Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Homer Yasui Interview II
Narrator: Homer Yasui
Interviewer: Margaret Barton Ross
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: October 10, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-yhomer-02-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

HY: Well, let's talk about Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. My father was at home actually. There's various stories, but my father was at home. And according to the story that my younger sister Yuka tells, she was listening to the radio, and he heard this news flash, "Flash, Japs attack, bomb Pearl Harbor." So she called my father to the radio, and he listened to it, and he said, "My gosh, Japan and America are at war." So he puts on his coat and he, I don't know why he didn't drive the car, but the Japanese community hall was about, located about two miles from our home in Hood River. So he put on his coat, put on his hat, and he ran towards the church because the church was having some sort of a program or rehearsal on December 7th because I think, I'm not positive, it had something to do with the Christmas program because not only was this a Japanese community hall, but it was also the Japanese Methodist church, so I think they were getting ready for the Christmas pageant or something. So my father ran to the church, and he told the people the news because they had no radio at the church, and he told them, "Well, we all better get home. It's going to look pretty bad when there's a hundred of us people gathered here, it may seem like a conspiracy or something," so he advised everybody to disband. And meanwhile, he hustled back to home. And as I told you earlier, Margaret, I was playing sandlot football with my cronies right about a block away, and he saw me up there, so he motioned me for me to come home, so I did. And then when we got in the house, he closed the door, and he says, "We're at war. Japan had to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor. We're at war, so we're going to be in very difficult situations, so be careful." So that's the first time I heard of anything about the attack. Now, the question is, well, how did the people in the hinterlands, Oak Grove, Pine Grove, and so on, Parkdale, hear about the war? I suppose partly the same way, through the radio, because a lot of people had radios whether they were country folks or not. But more than that, they also had newspapers. And although the newspapers in Hood River is only sent once a week and that was not on a Sunday, I think it must have been telephoned, word of mouth, that most people got this information or the radio. So many of the Japanese people -- now remember in Hood River, there were about approximately ninety Japanese families scattered throughout the length and breadth of Hood River -- so not all of them knew at one time what happened. But they soon found out thereafter because then, the newspapers, particularly daily papers like the Portland Oregonian and the Portland Journal had big banner headlines that tells all about it.

So after Pearl Harbor happened, of course, the United States government was kind of prepared for that, and lots of people think that the imprisonment, incarceration, and the arrest of these thousands of first generation Japanese like the Issei and the first generation alien Germans and the first generation alien Italians was a kind of spur of the moment thing, and I contend and there are many books that says that that's not so, particularly in the case of Japanese Americans. There were plans afoot already as early as 1935 to document which Japanese, and when I say Japanese, I advisedly say that not only the Issei aliens, but also Nisei who were American citizens were also put under suspicion as early as 1935. And yet even earlier than that, in the 1920s when President Roosevelt was the Secretary of Navy, he had stated that being on record as that, saying that whenever a Japanese war vessel comes to visit the coast San Francisco, Seattle, Pearl Harbor, a list should be made of all the Japanese who go down to meet these training ships, the naval training ships, take down their names, so in case of trouble, they'll be the first to be put in concentration camps. This is in the '20s, late '20s. And then 1935, it's a matter of record, publish, not published record, well, it is published record. In 1937, in Hood River, my own hometown, my own home county, in 1937, I believe very strongly that the then sheriff of Hood River county with the collusion and the assistance or maybe at the request of the FBI, set up a spy network. The spy network was not Japanese. They were Caucasian white eye. And what happened is that the sheriff's department asked people who were friends or acquaintances or especially neighbors of Japanese farmers to keep an eye on them and on their activity. This is documented by a record that was kept by the sheriff's department. This is 1937, so, you know, four years before Pearl Harbor ever happened, there was suspicion on the Japanese and the Japanese Americans, citizens like me, for whatever reason, probably political, but for whatever reason. So the shock and the surprise was not all that much of a shock and surprise to the authorities. What was surprising was that most of the people didn't know this. But the government officials, the high military echelon people, they knew it, the FBI knew these sort of things were going on, but they didn't let the common populous know.

So anyway, when Pearl Harbor happened, the FBI immediately pounced down and within a matter of days, within a week or two on over 1500 Issei -- Issei are the first generation men -- almost exclusively was men, although fifty women were also rounded up in that first roundup. My father also, Matsuo Yasui, fell within that purview because he was picked up five days after Pearl Harbor on December 12th, which was a Friday, and of course, that's a school day. So when Yuka and I, the only two Yasui children left at home came home, my father was gone. And so we asked Mother, "Where's Dad?" She says, "Junsa totta," the police took him away. And the police came in the way of FBI but with the police department, the sheriff's department in Hood River, and so where is he? We didn't know. So what happened, and this was routine. The FBI or the law enforcement people didn't tell anybody where they were taking them or how long they're going to be nor the charge. It turned out that my brother had to ask the Hood River police department where my father, sheriff's department, where my father was taken, and that's how he learned he was taken to Multnomah County jail in Portland, and we had no idea. But my father knew that something bad was going to happen because immediately after Pearl Harbor, even on December 7th and on December 8th, most assuredly, he knew that many of his cronies in Portland were being picked up because the magic of the telephone, and the grapevine was very active. And you know, somebody would say, "Hey, do you know Tomihiro-san got picked up and Takeoka-san got picked up and Tanaka, Dr. Tanaka got picked up?" So my father said, oh, it's only going to be a matter of time when he's picked up, because the reason for that is because he's a very prominent Japanese American, Japanese citizen in Hood River, and he was a leader of the community, so he knew the axe was going to fall. Therefore, he did have a little suitcase handy with a change of clothes and toothbrush and his razor and so on, so it was there ready to go. And when the cops came, all he had to do is pick that up. There's all kinds of stories saying that the FBI descended -- and it may have been true on particularly on December 7th -- and they came and they arrested them, and the men had to go with whatever they had on. I can believe those stories. But anyway, during the course of the entire war, over 5000 Issei men, women, men and a few women as I say were picked up as potentially dangerous enemy alien. And the reason that was done so efficiently was before the war, there was a what, the so-called ABC list which was the high category list that was developed conjointly with the FBI and the army to categorize the people who must be picked up immediately as security risk, and then those who were leaders of the community, and then that's the C list, B list, and then the C list was even less critical group. But they did have this list, and the, after Pearl Harbor in this roundup, they picked up almost everybody on this ABC list which was developed well before the war. So it was not a shock and a surprise to the authorities. It was a shock and a surprise to the common people, yes, but not to the authorities. They knew something was going to happen or might happen, and in that case, they had contingency plan. So that was the way it happened.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.