California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: James Nanamura

 

Date: January 22, 2004

Report No: 62

Interviewer: Colleen Paggi

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Porterville, CA

JAPAN

LINDSAY

RACISM

INTERNMENT CAMP

CP: My name is Colleen Murphy Paggi. Today is Thursday, January 22, 2004, and I am at the home of Jim Nanamura in Porterville, California. This interview is being done in conjunction with the Oral History Project of Tulare County, entitled Years of Valor, Years of Hope, during World War II, during the years 1941 to 1946. I am sitting at the kitchen table of Mr. Nanamura.

Hello, how are you today?

JN: Oh, I’m just fine, thanks Colleen.

CP: Well, I want to start with just some general background, and I would like you to give me your name and your date and place of birth.

JN: Well, first of all, I’m Jim Nanamura. I was born in Lindsay, California, July 23, 1931. Of course, all of us kids, you know, were born, raised and born in Lindsay.

CP: What is your full name?

JN: Oh, it’s James. James Nanamura.

CP: Do you have a middle name?

JN: No.

CP: What were your parents’ names and where were they born?

JN: Well, they were both born in Japan , and my father’s name was Torachi Nanamura, and my mother’s name was Sono Konishi.

CP: And where were they born?

JN: They were born in Japan .

CP: Do you remember what city they were born in?

JN: (Chuckle) No, I don’t. (Chuckle) But, just outside of Osaka.

CP: Do you know why they left Japan ?

JN: Yeah, for a better opportunity. That’s why they came.

CP: What did they do for a living?

JN: They were farmers all their lives.

CP: In Lindsay?

JN: Yeah, but they also came from a farming community in Japan , which I got to visit.

CP: Oh, you did. You got to go back to Japan ?

JN: They lived in a real small community, like Toneyville, or Springville. Or like Alpaugh.

CP: Oh, really. Did they come alone from Japan , just the two of them? Were they already married?

JN: Yes. No, they weren’t married. My father came in 1916, and then my mother came in 1919.

CP: Had they known each other in Japan ?

JN: I just assume they did, because they lived in the same village.

CP: Do you have brothers and sisters? And how many?

JN: Yes, four brothers and two sisters. My brothers were Frank, Tom, Henry and Jerry and my sisters were Joyce (Hiraoka) and Esther (Nakashima).

CP: Do they all live around here?

JN: No, none of them.

CP: They all moved away.

JN: They all moved away. Well, of course, my oldest brother passed away here in Porterville, eight years ago.

CP: What was his name?

JN: Frank.

CP: So where did you grown up, in Lindsay?

JN: In Lindsay, yes.

CP: You went to school in Lindsay?

JN: No, we lived in the Strathmore School District, so we all went to school in Strathmore.

CP: How old were you when World War II began?

JN: I was 10 years old.

CP: So you were in school. What grade?

JN: Let’s see, I was in the fourth grade.

CP: Do you remember much about the school years, at that young of an age, what happened during the war?

JN: Yes, I do, you know, being Japanese, we had Japanese School on weekends, and, so we were in school that Sunday morning and when we broke for lunch and we all came back from lunch, the teacher came back in and he really had a puzzled look. I knew there was something wrong, but not knowing what, and he announced that Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan . So, that was the end of the Japanese School.

CP: Were you in school during the day? I mean Monday through Friday.

JN: Yeah, Monday through Friday in the regular Strathmore School, but on weekends we went to Japanese School, Saturday and Sunday.

CP: What did they teach you in the Japanese School?

JN: Well, the same thing that you would learn in any school, from first grade to high school age. So, it all depended on what your age was.

CP: Why, why did they do that?  I don’t understand.

JN: Well, to teach us how to read and write.

CP: Didn’t you learn that in the Strathmore School?

JN: No, no, no, not Japanese.

CP: Oh, they were teaching you to read and write Japanese.

JN: Yes, uh huh, yeah, you know, on weekends.

CP: So, you were in school every single day. Was your teacher Japanese?

JN: Yes, every single day. Yes, the teacher was Japanese.

CP: I bet he was mortified when he had to announce that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor.

