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

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site and this morning we're talking with Shig Sugiyama, and our interview is taking place at Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park in Richmond, California. The address is 2566 McDonald, and the date of our interview is April 16, 2010, the videographer is Kirk Peterson and our interviewer is Richard Potashin. We'll be interviewing Shig about his experiences at the Manzanar War Relocation Center as well as the Topaz camp later on. Our interview will be archived in the Parks Library and, Shig, do I have your permission to go ahead and record our interview?

SS: Yes.

RP: And can I refer to you as Shig?

SS: Well, I prefer either my full name Shigeki or Jim, professionally I'm known as Jim. James is my middle name given to me by one of my teachers at Topaz and I've been using it ever since.

RP: I'll refer to you as Jim.

SS: So when I hear myself addressed as Jim, I know it's through my professional contacts, and I'm only referred to as Shigeki with usually my Japanese American friends.

RP: Okay, thank you very much, Jim, for sharing some time with us this morning. And I'd like to start out the interview by having you give us your birthdate and where you were born?

SS: My birthday is December 19, 1927, and I was born in Alameda, California, just a few miles from here.

RP: And your given name at birth?

SS: Shigeki Sugiyama.

RP: And do you have any background on the meaning of your first and last names?

SS: Well, Sugiyama is... sugi is the cryptomeria tree, I think some people refer to it as a cypress but within that family. And yama is mountain and so it's "cryptomeria mountain." And Shigeru is "flourishing, bountiful" and ki is "tree" so it's this "bountiful vigorous tree on the cryptomeria mountain." My Shigeki in Chinese is moju, and one of my Chinese American classmates in grammar used to kiddingly call me moju but that's another reading of my name Shigeki.

RP: And your English name is Jim.

SS: Jim, James was... one of my teachers at the Topaz High School became a very good friend and when I left camp, he gave me I guess my Christian name, even though I'm a Buddhist. And so for my official records since, from the time I left camp is Shigeki James Sugiyama, and I also have a Buddhist name, Sojo, so my complete name would be Shigeki James Sojo Sugiyama. And considering that James is my Christian name and Sojo is my Buddhist it gets a little complicated. [Laughs]

RP: Did you have any other nicknames?

SS: Well, I grew up, well, actually I grew up with the nickname, Fat. And I was very rolly polly when I was a kid. And then after I... well, from the time I was in camp, I guess, people started calling me Shig. A lot of people still call me Shig but I prefer not to use Shig except among my intimate friends.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Jim, I'd like to explore your family background a little bit, starting with your father. Can you tell us his name and where he came from in Japan?

SS: My father's name is Keiichiro Sugiyama, and he came when he was, I think he was fourteen, 1912, he came with my grandmother, Tane, to Alameda and that was in 1912. My grandfather Matsutaro, had preceded him which was at that time a common occurrence, that the father would come and most of them I think intended to return to Japan after they'd accumulated a little bit of capital, but for some reason my grandfather decided to stay and so my grandmother and father came in 1912. And they're living in Alameda at that time and so technically I'm third generation but my father and grandfather were the first immigrants.

RP: What did your father settle into as far as an occupation?

SS: Well, he was fourteen when he came so I'm not sure what he... he attended grade school in Alameda, matter of fact, he and I had the same teacher years apart for one of my classes. But eventually, after he had married, he married in 1924 to my mother, and my mother is also from Fukuoka, Fukuoka prefecture, and they lived for a short while in San Francisco. And I'm not sure exactly what he was doing but then he returned to Alameda with my mother. And he became a gardener just like my... my grandfather who was also a gardener, landscape gardener. And my mother, I'm not sure of her official birthdate but I think she was only about fifteen or sixteen when she was married, sixteen in Japanese age. But anyway, I was born 1927, my mother came in 1924. That was before the cutoff of the stoppage of all immigration from Japan. My father was a gardener and my mother did odd jobs as a day worker, housekeeper and stuff like that.

RP: Was your mother a... was it a picture marriage?

SS: Pardon?

RP: Was it a picture marriage?

SS: No, my father went back, and she's not from the same village but it was I think about four kilometers away, it's in the same county or gun, and her maiden name was also Sugiyama so it causes some confusion. Both sides of the family is Sugiyama. So I was the first born.

RP: Is that the extent of your father's family, just his parents?

SS: Well, my father, let's see, I'm just trying to think how many siblings, there was one, two... my father had a brother that was born in Japan, a younger brother, and then after my grandmother came in 1912 there were three sons and... so I have three uncles that were born here and one aunt, and they're all gone now. The last one was Uncle Hiroshi. He was the scholar of the family and graduated from UC Berkeley, Phi Beta Kappa, in his sophomore year. He was drafted in 1940 and after the war he attended the University of Chicago and obtained his PhD in bacteriology and became a professor at Chicago and then at the University of Wisconsin. He retired as a full professor, bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin, so he's the scholar on our family. [Laughs]

RP: Did you parents or your grandparents ever talk about coming to America and what it was like?

SS: No, no, I never had... my grandfather died in 1938, and then my father was... well, actually all on my father's side were non-talkers. [Laughs] So I never did get much chance to talk to my father. And after I left camp, never had, until I returned from the army in '66. And before I had a chance to maybe sit down and talk with him, he passed away about six months after I returned. And I never got the chance really to talk to my mother either. I really don't know a lot, I think some of my brothers and sisters have done a little bit more research (...).

RP: Tell us about your brothers and your sisters, maybe you could list them according to their --

SS: Well, I had a total of seven siblings. I was born and then I had three brothers following (me), and the third one died in infancy. So there were three surviving boys and then I (had) three sisters, and then I had another brother that was born in camp in, at Topaz, 1944. So all told, there are eight with seven surviving. And presently, let's see, I have two brothers and two sisters, one brother and one sister have passed away in the last three years. And being the eldest, I guess I'm the head of the family now. [Laughs]

RP: Did your parents ever make any trips back to Japan?

SS: My father did not, well, except my father... I think the only time he returned to Japan was when he went to marry my mother. And my mother did not, didn't return to Japan until after the war and I'm just trying to think when it was, probably in the 1950s, '60s, when after the war when there's lot of revisiting Japan. I think she went back one time and that was it.

RP: Were any of the children sent back to Japan for education?

SS: I almost went but I think it was around in 1934, '35, and my two brothers and I were supposed to go back but as I understand it, my grandfather put a stop to it. I recall that they'd taken passport pictures and all ready to go but fortunately I didn't go.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Tell us a little bit about growing up in Alameda, what do you remember most about your early years?

