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

<Begin Segment 1>

LT: Today is April 23, 2014, and we are in Ontario, Oregon, with Dr. Gus Tanaka, and Teddy Tanaka, his wife, Dana Hoshide, the videographer, and me, Linda Tamura, are also in the room. So we are asking Dr. Tanaka, Gus, about his life. Dr. Tanaka, I know that you prefer being called Gus.

GT: Right.

LT: And you were born on August 3, 1923. What was your given name?

GT: I beg your pardon?

LT: What was your name that was given to you when you were born?

GT: My father, immediately, I understand, decided to name me Augustus. At least, in part, they always assumed that it was because I was born in the month of August. But he was thinking in more grandiose terms. He was thinking of Augustus, the Roman emperor, who assumed more and more dictatorial powers according to what we read about the early Roman history. And he was thinking of a more grandiose future for me than just knowing me as Augustus, born in August.

LT: Did that happen?

GT: I don't know what happened. I don't feel any different than anyone else. She certainly didn't feel that I was granted any inherent extraordinary powers of command and so forth, but it made a good story for a while, anyway.

LT: Sure. So you were called Augustus, or Gus, by your father. And what was your Japanese name when you were born?

GT: Masashi. Don't ask me what those characters stand for. I don't think I was ever told, and I never have asked. And they're both gone now, so it's too late. [Laughs]

LT: Okay. Well, you were born in Portland, Oregon, and your father, who had a storied life of his own, graduated from the University of North Dakota, and then from the University of Oregon medical school in 1920, and he established a medical practice in Portland's Japantown.

GT: Yes.

LT: And I understand that your father and mother chose not to live in the Japanese section of town, but in fact they purchased a home in Northeast Portland where the community was white.

GT: It was entirely white, yes.

LT: What was it like for a young kid growing up in a white community?

GT: Well, when I grew up there, I could hardly speak or understand English, because it was a segregation that existed. We moved to the Fifty-fourth Street address, and it was part of the Grant High district, but more closely, it was closer to the Roseland Park elementary school, which was five blocks away from us. And it was embarrassing for me because I could not speak in English to the neighbors when I had the opportunity. I learned how to speak English when I was introduced to my first year elementary school class. The kids would talk to me, the teachers would talk to me, there was only one language, that was English, and so I quickly picked up understanding some English. But the problem is, it was only in the school. Over the weekends and holidays and after school, the kids wouldn't want to talk and play with me. Their parents objected to that very viciously. They said, "Get away from him, you're not supposed to talk to him." So it was very difficult there in the beginning. The thing that really frightened me was in my first year in elementary school, I understood nothing that was spoken by the teacher and the class. And the first exam I ever had, of course, my performance was zilch. As a matter of fact, I got a... my first report card, one of the things that stood out like a sore thumb was a red U for spelling, Unsatisfactory.

LT: U for Unsatisfactory.

GT: Yeah. And when I got home, my dad scolded me for being so stupid. I couldn't explain to him why I couldn't spell, because I couldn't understand the word I was being told to recite. So he went down and talked to the teacher and gave her his idea of what a responsibility of a teacher like her should have, and would try to "introduce him to the language more aggressively." And that helped, because by the time I was in the, about the sixth grade, I was a straight-A student and leading the class. And it never stopped. I was, when I graduated from Grant High in 1941, that was in the spring of the same year that the war started at Grant High, I was an honors student at Grant High. I was designated the Diamond G scholar. It was so designated because there are eight semesters in a four-year high school, and the first two years we were granted either a white or a blue certificate saying that we were honors students. And then there are four points on the pin that we received as a third award, and then after that, there are four edges, they would give us little pearls embedded in there. And at the final, on the torch, they put a little diamond chip, that we were diamond grade scholars at Grant High. And so I learned the hard way how to study and so forth. Well, one of the problems was that I studied like the dickens, because I was very puny, I was not good in any athletic situation. Dad was getting so worried about my being puny and missing so much school from illness that he got me started, he enrolled me at a YMCA swimming program and taught me how to swim. And then he also started me with playing golf when I was about, starting when I was about the fourth grade, and got me a little kiddie golf set. And I would ride my bicycle about two miles toward town, and there was a driving range that had a pro that would teach the kids how to play golf. And that's how I learned the game of golf. But it didn't help me very much socially with the kids, 'cause they would have parties and other special gatherings. Somehow or other, no one ever said, "Hey, come join us and play." I led a pretty isolated life through my childhood, although it started to improve a little by the time I graduated from Grant High.

LT: Well, in fact, when your parents moved into that neighborhood, your mother chose not to go to the hospital when you were born because of the feelings. Can you explain that?

GT: Well, first of all, she could not speak English, could not understand what was happening. And she had heard stories from other Issei women that they don't treat you well in the hospitals. If you can't understand them, they don't try to understand you. And so she just did not want to go to the hospital. And so Dad got her a laywoman midwife who came in and delivered me at home, and that's how I came into this world. But my mother, even when she, as we grew up, she learned, had a pretty good idea of what we were saying in English, but she could never really converse in English.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

LT: And yet, in the first grade, when you received that red U, she had a significant role in helping you to perform well in school.

GT: That's right. Because he assigned my mom in teaching me how to spell. It was hard for me to understand afterwards how she was able to teach me how to spell words when she didn't know what she was teaching me, but she sat and worked with me hours on end how to do better in school. And largely through her efforts, I was getting to be a straight-A student.

LT: It seemed that your mother also was an observer who used some observations to help you learn by her own stories. As I recall, your father had asked your mother and you and your brother and sister to pick strawberries for three weeks, and you noticed a couple who were picking strawberries, doing something that you didn't really care to do, but your mother used that as a lesson for you?

