The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Warren Michio Tsuneishi [n.d.]

Sarah Rouse:

Hello. My name is Sarah Rouse. I work with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And I'm Jurretta Heckscher of the Library's Digital Reference Team.

Sarah Rouse:

The Veterans History Project was established by Congress in 2000 to collect the memories, accounts and documents of war veterans from World War I to the present and to preserve these stories of experience and service for future generations. Today we are joined by Dr. Warren Michio Tsuneishi, the former chief of the Asian division and former director of area studies at the Library of Congress. Dr. Tsuneishi, 80 years old, was born on the 4th of July, 1921. Dr. Tsuneishi will talk about his service in the U.S. Army and the internment that he and his family experienced as Japanese Americans during the second world war. Welcome, Dr. Tsuneishi.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

How are you?

Sarah Rouse:

Could you, please, for the record state your name and the date and place of your birth.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

My name is Warren M. Tsuneishi named after Warren G. Harding. I was born on July 4, 1921, in Monrovia, California.

Sarah Rouse:

Very good. You were about 20 years old, I guess, when -- December 7th, 1941. What effect did the attack on Pearl Harbor have on you and your family's life?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Very drastic. I was truly depressed on December 7th when I heard the news on the radio. I was a student at Berkeley, University of California Berkeley, at the time in my junior year. And I thought, Oh, this is it. It's -- I could see nothing but bad things happening for me in the future.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And before the experience of the war and internment, what was your family's situation like? Where did they live, how many people in your family, what did your parents do, that sort of thing?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

My parents were immigrants from Japan coming to this country in the first decade of the 20th century, 1907, 19 -- thereabouts. My father went through -- put himself through high school, Monrovia High School, and wanted to enter -- entered U.S.C. and wanted to study for the ministry. But, you know, health forced him out of that, returns to Japan, met my mother and they decided to get married. He came back alone, but she was a schoolteacher and had to stay there for a mandatory period of service. He set -- he came off the farm in Japan, set himself up as a truck farmer growing strawberries and other berries in southern California. That's -- and I grew up on a truck farm.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Dr. Tsuneishi, exactly what happened to your family during the internment process? For instance, how did they find out that they had to leave their home?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

There was, of course, an executive order from Franklin Delano Roosevelt in February of 1942. And shortly after that, there were proclamations and curfews and the zones of exclusion for Japanese Americans living on the west coast. And then ultimately there was an announcement in April of 1942 of the evacuation of all Japanese Americans from the three West Coast states, all 120,000 of us.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And where did they go first?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

The Army had said we were under -- the evacuation was set up by the U.S. Army. The Army set up temporary assembly centers, and my parents -- my family lived in Southern California near the Santa Anita racetrack. The racetrack was turned into a assembly center. The Pomona fairgrounds about 20 miles east of us was set up as an assembly center. And there were -- the evacuation itself began in May. They stayed in these temporary assembly centers for a few months, and then they were shipped to permanent -- ten permanent relocation centers in the interior states of the United States.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And what did they do with their house and their belongings and so on when they were forced to leave?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, they were permitted -- we were permitted to carry -- whatever we could carry we could take with us. Some families lost -- for some people, it was a very expensive process. A friend of mine had a very thriving grocery store, and he lost that completely. He and his family lost that completely. My father lost the berries that were growing and coming to bear at the time. It was an economic catastrophe for most of the families.

Jurretta Heckscher:

So they ended up going to what long-term place then?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And this must have been a very emotionally difficult process for them. How did they deal with the emotional challenges of this uprooting?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, it's a funny thing. We were accustomed to -- we were accustomed -- growing up in California in the west -- in the West Coast states, mostly California, we had -- there was a long history of racial discrimination against Asians, first the Chinese and then the Japanese and the Filipinos. And so while they were -- while you are brought up to be an American and be optimistic about everything, we were accustomed to these kinds of hardships. I don't know that it was -- there was so much emotional upset involved except internally. You wouldn't show this, but you -- there was this -- they lived there for their adult lives, and we children growing up had lived there all of our lives, and there was that disruption. But emotionally I don't know that there was that much of a problem for us.

Jurretta Heckscher:

When they got to the Heart Mountain Center, what was life like there? What were the physical conditions like, for instance?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, if you had to confine, let's say, 10 or 12 thousand people in a certain area and you are a military engineer, you lay out a rectangular acreage, zone it with barbed wire, put up watchtowers at various intervals, station your guards there and then put up Army barracks to house us and put up an administration building. The funny thing was seven years ago I was a guest of the German government to visit libraries, and we wound up in Munich. And we had a half day off. And another fella and I, a member of this team that was invited, asked if we could visit the Dachau memorial. I just wanted to check out a German concentration camp and see what it -- how it compared. And physically they were remarkably similar, that is to say, Heart Mountain War Relocation Center and the Dachau -- except, of course, the spirit was entirely different. Dachau was a death camp. American relocation centers are much, much more friendly to those of us who were interned there.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Were families allowed to live in family groups in these barracks or what was --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Oh, yes. Each family was assigned a room, single room. You know, when I was in the Army I was in the Army barrack -- barracks. And we were assigned -- the cots were lined up. Each barrack housed perhaps 50 GIs, 40 GIs. These barracks were cut up into family units, and there was -- there were -- they were central -- there was a central mess hall that you went to eat. There was a central -- central bathrooms that you had to go to. There were no individual bathrooms and so forth.

Jurretta Heckscher:

So you had the entire family living in one room --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes.

Jurretta Heckscher:

-- except for meals and bathrooms and so on?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes. Uh-huh.