SS: Well, let's see, I went to... first of all, I didn't speak English until I was four years old because it was all Japanese in the family. So my mother was concerned about my learning and being able to speak English so she tried to get me into kindergarten when I was... I think it was about (four). I was born in the tail end in December and I think the cutoff was September or something. So I went to Haight School kindergarten for about two weeks until they found out my birthdate and so I was a kindergarten dropout at four and half. And then I went to... most of the Japanese in Alameda went to Everett School, which is no longer operated as a school. And (I) then for a couple weeks after... I went through kindergarten, first grade at Everett School and then I started the second grade at another school until I finally wound up at Porter School, which I learned burnt down sometime in the 1960s I guess. But it's right near Alameda High School. So I graduated from (Porter) School in January of 1942 and so I entered Alameda High School in February. But in February, Alameda was one of those areas like Bainbridge and Terminal Island that were declared restricted areas, and my parents had to move out so my whole family moved. Anyway, I attended school in Alameda, started Alameda High School, didn't finish. In the meantime I guess (when) I was about five or six, after our regular school, public school, we attended Japanese language school. And I guess I attended that school for about, well, until 1941. It was interesting because it just dawned on me that when today, when you speak of Japanese language school, you learn Japanese through English. In the Japanese school back at that time it was all in Japanese -- there (was) not a word of English spoken so you learned Japanese as the Japanese learned it. We never learned translating or interpreting, and so it was a means of learning the Japanese language mainly to be able to speak to our parents.

RP: Where was the language school located?

SS: At the (time), right next to the Alameda Buddhist temple in Alameda. So going back to the community, what is now the Buddhist Temple of Alameda, was formally established in 1916. The first fellowship was gathered in 1912 at my grandfather's home. So the Buddhist temple is at 2325 Pacific Avenue, which was just a half a block from Park Street which is then the main, shall we say the business district of Alameda. And the Japanese language school, I haven't been able to pin down the exact date, but sometime in the, probably latter half of the 1920s, originally, the Japanese language school was established on Pacific Avenue about a block from where the temple is, and it would have been after (it was located in) the temple. And then they built the Japanese language school on Buena Vista which is on the block, you can say, behind of the temple and across the street from (...) the Methodist church, the Japanese Methodist church. They also had a Japanese language school. So the two... the church and the temple became the center of the Japanese community, community centers, because on Park Street, which is -- well, Pacific, is you might think is one, (long) Avenue (...) in Alameda and Park Street was the cross street. And the Japanese commercial, where you might call Japantown, middle of Japantown was on Park Street between a two block area. It had grocery store, candy shop, laundry, a barber shop with a pool hall and even had, what they call, Nihon ryokan, Japanese hotel, sort of resident hotel there, and the shoe shop or shoe repair shop and so forth. And most of the Japanese lived within, I would say, a four block radius of the two churches. I was born just a block, next block over on Pacific Avenue but so, of course, Alameda you could walk almost anywhere. And we lived within a two block walking distance of either the church or the temple. So I was born on Pacific Avenue then when I was about two years old, my family moved to Lincoln Avenue which is another block over. And so when I went to kindergarten I used to walk, gee, I don't know, I can't imagine a five year old walking to kindergarten the route that I used to take, it would be unheard of today.

So we would attend the Japanese language school after our regular public school so about three thirty. So every day from the time I can remember, I'd go to school and then go to Japanese language school and then on Sunday we'd go to the Buddhist temple. That was our community. You might think of Alameda having one Japanese or Japanese American community but in effect you have one community with two parts to it, one centered on the Buddhist temple and one on the Methodist church. I don't recall it being impressed that way at that time but in hindsight the Buddhist temple was, I would say, the quote, the Japanese cultural center, and many of the people that attended the Buddhist temple did so to maintain their Japanese identity. And the Japanese language school was not directly affiliated with the temple but the members that attended that school were mostly members of the Buddhist temple. And we had a few students that were members of the Methodist church too, but then on the other hand, the Methodist church had their own Japanese language school too.

In translating a short memoir of my... one of my brother-in-law's grandmother, who became a Christian missionary in 1912, and in her memoir there's a statement she (states) that because of the anti-Japanese attitude -- this is back in the 1912, thereabouts -- she thought that if more Japanese became Christians, they would become more acceptable to the American public. And since then, and I'm thinking that many of the Christian Japanese that I knew rejected anything Japanese. They wouldn't even use chopsticks, you know, things like that. There's a community, I don't know if you know, of Livingston, California, a farming community, there was a Japanese community established there as a Christian community. And right next to it is... let's see, I'm just trying to think of the name now, I think my mind is part Turlock, Merced county, but more or less the Japanese Buddhist community and so they have to, later you have a Buddhist community, Japanese Buddhist community and Japanese Christian community.

RP: Two different groups with two different outlooks and perspectives.

SS: Yes, I mean, you know, there's in those days, Chinese would not... I'm not sure how (to) express it... Japanese were not supposed to marry Chinese or outside of the Japanese community. And within the Japanese community, Buddhists were not supposed to marry Christians and so forth. [Laughs] But for our generation, you know, there's no distinction, but as far as our parents, the first generation, that was the mentality.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: You discussed, you know, this kind of four block area that was kind of the community, the Japanese American community, were you pretty much told by your parents to kind of stick around that area?

SS: Well, no, well one of the four block area, say four block radius, that is four walking blocks, the area extended quite a distance out, I mean, but there are pockets of Japanese and there were a few families that lived outside that area but not too many but essentially within walking distance of the two churches.

RP: Do you recall other ethnic communities based around the Alameda area?

SS: Not that I recall, there weren't that many, well, the Italian I guess you might call it, community I guess would be the most identifiable. I know there was in my class, there was a girl of Greek extraction and I think she attended a Greek school. In my class, it was a small class, only twenty-seven, twenty-eight students, and there's three Japanese Americans, myself and two girls. And then there were two Chinese, a boy and girl, Benton and Lily May. But those were the only identifiable, you know, recognizable ethnic minorities. There were not that many African Americans in Alameda at that time. And so I would say that probably, of course in those days just the Chinese and Japanese. The Japanese community was much larger than the Chinese, there were very few Chinese families in Alameda. Of course, in Oakland there's a large Chinese community and so forth.