GT: Yes. This couple was a Caucasian couple, and they were the first to get in the fields in the early morning, we could barely see, and they were the last to call it quits for the afternoon when it got too warm to pick strawberries and get it to the market. My mother would point to these kids and say, "Now, that married couple probably got married too soon, they had to earn enough to eat, so they took the best job that was, only job that they could find, and that was picking strawberries." They picked strawberries with more vigor than the rest of us out here. And says the reason they're doing that is that they want to get ahead in this world and not be strawberry pickers the rest of their lives. They must have other ambitions. And she used that as an example why we had to work so much harder than other kids in school.

LT: So what effect did that have on you?

GT: Well, I studied like the very dickens. And my dad always arranged toys at Christmastime that was designed to inspire me to work harder. For instance, when I was a little kid, when I could barely read simple things, he got me a -- I don't know if you remember a company called A.C. Gilbert. They made instructional chemistry sets and construction sets and games and so forth. And my dad would always make sure that I got something from A.C. Gilbert every Christmas and birthday time. And so I had plenty of things to work my brain. That had a great part in inspiring me to learn more about arithmetic, mathematics and so forth. So I was, by the time we got to high school, I knew more about Chemistry than the class would learn by the end of the time they graduated from high school. And that was a plus for me because I got, quickly got a reputation for being a good student right from day one. But I started at Reed College after finishing, graduating in May.

LT: That was 1941?

GT: 1941. And I started attending classes at Reed College that spring. Going there was hard because the city put a five-mile limit on the distance one could go from their home to anyplace without being in violation of the city security code. They're assuming that every "Jap" was a traitor, and they saw no reason why anyone would have to go more than five miles to get anything done that was absolutely necessary. And so I had to carry a little card that gave me permission to go to Reed College, first by trolley, Fifty-fourth Street down to Thirty-third which was the main cross town public transportation. It was by bus, and then they would actually drive into the college campus to drop the students off. So that's the way I was able to get to continue my education. The only problem was the... Reed College was a very liberal college. I think it still has a reputation for being very liberal. But the propaganda and the anger that took place at the time with the start of the war left them furious. So they weren't nearly as friendly with me as they might have been under ordinary circumstances.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LT: Gus, on December 7, 1941, you were a freshman at Reed College in Portland. You attended classes during the day and then you commuted home. On Sunday, December 7th, your father was also a prominent physician in Portland, and he had practiced for twenty years in Old Town, Portland. Your family received a phone call from your father. Can you tell us what he said and what happened afterward?

GT: Well, when we kids woke up that Sunday, Dad was already out of the house making house calls and hospital calls and other things that related to his work. That was his routine Sunday; he never took Sundays off. But he called about, I would guess, close to noontime to tell Mom that there's talk around the hospital that there's, on the radio station, that Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor, and how duplicitous Japan was in doing this. Well, when I heard about it, I felt the same way. Because I don't know if you -- you're too young to remember what was happening at that time -- Cordell Hull was our Secretary of State, and he was meeting almost daily with the Japanese ambassador who was stationed in Washington. And they were meeting almost daily trying to figure out some way to find a peaceful solution to this antagonism that our country and Japan was engaged in. And it looked like there was some hope, because all of a sudden Japan started acting very conciliatory, and they sent another diplomat to help the ambassador work on the issues that kept the two countries apart, and everybody felt good about that. But then when Dad was making his rounds, he says the news is that the Japanese navy has bombed the heck out of Pearl Harbor, they've sunk a lot of our, destroyed our naval ships and so forth. And I thought, well, that's a heck of a deal to lead us into thinking that they were getting serious about a peaceful resolution to our relationship, and then to literally destroy our sea power overnight. And I was just as angry about it as anyone when this word came out.

LT: What happened next at your home?

GT: At my home? Well, my mother was in tears, she didn't know what she was going to do. And the FBI came to the house about two-thirty or three o'clock in the afternoon wanting to see Dad. And he said he was making rounds and seeing patients, but he said he'd be home for dinner by five o'clock. And so they said, "Is he usually pretty regular?" We can count on, when he says five o'clock, he'll be coming home at five. And they said goodbye and left. Well, at five o'clock, this time, instead of two FBI people -- we didn't know who they were, they never identified them the first time, they were well-dressed in suits and so forth -- and this time they came, and there were three of them, and they showed their FBI badge and they said, "Your dad isn't home at five o'clock." I said, "Well, he usually is, we don't know why." Well, what we didn't know was there was another team of FBI people who were waiting until Dad came home, he was putting his car away in the garage, and before he could let us know he was home, they picked him up and took him away.

LT: And this was at what time?

GT: This was about five o'clock. He had made his rounds and he was through for the night, and we were waiting for him to have dinner together, but we never saw him after that, and they wouldn't tell us where he went. That was quite a shock. And my mother was in tears because without him, she wouldn't know how to get along.

LT: What happened at your home then?

GT: What's that?

LT: What happened at your home then?