Jurretta Heckscher:

How many people were there in your family at that time?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, there were seven children and -- nine altogether. My older brother was already in the Army. He had been drafted. And I was -- except for a short period of time, I was a student and not living with my family.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And what were some of the rules that they had to follow living in the relocation camp or internment camp?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Rules? I don't know -- well, I'm not sure that there were --

Jurretta Heckscher:

They couldn't leave; is that right? Or could they leave to go to the area around in Montana?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

No, no, you couldn't really move in and out. You could move out as I did myself. But that is to go out for -- if you had a good reason to go out, you could get leave to go out to do these things. For example, when I entered the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, California, north of Stanford I found it so confining in experience that when the chance came for me to get out I did. And the chance came in the form of a request for stoop laborers in the sugar beet fields of Idaho. There were 13,000 of us in the Tanforan Assembly Center. This is for the San Francisco Bay region Japanese Americans. I was a student at the University of California Berkeley at the time. I stayed there as long as I could, did not join my family in southern California because I wanted to get my junior credits in. The evacuation took place in late April, early May. And I didn't have to take my final exams for that semester, but I did get my junior year credits. But I would -- we were -- I was still under the jurisdiction of the War Relocation Authority, and they permitted those of us who volunteered to go to work outside in the sugar beet fields to go there under their supervision -- under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture. Then after that experience in the spring, summer and fall working in the farms of Idaho I was sent to join my parents, my family in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming next door. And after I had been there for a couple of months, I was permitted to go out to complete my college education largely due to the recession and the American Friends Service Committee and the fact that the university that I went to, Syracuse University in Upstate New York, had a new chancellor who was very gung ho on civil rights. And he didn't think that we had been treated properly insofar as our constitutional rights are concerned. He opened up his university to when the Friends asked if he would take three or four students from the relocation centers he said I would take a hundred of them if you can send them to me. I think he was short of students too because all the men had been drafted or most of them were drafted and sent off to serve in the Armed Forces.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And while living in the camp, were people able to communicate freely with others on the outside through letters or telephone calls?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes. There's no -- or not necessarily through telephone calls. There were no telephones, individual telephones except pay phones. Correspondence, yes --

Jurretta Heckscher:

And was there --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

If you needed various clothing and supplies at the time, you could always order through the mail-order catalog, especially Sears Roebuck catalog, that were available.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Was there a curfew?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Not in the camps. There was a curfew before. There was the first proclamation issued by the -- General DeWitt, the commanding general of the western defense command in Presidio, San Francisco. It was the very first proclamation, military proclamation was a curfew for all Japanese Americans on the West Coast living in the West Coast states.

Jurretta Heckscher:

So there were several thousand people living in Heart Mountain, for instance.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes.

Jurretta Heckscher:

How did they spend their time? They were away from their normal work. How did they spend their days?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, as far as the kids are concerned, there was a school system at the elementary school, elementary and high school. So they spent their time in school. My older sister who had gotten a -- Florence who had gotten a teacher's training at the University of California Los Angeles in 1939 had been unable to get a job as a teacher, but once she got into a relocation center she was hired as a teacher at the sum of $17 a month or something of that sort. But it was a professional position. Others, my father, the first generation -- the parents were for the most part I had thought for the first time in their lives because they had worked like mad to make a living mostly they were farmers or gardeners or small shopkeepers. My father somehow had managed to bring along -- I said earlier that you could take in only what you could carry. How he managed it I don't know. But he had a collection of books, especially books on poetry, Japanese poetry. And he made those available to other members of the Heart Mountain community, and he was even permitted to go outside to the other relocation centers to collect books from other people in those camps. This was not -- as I said, the relocation centers were not death camps. They were not that highly restrictive. Your liberty was taken away from you; but there are ways to get around, move around, communicate with the outside, get out if you had a good reason to.

Jurretta Heckscher:

How did it feel to be in a camp? Can you talk a little bit about your memories of how it felt to be there?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, as I say, I didn't like it. I remember at the Tanforan Assembly Center I was a bachelor, of course, unmarried at the time. We were all the bachelors, perhaps a couple of hundred of us, were housed in the grand -- under the grandstand of the Tanforan racetrack. This is where the parimutuel or the betting booths were and so forth. We were housed in this great -- it turned out to be a great, big dormitory is what it was. And I had a -- I had a -- I took over one of the betting rooms. And it was all the back -- the grandstand was -- had glass -- was painted glass. And I managed to remove the putty so that the -- I could at least -- I could at least feel the fresh air, the free air from the outside coming in. But it was like a prison is what it was, and I just didn't like especially the loss of liberty. And I know exactly what prisoners feel like when they are jailed or sent to prison. That loss of liberty is the most important thing in my opinion. So that's where I -- I had been there only one month, and I couldn't stand it any longer. And also back then my money ran out. I went into camp with $15 in my pocket, and I lost that learning how to play poker. These are one mil -- or these are not penny ante. These are a mil ante, a hundred -- they were a penny, and I still managed to lose it. So -- so I say I laugh because I lost -- I was so depressed by losing my liberty, but the practical reason was that I had no more money.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And that's why you volunteered to go and do this farm work; is that right?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

That's why I volunteered.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Was Heart Mountain similar in how it felt to you?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes. It was -- it was quite depressing. This is in the desert area of Wyoming. They cleared out the sagebrush and put up the barracks. And it's quite depress -- I got a job working as an orderly in the hospital there, and so that's how I spent my time. But it's not a place that you want to go to or want to spend any long period of time at. Some people did throughout -- for the duration. But the WRA, the War Relocation Authority, under which -- under whose jurisdiction we were placed had this program of resettlement, resettling people who wanted to go outside and who had job offers, for example, to go outside. My brother, older brother Arthur, was severely crippled, was able -- but he had studied engineering, aircraft engineering. And he was able to get out to Chicago to work as a draftsman in the factory in Chicago so that you could get out and do that if you had a job and if you were a student.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And in your case, then you were able to get out to go to Syracuse University --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes, uh-huh.