It was the de facto segregation, there were a number of restaurants on Park Street and otherwise that the Japanese could not patronize. One of the shops still there, owners have turned over a number of times, like Oly's Waffle shop, but it's interesting, there's a... well, vacant lot near Oly's, in sort of a back alley like area, and I recall we were playing baseball one time when the owner of Oly's brought us a couple of rubber baseballs to play with. On the one hand, you know, it sort of a schizophrenic type of thing, you know, we couldn't patronize the store but yet... so community life as I recall it was the Japanese community was separate from the rest of the community. We interacted at school and so forth but definitely... of course, again I'm speaking the time was during the Depression years, the '30s, so that was just one of those things that we expected. We had good relationships in school and among the young people and so forth, and it was cordial relationship but it still was that separation, it was understood. And so when the evacuation came in February of 1942, well, it was war and our parents were technically "enemy aliens" so unfortunate but it's wartime.

RP: You mentioned that Alameda was declared a strategic zone, were there military installations nearby?

SS: Well, there's the Alameda Naval Air Station was just established, I think it was 1940, '41. They took over what was part of the Pan American Airlines terminal and then the rest of it, I think it was part of the dump. But it was a naval installation and matter of fact, the navy took over, when after the evacuation, the navy took over the Buddhist temple and they used it for a school, which in a way was good because we (had the) government occupying it and so forth. I don't know what happened to the Methodist church, I'm not sure what the property rights are within the church. I left in 1942 and didn't return 'til '66, so even then I've never returned to Alameda per se, but my family returned to Alameda in 1945, '45 and '46. But I've never gone back to Alameda to live although I'm a member now of the Alameda temple. And so I consider Alameda my home but even though I live here in Richmond.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Just to backtrack a little bit, do you recall December 7, 1941?

SS: Pardon?

RP: Do you recall December 7, 1941?

SS: Oh, yes, I recall because it was on Sunday, and for some reason we didn't have church service that day, we were having basketball practice at the Alameda (High School) gym. When we got the news while we were right... I think we were in the shower when we got the word that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese, that attack. But of course, that shut down both the temple and the Japanese language school. Our minister, Reverend Motoyoshi, was among the first to be rounded up by the FBI. And as I recall, I don't recall exactly who was picked up other than Reverend Motoyoshi, but all of the prominent leaders of the Japanese community... one of our family friends was picked up by the FBI, and I think the reason was that he was the treasurer of the Japanese language school and I think, kiddingly, he accused my father, and he says, well, my father had been the treasurer previously. [Laughs] So, you know, it was that bantering back and forth, you know, you're the one that should have gone to internment camp.

Alameda and I think Bainbridge and Terminal Island are the three that I know of but... and so I refer to the Alameda evacuation as the "Alameda Diaspora" because the... several years ago we had a, our second reunion of old timers and there were I think about fifty families that came to that. And I did a survey and asked, "Where did you go from Alameda, and then to what camp?" and it turned out that when I tabulated, Alamedans had wound up in all ten camps. So they were dispersed quite a bit. And some went to one camp and then wound up in Tule Lake and so they were in two camps. We went from Manzanar to Topaz, and that was at my father's request (since) my grandmother was in Topaz. That's an interesting side light too. It was in November 1943, at Manzanar they loaded us up into a station wagon, drove us all the way to Reno and then gave us tickets to Delta, Utah. And so from Reno to Delta, Utah, we were on our own. So when we got to Ogden, we had to change trains to go down to Delta and we got there, you know, late at night. But the train to Delta wasn't until the morning, like six or seven so we had to sit in the train station there for all night. I recall my father and myself and I think one of my brothers went to a movie, and then caught the train to Delta and when we got down to Delta, there's another station wagon or van there, driven by a Nisei Japanese, and he picked us up and took us to Topaz. So, you know, it was sort of a casual thing, you know, we could've kept on going if we had place to go to. [Laughs]

RP: Just to go back to the Alameda removal, do you recall how much time you had?

SS: I think it was two to three weeks. I guess the Executive Order was the 19th so we had to be out of... I think it was less than two weeks is what it amounted to because we had to be out by the end of February.

RP: And that order applied to Germans, Italians and Japanese?

SS: Well, (yes)... just the city of Alameda. So some people moved into Oakland, San Leandro, down into what is now Fremont. And they're the ones that wound up in Topaz, others, there's some, a few of the citizen Nisei who stayed in Alameda until they were relocated into assembly camps and so forth. My father had a friend in French Camp and so arranged, then found a place, a vacant farmhouse out there and so we moved to French Camp, well, actually, officially Lathrop, but within the French Camp area. and then when it came to go into camp, the people around us, I think, went into the Stockton Assembly Center and there's one strip that was left, and I thought, oh, maybe they forgot us, you know. And then we got orders to go to Manzanar. And Manzanar was called a "reception center" at that time.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: You had dropped out of school for a while.

SS: Yes, so I had entered... well, when I graduated from Porter School in January, the end of January 1942, I went to Alameda High School and attended the Alameda High School for four weeks before we moved to French camp. And when we moved to French Camp, I enrolled at Edison High School in Stockton and that was about five miles (away). And then when the relocation started... so I enrolled in Edison High School say the end of February or the beginning of March, and then I guess I attended for about two months, end of April or beginning of May, my mother... well, we knew we were going into camp. And so my mother suggested that I drop out of school and work a while so we can... we could earn some money before going into camp. So I dropped out of Edison High School and, it was in May, that's right, and went to Courtland, work on a farm up there, planting tomatoes. So I was there about ten days and then when they started moving people out, and once people moved out of an area, were moved out of an area, you couldn't go back in. And so when they started closing up places we decided that... well, actually it was my cousin, Takeshi Yamamoto, and his father, and the three of us went up to Courtland, and we decided so that we wouldn't be cut off we returned after ten days. And then we did some farm labor in the French Camp area, weeding (...), onions and so forth.

So I dropped out of school, actually my ninth... first semester of the ninth grade was rather hectic, four weeks at Alameda High School, and then about, let's see, March, April, maybe eight weeks, six to eight weeks at Edison High School. And fortunately when I left Edison High School my teachers had let me take my books with me and home study, you know, on my own. And I then took the books with me to Manzanar and after we got to Manzanar they set up a self-study center in one of the mess halls there. And through correspondence I managed to get through the first semester of the ninth grade and then they started the school in the fall, September of 1942, or it was decided they would start it. And so, during the summer of '42, at that time it was, I don't know if they still have it now, but we had the high and low, in other words, two semesters a year, and they had the first half, those that entered in the first half, in September, and then those like myself who were in the second half. And so they gave us an option as to, well, they're going to have only one class or one year. And so they gave us an option of either falling back, you know, one semester, or taking (an) accelerated six week program during the summer and advancing a semester. And that summer session you could take three courses so I opted to take it, moving ahead rather than falling back. And so my second semester the ninth grade was compressed into six weeks. So my first half of the ninth grade was in two different schools and then my second half of ninth grade was compressed into six weeks. And then the tenth and the beginning few months of the eleventh grade was in Manzanar and I finished up the eleventh grade in Topaz. And then my twelfth grade or my senior year in high school I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. [Laughs]

RP: Yeah, a mosaic of schools.