GT: Well, after five o'clock, they started... they were going to go through your house and find weapons and whatever they suspected people of having. And so first thing they asked me was, "Where are your weapons?" Well, I remember that Dad had a revolver and a box of ammunition stored away in the bottom drawer of his dresser, and we were told never to play with them or anything, but we all knew where it was. We wanted to be cooperative; I brought the... and he says, "Where's the rest?" I said, "What do you mean?" "Where are the rest of your weapons? We know you've got tons of weapons hidden here." And I said, "If there is, I don't know about it." Right away they said, "We'll see." So at that point they said, "We're going to go through your house." And oh, about half hour later, one of the FBI agents came out, and he had an ancient samurai sword, and he shoved it in my face. He said, "You said there were no more weapons in the house." I said, "That's an old three hundred year old, I understand, a three hundred year old artifact of history. And a matter of fact, that's all we regard that. Matter of fact, Dad used to have it hung over the fireplace as an ornament." That's all we regarded it. And the only reason it was in the closet was Dad took it down because he wanted to put it in something that would be more appropriate for the coming Christmas holiday, and that's why it was put away. It wasn't hidden. And says, "Well, we'll see later." And so, but when he saw that samurai sword, he said, "You are a liar. With your explanation of why it was in the closet, we'll take it at your word for now. But be prepared to be taken away with your father when he leaves." And I just, oh my gosh, I was scared enough to wet my pants at this point. But they went through the house and they picked up all sorts of little things. And if you have ever talked to some of the older Issei ladies whose husbands were taken away that night, and for about a month beyond, they were treated very harshly. These people were relatively kind hearted, the way they treated me by comparison. They were pushing ladies apart, and they said the FBI went through the house, they pulled the drawers out of the dressers and dump it out on the floor, kicked the contents around with their feet, and anything that they thought was suspicious, they would pull out and hold as evidence to justify more restrictive treatment of that family. And it was pretty rough at the time.

LT: What items did they take from your home in addition to the ornamental sword and the gun?

GT: Well, they took everything, any photograph that had Asians and Orientals in the photograph. They didn't ask what they were, they just picked them all up, they said they're going to study them later. Anything written, well, we'd written letters back home to her family in Japanese, they would respond, so she had a stack of letters from Japan, they took all those. And she had Japanese newspapers, one was printed in Portland. And she had magazines printed in Japan, they took all those away.

LT: How long did the three FBI agents stay at your house?

GT: Probably two hours. And they... when we heard how, a month later, the reverend was talking more freely about what happened, we were treated very courteously by these people. Because they wrote out a receipt for everything that they took and signed, and believe it or not, took two years after the war ended, but a huge package came. And in the meantime, Dad had moved to Ontario. All this occurred in Portland, but they must have been following him all those years after he was released from imprisonment, he was held and imprisoned in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it was an abandoned... one of those...

LT: It was a detention center? Justice detention center.

GT: And because he was a doctor and the only practicing doctor there, they designated him the camp physician, and it was his duty to give health care to all the other prisoners, and then on occasion take care of, say, one of the employees, guards, cut his hand or something like that, he'd take care of it.

LT: We'll talk about that a little bit later. I want to ask you a few more questions about what occurred, because your mother didn't speak English, you were the eldest of three, you had graduated from high school, and so you were the eldest son, you really took on more roles for your family. How did... without your father at home, with him gone, what roles, what responsibilities, what worries did that give you?

GT: Well, it gave me quite a bit, because I managed not to go to Haverford, I mean, go to Reed College regularly. They had a five-mile limit, and from where I lived to the Reed College campus was a little bit more than five miles.

LT: And you were a freshman at Reed.

GT: Yeah, I was a freshman there. And I had to take a trolley to come to the Thirty-third Street, and then take the cross town bus all the way to the Reed College campus.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

LT: Let's talk about your responsibilities at home, and then we'll talk about Reed. What special roles did this place on you as the eldest son at home with your mother who didn't speak English and your two younger siblings and your father gone?

GT: Well, we did one thing: we contacted this attorney, family attorney. He'd been worried about our family, and he was glad to come. And he asked me and my mother to come down to his office to discuss things. And he gave us a pretty good rundown on our rights and so forth. He says he's convinced that Dad was not an "enemy alien." As a matter of fact, the sad part was that he was actually born in Hawaii, so he was, should have been, his birth should have been recorded at that time and be declared a natural-born American citizen. But his parents obviously had no intention of spending the rest of their life being a plantation laborer, so they never bothered to register his birth there. And so my dad discovered that he was not an American citizen at that time for the first time.

LT: You were not able to visit your father until at least a week later, and that was at the downtown Portland jail.

GT: Yeah.

LT: What do you remember about that, and what did your father say?

GT: Well, he didn't have much to say, except he, of course, asked how we're doing, and were we being harassed, and we told him, no, but we knew what the rules were, that we couldn't be out after five o'clock, out in the street. And as a student, I had to be home by five, which made it difficult because I faced the problem all pre-med students have in college. We have lectures in the morning, then we have labs all afternoon, and then we have to study at night. And when I went to Haverford, they had a different role for me to play. They thought I'd be a good source of information within the student group to tell them what it was like to be an Asian in the three Western states, which I was able to do, but I did not study with them or be assigned dorm rooms reserved for pre-med students. So I didn't get that advantage of the automatic competitiveness to study harder. Because they put me in with history majors, sociology majors, and I was supposed to tell her what was bad about, what was difficult about an Asian, especially a Japanese at the time, living in the coastal states.

LT: Coming back to Reed, you mentioned that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the atmosphere with your peers at Reed College changed.