Jurretta Heckscher:

-- is that right? When you were at Syracuse University, did people treat you differently do you think because of your Japanese American background?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, I mentioned the chancellor as having accepted a hundred of us. Ultimately, I think there were maybe a dozen of us who wound up in Syracuse. In his memoirs, he says that he called in the student editor at The Daily Orange -- that's the daily student newspaper -- told him what his problem was, that he expected a certain amount of hostility but that these were American citizens and he expected them to be treated like any other American of whatever their racial background or color or whatever. And he created an atmosphere there. And the university chaplain, Edberg Hayes (ph), was brought in to help out. He had been a missionary to China. A member of the faculty, Douglas Herring, who was an anthropologist also had been a missionary to Japan. The university administration worked to make things not hostile to us. So I don't remember any hostility from individual students or from the faculty in my time at Syracuse University.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Are there particular stories that stand out in your memory about what your family went through or what you went through in this process of internment, relocation and so forth?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Maybe it's because of the denial. I don't -- or suppression of unpleasant memories. But I tend to remember good things that happened rather than bad things that happened. There were social dances at the -- at these relocation centers. There was -- if you had the money, you could order in -- we lived in California, but in Wyoming the winter gets really cold. And what they did during the winter was to flood certain areas and create ice skating rinks. If you had the money, you could order ice skates from the Sears -- through the Sears Roebuck catalog. As I say, I don't remember the bad things that happened or I suppressed them because I don't want to remember them.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Did going through all this affect your feelings and thoughts about the war?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

No. You know, what a lot of Americans don't understand is that the schools do a very good job of Americanizing you, pledge allegiance to the flag. I pledged allegiance without the under God which later has become an issue recently. But the songs we sang, "America the Beautiful", history lessons we went through, the civics lessons, we became thoroughly Americanized in the process. And so when Japan struck Pearl Harbor, that's what I meant when I said earlier I could see only nothing but bad things happening to us because while on the one hand we thought of ourselves as Americans and my own self-image was that of -- since I was born on the 4th of July as a Yankee Doodle Dandy, I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the 4th of July [singing], you know. But if you look at me, you know right away that I'm not a very good stereotype Yankee Doodle -- maybe Squanto but not Yankee Doodle. But in my heart, I always thought of myself as an American. But there was enough of a Japanese cultural influence in my makeup, my own emotional makeup, that I instead of -- instead of resisting the unconstitutional acts that the government had taken against me I took -- I took it without fighting. To that extent, I guess I was more Japanese than I was American if that stereotype is true that Americans are individuals who fight for the rights if they are trampled upon and so forth. Well, there are a lot of Americans who are not that way either. But -- well, what else can I say?

Jurretta Heckscher:

So your sense of patriotism changed or didn't change as a result of all this do you think?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Patriotism is a funny thing. You are born, taught -- I was in the Boy Scouts, for example. On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country -- honor, duty, country. That happens to be the West Point motto. But that was thoroughly ingrained in us as schoolchildren. Now, the funny thing is that my parents sent us to Japanese language school. I remember resisting and thought why should I be studying this funny language. I'm never going to use it anyway. And, anyway, I'm not Japanese. I'm an American. Well, I subsequently, especially when I got into the Army, regretted that I had not been a better student of Japanese but -- and especially when I came to the Library of Congress as a Japan specialist I regretted even more that I had not been a more diligent student. But that's life.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And do you think your family's sense of themselves as Americans changed as a result of this experience?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, my parents, of course, never -- could never become American citizens. They were forbidden by law to be naturalized. That's according to the 1790 Nationality Act.

Jurretta Heckscher:

That was true of all Japanese immigrants; is that right?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

That was true of all non-European immigrants to this country. If you are born in this country, you are automatically an American citizen. That's the principle of nationality that the United States adheres to. You serve the law of this land. Japan recognized another basic policy, you serve the law of this blood. If you are born of Japanese parents, you are automatically a Japanese citizen. So we were automatically citizens of both Japan and United States when we were born. But, you know, in the '20s and '30s as it became -- Japan invaded China, it became evident that war was building, coming. Possibilities were greater in the '30s especially. We were advised to renounce our Japanese citizenship. And you had to do it, take a positive act to do that. But my father went to the consular general in Los Angeles and had our names removed as Japanese citizens. So we were American citizens legally after that, but by that time we were emotionally Americans anyway. As for changes, no, there were no changes in our feelings toward our country. This is a country of our birth and our upbringing and --

Jurretta Heckscher:

And I think one of the ways then that you expressed that sense of Americanness was when you entered the Army; is that right? And I think Sarah will now ask you some questions about that experience.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Sure.

Sarah Rouse:

Dr. Tsuneishi, I understand you entered the Army in 1943. Were you drafted, or did you enlist?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

I volunteered. In front of Pearl Harbor the -- I may have mentioned earlier that the Army -- draft was closed to Japanese Americans. We were [coughs] -- we were classified 4C enemy aliens. But because of the -- let me back up a little bit

Sarah Rouse:

Sure.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

When I went to Berkeley in 19 -- September 1941, one of the people I met there was a naval officer. He was in a special class, Navy class studying Japanese. The Navy recognized that war was coming, and they needed Japanese language specialists. A man named William Himel who lives here in the suburbs of Maryland right now, then in September of 1941 the Army, the war department, began a program of training Japanese language specialists. And most of these people they trained were Japanese Americans. And all of the faculty, six members of the faculty, were Japanese Americans. That school began in the Presidio of San Francisco at Fourth Army headquarters administered by G2 intelligence, initial class of 60 students, about six faculty members. Now, my brother, older brother Hughes had been drafted before Pearl Harbor. He eventually wound up in that school. But the funny thing was that in the meantime all Japanese Americans were evacuated from the West Coast into the interior, including the students and the faculty of that Fourth Army school. They could no longer stay there in San Francisco. So that school was moved to Camp Savage, a former GCC camp out in the outskirts of St. Paul, Minnesota, and renamed the Military Intelligence Service Language School MISLS under the administration of the war -- the administration of the war department. And what happened is that the first graduates of that school were ready by June of 1942. Actually, some before the graduates graduated they were sent to places like Etu and Guadalcanal where their services were needed. And so while the Army on the one hand was training Nisei Japanese Americans as Japanese language specialists they were incarcerating their families and putting us into these relocation centers, one of those bitter ironies of the war. Now, in Hawaii where there was a larger number of Japanese and Japanese Americans, about 150,000, 120,000 in three West Coast states as I said earlier, they did not have to go through the internment process. Race relationships were much better in Hawaii. There was not that long history of anti-Asian discrimination and prejudice. There were about 1,200 members, Japanese American members of the Hawaiian National Guard. And they were gung ho for volunteering, and they asked to be used. And they were sent in June of 1945, about the time I was being interned at Tanforan to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. They were the famed 100th infantry battalion that covered themselves with glory in the battlefields of Europe. So that by the end of 1942 it was apparent that the war department needed more people. They needed more people for the infantry in Europe, and they needed more people for the Military Intelligence Services language specialist for the Pacific, how to get around this problem. They opened up the Army again for volunteers in early 1943. One of the ironies here is that President Roosevelt in his announcement of that reopening of the Army to Nisei volunteers, especially from the relocation centers, was that he said something to that effect that Americanism is not a matter of race or ethnicity but is a -- Americanism is a matter of heart and mind. One of the -- one of my favorite books was written by a Filipino American in the '30s, and there was -- the title was "America is in the Heart." "America is" -- something like that. Carlos Bulosan. And you can look it up in the Library of Congress --

Sarah Rouse:

Yeah.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

-- catalog. But that's -- that's the way we felt. So that if you wanted to volunteer you could volunteer for either the Military Intelligence Service or for infantry duty. By that time, that same announcement ordered the establishment of the 442nd regimental combat team. A battalion has about a thousand men. A regiment has about 3,000 men. Regimental combat team has about 4,000 men. You need quite a few men to stand those -- man those possessions, those units. And when the call for volunteers went out, there were very large numbers -- oh, 1,300 or more who volunteered to meet from Hawaii. The number volunteering from the relocation centers was significantly smaller. By that time, however -- so that we could at least be drafted or volunteer for the Army. By that time I was a student at Syracuse. My brother who had been sent to the Camp Savage at the MISLS at Camp Savage wrote to me, I think, sometime in April suggesting that I volunteer for the Military Intelligence Service Language School rather than for the infantry because if I went into the infantry I would become -- be used as cannon fodder which, as a matter of fact, that's the way it turned out because the 442nd suffered grievous casualties. The 100th -- 100th infantry battalion which became part of the 442nd was called the Purple Heart Battalion because they were -- they had a ___. They must have won about 1,700 Purple Hearts. That means that more -- some of the men were wounded more than once. But -- how did I get off the right track?

Sarah Rouse:

You chose the other option.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes. So you asked me if I was drafted or volunteered. I volunteered shortly after that, but I wanted to finish my senior year of college. And, fortunately, Syracuse had this wartime speeded-up program. So I got there in January of '43, literally 8 January. But I was able to graduate with that class which graduated in August, mid-August. But by that time, I was with the Army. And, again, I got my credits without completing my full senior year of undergraduate education. And the draft board certainly was glad to have me, and they needed volunteers. And I was sent to Camp Upton in Long Island for induction, then was sent immediately to Camp Savage for intelligence training.

Sarah Rouse:

And you were there studying for how long about?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Six months. It was one of these total immersion courses from taps to reveille. From the time I woke up to time I went to bed, 10:30, we were studying military Japanese morning, noon and evening classes, five-and-a-half days a week. We were at liberty Saturday afternoon and Sunday. But this went on for six months specialized training in military Japanese. I mentioned earlier that I had gone to Japanese language school. My parents had sent me through the American school years. I had not been a very good student. That's where I first regretted that I had not been a more diligent student. But I was good enough to be classified as a translator by the time that ended. Then from there was -- our unit was sent to Camp Blanding there for infantry basic training. Any staff -- any Army member being sent overseas, destined to be sent overseas had to have infantry basic training or something comparable to that.

Sarah Rouse:

Dr. Tsuneishi, you got leave of absence I understand and you visited your parents at Heart Mountain. Can you talk about that a little bit.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

That was after infantry basic.

Sarah Rouse:

Yes.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Our outfit was shipped back to Fort Snelling which is just out near Camp Savage. And we stayed there several -- a week or so, maybe a couple of weeks. And during that period, we were given leave to visit our families if we wished to. I hopped a train to Heart Mountain to visit my parents. Thing that caught my attention, here I am in U.S. Army uniform, sometimes like this, and walk up to the gate and there's an MP there wearing the same uniform. He checks me out, without blinking an eye, a routine thing. But I look up and see the watch tower is guarded by GIs with their guns pointed inside and outside, and this is a Kafkaesque kind of a situation. It's something that is hard to rationalize. And you really don't. You simply accept it as I said earlier. You accept certain things as the reality of life. You don't bang your head against the wall and try to understand it any more than that. My mother was quite anxious about me because my older brother was already in the MIS destined to go to the Pacific. She's Japanese. She has Japanese feelings. And she's not necessarily for U.S. victory in World War II, in the war against her own country. And she has now two sons who are destined to go that way. She has -- I have two younger brothers who are just about eligible to be drafted. And all four of us wound up in the Military Intelligence Service Language School. My older brother and I saw active combat in the Pacific. My two younger brothers -- the third one whose name is Noel was born on Christmas; I think my parents planned it that way, me to be born on the 4th and he to be born on Christmas -- he was involved in the Manila war crimes trial. My other brother Paul was too late for that. He was involved in the occupation of Japan, occupation duties in Japan. So how did this conversation begin?

