A quick update

January 22, 2010

No one likes to see blogs fade away after a good start but here I am with a long gap between updates. Let’s hope they become regular again/


War hits home for Japanese Americans in L.A.

July 31, 2009

Frank vividly recalled life after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Below are some of his recollections.

Pearl HarborNational Archives

When I heard on the radio the president’s message to Congress and to the American people and later saw the dramatic newsreel broadcasts in the theatres, I was incredulous and heartsick. I simply didn’t want to believe my ears or my eyes, even as the newspaper headlines confirmed the truth — Japan and the U.S. were at war. My worst fears and those of all Japanese living on the West Coast had been realized.

The full significance of the Pearl Harbor attack did not strike home to those of us attending colleges and universities. There, we were insulated among well-educated people of our own age and interests, young adults with whom we shared classes, sports, and a common loyalty to our schools.

But it was impossible to ignore the war. I had a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach every day, fed by fear and guilt. I wondered what the white students were thinking as they saw me on campus. Was I a “Jap” in their eyes? How long would the calm and accommodation of Nisei students last? When would the storm burst on our heads?

Growing up in 1930s Los Angeles — Skid Row

June 30, 2009

Frank wrote vividly of growing up in Los Angeles, moving in the early 1930s from a house to a small hotel on Fifth Street, “near Main Street in the heart of Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row.” The hotel business was thriving from three groups needing inexpensive rooms: traveling salesmen, males wanting the city’s cheap living conditions, and a large transient population of World War I veterans. They’d find all the businesses they needed plus buses and streetcars as well as a variety of entertainment.


ABOVE: Merced Theatre, 420 North Main Street, Los Angeles, June 1936. Library of Congress; HABS photograph by Henry F. Withey,

Here’s is Frank’s description of his new “playground”:

I was eight or nine years old, and for the first time I discovered that we were a rather poor family. At night, I would sit on the fire escape in the rear of the hotel, inhaling the odors emanating from the kitchen below — the smells of freshly-baked, jelly-filled pastries were the best. We never got to buy any pastries and we never ate in the cafeteria, but I still remember the white tiled floor, the counter heaped with food, and the crowded tables full of hungry diners.

The cheap movie houses strung along Main Street from Sixth St. north to Third, on both sides of the street, featured lurid posters and as much sin as Hollywood could get away with. Gangster movies were especially featured, and there were even two live “strip” shows featuring buxom strippers with eye-catching names. There were more bars, movie houses, and fast-food restaurants along that stretch of roadway than anywhere else in Los Angeles, with a generous supply of clothing stores and hock shops tossed in for good measure. The winos and deadbeats could sleep in the all-night movie houses for the price of admission. Yet just west of Main Street, on Fifth, were some of the most impressive hostelries in the city, like the huge Rosslyn Hotel on Spring Street, and, two block farther west, on Hill Street, the giant and prestigious Biltmore Hotel.

Heart Mountain: coyotes and wandering cattle

June 2, 2009

Frank Inouye was shocked and saddened in 1942 when his family was sent to a relocation center in the barren landscape of northwestern Wyoming. This was not the beauty of Yellowstone National Park 60 miles to the west, this was hardscrabble land between Cody and Powell, Wyoming. Frank wrote of the place:

Who would have thought, a year ago, that I, a proud yet slightly bewildered citizen of a great Metropolis — Los Angeles — would one day leave … for this!! And yet, here I am, companion to the wolves and coyotes and jackrabbits and ticks and wandering cattle, together with ten thousands other people who are equally amazed at finding themselves thousands of miles from home…. Somehow, however, we take it in stride and live our lives as peacefully and comfortably as possible.


Article explores historic status of Heart Mountain

May 26, 2009

An article today in the Powell [WY] Tribune examines the possibility of the National Park Service managing the former WWII-era Heart Mountain Relocation Camp. The site has been preserved and documented for years by the private, non-profit Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation.

Powell_HM historic

The foundation is asking Wyoming’s Congressional delegation to authorize a special resource study that would recommend whether the site should become a National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service.

Foundation president Dave Reetz said the group isn’t necessarily advocating Park Service management; they just want to examine all the options.

A special resource study, he said, asks for a great deal of public input — from interested community members, to former internees, to present-day adjoining land owners.

“We would be remiss as an organization in not having this done,” he said….

The relocation camp was built on some 20,000 acres, 4,600 of that Bureau of Reclamation acreage. After the camp was dissolved in 1945, the majority of the property was transferred to private ownership.

Today, only 124 acres of the camp remain — 74 belonging to the Bureau of Reclamation. The remaining 50 acres — where [a] learning center (currently under construction) sits — are owned by the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation.

Frank and his time at Heart Mountain camp

May 26, 2009

A year and a half ago, I started a blog about the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast road across the U.S. I really enjoy keeping others informed about people and places along the Lincoln, and I probably learn more than anyone every day. So I’m very excited to begin blogging about a subject I’ve been working on at times for a decade, the story of Frank T. Inouye.

Frank grew up in Los Angeles, an all-American boy of Japanese parents on the eve of World War II. He did lots of interesting things but what left the greatest impact on him was his internment at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming during World War II. He likewise made an impact at Heart Mountain, speaking out when the U.S. Army came looking for recruits. If you think he was bewildered and angry, you’d be right.


I’ll be writing regularly about Frank and my efforts, along with his family, to publish his story. It can be termed a memoir or an autobiography, but whatever you call it, it’s a moving, funny, insightful look at growing up in America in the 1930s and ’40s, all while looking — to many — like the enemy.