February 19, 2022

A Barefoot Boy From Hilo

In Sacramento and Arboga – Interviews with Mas Hongo

Interviewed by Leonard Chan and Susan Tanioka

With transcriptions by Mina Harada Eimon

Edited by Leonard Chan

The following interview is taken from multiple recordings with Masanori Hongo, husband of Florence Hongo (head of AACP).

This is just a small portion of more than ten hours we recorded with him over a four year period (from 2016 to 2019). We apologize if this article seems a little disjointed and pieces of the discussion seem missing. Mas spoke on several different occasions about his World War II experience – some of it overlapped. We merge parts of different interviews so that we could feature this one period in Mas’ life.

Mas Hongo was one of over 110,000 Japanese Americans to be incarcerated in one of the War Relocation Administration’s concentration camps during World War II. Even though he was born in Hawaii, he was sent to one of these camps because he happened to be in California at the beginning of the war. As a result he suffered the same fate as thousands of other Japanese Americans that were living on the West Coast of America.

This part of the interviews does not deal directly with his overall thoughts on the internment, but does shed some light on his experiences during the days leading up to his incarceration and the beginning of his confinement experience.

There are many stories about the internment, and each person had very different experiences even though many had similar parts in common. One of the unique things with Mas’ story is that he experienced these events as a young adult. Most of the survivors that are still living today tell their 80-year-old recollections from their perspective as children.

If you like this article, we hope to continue bringing you more of Mas’ transcribed recordings in future newsletter articles.

Please let us know what you think. Thank you.


Q: I’m not sure if we already went into this, but how did you end up in Sacramento?

Mas: I went to school there.

Q: Yeah, I know, but how did you decide on going to Sacramento for your…

Mas: There was only one university, University of Hawaii, and it was hard to get in. So most of the guys from Hawaii, they went to Sacramento Junior College. That’s where a lot of the Hawaii kids were. There were about 40 or 50 of them there, going to junior college. They can’t get into four year college because when I was in high school, only the last year I took chemistry, physics, and all this...language, you know, all this but you can’t make it up, so you have to go to junior college to go to four year college.

Q: Did you have some sort of counselor or teacher that recommended you go to Sacramento?

Mas: No, there’s no counselor, what are you talking about?

Q: Well, I mean, was there like a family or a friend that you had that…

Mas: No, no, no. Only by word of mouth that you heard about they went too, because most of the guys in Hawaii, they lack foreign language, they forget they didn’t have science, so they have to go to junior college to get to four year college.

Q: Did most of you pick fruit in the summer?

Mas: Yeah, so lot of people… the local people, went to pick fruit. So they say, “Oh, we got a job for you. You go certain-certain place.” So I went there to pick fruit. Then I got sick.

Q: And that’s how you came across the family of…

Mas: No, Dr. Teru Togasaki was already there in Sacramento, so I knew her. I went to visit her before. So Dr. Togasaki’s stepmother and my mother went to school to Aoyama Gakuen in Japan in missionary school.

So I got there. She let me stay in her home – it’s connected with her practice. So she took care of me. So naturally, when I stayed there, everything is free! Free room and board, free, you know…

Q: Okay, so...You met that family, and then you...from them, they introduced you to the other family that…

Mas: I was doing the inoculations and then we have to go, so, when we were going to camp, you see, so when we were ready to go into camp…

(Editor’s note: our question about the other family was in reference to Dr. Harada and his family who played an important role in Mas’ World War II experience. Mas talked about Dr. Harada in earlier and other parts of the interviews that are not included in this feature. This next question interrupted Mas from introducing Dr. Harada at this point in the interview, but Mas will get back to Dr. Harada later on.)

Q: You went to which one?

Mas: Arboga.

Q: It was in Marysville?

Mas: See, when they first wanted to put the Japanese in concentration camp, they did not have the place to put them. Tule Lake was still being built. So they sent them to assembly centers, like Santa Anita, Tanforan race tracks, and put them in the horse stalls because they couldn’t build everything.

Q: And you said you were at Arboga?

Mas: Yeah, Arboga, Marysville. There was an assembly center.

Q: What do you remember about Arboga? Was it a racetrack also? What was it before?

Mas: It was in the swamplands.

And it was hot. And the thing is that when you go in, you have to have a mess hall, you need to bring in the cooks, then people get sick, so you need a hospital. The hospital consists of doctors, a bed for sick patients. You need a medical lab. So there’s not many Japanese medical lab technicians. So like, overnight, I would stop at Dr. Nishimura to read blood because that tells you what’s happening in the body by taking the blood. Because when you’re infected, if you have infection, you have high blood cell. So we went to Marysville…

Q: Were you also inoculating people?

Mas: No, before we went in.

So before we went in, they were doing inoculation because we didn’t know where we were going to go. Especially what kind of water you’re going to have.

So I came… contributed to Dr. Togasaki. There were three doctors and two nurses among them. And five daughters.

