulties with this thing. I have.

RP: Okay.

SY: The computer can't distinguish the "yeh" and the "eh." [Laughs]

RP: Yeah. Okay, well, I can. So, Yenokida. And our interview's taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Denver, Colorado. Sus is here as well as us for the Japanese American National Museum conference called Enduring Communities. And we'll be talking to Sus about his experiences during World War II and the Amache War Relocation Center as well as Merced Assembly Center. And most importantly, his resistance to the draft which landed him at the Santa Catalina Work Camp or prison camp. Our interview's taking place on July 5, 2008. Our interviewer is Richard Potashin, our videographer is Kirk Peterson. And our interview today with be archived in the archives of the Manzanar National Historic Site library. Sus, do I have permission to record our interview? Thank you very much for joining us. I know it's kind of a busy week, week for you. But we're gonna jump right in here and talk a little bit about your early history and your family history. Tell us, first of all, where you were born and what year.

SY: I was born in Turlock, California, June 28, 1925.

RP: '25, okay.

SY: Yeah.

RP: Were you born in a hospital or were you born at home?

SY: I think I was born in the hospital. I'm not too awful sure. I couldn't remember [Laughs.]

RP: Yeah. You didn't have much... yeah, that's, that's a little early. And your given name was...

SY: Susumu, right.

RP: Yenokida. What is, what is... do you know the meaning of your first and last name? Did your...

SY: First name is to, Susumu in, in Japanese language, is "to advance" or to become... what do you call? If it's in the military terminology, "to advance." And Yenokida is a, is a tree. It's called a enoki, but I can't remember the exact name for it. It's some kind of a brush. Yeah, enoki.

RP: Enoki.

SY: Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. And did you ever take an American name?

SY: Never have.

RP: Never have?

SY: Never have.

RP: Nobody ever tried to call you "George" or...

SY: No, no.

RP: [Laughs] But... well, we're refer to you as "Sus" for the interview?

SY: Exactly.

RP: Okay.

SY: Yeah. That'd be fine.

RP: Great.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Sus, can you tell us a little about your, your father? First of all, his name?

SY: My father's name is Utaro Yenokida.

RP: Okay.

SY: Born in Japan, 1857.

RP: '57?

SY: Yeah, 1857. In Japan he was a, he was apprentice to a physician and he was, he was promised to be the, the... what they call... he was promised the practice that the doctor had, had at this time. But I think Dad, when Dad was there somewhere like twelve or thirteen years, instead of giving him the practice, he gave the practice up to somebody else. So through his anger, he came to United States at that time, yeah.


RP: Did your dad have... first of all, where in Japan was he born and, and grew up?

SY: He was born in Itoshima-gun, Japan, Fukuoka, which is the southern tip of Japan. And Mother was in that also vicinities, too. Yeah, Itoshima-gun.

RP: Same, same area?

SY: Right.

RP: And did he have other brothers and sisters that...

SY: My dad, my dad was the youngest of, I think, five brothers. So, he... there was, with him, it would be six brothers. But Dad was the youngest and also the shortest of the six. They were saying that they could drink the wine from, from the eves of the, in Japan, his brothers can, they were that big, without any assistance of... you know, just sipping wine. Your sake, not wine.

RP: Sake.

SY: And, yeah. But then I have no ties with my, my father's side in Japan. I have no ties with him. I don't know why we drifted apart. But we do have ties with my mother's side in Japan.

RP: But you've, you've still relatives on your father's side in Japan?

SY: There is, but then it's the strangest thing. Japan has what they call central highway, it's called the Tokaido, and when it goes into, into Fukuoka, there's a little curve like this. It drops down into it. The first off-ramp into that city is Enokida, Enokida off-ramp. I never, never knew why. But evidently, we were, they were quite prominent at one time. So, I would like to have... I wish I could read the Japanese language as well as English, but then, I cannot. So I'd like to have somebody research that for me. But then, at present, I haven't done it.

RP: Can you give us a little, a little background about your father? The type of guy he was when you were growing up. Was he a strict man?

SY: No, Dad was a fairly easygoing person. However, he was, he had the strength of a bull. Which meant that in Japan they have a, they call it a "bull nigiri" which is, they have a, a staff of so long, and then between the two people they try to twist it, twist it out of their hands. But my dad was so strong that they couldn't, they couldn't twist it at all. They couldn't, they couldn't even budge it. That's how strong he was at one time, yeah. And Dad, I don't know where he learned to play pool. My dad was a pool shark. And when I was young, he never, he never explained to me why he had learned to be a pool shark. But when he was in Chico, they were running a laundry beside this pool hall. And my brother Min was a three-year-old or five-year-old then and they had a, he had a colored man babysit the, the boy and he'd go play pool. And there, he used to give these guys something like three to six balls and he'd still win the game.

RP: That much of a handicap?

SY: My dad was an ambidextrous person who could shoot pool equally with the right had or with his natural left hand. So there was no, there was... the angles that he could play is, is tremendous because of his ambidextrous ability. It was, it's amazing.

RP: So, so he picked this skill up in the United States?

SY: I would think so. I really don't know where.

RP: I don't know if pool was, was much of a game in Japan at all.

SY: Not at that time.

RP: At that times...

SY: Not at that time. But Mom always said that he was so accurate with his spear, that after coming down from Chico they used to farm or live right beside the Sacramento River near Walnut Grove. And he, Mom would be on the levy or something on the Sacramento River and they'd see porpoising salmon coming out of the river. And they'd... Mom would tell Dad, "Hey there's, the salmon are coming so let's go get some." And they'd actually spear the salmon out of the boat and his accuracy was tremendous. One, one salmon that he picked up must have weighed at least 60 pounds or better. Because they skewered it through the gill so that they could carry it with a pole and it was still dragging on the ground. So that's some, some fish. Yeah. I always remember hearing that when I was a youngster.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Where did your dad originally settle, Sus, when he came to the United States?

SY: Dad... I don't know how he landed into Vancouver B.C. And from there he immigrated down to, I think, Chico. I'm not, I'm not too awful sure. But I think Chico. From there he worked on the railroad in the Feather River canyon. And, and for many years, he was alone before my mother came to the country. And he used to fish in the Feather River canyon a whole lot.

RP: So he probably worked on a section gang over there.

SY: Right.

RP: And there was labor contractors that would bring men over from Japan or people who were here and --

SY: Exactly. Right, right.

RP: -- put them to work on the railroads. And, that was pretty hard work but that was, you know...

SY: Well, I think employment was pretty, not too many in variances at that time.

RP: Right, there weren't many opportunities for Isseis.

SY: Yeah.

RP: Who didn't have a skill of the language and...

SY: No. It's amazing, my dad never learned the English language. But he could, he could carry... he understood what the people were saying.

RP: Uh-huh.

SY: And the hardest part was the fact that when he was in Walnut Grove -- before we went, moved to Cortez which is south of Turlock -- they, they had promised him... when they made the contract to, to grow the onions in about a 30 acre field, well, the idea was also that the landlord was to furnish the wagon that they could take the product out to the landing and the landing was for transportation. Tugs would come out and then pick it up off the landing and take it to the Bay Area to the market. But when the time came to harvest, the man reneged on his promise and not gave him any means of transportation to transport the goods from the field to the landing. So I think three guys, him and his partner and couple of his friends, took it on his back, their back, and then took it to the landing. Could you believe that? The, the hardship that they had to go through in order to, to become successful.

RP: Uh-huh. Yeah, working on the railroad, too. Uh-huh. So you said your father, yeah, was, was alone for many years when he was here.

SY: Right.

RP: And then how did he find your mom? Did he...

SY: Well, I... there is some incident before Mom that I'd like to mention.

RP: Okay.

