Posts Tagged ‘Nisei’

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.

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.