The beginning of Japanese-American internment

Evacuations to internment camps

Volunteering for the army

Japanese translation in India

Serving in Burma with the British

Translating in China

Hitching a ride on a Japanese gunboat

From Okinawa to Japan

Invasion of Japan

Returning to the US after the war

Reminiscing on the internment camp

Japanese feelings inside the camps

Annotation

Masaji Inoshita was born in central California. At an early age he moved down to the Santa Barbara area. His father had started a small farm there. By 1940 Inoshita was 21. His father had a stroke and he took over the farming operation. It was a well run farm. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor it was clear to them that their lives were going to change. On 9 December [Annotators Note: 9 December 1941] Inoshita’s birthday was interrupted by FBI agents arresting his father. They just took him and they gave no information. He disappeared from Inoshita’s life for awhile. Inoshita found out that 73 other persons who were immigrant Japanese were arrested by the FBI. No one knew where they went. They had been taken to a place called La Tuna canyon near Los Angeles and later transferred to Montana to be interviewed. Parts of the group were sent to Fort Lincoln, North Dakota. It was an old World War 1 prisoner of war depot. Others were sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Immigrants from Japan were gathered up. They were leaders of their community. They were the literate ones in their communities. They were the influential members and they maintained contact with Japan for the other illiterate immigrants. Inoshita’s father was registered in the 1900 census. His mother came to the United States in 1916. They had a good marriage. They had ten children. The first child died in infancy. Inoshita was by default the head of the family. He was given the best education to make sure that he could lead. Inoshita’s family had an assistant that helped them. She was an Apache. It was a good arrangement because there were a lot of people in the family. The FBI had a record of the fact that his father was a foreman and had access to dynamite. That is probably the reason why he was picked up by the FBI. When his father was picked up, Inoshita was determined to keep the farm operating. He had 15 very good workers and they continued to farm. On 19 April 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It is an outrageous anti-Japanese document even though the word Japanese did not exist anywhere in the order. The army was in control of the evacuation. The mayor of San Francisco at the time was of Italian descent and there was a large number of Italians living in the San Francisco area. Many of which were not legal citizens. He wired Washington and asked about Italians but was informed that 9066 only applied to persons of Japanese descent.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Masaji Insohita served in the army as a Japanese translator and interrogator in the China-Burma-India Theater.] They began to issue 125 orders of evacuation. They started evacuations in Washington, California, and Oregon. They formed assembly centers, which were in reality fair grounds in different counties that were transformed into internment camps. They began to notify about 500 persons on each evacuation and they knew where everybody lived. There were strong penalties if people did not comply. They were all told to prepare to evacuate and could only carry items that they could carry themselves. They were not allowed to have weapons or anything that could be a weapon. They could not have cameras or short wave radios. Life was restricted in a great sense. Some of the camps were massive. The camp at Santa Anita was massive. Everything was army controlled. Food for each prisoner was 46 cents per day. Inoshita had a job in the camp as a receiver in the mess hall. After one day he realized that it was useless to look at the menu. A typical breakfast consisted of jam, butter, coffee, bread, eggs and milk. Inoshita was responsible for feeding about 330 people. His first shift he only got ten loaves of bread. Things got changed and he was able to get what he needed for those people. They wrote to every congressman at every chance. It was unsatisfactory and everyone felt like they were being cheated. Within a short time the army was working to build ten more internment centers. They constructed two in Arkansas and one each in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. Two were constructed in California and two were selected for the state of Arizona. They began shipping 500 Japanese persons per day to each camp. It took a long time to get everyone transported to the camps. One of the good things was that in the transfer of the people to the assembly centers the jurisdiction went from the army to the War Department. This was a good thing for the Japanese there because almost immediately the food improved. The atmosphere improved and they were allowed to do more things. It was a good improvement. Inoshita felt that he could manage alright and make the best out of the situation. The leaders of their community assured them that negotiations were going on. The food improved 100 percent. The fact that they were able to buy beef cattle to improve their meat supply was good. The camps became self supporting almost. Places like Poston and Gila River were sending vegetables to the cold weather camps. They did have postal inspections.