SS: But I was fortunate and I was, you know, the reason I went to Michigan was to try to get into the university. And lo and behold I was accepted and also because of my having finished at the University High School, I also got a scholarship to the university. So it worked out.

RP: Kind of step back, ask you a few questions about the Alameda experience, how were you treated by your classmates after, you know, war broke out? Did you sense that you --

SS: I don't recall any difference. Well, I mean, we'd grown up together and in the eighth grade I was the class treasurer and also they had the junior traffic patrol, you know, the kids, and I was the first sergeant of that and so forth. I don't recall any tangible, any overt concern, you know, we were just buddies all the way around.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 8>

SS: When we got down to Manzanar, we had people from all over and then from Southern California, even today you'll find a difference between Southern California and Northern Californians and it really stood out and I thought, wow, Japanese are different depending on where they come from and so that was part of my education, learning. The other thing that... the one thing you probably know about the so-called riot on December 8, 1942, and that was my first experience, or shall we say, direct observation of confrontational violence. And it was... since then, I think to this day, I do not believe in any kind of demonstrations or confrontational things. It was stupid. Well, I think the reason it impacted on me is that of the, what was it, eleven people that were shot, two came from my barracks, one next door, and they just happened to be there, they weren't part of the demonstration or anything else. They were just bystanders and they're out of curiosity, they happened to be there and they just... and of course, two men were killed or died as a result of that, and all because of some idiot (making) some allegations of wrongdoing by camp administrators, and it's totally false as far as I can tell. And again, since then, because my having spent a number of years in Japan and the Far East, that the ringleaders of that, instigators of that were (educated) in the 1920s in Japan and the labor movement there and the Marxist (influence). And I saw it, and at the time I didn't know what, but since my study of insurgencies, subversion and so forth, it's that mentality, and it always bothers me when I see these people getting people to rabble rouse and so forth. And to this day I just don't believe in it and whenever I see it I say, okay, here we go, forget it.

RP: Do you recall the names of the two men from your barrack that were wounded?

SS: Yes, there's Tom Hatanaka and Charlie (...)... I don't remember his last name, he was the one that lived next to ours. I think I was Sekihara, I think you'll find it on the list there. And they're in Block 27, 8, and they were in the same block, they were in the same building.

RP: You weren't directly involved with the riot.

SS: No, I wasn't there.

RP: But how did the aftermath or the fallout from the riot affect you? You just mentioned one of those experiences.

SS: Well, that caused the emergence of, quote, what I would consider "anti-American attitudes" and so forth. And that put me on the other side of the fence, so to speak, in my block. And as a consequence, I felt like a persona non grata within my own block. But shortly after that, that's when I started working in the hospital so I sort of got away from it. The Block 26 mess hall was right across the firebreak and so the few meals I ate at the mess hall, I'd go to 26 and I never did go back to Block 27 mess hall. Years later my mother thought I'd get killed. [Laughs] But that never bothered me but I just... then I started in January '43, I started working in the hospital so all my spare time I spent at the hospital either working or just being at the hospital. And the hospital was a good deal for me too because that gave me a place to do my homework, you know, lights on.

RP: So there were no physical or verbal confrontations?

SS: No, just verbal ones, sort of the attitude, but I'm not sure how you'd characterize it but that's the one thing that I recall my father telling me. He said, "Whatever happens, remember you're an American," I had no other country, see. And I think my life has sort of demonstrated that.

RP: How did you get involved working at the hospital, Jim?

SS: Well, again, that's a direct linkage to the December riot because there were two people from my barrack were over there hospitalized, we went up to see them and that was my first introduction to the hospital. And then we visited them, but I also at that time was starting to think of my future, I thought I wanted to become a doctor. And I figured, well, so that gave me incentive, and on top of that, you know, what is there to do? Going to school and so forth. It would give me an outlet and so when I went up and talked to Miss Wetzel, and badgered her into giving me a job part-time.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: This is a continuing interview with Jim Sugiyama and this is tape two. Jim, you were just sharing with us how you got involved working at the Manzanar hospital.

SS: Okay, so anyway, I went up to see the head nurse and she was very reluctant. Of course, to me, I didn't realize it at the time, but I think there's a matter of child labor laws. [Laughs] And under California state law, you know, you couldn't work more than two hours after school, but I finally talked her into it and so she put me on the rolls for two hours a day and eight hours on weekends. And as it turned out, I guess perhaps -- and here's an example -- but it works, and so by that time people were being encouraged to leave camp and hospital workers were in demand all over. And then a number of them, the orderlies were actually med or pre-med student and they were going to school and so forth. So they developed by the summer of '43, a shortage, so they started hiring high school students to work during the summer full-time and part-time after that. And so I guess it worked out. Interesting, when we moved to Topaz, Miss Wetzel was the head nurse at Topaz. And so I went up to the hospital, I didn't know it at the time, and I went up to the hospital there as soon as we moved to Topaz in November '43. And that time they already had a part-time student working at the hospital and I guess I assumed that Miss Wetzel had started that program there. But unfortunately they were full up and so I couldn't get a job right away, but '44 I got a call that I had to start working. So I worked at the Topaz hospital too until July when I left.

RP: And do you recall several folks that worked at the hospital, specifically Dr. James Goto? Were you there when he was there?

SS: He was not at Manzanar, he was at Topaz. I don't believe I ever met him personally, I knew he took care of my mother on one occasion for something, but, yes, he was quite a surgeon.

RP: He's always famous for removing your appendix whether you needed it or not.

SS: Well, no, that wasn't... no, he was way ahead of his time. He was quite good, I mean, a normal incision for appendectomy was about that big at that time or longer, anyway, it's a quite a length. He would make it a very tiny incision, very quickly, and on top of that he insisted that the patient, we used to keep them in bed for a week to ten days, right after the operation, you know, get them out of bed as soon as possible. And they'd be on their way home in three days ,whereas the conventional treatment was a week to ten days in the hospital bed rest. Matter of fact, when my wife came down with appendicitis, this was before we were officially married, in Japan she came down with appendicitis and so she was operated on in a local hospital and I told the doctor, "Get her out of bed," you know, 'cause over there they keep you in bed for weeks. [Laughs] And he was shocked and I said, "No, you got to get her out of bed," and he says, "Alright, I'll make the stitches a little stronger." That's what it was, he was a good... one incident that I recall, it happened in (Topaz), they did a number of tonsillectomies and one of the patients was -- as I understand, this was secondhand -- but one of the patients was the nephew or relative of Dr. Goto and there were complications, you know, a tonsillectomy, and the patient died. So it was a relative of Dr. Goto but, I mean, he didn't do any, I never heard of him ever doing any unnecessary surgeries. He was very good. Incidentally, his wife was Dr. Takayanagi and I understand she was a doctor here at the naval air station, either the naval air station or Oakland (Armory Base), I think the naval air station for a while after the war, I think.