SY: Is the fact when he was in, in Chico and working for the railroad, they... it was real cold up in the Feather River canyon and there was somewhere close to twenty-three people that was sittin' on dynamite boxes. And when the... because of the fact that they were, they had a bonfire going to heat themselves, it also was heating that dynamite. And when, when the dynamite becomes liquid it'll leak out of the, the what you call it? The nitroglycerin or what... it would emit itself out of these boxes and it exploded. And he was also, he always told me that when, when he had to go see and he had a call from the railroad to come and help, he went up there to pick up the bodies and all them pieces. He said it was just a horrendous thing that he had ever seen.

RP: How many...

SY: Actual fact.

RP: Really. Huh.

SY: Yeah.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: So, was, was the arrangement with your mom, was it a "picture bride" relationship or...

SY: Evidently the family that... my mom left my brother in Japan. The first born brother, in Japan. And 'til her death in 1967, she never revealed the fact that we had a brother in Japan.

RP: Oh.

SY: My sister-in-law won a scholarship from JACL league and the Japan Airlines, JAL. They had three, four people go to Japan as a emissary for... they were learning the culture of Japan from United States. And when she completed her course of about three months in Japan, leaving five kids at home -- and we helped raise those kids when she was gone -- and through her, she... after finishing her course she went to visit the relatives and the relatives say that, "This is your brother. Your husband's brother is sitting right here." And she was so astonished that she couldn't believe that we had a brother in Japan. And those are the people I visit. And those are the people... that's the reason why I had to relearn my language. Today I could go to Japan anywhere and not become ashamed of going anywhere. I'm no fear of running around in Japan.

RP: So I am assuming that your mom was married once before she met your dad?

SY: Evidently. Why that, that phase of her life --

RP: Was completely...

SY: -- she never revealed. Never, ever. Not one word. And she is gone now. I can't ask her.

RP: What was her name?

SY: Nuii, N-U-I-I, Nuii.

RP: And her maiden name?

SY: Ogihara, O-G-I-H-A-R-A, Ogihara. Yeah.

RP: And so your dad, after the railroad job, got into farming. Is that correct?

SY: Yeah, according to what I understand, they, they started some rice farming in that area, in the Biggs area, which is not too far from Chico. And evidently the, it was, it was successful for a few years but because of the adverse weather conditions, that they were flooded out also. So, he had to leave that entity and became a, a laundry person with another person. And then Mom worked at that laundry after she came from Japan. Yeah.

RP: Oh, okay.

SY: And that's where my brother Min was born, 1913.

RP: 1913.

SY: Yeah.

RP: How many other siblings did you have?

SY: I had, I had three other brothers besides myself. No, there was four of 'em.

RP: Younger than you?

SY: No, I'm the youngest.

RP: Okay, could you go down the order? You said Min is the oldest.

SY: Min... Min, Musashi -- no, Masashi, Isamu, Tsutomu, and myself.

RP: Uh-huh.

SY: I lost my brother Masashi before I ever was born. He was, died in 1924 due to a strangulation of the, of the appendicitis. I don't know why... they say that it did happen and that's what happened to him. Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

So eventually your, your father ended up in the Cortez area farming? Now, did he buy land in that area or did he lease?

SY: With the aid of... what's his name? I can't remember his name. But there was, there was a 80 acre field in Cortez that was divided into four equal parts of 20 acres. So Asai brothers, Asai, Kiyoshi Asai, had the, had one. The... man, my memory's gettin' terrible. Hirose family had another one. Nakagawa had another one, and we were the last one on the, on the south, southwest corner. Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. And you told me the other day there was a Nisei gentleman that would sell his name to, to families who couldn't purchase land. They'd put it in this gentleman's name.

SY: Oh, I know what you're talkin' about.

RP: Do you recall that?

SY: Is it all right to mention names? Or...

RP: Uh-huh.

SY: Okay. Mr. and Mrs. Shimizu was a very, very humble and very personable persons, both husband and wife was real, real nice. And they had daughters, Mari and Teruko. Which is... they, they both live in L.A., but the father and mother is gone. Now, the wife, Mrs. Shimizu, was our Japanese school teacher at that time. And I was probably about seven at that time. And when... in order to purchase that piece of property, Mr. Morimoto loaned his name to Mr. Shimizu, Mr. Shimizu so that -- he was at legal age, over eighteen, so he can do this -- and signed the name so that they could buy that piece of property. However, after many years, after all the crops were in, peaches were in... and it was a nice piece of property. One of the, one of the best prime properties at that, at that locality. And it was right across the street from the, where the complex where the, where the grammar school, I mean, from the, from the Japanese school and all of the other things that was for community. And it was consisting somewhere around 7 or 11 acres. And it was right across the street from that, and Albert one time wanted to become married or so, and asked Mr. and Mrs. Shimizu to depart. He said, "This is my piece of property. It's in my name." And chased those people out of that property, you know. So, and in the meantime, what are they to do but to depart, and they went Los Angeles.

RP: Really? That's an incredible story.

SY: Without, without paying one penny for that piece of property. Isn't that terrible? Isn't that terrible? Yeah. I mentioned that to, to a person that I had lived with in, in Cortez. But then, it's his son that I was talking to just recently about this incident. He says, "No." He says he never knew that that was the cause of their leaving. Yeah.

RP: Huh. What did your father farm on the acreage at Cortez?

SY: Mainly, mainly grapes, like Thompson seedless, Malaga, which is a, it's supposed to be a table grape. And also lots of strawberries, eggplants, green peppers, and lots of carrots also. So, you have so many acres open so you make it into a truck farm and Mother really worked hard in order to make it successful. Yeah.

RP: And I suppose you were helping out on the farm at an early age, too.

SY: Well, I was still a youngster then. So, you know, I was a real brat then. I'm telling you.

RP: [Laughs] Why did you... what kind of trouble did you used to get into? I know you got into something.

SY: Never went to school, Japanese school. Lot of times I'd skip school and then I'd, instead of going to school I'd go climb the trees, pick their crops and eat it, you know. So, I was, I was pretty brat at that time, yeah. Friend of mine and I, we were on, on a piece of property where the school is, adjoined not north, north of where Mr. Shimizu was. We're up in the trees and yelling, "Ho Hi" you know, raising all kind of cain. And my friend fell out of that tree and broke his arm at that time. But at that year, he was supposed to go to Japan because he was a pretty good kendo student and they were supposed to go to Japan to represent the area.

RP: Really?

SY: But never got to go because of his broken arm.

RP: No kidding. That's bad timing. So how about you and your brothers? You must have got into some mischief or... with, with your brothers huh?

SY: My... not my brother Min, nor Sam. But Ben, I fought with him daily. I chased that guy all over. Since I'm so young, it's five years' different, he could out run me and tease me all the time. I was so angry. I was a nervous wreck when I was a youngster. [Laughs] Fighting all the time... my goodness. [Laughs]

RP: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: So you had a school in Cortez, or did you go out of the area?

SY: Well, that was a Japanese school. Our English school was 3 miles down the road, right next, or right adjoining, or not too far from the Santa Fe railroad. So it was 3 miles. So we used to walk the railroad all the way down to the school and back. Until my brother was going to high school and he used to bring the school bus home and we'd ride with him afterwards. He was the school bus driver. He was a student driver, but for the Livingston high school district. Yeah.

RP: And how far was Cortez from Livingston?

SY: I would say three... Livingston must be... maybe 12 miles, somewhere around there.

RP: Uh-huh. Now Livingston was unique because it was kind of a planned irrigation community or a farming community that was...

SY: Well, farming community's almost identical to Cortez. They had their own cooperative. And Cortez has a... I think probably the oldest cooperative in California.

RP: Is that so?