We went to the Buddhist church.

Q: That’s where the inoculations were being done? People stayed in their own homes while they were being inoculated?

Mas: Yeah.

So as soon as… they said they’re going to put us in concentration camp… we had to inoculate them.

It’s a series of two inoculations you have to have, because…for the contamination of water…like if you have water from the pond, and they said drink that, you have no other choice.

So everything was blind, you don’t know where you’re going. But you have to protect the people if they had unclean water, that they can stand that environment.

Q: So everybody who went to the Buddhist church got inoculated, then they went back home?

Mas: Yeah, because this is the protocol for public health.

Florence: We weren’t inoculated till after we went in.

(Editor’s note: Florence was at most of the interviews with Mas, but did not interject through most of this excerpt of the Mas interviews. Florence was relocated to the Merced Assembly Center before going to Camp Amache in Colorado.)

Mas: And so I called Doctor Malcom Merrill at UC Berkeley who was head of the Public Health Department for California and I asked him to send the serum for the inoculation. See, this is California state public health. So that's where you have to get the serum for the inoculation. So I called him. I think he was situated in UC Berkeley in the Life Science Building.

And so, he send the serum up to...by train to...the Sacramento train station, so I pick it up there. And then I had to get the doctors together and get the autoclave, the syringes, and the needles together, and those old days, used to be, we reused the needles. You put in the autoclave, and you used to sterilize it and reuse it again.

So I went to the drug stores and got cotton and alcohol, because you gotta swab the area you’re going to poke the needle in. So I went to the drug stores and got donation and we went to the Buddhist church in Sacramento and over there, we’re working two weekends in a row, we had to give shots.

Q: So after you got inoculated, then you went to Arboga?

Mas: Yeah. But we had no idea when we were going. We had to inoculate them to prepare them to go to any place where you don’t know what kind of food, what kind of water you’re gonna have. They take the water out from some pond, and you gotta drink it because it’s the only thing you had… so just like going to a foreign country, you gotta get shots, right?

So while we were doing the inoculation, I met Dr. Harada… and he said, “Why don’t you come with my family? You’re by yourself,” because I was doing the inoculation. So he says, “Oh, I’ll be your guardian, you be my ward.” And that’s how we got connected up, just like that.

Q: The people in Sacramento, did they have a central place to meet before they went to Arboga? Like in San Francisco they met at...

Mas: Armory hall.

Q: Armory hall?

Mas: Yeah. All the places they have armory hall, that’s where they went. Because National Guard… you know… had fixed bayonet, they would...They were protecting you, [laughs] so to speak. And the thing I can’t understand, they had fixed bayonet. Later on, I figured you have only fixed bayonet when you have hand to hand combat. So I thought, gee, that was, you know, going over the top, so to speak.

So we went to assembly center because before we went to Tule Lake, those places they never existed…

From Arboga, I went to Tule Lake.

Q: Can you remember anything else from Arboga?

Mas: Because of the fact that I went with Dr. Harada to Marysville Assembly Center I worked in the medical lab… so therefore I became a medical technician because I got work in the middle of the night, 2’oclock in the morning, someone come with a stomach ache, so I take their blood, and naturally, the guy has an infection… his white cells were very high… so I tell the doctor he has so many white cells and he says no that’s alright he doesn’t have appendicitis or whatever he had.

So they are a window to what the body is doing… so I took their blood, their urine, and see what the body is doing. It gives you a picture of what’s happening.

And so when you got into camp you take the first job that’s available. But because of the fact that I was going in with Dr. Harada I figured that I should help the people and therefore I was trained to be a lab technician.

My idea was to help people that went into camp and I tried to help people because I came from Hawaii and I was single, so therefore I wanted to help the people that went into concentration camp. And so I worked in the lab.

…we stayed there (Marysville) for one month. A month, a month and a half? A couple of months I guess…

Q: Did you even know where...

Mas: Yeah, you don’t know where you’re going. They just put us on a train and put the shades down. Even on a troop train, they put the shades down.

Q: Did they tell you how long the ride was going to be?

Mas: No, nobody tell you anything.

Q: So you didn’t know how long the trip was going to be? How long was it from Arboga to Tule Lake?

Mas: It took about half a day or...We got...We left in the morning. We got there the next day. See, because, the tracks were used by military to move stuff, so then you sit on the siding, because there is a troop train or transporting troops, or provisions. All the trains on the spur were waiting fifteen minutes, half an hour later, one hour later. Train goes, boom boom boom…

Q: So you guys had to wait because the other trains had priority.

Mas: Yeah.

Q: Do you remember your first impressions when you got to Tule Lake, as to what you saw?

Mas: The same thing. You went in in confined quarters, barbed wired fences outside, with the four corners. You have guards with M1 rifles.

Q: So those buildings had been built. They were ready for you?

Mas: They built it. And they were still building when I was there.