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Masaji Insohita served in the army as a Japanese translator and interrogator in the China-Burma-India Theater.] Certain camps, because of the influence of the Quakers, permitted people inside the camp to go to school outside of the camp. People inside of the camp were allowed to move based on certain exceptions. People got jobs and moved closer to schools. Some of the people who got jobs impressed their employers. The army was having trouble because they could not find enough people that could speak or write Japanese. The army regulations stated that they could not draft anyone of Japanese ancestry. The army argued back and forth about what they were going to do with Japanese. The Japanese in the camps were openly volunteering for army service. Inoshita volunteered to enter the US Army’s language school. It was probably not the best decision because Inoshita had family members that required his assistance. He also felt that America was his country and that he had to do something to show his loyalty. Inoshita was one of 29 volunteers to leave his camp and go to Camp Savage, Minnesota. Inoshita had an examination for his abilities. He recalls the person who gave him the examination being confounded with the idea that the previous candidates for Japanese language school were clueless in how to speak and write Japanese. No one could find a uniform that would fit the Japanese guys. They needed intelligence guys so badly that they distorted their regulations to allow for shorter guys to join. They told Inoshita he was 5 feet 8 inches tall but in reality he is closer to 5 feet tall. Most of the guys had to go to a tailor to get their clothes altered. Inoshita was declared to be equally proficient in Japanese as he was in English. Inoshita graduated in six months as a T5 [Annotators Note: Technician 5th Grade which was the same pay grade as a corporal] and half of them were sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At Camp Shelby they took combat training. The army had changed its policy from asking for volunteers to being able to draft. Their First Sergeant was a Japanese man who was about six feet tall. They marched morning and night. The tall captain was their squad leader. The second in command was another tall Japanese man. They established a good record. After Camp Shelby they were assigned back to Minnesota. The best Japanese interpreters were shipped immediately to the Pacific. Inoshita’s group was slightly below in standards so consequentially they were loaned out to where they were needed. Twenty of them were assigned by the British to report to New Delhi, India.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Masaji Insohita served in the army as a Japanese translator and interrogator in the China-Burma-India Theater.] They waited for the liberty ship to be manufactured [Annotator’s Note: that would take them to India]. They started towards Hawaii but ended up turning south towards New Zealand. They went through a terrible storm near Australia. They put on extra clothing because it started getting colder. Their port of landing was a secret US Naval Port called Freemantle. It was a submarine base. They translated documents there that the submarines had picked up. Most of the material was easily translated. After restocking the ship for about a week they headed on. They ended up at Camp Bush in India. After about a week they were shipped by train north to New Delhi. Inoshita recalls seeing the poor people in the streets asking for gifts. When they boarded the train to New Delhi they not only occupied the paid part but people rode the train for free on the top of the train cars. The train moved quite slowly. It was a 150 mile long awful train trip. When they arrived in New Delhi they were met by a British captain. Inoshita thought he was going to be thrown hodgepodge into whatever unit. They were surprised to find that a new camp had been constructed and that each person from their 22 man team was to get their own personal servant. They received extra sets of shoes and khaki uniforms. They had to look Class A all of the time. Inoshita got a servant who wanted to learn a little bit of English. He was in constant conversation with his servant. Inoshita learned about ten Indian words a day. The British captain kept a close eye on them. After about ten days of easy living in New Delhi they told them not to eat breakfast the following morning. A few guys cheated and grabbed food. They bussed the guys to an Indian military hospital. In the hospital there were 45 Japanese prisoners. The 45 guys had been injured in battle and had been captured. Their injuries showed marks of tape. Underneath the tape were thousands of insects eating dead flesh. The smell was so terrible that no one could hold onto what was in their stomach. They stayed down there for three hours. The British who saw the reports were happy because they realized they were getting good information. They stayed at the hospital for two or three more days. The captain called Inoshita in and told him he took notice that Inoshita was trying to learn the local dialects. Inoshita was quizzed on his local dialect by the captain. The captain told Inoshita he was the guy he was looking for. Inoshita was sent to the front lines in Burma to do translation work. Inoshita had one other Japanese interpreter. They got on a train and traveled about 100 miles. Two British soldiers informed them that they had to catch a ship on the river. Sgt. Edwin Sasaki was Inoshita’s partner. They got on the boat and everybody was standing. It was built for about 150 people but close to 300 were on it and there was no place to sit down. The waterline and the line for the boat were a couple of inches apart.