SY: So, I kind of think that. And it's called the Cortez Growers Association. It used to be all Japanese membership, but now it's all, the other people in the community all belong to it. And they ship millions and millions of dollars of almonds to the almond growers association through that entity right there. They have their own machines that would pick up, also to dry, and they have company that do the transportation from there. Yeah. They have quite a facility there.

RP: So traditionally it was strictly a Japanese farming community?

SY: Yes, it was. Yes, it was.

RP: Like the Yamato colony at Livingston?

SY: Yes. Right, right. Yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Now, what do you recall about the day Pearl Harbor was bombed? Where were you and how did you find out the news of that tragedy?

SY: My brother had already graduated from high school years and years ago. Since he was born 1913, somewhere around 1933 he was already out of high school. Around 1936 he goes to the Merced, no, Modesto junior college to take up aeronautical engineering. And after about four months they call him into the office and says that, "You cannot take this subject because of the fact that you're gonna take this knowledge and sell it to Japan or give it to Japan." And my brother say, "Hey, I'm born here. Why should I do something like that?" And they kicked him out of the school. "You could take any other subject, but not aeronautical engineering."

RP: A Japanese American could not take that?

SY: Exactly.

RP: Exactly. That's... well, along those same lines, were you subjected to any of those type of discriminatory practices? I mean, did you run... did you come across this in the communities or in, in going to school?

SY: Not in our community because we were all mostly --

RP: You were all Japanese Americans.

SY: We had some American friends, yes, through our school, grammar school and also through high school. I went to Livingston High School the first year, then transferred to Turlock High School the second year. But, yeah, we got along good with all the people around there. My dad died in 1942, January the 10th. And my brother had a bad, hard time, trying to get all the permits for the various things that had to be done. For instance, your travel permit was only 5 miles. You couldn't go beyond 5 miles at that time already. And we had to have a reverend come from Stockton, which is close to 55 miles away, and he had to get special permit for that. Not only people to gather, there was only a regulation that you cannot have over five persons in a group to meet at one time. So he had to get a permit for that. And the curfew, which was ten o'clock 'til six o'clock in the morning. So it was, it was hard. That was in January 10, 1942. Military was already doing that.

RP: Right.

SY: Yeah.

RP: That was a month after Pearl Harbor.

SY: That's right.

RP: Uh-huh. And so part of the... those conditions and restrictions and the difficulty and just having a funeral for your dad...

SY: Exactly.

RP: Was part of, part of the reasoning behind you, of later on, taking a course of resistance when the draft came up for you? Was that correct?

SY: Well, now, very definitely yes. Yes. Why should we go and endure all kinds of stuff like that while we're born in the United States and we didn't do anything to, to cause any hardship to the United States government or anything. There's no cause of any espionage or anything. And why is it that we had to be evacuated in such a manner? So when, when my... I was, I went to high school in Amache, Colorado. And through that I... my health was real bad because of the fact that I was so angry at the United States government. My ulcers were bad. A lot of times I couldn't eat at the mess hall because the food there I couldn't consume because it was too greasy or whatever. And, yeah. Mom had a hell of a time with me, yeah.

RP: What caused your father to pass away? Was it...

SY: Evidently my dad died of a stroke. Yeah.

RP: 'Cause he was... you said that he was born in, around 1859?

SY: Yeah, somewhere around there.

RP: So he was very, pretty old man by the time 1940...

SY: Well, I think maybe, maybe my figures might be wrong. But he was seventy-two when he passed away.

RP: When he passed away.

SY: So, yeah, you're gonna have to reverse that and get the correct year. Yeah.

RP: Date, uh-huh. So your father passes away. You've got two tragedies. You've got Pearl Harbor and the attitudes of Americans, the hysteria, war hysteria, the racism, and, and you being blamed for -- not you personally -- but Japanese Americans...

SY: Yeah, well, as a Japanese we were blamed a lot.

RP: Right.

SY: My brother was, at that time he was farming carrots not too far from where we, between, between Cortez and Ballico which is what, 3 miles? So probably about a mile and a half away from home he had rented some ground over there. He was, he was harvesting carrots at that time and the Filipino nationals, they, they objected and they says, "Hey, you're a Japanese." They says, "Why should we work for you?" And they, they left. They left the field. Leaving my brother with nobody to harvest. But you know, you talk to them. You make 'em understand that we had nothing to do with what was, happened in Pearl Harbor. And they did come back after a few days and, and harvested that field for him. Yeah. But...

RP: Because, of course, the Japanese had invaded the Philippines and --

SY: Well, that, too.

RP: -- had eventually taken over it.

SY: And later, yes, yes.

RP: Right, uh-huh. Wow.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: So what happened to your family after you realized that you were gonna be evacuated? Can you describe for us the process of trying to get ready to leave --

SY: Oh, I see.

RP: -- the farms and...

SY: Through, through my brother's effort and through the manager of the Cortez Growers Association, Mr. Morofuji, Mr. Sakaguchi, Mr. Taniguchi, all the people, the elders got together and tried to find a solution as to what would be best to, to save their property, as the time permitted, and they never knew when you're gonna be home. So we hired a manager named Momberg and he took charge of the, the acreages of Cortez, Livingston, Cressy, and some in Delhi, I think. So there were, there were close to almost 10,000 acres he had control of. And he did a good job. He did a tremendous job. I don't know how he harvested everything, but he, he was able to do it. And when 1946, when the war, when Mom came back, we were able to come back to the property if we wanted to. And at that time, when we come after Mother at, at the, at the community hall there she's... there was nobody else to look after her so they brought her back over there. And when we went to pick her up and Mr. Morimoto, the man that chased the Shimizus out of their property, told my brother, "Why in the hell are you back over here? Why are you back in Cortez? Are you intending to live here? You've got no right to come back over here." My brother got so angry. He never went back to Cortez again.

RP: But you had...

SY: But then we had a piece of property there.

RP: You had a piece of property. So what happened to that?

SY: Well...

RP: Did you sell it, or...

SY: I would say it was in weeds for a long time. The members of the community always said that they'd go down to our property and go hunt pheasants and stuff like that because it was all in weeds. But through the years, Hiroshi Asai, which is a neighbor right east of us on that one 40 acres, is a brother to Kiyoshi, started to buy a piece of property and then he planted almonds there and he's quite a successful farmer now. Yeah.

RP: Was Mr. Morimoto's belligerence or anger, when you mentioned that he...

SY: I don't know why. I cannot say why. It's just his natural...

RP: Did it have anything at all to do with, with your position on resisting the draft? Did he know about that?

SY: No, none whatsoever.

RP: He wouldn't have known that.

SY: Yeah.

RP: Maybe it could have been a personal issue or something like that, too?

SY: I really don't know.

RP: Yeah.

SY: But he was a man that... well, probably unpredictable, yeah.

RP: Yes.

SY: But I would also like to say that during that time when we're on evacuation, many of these people as soon after the Pearl Harbor, I don't know who in the community was paid by the government to say that this guy, this guy, this guy, the teacher, the Buddhist monk, or whoever, the leader of the community, was taken to the concentration camps.

RP: Oh, the FBI...

SY: Right.

RP: ...rounded them up.

SY: But how did they know? How did the FBI know who to apprehend? Somebody had to be the point man. That I disliked very much. Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. So yeah, you're community leaders just disappeared one day. And then you disappeared. Do you recall... how was it for you in terms of personal possessions and things of that nature?

SY: Well, I was still a youngster then. I just had the clothes on my back, you know what I mean?

RP: Uh-huh.

SY: So that, that was the score. However, to bring up an incident where my sister in law's, Michi's, my brother's wife's dad was from Puyallup, Washington, and then they were, they were successful oyster farmers, something like 500 acres of oysters. And when that war broke out, the next day he was gone. Who picked him up or who, who pointed him out? We'll never know. And he was in Missoula, Missoula, Montana, for two years and the family didn't know where he was. Never had a letter from him. They didn't, he didn't know where they were. But through, I don't know where... I think through the Red Cross that he was able to find where the family was. And one day Michi, my sister in law, was workin' at the commissary and who's standing in front of her? It's her dad.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Now you were...after you evacuated from your community, you went to the Merced Assembly Center for a short time?