RP: What were some of your duties at the Manzanar hospital?

SS: Well, ordinarily normally just... well, the medications were all handled by the nurses... but it's housekeeping type duties. Daily alcohol rubs, in other words, you give rub downs and in the morning, well, of course you'd feed them or take the food to them or feed them. Wash them daily, you know, I'm not sure what you call it now but give them the in-bed bath and so forth, enemas, catheterization, so forth, post-op treatment, pre-op preps. Those days we used safety razors, you know, Gillette, and those blades were in short supply and used them over and over again and they'd get pretty dull. And I recall one of the doctors... oh, that's the other thing, one of the advantages of working in the hospital was that I was allowed to observe operations in the operating room. And I recall one time one of the doctors commenting, "Sugiyama always makes the first incision," because when I'd do the prep, you know, and get cut up pretty bad because those things are... there's no way you can sharpen them.

RP: Did you ever get sick watching an operation?

SS: Pardon?

RP: Did you ever get sick watching an operation?

SS: One time, only one time. And that was... this was in 1943, and volunteers from the Shriner's hospital, I'm not sure whether it was L.A. Shriners, came to Manzanar to do a remedial surgery on orthopedic and so forth. And my brother had fractured his arm on three separate occasions, and one time it wasn't properly set and it was sort of bent. So he was one of those selected for this operation in order to have corrective surgery. And so I got permission to watch, and what they did was they had to break his arm again, re-break it and reset it surgically. And that's the one time I was watching and I felt this cold, cold sweat and so that's the one time I had to leave the operating room, I left and I think I threw up.

Another time, I don't recall all the operations that I watched, there's one, this old man, well, you know, I guess he was... I considered him an old man, had tried to commit hara kiri with a safety razor and so he had cut himself here and right across from the belly button and then cut himself again, well, it don't go deep enough to kill him, you know, with a safety razor. So after he did this, then he went to visit someone and the person he was visiting noticed blood dripping and so they brought him up to the hospital and they had him on... so that's one of the operations I observed and he was on the operating table and I held his hand. They used local anesthesia because all they were doing was sewing him up. And I'm holding this patient's hand and he's saying, "Itai, itai, it hurts, it hurts," and the doctor's saying, "Bakatare, you're a damn fool for doing this." [Laughs] You know, it's one of those incidences that sticks in your mind. And here there was a patient on the operating table and I'm holding his hand, the doctor's sewing him up saying, "You damn fool," and he's saying, "It hurts, it hurts." [Laughs]

RP: Is there any sense from him of why he tried --

SS: No, I never talked to patient after that. It wasn't... I wouldn't say he was crazy or anything like that but still a disturbed individual.

RP: Did you have any experience with dealing with people who had died in the hospital having to take them to the morgue?

SS: Yeah, that was one of the other things that I had to do as an orderly is that when a patient died, then you're preparing them for... clean them up, and there's certain things you take care of and then take them to the morgue. I wasn't there but I understand, well, we mentioned earlier that the morgue was up on a rise there. And it's right... the passageway was right next to the dining room, kitchen area, and there were heavy doors that lead up to the morgue. And I recall that one of the orderlies took the body up to the morgue and some nurse's aides played a trick on him. And when he was coming back, they were hiding behind the door or something, on the side and when he came down with the gurney, pushing it, they jumped out and said boo. And it was pitch black up there, and he came through that door I understand and they said that they don't how they came through the door because you couldn't push it open, you had to pull it open. [Laughs] No, I observed a number of post mortems up there and one patient particularly has always bugged me is that he'd been in the hospital, hospitalized for, oh, months, at least a half a year and he was initially diagnosed with thrombophlebitis, thrombosis and it turned out that he had cancer. And by the time he died it had metastasized all over his body. And so I had not gotten close to him but he was one of the patients that I cared for. And (...) I had to prepare his body after he died too. That was an ordeal, I'd never seen organs that had been so, shall we say, distorted, you know, saw the results of cancer and I made up my mind I never wanted to get cancer.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: What was your... since you worked in the hospital as an orderly, you know, day to day, what was your perspective on the level of medical care, the adequacy of the staff and supplies? Was it a well-supplied hospital?

SS: I think as far as I could tell, I mean, for the times, when you consider we didn't have the modern, today's things. So thinking back there's a shortage I mentioned of things like razor blades, of course, medication... sulfa was the top of line at that time, we had no problem getting it, anesthetics, and in terms of intravenous solutions and so forth. I don't recall that any nurse or doctor saying, "Well, we can't get it." I remember at Topaz when penicillin first came out, this was in '44, I recall the hospital getting its first supply of penicillin. And sulfa, of course, there's the standard in the Army at that World War II, you also carried sulfa tablets. No, I know there's a person... I've heard one person who is presently a professional who alludes to the fact that the medical care was deliberately withheld or inadequate. But the treatment, well, the doctors in Manzanar, I think they were all Nisei or Japanese Americans, same way in Topaz. Perhaps, you know, they weren't experienced in many years of experience or anything else, but for what at that time, I think medical care was pretty standard.

Matter of fact after I left camp, let's see, it was in 1945 when I was in Ann Arbor, I was working in the residence hall, the east quadrangle, and during the Christmas break, year end break, I didn't have a job, didn't have a place to eat, and so I went up to the University of Michigan Hospital and got a job there as an orderly for two weeks. They kept saying, "Well, it's only two weeks, by the time you buy your uniform and stuff," I said, well, I just want... and I worked there for two weeks as an orderly and as far as I could tell, the treatment we gave in camp, of course we didn't have a facility of a university hospital, but as far as the ward was concerned, there was no difference. The facilities were permanent, it's easier but so that's my perspective on it but this woman that's a professional is saying that she was born in camp and said that her mother went through extreme labor when she was... and they didn't give her an anesthetic, and I'm thinking, I don't know of anyone ever giving anesthetic for birth, yet, she has it in her mind that that's her impression of what camp was like.

RP: Working at the hospital gave you a direction and kind of focus for your life at that time.