JN: Yes, he certainly was.

CP: Do you remember his name?

JN: I don’t remember his first name, but it was Sakeguchi.

CP: Thank you. So, he came in and announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japan . So did you leave and go home?

JN: No, we finished the school.

CP: Oh, you did, for the day. And then you went home. Did your mother and father know?

JN: Yeah, by then. Yeah, it was kind of a, you know, sad day and so it was really kind of a quiet day too. Very quiet.

CP: They didn’t speak about it much.

JN: No, nobody even spoke about it much at all.

CP: Were there still relatives in Japan at that time?

JN: Oh yeah, yes.

CP: Were there any changes in your family housing situation during the war or right after Pearl Harbor was bombed?

JN: Well, let me tell you a little bit about what went on before we were evacuated. If you’re familiar with Lindsay at all, Mirage Avenue goes north and south through the city. Since we lived on the east side of town, we were restricted from going on the west side of Mirage Avenue. So, in order for us to go to the west side of Mirage, we had to go down to the police station and have an escort. Escort us across Mirage Avenue, which had most all the businesses. Like for example, the bank, the post office and all the grocery stores and hardware stores, you know, you name it, we had to have a police escort there.

CP: Even for a child?

JN: Anybody.

CP: Did some of the Japanese people in Lindsay live on the west side?

JN: There was, yeah, there were some on the west side, but they got evacuated earlier than we did.

CP: How old were you when you were evacuated?

JN: Well, I celebrated my eleventh birthday, being evacuated.

CP: You’re kidding.

JN: Yeah, it was July 23rd, and we were going across the Mojave Desert while I was celebrating my eleventh birthday.

CP: So how long did you stay in Lindsay before they evacuated you?

JN: Well, from December 7th until July 22nd of 1942.

CP: So you stayed here. What was the reaction of the people in Lindsay to the Japanese community?

JN: Well, at that time they were very sympathetic and I didn’t see or witness any hostilities or anything until after we came home.

CP: Well I don’t know, I don’t know how people thought back in 1941 and 1942. Before you left, were there any shortages yet in Lindsay, food . . . ?

JN: Are you talking about gas and stuff like that?

CP: For the rationing?

JN: Yeah, of course, you know, we were under gas stamps. So you were issued so much gas that you could buy for your ranch or, if you were just a working person you had so much in gas stamps just like anybody else.

CP: What about your food, was there a shortage of food?

JN: Yes, there was shortage of coffee, sugar, chocolate, you know, candy bars of all kinds. And if there was any chocolate candy, it was really a treat. So, yeah, there was shortage at the time, cause, you know, a lot of that stuff was going to the fighting forces and stuff.

CP: Were any members of your family separated during the war?

JN: Well, yes, but voluntarily. My sister and brother (Esther and Tom) went to Minnesota to go to school, and then my brother (Frank) was in the Army, and he was sent to Germany during the war. Frank went to Idaho to work and was drafted.

CP: Really. I guess I don’t really understand. When you were evacuated did this brother and sister go with you? The ones that went to Minnesota?

JN: Well, we all moved together when we got evacuated and after we went to the camp, then they decided they wanted to go outside, because you could travel anywhere away, as long as you didn’t come home to the west coast.

CP: So, when they evacuated you . . . I don’t know much about the evacuation. When they evacuated the Japanese community, it was just to get them away from the coastlines?

JN: Yeah, uh huh, anywhere away from Washington, Oregon and California.

CP: I was always under the assumption that once you were evacuated, you had to stay there, but it was all right to leave?

JN: Yeah, yeah it was, as long as you didn’t come back. Well, you couldn’t come back to California, Oregon, or Washington.

CP: Plus you had to have the funds to do it all, so there were probably a lot of people that didn’t have the funds.

JN: Yeah, probably not. Uh-huh.

CP: How did you feel when you realized you were being asked to leave your home?

JN: Well, to me, as a child, I though it was some kind of a game. But, I could see all the hardship on the folks, the older folks. You know, it was a terrible moment for everybody, but the older folks. . . . Of course, when you are established in a home, a business, and all of a sudden you’re having to leave with two weeks notice.

