Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Art Okuno Interview
Narrator: Art Okuno
Interviewer: Kirk Peterson
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: September 1, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-oart-01-0013

<Begin Segment 13>

KP: So did you, when, what time of day did you arrive at Heart Mountain?

AO: I think I arrived about noontime.

KP: Do you remember what you thought or what you saw when you, the train finally did stop?

AO: It was a desolate place. I looked out, there's nothing around. Just sagebrush and sand. It was very discouraging, let's put it that way.

KP: No Yellowstone Park?

AO: Oh no, no. [Laughs]

KP: And no cowboys.

AO: No trees. Just the big mountain, Heart Mountain.

KP: What about the camp itself? What did that look like?

AO: We're one of the first, I was one of the first trains to arrive there and we helped all the other evacuees who came later with their baggage, and I worked in information office for a while and helped them if they had any questions, where to go and what to do and all that business.

KP: So when you got there, was the camp completely built or were they still working on it?

AO: I think it was, like, yeah, I think it was completely built. But later on they had to add additional barracks, because I remember working on the surveying for the additional barracks. Yeah.

KP: So how was --

AO: They raised a barrack in, like, thirty minutes, housed one, two, about six families. So you could tell how adequate they were.

KP: How did Heart Mountain differ from Pomona? What was the difference between the two?

AO: Oh, yeah, weather especially.

KP: Even in August?

AO: Yeah. Well, I think it was hotter in Heart Mountain, for some reason. I think, yeah.

KP: At least it felt that way.

AO: Yeah. And of course during the winter it got much colder than, yeah.

KP: So did you find work there once you got to Heart Mountain?

AO: Well, when I first got there, I guess there was need, so I worked for the information office and helped the other evacuees come, coming in with their baggage. And I remember one lady wanted a ramp built for her husband who was in a wheelchair and I made arrangements for that, had the carpenters come out and build a ramp. Things like that.

KP: How was it like for you? Did you have someone to give you information when your family showed up?

AO: No, no. We just, they just showed us, dumped us off at the barracks. And so we had to fend for ourselves, like stuffing our, a bag for a mattress with straw. They gave us the bags and cots, and we had four of us in a room about twenty feet square with a pot, one potbellied stove and one light in the ceiling, four windows. That was it.

KP: So what did you do, did your father work when he got into camp?

AO: Yes. He was sort of like a janitor, shoveled the coal and things like that. And that, after information office I applied for the engineering department. They had a separate engineering department. I got a job there, doing mostly survey work. 'Cause --

KP: So you said you surveyed for the, the new barracks extension that they...

AO: Yes, we did that and plus bringing water down into the camp from a canal that was at the base of Heart, Heart Mountain. I guess it's the Bureau of Reclamation. They had a canal of water, so we had to survey it so the water doesn't just pour out, so they had to go back and forth, zigzagging.

KP: And was that for water for the water supply for the camp or for the fields?

AO: No, it was for the field, mostly for agriculture and raising hogs and pigs and chickens. And that's when the food started to improve, because until then they were all brought in by rail and it was old, it wasn't fresh fruit at all, fresh things, mostly preserved things, like salt pork and other things.

KP: Any fruits and vegetables coming in early on? Was that stuff...

AO: Not that I remember. Had rice, sausage, and salt pork, mostly that I remember.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.