Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Tom Ikkanda Interview
Narrator: Tom Ikkanda
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 18, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-itom-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site, and we're talking with Tom Ikkanda. Our interview is taking place at the same address as Dorothy's interview, same folks involved. And Tom, can you give me your date of birth?

TI: It's August 22, 1917.

RP: 1917. And where were you born?

TI: Los Angeles.

RP: Los Angeles? Do you remember what part of L.A.?

TI: It's down on, the cemetery down on Washington Boulevard. It was just south of that. I guess it was considered the outskirts of Los Angeles.

RP: At that time.

TI: The western end.

RP: The western end?

TI: Yeah.

RP: And did you have a Japanese name?

TI: Yeah, Shoso.

RP: Shoso? S-H-O-S-O?

TI: Right.

RP: And did you have brothers and sisters, Tom?

TI: Just brothers. I have a younger brother named Ben, and then the next down the line, John and Hiroshi, they were twins. So there was four of us all together.

RP: Four of you. And your father, where did he come from in Japan?

TI: Oh, he was from Hiroshima.

RP: And what was his name?

TI: Kenso. But my grandfather was the first one to come here.

RP: And, and what brought him here?

TI: Oh, at that time, we read in the paper how he used to find gold alongside the road, so he wanted to get in on that gold. So this is back in, I guess, the early part of 1900. So he came here to Long Beach, and he worked as a, just kind of a home, like a gardener service. And then about that time, my dad, who was born in Japan, graduated from high school over there. So he came here and went to high school in Long Beach, he went to Long Beach Poly. And later on, after he graduated from there, he went into the nursery business.

RP: In Long Beach?

TI: In Los Angeles.

RP: Oh, Los Angeles.

TI: Yeah. And about that time, he called my mother over, we got married, and then I was born in 1917.

RP: 1917. Your mom was also from Hiroshima?

TI: Yes. Well, they were, went to school together, apparently, in Japan.

RP: In Japan? So they were already, their marriage was already arranged quite a while ago.

TI: Sort of, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: And your dad, you said your dad had a nursery in Los Angeles?

TI: Right.

RP: Was it a special nursery, or they just, he sold all kinds of plants?

TI: Yeah, that's what he sold, plants. Different kind of plants. And he did that for, oh, a few years. And he used to make his deliveries with a horse.

RP: With a horse.

TI: Pulling a cart. And one, one night, the horse passed away. And it broke my dad's heart so much that he sold the business there and we went to Claremont, where he went to work taking care of an orange orchard. That's where my brothers were born.

RP: And your, your father had an early love of aviation, didn't he?

TI: Oh, yeah. That's back before he got married.

RP: And do you remember what he used to do? He used to, did he build experimental planes?

TI: No, no, he wanted to become a pilot, apparently. But this was just in his mind. He'd never actually flown.

RP: I saw a few photographs in this...

TI: Oh, yeah.

RP: ...this book on Sawtelle about a flight training class in the south bay, and your father's name is in here.

TI: Yes, that was in Long Beach.

RP: In Long Beach, uh-huh. So he never actually flew, though.

TI: No.

RP: Is that kind of where your interest came, in aviation?

TI: Sort of.

RP: Kind of passed that on to you a little bit?

TI: But I fooled around with model airplanes a lot, and that's where my aviation came.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: And when did your, when did your family move into this area, Tom?

TI: Oh, that's when my grandfather decided to retire, my brothers and I and my grandparents went to Japan. And my brother's, they decided to keep my brothers in Japan to go to school there. But I didn't like it there, so I came back to Sawtelle here, when my dad moved from Claremont to Sawtelle and became a gardener. Because he understood that there was a lot of money to be made. They were making roughly a hundred dollars a month.

RP: A hundred dollars?

TI: Which was, at that time, was a lot of money. So that was in 1923, and I've been here ever since.

RP: So you were how old when you actually went to Japan? About five or six?

TI: Six.

RP: Six years old?

TI: Yeah.

RP: And your grandfather retired in Japan?

TI: Oh, he retired here.

RP: Retired here but then went back there?

TI: Yeah, he went back after, well, he was getting kind of, some illness had gotten a hold of him, so he couldn't work, really. So he went back to Japan so he could draw his unemployment.

RP: So all your other brothers stayed in Japan?

TI: Yeah. No, except for John. One of the, one of the twins. But he came back here in 1937. So he stayed with us, with my folks.

RP: And your dad also went to Japan on this trip, too?

TI: No, he didn't.

RP: He stayed here?

TI: He stayed here.

RP: So you ended up coming back by yourself?

TI: With my mother.

RP: Your mother?

TI: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: And what do you recall about the... you said that you started, your family started here in the Sawtelle area around 1923 or so. What was it like in 1923 if you can recall? Was it an agricultural area?

TI: It was kind of semi agricultural. In fact, from this area here south, it was all fields.

RP: That's hard to imagine.

TI: Yeah, nothing out here.

RP: Was there a business community here?

TI: Just semi. Just only a few people on Sawtelle Boulevard. But Sawtelle, or Santa Monica Boulevard, maybe out towards Pontius. Few out there, that was about all.

RP: What were farmers growing in this area? Particular crops that you can recall? I was thinking of celery or...

TI: No, I have really no idea. I think a lot of our, at first, was alfalfa. Then later on, naturally, they went into celery and stuff like that.

RP: And where did you live in the Sawtelle area?

TI: A little bit north of here, near Santa Monica Boulevard.

RP: Is that house still around?

TI: Oh, no, it's the city hall here.

