Gee, it seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the new year of 2014, but by the time you read this, it will be February.
That means that it’s been 70 years since I was wearing the uniform of Uncle Sam’s Army during World War II and it also means that 72 years have passed since we were interned at the Santa Anita Assembly Center.
With Bacon Sakatani putting together his year’s “Former Residents of Santa Anita Assembly Center” reunion, I gave a lot of thought back to those days when we arrived by train to be interned at the Arcadia facility.
I lived in the rural farming community of Mountain View in Northern California when we were informed that we were being taken into a camp for Japanese Americans. At the time, we didn’t know where we were going.
All the FBI agents told us was to “pack whatever you can carry in one bag and be at the train station by 7 a.m.”
The entire Japanese community in the city was at the station, and the one thing I noticed the most was that none of our non-Japanese friends and classmates showed up to wish us well.
Needless to say, we were all confused as the train pulled away from the Mountain View train station, but I did notice that we were headed north.
After several hours, we passed through Reno, Nevada, and the train did seem to turn south.
The other thing about our train ride was that we had to pull onto side tracks every once in a while to let the regularly scheduled trains pass by. This did nothing but slow down our voyage.
I’m curious what the passengers on the “regular trains” thought when they passed us and saw all those “Japanese” faces staring out the windows of our train.
Well, after what seemed to be days, we finally pulled up to the Santa Anita race track, although we didn’t know what it was since we were from Northern California.
One thing, since we were the last group of internees to arrive at the Arcadia facility, we were fortunate in one respect. We didn’t have to live in the stables where most of the earlier arrivals were assigned, while the barracks were still being built on the parking lot. That would be those from the Los Angeles and San Diego areas.
The MPs began calling out names with the instruction, “Follow us.” We walked to the back area and were given our rooms.
With my older brother and his wife, my mother and sister and yeah, me, it was pretty crowded in our unit. Imagine five Army cots in a small unit and you can see what life was like.
The other experience for me was meeting the JAs from the Los Angeles area. The Ellay-area folks were a lot different from those of us from a small country farm town.
Needless to say, those I met referred to me as “farm boy,” which means we didn’t socialize with them.
Most of the Mountain View people hung around with other Mountain View people.
Of course, I did become acquainted with a few of the big-city folks, especially when I took the only job available to the internees. That would be making camouflage nets for the U.S. Army. We worked in the grandstand area.
I forgot what we were paid, but I think it was 8 bucks a month. Hey, in those days that was big money, especially for a young farm worker.
Japanese Americans, being Japanese Americans, seemed to adjust to camp life.
On weekends, they held dances in the grandstand area, complete with Nisei musicians providing music and a popular vocalist named Yoshiko Iwashita singing the popular songs of that era.
I don’t know how, but I got to meet Yoshiko and we became pretty good friends. I guess she’s the only Ellay person whom I could call a friend.
Yeah, we had sumo, too. While most of the guys played softball and baseball, some of the older ones participated in sumo matches. Needless to say, the sumo matches always drew more fans than the other sports.
Another thing I noticed was that the evacuees from the San Diego area and those from the Ellay area always seemed on the verge of getting into fights.
So, we farmers avoided the areas where the two groups would sit on the edge of battle.
Oh yeah, several months after we arrived at Santa Anita, we were told that we were being shipped off again. So back on the train. Again, we didn’t know where we were headed.
As it was when we came down from Northern California, we were forced to use the seats in the cars for sitting down and for sleeping in the evenings.
Since the trip took about four days, we were sitting up most of the way. This wasn’t too tough for us younger guys but really hard on my mother, who had health problems before we were taken to camp.
When we passed through certain areas the MPs would order us to pull down the shades and not look out the windows. I guess the areas were military facilities.
I remember some of the cities we passed through: Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we were told we were in Wyoming and the name of the camp we were assigned to was Heart Mountain.
Again, we were herded onto Army trucks and taken to our living quarters. The area was marked as “blocks.” We were assigned to Block 24, Barrack 10, Unit A. Each barrack had four units. They were designated as A, B, C and D. A and D units were for families with three or fewer people, B and C for those with more than four in the family.
