Densho Digital Repository
JACL Philadelphia Oral History Collection
Title: William Marutani Interview
Narrator: William Marutani
Interviewer: Herbert J. Horikawa
Location: Medford, New Jersey
Date: October 23, 1994
Densho ID: ddr-phljacl-1-14-7

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HH: Are there certain kind of situations or circumstances that still stand out in your mind, things that you heard or reviewed while you were on the commission?

WM: Yeah. The things that, generally speaking, the thing that struck me was the fact that -- I have to back up and give a little bit of background -- in my time and growing up, I knew that families, if you had someone in that family who was mentally depleted, shall I say, and incompetent, you never let the public know. If your daughter or brother or whatever it is had tuberculosis or some kind of communicable disease, you never let the community know. If you're broke, you don't let 'em know. You don't do, let the community know anything that might be regarded as shameful. But I was astounded that at the commission hearings, people would appear and testify about their sister or mother being in a mental institution and how it impacted them. How his sister was stricken with tuberculosis at the time in 1942, and was unable to move out of the hospital and join the so-called "evacuation," "ejection." And that still sticks in my mind, why did they do this? They didn't have to tell it, but they did. They opened up their hearts and just said whatever was true. Some of them sat in the audience and just tears streaming down our eyes. I guess getting rid of the poison, perhaps, that they felt. Having the Issei testify, and they're telling their story of how the uprooting affected them, and how their dignity was destroyed. Now, I was also ejected, so I know what the facts were. I, several times, wished while I was sitting on the commission, I wish I didn't know that what they were telling me was true, because it wouldn't hit me in the gut so much, as hard as it did. And there were times when I choked up, I really did. I got a knot in my throat to try to keep from crying, to let the tears well up. Well, in my culture and yours too, generally everybody's, men don't cry. It's a sign of weakness to cry. And here I was constantly on the verge of tears, tears welling up, and hoping that nobody saw them. And I spent all the time just with this knot in my throat that it began to hurt, it really hurt.

I was also outraged at some of the steps that the politicians took, the way they toyed with our people, with Nikkei residing in the United States. We saw a memo signed in the government archives that in 1943, June of 1943, May or June, the government finally decided and issued a memo that there was no further excuse. "We have no excuse as to hold these people in camps." That's in '43. Did they do anything about it? No. The following spring, May or June of '44, they keep those last two digits in mind, '44. They finally let President Roosevelt know that, "Really, Mr. President, we've decided, we conclude that there's no excuse for keeping these people in camps," and yet nothing was done until December, I believe, 17th of 1944 when they announced the closing of the camps. And I asked myself, "Why? Why?" You have to remember, 1944 is an election year. Roosevelt was running for reelection, what was it, his fourth term now? And the memo indicated that maybe he would rather delay the announcement until after the elections. And you know, mentally and psychologically, I hit the roof on it. How dare these people, my country, the politicians play pawn with Japanese Americans and my parents? How dare they use them as a pawn, political pawn, to make sure that one man would be reelected for his third term? That's outrageous, incomprehensible, completely contrary to everything that's American, or should be American.

HH: And that was, but back as far as the internment was concerned, how about on the process with the commission? What kind of political maneuvering did you encounter with your findings and trying to do things with the findings and trying to do things with the findings that they had?

WM: Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. Let me back up a little bit. When one of the first reports were issued by our draftspeople on the commission, I looked at the report, I got it in Philadelphia, and then we had a commission meeting down in Washington, D.C. And I couldn't believe what that person had written, that all the trains on which we were shipped had, each car had a nurse. I don't think there was a nurse on that entire train, certainly no doctors, and so on and so on. And when I went to the commission meeting, it was everything I could do to contain myself. I said, "Where did you get this drivel?" I did not use the term "drivel." I asked the person who had drafted it, a young woman who was there, I said, "Where did you get the material in your facts to draft this?" And she said, "I got it from General DeWitt's Final Report." And I thought, oh god, terrible. But getting back to your other question about were there politics involved, if there was, I saw very little of it.

HH: Thank you for that point.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.