Helen, can you start by telling me a little bit about where you are from, where were you born and when, and tell me a little bit about your growing up there.
BRILL: Well, I was born and brought up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and went from there when I was 18 to college out in California, which was -- that was the depths of the Depression, but I didn't really have much impact from the Depression. My parents who believed very strongly in education had saved enough money so that I went to Scripps College, which was a new college in Claremont in those days, but for me it was just absolutely perfect. I graduated from there and then of course, being a liberal arts college there was no job sitting there waiting for me so I just stayed at the college, just loved it and was a graduate assistant in various departments and finally got a job. Oh, I picked up a Master's degree in History and then you had to have a year of education courses, which after Scripps was just a breeze. So --
KW: Where did you get your Master's degree? At Scripps also?
HB: No, they don't have graduate programs. It's the Claremont University. In those days it was called Claremont Colleges. Anyway, Claremont has a group of five colleges now and this is their graduate school. I finally got my first teaching job, a great relief. It was in a town which I knew nothing about called Compton, California, which is south of Los Angeles. It turned to be a perfectly awful town. It was the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and stuff, and a very extreme rightist group. But it didn't matter to me. I wanted to teach and loved it.
KW: What did you teach?
HB: I was there three years. Well, that was sort of a decisive thing. My first class was the 10th grade, and here were Japanese-Americans. I'd never seen one. I -- they didn't have very many, I'm sure! And they were all taking Latin because they were all aiming to get to college and you had to have Latin in those days in order to get to college. And they were poor -- these were the truck farmers' kids. It was open country around there and their parents were wonderful, stoop labor workers.
KW: Can you tell me about what time this was, what year we're talking about?
HB: Yes, it was 1938 and 9, wait a minute -- I was still there when Pearl Harbor came, so it was -- and you taught for three years and then, in their wisdom, the district decided whether or not you could have tenure. Three of us in this enormous district got tenure, and I had the great delight of going to the superintendent and telling him I was leaving, that I didn't want the tenure. And he said, "Helen, you're crazy! You're going to Japs?" And I said, "Yes, they're going up to a place called Manzanar, and I want to go with them."
KW: Let me go back a little bit here, I want to get a context for this. First of all, I'd like to just go back for a minute to Cedar Rapids. When you grew up there, how was it that you happened to go to California from there after --
HB: It was one of those crazy things. My sister was already at Scripps. Why? Because of hay fever. (Laugh) She had it very badly, and my grandparents, who lived next door to us, always spent the winters in Pasadena, and they said "Oh, Elizabeth would love Scripps and she can stay with us at the Hotel Maryland," no longer existing, "and we'll watch over her and she can go to school there." And Elizabeth loved it. So, sight unseen, I went out to Scripps.
KW: Now, was your family a long-time Iowa family to start with?
HB: Yes, it was pioneer family. They were one of the five founders of Cedar Rapids --
KW: And your name at that time was --
HB: Ely. E-L-Y.
KW: And when was it that you were born in Cedar Rapids, can you tell me?
KW: All right.
HB: So --
KW: So when you went to California, that was big break from the family tradition.
HB: Very big. Well, my parents -- and my grandfather went to Princeton. He was the first Princeton admission west of the Mississippi. So that was really a long time ago, and was the oldest alumni living when he died.
KW: Was that your Ely grandfather?
HB: Yes, unhuh. And then my father went to Princeton, and later my brother. And my mother went to Smith, thanks to an uncle who felt that she should. In those days not many women went to college, and she loved it so that between my parents they were determined that their four children should have a college education.
KW: And what did your parents do in Cedar Rapids?
HB: Mother was there in the house and not working except in those days you just brought up your children and took care of the social obligations. And my father was in investment securities. As I look back on it now I think I was very lucky to live in that town. It was the home of Quaker Oats, and that's why the town got through the Depression pretty well, because people could live well on Quaker Oats and they did.
KW: What was your religious background, then?HB: Presbyterian. Very strong -- oh, God (laugh)! My great-grandmother had started the church. Anyway, you went every Sunday without batting an eye -- you just did. And you went to Sunday School and Church and then in the evening you went to Christian Endeavor. And I went through the public schools. In those days, there were a few really top notch women teachers. Because you were either a teacher, secretary or a nurse. But the rest of the preparation, except for Latin, English and Geometry, was pretty mediocre. I worked hard when I got to Scripps. No science at all, so I was really in a bad way there.
