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Tessaku

Richard Yamashiro - Part 2

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Can we get your parents names and then your sister’s name?

My mother’s name was Tomiko. And my father’s name was Eiro. My sister’s name was Lillian, Yoshiko. It’s another thing. My mom when she registered me for school it was my Japanese name. My English name wasn’t even included. Yeah so all through my childhood, I was Eiichi Yamashiro. And try to go to school and have the teacher call the roll.

MS (Michael Sera): So when did you pick up Richard?

After camp. Yeah I go, this is too much. So I changed my name to Richard E. Yamashiro.

MS: So you always had Richard as a name.

Yeah, it’s my middle name. I just switched it.

But in camp I would assume everyone would be okay calling you Eiichi.

Yeah, but you know, we had Caucasian teachers. And they couldn’t say Eiichi

So at the time of the Executive Order, when that came out, what did your family have to do to prepare for that?

Well, my dad had to get rid of his business. I think that was really hard for him ’cause he worked so hard. I didn’t realize this until I was much older but that was the hardest thing for him. And that made him kind of bitter, too. Because he felt, that’s why he took me back to Japan. He says, “I want to go back to my own country, where this will never happen to me again.” And I didn’t understand that at that time because I said, “Dad, I don’t want to go to Japan because that’s your country, not my country. I was born and raised here.” He said he didn’t care. So him and me became, we were at odds for a long time, you know, ’cause I didn’t go to Japan. But at 16 I didn’t have a choice, I was a minor.

Yeah, and my mom, she was busy sorting things out and trying to sell stuff. But it was horrible. I remember people coming in and offering peanuts for your stuff. I don’t know if mom did it but I remember some people who had these Japanese dish sets, they’d take them in the back and they’d break them all into pieces ’cause they don’t want to sell it for. But my mom had enough sense to take all the family pictures and stuff and bring it with us.

So she didn’t burn anything.

No she didn’t burn. I don’t think she could do it ’cause that had a lot of memories for her. So, my son has an album or I would’ve brought it and showed you.

And did your Dad’s business have a name?

No it was in a store. Yeah. And he ran the fruit and vegetable part of it. The other guy had a grocery part.

Where was that located?

Hollywood. On Sunset Boulevard.

When you actually had to leave for camp, did you go to an assembly center

No. See, my uncle lived by the Hollywood Bowl. And so we had an option of going with him, or him going with us. And they said that his group would go straight to Manzanar. Our group would go to Santa Anita. And she says, “Oh, I don’t want to move twice.” And so opted to go with him straight to Manzanar, which was smart.

I don’t remember the date, but I remember they put us on a bus, Greyhound bus and pulled the shades down so people wouldn’t see us, I guess or I don’t know. I couldn’t understand why we had to pull the shades down. You know whether they didn’t want people see us or they didn’t want us to see them.

What was the mood like for your family at this time?

Well, my dad was kind of upset. My mom was, but she kinda — you know the Japanese gaman and you know, all that stuff.

And your sister at this time, how old is she?

She’s two years older than me. But she didn’t say anything. She’s just the quiet type.

Did you communicate with your parents mostly in English or did you speak Japanese?

Half and half. My mom was speaking English and all of a sudden she’d switched to Japanese back to English. You know, she couldn’t just say something she would tell me in Japanese. I’ll tell you something funny. When I was in the army, she used to write me letters and I’m reading the letter and all of a sudden I go like this [Richard motions turning paper clockwise]. And my friends are saying, “What are you doing?” I says, “Well, my mom starts off in English and then when she gets stuck she writes in Japanese so I gotta tip it over like this” [laughs].

So did you grow up pretty much bilingual? Did you speak Japanese?

Oh, yeah. They made us go to Japanese school. That was the routine for the Japanese who were living around there because they sent all their kids to Japanese school. And I used to hate it because Saturday we had to spend all day at Japanese school. And all the other kids are playing and I’m getting on the bus going to Japanese school. And Japanese school was like Japan, you know with the ruler and stuff? I hated it, but you know, didn’t have a choice. But it kind of helped to learn Japanese ’cause it came in handy later when we went to Japan. But I’m starting to forget most of my Japanese because I have nobody to talk to now. I have nobody to talk to because for me, my mom was alive. I could talk to her, when my mother-in-law was alive, I could talk to her. When I worked at Hewlett Packard I had a bunch of Japanese war brides and I could talk to them. My kids don’t speak Japanese.