RP: It's the city hall?

TI: Yeah. Of course, later on, we bought a house, my dad bought a house around the 1900 block on Colby Avenue, which he had until right in the end of the war, he lost it.

RP: Your father was also instrumental in establishing a Buddhist church in your community?

TI: Yes. One of the fellows that started it.

RP: Oh, he was.

TI: Yeah.

RP: And where was that located?

TI: Right where they're at now.

RP: Oh, it's the same place?

TI: Yeah.

RP: It's the same church all these years.

TI: Yeah, well, it was just a house.

RP: Oh, a house it started in.

TI: An old house.

RP: So that eventually grew to be part of the, sort of, hub of the community? Social activities?

TI: Right.

RP: Was a Japanese language school established at the church at some point?

TI: Not there.

RP: Not there?

TI: It was established down the, down the street here.

RP: At the institute?

TI: Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. So was he involved in establishing that as well?

TI: Oh, yeah.

RP: You contributed money?

TI: Yeah, whatever.

RP: Whatever was needed. Did you go to language school as a kid growing up?

TI: Oh, yeah. I went there 'til the sixth grade. And I just didn't have any time to go any longer.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: And when did you start working with models, Tom? When you were a kid?

TI: Yeah, the high school days.

RP: During the high school days?

TI: Oh, yeah.

RP: So you would make your own models out of balsa wood?

TI: Yeah, right, right.

RP: And paint them and everything else?

TI: Yeah, do the whole thing. Just a hobby.

KP: Were those balsa wood and tissue paper models?

TI: Right.

KP: And then lacquered or...

TI: Right, that's about it. But they were pretty good.

RP: Yeah?

KP: I used to build them, too.

TI: Huh?

KP: I built some, too.

TI: Really?

KP: Yeah. I made models.

RP: You also eventually got involved in, you know, repairing...

TI: Oh, that's kind of a funny story. When I went to high school, actually, I was thinking about going into the art business.

RP: Art?

TI: Art.

TI: And after I graduated, it was summertime, I got a job working in a market. And I made a few dollars, I think I was dragging in fifteen dollars a week, which was big money. And so I bought a used car, and when I lifted the hood up and looked in there, why, I thought, "By golly, I'm going to be a mechanic." So when fall came, I ended up going to a auto mechanic school in Los Angeles, and went there for two and a half years and became a mechanic, which is what I did the rest of my life.

RP: That started with that first car.

TI: Yeah, lifting the hood.

RP: Lifting the hood? And did you go to Santa Monica High School?

TI: No, no, University High School.

RP: Oh, University?

TI: Yeah, that's right up here.

RP: How far from here?

TI: Not very far, about a mile.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: What do you remember doing for fun growing up besides building models? Did you have other hobbies or activities that kept you busy?

TI: Oh, I guess gun collecting, for one thing.

RP: Really?

TI: Yeah, I collected guns, old antique guns and stuff. And that got to be quite a habit.

RP: Did it?

TI: Yeah.

RP: You started that while you were in high school?

TI: No, after.

RP: Afterward?

TI: Yeah.

RP: So all types of antique guns? I mean, how large a collection did you have?

TI: Oh, I had quite a few. In fact, when the war started, I must have had maybe twenty different types of guns. And I got a visit from the police department right after the war started. And they said, "Let's see all your guns." Because some of them are pistols and are registered in my name. So I said, "What do you want with 'em?" And he said, "We're gonna take 'em away." I said, "Well, you can't, because I'm an American citizen, and you can't take those guns away." So he says, "Well, you're right," and so they left me alone. But a few weeks later, the law changed where even if I was an American citizen, I couldn't own 'em. But in the meantime, I had a feeling something was wrong. I let my friend down the street from me keep 'em for me. And so he kept 'em, and when they came after the law changed, they wanted to see the guns, I says, "I don't have 'em anymore." So they came and looked through the whole house, and by golly, I didn't have any. But my friend John Sprague down the street was keeping them for me. So they couldn't take 'em away from him.

RP: So this law was just directed at Japanese Americans?

TI: Only, yeah, only of Japanese descent.

RP: And you were supposed to turn in any, quote, "contraband"?

TI: Yeah. But after the war, my friend John Sprague gave 'em all back to me.

RP: You got 'em all back.

TI: Yeah, I got 'em back.

RP: After you, after you graduated Santa Monica High --

TI: No.

RP: I'm sorry, University.

TI: Yeah, Uni High.

RP: Uni High, yeah. You went to this mechanics school?

TI: Yeah, Frank Wiggins.

RP: Frank Wiggins School, was it?

TI: Yeah, down in Los Angeles.

RP: And after that, did you go into business as a mechanic, did you start your own business?

TI: Well, I worked for another garage for a couple of years, and then after that I went in business for myself at Pontius and LaGrange. No, no... yeah, LaGrange. Went into business there behind the gas station. And I ran the garage there for a while and made a few dollars. And I decided I'd like to by my own place, so I bought a piece of property on Olympic and Corinth, which I bought for $3500 dollars. And I contacted the Signal Oil and Company, and they approved the money to put the building up and put the pumps in for me. And so I was running that until, oh, December the 7th when war was, I mean, the Japanese bombed --

RP: Pearl Harbor.

TI: -- Pearl Harbor. And then I ran the garage for a few more months, and then when I found out I had to go to camp, why, I had to put it up for a rental to somebody else. So somebody else ran the garage and gas station while I was in the camp.

RP: They did?