KW: What did you major in there at Scripps?
HB: Something called the Humanities. It was the distinctive reason for Scripps being started, by Ellen Browning Scripps who was a great figure in La Jolla. And she founded the college, gave the money for the college, when she was 92, and never saw it. But she was a great spirit, and she got a very beautiful campus, and earthquake-proof, as much as you can. It was the top kind of construction.
KW: Was it co-educational?
HB: No! Unh unh. And it still isn't.
KW: One of the few.
HB: Yes. And for me it was just right. Most people know of Pomona College. that was the first one and that, of course, is quite old with a big orientation to the Pacific. And I just loved Scripps. It was right for me. Today I could never get in! (Laugh) It's ranking now right up at the top with the big eastern women's colleges.
KW: Were there any Japanese-American students in college with you when you were there?
KW: So do you feel like the Japanese-Americans that you encountered when you got into your teaching position were new immigrants to this country? Were they coming in to take these jobs, or had there been a Japanese-American community for quite a long time where you were?
HB: Their parents were restricted by the dreadful laws then on the books, that they could not own land, nor could they vote. And so these were just their children and they grew up helping their parents raise the vegetables for the produce market of Los Angeles. They worked very hard and most of them were sent to something called a Japanese language school. They were mostly of Buddhist background, and their parents wanted them to have some connection with their native land.
KW: Were the parents first generation immigrants for the most part?
KW: Did they speak English do you know?
HB: The men did in order to do business. Not fluent especially, but enough to sell their produce. And the women were very weak in English. They just worked awfully hard. So I was fascinated by these classes in Latin, and I had enough so that I could keep ahead of them -- they only needed two years.
KW: Did you teach the Latin classes?
HB: Yes. Oh, thanks to the wonderful teacher I'd had in Cedar Rapids. Anyway, everybody knew that the war was coming.
KW: Now, how aware were you that the, how the tide was flowing?
HB: Well, that was where Quakerism came in. During college I simply let Presbyterianism slide off my back. I never went near -- but I was searching religiously and I went to several different churches and stuff, and stumbled on a blind date into the Quaker Church, the Friends Church in Pasadena. And to my disappointment it was exactly like the Presbyterian Church I'd left. You know a choir and everything, exactly the same. But I then learned that if I turned in the other direction going there I would come to a Friends Meeting, and that's what I did. And I thought I'd never seen so wonderful a group of people. It's the Orange Grove Meeting, it's one of the great meetings out on the west coast, and I just loved it. And so every Sunday, uh, let's see that's -- yes, I was teaching -- I would get on the little interurban and at the end of two hours and a couple of transfers I'd get to Pasadena, and they always had lunch at the meeting. And here were these interesting people all talking about the war that was coming. Everybody knew it on the west coast but they just didn't think it was going to be an attack on Hawaii, which of course at that time was not a state. It would be in the Philippines, probably, or some other place. But certainly not a surprise attack, and that was a devastating thing for the west coast.
KW: Now, do you think that the people on the west coast had a different attitude towards the coming war than those on the east coast in terms of being more aware of the Asian participation, whereas on the east coast they might have been more aware of the European element?
HB: Oh, definitely.
KW: Was there a difference in the attitudes among the --
HB: And there still is, in all the programs and the books and stuff that come out, everything is mostly the European theater, naturally. Their backgrounds came from there, whereas the orient was still a very remote, and filled with prejudice -- racial and religious -- it was --
HB: You mean the American society was filled with prejudice.
HB: Oh, definitely. Yes.
KW: How did the Quakers in that meeting react to the coming war, was there a -
HB: Well, they told me, "Get acquainted with the teacher at the Japanese language school." And so I did, and that sweet Buddhist teacher -- no Compton teacher had ever come to see him --
KW: Was the school in Compton?
HB: Yes. And it was after the regular school and on Saturdays, so the kids didn't particularly like it, because it was a long stretch for them. But I got acquainted a little bit with a few of the older generation the parents' age, then bingo came Pearl Harbor.
KW: When you say you got in touch with the teacher at the Japanese School, was that to do some work for the Japanese School or were you just interested in what was happening to the students?
HB: No, it was just a contact because I was teaching these children and so was he, and it was just a sort of -- say I'm interested, they're wonderful kids.
KW: Before we go into a little bit more about the Japanese students, was there a sense of support for a war before it started? Did you sense that the people around you, either the Quakers or in the wider community, or even Compton where you were teaching, was there a sense of being support for the United States entering a war?