GT: It did for me. There were, I think there were five or six other Niseis there, had established a good relationship with their classmates. When I got there, and I was a commuter, so I only go there to attend classes and come home when I could. And so I had not established any personal relationship with my classmates, and they were hit with the propaganda that was being put in the newspapers and the radio programs. So I never got a chance to really establish any kind of a positive relationship with my classmates in Reed. So that it wasn't fun for me to be at Reed either, because there was hardly anyone who would bother talking to me, even my classmates, because they were, their mind had been warped by all the propaganda that was appearing in the newspapers and so forth. So having missed a lot of classes, and not being able to stay, in January, I made an appointment to speak to the dean, and I was going to ask permission to withdraw from Reed, because I could never get any kind of grades that would permit me to be accepted to any medical school. And rather than have that over my head, I would rather just drop out of school and I'll be back after the war is over. And he said that was a good thought, because, "We've been worried about you, and we thought you should drop out of school. And what you're suggesting to us is exactly what we thought you should do, where you will not have a bunch of bad grades to have to explain away four or five years later if you still wanted to go to medical school while your grades were not good, that that would not reflect your intentions."

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LT: There were certainly a lot of things coming down for you and your family as your father was taken away, you were having difficulties with relationships with others, there was skepticism as you say in the media about Japanese citizens and Japanese Americans. And then in May of 1942, Japanese Americans along the West Coast were moved to temporary assembly centers. And your father was still detained in prison, but you and your mother and your brother and sister were sent to the Portland Assembly Center, which used to be the livestock yards. And so you had to make arrangements to, for your furnishings, for your home, for your father's office, and then you moved to the assembly center. And there was an incident when you were thinking about your future, and you were talking to a friend of yours, and you were walking together along the fence. Can you recall what it looked like, what you were discussing, and what happened?

GT: I remember that episode. The fellow I was chatting with was Hide Tomita. And I didn't know him before the evacuation. He and I applied for a job working as aides in the camp hospital. It wasn't much of a hospital, but they had, were able to... among the internees, there was one, two practicing MDs, and two or three medical students at the medical school in Portland. And Hide and I just applied just to be lowly patient aides to clean, pick up bedpans and those kind of things, menial things. But we got to be pretty good friends there, and we used to spend a lot of time. And we were talking about being released. He had a tentative release from a college, I can't remember the name of the college, but someplace in the Midwest that he had clearance from the college to continue his pre-medical education.

I had already recently been given permission from the University of Minnesota, the president was responding to a letter that Reed College had sent seeking permission for me to transfer there. And I got a nice letter from that president, and about five days later, he sent me a very sad report that the commanding general of the Area Defense Command would not approve my presence on the University of Minnesota campus. And the reason was that the army had just granted the Aeronautic Research Institute at Minnesota to work on the development of jet-powered pursuit planes. Now, Germany already had planes, and they were shooting, by that time, they had virtually overtaken France, and Spain was yet to recover from their rebellion, remember, they, that was a time when they had a royal family, which was not in favor there. So Spain was being reorganized by the rebels, and it didn't look like if France was completely beaten, that England would be the only major country left to stand up against Germany.

LT: So because of the project to test the planes, you were unable to attend the University of Minnesota.

GT: That's right. But they said, "If the war is over, please consider yourself as having an acceptance." But the irony was that when I... when the draft status of the Niseis changed, they made me 1-A, young male eligible for service in the army. And so I... I think it was in '43 that this happened, and I was sent down to Florida, and my basic training was with an all-Nisei outfit. You might have... you're too young, but you might have heard about this. So when our training ended, we were all standing in an assembly area and ready to ship out. We were told if your name was called out, they'll tell you which bus to board. And so we were standing there, and everybody's name was called out except mine. And I was at parade rest, which is a formal... and I was just temped to yell out, "Hey, how about me?" Because even the people who were running this program started getting into the jeeps and driving away. And I thought, by military standards, if they indeed forgot and all drove away, I'd still have to stand there at parade rest. And about that time, a young lieutenant came and said, "You may wonder why you're not being sent overseas with your fellow trainees. We're sending you to the University of Minnesota." And I said, "My gosh, do I get to go to medical school?" He said, "Sorry, you're going to go there to study something about Japan."

LT: So that happened later on. Let me bring you back to Portland Assembly Center, because you and Hideto Tomita were contemplating your futures, and at that time, you had just heard from the University of Minnesota that you would not be able to attend because of the pilot testing by the air force. So you and Hideto Tomita were discussing this and you were walking at the Portland Assembly Center deep in thought. What happened?

GT: At the camp?

LT: At the Portland Assembly Center.

GT: Yeah. Well, they had watchtowers, and just a lot... about fifty feet away was this tower on the outside of the barbed wire fence. And they had a machine gun, thirty-caliber water cooled machine gun. And I looked up, that thing was pointed right at me, and the assistant gunner was threading the belt of ammunition into the thing. And he cocked it, and all they had to do was pull the trigger, I'd have been a dead duck by this time. But fortunately I looked up enough to, at the time, they were at that stage when a guy was talking through a loudspeaker to get away from the fence. They had a rule that we could not get closer than five feet from the heavily wired fence, and we were actually walking right next to the fence. And then, so they yelled at us to get away from the fence or you'll be dead. And so we saw that, and we yelled, "Don't shoot." So we ran into that huge building where we were placed. Anyway...

LT: What were your thoughts at that point?

GT: Well, I thought I was lucky that things worked out the way they did, because if we hadn't heard the guy yelling to us through the loudspeaker, we'd both be shot dead right on the spot. But that's wartime.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LT: So by late fall of 1942, you had gained clearance to attend college. And because you were not able to attend the University of Minnesota, because of the air force pilot project, you went to another college.

GT: Yes. That was Haverford College. It's a unique college. It was established shortly after the Civil War by a group of Quakers, and the Quakers have a moral position in regard to shooting fellow men in military combat. And while they had no objection to serving in the army or navy, whatever, as long as they did not, were not placed in a position where they would shoot and kill another human, they had no objection to people serving. Actually, during World War II, they did not come down too hard on the fellows who took part in the shooting aspect of the war, but they continued to remind them that it's a sin. When I was... of course, when the war, in time the war ended, and I was sent to Japan, that was actually academic.