SY: Yes, we did.

RP: And you told me that you had a job in camp...

SY: Well, we were volunteer as a troop, Boy Scout troop, that we were trying to be helpful to the community. That the incoming people would know, at least know where to go. So we were the guides for the incoming residents at that time.

RP: You showed them to their barrack homes?

SY: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

RP: And this was a troop of Boy Scouts that formed in Cortez?

SY: Beg your pardon?

RP: This Boy Scout troop was formed, or out of Cortez?

SY: Yes, yes. I think it was Troop 17, seventeen.

RP: Oh, seventeen. So you were a Boy Scout.

SY: Uh-huh. [Laughs] That's how come I love the outdoors. I don't like to be cooped up in town. [Laughs]

RP: Neither do we.

KP: Or in a motel room.

RP: Or in a motel room.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: Then you, then you were sent to Amache. And tell us briefly your impressions of Amache and what life was like for you there, early on, before we get into the draft issue.

SY: Well, Amache to me was just another, another day in life. You see what I mean? We went... we were going through our daily thing and I was going through high school then. I spent two years in high school there. And yeah, it was, it was fun time for me at that time. Yeah. Mom, through the arrangement of the construction of the material that used for the housing there and our, our floor was a brick floor. And when the rain came... before I mention the rain, the houses was not level. The houses were level, but the ground was not level. By that I mean if there's a hillside, they dug into the hillside and then made the thing flat so they could build the levy, I mean, the barrack.

RP: Right.

SY: And we're on the, on the east... no, we were on the south end of that barrack and then, then the ground terrain, the hillside is like this and the, and the barrack is sittin' within that hillside. And then if it ever blew, the sand all came in through the window because it's a direct shot through the window. If it rained, the rain would drop off the eaves and then there was no drainage so it will seep underneath the house and come up in the bricks. And when that happens, my mother lost her health because of the fact that she couldn't stand the smell of those bricks. I think close to four times I... there was a telephone on the outside of the pole for the block and I called the hospital, two o'clock in the morning, and my mother, she'd be out of breath because of her asthma. And there was no reply. Everybody's busy over there so I had packed her on my back. And that's over... I was looking at the distance today, the other day, and probably about almost three quarters of a mile that I had to pack her on my back, not once, but maybe four or five times.

RP: And did she... did her condition improve at all or, over time, or...

SY: Well, her condition never did improve because of that fact, that she was living in the same apartment.

RP: Right.

SY: Yeah.

RP: The bricks were always wet after... so you just had to take her to the hospital and deal with it.

SY: Right. So I... I'm indebted to the community members. When we were gone, I don't know who took care of her. You see what I mean?

RP: Right.

SY: Yeah. But I do have some idea as to who was close by. So, yeah, yeah.

RP: Uh-huh.

SY: I'm thankful for their efforts because I knew she couldn't do it by herself, yeah.

RP: What block were you in, Sus, at Amache?

SY: I was block, in 10E and apartment 1B.

RP: 1B. Okay.

SY: Yeah.

RP: And did you eventually work in camp at all?

SY: I was a student in, in Amache. But my brothers were... Min was a, he was, worked as a transportation thing going to Lamar, going to Granada, to pick up supplies for the, for the camp. And, yeah, he was doing okay. My brother Sam was, was the person that unloaded coal from the boxcars. And he'd go there every day and work. And through that, I kind of believe that he developed his black lung. And he died 1993. But, through... you know, you take an x-ray. I have the x-ray at home and it's... the left lobe was all covered with, with black lung and they had also covered up his, his blood vessels so we couldn't do nothing for him at that time. Yeah. He finally passed away with a heart attack when I was in Japan one day.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: So tell us a little bit about the draft. You were, you got your notice to, for induction in the camp. And can you tell us how you reacted to that, and did you, did you get together with other resisters at Amache to form some type of legal recourse? Did you have an attorney represent you? Can you lead us through the events that took place?

SY: I kind of think that that time... I might have attended some meetings about the, the questionnaire, twenty-seven and twenty-eight.

RP: Twenty-eight. Okay.

SY: And I know for sure that I had said, "yes-yes" on that thing. But after considering the fact that, that we were taken out of our home, put into camp without any legal process and everything, I didn't, I didn't report for the induction for the physical. Probably if I had gone at that time I wouldn't have passed the physical. But then, that was not the idea. I wanted to show that I'd, I had objected to, to this, to this horrendous treatment that we had become involved in. So I didn't, I didn't go. I... the marshal came one day and says, "Mr. Yenokida, you're not gonna go to the army?" I said, "I'm not going." "Well, you have to come with me." So that's what happened. And in that group, there was five persons in that group. And I never knew them before, no. We never discussed any intention of violating the law to anyone until that time came when the marshal came.

RP: So it was a personal decision, act of conscience, on your part to do that.

SY: Right.

RP: You weren't influenced by other people in the camp?

SY: No, no.

RP: There was a draft resistance movement in the Heart Mountain camp.

SY: We never knew about it.

RP: You never knew about it. So this was all independent of that. Uh-huh.

SY: But I kind of believe that we, the five, were the first ones to object to the draft. By that I mean, I think I recall reading an article in the Denver Post about our resistance, and it was on January 26, 1943.

RP: 1943, uh-huh.

SY: And if I remember correctly, maybe my year might be wrong, but I know the date is January 26th. Yeah.

RP: And so where did the marshals take you? To Denver? Or...

SY: First of all, he took us to Pueblo and we spent the night there because the distance is from, from Amache to Denver would be quite a distance and we'd be too late during the day to get processed. So we spent the night in Pueblo and instead of going into Denver he took us into federal correctional institute in Inglewood, Colorado. There we were processed and we had a cell, and the five of us was there for about maybe two weeks, or three weeks, and the other ones followed and they came also. And I was there without trial, pending trial, for three months before any movement came along. And while we were there, Mr. Min Yasui and Grant Noda, no, Grant Masaoka came and tried to persuade us to change our mind. And I told 'em, "Hey, I've made up my mind. No matter how much you whip me, you may also kill me, but I will not change my mind." That's, that's what I said. So in the meantime, Mr... what's his name? What's the name? Hideo Ito, Mr. Yamazumi, Mr. Taguma, that's three of 'em, told 'em to go to hell in Japanese. Yeah. "You fellows go to hell." And through that language, in Japanese... he didn't know that Mr. Yasui was a linguist at that time and they were sent in to the, to the hole, which is only what? Three feet wide, 8 foot long. And the temperature in there is about 80-90 degrees. It's heated. So they were in there stark naked for overnight, you know. And they were saying that if we have to stay here over week, we couldn't stand this kind of treatment. But, they were there one day in that hole. But after they came out, we were all together again.

RP: And then did, did you eventually... did the case go to trial in Denver?

SY: Well, we spent three months in Inglewood at the federal correctional institute. After this interview with Mr. Yasui and Grant Masaoka, we were sent to the Denver county jail, 1448 Klamath Street. And somewhere along the line, I have enough time to see if I can't locate that thing next couple days. So, that's what happened. And when we were in, in the Denver county jail, I can't tell you the exact amount, but I think somewhere close to twenty people got involved in this, this resistance. Not, not with a gathering, but everybody making their own decision that they're not gonna go to the army.

RP: Oh, twenty more people in Amache?

SY: Yeah. But I'm not too awful sure because there's quite a number of people there and I can't remember exactly who was there anymore. It's, it's too many years.

RP: Uh-huh. That's sixty-six years ago.