TI: And he ran the, he ran the garage for a while, and then gas rationing started, and he couldn't make any money in the gas business. So he told me he had to give it up. Well, naturally, I couldn't pay the Signal Oil and Company a hundred dollars a month, so in the meantime, they took it away from me. So I lost everything, property and all. The property was all paid for, too.

RP: Was it?

TI: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: What was your, what was your initial reaction to the news that you were, that you had to go to camp?

TI: Well, at first, when he told me about going to camp, I told him that I have a place to go. I don't have to go to camp. And he said, "Where?" and I said, "Reno, Nevada, where my in-laws live." So they said, "Well, how are you going there?" And I said, "Well, gonna put everything in our car, and gonna drive up there." Said, "Well, you can't. You've got to go to camp first." So there I was, stuck, so I had to go to camp. So after I got to camp, why, first thing we do is make an application to leave. And basically got a place to go.

RP: To go to Reno.

TI: So we went to Reno, Nevada.

RP: And there was a very short window of time that people were allowed to leave? I think it was 'til March 27th, and then after that, you were kind of frozen in place.

TI: Yeah.

RP: Tom, since your father was so involved in kind of community activities with the church, did he, did he get a visit from the FBI at some point, too?

TI: No, he didn't.

RP: He wasn't touched?

TI: No. What his was was, only mainly religious prisoners, so they left him alone.

RP: You do know of other men in the community that were picked up?

TI: Oh, yeah. Lot of his friends were picked up.

RP: Did you have a concern that he might be also?

TI: No, not really. 'Cause I know we didn't do anything wrong.

RP: Tell me about the day that you were asked, told to assemble at the corner there, and what that scene was like.

TI: Well, at that time, I knew we all had to go. It wasn't a case of getting mad or anything. So we went down there and got on a bus and they took us out to Manzanar.

RP: Talking with Dorothy, she mentioned there was a JACL group in Santa Monica or this area?

TI: West L.A.

RP: West L.A., uh-huh. And were you a member of that group?

TI: Oh, yes, I was.

RP: And were there discussions or conversations about, you know, the situation?

TI: Oh, yes. They said, "Well, you just be nice and go along, don't cause any trouble."

RP: That was the message?

TI: That's what they gave us. So we went. Of course, at that time, beginning to be afraid, because being taken away like that to a camp, you kind of wonder. Really had no idea.

RP: What might happen to you?

TI: Yeah. There was a possibility we may be executed. So you don't know.

RP: Did you, amongst the other items that you, the necessities to take with you to camp, clothing and those things, did you take any of our tools along, too?

TI: No, just clothing, mainly. It's about all we could carry.

RP: Right. So did you leave your tools here?

TI: Oh, yeah, they were in the garage -- no. The tools were with a friend of mine.

RP: Johnny?

TI: Yeah.

RP: And did you also leave a truck with him, too?

TI: No, the truck was my dad's, and it was parked in his house, behind the house, on Colby Avenue. And that's the one that this friend of mine, he was a big shot at the post office --

RP: Post office in Manzanar?

TI: Manzanar. He came down here on the bus and took the pickup truck off the jacks, and he drove it up to Manzanar for us, and drove it right in the camp. Nobody knew whose it was or anything. And here it was, sitting in Block 16, right next to our building. [Laughs]

RP: Do you recall this gentleman's name?

TI: I did know sometime, but I had a stroke recently, that's why I can't talk too good. And lot of my memory is gone, including the names of the people.

RP: Wow, that was a, a nice, nice act of goodwill.

TI: Oh, yeah, I really have to thank him for that. And I offered to pay him, the money he spent on our bus fare coming down here, and he wouldn't take it. He said, "Oh, no." The gasoline he had to put in the car, he wouldn't take any money. Real nice guy.

RP: Nice guy, wanted to see you out of camp.

TI: Yeah.

RP: Did your, did your parents also end up at Manzanar, too?

TI: Yes, they were up in the top, Block 18 (...).

RP: Oh, 18 or 19?

TI: Yeah. And later on, he said he wanted to go back to Japan, so they shipped him over to Tule Lake.

RP: And your mom went, too?

TI: Yeah. And my brother, too.

RP: John?

TI: Yeah, he went.

RP: John, you said John came back to the United States in 1937?

TI: No. While they were in camp up there, the war ended, and they heard all these stories about how things were happening in Japan where nobody had any money and no food, and starving to death. So they decided they better stay here in the U.S., so they came back here.

RP: Your parents?

TI: Yeah, and my brother.

RP: And your brother.

TI: And brother was, he was married by then, so they all came back here.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: And talk a little bit about your Manzanar experiences. I know you were there for just a short time, but you did get, have employment there. You worked at the reservoir, is that correct?

TI: Yes, I worked for the reservoir.

RP: And did they assign you to that job or is that something you asked to do?

TI: Oh, no, I volunteered for it. Mainly because I figured I could do a little fishing. [Laughs] So the money I got, what is it, fifteen dollars a month, I think it was, was peanuts, actually. But I figured I can sneak in some fishing, so that was good.

RP: And you did.

TI: I sure did.

RP: And tell me a little bit about your fishing background. You're right here by the ocean, did you fish the ocean or did you...

TI: Oh, I used to go ocean fishing, but I did a lot of trout fishing, too, though.

RP: Where is that?

TI: Up in the Fresno area, Sequoia.

RP: Sequoia National Park?

TI: Yeah, on the outskirts.

RP: And did you, you made a few trips up to the Eastern Sierra as an assistant scoutmaster.

