You are here: Ogata Family > Supplementary Information
SECTION C. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE STATEMENT
The period from December 7, 1941 to June 1946 covers the period from when I was 12 years old to the time when I was 17 , from the time I was in eighth grade of elementary school to the month after I had graduated from high school. The period began over fifty seven years ago. It is a period that I haven't thought about, often or fondly, so that recalling what happened elicits many isolated episodes but no coherent reinforced idea of the time. A lot of things happened, but I was primarily attending school and studies at the time and of an age that didn't solicit explanations and rationales. In addition, my memory isn't all that good these days. Having said that, my recollections are as follows.
I lived with my father, Rinzo Ogata and my mother, Toriye Ogata in Helena, Montana. Also living at or near home at the time, I believe, were my brother Dye, sister Fumi, and brother, John. My brother Gen was serving in the U.S. Army, and I believe my sisters Martha and Yeiko were attending a bible school in Seattle. Also transitioning through our family at the time were five orphans: George, Mary, Tana, Frank and Betty Suyama. Their parents had died of cancer, quickly one after the other, and they had all come from Havre, Montana to live with us. After December 7, my two sisters probably returned from Seattle for at least a short while, since they wouldn't have been able to stay there and had no where else to go, although I do not specifically recall their return.
My father was employed by the Northern Pacific Railroad, SSN XXX-XX-XXXX, at their roundhouse in Helena, Montana as a supply man for a period of 19 years beginning in January 1923. He worked a shift from 4 pm to midnight six days a week and was paid a monthly wage as was customary in those days. We lived in a house and housing compound on railroad property supplied with utilities by the railroad at nominal cost. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Oilers and Firemen during his term of employment.
He was fired sometime after the war started. I recall the foreman coming over late one evening to inform him of his dismissal. Some records I have seen recently indicate he was fired in January 1942, but my recollection is that it was much earlier. When my father's employment was terminated, he was told that he would have to move from the housing he had occupied, probably not on an urgent basis, but it prompted him to buy a lot off railroad property, on which he could build housing if the need arose. In addition the War Department announced restrictions on the movements of Japanese ethnics, American citizens and aliens alike, and imposed a curfew on their daily activities. I understand that bank accounts were frozen, although I'm not sure that that happened to him, or if it did, that it made any difference. In addition, I believe he and mother were required to register with the FBI as aliens and probably underwent some questioning as to their activities, memberships, and loyalties, although, again, I can't recall how or when that happened. We surrendered two firearms to the sheriff's office as required by some government directive, probably one rifle that we had used for deer hunting and one antique flint lock shot gun as I recall, and I don't recall ever seeing those again.
My father's main source of income had been his salary as a supply man, but beginning some time earlier, as early as I can remember, he had supplemented the family income by growing vegetables in his spare time, for food at first, and in later years to sell to grocery stores and wholesale houses in Helena and various towns in Montana, some as far as 300 miles away. The farm was never a money making operation but it seemed to support anyone who wanted to work it. This included the five orphans that he had taken in in 1941; a Hawaiian named Sam Kawamura who appeared one day out of the blue; a Texas irrigator named Phillips who would appear every spring to work the season; various student chums of the family off for the summer; a (I later surmised) parolee named Kasuo Nakata from Washington State prison in Walla Walla who appeared mysteriously one day, but I'm sure with some advance notice; Sam and George, two sons of a railroad worker named Harada, who came from Japan the year before and soon after decided they would rather live in Japan and were repatriated; a farmer named Onishi from Salt Lake; a cook named Yabuki from Butte; occasional hands with names like Charlie Winters, Jim Murray, and George Lucero who came and went without explanation; and Cree Indians, Jim and Albert Buffalo and their wives, Mr Two Teeth and his wife and daughter Mary Jane and others whose names I can't remember, who would come and go with the seasons.
When Rinzo Ogata was fired from his job, he was sole support for my mother, Toriye, my brother, John, who was a senior in high school, and me. He was also supporting my sister Fumi, who had graduated in spring 1941 and was also working for a local high school earning money to go to college, and may have been providing financial assistance to my sister Yeiko, who had graduated high school but was going to school in Seattle. He may have been providing some financial assistance to my oldest sister, Martha, who I believe was also going to the same school in Seattle. He also supported two of the orphans that he had casually agreed to look after without any of the usual formalities. He had obtained jobs for three of that family and I believe they were living away from the compound at the time.