Our neighbor, also from Mountain View, had six in the family, so they were crowded into Unit B.
I guess we managed to survive.
Needless to say, when I was offered a chance to escape from this lifestyle, I joined the Army, and was shipped off to Camp Blanding in Florida, where they had a special unit training as replacement for the 442nd.
About 20 of us from Heart Mountain jumped on a train to travel to Florida.
Of course after a month in the Army, I became aware that I had goofed and should have stayed in the Wyoming camp as an internee. Being an internee was a lot easier than being Pvt. George Yoshinaga, U.S. Army.
Gee, how did I get to Florida from my original thoughts on the Santa Anita Assembly Center?
Oh well, maybe my thoughts will not entertain some of today’s Yonsei and Gosei JAs who may not know what a lot of us older Nisei went through 70 years ago.
I know when I chat with my Sansei sons they seem keenly interested in my life during that period, so maybe some of the younger readers of The Rafu will be, too.
Don’t be too surprised if you readers see my column with a Las Vegas heading on it.
A reader who said he goes to Vegas frequently with his wife (he drives) said he can offer me and my wife a ride any time we want.
I never met the fellow, but I assume he’s an older Nisei, too.
I’m making arrangements now to travel with him.
Would you believe it’s been nearly four months since my last trip to Vegas?
So, maybe I’ll bump into some of you at The Cal.
Oops. Maybe I’d better check my pocket to see if I can afford to visit Vegas.
Speaking of staying at a hotel when traveling, how many of you know that two of the top hotels in the U.S. are located in Hawaii?
Well, that’s the story I read in a news article about people who travel.
One is the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu on the Big Island. The other is the Four Seasons Resort Lanai/The Lodge at Koele on Lanai.
Don’t know the accuracy of the story but at least that is the claim.
I’ll toss in a letter here about my recent comments on falling down. It’s from a reader who says he’s a year older than me. He wrote:
“I read your column about aging and I agree with the statements you printed.
“About a month ago I fell off the final steps on our porch and fell on my face. Fortunately, I was able to bring my arms up enough to take up some of the jolt.
“I hope all older Nisei who read your article will prepare themselves.
“By the way, I don’t recall if you wrote about your fall. That is, how did it happen to you?”
I guess I’ll have to go back in my files to see what I wrote about my accident.
All I know is that if I had paid closer attention, it might have been avoided.
I’m a lot more careful now when I do simple things like even rising off a chair and getting on my feet.
I never realized that age can really affect simple chores like standing up.
Well, I’m glad I didn’t break a bone. I’d still be limping around if that had happened and maybe missed a few columns if I had damaged my hands.
Actually, my doctor told me falling down and getting hurt isn’t just an age thing. He says he treats a lot of younger people, too.
So, you aging Nisei out there in readerland, be cautious.
Since many Nisei are now grandparents, they may get a kick out of today’s laugher. It’s titled “How Children Perceive Their Grandparents”:
• My young grandson called the other day to wish me a happy birthday. He asked me how old I was and I told him 80. My grandson was quiet for a moment and then he asked, “Did you start at one?”
• My grandson was visiting one day when he asked, “Grandma, do you know how you and God are alike?” I mentally polished my hair and said, “No, how are we alike?” “You’re both old,” he replied.
• When my grandson Billy and I entered our vacation cabin, we kept the lights off until we were inside to keep from attracting pesky insects. Still, a few fireflies followed us in. Noticing before I did, Billy whispered, “It’s no use, Grandpa, now the mosquitoes are coming after us with flashlights.”
“Give me a sentence about a public servant,” said the teacher.
The small boy wrote: “The fireman came down the ladder pregnant.”
The teacher took the lad aside to correct him. “Don’t you know what ‘pregnant’ means?” she asked.
“Sure,” said the young boy confidently. “It means carrying a child.”
Here’s one more:
The Department of Defense briefed the President this morning. They told him that two Brazilian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.
To everyone’s surprise, he collapsed onto his desk, head in his hands, visibly shaken, almost in tears.
Finally, he composed himself and asked, “Just how many is a Brazilian?”
Hope some of you are at least giggling.
George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.