LT: And actually, I think I'll ask you about that later, if that's okay.

GT: Yeah.

LT: On August 3, 1941, when you turned eighteen, you registered for the draft as a requirement of an American citizen, and you were classified 4-C. What did that mean, and how did you feel about that?

GT: Well, because it clearly said we were "enemy aliens" and we were not aliens. And they had much to do to try to prove that we were enemies by intent, but it was a poorly worded designation. And when I was so classified, I was bent out of shape. I was angry and so forth. I was an American citizen, and I should not be so designated. But it was explained that it was an awkward arrangement done in a hurry, you will not be treated entirely like an "enemy alien." And they said, "Look what's happening. You're applying to be able to attend the college back east. If you were truly an enemy alien, hell, you would not be released." That convinced me that this was an administrative awkwardly worded thing and I should not take personal offense at it.

LT: Well, two years later, in fact, when you were a junior at Haverford College, your status changed from "enemy alien" to 1-A.

GT: Yes.

LT: And you were ordered to report to the nearest army induction center during the summer of 1944. And you mentioned that you went to basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, and you were the one Japanese American, the one Nisei, who took a series of tests and was assigned to the Army Specialized Training Unit, the (ASTP). What was the responsibility that you had with (ASTP)?

GT: I'm not familiar with those, that designation. But when I was... when I was in basic training, they would periodically pull me out of the field where we were training to be infantry soldiers, and they would pull me out and drag me into the headquarters section. And I would be asked to take some examinations, and they would not explain why, what this was for. I would say that there were about thirty other GIs from the camp that were there to take the same examination. Now -- and I was only Nisei in that bunch -- now, what they apparently did was they looked at the individuals' record and looked to see if they had a background that might be identified so that we might be able to serve in a country more effectively other just being assigned as an infantryman, and shoot to kill or be killed. And so they sent me to the University of Minnesota, which I thought was kind of odd because the army objected two years earlier because they didn't want any "Jap spies" on the campus. And there they were. And would you believe that when I got there, the army had just received a batch of, I think about three hundred of us assigned to this ASTP unit to study about Japan. And we were told that we would learn about their history, their industry, geography, everything you, they wanted us know about Japan and Japanese so that we could perhaps help them live a life other than preparing for war, which seemed to be Japan's only ambitions ever since the turn of the century.

And so anyway, we took these exams. These exams were in different fields. One time they called us in, they wanted to examine this world history. They wanted, another one about geography of the world, the types of government and so forth. And then was, but they would never tell us what it was all about. But we found that when they called me out, they said I'm going to the University of Minnesota, they said that I had taken a number of tests and I remember that. But they had thought that they would take advantage. And I was the only Nisei in that whole program at the University of Minnesota.

LT: And I understand that this was a two-year program. But, in fact, after the a-bombs ended the war in August 1945, the army closed that program, which was intended to support Japan. And you ended up working with the army of occupation in the 4th Infantry Regiment at Osaka Business School.

GT: Yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

LT: And so you taught a self-improvement course, and you also taught orientation sessions on history of war. And before you were preparing to leave to come back to the States, you were involved in some situations that caused you to think that, in your words, "I could not avoid getting into hot water with the military system." Can you explain what happened during the final inspection when you and the other soldiers were participating in a training march?

GT: Okay. I had been informed that I was eligible for release unless I chose to sign up for reenlistment. And I told them that I would prefer to be released so I could continue my education to become a doctor, and I would not turn down this opportunity if it was extended to me. So I was just sitting around the post with really nothing to do. Then we were then informed that the Inspector General of the 25th Division was sending someone to the 10th Corps, which was the next major breakdown of the organization to inspect the 4th Infantry Regimental facility while the commanding officer of the 4th Infantry Regiment just went bonkers. Because his facility was the campus of the Osaka Commercial College, and it was not built like a military post, and they had to convert classrooms into barracks where we slept, and they had modified all the buildings to use as they needed to, and it looked like anything but a military post. And the officer in charge of the 4th Infantry Regiment just knew that his future would be shot. Because he had some ambitions of spending the rest of his career as an army officer.

LT: So he made a decision about how you would spend your time then.

GT: Yes. He wanted all the idle individuals to be out of sight. So he said, "You are going to be assigned to a special group," and that special group turned out to be about a hundred fifty to two hundred soldiers without assignment. They were just standing around waiting to be transferred so they could go home and be released and so forth. And they didn't want those people around.