Sarah Rouse:

So --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Oh, yes.

Sarah Rouse:

Your visit to your parents --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yes.

Sarah Rouse:

And I wanted to ask you if your --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

My mother was quite distressed that she was going to have two, possibly four, and eventually she did. I was not -- when I got out into the field, my first operation was the Leyte campaign, landings on October 20, 1944. You remember when General MacArthur was chased out of the Philippines from Korea then he vowed to return, "I shall return." It took him a couple of years, but he did return. That was the return -- it was MacArthur's return October 20th, 1944, a bloody combat there. In the camps just before that, there had been the third of the great Naval battles of the Pacific, Midway being the first, Marianas, Turkey should be the second and the battle of Leyte being the third. Out of those rumors in camp I learned later that the Japanese Navy had won that battle in Taipei. Of course, they were virtually destroyed, of that part the fleet, the continental U.S. Navy. But there were these rumors going around that Japan was going to make a counterattack, and my mother was worried sick. And I was not a very dutiful son. I wasn't writing letters home. And she got ahold of the International Red Cross to look me up and tell him to get on the ball and write home, I was worried. So I did send her a letter. And a few years ago I ran across a collection of haiku. My father was a haiku poet among other things. He was a farmer, but on Sundays he and his friends who were poets got together to write haiku. Even in the middle of the Depression when you had trouble finding money to put food on the table, he was writing haiku. Anyway, after the war, he collected a haiku written by his friends and himself; and he included in that collection which he edited and published were about 20 haiku from my mother. And one of them read something like this, "Senchi" -- in Japanese -- "Senchi yori/ Haha e no tayori/ Kurisumasu." That freely translates -- and it's undated. But I freely translated this as, "From the battlefield a letter to mother, Merry Christmas." And I think she must have written that when she received my letter because it -- all together towards the end of the year there was another haiku that she wrote. And it goes something like this ____+. And that really translates, "Battle of the Philippines. There are people betting on its outcome at the end of the year." There were pro-Japanese forces in the camps, and they were betting that this time the American forces would be defeated. It's in that atmosphere my mother has a Red Cross representative contact me.

Sarah Rouse:

When you visited your parents, did your views about the Japanese differ and they were Japanese themselves and you were Japanese American?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yeah. Well, I don't think so it would have changed anyway. During the war, there was this stereotype at the Japanese atrocity as soldiers who engage in all kinds of atrocities and so forth. And I am a Japanese background. How could I accept that kind of stereotype about myself? As I said earlier, I considered myself an American. But I had -- I didn't regard the Japanese as being that much more different than any other people who engage in war. They're the enemy, but they're not -- they're not this stereotype kind of enemy. But -- and I don't think that my views changed when I visited my parents in that relocation center, and they didn't change when I had occasions during the war to interrogate Japanese prisoners. They didn't all commit suicide. There were some who were captured, most of them gravely wounded. And I didn't think of them as a stereotypical type of enemy. They were just human beings caught in this war and wounded. And, if anything, I felt empathy or sympathy for them. So...

Sarah Rouse:

You have a photograph that I gave you earlier down by the side of your chair. I wonder if you could let us see that picture and tell us a little bit about where you are and what you are doing --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, this is my outfit. At Camp Savage we were formed into teams of ten headed by an NCO, non-commissioned officer, staff sergeant or tech sergeant. That's George -- that's a tech sergeant, George Takabayashi from Honolulu, the NCO in charge of the 306 Headquarters Intelligence Detachment. There were a number of these attachments. They're usually sent out in teams of ten or sometimes since our group was destined for the 24th Corps there was a corps that consists of two or three divisions. You are talking about 30, 40 thousand men. And they were detached to our corps headquarters. Some of the men were sent to be language specialists at the divisional level or even regimental level, and here we are talking about 15,000 division or 4,000 regiment.

Sarah Rouse:

In the picture that you are holding, can you point yourself out?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

I am the one down here in the dark glasses. This is our officer, Lieutenant Richard Clement. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area. He is a deputy or worked for the American Association of Publishers.

Sarah Rouse:

That picture was taken November 1st, 1944.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

That's in Dulag, Leyte. Dulag, Leyte, was the landing area of the Leyte Islands. And that's taken in front of our tent. We were in the landing area.