TI: Oh, yes. I became, I was assistant scoutmaster for a couple years, but then they talked me into becoming a scoutmaster. So I became a scoutmaster, so I had to take these guys on their summer camp trip somewhere. So I figured I'd been up to the Eastern Sierra before, so I thought I'd take 'em up there. So we ended up going up there, up in the... I can't recall what it was called anymore.

RP: Was it the Mammoth area?

TI: Oh, yes, it was behind Mammoth.

RP: Oh, Horseshoe Lake?

TI: Horseshoe Lake, right. That's where I took 'em. There was a campground there where we spent the next ten years, I guess, going up there.

RP: And this was a week-long trip that you would take?

TI: Yeah, one week long. It was considered kind of a summer vacation for us and my family.

RP: You also spent some time with the scouts at Mount, on the Mount Whitney trail.

TI: Oh, yeah, that was back in Lone Pine.

RP: Lone Pine.

TI: Yeah. Mount Whitney, went up there three times. That's quite a long, nice long trip, but it was good.

RP: And was that a one-day trip that you took all the way to the top and back?

TI: Three day.

RP: Three days?

TI: Yeah. We only spent, well, one day up and then one day down.

RP: Oh, so you camped up at the, at one of the campgrounds?

TI: Oh, yeah, base of the camp, base of the mountain in a campground there.

RP: How many kids would you have?

TI: We had about fifty, fifty-eight kids, I think, in the troop. But not that many made that trip there. I guess about twenty-something, roughly twenty.

RP: What did it feel like to be out of the city and up there?

TI: Oh, it was great. Really nice up there at that time, especially. Today, a lot of people go there, but not those days.

RP: Yeah, that was before the war, too.

TI: No, after the war.

RP: Oh, after the war you were taking trips up there?

TI: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, before the war, I was too busy working.

RP: And I know you've talked to Corey about the fishing stories a little bit, but did you, did you bring equipment up to Manzanar with you, or did you just order it?

TI: No, in Manzanar, when I first started fishing, you had to use whatever you can do, so you'd go and cut yourself a piece of willow tree and tie a string on it, and fish that way. But then in about a few weeks, a months' time, we started getting stuff from Sears-Roebuck. And we'd get regular fishing lines and hooks and stuff like that. So it was altogether different then. Good thing we had Sears-Roebuck.

RP: It is. And did you, did you fish Shepherd Creek or all the creeks?

TI: Mainly Shepherd's Creek. Because that's where the water coming from, the camp. And lot of fish in there, too.

RP: And you caught fish.

TI: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we caught a lot of fish.

RP: You brought 'em back, brought 'em back into camp?

TI: Back into camp and give 'em to friends that were in the block.

RP: Mess hall?

TI: Yeah. Yeah, we couldn't sell 'em. [Laughs] So we just gave 'em away.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: What, give us an idea of your activities at the reservoir.

TI: Well, most of the reservoir work that we did was... we had screens, screens across the stream, which we had to go out several times a day to clean. That was our main job, getting clean water in the camp.

RP: And did you also, would you spend a night up there for your shifts?

TI: No. My, our crew was only in the morning to evening.

RP: Morning to evening?

TI: Yeah.

RP: There was another crew that replaced you?

TI: Yes.

RP: Was there ever any guards up there, the military police?

TI: We think they wandered around there once in a while. They never bothered us, 'cause I guess they knew we were working there.

RP: Did you ever catch anybody trying to swim in the reservoir?

TI: No, never did. That water's too cold.

RP: It still is.

TI: Yeah.

RP: But occasionally, would fish get into the reservoir, too?

TI: You know, I don't recall any fish getting in there.

RP: You have the screens.

TI: I think because of the screens.

RP: Some guys talked about actually catching fish with their bare hands, too.

TI: Oh, yeah. That's, that's further down.

RP: Was it?

TI: Yeah. Where they had a, they had a kind of little swimming hole and reservoir right down the Shepherd's Creek, just before it hits the road there. And I think that's where they were talking about seeing the fish.

RP: Sometimes they would divert the water into an irrigation...

TI: Irrigation, yeah.

RP: And then there would be all these fish just stranded out there?

TI: Yeah, yeah. Right. Of course, we didn't go down there. We only had to stay up above.

RP: Were you responsible also for checking the diversion gates, too, where the water was diverted from Shepherd Creek?

TI: No, we never did. Just the upper end only.

RP: Just the upper end.

TI: Yeah.

RP: And was worms, were worms the choice bait for you?

TI: At the beginning, yeah.

RP: What did you switch to later?

TI: Oh, getting salmon eggs from Sears-Roebuck.

RP: Any occasion to use any of the insects as well?

TI: Oh, yeah.

RP: Grasshoppers?

TI: Yeah, we had grasshoppers. That worked. There were small grasshoppers.

RP: Now you were out of camp during the day, and up, right out in the desert there. Do you remember seeing any wildlife at all, coyotes, tule elk, any other animals, snakes, things of that nature?

TI: Oh, we saw snakes, yeah. Only wild animals... well, no, they weren't wild. People used to bring sheep across there, herds of sheep. We see those, but we never really saw any deer, nothing like that.

RP: And the sheep, the sheep would cross above the reservoir?

TI: Yeah. That's when we, they kept us real busy cleaning the screens.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: And you brought... by now, you had your model airplanes, did you bring some of those airplanes to Manzanar?

TI: No, I didn't bring any of them. I ordered them through the mail. This fellow and I was doing...

RP: Uh-huh.