HB: Yes, the America First movement, which was very strong, had not touched Compton. I don't think I was too aware of what went on in Compton. I remember that I had a kid in my class who wouldn't salute the flag. She was a Seventh Day Adventist, I've forgotten, one of those denominations, and the case went to the Supreme Court -- not her case, but that brought the American Legion to our school. "Kick her out," said they. You have to salute the flag. And I remember talking to the principal and saying no, don't kick her out. I'll put her in the back of the room and nobody'll see it (laugh). And she agreed. This was a sweet little girl, and she shouldn't be kicked out.
KW: What was her basis for not saluting, was it her --
HB: It was a religious one. Isn't that interesting, I can't remember which denomination it was. It's still true. The Supreme Court says no, you don't have to salute the flag.
KW: Tell a little about the America First movement. How did that manifest itself?
HB: Well, one of the great leaders of it was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
KW: Who was that?
HB: Verne Marshall. He ran the Gazette, which was the main paper in town. My grandfather with strong memories of his father as a surgeon in the Civil War, was very pro-patriotism. And yet here was this prominent, nice friend, constantly after him for money and support for America First. And of course, Charles Lindbergh was very prominent at that time.
KW: And what was it that they were promoting?
HB: Oh, that we shouldn't get involved. That -- Lindbergh went so far as to say that Germany has the leading air dominance and will win. Of course that war started in '39 and Hitler did win. He just -- his Pancer Divisions went all over Europe, and America First said "Stay out." That's why Roosevelt quietly did Lend Lease and all the other things that led up to it. He knew war was going to happen.
So that actually the attack on Pearl Harbor was the best thing that ever happened for this country, because it immediately squashed all opposition and everybody -- we'd been attacked, which had never happened for many, many decades. And so -- and it was a disaster, of course, in the Pacific.
KW: Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
HB: I was at Meeting. It was Sunday. And we all just stayed around after lunch and talked. I went back to Compton, and the Principal called me and said "Tomorrow there will be a declaration of war, and we will have an assembly, for the kids to all hear about it." She was wanting me to help decide what we should do, and I said "Well, just emphasize, because the Japanese-American kids will be there -- " And I'll never forget them. They came to school, they didn't stay home. But their heads were bowed, and they were terrified. Many of them had had their fathers picked up by the FBI the night before --
KW: The first day after Pearl Harbor their fathers were already --
HB: Oh, immediately, yes. And their mothers were terrified -- but the other school kids put their arms around them and they were just wonderful. But those poor kids.
KW: How many kids are we talking about in this case, were there a few or was it quite a significant part of the school population?
HB: It was, I think, about a third of the school.
HB: Yes. Well, then, that of course was in December and there was no talk of an evacuation. It took the hysteria a little while, a couple of months, to get organized. And there were other things going on. They had to get, well the whole military to mobilize immediately. That was when my aviation license got canceled.
KW: Wait, you had an aviation license?
HB: Yes! (laugh)
KW: You'd better tell me a little about this!
HB: Well, I -- while I was searching for a job I started to take flying lessons. There was a little hinky-dinky airport, no paved runways or anything. But in those days you were in love with flying, and you -- it was a recreation, and you spent Saturday talking to the mechanic. There was only one.
KW: Did many women do this?
HB: No, but I had pal who did.
KW: A woman or a man?
HB: A woman.
KW: Oh, so you did it together.
HB: From Scripps, yes. Her plane disappeared one day and wasn't found for two years. It went down over the High Sierras.
KW: On a recreational flight?
HB: Well, she had graduated, and I sort of lost track of her, but then came the news that they had found the plane. Anyway --
KW: Did you get a pilot's license?
HB: No, my eyes weren't good enough, but I could fly and did, and loved it. I just couldn't go into it commercially. But it was lots of fun. And then, oh and then it was the fall of, it was 1941 when the government came to this little hinky-dinky airport and took over. They knew the war was coming and they offered free pilot training to Pomona College men, no women please. And they paved the runways, and they brought in mechanics and built beautiful hangars and stuff. And all the fun went out of it for me. You had to have an appointment at this little airport, and you couldn't just go over there and talk. I'd been taking meteorology courses and stuff that you had to have and, but it was no fun anymore. Everything was very serious -- and you know, we were going to have a war!
KW: Was this airport in Compton?