Sarah Rouse:

I understand some of the fighting in the Pacific was pretty rough. Did you have any close calls or you came face to face with enemy forces in the course of interrogating them? Can you talk about that a little bit?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Yeah. Interrogating was -- my basic job was translating documents, captured documents. The Japanese left tons of top-secret documents strewn around. They were very not conscious about document security. We were told, for example, that we could not carry any diaries into the battlefield. So we left everything, all of our personal diaries and journals in Hawaii before with the friends, family, before I left. The Japanese had no such regulation, and they carried their diaries into the field. And minding the diaries was very important for what the Army calls order of battle information, what the organization is, where it came from, how it's trained, how it's equipped and that kind of information. It's quite often mentioned in personal diaries carried by the soldiers. We'd review that. And they apparent -- the military, Japanese military apparently felt it didn't matter whether their documents fell into our hands because no Americans couldn't read Japanese in any case or very few. And they would not be -- not secure their documents. For example, in Leyte there was an airborne attack mounted by the Japanese with a mission of -- it's a raiding force. The three Japanese BETTY bombers converted troop ships carrying altogether about 90 troops. Their mission was to attack and neutralize the airships that the CBs were building and then after having destroyed the facilities and the fuel tanks and so forth to link up with the Japanese divisions on Leyte. We learned all of this because one of the planes crashed near our headquarters with a document spelling out in great detail the mission, the objectives, the number of attack -- of the attacking force, their equipment and so forth. And I stayed up all night translating that document. And, needless to say, if you have that kind of information, you can pretty well neutralize what they are attempting to do. ___+ against our force -- it was a raiding force actually. There was another time on Okinawa where -- well, back to Leyte. Towards -- when Leyte was secured by the end of 1944 MacArthur's headquarters received a message from the inhabitants of a small group of islands between Leyte and Samar, the Camotes Islands, sweet potato islands. The inhabitants are being slaughtered by a smaller occupying Japanese force. And the corps, 24th Corps, organized a reinforced battalion to liberate the islands; and they asked for volunteers. And another colleague of mine, Lloyd Shinsato, from Honolulu and I volunteered. Lloyd turned out to be a -- after the war turned out to be a judge in Denver, but that's neither here. He was sent forward to the front lines, and I stayed with battalion headquarters. And we learned almost immediately from captured documents what the force was, a unit of about three to four hundred shipping engineers. We figured this is a cinch, what could shipping engineers do. Well, they were -- had been trained in battle it turned out. They put up fierce resistance. But they wiped themselves out in a banzai attack that killed almost all of them. That was the first time -- or second time I was under fire as Japanese planes in support of the -- of their garrison strafed us, and I remember looking up and seeing this plane diving in at us. I assumed it was friendly. But when the tracer bullets started hitting around me, I thought, oh, what a beautiful sight that is until those tracing bullets came. First time I was under fire was under friendly fire at the corps headquarters where the picture was taken. One of the tactics of the Japanese was to -- for snipers to climb up the top of a palm tree and hide themselves in sniper targets of opportunity. And somebody in headquarters thought that there was once a person, then they start firing down, pretty soon the whole -- everyone was firing at everything that was out there. The third time I was under fire was in Okinawa. Okinawa, that was the bloodiest single battle of the whole Pacific war. We lost about 45,000 casualties, about a third of them killed. The Japanese lost twice that number, all of them killed in action, plus over a hundred thousand civilians. You don't want to go to war.

Sarah Rouse:

No.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

But one of the documents we captured there was -- again spelled out their strategy for the defense of the island. You know, in corps headquarters that's a real rare echelon. You usually land about D plus 3 or something. That's -- sorry. We were on the beach on D -- D-Day. The reason is -- was that there was no resistance down there, and the reason for that was as we learned from that captured document was that their strategy was to build the dug-in defenses on an escarpment that bisected the island of Okinawa to the south. We landed to the west/northwest, moved inland. And their strategy was to suck us in, to let us spend all of our forces and our supplies. In the meantime, our shipping would be attacked by kamikazes. And they would destroy our shipping, and there we would be stranded and without -- our supply lines having been cut, and then they could destroy us at their leisure. The third time I was under fire was again by all friendly forces because as the Kamikaze planes came to attack our shipping our own anti-aircraft and especially naval anti-aircraft guns would go -- start going off. And as the planes came down later, the guns would be depressed. And we were watching this saying what a wonderful sight to see. You are going to watch the 4th of July celebrations in a couple of days. This is much grander than that to see all those tracer bullets going up and anti-aircraft, and here we were watching from one of the hills overlooking the bay down there. And until the guy standing next to me went down, he had his eye shot off or whatever, and we dropped to the ground and watched after that. But I was never in any hand-to-hand combat of the type that the 100th -- 442nd in the European theater war was involved in. Most of us who served in the MIS were in the rear lines and not in the front lines. But there were occasions where we were subjected to direct enemy fire. And whereas over 800 Nisei lost their lives in the European theater, there were only, thank God, 25 or so of us who were killed in the war in the Pacific. Initially, when we were sent out, we were assigned bodyguards. That was to protect us from our own troops. We were not trusted to be loyal citizens working on be -- citizen soldiers working on behalf of the U.S. government. But the function of the bodyguards and the officers also, white officers -- all of the officers are white -- was to keep an eye on us on the one hand and then to protect us from -- from our own forces who might mistake us for the enemy. And, as I said, we -- or maybe I did not say -- but Nisei soldiers, linguists, interpreters and translators were engaged in every major and minor battle in the whole North Pacific campaign and in the China/Burma/India theater throughout the war.

Sarah Rouse:

When the war ended, were you able to return to the United States to see your family? Where were they?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, yes, I had enough points to get out, to be discharged from the Army. I had been offered a field commission. George Takabayashi, the NCO in charge, had earned or been awarded a field commission in Okinawa; and I was stepped up and became tech sergeant, NCO in charge of the 306 headquarters in charge of this detachment with the understanding that I would receive my field commission in due course. War ended, and there went my chances. However, our ___ was sent to Korea for occupational duties; and I was offered a field commission if I signed on for another tour of duty. I declined because I wanted to go get back into civilian life. This business about our officers being white, you know, the Nisei were not welcome in any of the branches of the Armed Forces except the Army. Marines are costers (ph). Navy, of course, is costers, lily-white Navy, until fairly recently in American history. I had a buddy -- I have a buddy who was with Merrill's Marauders in the China/Burma/India theater, the Burma jungles. He was drafted before the war, and he volunteered for the Army Air Corps, and he was accepted. He served -- was in training for several months. Then came Pearl Harbor, and he was moved -- similarly discharged from the Army Air Corps and sent back to the regular Army. Funny thing about the policy, Army policy at that time was quite inconsistent. My brother Hughes who had been drafted before the war, as I said earlier, he remained in but went off to the MIS. Another buddy of mine was being trained for the artillery. He was dismissed for the convenience of the Army. Then when the Army was reopened in 1943 he volunteered. He wound up with the 442nd. At the end of the war, he was in field artillery of 442nd at the end of the war. He was -- when the German armies fell apart he was -- his outfit was among -- was one who liberated one of the sub-camps of the Dachau compounds. So the Army was inconsistent in its policy. But as the war in the Pacific progressed and we proved ourselves as being trustworthy and loyal, some of the men got field commissions and said that towards the end of the war it began to change quite rapidly that war, and more of us got field commissions. And that's why I was offered that opportunity. But I preferred to go back. I had had enough of war.

Jurretta Heckscher:

How about your family, when were they permitted to leave the Heart Mountain Relocation Center?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Officially, on December 18, 1944. That was the date that Mitsue Endo -- M-i-t-s-u-e, last name E-n-d-o -- Ms. Endo had been a civil servant in the state of California. And when she was evacuated to an assembly center, a San Francisco attorney had her enter -- she had her attorney enter a writ of habeas corpus, argue that her civil rights, her Fifth Amendment rights, the federal government shall not deprive you of your life, liberty or property without due process of law, that her constitutional rights have been violated and that she should be freed. Well, that case went through the courts and finally wound up in the Supreme Court in December of 1944. By that time, the -- those of us who had -- were serving in the Pacific in the 100th there was very little publicity about us because we were -- there were confidentiality issues and so forth. But the 100th/442nd in Europe had tons of publicity about what they have been doing. And the Army could no longer -- the war department could no longer carry on the charade that all of these disloyals and internment centers and what were all these guys doing fighting the wars for the United States and Europe in the Pacific. That is, the war department knew that we were out there in the Pacific if the general public did not. So they had -- so the whole atmosphere had changed from Pearl Harbor wherein there was a possibility of a Japanese attack on Hawaii and the mainland because Japanese forces in the early months of the war were made completely unopposed, virtually unopposed. But the Battle of Midway in June of 1942 in which, of course, we scored our first naval victory meant that the -- that the possibility of Japanese invasion of the -- either Hawaii or the mainland was virtually negligible so that -- Where did I start off this discussion now?

Jurretta Heckscher:

How it came to be that your family was permitted to leave.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Oh, yes. Well, and so that the whole atmosphere changed so that the Supreme Court's decision was for Mitsue Endo, and she was ordered by the -- she was ordered freed immediately. The day before that, a very curious thing, the Army made an announcement that the -- you would no longer -- Army was, of course, running the relocation centers, although they were administered by the civilian organization called the War Relocation Authority. The Army announced that it would no longer continue to staff the guard posts in the ten relocation centers. And I think in my opinion what was happening then again was this recognition -- it was not that -- the U.S. government could no longer continue this two-headed diplomacy, one of using us in the Armed Forces and the other of detaining us in these relocation centers. But it took time, a bit of time for this whole process to be -- camps to be closed down. It took about a year. But my parents, my family was able to return to Monrovia by late fall of 1940 -- '46 -- '45. Yeah, late after the war ended.

Jurretta Heckscher:

And did this have a continuing effect, this whole internment experience, on their later life in any way that you can remember?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Funny thing. As I said earlier, for many -- for most of the Issei, the first generation, our parents, immigrants from Japan, this is the first time that they had had any kind of extended vacation as it were from back-breaking labor in the fields and so forth. After the war, they -- some of them were able to pick up where they had left off. My parents went into semi-retirement, although my mother worked as a housemaid for a while to earn some money. My father worked as a dishwasher. I think they were both working so that they would qualify for Social Security benefits. But others went if they had a profession -- and there was a small group of people who did have professions as doctors or lawyers or schoolteachers, especially at university faculties, they went back and rebuilt their lives and quite successfully I would say given that they had four years of their most productive years taken out of their lives. In my own case, remember that movie The Best Years of Our Lives, the war movie?

Jurretta Heckscher:

Yes.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Dana Andrews and The Best Years of Our Lives. You asked me earlier what I felt, and sometimes I think that these were the best years of my life. How to explain it? Who knows?

Jurretta Heckscher:

Dr. Tsuneishi, what would you like to say to especially perhaps young people about the World War II era and its place in American history considering that you had this extraordinary experience as both --