My father maintained very little reserves and had to scramble each spring to get funds for seed and fertilizer and fuel necessary to cultivate and plant the land. Most of the labor had been supplied by the family, and the labor, like those mentioned above, that was hired was mostly paid with provisions and sundries that he provided at cost and deducted from wages, which were tallied for payment as the crops were sold or when the season ended; those were the conditions of employment. He rented various parcels around the valley for the plantings and probably paid the rent similarly, when or as the crops were sold.
In the middle of the winter, he thus found himself probably nearly destitute with housing threatened, without savings or salary, and his residual business of selling and delivering such root crops as he had remaining in storage was severely structured by government decree. In addition, his credit for fuel which he needed to make deliveries was immediately cut off by the oil company with which he had done business, so that he had to continue operations on a cash basis. Reducing his travel range reduced his business base and, independently, some of the grocery stores and wholesale houses reduced it further by refusing to do business with him. Eventually, the restrictions on travel must have been lifted, because our movements seem to have grown less and less restricted and we worried less and less about curfews, although I cannot remember how or exactly when that came about, whether that was a relaxation by the U.S. Government or a local peculiarity.
In the spring, he managed to buy seed and fertilizer for the spring planting. My recollection is that he managed this by borrowing from the life's savings of fellow workers named Inami and Watanabe and I believe from cousins, Matsuoka, on the chance that he would be able to pay them back if the effort succeeded under the new circumstances. He continued to rent land from people on his good word; and he managed to obtain sufficient cash to plow the land, grow his crops, and deliver his goods.
Superimposed on this fragile financial structure came a stream of Japanese forced to move out of the West Coast in the winter of 1941-42. My father had arranged for many of these people to come work at farming, either with us or at other farms. These included cousins, Mrs. Matsuoka, her son James and his wife and child, her daughter Dolly, and her other son Hiro, and James' wife's brother and his wife; these all had left the Seattle area and brought with them two farm tractors. A family named Shiga came to Helena, also from Seattle, and Andy Shiga spent some time working on the farm; the rest of the family moved on east. I believe it was late summer of 1942 that a number of evacuees came from Hart Mountain relocation center to work on the farm. So, although we had little money, we had a lot of workers. Brother Dye's wife, Schizuko, came out of relocation camp to live and work with us during the war.
It was perhaps that first summer when I was out of school that I remember my sister Fumi and I picking vegetables, washing and bunching them, and I would peddle them around to stores from a pickup truck I would have been 13 years old at that time, and on reflection deduce that that activity would have been our sole source of income for the summer. My father and mother and cousins and brother would have all been working on the crops for fall harvest, which included potatoes and rutabagas. We would store those vegetables in root cellars, sort, wash, wax, bag, and sell them through the winter. This was the big source of cash income, and as a result of that first summer's effort I believe my father was able to arrange the purchase of a farm to which we moved in the winter of 1942. He had been renting part of this farm in years past, knew the farmer well, and obtained the farm on very generous terms; the previous owner agreed to hold the mortgage so I don't think very much money changed hands, and we were able to move from the railroad property to the farm. As the war progressed, there was a great demand for potatoes and rutabagas, which kept well, and we shipped freight car loads to Seattle where they were transshipped to various military bases.
The war years saw a parade of people pass through the farm. The cousins evacuated from the West Coast who came to live and work with us moved on to the Midwest. George Suyama enlisted in the Army and was killed in France; the rest of the Suyamas moved on to Chicago. Fumi went to college in Bozeman and later to the University of Minnesota. Sister Martha came to live and work on the farm one summer with her children. The evacuees from Hart Mountain relocation center came to work on the farm and quickly moved on. Andy Shiga was a conscientious objector and was sent to a detention camp for conscientious objectors. Mr. and Mrs. Inaba with a family of seven, came from Hart Mountain for the duration of the war, and moved back to Washington in 1946. Mexican migrant workers came in the latter part of the war when manpower was in very short supply. Only the Cree Indians were a constant part of our farm.
Of those persons in our immediate family, only I, my two oldest brothers, and my oldest sister are still living. All the rest are dead, but were the parents of six known individuals: David, Douglas, and Thomas Hayashi, sons of Fumi (FN XXXXXX-XX-XX); John and Toriye Ogata, son and daughter of John.; and one son of Yeiko, whom I didn't know and of whom I have lost track.
I haven't had the opportunity to check with the California remnants of our family and they may find some errors in fact and timing, but I believe the general gist of the tale is correct and do so attest under penalty of perjury.
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States that the foregoing statement is true and correct.
Hoover Ogata Last modified: Sat Aug 21 22:21:16 EDT 2004