How many kids do you have?

I have three boys. I always wanted a girl, which I never got. And my youngest son got married and he gave me three granddaughters. My granddaughters are something else.

So going into Manzanar, what were some of the most vivid memories that you have of actually arriving and seeing the landscape?

You know when you get there you think wow, what a desolate place in the middle of the desert. And the experience of going through the barbed wire fence and having a guard towers there was something else. For a young kid you think, what am I doing here?

So it was shocking.

It was shocking! You know, I’m not used to living in a barbed wire compound with guard towers, with weapons pointed at you. But like I said, I got used to it. I even snuck out [laughs].

When did you start doing that?

It was probably about a year. Probably about a year or two later.

Do you remember your block and your barrack?

Yeah. Block 34. Building five. I think it was “A.”

Rows of barracks in Manzanar

What did you do on some of those first days? You were all with your parents, how did you kind of manage to live in the barrack?

It was kind of hard because when we first got to Manzanar, they were short of barracks. And so they stuck us in this room with another family, just one of the little rooms and then they put a blanket in between, and there’s four of us and three of them, because that was the first baby born in Manzanar. It was something else.

And then had to get used to going to the bathroom. And I think it was hard for my mom because they’re not used to going out there and they have four or five commodes all lined up. And you just sit there with your neighbor, you know? Guys, you get used to it. But I think my mom and them had a hard time with that. You’re taking a community shower, you know. That didn’t bother me.

Yeah for the women it was harder.

Yeah I think for the women it was difficult. A lot of them had the chamba because in Manzanar it snowed. And if you wanted to go to the bathroom you had to get out of the barracks and walk down to the bathroom. So that became a common thing. That was hard on my parents, I think. My mom.

Absolutely.

It was tough. They could at least put partitions but no, it’s just commodes lined up.

Very dehumanizing.

Very, very much.

Did your parents end up working in camp?

Richard and his sister in Manzanar. This photo was taken by Sadao Munemori, famed 442nd RCT soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously after saving two of his comrades in battle.

In Manzanar my father became a policeman. So I couldn’t get into trouble [laughs]. And my mother, I think she worked in the mess hall. I’m not sure, most of the people worked in a mess hall, so. [But] yeah he became a policeman. So I had to behave myself. And they had cars, but mostly with the American security people, we still had security people in there that drove around. I had a picture, but I don’t know what happened to it. But Sadao [Munemori, Medal of Honor recipient] took a picture of my mom and my dad. My dad had the policeman’s uniform on. My dad had a thing for uniforms.

He just wanted to kind of get involved in the community?

I guess, I guess. You know, he’s from Okinawa so he knew karate and stuff, too. I don’t know why he became a cop.

And he got paid for that, right?

Yeah. You know, the professionals got $19 and the workers got $16. And I worked at Manzanar and I got part-time, you know.

What did you do?

I was a busboy in the hospital. You know, I wanted to do something. And you heard of the big Manzanar riot? Well this is right after the riot, I got the job there.

So what do you remember about that?

I remember how it started because they first of all somebody got beat up, this guy from JACL. He got beat up at home because the people - what do you call those people - the hardcore Japanese people. They said he was an inu [dog] so they went to his house and beat him up. And the police arrested some people I don’t know if they got the right people, but they stuck ’em in a jail, down below. And they had a big meeting in the fire break at night. And since there’s no street lights or anything, you know, it’s pitch dark.

I don’t know who called the meeting. I remember we went because we’re curious and people started saying this guy is an inu, this guy’s an inu and they knew where he lived and all that. And at the end, they said, okay we’re going to divide up and we’re gonna go over to these places and beat them up. And in the meantime, the security people got all the names and addresses and went around and picked them all up because they had cars. So they didn’t find anybody. So they said, "Well, the guy that got originally beat up, he was supposedly in the hospital. And the hospital was one block up from where I lived. So we went up to see what was going to go on because the crowd started going to the hospital.

And I remember doing this one guard there with a rifle. He said, “Halt.” And I thought, oh, this guy’s not going to stop. He kept going. I thought, I’m going to see somebody get shot. But there were so many Japanese people around, the guard was scared. And so the guy just walked up, and pushed the rifle aside and kept going. He didn’t get shot. And they searched the hospital. He wasn’t there because they moved him out. So they said, we’re going to go down to the police station and we’re going to get this guy out of the jail - the guy that was accused of beating him up. So they all milled around the jailhouse down by the gate.

