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-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

KP: This is tape two of a continuing interview with Art Okuna, Okuno.

AO: Yeah, Okuno.

KP: Okay, and we are at Main Street Station. And you were telling us about kind of the early days at Heart Mountain and what you were doing there, and while we were changing tapes you reminded me that you kept a diary while you were at the assembly center in 1942 and then moved on to Heart Mountain, and you said that you just read that today, first time you've reread it in a very long time. Anything surprise you about what you wrote down in that diary, that you were surprised to read today when you were looking at it?

AO: Yeah. Because the first time, quite a while ago, I looked into my diary to see about the fencing around the camp --

KP: This is, you were part of the surveying party that --

AO: Yeah, when we first got there, there were only the nine guard towers around the perimeter of the camp. There were no barbed wires, and when I, when I started working for the engineering department, that was, we put in pegs, stakes along the perimeter of camp with the guard towers, close to the guard towers with the guard towers being outside. And it turned out that that was stakes for the barbed wire fence, and in my diaries, I complained to the director of camp about doing this, putting up barbed, barbed wire fence, but I got no answer. The barbed wire fence eventually went up and it was put up by the construction group in our camp. Everything in camp was run by the evacuees, hospital, police department, fire department, engineering department, everything. And, but outsiders used to come in as nurses, teachers, and heads of the departments were all Caucasian.

KP: So the internees built their own fence?

AO: Yes. Enclosed ourselves.

KP: And you wrote, how did you communicate with the camp director on this matter? You said you contacted the --

AO: I objected. I forgot what the wording was -- anyway, I wrote a letter that I didn't think it was, I forgot what the wording was, but I objected to this.

KP: Did you know at the time you were putting the stakes out that you were staking a fence?

AO: Well, yeah, I guess, I guess we knew what we were doing. Yeah, have to admit that. I wasn't that naive.

KP: So you worked in the engineering division. Were there any major engineering problems that you were aware of in the camp? Systems that didn't work or things like that? I know that in Manzanar a lot of times water systems failed, sewage system failed. Did you have any failures like that that you knew of?

AO: As far as I know, we didn't have any problems like that. Yeah. The initial installation must've been pretty good, because fresh water was brought in from the Shoshone River, which was real close, and we had a tank up there to store the water for the camp. And I don't think the lights ever went out. We didn't have blackouts or anything like that.

KP: Were you involved at all, I know there was a swimming pool that was made and a skating rink, was that anything the engineering department made, or did that appear by itself?

AO: [Laughs] Yeah, the swimming hole was, I think the construction department just dug a hole, big hole and filled it with water. And we had one diving board. It was a great big pit with muddy water. And then during the winter they filled the football field at the high school with water and let it freeze, and people went skating over the rough ice. I remember skating over, boom.

KP: Where'd you get your skates?

AO: Oh, we ordered from the catalog mainly. We had a community store, but they only handled, what do you call, like toothpaste, toothbrush, and just incidentals, not skates or... in fact, they didn't have much clothing in there either.

KP: So as a, as a surveyor, what were you getting paid?

AO: I think at that... see, there were three levels, nineteen dollars for professional, sixteen for intermediate, and twelve for lowest rank, and yeah, in fact, I sent for my payroll and most of the time I was being paid nineteen dollars a month. At times I was being paid sixteen. I forgot what, but I sent for my records and got all that information.

KP: So you surveyed the canal, you surveyed the fence, you surveyed the new barracks extensions. What else, what else did you do with the surveying department?

AO: We had a industrial basketball team and we had a baseball team, and this competed with the other departments. So we had our recreation, let's put it that way.

KP: Were you involved in surveying any of the agricultural fields, getting the water out to the fields and leveling fields at all?

AO: No. I don't know who did that. Well, water was just coming up from Shoshone, so they must've just siphoned some off, for the fields. I imagine that's the way it worked. 'Cause all of that was external from the camp.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.