CP: You only had two weeks notice?

JN: Two weeks notice, so, you know, all we could do was carry what we could carry, and that was it.

CP: What happened . . .did you own your home?

JN: Yeah, we owned our home. We owned 20 acres of oranges.

CP: What happened to that?

JN: Well, we were able to get one of our neighbors to take care of our place while we were gone, fortunately. So, he did a real good job. His name was Harvey Hartig. And, he did a wonderful job, and I really can’t say enough for that gentleman, because of the way . . .well, he was just a gentleman. He was very dependable and everything, so we had a home and our ranch to come home to.

CP: That’s wonderful. What a wonderful guy. Did you communicate with him during the war?

JN: Yeah, uh huh, yeah.

CP: Could you describe that day when you had to leave? What did you pack?

JN: Well, of course, like as I mentioned before, all you could do was carry what you could carry. Whether it was two suitcases or three suitcases or one suitcase and that meant your clothing, your bedding, any cooking utensils, that was all that you could carry, so that’s all we could take.

CP: I would imagine that was a scary time for your mother and father. They didn’t know where they were going, or . . .

JN: Yeah, that’s true, very true.

CP: What was the name of the camp you went to?

JN: We went to Poston, Arizona.

CP: Poston. How did you get there?

JN: By train. Uh huh.

CP: What did you think of the landscape of Arizona?

JN: Well, it was desert, hot, and, you know, just a plain desert-kind of atmosphere with hot weather.

CP: Where did you live in the camp?

JN: Well, we all lived in tarpaper barracks. It was unfinished when we got there and there were no paved streets. It was all dirt yet and there was no linoleum on the floor, so any little wind would come up, it would create dust and come into your so-called apartment. And until at such time they were able to lay linoleum on the floor, we slept on cots and there was no petition, it was just wide open. So, you know, in order to have any kind of privacy, you had to put up a rope or string or wire and use your bed sheet or bedspread for a wall.

CP: Was your whole family in this one room?

JN: No, we had two separate rooms because of the size of our family.

CP: So, did they just make it a camp? They just made a great big area and they put up these tarpaper sheds, almost?

JN: Yeah, you might say, yeah. There were four apartments for each building. And then for a single or a couple, they would be in the smaller apartments.

CP: So were your mother and father in a smaller one?

JN: No, no, no, all of us were together except my two brothers, Frank and Tom, they slept in another apartment in the next building. The size of the room was only about 20 x 20, about the size of a garage, you might say.

CP: So really, there wasn’t much room for more than a bed, was there?

JN: Yeah, that’s all we had was a cot for a bed.

CP: What did you do for cooking?

JN: Well, we had a community mess hall, you might say. And they had cooks that, you know, made up all of the meals.

CP: Where’d the cooks come from, the government?

JN: No, no, they were people like us that they hired and they did the cooking.

CP: It was probably like a vacation for the kids. I would imagine it wasn’t quite as stressful for children as it would have been for the adults, right?

JN: That’s true; it was one of those things, you know, as I mentioned before; it was like a game. And, so we didn’t realize what was all going on. Except for being away from home but, you know, at the same time I could see the folks having a tough time of the whole situation.

CP: Did you miss your friends back in Lindsay?

JN: Yeah, very much so.

CP: I can’t tell you how lucky you were to have Mr. Hartig take care of your home and property. I mean that. That is just wonderful because I read stories about people leaving their home and their property and they were just taken away from them.

JN: Yeah, yeah.

CP: Did you attend school while you were in the camp?

JN: Yes, yes, we had regular schools.

CP: Who were your teachers?

JN: Well, they were from off the reservation. Some were actually Japanese that were teachers, wherever they came from. But, most of it was from, you know, other sources.  But we did have regular schools.

CP: Oh, that’s good. How long were you in the camp?

JN: Well, we were there for two and a half years. And we came back here, February 24, 1945, and you know the war was still going hot and heavy. But, they…you know, President Roosevelt signed a declaration to allow those that wanted to come home, to come home. So, we chose to come home right away.