TI: ...(model) shop on Pico. So he would send them to me, and he gave us a good price on 'em, which we passed on to the kids in the camp. Because nobody had money, so we'd sell 'em and stuff at our cost, so they'd have something to do. And it turned out to be a pretty good thing.

RP: And you decided to set up this club, too.

TI: Yeah, so we set up a club called Manzanar Wingnuts. We even had some t-shirts made with "Manzanar Wingnuts" across, great big "Wingnuts." I've still got pictures of myself wearing 'em. And I wish I kept the t-shirts, but I didn't. But anyway, that's how we got that club name.

RP: A "wingnut" was another term for an airplane mechanic?

TI: Yeah, yeah, right.

KP: It's also a double entendre. There is a wing nut that you actually, a bolt, a nut.

TI: Yeah, there was a nut there.

RP: Right.

KP: And can I ask a question about the Wingnuts? Did you, I mean, how did you actually start... did you get model airplanes for yourself mainly and saw the kids were really interested? Or was it the idea that... was that how it worked?

TI: Well, I'd got in contact with this fellow that had this model shop on Pico. And naturally, he liked me, so he sent me all kinds of... then he'd, whatever it was, he'd give me a pretty good deal. So then we started buying 'em for the kids that wanted 'em. Sort of started up a little shop in a way. My wife used to take care of the stuff while I was gone, working up in the mountains. But it turned out to be a good hobby.

RP: You had a, you acquired a gasoline-powered plane.

TI: Yeah.

RP: Did you make that in camp?

TI: Yeah. I bought the model from down here, fired it up, it went all right. We stole the gasoline from you know where. [Laughs]

RP: And where would you, where did you fly the plane? Out towards the edges of the camp?

TI: We flew 'em in the --

RP: Firebreak?

TI: Firebreak. There was quite a bit of room. And occasionally some would fly out, but what you call it, the guards would let us go out and get 'em. So it was okay.

KP: How did they do in the wind?

TI: Well, on a windy day, we didn't fly.

RP: Grounded. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, they're grounded.

RP: There was a few windy days, wasn't there?

TI: Few? Lots of wind.

KP: So one other question about your gas plane, was it a free flight gas plane, or was it...

TI: Yeah, it's a free flight one. But you only put in just enough gasoline so it'd only go just a little ways, make sure it don't go out.

KP: With an 049 engine, do you remember?

TI: You know, I don't even recall what it was.

KP: It looks like it.

RP: So you would have regular meetings, get-togethers with, with your club members?

TI: Oh, yeah. Saturdays and Sundays. It was out in the wide open.

RP: Tom, did you ever hike up to the, to the base of the mountains there, take any walks from the reservoir up there?

TI: I did one time, but that's quite a ways up there. And if you ride a car up, that's something else. But to walk up there is something else.

RP: Even from the reservoir.

TI: Yeah.

RP: Now, did you have access to a vehicle, is that how you got up to the reservoir and back every day?

TI: Well, yeah. The guard went with us, but he was an old man. We could have overpowered him if we wanted. He was a guy, possibly eighty years old, and he was a guard.

RP: So he would just escort you up there?

TI: And ride back with us.

RP: Ride back with you?

TI: Yeah. He was a nice guy.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: So you left, do you remember the day that you left camp with your truck loaded up? And what did it feel like to drive out of there?

TI: Well, when I, we loaded up with all our belongings and drove up to the first stop, that was a local in-camp police. He said, "Where did this come from?" And I was gonna explain to him that I noticed that the MPs out at the first gate were telling us to, "Hurry up, come on." So I said, "Hey, they want us to go." So the interior police looked and said, "Oh, yeah, go ahead." So I didn't have to tell any lies, and we drove on out. And the military police didn't say anything, they just said, "Go ahead," so we left. Of course, we had a fellow ahead of us leading the way.

RP: Who was that?

TI: Oh, I don't know what his name was.

RP: Was he an escort?

TI: Escort, yeah.

RP: In a separate vehicle?

TI: Yeah, oh, yeah. So they drove on ahead of us, we followed 'em.

RP: Went up Highway 395 all the way?

TI: Yeah, uh-huh. And from the border they said, "You know the way, go ahead." So we went on ahead, and they turned around and went back.

RP: Oh, how far up did they go with you?

TI: To the border.

RP: Oh, it's the border, okay. And then the rest of the drive to Reno...

TI: Yeah. Of course, I was a little bit afraid maybe I might get in trouble. But nothing happened. We drove all the way into Reno. We had plenty of gasoline because I had gasoline that I had borrowed from the motor pool. [Laughs] In chlorine cans, chlorine that we used in the water supply.

RP: So you had plenty of gas.

TI: Yeah, we had plenty of gas.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: So what was, what was Reno like for you? You had never been up there before, had you?

TI: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we'd been there. On our honeymoon, my wife and I went to Reno. It was nice. And people there were very nice.

RP: You got yourself set up at a Chevy dealership.