SS: Yeah, that's what convinced me to go onto medicine, except I got sidetracked a bit. Oh, one of the things at (Manzanar) hospital, it was in '43, one of the sentries, the guards, Army, was fooling around with his gun, revolver or whatnot, I don't know, it must have been a revolver, 'cause an automatic wouldn't do it, but somehow or other he dropped it or something and it went off and he shot himself accidentally. And I recall I was there when they brought him up, you know, in a stretcher, and so rather than waiting they had brought him directly to the ward but the doctor stopped them and laid him out on the stretcher on the corridor and the doctors, the Nisei doctors tried to revive him but it was too late. I recall they're trying to restart and give him adrenaline and this and that but because apparently the wound was too severe, and he died right there on the ward, not on the ward, in the hall there while our doctors were trying to resuscitate him.


RP: What did your parents do in Manzanar?

SS: Well, my mother didn't do anything, my father worked in the carpentry shop. So it gave him a chance to build stools and tables and stuff for our barracks and so forth.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: And you mentioned that when you went to Topaz you were reunited with folks from the Bay Area because you really felt like a fish out of water at Manzanar with all these Southern Californians.

SS: Well, I think at Topaz too there weren't that many... too many of my classmates, because remember, the Alamedans were spread out all over and there weren't too many from my group, my age group from Alameda at Topaz itself. So I got into... again, sort of a different kind of Nisei at Topaz from the Manzanar.

RP: In what way?

SS: It's sort of difficult to classify them. You might say conservative in a way, but it's not that, it's... well, I got the impression that Southern Californians were more, how do you say it, freewheeling, and the Northern California were a little bit more settled, you know. And maybe it's because in Manzanar, once I started working the hospital, well, I never did get mixed in with the young people there too much anyway. And at Topaz, for the first time, I was involved in different activities in the school so I had a chance to deal more with people my age and so that was the difference. I guess in Topaz, once you started working in the hospital I was always with people older than myself as well as with the other thing in the wards was we're dealing with Issei and so that's where I started using my Japanese more so it was a different... with Manzanar it was a little bit more adult, Topaz was short eight months, you know, with people my group, my peers and so forth.

RP: What type of activities did you get involved with socially?

SS: Well, there's the... as soon as I got there, Mr. Evans, the speech teacher was also the drama coach, nailed me as soon as I went in to register for school and drafted me into the drama club, so I got involved in drama and stage. And there was Barbara Loomis was one of the music teacher from, I think she was from Boston, the glee club, and then there was a science club and then I got involved in the church, and Sunday school teacher. And somewhere along the line, before I left, they made me superintendent of Sunday school, too. I was sixteen then. Let's see, drama, then of course in the hospital, that sort of cut into my time, but acting, you know, I got involved in school, normal school activities. Then I must have been active in the church, what is now the Buddhist Churches of America was incorporated at Topaz and I was involved.

One of my teachers, Mrs. Lyle, counseled me one day, she taught American History, eleventh grade, and she called me aside one day and I guess she noticed that I'd become very active in the church among other things, and she cautioned me and she says, "Whatever you do, Shig," she says, "don't become a minister." [Laughs] She was great, she was really kind, she's also the teacher that on our final exam, she taught three separate classes on the same subject, and so she had three different final exams. It was a two-hour exam, so I took my exam and finished it in an hour and turned it in and I started to walk out and she says, "Wait a minute, Shig," and she handed me test number two and so I took that, lot of it was duplicate so very easy to go through it, turned that in and started to leave and she says, "Wait a minute, Shig," and gave me test number three. [Laughs] So I took all three tests, you know, but I guess she liked me and she knew, I guess in that class, it was during the winter and they had a coal burning stove toward the rear of the classroom, and so at first I used to sit up in front and I did my homework, and at the morning and the beginning of class, she'd always give a quiz, you know, questions. I always had the answer or I'd raise my hand and so she stopped calling me. And then I moved back to the back to be near the stove, and so by that time I think I was pretty active in other things, I wasn't doing quite my homework that I should be so I knew she wasn't going to call me at the beginning. And so she'd ask a question and I'd have a chance to look, I'd have the answer, and so that's why it worked. But I think she caught me on that. [Laughs] That's when she gave me the three tests, she knew that I was going to do well on it.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: Did you see any, did you detect any differences between the school system at Manzanar and the school system at Topaz?

SS: Well, I would say in Manzanar it... well, maybe it was because of my involvement, I was sort of... it got to the point when I was working in the hospital, school was secondary, incidental. And it was, you know, just a school, you go to class, you did your homework and so forth. Then in (Topaz) I got more involved, not only with the students, but also with the teachers, you know, like Mr. Evans, Mr. Phillips, Barbara Loomis, several of the teachers, and so I had, you know, more interaction with them. I noticed that also the teachers had more, from my perspective, had closer interaction with the students. In other words, I think, in Topaz there's a closer relationship between us evacuees and the staff and so forth. And so that's the other aspect of it, I mentioned that J.P. Phillips, they gave me my middle name when I left camp. When I left camp, or at the end of the school year I mentioned Mrs. Lyle, she handwrote two letters of recommendation to take with me. I think she knew that I was leaving camp at that time and I still have it, I've never had occasion to use them but I still have those letters.

So there's that... well, I think in both, particularly in Topaz, but even at Manzanar, that feeling of compassion, shall we say. At Manzanar, Mrs. Jean Kramer, who was our Latin teacher and I think she taught something else, took my Latin class and I think had four or five students in it, she arranged to, for us with her mess hall to prepare sack lunches and took us out on a picnic, you know, that creek out there on the outside. I think that was sort of reflective of the type of people that came to the camp. Manzanar... or Topaz there was much more closer... I mentioned one of the nurses at Manzanar, I think she was British, and I'm thinking today, if she was British how could she work in the U.S., but anyway this nurse spoke with a British accent and had been in Burma for a number of years and she tried to teach me Burmese. [Laughs] Oh, speaking of, you know, you asked me so see if I could find some pictures, I couldn't find any pictures of camp, but I did find... this is after camp. That's Thelma McBride, she was a nurse, apparently, I thought she was at Manzanar but I found out she was at Rohwer, and the fellow in the wheelchair is Peter Kondo, do you know him?

RP: I know of him. Go ahead and share that story.