CP: Were there some people that wanted to stay in the camp?

JN: Yeah, because they had nowhere to go, but we had some place to come home to.

CP: Oh, that’s wonderful.

JN: So when we came home, well, Mr. Hartig had already set up our home and everything. Had the heat on, had the electricity on and had our vehicles ready to go, because, you know, we put them all up on blocks in the garage when we left. So he got everything ready when we got home. So we were very fortunate, you know, to have something to come home to.

CP: Did you have to pay him for this?

JN: Oh, yeah, naturally, we paid him for it. But, you know, he deserved it.

CP: Yes, yes, but you were lucky that your family was able to pay him.

JN: Yeah, yeah, well, it wasn’t that we didn’t have any income, we did have an income off the oranges. So, we were fortunate that we had an income all this time.

CP: Yes, yes you were. So when you came home, what was the reaction of the people in Lindsay?

JN: Well, most of the people were nice and very sympathetic.

CP: Because you had known them your whole life.

JN: Yeah, that’s right, but there were some that were very hostile. You know, like, "We don’t want you here." There was about three or four businesses that had signs in their windows, No Japs Wanted.

CP: Did they use that terminology?

JN: Yes, yeah, and it was kind of a funny thing. Two of the places that I recall of signs in their window, I became friends with their sons, after all was well said and done. So, it was really something. You see, it was the parents that were doing that; it wasn’t the kids. But we became good friends.

CP: So how do you think that the years of World War II in Tulare County affected you personally?

JN: Well, you know, a lot of good things came out of the war. Mainly because we showed loyalty to the United States . There wasn’t anybody that was convicted of treason, being a traitor, and of course you’ve heard of the 442nd combat team. That was really, you know, they were all volunteers and they were sent over to Europe to fight and they were the most decorated unit in the history of the United States .

CP: Yes, I heard . . .did they make a movie about that?

JN: Yes, yes, it was called "Go For Broke" and Van Johnson was the main character that played in that movie and they used a lot of other, you know, Japanese characters in it.

CP: Was your brother in it?

JN: No, he was not in that unit, no.

CP: Was this your brother, Frank? Your older brother.

JN: Yeah, he was in a different unit all together, yeah. So, he did not do any fighting or anything. He was in transportation.

CP: Lucky him.

JN: Yeah, he was very lucky.

CP: Do you remember if he said anything about how people treated him while he was in the service?

JN: No, he never really talked about it much at all. He was very quiet about that. He was just very glad to get home.

CP: I bet, I bet. So, when you came back, you just resumed your normal life.  Your father just kept working just like he had before and you attended schools.

JN: Yes, yes.

CP: Was it difficult going back to school here?

JN: Yes and no. Most people, again, were nice, but there were some kids that wanted to pick a fight and, naturally, there’s always that kind of element and there was. But, there was one gentleman that picked a fight with me and I became very good friends with him later.

CP: Did you fight back?

JN: Oh, yeah, I got him pinned down real fast, it was . . . . I took him by surprise and he was just really totally surprised that I pinned him down so fast. (chuckle)

CP: After the war was over, and you grew up a little bit, did the experiences of World War II affect your dating or your romantic relationships at all?

JN: No, not really, I think, you know, people just respected the Japanese people a lot more than before. And then after the war, knowing what the volunteer group did for the country and the other thing was, because of that movie that was made, you know, "Go For Broke", that really opened up a lot of people’s eyes and respect for our people.

CP: That’s good.

JN: Yeah, you know, I’m glad they made that movie, because it was based on a true situation.

CP: I bet it’s out on VCR, or DVD.

JN  Yeah, you know, it’s played on the area TV every once in a while.

CP: Oh, I don’t think I’ve seen it. Were there any organizations in Lindsay, that you can remember, for or against the war?

JN: You know, that I don’t know, because I wasn’t paying attention to that kind of situation. I really couldn’t tell you.

CP: Were there any special events that happened that were connected to wartime activities, you know, parades or demonstrations, or anything like that in Lindsay?