So we went on a, quote, "training march," and we walked up along the narrow river that ran past this commercial college. And we walked about five, six miles, and then we crossed the river, across a half bombed-out bridge that was partially destroyed before the surrender. And then we were walking down the other side of the thing when the alarm, siren went off. The understanding was that when the inspector general visitation ended and they left the area, they would sound the old air raid siren that was on the roof of the commercial college and let us know when we could all come back to camp. And we happened to be right directly across the river from this. And the sergeant who was in charge of us wasn't happy about being selected to take us on this hike, the guy's assignment. But he said, "Let's cross over and we'll be back in our place in about fifteen minutes." Well, as I was taking off my shoes, I said, "Sarge, this area, the whole bank is black with periwinkle shells." They're little snail-like things about like this, all about the same size, and a tight spiral, cone-shaped shells. And, of course, these were, they were all dead. They said, and then when you look at the fact that they were all dead, there's another parasite that will attack these called schistosoma. And so if you get in the river, you'll be bitten by schistosoma, and it'll get into your bloodstream and wind up in the liver, and you'll die of untreatable cirrhosis of the liver. So he said, "What the hell are you saying? Where'd you get this information?" I said, "I'm sorry, but I studied four years ago, and when I was in college, the biology professor..." Said, "You're going to listen to all those dumb professors?" And I said, "I'm sorry, but it was taught as a fact, and I just happened to remember it." And said, "Well, we'll see what happens." He says, "You're being charged by a court martial offense." I said, "What for?" "The charge will be inciting the troops to rebellion. And you'll lose all your benefits, you'll even lose your citizenship. You won't get any of the benefits of the veterans and so forth, you'll lose your right to vote." That's all I got. "That's terrible," I said. "Well, it is, but you caused it." I said, "By doing what?" By telling this to the troops, and now half of them are refusing to cross this river." Well, and all the way home, this sergeant decided that there are too many people opposed to it, and that you better march back up and around. And all the time he kept saying, "Once we get back, your life isn't worth a damn. And then any good things in your records will be wiped out and you'll be essentially a man without a country."

LT: So what was the consequence for you?

GT: What was the consequence?

LT: What happened then? Was there a punishment afterward?

GT: Well, we got home to our headquarters, and we were told to get out of our marching fatigues and get into our regular dress uniform and get ready for dinner. And about this time, a young private from Headquarters Company said, "I'm looking for Private Tanaka." And I said, "I'm here." He says, "You're ordered to report to the regimental medical officer immediately." So I thought, "Oh, my god." So anyway, I went to the medical staff building, and there was a first lieutenant, and this was obviously the first duty assignment he'd ever -- he was more of a doctor than an army man. And he said, "I understand you caused a bit of a hassle out there." I said, "I didn't mean to, I just mentioned this, and I didn't riot anybody. As a matter of fact, I was ready to jump into the water and cross." "Well, that's what I understand. But to tell you the truth, when they told me what you said that caused this thing, I couldn't remember enough about it, but I looked in the manuals and still couldn't decide. I called the 10th Corps medical thing, and they weren't quite sure either, but they said that he ought to be given a chance to defend himself." So the word came down that I was going to be questioned by the 10th Corps medical officers. Now, 10th Corps, that's the high-ups. They don't treat patients there. They're the generals and the colonels, they're mostly administrative people. So they make the big decisions. He said, well, this medical officer for this regiment said, "I couldn't remember anything about this, so I'll have to send a report up to them suggesting that you not be charged." Now, they apparently read everything over, and they decided that they were not going to charge me with a court martial offense, but they never passed it on to me. And for a whole week, I kept thinking that someone's going to come around and tell me that, to come with them, and they'd stick me in the stockade, but it never happened.

LT: Were there any consequences or any punishments at all for you then?

GT: I thought that was punishment enough, to spend a week or ten days waiting for something to happen.

LT: Did the sergeant do anything to you?

GT: Well, he made a point of running into me every day and saying, "Gosh, what are you doing out here? You should be in the stockade," and kept rubbing it in. And even when the day came that I was supposed to report to go to the ship to take me back to Seattle to be discharged, it was kept away from me. They kept rubbing it in. And the train, most of the guys in my group, my company, every time they would see me, they'd say, "Hey, you still around?" They just made life miserable for me at that point.

LT: Now, you had a few extra duties that last day, too? A few extra duties that last day?

GT: Oh, yeah. The most demeaning thing is by this time, the army was trying to relieve the enlisted men from doing menial things like cleaning toilets and cleaning up the camp, which was hard to take care of because it was not built to be an army camp, it was a college. But they had started a program in which they would hire Japanese civilians to come and do that kind of work, and then relieve the military men from that kind of menial duty. And so...

LT: So the sergeant meted some duties, extra duties to you that last day?

GT: Yeah. He kept assigning me, and then having other men come back and see me working with the Japanese civilian laborers cleaning toilets and so forth, and they were taught to tease me, saying that, I guess, "Once a Jap, always a Jap. Can't be trusted." [Laughs] It was terrible.

LT: And as it turns out, they did investigate the river.

GT: Yes.

LT: And found that what you had conveyed was correct.

GT: I guess it was, yeah. As a matter of fact, they had to send officers from the 10th Corps down to do the research, and they found everything I said was true.

LT: What does it do to someone to try to convey the correct information and then have others come back and...

GT: Tease you about it?

LT: ...punish you for speaking out?

GT: Well, by this time, we were pretty well trained about the military systems. And I felt that I won, and all this other stuff actually never got on the record, it was all talk.

LT: Did this have an effect on what you considered when you thought about speaking out later on?

GT: What's that?

LT: When you faced other similar situations later on, did that affect whether you spoke out again?

GT: No, I guess I... well, when I was in Seattle, the sergeant who was processing my discharge said, "You know, how would you like to join the reserves? You'd advance one grade higher to join the army reserve." I said, "You know, I'd like to turn that offer down. I've had enough of the army, and if we have another war, maybe I'll have a better experience." He said, "Like what?" I said, "I'm interested in becoming a doctor, and as a doctor there, I hope that they would treat me a little differently than the infantry. I think I'll take my chances by turning down your offer." He said, "Well, but what you have to do is two weeks out of the year, you'll be asked to report to one of the facilities and review what the infantryman should know." I said, "I'll take my chances."

