Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Henry Sakamoto Interview
Narrator: Henry Sakamoto
Interviewer: Jane Comerford
Date: October 18, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-shenry_2-01-0004

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HS: Well, after December 7th, then we began to hear that the FBI was going around searching our homes, our residences, for contraband materials see if you had any documents that were suspicious. The contraband materials were shortwave radios and cameras and any firearms, and any person of Japanese ancestry was prohibited from having those contraband items. So the FBI would go and search our residences without search warrants. Well, the grapevine started to percolate, and one family after experiencing that would tell another family that this is what's going to happen. The FBI's going to come knock on your door and go through your property, your personal effects, looking for things. And so our parents, not wanting to be cast in the role of being a suspect or having any suspicious documents or whatever, started to rummage through their personal belongings and destroyed anything that was Japanese, Japanese magazines, Japanese newspapers, periodicals, Japanese phonograph records with Japanese songs. Anything Japanese was trashed because they didn't want to be suspected of being friendly to Japan. So ultimately, the FBI came to our place. It was, at that time, it was the Brookshire Hotel, 1036 Southwest First Avenue, and came knocking on the door, went rummaging through our personal property, and my dad was sitting there trying to act casual reading the newspaper. Anyway, I had an old camera that was broken and had it tucked away in a drawer and forgot about it, but the FBI agent opened the drawer and found this camera. He says, "You're not supposed to have this." I said, "It's broken," but he took it anyway. So anyway, that was an experience. So you probably heard that on day of, on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, the FBI had a list of the leaders of the community and the church leaders and whatever, so those people were picked up right away, so you knew that the FBI had a list of suspects, and then the roundup continued for the rest of that week, and one by one, the FBI visited the homes and picked up these leaders of the community. Mr. Oyama was picked up probably on December the 8th. His kids, Albert and Minnie, were at school, and Albert comes home.

Anyway, the evacuation started, I guess it continued from April through May, and well, we had to go sign up at a central area, central precinct probably, head of the family and get a family number and were told what day we were going to report to the internment, I mean the evacuation camp which was the Portland Assembly Center, which is now the Expo Center but at that time was the Pacific International Livestock Center where they used to have, used to house cows and sheep and pigs and whatever kind of animal. And the Expo Center or the livestock center offered, what was it, 11 acres under one roof, so it was a handy place to incarcerate 3,700 persons of Japanese ancestry, and that started in April, and we occupied that assembly center until September when we were moved to Minidoka. But the period of time in the assembly center was a pretty trying time because... oh and the first instance, to create livable areas for human beings, they bordered up that area where the animals used to be housed which was dirt floors, dirt areas, but the dirt would contain the droppings of all these animals for over all those years, but what they did was they boarded up that area and then created these cubicles in which our families would live, but that didn't eliminate the stench and the smell of leavings, droppings from the animals, so that was a pretty horrible experience. Then the cubicles in which we lived where roughly 10 by 12. The walls were 4 by 8 plywood with no ceiling because on the living cubicle because the ceiling was way up there probably two to three stories away. So you had four walls, and the doorway to our living cubicle was not a door, it was a canvas flap. Theoretically, in case of fire, you could run out that door quickly, but also it made it easy for I guess security to check. But nighttime living was very uncomfortable because you could hear the noises from your neighbors or down the hall or whatever and people giggling and people crying and people laughing, and all those noises were quite evident. And in the assembly center, what was it, it was our family of four, Mom and Dad, and my other brother, my middle brother Tom. My oldest brother George was out of state. He was in India at the time, so he didn't go through, have to go through the internment process at the very beginning. So we had four cots and straw mattresses and talk about family being close. All the families were real close even families larger, six, seven, and eight people, you know. Maybe by then, they could occupy two different cubicles.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.