Annotation

Before they [Annotators Note: Masaji Inoshita and his fellow interpreter Sgt. Edwin Sasaki] got to their final destination they had to stop to reload passengers. One destination was Calcutta but the final destination was Burma. The boat was stopped midstream and they were transferred to a British transport. They did not know what their destination was until they got there. Inoshita worked for Major Thompson and Captain Burless from the Indian Army. Some of the officers were British. Inoshita worked with British officers who had lifetime careers helping to manage and oversee the Indian Army. The British did not consider Burma a frontline but the Americans did. They manufactured information from the prisoners that they got. The Japanese Army was breaking up for the simple reason they were not getting food anymore. Their supply line was not keeping up. What was really missing as the antidote for malaria. Inoshita believes that one of the big reasons the Japanese lost was because they did not have a way to combat malaria. Malaria cases became costly because the Japanese relied on being able to move their forces quickly. Some Japanese soldiers with malaria were given grenades or knives with which to commit suicide. The soldiers promised to the emperor that they would fight to the death. The Japanese used the grenades to go fishing. By that time their morale was broken. Many of these Japanese were easily captured. Inoshita's job was to interrogate them whenever possible. Occasionally Inoshita was taken out to a dead Japanese body. They were told if they wanted the information off of the dead soldier they had to get it themselves. Inoshita would always try to ascertain the names of the soldiers. Most of them carried information about their families. Inoshita hated the job. He did the best he could. His partner was the same. When the British Army saw how much trouble they were having they trained one of the Indian soldiers on how to search the dead bodies. It was not quite so bad but it was still pretty bad. They got a lot of congratulations from headquarters in Delhi. Inoshita received the Burma Cross for that. He hated the job but he did the best job that he could. Sometimes they had ten prisoners to talk to. Inoshita remembers times when he would interrogate a person for two hours and not write anything down. A lieutenant colonel from the British Army came down to check on protocol and he deemed it lacking. Inoshita argued that the results were there. Inoshita had a good nose for recognizing important intelligence. Every once in awhile he would go to the officers club to disseminate intelligence.

Annotation

Towards the end of the war they [Annotator’s Note: the British officers] were telling them [Annotators Note: Masaji Inoshita and his fellow interpreter Sgt. Edwin Sasaki] that they might have to remain in Burma for a couple of years after the war is over. They had many unresolved issues with prisoners that they claimed they had to take care of. The British government was being thrown out of India. It was a big time for India. Consequently Inoshita was told to be ready to ship out. Within hours an airplane came and picked them up and flew them into China. There were about 50 or 60 of them on that plane. Inoshita did not know half of them. He ended up in Kunming, China. Inoshita has no record of going into China but only of coming out. Inoshita was assigned to the communist Chinese. He was with a colonel, a Major Hayes and a Lieutenant Hamilton. They were working exclusively with the communist Chinese. They were looking for spots where two American divisions could be called into China. They found excellent locations but they found out they could not move anybody on land. All of the bridges and highway systems were disrupted. They found out that the Japanese were looking for them. The cancellation came in regarding looking for appropriate spots because the surrender ceremony on the Yang Li River was announced. They wanted Inoshita there as a backup interpreter. Inoshita had to figure out how to get there. They were travelling with unreliable Chinese equipment. As a joke Inoshita asked why not get the Japanese to take them. He was sent to negotiate a ride on a Japanese boat. As soon as Inoshita mentioned his name the Japanese man was very gentlemanly. The Japanese colonel said he would loan a gunboat provided that Inoshita made sure the gunboat was returned to him. The Japanese colonel told him to be sure that he flew the Japanese naval flag. There was no way in hell they were going to fly the Japanese naval flag. They ran the American flag up. They got out into the river maybe 30 to 40 minutes later and they received enemy fire from the communists who did not recognize the flag. Within two minutes gunfire from both sides stopped.