JN: No, none of that, that I know of. I didn’t see anything like that at all.

CP: I would imagine because it was such a small town, you know, maybe the bigger cities had things like that.

JN: No, no, we didn’t have anything like that in Lindsay or Strathmore or even here in Porterville, that I know of.

CP: How old was your father during the war? Or when the war started, how old was he?

JN: Oh, golly, I would say probably late 50’s or early 60’s.

CP: So, he wouldn’t have been eligible for the draft. Did they draft Japanese men?

JN: Yeah, but a lot of them, most of them volunteered, because they wanted to show loyalty to the United States . So that’s how they come up with this, you know, the 442nd and the 100th battalion group, as well.

CP: I don’t know if you, so much, or maybe your parents, what the reaction was when you heard about the Holocaust?

JN: You mean, which holocaust, the bombing?

CP: No, the Holocaust, what was done to the Jewish people in Europe.

JN: Oh, the Jewish people. You know, Colleen, that was one thing they never discussed. Not one time that I could ever recall. They never discussed that at all.

CP: Really, well, I think it was that generation too, don’t you? They kept things to themselves much more than we do.

JN: Well, I think most everybody did at the time anyway, because, you know, that was in another country. So it didn’t really affect, you know, all of us here in the United States . So, there wasn’t too much said until they wanted to make that resolution back in Washington about recognizing what Turkey did, you know, about the Armenians. But, you know, they keep bringing that up every year, but it just seems to get pushed aside. So, my folks never even mentioned anything about that at all.

CP: I wanted to get some personal reactions to the war. Do you have an opinion about when they dropped the atom bomb on Japan ? What did you think of that?

JN: Well a lot of people don’t realize that, I think that bomb had to be dropped, because, you know, as we all know, that Russia separated East Berlin and West Berlin. Well, at the time that the bomb was dropped, Russia was already headed for Japan . A lot of people don’t realize that. You see they wanted in with the occupation of Japan , just like they did with East and West, you know, divide the whole nation.

CP: No, I didn’t know that.

JN: I really think this is one of the main reasons why they had to do that, but it was also to stop any more aggression, you know, on Japan . But, you know, if Russia had gone into Japan , like they did with Germany , we’d be in a real devastating situation as well. It would be a different situation altogether. But, anyway, I think that was kind of a blessing there, but, you know, it was still a disaster, naturally. And with all the illnesses and injuries that it caused. But I think, in the long run, it was partly a blessing in disguise.

CP: Did you have any relatives in Japan during the war that you heard from?

JN: Well, of course, we couldn’t correspond or they couldn’t correspond until after the war. We know that none of them were in the military or, you know, fought in the war. But they were all okay.

CP: That’s good. Were your grandparents still living?

JN: At that time, just my grandmother, on my mother’s side.

CP: What was her name?

JN: Well, it was Konishi, but I don’t remember her first name. (Chuckle) But I did get to visit her, as well as my cousins.

CP: Okay, oh, when you went back to Japan . You got to see your grandmother. What year was that?

JN: In 1953.

CP: Oh, it was not long after the war then.

JN: Yeah, I went there during the Korean War; I was in Korea . So, I took my R&R and went to visit my relatives.

CP: That’s fun. I have one last question for you. How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

JN: Well, thinking back, I think it has improved in a lot of different ways. It just made it a lot better for all Japanese, because of the outcome of the war. There was very few hostilities, because of that, once they knew that we were loyal to the United States . And, I think this kind of spread all over the United States , not just in Tulare County. So, I think that, with that, I think it has really helped out. In many other ways, it had opened up more opportunities, more respect for, you know, the Japanese people, because of that. And I just really think it opened up more doors in every way in Tulare County and all over the nation.

CP: That’s good. Well, you know, that just about ends the interview, that’s all the questions. Did you want to add anything?

JN: No, I don’t, I think you got most of the information that you asked. And I think that’s all I can think of off hand.

CP: Yeah, we covered it pretty well in just the short time we had. Well, thanks a lot for letting me interview you.

JN: Well, you’re very welcome Colleen, it was much a pleasure.