LT: Thank you.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 9>

LT: Well, after the war you were able to continue your studies at Haverford, and you earned your Bachelor of Arts in 1945. Then you went to Long Island College of Medicine in Brooklyn, and eventually earned your medical degree from the State University of New York. And then in 1951 you began your internship at Kings County Hospital. You married Teddy, whose family was from Ontario, Oregon, and after you completed your residency at Kings County Hospital, you and Teddy and your three children decided to come back to Oregon to practice. And your father had chosen not to practice in Portland, and you all began in Ontario, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon. Can you tell me how you and your father decided not to return to Portland and not to practice in your hometown?

GT: Well, I must say that the circumstances which caused us to have to leave Portland in the first place was somewhat traumatic and hard to forget, that they didn't want us there. And it never occurred to me to think much about when I returned to Portland after it was all over. As a matter of fact, the longer I stayed back east, the more I more or less assumed that I would be spending the rest of my life back east and not come west. And so my mindset was a little bit skewed to do exactly what I did. Sometimes when people look at how doctors locate and where they decide to practice and so forth, sometimes they feel they're colored by how good they are as a doctor. And if a doctor goes someplace to get his education and stays away for a while and then shows up in a small village, that he probably wasn't good enough to survive practicing. That isn't true at all; many things happen. Now, you don't know the situation here in Ontario, but...

LT: And actually, before we talk about Ontario, could you talk about why you chose not to locate in Portland first and then we'll move to Ontario?

GT: Well, I felt that I had no friends in Portland that I could identify to help me. And the fact that there were no overtures from anybody to, for me to even think about practicing in Portland...

LT: And what about your father?

GT: My father?

LT: Uh-huh. What about his returning to Portland?

GT: He went to return to Portland and he found nothing but ice cold chill. He called a lot of his doctor friends that he used to practice with and so forth, they were either too busy to talk to him, or if they did, they didn't have very nice things to give any encouragement. When it looked like my dad was going to need help, he started putting pressure on me to join him in practice. It was not my desire or in my plans. I felt that I would probably stay in the east, preferably in an academic situation, spend the rest of my career. I had given up all thoughts of ever having to return to the west. And when I discussed this with people around here, my new family doctor, Teddy's also, is Dr. Fred Stark. And he came here... how long has it been? [Addressing Teddy] Did he come after we... Fred Stark. Well, anyway, there's a feeling that doctors who move and practice in a small hick town must not be very good. But I'll tell you about Dr. Stark. Dr. Stark was an internist and surgeon in the army, and he was practicing in this, he was assigned to this military hospital in San Francisco. And he... and I don't know what his rank was, but he had to be high up. In an organization like the army, the higher up you go, the less contact you have with your skills, you become an administrator and so forth. Well, in order to gain, not lose his skill taking care of sick people, he took a cut in pay to spend a certain percentage of his time taking care of sick people. As a matter of fact, when President Eisenhower became President of the United States, he was in the White House and he developed a severe bellyache and he wasn't doing well. And he said, "You guys aren't solving my problem." They said, "We were worried about this, too. The whole country is worried about it." He said, "Why don't you get me a good consultant?" Says, "Who do you have in mind?" Said, "Do you have someone in mind?" Says, "Yeah, get me Stark." So they flew him to Washington, D.C. (Narr. note: When talking to Dr. Stark recently, he said he consulted Eisenhower at Walter Reed hospital shortly after he had finished his presidency.)

LT: From Ontario?

GT: What?

LT: From Ontario?

GT: Yeah. No, no, that was at the White House, and recommended a treatment, and sure enough, Eisenhower recovered and they flew him back. Now, that same doctor is now practicing here in Ontario, and is currently my personal doctor and Teddy's personal doctor, and he's got more brains than most people, five people have, and so forth.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

LT: So you and Teddy and your three children, Maja, John, and Susie, joined your father and mother in Ontario. You live with them, and you also opened the Tanaka Clinic on January 2, 1959?

GT: Is that it? Yeah.

LT: So how did being Japanese affect your professional practice here in Ontario, Oregon?

GT: You know, it's hard to say. But I felt that I was seeing significantly fewer Japanese patients than I originally expected. But I was so busy with my practice, it really didn't matter. And my associations were more with the Caucasians, probably because that's the way I grew up back east. I had developed virtually no significant new friends of Japanese origin when I was back east. As a matter of fact, you would think that I was Jewish by choice.

LT: And then for your father to return from the Santa Fe detention camp and find that other doctors in Portland, and even the two hospitals where he had privileges before were not accepting, which prompted his desire to come to Ontario, did he feel that he had a thriving practice here, being a Japanese American in Ontario?

GT: I don't think he was all that busy, but he was busy enough. And a matter of fact, a lot of his patients he was seeing here in Ontario, he took care of before the war in the Portland area. And as he got older, he realized that he was starting to fail professionally, so he wouldn't hesitate asking Dr. Jim Elanagan, who was one of our associates on our team, or myself, to see the patient in consultation. And oftentimes he'd just say, talk to the patient, and say that he would like to refer that patient to us to take care of.

LT: Well, you have a long medical career in Ontario as well as in Oregon. And looking at the list of honors and awards and affiliations that you have, it's very extensive. Could you identify one professional or community responsibility or activity that you participated in that had a lot of meaning for you, and explain? There were so many, but I'm going to ask you choose just one.

GT: Well... I guess I must have too modest an opinion of myself. Teddy just whispered that I became president of the Oregon Medical Association, and I was appointed by the governors, one Democrat, one Republican, to appoint me to state commissions and so forth. I think in many ways I was more widely known down in the Willamette Valley than back here at home. But I just figured that most of these just come as a natural consequence of working hard. I personally don't think I did that much good, but maybe I did.