HB: Yeah. In the little outskirts of the town.
KW: So they canceled your license.
HB: They canceled all the licenses on the west coast. That was the military. Everything was carried on by the Presidium in San Francisco and they controlled everything then.
KW: So all private licenses, not just the women.
HB: Everything, yes. Unless you were connected with some military thing, you didn't fly. They didn't want you messing around in the air. But gradually the Japanese hysteria grew and grew and got quite ugly.
KW: What had happened to the men who were taken in the day after Pearl Harbor? You said some of the fathers had been rounded up by the FBI -- what happened to them?
HB: A lot of them had. They were taken to Montana and New Mexico, and to various places -- some in Dakota.
KW: Immediately, no due process --
HB: No, interned. Everything was under the military. They didn't know who was a spy or who was a saboteur, they were just sure that there were some. So some of them were held for several months. Most of them, once the evacuation took place and all the Japanese-Americans were forced to leave the west coast, then they -- a lot of them were released to join their families in the camps. So --
KW: So how did this hysteria finally manifest itself?
HB: Well, in February Roosevelt --
KW: This is February of '42.
HB: Yes -- signed the evacuation order. I ought to remember the date of that, it's February 19, I think. Anyway, they have an event at UConn every year on that date in memory of what that represented.
First of all there was an evacuation almost immediately after Pearl Harbor, I think on 24 hours notice, of Terminal Island. That is the island in the harbor of San Pedro, which is the Los Angeles harbor. And it was inhabited by fishermen, and they, the men would go out and fish. They were the poorest, hardest working people. And when their boats would come in with the fish, the women would work in the canneries. And so there was great pressure, and the military felt we've got to clear out Terminal Island because the ships will be there and we can't have these people there. So they did.
And that was when, at Orange Grove Meeting, they made their famous telephone call to Esther Rhodes, that great person, now dead. She was in Philadelphia, had had lots of experience in relief work, and she knew Japanese fluently. And she -- they telephoned her and she said, "I'll come right away." That was at the time of Terminal Island. And she did, she came the next day.
She found a vacant Presbyterian school building. It was good construction but absolutely unused. It's in Little Tokyo today, still there. And she opened it up with contacts that she made. There was a mattress factory, and they got their trucks to bring all their mattresses there so they could have beds to sleep on. And there was Esther Rhodes, I will never forget it, at the entrance to that building when they brought these terrified women, the wives, the fishermen's wives. And she'd be bowing to them, speaking their language. The rest of us were making sandwiches and soup for them! (laugh)
But it made a great impression on me and I knew that that's where I wanted to be. I still had a job, of course, and I had to be teaching but this was something I could do. So --
KW: Were these the wives left behind when Terminal Island was cleared? So they took the husbands and left the families.
HB: Yes. They didn't take every, every husband -- I don't remember. But mostly they were women.
KW: And children?
HB: Yes, there were. They were the poorest of the poor.
KW: How did she pay for this? They needed to be fed and maintained there as well.
HB: I don't know, I don't remember. I think we all just pitched in.
KW: Really. Was it pretty much an operation of the Orange Grove Meeting, then, to maintain this facility?
HB: Yes, it was Esther Rhodes. She quickly got acquainted with the Buddhist Temples, there were three of them in the Los Angeles area, and she saw to it that they had rice and things that they needed. She had a car, which was crucial, because very shortly there was rationing. Anyway, then the evacuation of Compton area came, and that's when I learned -- I can make this shorter.
KW: No, I'm just watching to see when the tape might need to be turned over. I'd like to hear as much detail as you're willing to share.
HB: Well, then I went out in front of the school and took down off a telephone pole, my most valuable possession. It was a piece of cardboard about this by this (12x18), and in very militaristic language, it told that every head of household should report on a certain day. Because the government didn't know where these people were living, and so how could you round them up? And then they said on such and such a date, and I've forgotten just when it was, I think it was March something, you must report at 5 am to the railroad station in Compton, funny little one. You can only take with you what you can carry in your hands. And you will be taken to an assembly center, it was called, didn't say where it was. Then you will be taken to a camp, to a relocation
center. They had all these euphemisms for all these places.
In the meantime they had to get the camps built. So Manzanar -- the government asked for volunteers, young boys to go off and build these barracks. A lot of fellows did. There was a great feeling, you know, we must be good Americans and we must show our patriotism, because dreadful signs were showing up all over the place: "No Japs here," or this kind of thing, really awful. Some of them are in that book, pictures of them.