SY: Yeah.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

KP: Richard, can I ask a question from Sus?

RP: Sure.

KP: I'm really interested in your thought processes. Because first you said, you said that you think you said "yes-yes" on the questionnaire, right?

SY: Yeah.

KP: But then next you hear that they're asking for volunteers out of the camp for the army. And is that when you made your decision or did you... was it when they started asking to draft people? And how did you feel about that? When they said, all right, we're asking you to volunteer for the army and then when they came through and said, no, now we want to draft you. How did you, how did you respond to both of those... what do you think was the thing that really got you thinking about this?

SY: Well, you see, I was already gone. Because of the fact that they... we were probably the first five to ever be called for the draft. So, I cannot say who or what made the other people's decision to, to go into the draft or whatever. But to my, to my feeling, I really admire the people that went to the army. Many of 'em lost their lives and never came home. The two of 'em that was with us, the... I can't remember their names. I wish I could bring 'em out, but then I can't remember their name. Two of 'em decided to go. They said, "Well, we're gonna, we're gonna go with the army and, and then go at it that way." They changed their mind for the resistance. And not, not a year later, or maybe a year and a half later, we get a, we get a message that the two perished in the, in the invasion in Normandy. So, I can't say. I don't know why they changed their mind. You know, at that time, too, I think the, the process was the fact that if you do not serve or if you do not go into the army, if you object, the sentence was maximum of five years or I think $10,000 in fine. But they didn't impose that, I think. I'm not too awful sure. But that, that comes to my mind. But, you know, being a youngster then, how would we raise the $10,000 fine?

RP: Right. And you're... when all this was going on, you were what, nineteen?

SY: Well, I had just turned eighteen when they, they asked me to go to the army. So... yeah.

RP: So you eventually did receive a trial, or not?

SY: Yes, after six months in...

RP: Jail?

SY: In jail. We were sent to trial. Menin? I think that the lawyer's name was Menin.

RP: Menin?

SY: And he was hired by the families or wherever that was working in, in the camps, to get some kind of a justice done. And actually I don't think he did anything to, to represent us in a manner... that it was, it was unconstitutional for us to be in camp. But, it was just that.

RP: That was, that wasn't brought up or submitted as evidence. That was...

SY: Well, I have something at home, but I've been looking for it for many, many years. And I have a copy of the original draft that it was... we were, we were fighting it under a constitutional objection that it was, it was not right that we were conscripted out of the camps after losing everything we had ever had. I've yet to find that piece of paper. And it was written at, in the county jail. But it was thrown out. They says this is not a civil, this is not a civil justice that they were trying to clear, but, "You people violated the law of the selective service." That was what... that was the thing.

RP: Right.

SY: Yeah.

RP: So the constitutional injustice wasn't on trial.

SY: No.

RP: According to...

SY: They brought it up but the judge says, "No."

RP: Threw it out.

SY: That, yeah, this is not the case for that.

RP: Right, right.

SY: But I've got a copy somewhere, I don't know where, you know. I've seen it, I've read it, and I put it away and where did I put it away? I don't know.

RP: So you were sentenced to, what, a year?

SY: I was sentenced for a year. Many of 'em was sentenced shorter than that. The shortest one was six months.

RP: Six months.

SY: And up to five years. The five year man... first of all, the federal prison that we were in was in Tucson, Arizona. And there were four rocks, painted white, and we had an imaginary boundary within that four rock. And it was your honor that you would not go beyond those four rocks. Could you imagine? Yeah. And there were a lot of Hopi Indians that was, was there for religious purposes. There was one Navajo chief that was... they claimed that he had killed a person. But he was such a gentleman, I don't think so. And there were a lot of conscientious objectors. And there was one Korean man that was there for price fixing. He was charging too much money for the amount of the services that he was rendering or the goods that he was selling. Yeah. But this man was well-educated.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: Sus, we were talking about your time at the, the Santa Catalina prison camp for your offense of resisting the draft. And you met all these other people, Hopis and conscientious objectors, and... how would you describe your time there? Was that an education for you to learn about these other stories and know that you weren't alone?

SY: Well, it was quite an education for me because we never knew that was, that there was a thing about conscientious objection. I never knew that until we came there. Nor did we know that the, the Jehovah's Witnesses were also in that category. And, yeah, it was quite amazing. And also that the Hopi Indian people, the chiefs were there. There was three of them. And besides that, the Navajo chief. And one night my brothers persuaded him to do the Indian dance. You know, [singing] "Hi-ya, hi-ya, hi-ya." It was quite amazing. And it was raining. It was dark outside. It was ten o'clock at night, and my brothers were making all that noise and we're doing the following. We're doing the chain dance behind him, right? And the whole barrack is doing that, right? What an uproar we're doing, right? You know? Can you imagine? "Hi-ya, hi-ya, hi-ya." And Murphy, the guard, came in there and then he looked in there, "What's all that noise goin' on?" He threw his arms up and left. He said... he was laughing and he left. My goodness it was amazing. We saw him come in there [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. We had a lotta fun there. Fun times, really.

RP: What else did you remember doing with, with...

SY: Well, mainly, the Coronado National Forest thing was they had this road that they were punching through to, to another area and we were the main supplier of labor for that road. And there were wood crew, they knocked down the trees and they'd bring home the trees for firewood and stuff. And also there was the jackhammer crew, they'd jackhammer the mountains and make holes in the mountains for blasting. And there was the Japanese brothers, Takemoto brothers, they were the, they were the man that was the dynamite crew. Could you believe that? Mr. Shager, he was a, he was an instructor for that... he was a, he was a chief for that. And we were working in the agricultural department off the valley, into the valley, and we'd go down every day, work in the farm to make, grow produce for, for the camp and stuff like that. And there was a crew that was a mess hall crew. And there was a fire crew. He was the fireman for the kitchen. And that's how we survived.

RP: And you guys lived in barracks similar to the ones in...

SY: Right. Just like in the army, army barrack. Up in high bunk, lower bunk. Yeah. It was quite amazing. Yeah.

RP: Wow.

SY: Curfew was what, ten o'clock. We'd get up in the morning at six.

RP: Now was this camp surrounded by barbed wire and any other types of, forms of security?

SY: None. None.

RP: You mentioned this one guard. Was that the only guard that was there?

SY: Well, no, everybody had... each crew had a guard.

RP: I see.

SY: Because they're the ones that...

RP: So they'd go out with you every day.

SY: Right. They were the... area, they had to do whatever had to be done and yeah, yeah.

KP: So you said camp was surrounded by white rocks. Was that what defined the perimeter?

SY: Yes, that's right. That's right.

RP: Four large white rocks.

SY: Yeah. The four rocks. That was the boundary. However, one man wrote a letter saying that he's gonna try to escape from here. And every letter that was sent out of there was censored. And next day he was in, in Texarkana. Five years he spent down there. But after coming back, after the... well, in the meantime, President Truman paroled... you know, what do you call 'em? Not parole. Pardoned, he pardoned us so he came back. But it was after about maybe four years he was down there. And soon afterwards he died of a heart attack. So he was, he was young. He was very young. Yeah, when he died also he was very young.

RP: So you were pardoned by President Truman?

SY: Yeah, yeah.

RP: After a year's time at... how long was it before the pardon came?

SY: I can't tell you the exact year. It's probably around 19...

RP: '45 maybe.

SY: No.

RP: No?

SY: Later.

RP: Later, okay.

SY: Maybe around 1952, somewhere around there.

RP: Oh, all right, uh-huh. Right. But you spent about a year's time at the prison camp?

SY: Yeah. Nine months.

RP: Nine months. Oh.

SY: It's called "good behavior." [Laughs]

RP: Good behavior. You mean you didn't go outside the white rocks?