Annotation

When Masaji Inoshita got to the ceremony [Annotator’s Note: a Japanese surrender ceremony in China] he found out that his job as an interpreter was taken over by someone from the Japanese Army. Inoshita got to talk to the man a few days later. He had a beautiful British accent. He mentioned that his father had been the ambassador to Great Britain for 15 years. He graduated high school in Britain and was enrolled in college in Britain. The interpreter was a private first class. The surrender in China was a little bit ahead of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. Inoshita took part in the surrender by doing nothing. After the nationalists got to surrender, Inoshita had to get the gunboat back, but it never made it back. It was seized by American authorities. In Shanghai they selected one person from their group to be in another surrender ceremony. Inoshita was transferred to Okinawa where there was actually a little bit of fighting still going on. Inoshita was shipped into Japan on 16 September 1945. They asked the Japanese if the American government’s assessment of casualties for a proposed mainland invasion were true. They talked it over with one of the officers. One of Inoshita’s comrades had family near Hiroshima. Their job was to check on the preparedness of the Japanese Army to defend against the eventual American invasion. Inoshita noted that the beach was not prepared to defend against an invasion. It was not mined. It was interesting to see how the people took to the men right away. They did not believe they were Americans. They were 15 minutes away from Hiroshima and they lived off of Japanese food. The Japanese civilians loved the American C rations and coffee. They looked for hidden armaments everywhere. They knew something had to be somewhere. They could not find a thing. They asked the locals. They told them that they did have a defense plan. Each one of them maybe had 20,000 sharpened bamboo sticks. Inoshita could not laugh but that was their intention. He wondered what the American public was being told in terms of how they were going to lose a half a million men. Stories could sure stretch out.

Annotation

Masaji Inoshita asked for early retirement [Annotator’s Note: from the army]. He was told that he was needed. They were not giving commissions to anyone until after Inoshita left. He got to visit his relatives in southern Japan. They did not hold it against them as much as he might have thought. They saw Inoshita as someone who was loyal to their own country. They were very easy going towards him. It was an experience that was hard for him to forget. Inoshita got a discharge on 6 January 1946 at an army post in San Pedro. He came back to the United States on a 4,000 man ship. He was the only Japanese man on the ship. Inoshita came home expecting to be the head of the family. His dad could not wait so he gave that title to his 21 year old sister. His dad was running things the way he wanted to run them. Inoshita was an itinerant worker in Arizona and worked for 60 cents an hour or less. He picked fruit in Arizona and did the same thing in California. As soon as he saved up a few dollars he rented a piece of land with the help of someone he knew. Inoshita got married in 1949 and had three kids. One is a doctor. One is a dental hygienist. The third child has worked most of his life in Germany and Inoshita does not know him well. Inoshita has done all kinds of work. He retired one time and found out he needed more, so he went to work for a foreman who farmed a large acreage. He was fired there. He was 72 years old when he was fired. Inoshita had a tough life, but had a great wife that contributed to his well being. It’s been great. He has five grandchildren. They are half Japanese. Only two look like Orientals in his family and everyone else is mixed up. Inoshita lives by himself because his wife died five years prior. Inoshita wore an American uniform when he was in India. Eventually he had 60 guys from the army working for the British there. Inoshita had to report to the British. Moving into an internment camp was one of the toughest things he had to go through. Most people thought that the internment of Japanese was not right, but given the circumstances and thought of the day it was necessary. Inoshita recalls that people still engaged the family in business. When his family had to leave, a family friend came by and asked what was going on. Inoshita told him and told him also that he had to get rid of the 16 horses. The man said to sell the horses and deal with the circumstances. It was a good decision. Inoshita had tractors and machinery. The man told Inoshita to put the equipment in his barn so he could look after it. He accepted the man’s offer.