You had to carry with you -- now, a lot of them had small children, babies, and so you had to carry diapers and milk and everything. And so they, the children were trained to carry as much as they possible could. Rather than use suitcases, you got a blanket, and you put everything there and you picked up the blanket, all four corners. And of course for the kids it was sort of a lark, they were all excited, we're going someplace, we're going to an assembly center. Well, they didn't know it was Santa Anita, the race track. That was the great one, still is, in Pasadena.
But here were the men with guns, guarding them. And they were such young fellows. These were the Army rejects (laugh). The rolling stock that was used was so old and so crummy. And of course, there were elderlies among the evacuees. Everybody was very well-dressed. They got out their Sunday things and wore hats. I went down to the station with my roommate. She was the only person on the faculty at that school that would go down. And I remember calling them all up and saying, "Be there, to say good-bye to your kids."
And the coach, I'll never forget, these Nisei kids had won all of his track and field events for so long and everything, and he said, "Helen, of course they're good and of course they're fine and there's nothing the matter with them. But you can't tell. They've got parents and somebody -- we've got to do this." And I said, "Well, at least come and say good-bye to them." And he said, "That's awfully early in the morning." And none of them came.
KW: This was before the school year was over.
HB: Oh, yes. So I bought up a lot of gum. They weren't supposed to chew gum in school. But it was all I could think of to give out so (laugh) I stood there giving out gum to them. They were all excited. Their parents and their grandparents just didn't say a word. I can remember so well as each one got on a train car, there was a man with his gun there, a young fellow, even he knew, and everybody knew that this was crazy. So people were helping the older people get on the train. Oh it was just sort of heart-breaking, the whole performance.
KW: Was there any protest against this, or did it happen so suddenly that people didn't even have a chance to react?
HB: No, no there wasn't. The churches -- I remember that they were very church related, but of course most of them weren't Christian, and they said they printed the sermons that the leaders gave, and for a long time I had that collection.
KW: The leaders of... ?
HB: Of the various churches and temples, and they were -- what do you say to your congregation, you know, when this is happening. They had to sell everything that they owned, at very distressed prices, and I remember the faculty at the school would sit there and say "You know, I got a refrigerator yesterday for ten dollars, and it was new!" And these were things the evacuees were selling at distressed prices. I mean it was just awful!
KW: Could they keep their money, I mean they couldn't have maintained accounts in the banks, could they?
HB: No, the money was all frozen. Very few of them had very much anyway, but various people would offer to keep them for them, keep their tractor or something, in their garage. But as the months went on they were all pilfered or destroyed or very rarely were they kept the way they were supposed to.
KW: Now you talked about the students in your school being the children of farm workers --
HB: Yes, truck farmers.
KW: I assume there were other Japanese-Americans who were functioning at a more professional level who would have been included in this evacuation.
HB: Well, they were more well-to-do and they were up in Puget Sound raising strawberries. Did you ever read that book, Snow Falling on Cedars?
HB: We got those people at Manzanar, but they were supposed to be sort of the elite because they really had some money. When I read that book I realized they didn't, but -- and not very many got to Manzanar, but the ones that had a little money were, grew nurseries and occasionally you would find some people who were, especially the Nisei students.
In those days you had to be 21 in order to vote, but of course being born in this country they were then citizens, but they weren't 21 -- the average age was 19. And so all those discriminatory laws -- their parents would lease land in the name of their citizen child to get around the law, but it never helped them. And there were very few cases -- the famous one. There were four cases that got to the Supreme Court, and all of them were upheld, you know, against the Japanese. I was so naive --
KW: Where property was confiscated, you mean?
HB: Property was never confiscated --
KW: What was the nature of the four cases then?
HB: Well, Gordon Hirabyoshi was the famous Quaker one, and he said, "You can't take me, I'm a citizen." And he had graduated from law school in Seattle. KW: I'd like to hear the Gordon Hirabyoshi situation and then I'd like to hear you describe Manzanar itself, if you would. Gordon?
HB: Gordon's case, he refused to be evacuated, and so he was picked up and jailed. His law professor tried to help. And Gordon showed up, has every time there's been a Friends General Conference, and he'll go over and tell you the whole thing. But his case has never been reversed.
KW: He's still living?