TI: Yeah, I got a job at the Chevy dealership almost immediately. And I worked there for a whole year. And in the meantime, I heard, some friends of mine told me about how they were looking for mechanics for, at the airport. So naturally that's what I wanted to do. So I quit my job at Chevrolet, and applied for this job. And I said, "Well, where can I get this job?" Said, "You're a mechanic, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah." Says, "Well, we got one here in Ferndale." I said, "Where's that?" "Just a little ways from here, it's in California." And I said, "Well, no, I can't go there because I, when I was in camp, when I left, they said, 'You're not to return to California for the rest of the war.'" And the guy said, "Who told you that?" I said, "Well, the camp, in the camp they told me that." And he said, "Well, what camp?" And I said, "Manzanar." "Where's that?" So I told him, and he said, "Well, never mind. We need a mechanic real bad, so you go to work for us." So I went there. And sure enough, nobody said a word. So I went to work there as a mechanic. And I said, "Where's the motor pool?" And they said, "No motor pool here." I said, "Well, where am I supposed to work?" He said, "Well, you're over here at Hangar 1." And I said, "Well, working on what?" "Airplanes." I said, "I'm not an airplane mechanic." He said, "You're not? But you're a mechanic." I said, "Yeah." They said, "Well, we'll teach you how anyway, 'cause you know how to work with tools." So before you know it, I was working on an airplane mechanic, as an airplane mechanic. And before you know it, why, they had to have somebody to test fly 'em after I worked on 'em. So they taught me how to fly during noon hour. Noon hour, they took turns teaching me. And I had six hours of dual time, and I was able to solo out in six hours. So I started just flying the planes.

RP: What type of planes were they?

TI: These were all dual, I mean, single engine. They were just dual passenger training planes, that's all they were. Mostly Piper Cubs and Aeroncas, that's all they were. Nothing big.

RP: Can you describe to us the facility that you worked at? Was it a naval facility?

TI: Yeah, under naval contract.

RP: And who was running it?

TI: Oh, he was a civilian, actually, under naval contract.

RP: Like a flight school?

TI: Yeah, running a flight school.

RP: So tell us what was there at the base.

TI: Well, they had a, well, at first they had to run their place like giant buses where the students all lived in it, and they were taught how to fly. And the minute they got in their flying time, they went to a different, higher school. I don't know where the other schools were located, not around there. Where those guys were trained to fly the small planes, they went to bigger airplanes. And then from there on to combat ships.

RP: So this was the lowest level.

TI: Yeah, lowest level.

RP: The beginning flight students?

TI: Beginning flight.

RP: And so there were barracks or buildings there for them to stay in.

TI: Yeah. Well, there were buses, actually.

RP: Buses?

TI: Yeah.

RP: Oh, that's interesting.

KP: How far away from Reno was this?

TI: Roughly, I think it's forty-five miles.

RP: Did you drive that or commute that every day, or did you --

TI: Oh, yeah. Well, at first I did, but after I got working there, one of the other guys lived in Reno, too. So he and I both drove back and forth. But there's nobody on the highway those days. You could go down the road. But it was good.

RP: And eventually you were allowed to ferry planes from Beckworth...

TI: Yeah, well, I was doing, no, not... from Reno.

RP: Oh, at Reno.

TI: But I only visited, I think, twice. I was afraid somebody was going to get in trouble if I got caught and they said that I was Japanese, you know. So I didn't want to take a chance.

KP: So you flew planes from Reno down to...

TI: Concord.

RP: And then how did you get back?

TI: By bus. I wasn't telling anyone. There was others, but they weren't Japanese, though, see. But it's funny, in all that time, nobody, I flew into Sacramento, and nobody ever said a word as to what I was. Concord, I flew in there, and nobody said a word.

RP: You flew the planes in there, and then you said that the wings would be taken off?

TI: Yeah, and then they took 'em off and, by truck, they hauled 'em down to Pittsburgh, that was called. Where the... isn't that it, Pittsburgh down there? It was a naval shipping base at that time. It was put on a freighter and shipped to the South Pacific. Or they were used as observation ships.

RP: And these were the same planes that you learned how to fly in?

TI: No, they were a little bit better.

RP: A little bit better?

TI: Yeah. The same type, though, two-passenger.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: And so you, you worked at this base for the rest of the war?

TI: Yeah. Although towards the end of the war, I got sick and I was in the hospital for about two weeks. And that's when the word came that the war ended. But while I was in the hospital there, I got my... the government sent me my 1-A card, so I was supposed to go in for my medical. But I was in the hospital at that time, so I didn't have to go in the army after all. I was in the hospital because I was breathing too much carbon dioxide from fire extinguishers. And they put me in... they didn't know what was wrong with me. I turned, I got yellow jaundice, I turned all yellow, and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. So there I was in the hospital all that time while they were working on me, trying to find out what was wrong. They never knew.

RP: This was a Reno hospital?

TI: Reno hospital.

KP: This was from your work, you were breathing the carbon dioxide?

TI: Yeah. I had a guy behind me -- oh, that's another thing. Besides working on doing mechanical work, one day I was welding something in another shop, and a big shot there came in and looked and says, "Hey, what are you doing in here?" "Well, I'm welding." "You know how to weld?" and I said, "Yeah." Said, "We didn't know that," so they changed me into welding on airplanes. So then I started welding on planes, and they had a guy behind me with a fire extinguisher. And every time something would catch on fire, he'd give me a blast and I'd catch it across the face. And that's what made me sick. So after breathing that about a month, they put me in the hospital.

RP: How long were you in the hospital for?

TI: Two weeks.

RP: Two weeks. And then you went back to work?

TI: No, war ended.

RP: That was it.

TI: So I couldn't get my job back, that was it. So I made up my mind when the war ended and we were allowed to come to west L.A. again, why, that's where we started working on it, making the move to come back here. So we had to come back, but we had to place to come back to. So... except up to the Buddhist church up here. So I stayed in the chicken pen up there for a while, and I mean a real chicken pen. Used to be a chicken pen behind the next-door house to the church. And they converted that into a living quarters.

RP: How many other families were there, too?