The “soul consoling tower” at the Manzanar cemetery

Now, of course, we’re curious, so we all go down. You know, young kids. And the guards were all around the jailhouse with, looked like machine guns, automatic guns. And they were like, foot apart all the way around. The Japanese are screaming and yelling. And we stood there for a while and said, “This is boring let’s get out of here.” Thank God we did. We left and went back to the barrack. And right after that - this is the way I heard. Somebody threw a rock at the guard. And the guard panicked because there’s thousands of Japanese guys just screaming and shouting. So they shot tear gas and then when the Japanese are running away, somebody panicked and they started shooting them. And I know they wounded at least 15 people and they killed one kid. And he was like me. He was just down there out of curiosity. The sad part of it was when I was working at the hospital, I was working with a couple of girls, too. And that was her brother that got killed.

Yeah. So they were all shot in the back. I can attest to that because like I said, I worked at the hospital. I’m bringing the food into this ward and I go in there, and everybody’s laying on their stomach. So I go, “How come everybody’s laying on their stomachs?” ’Cause they’re running away. So I remember that.

Oh my god. And by this time you’re 14 or 15?

I guess I was 14 when that happened because before we went to Tule. But we left, thank God before the shooting.

You’re smart.

Well, I wasn’t smart, we just got bored because they’re milling around singing Japanese songs and, you know, there’s a lot of rebel rousers in the camps. Tule was worse. ’Cause all the diehards went to Tule and all the disloyal people went to Tule and all the people that wanted to go back to Japan. And the normal people that were there before, they hated us.

I’ll tell you a funny story. When I first got there, I went to school, and it’s algebra class and I’m sitting there next to this kid and I said hi and I start talking to him. He says, "What camp you from?" I said Manzanar. He didn’t talk to me after that. Yeah, we were blackballed because Manzanar was a bunch of yogores, you know what a yogore is? Hoodlums and stuff. And so he wouldn’t talk to me.

So this is kind of a time where things were falling apart. Your dad wasn’t involved at the riot though, was he?

No, he wasn’t.

And then shortly after the loyalty questionnaire comes out.

Well that loyalty questionnaire messed everything up. I was too young. You know, they didn’t care. You know, I’m 13, 14 years old, they don’t wanna hear me. But my sister had a little problem ’cause she didn’t know what to say. And my dad, that’s when he said he wants to go back to Japan. You know, it’s hard for them because they don’t want to say they’re going to disavow the emperor. And they have no country because they weren’t Americans. And so they said, no. So we were no/nos, so out to Tule Lake we go.

And was the answer mostly for not having American citizenship? Or was your dad also making a point that they were upset?

I think he was trying to make a point. Like I said, he said he wants to go back to his country where this will never happen to him again. I finally understood what he meant ’cause he worked so hard trying to raise us and trying to start a business and then all of a sudden, yeah. But I didn’t realize that ’til my later years because when we got to Japan I had words with him. I told him, I didn’t want to come here. You made me come and look what you brought me into because it was horrible, Japan. It was a defeated country; food shortage, beggars all over the place, homeless all over the place. It was horrible. And they didn’t want us in Japan. You know, we just added to the food shortage. Plus, they considered us as being Americans because we dressed different. We spoke English. They didn’t like it because we spoke Japanese and we knew what they were saying, but they didn’t know what we were saying. So I think the Japanese are kind of upset with us.

Right. You couldn’t win on either side. And where did you go back to?

Hiroshima. We went to Hiroshima because we couldn’t go back to my dad’s place because he’s from Okinawa and they weren’t sending people to Okinawa.

This is right after the war?

Right after, right after they dropped the bomb.

Right. So everything’s devastated.

Yeah. And the thing of it is, people wanted to know what I attribute my old age to. I said after they dropped the bomb, that place had to be radioactive, the city. Well when we got to Hiroshima, I wanted to see the city. So I was waiting for the train to go to my mom’s place and I walked through the city. So I must have got radiated. I said I got radiated like you save food. You know you radiate it? But I did walk through Hiroshima right after the bomb in February or something. They dropped the bomb in August. It was flat. I could stand at the railroad station and I could see the Inland Sea, Japan Inland Sea from the station. And it was kind of terrible because people had radiation burns and they were living in cellars.