SY: Yeah. After that we can. [Laughs]

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

KP: Can I ask a question here? What's the most memorable person you ran into? Who stands out in your mind as the most memorable person that you ran into in the Catalina camp?

SY: Well, there was a man... what the hell. I'm gonna have to think about this because I can't bring back the name. My goodness.

RP: What was... why does he stick out in your mind, Sus?

SY: When we were... when we first went down there in the back of the truck, at least from the, from the courthouse, we were in shackles. We were in shackles, I mean, shackles. We had, we had handcuffs and then chain and we had a metal ball. Could you believe? We had a metal ball, I don't know how many pounds. Maybe 20 pounds. You couldn't even drag that thing if you wanted to. And that was our means of, of surviving from Denver to Tucson, okay. And also after going into Tucson from, from that, from that depot in Tucson, the train depot, we were also not... we were shackled in the back of the truck up to the mountain, 4,000 feet, where the complex was. And after that they took it off. But that, during that time, it was somewhere close to maybe two o'clock in the morning and there's one guy shaking us awake. And then he had been there maybe about two years before ever somebody else ever coming in there. And we were the Japanese group and he was a Japanese person. And this man was so educated. Not only that educated, but he had, he had a clear mind as to what was happening outside and everything. So it was quite amazing. Yeah. I gotta bring back his name. I can't remember his name. That's one of the memorable things. And he was a, he was a big gambler. I mean, if not $100,000, maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars. And after we come back, and every year we'd have these reunions and he says, "Sus, let's go up to..." He'd call everybody and, "Let's go up to Reno and have a good time." And we'd stay up there over the weekend and the establishment over there would give us housing for two nights, all the meals for two days, were free. And he... it was because of him that we were able to do that. And something like somewhere around thirty-five people. That's a lot of money, really. Yeah.

RP: So you, you guys had these reunions of folks that... at the Catalina camp?

SY: Right, right.

RP: How many times did you guys meet?

SY: Pardon?

RP: How many times would you, did you meet?

SY: We were averaging somewhere close to maybe... sometimes every year. Sometimes every other year. Depending on the, the work schedule. Or some people can't come, well, we'll not do it this year, we'll do it next year.

RP: Uh-huh. Would some of these Hopis or the Navajo chief...

SY: No, no, never.

RP: These were just other conscientious objectors, other Japanese Americans? Uh-huh. Wow. So, you leave the Catalina camp and where do you go next? Do you... you haven't seen your mother in nine months or actually longer than that...

SY: Quite a while.

RP: Right.

SY: I would say because of the fact that I was in county jail for six months and I was in Tucson for nine months...

RP: Year and a half.

SY: So, that's what? Fifteen months. So maybe about a year and a half or so I didn't see my mom. And the three, the three person that was, had the, they call it short timer, the one that had the least amount of time, they were able to get into camp. And, but then the county, the administration found out that we were back and they, they told 'em, "Hey, you can't come here. We can't allow you to stay here." So they chased them out. However, Joe, my good friend, they couldn't find him. They were sitting... he was staying at his sister's place, not his mother's place. So next day when he was walkin' around camp, the security says, "We can't allow you here so we're gonna have to take you out of here." He says, "I walked in here and I'm gonna walk out." The security chief, his name was Tomlinson, yeah, he followed him out of camp. Yeah. Shortly thereafter, not maybe a month later, we arrived in that area. Mr. Taguma, my brother Min, and myself, there was three of us, and Kazuo Kunitake, but then Kazu, he was, his reaction was too slow. You know, he could think a whole lot, but physically he, his reaction was slow so we couldn't take him into camp. Because if you're too slow, you can't, you can't make it to the next brush, see. So we walked from, we hiked from Granada to the back of the camp. I don't know, what, is that about 4 miles, three or four miles? And we, we knew that they, there was the area where the wire was loose because of the fact that it was, there was a gully underneath it and they had filled that gully but the wire was loose. So we'd sneak into camp that way. For about almost two weeks, every night.

RP: Every night.

SY: Two weeks.

RP: Uh-huh.

SY: Then one night, the final night, we're sitting there attending a movie because 9E was a movie place. And I was across the street, 10E. So a friend of mine, he was a security, but he told me, he says, "You 'd better run, you'd better get out of here. They're looking for you." The three of us, we ran. Have you ever run in darkness as hard as you could run? And you could hear 'em back there running at you. We made it out of there. I don't know what they would have done if they... as an example, that we were in illegal entry. I don't know what they could have done to us. So, right after, Mr. Matsunaga, who was the farmer that we were helping out during the daytime, knew that we were short of money so he gave us enough money to reach Denver and he gave us, I don't know, each, I don't know how many dollars at that time.

RP: Really.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: And so you found some work in Denver?

SY: Yeah. And then we were, went in the back of a truck when we found a truck that was going into Denver from Amache. And we rode that truck about two hundred and some miles, in the back of that truck. And...

RP: You shared with me the other day a story about going to a diner in Denver...

SY: Right, I'm coming up to that.

RP: Oh, okay.

SY: And then after reaching Denver, my goodness, we haven't had nothing to eat for two hundred and some miles, that's a long time, maybe six, seven hours, back of a truck. The bus the other day made it in what, four hours or so, three hours? Yeah. Anyhow, we're at this little small hole in the wall restaurant eating away, and then who comes to collect the dirty dishes? Is my friend Joe. He's standing right there. We were at the same camp. Who ever... why... how is it that we could, in a thousand miles, how can it ever meet at one place at a given time? It was amazing. Then from then on, he was my brother, my brother. Everything we've done, we've discussed it with each other. Everything we plan, we discussed it with each other. We went to work in the sugar been fields, and then we worked for ten days. And then after gettin' paid, we were supposed to get meals, housing, and then there's supposed to be laundry and they were supposed to do it for us. They deducted everything. Could you believe? Dollar thirteen cents a day we worked. And we worked hard for that man. For ten days, we worked hard for that man. My brother got so mad he said, "The hell with this money. I don't need your kind of money." And then he took off. We stayed there because we didn't have any place to go. And about four days later, here he shows up with a cowboy, a Japanese cowboy, born and raised in Colorado, done his time as a military... he was a, he was in the military. But he was, you know, he had finished his military term. And he was a gun-packing cowboy. He had a gun. Japanese guy with a big old hat. Took us over there to Laramie, Wyoming, and we worked over there in Laramie, Wyoming, at a construction outfit called... what was it? I couldn't even bring that name up. Anyhow, we worked there for about three months, we worked there and then we get a call from, from... get a letter from Mom that she's back in hometown, so we went back.

RP: Oh, you went back at that point.

SY: Cold, was it ever cold. Today, if I stick these hands in ice water, they hurt so bad. And I think I might have froze it. You know what I mean? Yeah. But normally when the temperature warm like this, I don't feel any pain. But if I put it in hot, I mean, cold ice water, man, I die. I feel like I'm dying. Icicles standing from the wall maybe four, six feet, you could hit that thing and make it, make it ting.

RP: So, what did you get into after... you shared with us this story about your unwelcome reception by Mr. Morioka.

SY: Oh, Morimoto?

RP: Mr. Morimoto. And you left and where did, where did, what did you drift into after...

SY: Well, during that time or before... what's his name? Man named Naoto, Naoto was my brother's real good friend. He married a gal out of Cortez and she was, she was the eldest daughter... what was their name? Gosh, almighty. Anyhow, they were talking that certainly people in Tule Lake wouldn't have place to go. A lot of 'em wouldn't have place to go. A lot of 'em have places to go, but certainly a lot of 'em didn't have places to go. So consequently they borrowed a two-ton truck from, from our employer Merwyn and Yelin in Clarksburg, California. And they went to Tule Lake and then they might have had a clue as to who to go see or what. But they went to the administration building and told 'em, "Hey, we've got employment in California. That if you want to come along with us, we will transport all your housing goods in the back of the truck and bring you, and you could come with us if you want. But then if you could make it down there in a certain given time, we could meet you at the train station. So consequently through that, he immigrated somewhere... transported somewhere like fifteen families to Merwyn and Yelin. And they were farming close to, oh, three, four thousand acres. And they were need, in need of help. They were in need of people that would be able to operate their equipment, laborers to go in the fields, to clean the fields, or whatever, change the irrigation pipelines day or night twenty-four hours a day, and we did it. We did it for two years. And after two years my brother says, "I cannot work and honestly collect money from somebody else's sweat." See, he was getting money from the landlord because he had supplied --

RP: Laborers.

