Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Shigeki Sugiyama
Narrator: Shigeki Sugiyama
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Richmond, California
Date: April 16, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-sshigeki-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: What was it like for you to have to leave Alameda in that first removal?

SS: Well, to me it... the war started, and technically the Japanese were the enemy. And so it... and of course, I mean, it wasn't... to Americans or mill run person or people looking hindsight from today, you know, it was the war, it was (not a) totally unexpected thing that occurred. But if you think back to the '30s, we grew up, or I grew up in that period where the, you had the, in Japan you had the Japanese invasion of China. We were getting the Japanese newspaper and the front page was all about the war in China, the Japanese advancing and all this. 1939, well even before that, the Italian invasion in Ethiopia, then we had the Spanish Civil War, and then 1939 the Nazi invasion of Poland. And so from all that period, you know, all you saw was war. And World War I, you know, it seems like remote history but to us, you know, it was, yeah it was history, but it was only twenty years, I mean, twenty years is a very short time. And so it... I was, and I'm not I guess I can't speak for other, for myself and I speak from my perspective, I was very conscious of war and the impact of war. And so, yeah, Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor and then spreading out in southeast Asia so forth. The Nazis had occupied all of the mainland Europe and people were suffering. And so were just part of that, caught in the wheel. So it to me it... well, for us, I'm fourteen, sort of an adventure in trying to... when you're stuck out in the jungle, you don't just sit there and worry about it. You get up and (find), hack your way out, whatever, and that was it, I was growing up, fast way of growing up.

RP: At Manzanar you also worked for a short time on the camouflage net project?

SS: Yeah, that's another interesting thing when I went to Manzanar, and looked around for a... of course, at first the only thing was the gateway, what is now the center, what do you call that, the exhibit center there. That wasn't there when I left, it was built after that and nothing left of the hospital, nothing left of the blocks, but the two things that I noticed was the concrete slabs on which the camouflage sheds or manufacturing sheds, those were still there. And the other thing, I don't know how many, if anyone ever noticed it, but when I went to that Block 27 area and looking around, the one thing that remained all these years is the little stones that were (set in the ground). And it reminded me that many of the people tried to grow little flower gardens. And they would border the flower gardens with little stones and those were still there. Again, you know, the human spirit, nothing else remained but that.

RP: What do you remember about your experiences at the camouflage net factory?

SS: Pardon?

RP: What do you remember about working at the camouflage net factory?

SS: Oh, well, that was interesting. I was what, fourteen? And immediately I was made a crew chief and so I think I had three or four women working under my supervision. And it didn't last too long, I'm not sure what the rationale, was but at first when I started, you know, everything was sort of lackadaisical, and the two Corp of Engineer officers that were in charge, were... I guess they were getting orders from up above, you got to speed up production. And so to do that they established quotas, in other words, for this type of net, you know, you're supposed to do so many in a day and this size, fine. So when they set the quotas, they let people... when they finished their quota, they quit, or you know. And the officers in charge said, "Well, no, you got to put in eight hours," and that caused a stir. And that was my first exposure with protest. And so there's a resistance well, the attitude was, "Well, you told us to produce so much in a day and we've done this and when we're finished, we're finished." And they insisted, well, no, you got to work, got to put in the full eight hours. So we went on strike. [Laughs] And I remember I was a crew chief, and so forth, but it went along and they closed it down after that. But that's the other thing too is that because it was part of... I'm not sure of the correct terminology is but... it was in support of military activity, it was limited to only citizens, non-citizens couldn't be used on it. And I recall there's one person from Alameda happened to be in Manzanar too and he's one of the few, I thought was an Issei who was actually a Nisei, he was born, and we was working and he was proud of being able to work in the camouflage factory.

RP: Kind of a difficult place to work, you had the burlap strips with the --

SS: Yeah, we wore gauze masks, but the burlap dust is terrible. But it was also fun.

RP: Did you actually weave nets?

SS: I didn't because I was a crew chief, and so I was the youngest guy working there and I was a crew chief. [Laughs] No, it was my first exposure to that and also one of the things that... going back to that experience, I had grown up in Alameda in the Japanese community and with other Japanese, and that was my understanding of who Japanese were.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.