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-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

KP: Another question just kind of comes up is, what age were you when you went to, when you went into Heart Mountain? How old were you, twenty?

AO: Well, when the war broke out I was twenty, and then about twenty-one, twenty-two. Yeah.

KP: You would've been eligible to vote as a U.S. citizen. Did that ever come up? Did you ever think about that?

AO: No. No. The other thing that came up was the questionnaire. Did you hear about that?

KP: If you'd like to talk about it now this'd be a good time. Tell me about it.

AO: That was one of our major conflicts in the camp. The government sent out a questionnaire on volunteering for the army and it started with information, where you were born, what's your name, date, but the two questions that were, really hit us was twenty-seven and twenty-eight. That's the last two questions. And the twenty-seventh question was, will you be able to serve, will you... "Would you served in the Armed Forces of the United States in a combat team?" And the second question, number twenty-eight was, "Would you forswear all allegiance to the emperor of Japan and serve in the United States Armed Forces?" And I was never involved in the group movement of the No-No Boys. Have you heard of No-No Boys? They answered "no-no" to those questions. 'Cause I found later in my records that I answered "yes" to the first question, twenty-seven, and I answered "no" to the second one, with a provision saying, "No, but if you let myself and my family leave camp, I will say yes." But they didn't like my answer, so they never let me out for quite a while. In fact, they were ready to ship me to Tule Lake, which was the internment camp for No-No Boys -- well, those who wanted to go back to Japan or... and a major interviewed me, and I think they were ready to send me to Tule Lake, too, but it was a young fellow and I talked to him and explained the reason why I answered this way and I was not shipped to Tule Lake.

KP: But you said that kept you from going out of camp?

AO: Yes.

KP: How did that work? I mean, what was, what was...

AO: Well, I tried to go back to school, Midwest somewheres. Nope. They won't give me permission. Until towards the end of the war when the Allies were sure of victory, then they allowed me to leave camp and I went back East to New York.

KP: So it was kind of in retaliation for answering "no" about the loyalty?

AO: I'm pretty sure, yeah.

KP: Another question comes up is question twenty-seven, "will you be willing to fight in the U.S. military," and earlier --

AO: Combat team, yeah.

KP: Combat team. Earlier you said you were outraged when they changed your classification from 1-A, or from 1-A to 4-C. How did you reconcile that answer?

AO: You know, I didn't even think about that, yeah, when I answered. But I couldn't say "no-no" to both because I didn't feel that was right either.

KP: What about your parents? Do you know how they answered the questionnaire?

AO: I don't, I'm not sure whether my parents were, had to answer those questions or not? I'm not sure.

KP: So there was no discussion in your family?

AO: Well, my father wanted me to go to Japan. I mean, he didn't push me or anything, but, I think...

KP: Why do you think he wanted you to go to Japan?

AO: Because we were so discriminated here in United States. Yeah. As it turned out, they were, those, they were, prewar they were, some Japanese Americans were, went to Japan to study and they were discriminated in Japan when the war broke out.

KP: So you said you, when you had to answer those questionnaires there was no discussion. These were decisions you made primarily on your own?

AO: Yeah. What got me on twenty-eight was, "Do you forswear all allegiance to the emperor of Japan?" You know, I've never been to Japan. I don't know the emperor. [Laughs] Why should I forswear allegiance? I'm a, I'm a United States citizen. In other words, they were segregating us, sort of like. Yeah.

KP: So you did answer "yes" on twenty-seven, but there were a lot of people in Heart Mountain that answered "no." What did you think about that?

AO: I wouldn't say a lot, but I think there were like sixty. Yeah.

KP: What did you think about that?

AO: Well, that's their privilege. I don't know. I don't know how to respond to a group like that.

KP: Did you understand maybe why they were saying that?

AO: Yeah, I think so. Why would they want to draft us right now when they refused to draft us before? I think that was their reasoning, sort of. I mean, that was my feeling, too.

KP: But you answered "yes."

AO: Yeah.

KP: So --

AO: I thought I answered "no-no," but upon reviewing my paper I said "yes-no."

KP: Probably saved you from Tule Lake.

AO: Huh?

KP: Probably saved you from Tule Lake.

AO: No, I think the major saved me. Yeah. He was a young fellow and I think he understood where I was coming from.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.