SY: -- so many people, so many laborers. But he says, it's working on my, my feeling that it is not right. So that's what happened, and within that group was the, was Mr. and Mrs. Shintani, the people I had told you about, Missoula, Montana, where this man found his way home and the daughter was sitting at the commissary. And they, they came and they worked at the, at the ranch. And through that they become engaged and married and then that's become my sister-in-law. It's strange how things do work out sometimes.

RP: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Sus, over the years there's always been a schism in the Japanese American community regarding the people who went to war and the people who resisted the draft. And have you been a target of criticism or, excluded in any way from the community regarding your position and your stance? I mean, I saw, I saw a whole line of 442nd guys yesterday waiting to go into the main ballroom and I just thought of you. And, so how, how are things now? I mean, are you, do you have conversations with these 442nd guys?

SY: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

RP: I mean do they...

SY: I have a good friend that is, was in, not in the 442, but he had become a good friend in Sacramento and I visit him quite often. But he was a regular army man and he was drafted into the army before the war and he become... he came out as a major, out of the army. So he did real well. And I explained to them, I explained to him that, "Hey, I'm not hiding behind anybody's skirt. I'm gonna tell you the exact story as to what happened to me." And I told him my story. He says, "Well, if it was a situation where... if I were to have that situation I probably would have done the same thing." And a lot of the people I know would also say that. However, there is a very few that has nothing to do with us. It's still today. They cannot let go of that feeling that we were a coward, we were a dog, and we didn't go to the army. They have, they still have this in their minds. It's not a very big number, but it's still there. We had an apology thing in... before this apology thing in San Francisco we're at this meeting where they were gonna... the Florin JACL was a sponsor and, and they were talking about this particular thing. Andy Noguchi was, was the narrator and he was talking about it and quite a... not a great number, but then a few of the people was really objecting to the fact that we were being honored as a resister. So no matter what you do, no matter what you say, our past is still the same to some people.

RP: And some people have changed their attitudes too, so...

SY: I had... I befriended a real, real good friend. And this guy was a, was with the MacArthur office in Tokyo. And I didn't know this. But one day he says, "Sus," he says, "I want to talk to you. And I know I've read about your exploits, that you had resisted from the army and you had spent some time in prison." And this guy was a, was a noted interpreter. And he told me this: "No matter what anybody says, you did the right thing and don't you forget that." He... whenever I think about him, my tears come to my eyes. He was a reporter for the Hokubei Mainichi out of Stockton. And he knew... he read extensively. And he was able to write Japanese just like English. And he was, he was a college graduate out of Japan, spent whole life in Japan. His father was a successful beans farmer in Sutter Basin, California. And he went in, mentioned Sutter Basin, I says, "Hey, I've been there. I farmed there many, many years." He says, "What?" "Yeah." So we became good friends through all that. And he was telling me that first of all, one day he gets a call from, from a junk dealer in San Diego. And they had found a, what do you call it... temple bell that came from Japan. And it had bullet marks on it and they, they recognized that it came from a certain temple in, where is that... the southern island below Iwo Jima. And then he was telling me about the incident where a lot of times, he was able to write to people but never got a call from people because of the fact that communication was not that good at that time. And one day he says he... he got a letter from his friend from an army camp and he says, "I've got something interesting to show you. And if you can have time enough to come visit me, I want to show you something." Okay, so he goes to this army camp and he's in the military, dressed in his uniform. He goes to the military there. And come to find out that a lot of the people that was in this particular island, they, lot of 'em jumped into the sea because of the fact that the Americans were invading them. However, there were something like 2,500 people that was there that was civilians that was, the army had brought back to United States and they were housed there. And he says, "You know," he says, "It's amazing how humane the United States government could be." So, I often think about that and tears always come to my eyes.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Sus, your brothers, did any of them serve in the military during the, during World War II? Were they drafted?

SY: My brother Min was the eldest in the family. Nineteen... I think somewhere around 1940 he was supposed to go to the army. But due to that fact that he was the head of the family, that he couldn't, he couldn't go to the army. He asked his younger brother, Ben, to go instead of his place. So that was arranged and everything was in, in good order. But it was just that the timing was not right. And soon after, there was the Pearl Harbor and they, they never got into the army.

RP: Oh. Even, even later on they never got in. And how, how did they react to your decision to...

SY: Well, they all made that decision that they were not gonna enter the armed forces. So they, they served the same kind of thing that I did. And we sent, same... at the same prison camp.

RP: So all your brothers were in on this?

SY: Right.

RP: This was the whole...

SY: Except my brother Sam. I don't know how come he was ever persuaded to renounce his citizenship and, and he was sent to, what is that, New Mexico. What's that camp in New Mexico?

RP: Oh, Santa Fe?

SY: Santa Fe, New Mexico. My brother... my adopted brother, Joe, his brother was the same thing. Yeah. He, had renounced his citizenship. And we got a note, a call saying that they're gonna send them to Japan because of the exchange. Well, he didn't want him to go do that so somehow or another we, we was able to avoid that. But it's strange, you know, my... one night we get a call, he gets a call and I get a call a day later. And I went to Santa Fe and we couldn't find any... I couldn't find any housing. There was no hotel rooms open or nothing. And I went to this one hotel and he says, "There's a guy named Joe over here. He... the bed's open." You know, "Joe... I don't know name of Joe." And all of a sudden I thought, it might be my friend Joe. It was. So we, we bunked together there. Isn't that amazing? [Laughs] Yeah.

RP: Did you ever get a chance to talk to Sam about what led him to renounce his citizenship?

SY: I don't know. I really don't know. Because of the fact that my, my brother was not the type of person to really make any conversation, see. But, very stubborn, sometimes the fact that maybe he had influence from somebody else. I can't say.

RP: Wow.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: Well, what brought you to, to Denver this week, Sus?

SY: Oh, at that time?

RP: No, to this conference this week.

SY: Oh, my... I have a nephew in L.A. I go visit quite often. And we had a Shigin conference about a month and a half ago in L.A. And whenever I go to L.A. I go to Malibu and I stay at his place. It's quite a distance between L.A. proper and Malibu but then I didn't mind that. I wanted to get to know him better and his wife is really a personable person. And he says... after I got back one night he says, "You're going to Amache reunion." I says, "What?" "You're going to Amache reunion," that's what he says. "My wife has made all the arrangements. All you have to do is take the plane." So here I am. Yeah.

RP: And while you were here you got to see one of your old buddies yesterday.

SY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

RP: That's Eddie Nakagawa?

SY: Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. And you grew up with him in Cortez?

SY: Yeah, well, he grew up right next door to me, right across the street. But Eddie is about... I think he was born in 1920. So he is now about eighty-nine years old. But he was away from school a lot but I knew his brother, Jack, real well. We used to fight. Oh, we used to fight. Oh my goodness. Gee whiz. The kind... well, he was a brat too, see. [Laughs]

RP: If you're a brat, you're a brat. [Laughs]

SY: He'd get up on the tank house -- there was a tank house beside the road -- he'd get up on that thing and he'd throw rocks at us, you know. Yeah. And he's quite accurate, too. [Laughs]

RP: [Laughs] So how did you fix him?