SS: Well, I met Peter at Manzanar and he was a paraplegic, he had been in an automobile accident, originally from Los Angeles, and so he was quartered or living at the hospital, and that's where I first met him. And so we... in my spare time at the hospital I used to spend most of the time there with him, and we got to be very... I think he looked on me almost like his son. He had a son but he was divorced and so forth and he had no one close, and I think he treated me like his son actually. So we became close and when I left Manzanar we kept in touch and I don't know, is there his writing on... oh, yeah, you notice he'd write, he had to use two hands to write and so it was very laborious for him to write and so forth. So I kept in touch with him, and for some reason he was apparently moved from Manzanar to Rohwer and I guess that was... I guess they were closing down Manzanar or something. And the nurse at Rohwer, Thelma McBride, well, Peter didn't want to go back to LA because he had no place to go. So Thelma took him with her to Louisiana, and at this point, and she was the head nurse, became a head nurse at a small hospital there in Church Point, Louisiana. And we kept in touch, or I kept in touch with Peter, and when I was finished, completed my training at army officer candidate school at Fort Benning and I was commissioned and I was still stationed at Fort Benning pending overseas assignment, Peter wrote to me, it was, oh, probably about September of 1947 and I was still awaiting orders to go overseas. And he asked me to come out and take care of him for a week so that Thelma could get a rest, you know, and so I arranged, I took a leave and I went to Church Point and I spent a week with him at the hospital, it was a country hospital. And they set aside a room for me, a private room, and there is a Thelma and myself, the three of us.

RP: Hold that picture up.

KP: Just hold it back up where you're sitting, just sit back in your chair.

SS: I can send you a... I digitized some of these.

RP: Do you want to sit back, Jim and just show us.

KP: Hold it up towards the camera.

SS: Okay.

KP: So it's you and Thelma?

SS: Thelma and Peter.

KP: And can you show me the cover?

RP: Drop the cover down.

KP: That's his handwriting right there?

RP: So he sent you those pictures?

SS: Yes.

KP: Thank you.

RP: Peter was quite a ball player in the early days?

SS: Yes, he was, yes. There's a newspaper article about my visit too.

KP: That would be great to get a copy of that.

SS: But anyway, so I don't recall from that, that was in October of 1947 and I shipped out in December '47 to Japan and somewhere along the line we kept, well, we kept in touch, or Peter and I kept in touch, but then he passed away and after he passed away, Thelma continued. And so we exchanged Christmas cards every year until she passed away, oh, about ten years ago. And in her letters I could tell that she had kept contact with many of her associates and people that she had met in the camp, and in her annual letter she'd mention that so and so had visited her. And I always wanted to go back to Louisiana but I never got a chance to see her again after 1947. But again, an example of the type of people that came to the camps.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: Jim, did you have opportunities to leave Topaz, go out into Delta?

SS: Yes, well, as a member of the... being part of the drama club, we used to put on a sort of... take our different productions to the different community high schools, Delta, Hinckley, I forget all, and so we used to get out, have a chance to leave the camp. Mr. Evans, who was my speech teacher, enrolled me in a statewide speech contest and so he took me down to Cedar City for representing Topaz in an extemporaneous speech contest at a college down there at Cedar City and so that got me out of camp too. And I recall Mr. Phillips, the J.P. Phillips took us on a... group of us on a picnic there outside of Delta and he used to take a few of us into the movie in Delta. And right across the street from the theater was a hotel, neither of them are in operation now, and have dinner there, steak dinner for ninety five cents and go across the street for a movie for thirty five cents, something like that. And so, yeah, you know, I was there in Topaz only eight months but I don't know how many times I went into... out of the camp, at least a half a dozen times.

RP: How were you personally treated by folks in Delta? Japanese Americans in general?

SS: Well, the people in Utah were all very friendly to us and I recall going when I went down to Cedar City for the speech contest and they had lunch there in the college dining room and so forth. They're very, very, I'm not sure how you, courteous, solicitous and very kind. I found the people in Utah to be the most kind people. Of course in Manzanar, you didn't have any contact, there's no one to be in contact with to begin with.

RP: You were actually recruited to go to Ann Arbor?

SS: Yes, in the spring of '44, the person in charge of the residence hall, I guess recruiting for workers, came up to hire people to work in the residence hall so it was a great opportunity. Well, the main thing is that I wanted to go to the University of Michigan, you know, with medical school... there were two medical schools that I had on my list, number one Johns Hopkins obviously and the other one... Michigan I recall because there were a number of novels, what is it, based on the University of Michigan medical school so that, struck me as... and then when this person came from the university to recruit people... hey, great. And so it was I think one of the wisest decisions I ever made, of course my father was unhappy, you know, that I decided on my own without even consulting him. But my mother realized that, you know, that was in my interest and talked him into it.

RP: Who did you go out with?

SS: Well, Shoji Horikoshi, he's originally from San Francisco and he's presently in San Francisco now, and he and I both went. And when we arrived in Ann Arbor, we're assigned to dishwashing. The East Quadrangle where we worked, housed the 900 US Army personnel in three different groups, the one of the largest groups was the Army language school, Japanese language and that was Company A. Company B was the medical students, army personnel, and the C Company was what they call the Army Specialized Training Program reserve. I think actually that program was intended sort of to subsidize the university because at that time the university population was down to 4,000 females, 800 male students, besides the military. And C Company was the reserve people were enlisted to attend school and made part of the Army Reserve. And they were given free room and board and all their school expenses were paid for, but they were not given any other compensation. So anyway it was, so we had 900 officers and men enlisted, and so the first month I was washing dishes for 900 three meals a day. And then about after the first month, the head dietitian who was in charge of the dining room asked if I would be interested in working with the cooks and I said yes.

So for the rest of the time I worked as a cook's helper type and all the way through until I was drafted in April '46. Full-time during the summer and then when school started, kept on part-time. And they're very, very good about the whole thing, and those of us who were... Shoji and myself. Well, Shoji he graduated high school, returned to California because he was expecting the draft. He was accepted at Wayne State University but he left. I was fortunate, I was admitted to the university and started there a week after graduating high school. We were on a... they were on an accelerated program, wartime program, and essentially it was a trimester system and so in July I enrolled as a freshman and then I, let's see, I think it's four months, July, August, September, October and then November the second semester and I finished, I think the end of February, got my first year completed and I decided to, since we're on an accelerated program, I said, "Well, let's stop, drop out for one semester, work, then start again." Well, in a way that was mistake because shortly thereafter I got my draft notice. If I'd have stayed in, I would've gotten my student exemption.