TI: Two others. So in the meantime, I made an appointment to try to buy this house from the owner, who was Japanese. But he was back east, and he'd made up his mind he wasn't going to return here. So we made a deal with him and made a deal to buy the house from him. So we got it for (seven thousand), which was pretty cheap. Well, I mean, at that time, that was a lot of money, like a million dollars to me. But I managed to get the money together and we put a down payment on it. And, oh, I know what it was. I had an airplane that... when I was working out there at the airport, I had the chance to buy a Piper Cub from somebody. And when the war ended, I sold it and put that money as a down payment on this house. That's right, that's how I got it. So that ended my flying for a while.

RP: Yeah, did you, did you ever own another plane again?

TI: No, I came back here, and I was so busy trying to get work to make a living, I couldn't fly anymore. So that ended my flying.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: Did you start up your business again, or did you work...

TI: The same business. Except I rented a piece of property over on Sawtelle Boulevard and built up a little tin building on there to house our tools, and I did my work over there. And I was so busy over there, it took all my time. I couldn't do anything else. All these people there, Japanese people returning here, bought cars and pickup trucks, pretty junky, 'cause they didn't have any money either. And they had to fix 'em so they could drive. I fixed 'em and they said they'd pay me later. What else could I do? So I wasn't even getting any money hardly. But I stayed into it. Got busier and busier and had to hire people. It was all right.


TI: Well, the reason why, the reason why I got into the racing business, before the war, I got into the hot rod business. You know, racing cars up to the dry lakes and stuff, besides my ordinary repairs. And so I made a lot of friends that way who helped me get out of camp to begin with.

RP: Oh, you did?

TI: They wrote letters to "General Nitwit" up there in San Francisco, and told him, "You got no business holding that man in camp." And these were all friends of mine that I knew before the war. And when they found out that I'd come back, they all came to see me. And before you know, it, I was in the hot rod business all over again. And we started building racecars, and I got into racing, and that's that.

RP: Uh-huh. Where were these dry lakes? Up in the Mojave area?

TI: Up in the Mojave area.

RP: Rosamond...

TI: Rosamond, yeah. That's where we went.

RP: Now there's a speedway up there.

TI: Oh, is that right?

RP: Yeah. I think it's called Willow Springs Raceway.

TI: Oh, yeah, that's right.

RP: So you started something up there.

TI: Yeah, that's right. I remember Willow Springs now.

RP: What type of racing cars were these?

TI: Well, we started out with roadsters, roadsters, hopped up roadsters, taking the fenders off of 'em and all that, and racing 'em on the street. And after the war, naturally, racing on the street with no fenders, that was not too good either. But they ended up doing all this drag racing and stuff like that, which we went on into that also, drag racing. And then I got into midget racing, racing midgets. And boy, that was a lot of fun, we didn't all kinds of racing like that.

RP: Now, did you, were you the guy who actually raced the cars, or did you, did you have other drivers?

TI: Yeah, we had drivers.

RP: So you kind of provided the, sort of a pit crew type of...

TI: Yeah, yeah.

RP: ...maintenance.

TI: Taking care of the cars.

RP: That's neat.

TI: I did a few laps, but on my own car I had. I didn't like my wife to know about it.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Tom, just to backtrack a little, you mentioned that when you came back to this area, you had to stay at the Buddhist church chicken coop.

TI: Yeah, chicken.

RP: Were there other hostels that opened up in this area for people returning from...

TI: Yes. The Japanese group down here had grown. People used to go in there, but there's so many people, it's hard to find place to go to. And Santa Monica, I think, had one, too. But that was about the size of it that I knew of. But I was so busy, it was hard for me to get around and try to see what was going on.

RP: And so you get a sense of how much, how much the community was trying to help people out, and a lot of folks doing a lot of things for, just to help out people.

TI: Yeah. Because when you got out of camp, you had no money at all.

RP: You had no job.

TI: You had nothing. So one of the things that they knew what they could do is go gardening. So most of them became gardeners. Whether they had to do gardening, gardening work in pickup trucks or passenger cars, had to be something.

RP: Just to pick up the thread of the rest of your family, decided not to go to Japan, and they came back to this area as well from Tule Lake?

TI: Right, yeah.

RP: And did they, you said your dad had been a gardener before the war.

TI: Yeah.

RP: Did he pick up where he left off?

TI: He continued on.

RP: And how about your brother John? What did he drift into?

TI: Well, he went into gardening also because my dad did.

RP: And much of their business was centered around these estates in Bel Air?

TI: Well, see, my dad knew, his customers were mainly in Beverly Hills, Westwood area. So he just contacted them again.

RP: When he got back?

TI: Yeah. So he got busy right away.

RP: Did he also design landscapes and install landscapes or was it just predominately maintenance?

TI: Just a little bit of it, but mainly gardening. Taking care of it.

RP: Yeah, a lot of those estates were pretty large.

TI: Yeah.

RP: Did a few of those. You got your guns back.

TI: Yeah, oh, yeah. I was allowed to own 'em then. But I joined a couple of gun clubs after I got back, and that was real nice. They all treated me good. Except one club didn't treat me too good.

RP: What happened?

TI: The Hollywood Gun Club, one guy in there knew I was Japanese so he says, "We don't want any in our club." So lot of guys that knew me argued with 'em, but they still wouldn't take me in. But it didn't make any difference, I got into two others. So I was okay. Nobody said a word after that.

RP: I also saw some photos in this book that showed you racing boats.

TI: Yeah, that's when I was just getting out of high school, hydroplanes. That was a lot of fun. I didn't do it very long, though.

RP: Are those in, were those in lakes or the ocean?