LT: You continued to be asked back. You served with the Oregon State Board of Medical Examiners (two terms, 1974-1986) and as president of the Oregon Medical Association from (1971-1972). You were involved in so many organizations, you were named Outstanding Doctor by the Oregon Foundation for Medical Excellence; you were named the Nisei of the Biennium in 1994 by the Snake River JACL. The list of commendations goes on and on.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

LT: But I'd like to ask you now to reflect on your professional and your community career as well as some of the experiences that you had, not just growing up, but as an adult as well. And the first question is, thinking about the war, taking on responsibility as the elder son after Pearl Harbor was bombed, going to school, college, serving in the military, being classified as an "enemy alien," losing some of your rights, spending time at the assembly center, and one month at Minidoka. How do you think your wartime experiences affected your sense of being a Japanese American?

GT: I find that difficult to respond to. First of all, I tried in every way possible to avoid the feeling that I was being picked upon, and that I regarded myself as part of the country. Well, look at this. I still feel like I'm an American, and I want everybody to know it, and so when things come up that's a little, maybe demeaning to me, I reject it and I put it on the back burner and makes me work harder to try to prove that I am American. And I feel grateful for the opportunities been given me, and I recognize that I've been recognized in many ways. I prefer to feel that none of this has come about because of some greatness within me. I don't think I'm particularly smarter than anybody and so forth. I try to be conscientious. I do take an honest concern about other people's illnesses, and work as hard as I can to get them better.

LT: There are some who don't know what happened during World War II, and there are other generations who are just learning. What should young people especially know and learn about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II? If you could tell them what messages, what lessons there are, what should they learn?

GT: I think that it would be, well, for them to know what happened to some of us or all of us as a result of the war. But I would like to emphasize that it was a combination of a mature response by Nisei organizations during the war, and feeding back to the membership of the Niseis and now Sanseis, Yonseis, the heritage that was left by us and living with all these challenges that did indeed take place, but we're not going to let that create any sense of bitterness, but some pride in the fact that we did manage to come through this thing in relatively good shape, and we did not add to any real racism or criticism of the Niseis, and more recently, the Sanseis. So I think that there's enough positive things to be taught our children and grandchildren and beyond, that there's nothing to be ashamed of being of Japanese origin in this country. We still have a reputation of having the lowest per capita prisoners, that our conviction rate in our daily living is one of the finest in the country bar none. That's a lot to be proud of. And I think that recognizing that as a fact, and keeping it pretty much to yourself, you don't brag about these things to other people. But organizations such as JACL and some of these groups might, from time to time, point out that we have a distinction of being hard workers, that we help the country in more ways than oftentimes given credit for, that we can set the standard of everyday living, avoidance of getting into trouble with the law and so forth, there's a lot to be proud of. You don't have to brag about it, but I think that these things will be of some good generally speaking, not only for us, but for the country, too. That the people then start thinking about, that it's important not to be a group of people known for criminal activity, that we fill the jails up for various offenses and so forth.

LT: Speaking of pride, in 2010, Congress honored Nisei, Japanese American veterans, with the Congressional Gold Medal, and you're definitely a part of that.

GT: I guess. They had just the symbol of the thing, because I think it took more than just those people to create the image of patriotism and good citizenship. And it's true. You don't have to brag about it, but I think when it comes right down to it, there's more to be, as Americans, be proud of how the Niseis and more recently the Sanseis have shown the elements of good citizenship, and we can be modestly proud.

LT: How did it feel to you to be recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal?

GT: Well, I don't know. I never received the Congressional Gold Medal, but I think it should create modest pride, nothing to brag about, but to continue living, and to point out, when the opportunity arises, the importance of what it takes to be a good citizen.

LT: One last question for you: what's important in life?

GT: What's important in life? Well, I think that life itself is a challenge. You hope that you go through life without serious illness, you hope that you don't have any bad injuries that might have to compromise the path that you would like to choose. I think most of us would like to be well-thought of by general people. And how does one live with that? Recognize it for what it is, and don't be boastful or become arrogant and try ever harder to become, to be better citizens in life. I think that's the most... and then hopefully raise the point that this country would be so much stronger if everyone were to take that attitude.


LT: So, Gus, one last question. You practiced medicine for thirty-five years in Ontario, Oregon. And you retired in 1993, so it's been twenty years since you retired. You're now ninety-one.

GT: I'll be ninety-one in August.

LT: Okay. So how have you spent the twenty years since you retired, and what is your belief about how one can and should retire?

GT: Well, I think people have a general right to expect to enjoy their, quote, "free time." It doesn't mean that they're going to have to take a trip around the world or anything, but perhaps spend more time with their kids, the grandkids, and so forth. If one is asked to serve in various committees, or like Teddy says, I gave a lot of my time to our community college, helped with our fundraising, to improve some of their structure so that it met standards and expectations of the scholarship. And even now, I stay close to the officers. I don't know if you've met Cathy Yasuda, she's one of the gals that spent a lot of time in education and has helped give the Niseis a good name. We have, I have a sister-in-law, Sharon Wada, she has served on more boards, commissions and things that most people would care to try to remember, and she's very modest in her attitudes about doing things, she doesn't brag about it.

LT: So it sounds like you've given back a lot to the community? What does this service do for you?

GT: It doesn't do anything. I just figure that whatever you do, it's part of life itself. It would be more cause for embarrassment to think that you didn't respond adequately. It seems to be, to me, part of life itself to continue doing what you can.

LT: Thank you very much.

GT: What's that?

LT: Thank you very much.

GT: Oh, you're welcome.

LT: Thank you for all that you've done.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.