HB: Yes. Eventually the other three cases were reversed, years afterwards. But on some technicality, Gordon's wasn't. Anyway, I wonder if Tom Bodine would remember all the ins and outs. I remember him telling it all to me but I never wrote it down. But --
KW: So was Gordon then eventually taken to one of the camps anyway?HB: Yes, uh huh.KW: So he must have been forcibly taken if he wouldn't go voluntarily.
HB: He was in jail, he was jailed for a while. He was in Seattle, and gosh how, over the years you really forget a lot of these little things. But I was at Manzanar, I went as soon as I could.KW: Tell me where Manzanar is.
HB: Well, it's those beautiful mountains, the High Sierras. It's hunting and fishing and recreational area, it's where Mt. Whitney is, and it's up the valley, as they always said. It's 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles. And it was the most accessible of all of the 10 camps that were built. It was the first camp, and there was a major highway running up to Las Vegas, so you could get to it quite easily -- if you had a car. But there was always a bus, you could always get a bus.
KW: Was it built from scratch, or was there some kind of a facility there around which they built it.HB: Nothing. Sagebrush, jackrabbits. And then they made these guard towers and barbed wire, and that was the camp -- 10,000 people in one square mile. And it was laid as an exact military camp. You can see there -- the one on the left is the high school (indicates photos on wall).
KW: What was the film that depicted that so well within the past 10 or 15 years. Do you remember the name of that?
HB: No, I don't.
KW: I'll find that out. Someone was talking about it this week. So 10,000 people there, and they were all moved into that camp within these few weeks or days after the May evacuation?HB: Yes. The camp wasn't built yet, completely, but -- I went in August, and had my appendix taken out, all of a sudden. I was in a workcamp for migrants laborers up in Palo Alto --
KW: That summer?
HB: Yes. And I got word that they'd accepted me and so I went direct from one camp to the other camp.
KW: They had accepted you -- ?
HB: As a teacher.
KW: I see.
HB: I found out later it wasn't very hard to get accepted.
KW: Because not many people were applying, I'll bet.
HB: That's right.
KW: You had applied at the end of the school year, that's when your principal was so surprised that you would give up tenure to apply for this other position?
HB: Yes. He thought I was stark raving mad! Because only three people got tenure in that big district.
KW: So in August you were accepted and you went right to the camp. Did you live in the camp, or not?
HB: Yes, in a barrack. I did not want to live in the little white houses. They were the white barracks, and that street there divided -- the bulk of the people and then all the administration.
KW: In nice little houses.
HB: Yes, barracks, but they had furniture and they had their own mess hall.
KW: So, Helen, how long were you at Manzanar?
HB: Two years.
KW: And you lived on the site during those two years?
HB: Oh, yes.KW: And many of your students from Compton were at that camp, or not?HB: No, they weren't, very few were. I don't know just why. But I was awfully glad, and I have been increasingly so over the years that I got to Manzanar because -- lots of reasons, but mostly there was a, we had a riot. It was a great experience, and they evacuated all Caucasians out of Manzanar anybody that didn't have a job. But I got a job, and I ran the little switchboard In college I'd run the switchboard, and so I knew how.
KW: So that was in addition to your teaching duties that you operated the switchboard?
HB: Yes. Well, the camp closed down. The guards had shot and killed I think four people. The commander of the camp, it was a Sunday, had left, and we all went out to see what was going on because it was the only amusement that there was. (tape off).
HB: I was teaching the US. Constitution to the 11th grade, because it was a state requirement, I guess it still is, that everybody had to have at least a semester. I -- and so, by that time we'd gotten little folding chairs so we -- because before then you sat on the floor in the barrack. And they began to get several amenities -- they covered the floor, because the lumber had been, hadn't been seasoned, so it shrank in the desert sun. So there were great cracks, and every afternoon there was a terrible dust storm, and so then you had to hose out your barracks.
KW: Oh, the things you don't think of in advance!
HB: Yes! (laugh) And -- but we had a hospital, and that made the little town, which was 15 miles away, bitter as anything. Because Manzanar, with those terrible Japs, had an x-ray machine, but this little town, called Lone Pine (laugh), never got an x-ray machine. Now the reason was that -- not that people were being kind to the Japanese to give them an x-ray machine, but the idea was that if you treated the people well then maybe, over in Japan where they had interned Caucasians, that maybe they would treat them better.
KW: Very interesting.
