Yoneko (Nishimura) Yoneyama

Brick #1507   Wall Location  Column: 67   Row: 39

Memories of Minidoka Camp & My Parents

My mother was born in Pasco, Washington. She lived here until she was 10 years old and then returned to Japan. She returned to the United States when she was 18 years old so that she could retain her US citizenship. That was the last time she saw her mother.

I was 5 years old when my family was interned at Portland Stockyard and then at Minidoka. The memories I have are mostly from what my parents said about the experience. At the time we were a family of 7 (my parents and 5 girls ages 7 years to a baby of 5 months). My mother heard about the war on the radio. My parents only had enough time to pack whatever belongings they needed to take with them to camp and either arrange storage for or get rid of the rest of their property. They had to burn a lot of property, such as their Japanese records. I’m not sure if items like Japanese records and books were considered illegal contraband.

My father was farming in Gresham outside of Portland – truck farming fruits & vegetables. He had just purchased a new truck to transport the produce to market in Portland, but had to sell it and most of his other farm equipment for far less than true value because he couldn’t store it while we were interned. I don’t know how much he sold the truck for. It was his intention to make money in America & return to his father’s property in Japan & take over his father’s farm as he was the oldest son.

We were in camp from April 1942 to August 1945 when the war ended. My parents had another daughter born in camp in 1943. My youngest sister had dysentery so bad after she was born – probably a milk allergy – so my dad would have to go to the hospital & wash out her diapers. She managed to survive after they found a canned milk formula that she could keep down.

What a life it must have been for my parents with 6 girls and little money. My dad used to get paid $12.00/month to drive the truck to deliver ice to the kitchens. He drove the truck to Twin Falls to get ice blocks. Sometimes he would sneak one of us kids out with him by having us hide under the truck’s dashboard as he drove past the guards. We kids took turns going with him. This was an adventure for us because this was the only way we could leave the premises. We kids didn’t understand why we were in camp, but we had fun because there were so many other kids around.

My father used to be very active in doing judo and sumo, but in camp he was never able to do either sport. However, I recall seeing him play softball with men in the block at his leisure. Also, we used to visit Seattle friends in camp and walked for what seemed like miles to get to their block. We lived in block 30 and they were in the single number block.

My Uncle Sam was a teenager who played in the Norakuro band while in camp. The US government gave people a choice of either staying in the US or returning to Japan, so despite the fact my uncle was born in the US, he went back to Japan to live with his parents and brother. He was able to get a job interpreting for the US Army because of his command of English and Japanese. It must have been very painful for my mother to see her youngest brother leave the US wondering if they would ever meet again.

My parents rarely talked about life in camp. Seems they felt it was a shame! It was only after the actions of the JACL that slowly incidents were disclosed by my parents. My mother related an incident – since the furniture for the barracks were needed he was told to get a group of men & raid the lumberyard to steal wood to make furniture while the guards looked the other way.

We had no home to return to when we left camp. What belongings that were left from the outbreak of war –including a 1932 Oldsmobile - had been stored in a neighbor’s garage. The car was still in working order when we left camp, so in August 1945 we all got in it to go to Nyssa, OR where Japanese people could find farm work out in the fields.

My parents worked in the fields and as we girls got older, so did we. How I hated the summer school vacation as that meant working out in the fields 5 days a week – 10 hours a day while hakugin friends went on vacation! Our holidays – 4th of July, Labor Day, etc. were spent on picnics to the different parks, - Owyhee Dam, fishing holes.

We finally got rid of our 32 Oldsmobile and bought a 2nd hand black Ford with reclamation money – money my father had to fight for as losses due to the internment with his lawyer – Mr. Gallagher – I remember the word compromise which my dad was not willing to do! He was a very proud man.

My father was a very intelligent man. He read a lot of books, newspapers, and magazines. Any time he found a word that wasn’t familiar to him, he would look it up in his huge Japanese – American dictionary. He wanted all of us girls to go on to further education (something he wasn’t able to do). Four of us went to college and two to business school. He was very proud of all of us kids.

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