Annotation

Masaji Inoshita asked the man [Annotator’s Note: the man who helped Inoshita’s family when they were being interned] what he was going to do when they called him a Jap lover. Inoshita asked him if he could take it. The man told him that he had known them for 25 years and they had been as fair as fair. The man asked how he could not help him. As a human being, this man felt compelled to help Inoshita and his family. After Inoshita got that answer he had no problem storing the equipment in his barn. Inoshita left and felt he might as well give his stuff to his friend. A month later, after Inoshita had left for the service, he got a letter from the man saying that he could sell the equipment if he wanted to. Inoshita’s dad sold the equipment and they got a decent price for it. The family was able to restart their farming in Arizona. Inoshita has since gone to the man’s family and told them the story. They are very appreciative of it. In recent days Inoshita gives talks about his story. He gave a talk at a Lutheran church and asked everyone who was present when the evacuation of their neighbors took place. Most of them felt that 9066 [Annotator’s Note: Executive Order 9066] was the right thing to do. They made a comparison to 11 September [Annotator’s Note: the terror attacks on the United State son 11 September 2001] and felt a little bit of hatred. Inoshita enjoys having discussions. People felt like it was a mistake, but it was the right decision at the time. Inoshita was sent to an assembly center and from there, 90 days later, he was moved to the camp that was being built on the Gila River Indian community. The technical name of the camp was Rivers. Rivers was an old World War 1 veteran. The 90 day period in the camp was not too bad. The first 90 days was army controlled and monitored heavily. The second 90 days when Inoshita was settled in the camp was better because things had settled down and the camps were moving towards being self sustainable. The army realized that the Japanese men were not volunteering. Inoshita felt the opposite and wanted to volunteer. He volunteered and they signed him right up. The recruiters came to the camp to sign guys up.

Annotation

Masaji Inoshita had very little contact with his parents over the course of the war. He would ask the Japanese prisoners what they thought of being interrogated. Inoshita sent that volume of information home. His dad could read Japanese. Maybe he did not like it and had it destroyed. Maybe they did not like the sentiments expressed. Inoshita did not translate any of it and he sent it home. None of Inoshita’s relatives have claimed to have received the book. Maybe the censors got it. Inoshita’s only wish in this world is that the book is somewhere. There are about 35 to 40 different people who wrote in the book. Inoshita knew that some of them were very conscientious. There was a lot of animosity among Inoshita’s family towards the United States government. Many of them received discriminatory remarks from the older Japanese for serving against their country. Many people said their country is Japan and their leader is the Emperor. Many of the people thought and knew that Japan could not win the war. Inoshita’s attitude was that he was not going to tell his family he had enlisted. His father was still in Fort Lincoln so Inoshita wrote a letter to his dad saying what his intentions were. For a long time the community was upset with the Japanese families that had sons who served in the army. A lot of the family members did not know that he served in a capacity that was against Japan. Inoshita gives talks to the kids in high school near his hometown. He used to not talk to younger kids. Lately Inoshita has made it a specialty to talk to younger folks. Many times he has been called back to be a speaker again. The kids really enjoy his talk. Inoshita enjoys showing the kids his medals. He reckons that he talks to about 1,000 kids a year. He estimates he has given talks to about 40,000 people. It is not that he is a good talker. He is not educated and just barely graduated high school but he enjoys it immensely. He gets a terrific response from the Spanish kids. Inoshita believes that in the natural progress of things we lose sight of some of the things that happened before. World War 2 is fading. A lot of times he is surprised that he is requested as a World War 2 speaker. He believes that World War 2 is exiting the stage. Occasionally he encounters a teacher that has a World War 2 experience. The Indian groups in Arizona talk mainly about World War 2. They limit themselves to World War 2. There were 40 to 50 Hopi Indians who had refused to fight. The 40 to 45 guys were sent to a camp because they refused to fight. The Indians and the Japanese that refused to fight were intermingled at this place. Inoshita believes that museums are important, but only important to certain people. He cannot contribute a lot but a couple of times a year he makes a small donation.
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