So when I was inducted on April 29, 1946, I was sent to Fort Sheridan in, just north of Chicago for processing, and so there I said, well, as long as I'm in the army and they have the GI Bill, and the GI Bill in those days was good because you got month for month for school training (...) up to three years, (...) for every year of service, plus one additional year. So the GI Bill would've given me forty-eight months of schooling, and the University of Michigan at that time had for the medical program, they had what you call a combined program where in your senior year as an undergraduate, you're also enrolled in the medical school. So you (...) could shave off one year. So I figured, well, with the forty-eight months of schooling that would get me through much of (med school). Otherwise I couldn't have gone. So I immediately reenlisted for three years so I would be guaranteed the maximum forty-eight months, and, of course, you know, that led to us, well, (I) also I signed up to go into the Medical Corps. Then when I got (into) basic training about the second or third week, they called (for) volunteers to go to officer candidate school. So I figured, well, if I'm going to be in for three years, why not get a commission? So I volunteered and out of the twenty that first volunteered only ten were found (to have) passed the minimum requirements, and after all the interviews and all this other stuff, I was the only one that finally made it to the final cut. And out of the four companies in the battalion, 800 trainees, I think six of us were finally selected to go to Officer Candidate School. And as I recall (I) was the only one that went and finished and got my commission. But that's how I got into the army as starting out intending to use the Army as a stepping stone to get to become a doctor.

RP: And you ended up spending twenty years?

SS: Yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: You said you were shipped to Japan at some point?

SS: Yes. I didn't really want to go to Japan except my mother wanted to me to go to Japan because my maternal grandparents had never seen me. And so she wanted me to go to Japan so I could meet my mother's family. And so I figured, well, if I ask to be sent to the language school, Japanese language school, then that would get me to Japan. So after I finished my... got my commission (and) I finished my basic infantry officer's training, I wrote to the Pentagon asking to be assigned to the Japanese language school. And then before they responded to that, I received orders to go to Alaska. And then I got the response to my request to go to language school. They said, "Well, you're eligible for overseas assignment so we can't send you to the language school, we noticed you're on orders to Alaska, so what we'll do is we'll cancel your Alaska orders and send you to Japan." Well, okay fine, and then when I got my orders to go to Japan, I found they had listed me as a translator without any training. [Laughs] But that's how I got to Japan and, see, what is it, '48, let's see, 1948, '48, '49, '50, '51, '52. So fifty-four months later I returned.

RP: So what was that like? What did you do there?

SS: Well, in Japan, when I got to Japan they... well, because my orders read as a MOS translator 9330, they sent me to Toyko from the replacement depot in Zama, I was sent to Tokyo, at that time they called it the Translator Interpreter Service for interview and determining my qualification level. So they interviewed me and checked me and said, "Well, you're not a linguist or a qualified linguist, but you're a potential linguist, so we're going to assign you to the Maizuru POW interrogation center," they were interrogating Japanese POWs that had been captured by the Soviets and sent to Soviet POW camps. And as they returned, they were being screened, and the Army or the G2 of Far East command realized that we knew nothing about the Soviet Far East, and so here the only sources we have no way reaching, and to collect intelligence on the Soviet Far East and started interrogating. So I was sent to that center and I said, well, if you're going send me to Maizuru, I knew that this was in January and operations wouldn't start until May, that's when the Siberian ports opened, they were frozen until then. So I said, "Well, you got time before (they) start operating, so why don't you send me to the language school here in Tokyo?" I knew they had a six week course. I'd spent the night there at the night before with another officer that had been sent up for an interview. And so we were getting all the low downs on what were the good assignments and what were the bad assignments and so forth.


SS: So I told them, well, why don't you send me to the language school before I go down there because I haven't had any training, you said I'm only a potential linguist. They said, "No, no we can't do that, you're going to learn on the job." [Laughs] So I learned on the job.

RP: What type of information were you looking for from these POWs?

SS: Well, any... what might be considered strategic information, we knew nothing about Siberia or the Soviet forces, what units were, or what type of forces were in there. And of course, the POWs were, worked in coal mines and logging and so forth and in remote areas so they really didn't know much of, shall we say, military value but still, one of the things that we did have an interest in was what is now called the BAM Railroad. And so the POWs that worked on that, we were very interested, the town or the city of what is now the city of Komsomol was built from scratch and trying to find out, you know, what city was like, different ports. Of course this was back in immediate postwar era and there wasn't much (information). Give you an example of how little we knew about the Soviet far east, we didn't have any maps, we used the National Geographic map. [Laughs]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Just one final question, Jim, how do you reflect on your experience in Manzanar and Topaz?

SS: Well, I think again, it's just another episode, well, more than that... see, Alameda is sort of foundational of my being who I am, and then Manzanar and Topaz is sort of the gateway into the world. And I think in my particular situation, it was the greatest thing that could have happened to me because I was able to take advantage. There's a saying in Japan, I think it's attributed to people of the merchants in the country, Osaka, "if you fall down, don't get up again without making a profit." Now profit from your (experience) and that's been the story of my life. Everything, my decision points... I've written a short biography for my grandkids and I initially captured a life that zigs and zags, but lately I call it each step of the way has given me another perspective on the world and existence, and also has led me into my Buddhist studies too. I'm now looking at it from the Buddhist perspective as that nothing is permanent, there's constant change. And circumstances or events, what I call, conditional phenomenon, that things happened because of certain conditions being so in certain events so forth. The conventional thinking of I'd say ninety-nine percent of people is linear, every time you see, what is the cause and there's no single cause, it's different things coming together.

And our society today, when something goes wrong, immediately, who's to blame? And the same way with the evacuation, you know, 9066 but if you read... I don't know if you had the opportunity to read the minutes of the emergency meeting of the Japanese American Citizens League in March of 1942, and the perception of the people that came from Washington, from the Department of Justice to explain what was being planned, and the reaction of the people attending it and then what actually resulted from what was intended and what happened incrementally. And the people think that, you know, it was a conspiracy to accomplish certain ends whereas it was intended for this purpose, well, along the way it changed. And I know the reality of this having been in government for twenty years, I had an instrumental role, I don't think you're familiar with it, but the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 where we... I had a direct role in parts of that legislation. And I was also involved in... once it was passed through Congress, in editing before it went to final print, and that extent, from the planning to the writing of the legislation, to implementing it. And what was intended at the beginning and what came out of the legislation and then what happened in implementing the legislation, and it's totally different out here from what was originally intended. And one part of the legislation, the omission of one word turned one concept on its head. So, you know, and so, you know, you really... I'm, shall we say, unhappy about a lot of the post-evacuation rhetoric that's going on, how bad the government treated us, how bad the people. You know, what happened was the result of individual decisions by over a hundred thousand people, and those of us that were able to take advantage of the situation profited.

RP: Thank you very much, Jim, on behalf of Kirk and myself.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.