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-01-0020

<Begin Segment 20>

KP: Couple of questions back on camp. I kind of jumped out of there before I finished up.

AO: Sure.

KP: What were the winters like up there?

AO: It was terrible. In the first winter there it was like below, thirty below zero, and we're not used to that winter. They gave us World War I peacoats and gloves, and we had to buy our earmuffs and cap, but it was hard. We had to go around and flush all the fire hydrants 'cause otherwise they'll freeze. Never wanted to do that again.

KP: How many, how often did you have to do that?

AO: We, about twice a winter. Yeah, just to keep the water going.

KP: So you're spraying water all over the place when it's twenty below.

AO: Yeah. Can you imagine? When you hit something with an axe it'd just ring.

KP: What about, how did you stay warm? You had the coal stoves, right, in the barracks?

AO: Oh, yes, in the barracks, yes, we had a stove, potbellied stove. Filled it with coal or wood.

KP: Was there enough coal and wood?

AO: Yeah, I think so. I don't remember running out of coal. There used to be a big stack of coal in each area, barracks.

KP: Now, you had to go to the communal latrines from your barracks to shower.

AO: Yeah, that's the hard part.

KP: How so?

AO: Well, it's cold and you just, I think it was harder on the, like my parents. We just ran down, that was it. And there was a stove in the latrine and, but it wasn't always warm. Someone had to take care of it.

KP: But then after you bathed you had to go back home.

AO: Oh, sure. Right.

KP: And freeze on the way again.

AO: Oh, yeah. But I don't remember that as being a hardship.

KP: Some people talk about their hair freezing 'cause they didn't get it completely dry and things like that.

AO: Sure. No.

Off camera: Did you feel the conditions in the camp got better over time or got worse?

AO: The food got better. Yeah, because we were raising most of our own food.

KP: But you also had a very short growing season up there, so how did that work?

AO: It was good enough for vegetables. We got, like, corn and other vegetables.

KP: And you stored it at the camp?

AO: Yeah, we had a, what'd they call the, underground storage place. I forgot the name of it now.

KP: Like a root cellar?

AO: Yeah, root cellar. That's it. Exactly. Right by the railroad station, I mean, the line. Yeah, I remember helping build it.

KP: You helped build that one?

AO: Yeah.

KP: What, what did you do? What kind of job did you do in building it?

AO: I don't know, I guess like laying logs across, things like that. Manual labor.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.