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Never give up hope. I -- growing up as I say with a self-image, myself being more American than most Americans, I had -- growing up I developed some very close friendships. My best friend was -- with my Boy Scout I was adopted by the B.H. Smith family as a kind of -- they had two sons. They had an Ian, and Ted was my best friend in high school. And I always felt -- and I made many friends in the high school I attended, Monrovia High School. I was the editor of the school annuals and the assistant editor in my junior year. And I had to -- among other things, I had to go around making speeches about how you should buy the annual. You know, it cost five dollars. That's a lot of money in those days. But I made lots of good friends. And I always used to tell myself that if friends of my own generation were in positions of political power this kind of thing, evacuation, mistreatment, denial of constitutional rights, would never have happened. And that's why I never gave up hope that the ___ of the Declaration of Independence, of the Constitution, of the Gettysburg address, even Roosevelt's pronouncements -- you know, if you will visit the FDR Memorial at Tidal Basin one of the tablets has -- one of the memorial or one of the inscriptions there has to do with a message that he sent in 1940 to the Committee of the Foreign Born, and the gist of it is that one of the most important fundamental values of American society is to give equal opportunity and justice for all regardless of race or ethnicity. That's Roosevelt in 1940, a couple years after which he issues a proclamation -- executive order interning us. But whether he was a politician or not, that is a real statesmanlike remark. The Declaration of Independence is written by a slave owner. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal." That's Thomas Jefferson who owned his thousand -- hundred -- several hundred slaves. So there are these things that happened. But from my point of view, America is a nation in the process of trying to live up to its dreams. And I believed that then. I still believe it. I would say to other people, younger generation, never lose faith in your country. I'd like to say that to Arab Americans today who are faced with similar problems. One thing, one major difference -- there are several differences between the two groups. Japanese Americans in 1941 and '2, there are only about 300,000 in all of the United States. There are about last I -- census report I saw about somewhere between four to five million Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in this country. You can't put that many people in concentration camps or internment centers. That's one reality. And that's one of the things that George W. Bush -- I'm a Dem -- I'm a Roosevelt Democrat, grew up in the Depression years, don't have much good to say about Republicans. But one good thing that George W. Bush did do two days after 9/11 was to go to a mosque and assure the people there that this was a war against terrorism, not against Muslims, not against Arab Americans. I wish that President Roosevelt had had the same -- had displayed the same kind of leadership to have issued that kind of statement after Pearl Harbor instead of his executive order. But that would be my message: Never lose hope, always believe in your country and fight for your country when it needs to have either soldiers or civilians fighting for the Constitution of the United States. There was kind of a quota to all of this. A month ago I attended a ceremony in San Francisco, a ceremony of reconciliation. As I said earlier, in the Heart Mountain Relocation Centers -- Center when they called for volunteers when I came in 1943 and a year later the draft was made mandatory there was a group there of diehards. They said, now, wait a minute, you can't do this to me. You have classified us as enemy aliens. Are we enemy aliens, or are we free American citizens? If we are free American citizens, how can you deny us our constitutional rights? We are loyal, and we are willing to fight for the country if you will first restore our constitutional rights and free our parents when we go off to fight in the Army. Well, that didn't sit very well with most of us, I would say the majority of Japanese Americans. And it didn't sit well with the Japanese American Citizens League, a civil rights organization which -- whose policy it was to accommodate to the demands being made by the government and to go along with the relocation, not make waves, not contest the relocation on constitutional grounds and to volunteer for military service. This didn't sit well with this group. And they not only did not support the draft resisters, they vilified them and caused a certain amount of ostracism against these so-called draft dodgers, unpatriotic, disloyal. Now, that wound has festered all these years between the Draft Resisters of Conscience and the Japanese American Citizens League. And there was a resolution finally adopted two years ago by the JACL that they should acknowledge that they had been wrong in not supporting these people on constitutional grounds and as a civil rights organization and that they needed -- there needed to be reconciliation between these two groups. And that's what the ceremony a month ago was in San Francisco. About 350 people attended. I was one of two veterans who attended that ceremony and spoke up on -- in behalf of the draft resisters. I met them after the war and found them -- one of them, as a matter of fact, had been a student at the same high school I had gone to. I had won an essay contest run by the Daughters of the American Revolution. I wrote on conservation of natural resources. And this -- this draft resister who followed me a year or so later also entered that contest. I asked him how come -- you were so young. You were only 19 or 20 when you joined this group of draft resisters. How did you know so much about your constitutional rights? And he said, Well, I entered this contest and I wrote this essay on the Bill of Rights. That's how he knew about it. But that's how things have worked out in the -- it took 60 years for that to happen. And I'm not sure that that rift has healed yet because the veterans, most Nisei veterans, stoutly disavow these draft resisters.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Is there anything else that you'd like to share with us at this time?

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

Well, I can't say -- I think I have spoken more than I should have. I did want to clarify one little point that I mentioned earlier. I mentioned the chief petty officer of the Navy who told me about how after Teddy Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet around the world 1907 and '8 how the Navy had replaced all of the Japanese mess attendants with black Americans. He told me that the black Americans up until that time were free to volunteer for any branch of the Navy or any task in the Navy whether sail-maker or gunman or whatever. But after that time, they were segregated into -- as mess attendants. I met this man at the USS Maine Memorial Arlington National Cemetery. I was visiting there once. And, you know, the names of the sailors, they are all enlisted men, sailors who went down with the Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898. Their names are inscribed in the turret of the Maine that is a centerpiece of that memorial. I was reading the names; and there are these Japanese names pop up, seven of them. And I looked into this, and it turns out that these were Japanese immigrants to this country. The Navy in that 19th century, former British naval practice was getting whoever they could to their ships. As it turns out, that in 19th century America many immigrants to this country saw military service as a way to go up the social ladder. And so as far as I know, there were nine -- I subsequently got a hold of the entire register of sailors aboard the USS Maine. There were nine Japanese names in that list. Seven of them went down with the Maine. And they were the first Japanese to die in the service of the United States military forces. I tried to determine if there were any Japanese Americans who had served -- Japanese who served in the Civil War; and I found -- learned from the Veterans Administration that there were two Chinese but no Japanese, one on the Union side and one on the Confederate side.

Jurretta Heckscher:

Fascinating.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

That's the United States. We come from all over the world. We represent all kinds of races, ethnic groups. But in the end, we are all Americans. And that is why I say never give up hope, always work for your rights.

Sarah Rouse:

I think that's the last word. Thank you very much for speaking with us today, Dr. Tsuneishi.

Warren Michio Tsuneishi:

I'm glad you gave me this opportunity.

Jurretta Heckscher:

So are we.

Sarah Rouse:

Our pleasure.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us