TI: No, it was actually down here in Del Ray, in the lagoon back there.

RP: Oh, Marina Del Ray?

TI: Yeah.

RP: Oh, along the lagoon, right.

TI: There was a place, there was a swampland that they made into a lake called Lake Los Angeles. That was a pretty good track. That's where I did my running around.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

KP: I just had a question if you don't mind. I noticed in a book that said that you started repairing and also selling Japanese cars early on?

TI: Oh, yeah. That's afterward. Later on in the year, many years later, after, you know, the war. Japan started manufacturing cars, and believe it or not, they started shipping 'em here. And so right away, we decided we'd better get into it. So we got into it, and luckily, it was a good business to get into because whenever the engines went bad or something, they had no way of getting them. So I, real quickly, I went into Japan and went to, around the junkyards over there, and I made deals with them to ship me the engines. And they said, "Well, what do you want engines for?" And I says, "Well, in the United States, they could use them in cars over there." So they said, "Rich Americans don't fix cars, they just throw 'em away, don't they?" I said, "No, they fix 'em up." And they said, no, they can't believe it, you know. "Americans are all rich, they don't have to fix their cars." I said, "No, they do." And so I talked 'em into selling me the engines, so we bought 'em and shipped 'em here. Well, at that time, we were buying 'em for almost peanuts, and we're making good money at it. And I got into it, that's where I made most of my money.

KP: So as a mechanic, and having worked on American cars, and you started seeing these Japanese cars, what did you think of them? Did you see any difference in the way they were built or how they lasted or what wore out?

TI: Actually, the engines were very simple. In fact, I don't know why we didn't do the same thing. Yeah, they made their cars, their engines were really simple. And the transmissions, too, very simple. And just made it heavier duty. And heck, in Japan, they would drive their cars for maybe only a thousand miles, and they would scrap the cars. 'Cause they didn't have no place to drive to anyway. And that's why the engines we shipped here were beautiful engines, nothing wrong with 'em. And so before you know it, why, we started raising our prices here little by little, and shipping 'em all over the U.S. Opened a company called International Parts, and we were shipping engines all over the U.S. So we were shipping engines here like mad.

KP: What, do you remember what year that was?

TI: Oh, maybe (1960). (1960), around there. I also shipped some cars from here over there, too. 'Cause they liked the, some of the richer Japanese like American sports cars, like the Mustangs, Corvettes, they loved them over there. So it was a chance making money on those, shipping 'em there. And then all of a sudden, they had a big gasoline strike all over the world, if you remember, when gasolines are hard to get. Well, then, in Japan, they're saying it got hard for them to buy gasoline over there, especially gas-eating U.S. cars. So we had to stop our business. And in the meantime, our business from their engines here got better and better. And the gasoline got plentiful again. But I didn't go into shipping to Japan at all. Just shipping engines here, and transmissions. It was a pretty good business.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Tom, did you get involved in some of the community organizations here during the time that you were reestablishing yourself? Buddhist church?

TI: Buddhist church is the only thing I got, got into after I retired. That's about all I did.

RP: What did you do for them?

TI: I became president for four years, and that was a pretty tough job at that time. But I helped up there mainly.

RP: And what about the Sawtelle Institute? Your dad helped establish that before the war.

TI: Oh, yeah, before the war.

RP: Uh-huh. And did it, just kind of resurrected it when people came back from the camps?

TI: When people come back, they're mostly new people here, that weren't from west L.A. before.

RP: Never been here.

TI: Well, maybe a couple of 'em, but it was mainly outsiders were coming in. In fact, the old people were all dead and gone, 'cause that's a long time ago. You know, it's almost at a point where I'm almost the oldest one around here.

RP: I do know a couple of more, a couple of other people, I think they still live in this area, that attended Uni High and are still, they're in their high eighties.

TI: Yeah, I guess there are.

RP: A few people.

TI: But I went to, my first school I went to was up here, up the street on Sawtelle Boulevard, it was Sawtelle grammar school, which changed, their name changed later on to Nora Sterry. And then from Nora Sterry, I went to University High, which was a junior high and high school. But it was called Warren G. Harding at that time. And so when I got up there and started in the seventh grade, it changed to Uni High, University High. Because UCLA was just built, and so they copied that name and became University High School. Boy, that's a long time ago.

RP: How many kids did you guys have? Two or three?

TI: Three.

RP: Three kids?

TI: Two sons and a daughter.

RP: They live in this area?

TI: Yeah, two of 'em live pretty closely here. Maybe three or four miles away, but one of 'em lives over in Malibu, towards the valley, through the Malibu Tunnel. He used to be one of the professors out at Pierce College, so it was closer for him to live out there. He's retired.

RP: So have you shared your camp experience with them, your World War II experiences?

TI: Oh, yeah. But not as much as I ought to. Well, I guess they heard enough, maybe.

RP: Do you recall your, your feelings or reactions to the letter of apology and the reparations check that was sent out to the surviving members of the camps?

TI: Well, the check actually would buy you a good used car, you know. In fact, that's what it did.

RP: Did it?

TI: Yeah. But I don't know, it's too bad that this ever had to happen, because my dad lost everything. He lost his home, most of his money, and when he passed away, why, I was by his bedside, and he was apologizing to me for not being able to leave me any money. And I said, "Well, don't worry about that." He did enough for me anyway. So that was about the size of that.

RP: Thank you very much, Tom, on behalf of Kirk and myself and the National Park Service. I really appreciate your stories and memories. Some great stories.

TI: Well, thank you.

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