It’s so pervasive that the banks, and they’re all white owned, determine what neighborhoods black people can get a loan in. It’s called red-lining. That’s why blacks are in one part of town. And by the way we’re calling ourselves Black nowadays, not negro. So even if you come up with the money, if you’re black you can’t buy in any old place. You have to stay in your place.”
“Is that why the Japanese all live in one neighborhood in Seattle?”
“Partly. For the rest of the story you’d have to talk to Musaki up in squad three.”
“But he’s from Illinois not Seattle.”
“Just go talk to him. You’ll get an ear full.”
Musaki was a compact Japanese man of about 18 who’d also been drafted. He was always the winner in the agility competitions and his squad often won hands down. My squad, 1st squad, had me and Curvey and a couple of wrestlers from Garfield High School and we mostly won the overhead bars and rope climbing. And between me and the wrestlers we could do push ups forever in the pushup relay contest. But Musaki had another valuable attribute. He could speak and read Japanese fluently. At lunch break the next day I went over to talk to him.
“Hey Musaki! How’d yo do a shooting pennies last night?”
“Pretty good. I got eight out of twenty. How’d you do?”
“Man, I didn’t even know such a thing was possible till last night and I got eleven.”
“You do really good on the rifle range too. How come?”
“I think it’s because I drew a good rifle. It’s pretty new and it’s consistent. And I hold my breath and squeeze the trigger between heartbeats.”
“Say Musaki, how did a Japanese family end up in Illinois? The Japanese I know from home are truck farmers around Western Washington. My sixth-grade girlfriend’s father had a truck farm a few blocks from school. She used to trade me octopus from her lunch for peanut butter and carrot sandwiches ”
“My family were farmers too at one time. We grew berries on Bainbridge Island and sold them at the Pike Place Market.”
“Why did you move to Illinois?”
“It wasn’t a choice. When WWII broke out the government rounded up all the Japanese on the West Coast and sent us to internment camps in the interior of the country. They also confiscated our property. My father saw it coming and sold our farm to a neighbor for a dollar for safe keeping.”
“That’s incredible. I never heard of such a thing. Did your family get it back after the war?“
Well, yes and no. To avoid the concentration camps we moved to Urbana Illinois where there is a college. That was just before the order to imprison the Japanese on the west coast.
“My father died of a heart attack so my mother and my oldest sister, actually my half sister, went back to Bainbridge to reclaim the farm after the war. The man my father had given it to had died in the meantime and they had to buy it back from the new owner.
My sister lives there still and my mother came back to Illinois and married a Japanese farmer and they settled down to farming. So that’s where I grew up.”
“That’s so unfair. The government never compensated your father for the loss?”
“Nope. Not him. Not any other farmers either.”
Musaki had been in the group called into the reenlistment office along with me and several others. Later we compared notes. Since he already knew two languages, English and Japanese, they offered him language school to be an interpreter. I’ve often wondered what became of him.
Later, some weeks into the course at Ft. Monmouth, we studied amplifiers — no not guitar amps but some of the guys later built their own. In those days we learned vacuum tube theory. I didn’t understand the explanations. I sounded like so much magic. I called home and asked my dad to send me my high school physics notebooks. We had studied tube theory and basic circuits. A few days later the notebook arrived at the company mailroom. In it were the notes I’d made for experiments in electronics and I found what I needed to make the army instructor’s rote explanations make sense.
About this time I discovered that the Signal School kept some of the better students to be instructors, generally those with science background. I also discovered that the radars I was studying were used extensively in Viet Nam — in combat — in the jungle — to ward off Viet Cong rocket and mortar attacks.
Every two weeks we finished a phase of instruction and had an exam. Lacking motivation, I had not done especially well on the first few tests but there is nothing like the specter of rice-paddy warfare to focus the mind. I maxed out all the rest of the phase tests and after graduation my orders came down assigning me to Ft. Monmouth as an instructor.