HB: And I hope they did. I remember when the boatload, the Gripsholm, came from Japan with the interned ministers, missionaries and people, and they docked in some little out-of-the-way port on the coast of East Africa, and there another ship from our country met them and they -- with the diplomats who had been in Washington at the time of Pearl Harbor, in other words the high echelon. So these two groups were exchanged and each ship had saved their best food for the exchange going back (laugh). But I got well acquainted with one of those Gripsholm people, a wonderful man. He was a minister and a missionary. Anyway, I left Manzanar --
KW: You don't remember his name?
HB: Yes, it was a German name
KW: It doesn't matter, you'll remember it later.
HB: The only reason I left Manzanar was because of Bob Brill. You had to have a name of somebody to get in to the camp, so Bob was in the Civilian Public Service (alternative service for conscientious objectors) and he and three others came up to see Manzanar, because, as I said, it was accessible and you hitch-hiked and you could get there. And then they would use my name and I would show them around.
So four of these young men came and I took them on my little tour. We went to the children's village -- we were the only camp that had the orphans, we had 60 of them. I took them to see the hospital and the Guayuli Project. The Guayuli was the experiment that was trying to develop rubber. We had some good chemists in camp and since our rubber -- and you had to have rubber to carry on the war -- was so valuable. But it never worked out. They did develop rubber from Guyuli, which is a kind of a sagebrush, but it was too expensive, and artificial rubber then was discovered.
Anyway, I gave the same little speech to every group that I took through, "Try to get us some film so that we can have a yearbook in the high school." We had had a little mimeographed one, about this by this, and we had two of the very best photographers going and those were two of his pictures (on wall). Toyo Miyataki. His cameras had been taken, and he had no film. So, about three weeks later, in the mail, came a little box (laugh) -- I'll never forget it! With four films in it! Well, I was so thrilled. And I ran across the firebreak to Toyo Miyataki and I said, "Look, here, we can have a yearbook now!" I didn't know it until later, that the good man that we'd gotten as head of the camp, after the riot, he had released a couple of his cameras to him. So, anyway, Toyo --
KW: So he did have a camera to use the film with?
HB: Yes. He was quietly encouraged. And Ansel Adams came, that's his book (on table). We didn't know whether he was for or against us, he just quietly went around the camp taking pictures. But it turned out that it was the only thing of his that really flopped. He tried, with his camera, to change public opinion, and he got nowhere.
But then the War Department, and that's what it was called in those days, decided to draft the Nisei. First they took volunteers, and they made a tremendous record in World War II, especially in Italy. They had a lot of casualties, but they were fighting two enemies -- they were fighting Japan and Hitler, of course, but they also were fighting for their interned parents and families in the camps. And they would get furloughs and would come, in their uniforms, to that camp -- oh, it was awful. And here would be an armed guard to admit them. And then they'd find their parents, you know. Oh, gee, it was terrible. They never stayed their full time, they just left.
KW: Let me ask you, what was the basis for the riot -- the guard shot four people, you said?
HB: The commander had taken the weekend off and he was in Los Angeles. He was a good man. The rest of the people were bitter, hated this duty, wanted to be anyplace but there. And they were the rejects, and they were.
So, there was in our camp a group, Kibei. Those were young people who had been sent to Japan to be educated and then come back, and they were bitter. And they taunted the guards. And we were all out there, it was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and there was nothing else to do, I mean you couldn't have a radio, you couldn't -- you could play charades, or you could talk or whatever. But the guards got scared and they lined up -- I think there were 32 of them -- with their guns. These Kibei came along, plus a lot of the high school kids. One of them was my 11th grader in my class. And they taunted them, and of course they just got so mad.
Nobody ever found out who shot first or who gave an order to shoot. They had all kinds of investigations. But they first threw tear gas, and that's when all of us left because that's no joke. There was a wind and it didn't really affect us but you don't stay around when they start throwing tear gas. So, I went back to my barrack, which was very near -- it was just a short distance to the police station. And then we heard the shots, and that 11th grade boy was killed -- shot in the back, he was leaving because of the tear gas. And with that the whole camp closed down. I mean this was terrible.
KW: What do you mean, closed down?
HB: Well, they fed them, the Japanese cooks fed them. But nothing else happened. There was no school, activities, stores, there was no post office, there was no anything. And we had martial law.
KW: So the people were still there but they just refused to function, as they had been.