CP: I can’t wait for you to read it.

JN: Thank you.

POSTSCRIPT:

CP: This is just a postscript to the interview that I did with Jim Nanamura. He has a few other things that he would like to talk about. Mainly to do with his brother, Frank, and his schooling. So go ahead, Jim, and tell me all about it.

JN: Well, I forgot to mention the fact that during the war when my brother was in the Army, before he was sent over to Germany, that he came back to Lindsay to visit, to see how things were at home. And he found that there were no hostilities that he could see and that everything was okay. Shortly after that he was sent over to Germany . One thing that I didn’t mention: the fact that when I was in high school, of course, you know, I played all kinds of sports, football, basketball and track. I played quarterback for our "B" team. Then I also was elected to be the student body president in my senior year. So, that was quite an experience for me, and looking back, I appreciated that because it also allowed me to mature a lot faster than I ever thought about, you know, maturing.

Another great thing that happened to me; I was drafted during the Korean War and of course they sent me to Korea . During the time I was in Korea , I got to go visit my folks in Japan , just outside the city of Osaka. They lived in a little village and they showed me where the military had come by in every city and every home to confiscate any metal and stuff that they could use during the war. I thought that was kind of interesting. One of my uncles had been here and went home and he showed me a Boliva wristwatch that he had that was still working. So it was kind of amazing after all those years. After coming home from Korea , I got a letter from the department that I was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service. So I was really honored by that for serving in Korea .

CP: What did you do in Korea ?

JN: Well, I was a teletype repairman.

CP: What was the Bronze Star for? I don’t know what a Bronze Star is.

JN: Yeah, it was actually the third highest award that you can get. You know, they have the Medal of Honor, and the Silver Medal and then I was awarded the Bronze Star. That was for service that I rendered, I guess you might say, above and beyond the call of duty. And what I did was that I was called on the outside territory to service teletype machines to keep those in top running condition because the North Koreans were making a big push. So, everything had to be running tiptop without any garbaged message. So, my duty was to keep those machines running. So, I was gone for four days and four nights, continuously. So that’s the reason why they awarded me the Bronze Star Metal.

CP: For some reason, I thought you had to be wounded to get a Bronze Star.

JN: No.

CP: What do you get when you are wounded?

JN: Well, a Purple Heart.

CP: Oh, that’s right, that’s right.

JN: Yeah, so, anyway . . . .

CP: Did you marry after you got back from Korea or were you married before?

JN: No, I married a year after I returned. I was writing to my future wife during the time that I was gone.

CP: What was her name?

JN: Alice Ichinaga, from Tulare.  And she’s still there, and I just, you know, we got married one year after coming home from Korea . Editor: See Alice Nanamura’s interview.

CP: Did you have children?

JN: Yeah, we have two children. I have a daughter that lives in Tulare. She works for Dairyman’s Creamery, or Land O’ Lakes now. She is in the accounting division and my son lives up in Lake Tahoe. He’s an acupuncturist.

CP: Really. What are their names?

JN: Scott Nanamura and Karen Nanamura in Tulare.

CP: Is Karen married?

JN: No. No, she is not married.

CP: Just wanted to make sure I had the right last name.

JN: Yes.

CP: Well, will that do it? Can you think of anything else before we shut this off?

JN: Oh yeah, I have a grandson that lives up in . . .you know, my son’s son. He’s just four years old. He’s real nice to go see. Of course, I don’t get to see him as much as I would like to.

CP: Right. What’s his name?

JN: Akio. In Japanese that means autumn man because he was born in the autumn.

CP: How do you spell that name?

JN: Akio.

CP: Ok, do you know how to spell Alice’s last name?

JN: Yes, it’s Ichinaga.

CP: Okay. All right, I guess that will do it. If you can think of anything else at all, before we end this?

JN: Yeah, I can’t think of anything else, but I sure appreciate you being here, Colleen, with your interview and everything. So, thank you.

CP: Okay.

2-12-2004 C. Paggi/Transcriber: pd/Editor: JW 4/1/04

Editor’s note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Jim Nanamura on March 10, 2006.