But your family went back to where your mom’s father was?

Yeah, but we didn’t go to that town, we went over to my aunt’s place Yoshiura, right next to Kure. And Kure used to be the Japanese naval headquarters. That was a submariner school — remember those suicide submarines? The two men subs? The top of the mountain was all hollowed out and they were building the submarines in the mountains so they’d be hidden and protected. So it had this big tunnel. And they would build the submarine there and they have a railroad track going down to the ocean and they just take it over and push it and it goes right into the water down below, which was a submariner school. I worked there when I went to Japan, working for Australians. I did a lot of things in my life.

Not the Japanese?

When we went back to Japan, like I said, I had words with my dad and I left home when I was 16. But I got a job with the Australian occupation force, in Kure where the submariner school was. They liked us because we spoke Japanese and English. And so there was no problem getting a job. I worked for the Australians for a year. And then I wanted to go work for the Americans. And they were up in Osaka and another area. So me and my future brother-in-law, we got together and we went up there and got jobs up there with the Americans. That was nice. And, you know, it was kind of weird because I don’t know if you knew, but when we got to Japan, the Japanese says, “You were born in America. You’re not Japanese. No Japanese citizenship.” The American government says, “You repatriated to Japan, you lost your citizenship.” So for almost a year and a half, two years, I was without a country.

And then what happened? So you started working for the U.S.?

Well, I worked for the U.S., but they called us foreign nationals. When we were working, all the Niseis and people from all over, they called us foreign nationals because we were foreign nationals, we weren’t Japanese. And they treated us good. They had a separate billet for us and we worked for the Americans. They had a shuttle bus picked us up and take us to work every morning. They fed us, and we paid so much for food and it was nice. I saw a lot of my friends that I knew from camp because they kind of congregated together.

And so a lot of your friends from Tule Lake who came back?

Well, most of them came back. Yeah, like me. But we couldn’t come back until we had to get our citizenship reinstated.

MS: How did that happen? How was it?

Well, Wayne Collins, the lawyer in San Francisco, he took the case to the Supreme Court and they said anybody that was a minor at the time all this happened, all this was invalid. And so the word got out, if you want your citizenship, you had to go to the American consulate, get a hearing and get reinstated. So that’s what I did, I had to make an appointment, I went there and probably about six or seven months later, I got my passport. That was probably one of the happiest moments of my life because you feel lost without — saying, yeah, I’m from America, that’s my country. They said they’d disown us. And so when I got my passport I was really happy.

How old were you then?

When I got my passport, I was 18. When I got my passport, I tried to join the Army in Japan. U.S. Army. And they started the paperwork and all that and it went all the way up to Tokyo, and the general headquarters said no because there was no place for me to take basic training because I was only one guy. So they said no. So I said, okay, fine. So I had my uncle sponsor me because you had to have a sponsor to come back because we had no access to dollars. It was illegal for us to have dollars and then you needed to get a ticket to catch the ship to go back to the states.

So my uncle sent me the money and I go back to Hawaii, with the intentions of joining the army and going back to Japan as the occupation. But when I did that I go, the army is really noted for sending you anywhere after they get you, you don’t know where you’re gonna go. So I says, “Probably the best thing to do is to apply for the Army language school to take Japanese.” And I says, “Where can they send?” [laughs]So I joined the Army with the intention of going to the Presidio.

MS: Where where do they send you?

I had to take basic training in Hawaii first. Then a bunch of us went to the Presidio of Monterey. It’s called Military Intelligence Language school. Nine months. But that’s another story because after you graduate, you had to have a security clearance in order to go overseas because it was military intelligence. And since I had moved around and all that, it took forever to get clearance. It took ’em like three years before I get my interim secret clearance so I could go overseas. By then I was married [laughs]. So that’s how I ended up in military intelligence.

To be continued ...

 

* This article was originally published on Tessaku on February 26, 2020.

 

© 2020 Emiko Tsuchida

hollywood manzanar no no boys tule lake WWII

About this series

Tessaku was the name of a short-lived magazine published at the Tule Lake concentration camp during World War II. It also means “barbed wire.” This series brings to light stories of the Japanese American internment, illuminating those that haven’t been told with intimate and honest conversation. Tessaku brings the consequences of racial hysteria to the foreground, as we enter into a cultural and political era where lessons of the past must be remembered.