HB: And the administration was scared to death. And that's why when I was running that switchboard it was the only communication between that camp of 10,000 people and Washington, D.C, and the Presidium in San Francisco. And all I had to do was to just flip that little thing and I could talk. And in those days, you know, you just didn't, you couldn't have an open line like that unless it was considered a real emergency. But nothing ever happened (laugh), I was always there from midnight till 8 in the morning -- terrible hours. And in this little closet where this switchboard was, would be a very homesick army reject --
KW: Sleeping on his gun!HB: And I would make coffee for him all night.KW: What was the response -- you said four people were killed?
KW: And was there any action taken to identify the problem?
HB: Oh, they tried to pick up the -- in several of the camps there were these incidents, and I wouldn't want to try to reconstruct that one. I've got it in books, but I get it mixed up with some of the others.
KW: But eventually the life in the camp went on, I assume --
KW: And how much longer then did you stay, you said the film incident -- it must have been Bob Brill that sent the film.
HB: Yes, it was. I remember saying to my roommate, there were four of us in a room, and I said, "Do you remember Bob Brill?" "Why, yes," she said, "Don't you?" And I had focused more on Dave, forgot his name, he'd come up from Orange Grove. Anyway, I wrote the nicest thank you letter I could possible write, thanking him for the film-- he had written to his family in New York and said "Go down to 43rd St. and Madison Ave. to the Eastman Kodak and get film for Miss Ely." So then he replied and said, "Can you come down for Thanksgiving?" And I said no, because you couldn't just take off. I'd seen Bob 13 times when we were married.
KW: Visits to the camp?
HB: No, he never got back to the camp.
KW: You were able to get away then a little bit.
HB: Yes, but 13 times (laugh)!
KW: Well, you did pretty well in a long marriage for only 13 visits! So when did you leave the camp, was that 1944?
KW: And you left it to get married:
HB: Yes. And went to Cedar Rapids and was married there in my parents' home.
KW: Was Bob still in CPS camp, which means Civilian Public Service?
HB: Yes. No, he had saved up all his furlough and we had a whole month together. And we, he came on the train. I'd never seen him wearing a hat (laugh), and he got off the train and I was astonished! It was awfully funny. And his parents were able to come from New York City, and you don't go to Iowa when you're from New York! But they were so glad to have Bob interested in a girl -- they'd given up! (Laugh)
KW: How old was he at that point?
HB: He was 36.
KW: I see.
HB: And, uh, we were -- so then we went to New York.KW: Is that where you lived then after you were married was in New York?
HB: No, he had to go back to camp. (tape off)
KW: OK, Bob went back to camp, and you stayed in New York?
HB: No -- no, no, I went out with him.
KW: Oh, you went out with him to camp, which was where?
HB: To live in the camp. And I also lived in Los Angeles working for the American Friends Service Committee, trying to get jobs, there in that Evergreen Hostel, which we opened up again, and --
KW: That was the one that was in the Presbyterian school?
HB: Yes, the Presbyterian school. And I know it was against all health rules and everything, but those wonderful Japanese knew how to run things. Here would be these rows of cots, and I would -- we were trying to get jobs for people coming out of the camps.
KW: They were letting people out of the camps now.
HB: Oh, yes, they were trying to get them out.
KW: The war hadn't ended yet?
HB: Yes, the war ended in Europe. And I remember going with Esther Rhodes and buying 50-pound bags of rice and taking them to the three Buddhist temples. We charged a dollar a day to keep somebody at Evergreen, and the Japanese did all the work. I mean they cooked and they cleaned up and they kept the place wonderfully, but we had sometimes 150 people there.
KW: This is at the Evergreen Hostel?
HB: Yes, and it was certainly never designed for that, but--
KW: So where were you when the war ended?
HB: Well, I was there when it was V-E Day, and Bob wasn't released until afterwards. And I guess I stayed straight through. I don't remember any great excitement or hullabaloo for V-J Day.
KW: You were busy getting on with the rest of your life.
HB: I got up to the camp. And then got pregnant!
KW: That's good place to end is when you're making a transition to the next part of your life!
HB: And then we drove to Cedar Rapids, in my grandparents' car. It belonged to them, of course. And got to Cedar Rapids for Thanksgiving.
KW: Is this 1945?
HB: Yes.KW: Well, I'd love to have been able to do an interview with Bob about his experience in the CPS camps. That must be another incredible story.
HB: He liked CPS camp, most of the men didn't.
KW: Helen, thank you so much.