Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gus Tanaka Interview
Narrator: Gus Tanaka
Interviewer: Linda Tamura
Location: Ontario, Oregon
Date: April 23, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-tgus-01-0008

<Begin Segment 8>

LT: So this is part two of our interview with Gus Tanaka. Gus, your father was taken away from your family and put in prison on December 7, 1941, and he was transferred from the downtown Portland prison to Missoula, Montana, and then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and then eventually to the Justice Department center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And when you were -- and actually, he was the chief physician at the camp detention center, or camp hospital there. And when you were on furlough from Minnesota, you were able to take a train ride and visit him for one hour in 1945. Can you tell us what you saw and what your visit was like, including what your father said?

GT: Okay. Indeed, I was transferred as you have described. We kind of had an opportunity to visit my dad when I was up at the University of Minnesota, they had like a term break, and I took advantage of that, and I managed to save enough from my private's pay to buy a ticket. And they had a, sort of, somewhat discounted train fare for the military at that time, because I barely had enough money to go down there and hopefully had enough to cover what it would cost to stay at a downtown hotel and so forth. So I did plan to visit my dad, because nobody in the family up to that time had ever had the opportunity to visit or see my dad in person. I took the train and registered in one of the recommended hotels, and then I asked for transportation to the prison.

The cab driver took me up there, and when I asked him what I owed him, it was something fantastic, something like forty dollars or something like that. My god, I won't be able to eat anything until I get back to camp. But he started getting nasty with me, and I didn't want to get into any kind of physical argument, so I paid. And when I spent my time visiting my dad, I was up there probably no more than about an hour, hour and a half, my dad didn't have much to say. He was more concerned, "What about your brother, what about your sister, what about Mom?" So I would tell him what I knew about, everything I knew about them. It wasn't much. But when we were ready to leave, I asked the secretary of the front office if she could get the cab for me to get back to the, Santa Fe. And she did, and then while we were waiting, I made a comment, said, "I hope it doesn't cost me anything like it cost me to come up here." She said, "What do you mean?" I told her wanted something like forty dollars for the ride, and I told her I paid it. I said, "I'm sorry, but I don't have enough money to tip you, and when he sees me, he'll probably refuse to take me." She says, "That won't happen." And the secretary said this is the first time she'd seen this happen, and that she's going to complain to the authorities that this is pure and simple an exploitation. "Here you come in a U.S. Army uniform and he treats you like that." She said, "That's terrible." So anyway...

LT: How much did your return trip cost?

GT: Three dollars. [Laughs]

LT: So you visited your father at the Portland jail after he was taken by the FBI from your home, and now you visited your father at the detention center, the Justice detention center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What is it like to see your father in prison?

GT: Well, I just had to accept it. I realized all the situation that the war brings to the population. I didn't like what I saw, but I couldn't change my attitudes, I couldn't change my plans, I couldn't refuse to do something or do something to get even or whatever it is. I just accepted the inevitable aspect, that we just happened to be caught in a bad situation as an individual.

LT: Did your father have any words for you?

GT: He was all worried about Mom, and he said as far as he was concerned, he says, "I'm okay." And I guess the people in the camp did treat him much better than the average. They knew they were getting a professional service for the prisoners, but there were times when they took care of some emergency situation and he didn't gain anything from it. So when it came time for him to be released, the people who worked in the medical department, the nurses, the half-baked hospital they had for patients, and they pitched in and tossed in their own money, and they took that out. They even gave him the clothes he was wearing when they arrested him back in Portland, and took him out to, had a mini banquet for him. So he was treated better than most of the people.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.