SY: Yeah, yeah. Can't remember the retaliation we used to do, but yeah.

RP: What did you... oh, you can't remember what you did?

SY: No. No. You can fight but, you know, you forget those things. Yeah.

RP: Yeah. Uh-huh. One other thing, while you were in Amache you took up judo, wasn't it? That was the first time in your life that you...

SY: Right. You know when we were young, we used to do kendo. And I remember being cold, dressed up four o'clock in the morning and you go practice kendo.

RP: Where did you do that? At the Japanese...

SY: At the Japanese school. And also we used to go to Livingston. And boy, those boards were cold. Barefoot on that cold floor, wow.

RP: Oh, barefoot.

SY: I'll never forget that.

RP: Were these indoor or outdoor kendo...

SY: Well it's indoor. Yeah, yeah.

RP: Okay. But traditionally you, you don't wear footwear.

SY: No. Bare feet.

RP: Right. Now did you have the whole setup? The mask and all the --

SY: Right, yeah.

RP: -- armor and...

SY: Armor, the, the...

RP: Breastplate.

SY: Breast armor, the head armor, the two what you call, those gloves and everything. Oh, you hurt. Oh you hurt. No matter how much pad you got, it hurt. I tell you, bango, you hurt. You know these bamboo... it's all put together with a broken shaved bamboo, but they hurt. I mean, they hurt. Yeah. Especially when you get hit right here [points to temples]. There's nerves over here that really... yeah. No matter what kind of padding you've got.

RP: You still get it. So I can see why you wanted to give up kendo for judo.

SY: [Laughs] Well, see, there was no other sport that I could participate because kendo was a Japanese sport. Well, naturally judo is, too, but when we, when we left for Amache, when we left for the camp, we buried all our things.

RP: Right, I meant to ask you about that.

SY: We destroyed all that.

RP: Yeah, a lot of families did.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: And what do you remember destroying? Any particular items? Mostly related to Japanese culture?

SY: Right, right.

RP: So the kendo equipment... a lot of people...

SY: Radios, radios.

RP: Radios. A picture of the emperor. Some people had a picture of the emperor...

SY: How did you know that? [Laughs]

RP: I don't know. Just popped into my head.

SY: I think have, I have the framework of that picture. The frame at home.

RP: Really?

SY: But I don't have the, the actual picture of the emperor because we didn't want that in there. But then we buried that also. Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. You just buried it. Some people burned things. So it's still out there somewhere?

SY: I guess. But it's gone, it's gone. Yeah. But we had a rifle, a twenty-two rifle. It was... I think today it would be a prize weapon. It was a twenty-two rifle. It had an octagon barrel made by Remington and it was accurate. My brother, both of my brothers, they were, they were accurate shooters. You know, they'd be, there'd be hawks, they'd come and get the chicks and my brother says, "They got my chicks and I'm gonna get him. He's flying away." Bang, bang. In flight, with a twenty-two rifle. My brother Min, when we were working over there in Terminus, he was working for another farmer, and he was digging what they call spud ditches with a machine and then it'll make somewhere close to an 8-inch ditch, somewhere close to 30 inches deep. And then you're making all that... machine is picking it up and then it's, it can't make a furrow over here so they're, they're fanning it out like this and it's throwing it maybe 20 feet on both sides. You got maybe 40 feet of fan, dirt that's just flying. And when you're doing that, you're frightening all the wildlife away from you. And he had a wood... one day, years, years later, after going from camp, we went to an auction. And he found a .22 Colt Woodsman there and he says, "I'm gonna buy that thing." And he bought it for thirty-two dollars at that time. It's a treasure now. But he was good enough even with that pistol, he could bring home pheasants with that, on the fly. Where he learned to fly -- where he learned to shoot that is Cortez Growers Association. During the years that when he was growing up, he used to be the night man for the association. And those days the rats were... you know how big they would get? Why, they'd be running on the rafters. See, below the rafters and then, well, mostly on the rafters. And he had borrowed a Iris and Johnson from somebody and he, he'd pepper at those things and he'd knock 'em out with the pistol. That's where he got... he learned to shoot.

RP: Really?

SY: And when we were farming over there in Terminus, we would flood some, some ground and then it'd be foggy, and then ducks would come in. And we'd be standing back to back, and we got real good at this. He says, "On the right, coming in." And you could hear the birds go by and he'd shoot. He only had maybe two seconds of sight time.

RP: Right.

SY: And bango.

RP: Really.

SY: We were, we were really good at it. Yeah.

RP: Terminus... where is this located in terms of...

SY: Terminus is out of...

RP: Is that on the delta?

SY: Out on the delta.

RP: Okay.

SY: From Lodi going toward Rio Vista.

RP: Oh, Rio Vista, okay.

SY: And it's the first delta lying on the right and left side. That's called Terminus, before the McCullough Bridge. There's a huge bridge over there. Yeah.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: I wanted to ask you, since you were, you went through the camp experience, how did you feel about receiving an apology and a check from, from the government of the United States in, I don't know, in the 1988 or 1990. I don't know when the checks went out, but what was your, what was your mindset or your thoughts about getting those two items? Did you have any strong emotions about that?

SY: Not very strong, strong emotions. But we were happy that we were equal to all the other people. Until then, we had our doubts. You know what I mean? Because of the fact that we had served in prison. And during that period I had also had a draft notice to Sacramento and I did appear.

RP: You did?

SY: I went and I failed the physical then.

RP: Oh, you did?

SY: Yeah.

RP: Do you remember what year that was?

SY: I can't remember. I think somewhere close to 1954, yeah.

RP: Oh, just around the time that the Korean War was winding down.

SY: Right, exactly.

RP: Uh-huh. So you went to this physical and you...

SY: I failed the physical.

RP: You failed it. Oh.

SY: Could you believe that?

RP: You just were...

SY: I couldn't believe that I failed that physical. They told me I was too nervous. I'm as... just like I am now. I figure. [Laughs]

RP: You're more nervous here, huh? So physically and mentally, you just weren't cut out to serve in the military.

SY: I guess.

RP: But you obviously have a strong understanding for people who do choose to oppose military service on grounds of conscience. Like this gentleman, Lieutenant Ehren Watada, this Japanese American --

SY: Oh, Hawaii.

RP: -- who refused to go to Iraq.

SY: Well, it's just that it's... you know, I can't persuade anybody. It's just his own conscience that tells him that he's not gonna do this or you can't go. It's up to the... entirely up to the individual, really, because that's what happened to me.

RP: Right. So, yeah, I mean, between what happened to your father, what happened to the family in going to, to camp, and then your mother coming down with her asthma problems, all these were triggered by the circumstances were put in place by the government, with the executive order.

SY: Exactly. True, very true.

RP: Well you can't... I mean, your father passed away and you know, but the humiliation of having to sort of grovel for permits and that type of thing is, you know, that wouldn't have normally happened. So wartime had a tremendous impact on your family.

SY: Very definitely. Very definitely, yeah.

RP: And in another situation you probably would have served? I mean, you know, answered a draft notice like you did in Sacramento. So...

SY: Right.


RP: Okay Sus, well, is there any other stories or items that you might want to add to our interview before we conclude?

SY: Well, it's just that I figure whatever I'd done, it was my own conscience. That nobody ever persuaded me to say anything or to do anything. It was my own decision. That I did this on my own and certainly I probably would have been better off if I had went to the army like some of my friends says, you know, "If you had gone to the army you wouldn't have to do this or you wouldn't have to do that. You could have got a free education out of it and everything." But that was not my thought. It was just that we were, we were treated not right, and that's what I was refraining to.

RP: Okay. Sus, on behalf of the National Park Service and Kirk and myself, we want to thank you so much for, for pouring your heart out today. Thank you.

SY: Thank you very much.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.