Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Rohwer Incarceration Camp

Whitey learns that Sadami Yada, a neighbor from Hawaii, is sent to Rohwer Incarceration Camp.

He visits Sadami and her family in Rohwer. It is a sobering experience.

Rohwer Incarceration Camp in Arkansas was located in wooded swampland with persistent drainage problems.

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"I found out one of my neighbors, Sadami Yada, and her brother, Sam Yada, and his family, were in camps at Rohwer Relocation Camps. So we went to visit at Rohwer Relocation Camps with four of us, and talk with them, entering the camps. But it’s an experience itself, too, to see the relocation camps. It’s a huge camp, it’s all built, more like an army barracks, wooden barracks, with tar paper on the side. And they had this stockade fence, high fence, around the camp."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, granting Secretary of War Henry Stimson the authority to designate “military areas from which to exclude certain people.” Secretary Stimson empowers General DeWitt to carry out an “evacuation.” 120,000 Japanese aliens and citizens are eventually incarcerated.

Haru and Sadami Yada at Rohwer Incarceration Camp

"And every here and then, along the camp, you have the high towers where the white boys, the GI’s, being a guard and looking down in the camps to see that everything is normal. So it was a kind of experience that, here, we were in the uniform going to the camps to visit friends and relatives and the boys were up there on high towers. I was thinking, “Chee, I wonder. . .what their feelings, I would like to know about their feelings.” But I wouldn’t think nothing much about it because we were just visiting our friends."

[T]hey had about three, four families in one barracks, and divided by just a plain sheet of cloth between them.

"And that was quite a sobering thing because they were in the camps. And from what I understand, they had about three, four families in one barracks, and divided by just a plain sheet of cloth between them. So they can hear all the conversation going on between the families. I haven’t been into the barracks, but from what they told us.

So we socialized with the people outside the camps. Some of them who had relatives in the camps, of course, they were in the barracks with them. So we spent one day over there, and we left the Camp Shelby in the morning, took the bus, and then came back that evening, back to the army camp. So that was not too far from Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Just across the border."

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto and friends at Rohwer Incarceration Camp

"It’s kind of a mixture of feeling, to think that here, all our friends and relatives are in the camps, and they don’t have the freedom that normally you can just go out and visit anybody outside. Well, to begin with, they hardly know anybody outside anyway. It’s a strange area because they’re so isolated out in the open country. So they were more comfortable in the camp, as opposed among themselves. But socializing with the outside people, I have no idea. But I can just think for myself, it’s an awkward feeling to be confined in a camp for days and months or probably years, being isolated."

[M]y neighbor from the Big Island, Sadami Yada, was working in the dispensary, medical dispensary. And from what I understand, they got only eighteen dollars a month for that.

"And our thoughts was more like, when I think about it back then, it’s just like the Jews in Europe, they were in that concentration camp. Of course, our relocation camps were not that severe. From what I’ve seen over in Dachau, about thirty-five miles northeast of Munich — I’ve been there two times — at Dachau, which the 522nd Field Artillery boys came across that when they were pushing real rapidly into Germany. I felt differently about our camps in the mainland.

Of course, the ones in Dachau, they had incinerators where all that Jewish people were exterminated in a big chamber. After they remove all their clothes, they were marched into the chambers, and then they were gassed, and they were exterminated. Then they put them in a big incinerator and then cremate those bodies, yeah. And then I don’t know what they did with the bodies.

But at least our relocation camps, they have a social get-together, and they go to school, they have recreations, and all that. And of course, my neighbor from the Big Island, Sadami Yada, was working in the dispensary, medical dispensary. And from what I understand, they got only eighteen dollars a month for that. So at least she was occupied in the camp."

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto and friends in front of Rohwer Incarceration Camp

After more than forty years, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, granting reparations to Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated by the United States government during World War II.

"Yeah, I felt very sorry for [the Japanese Americans in the camps], you know, because our own government picked those people up on the West Coast and elsewhere with not much of a day’s — within twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours, that they have to leave their farm, their stores, their own business, and take whatever they can. And they had no time to make arrangements to have somebody to look after their property. If they have some good neighbors, white people, and there were a few white people that really went out to help those Japanese Americans.

And it was pitiful that they lost everything. Of course, later on, they were compensated a small token of $20,000 per person, which [Ronald] Reagan’s time, I suppose, that they compensated for them. But that is not enough, because some of the people invested so much money on their farms and business, and they lost everything. It was a sad thing.

President Reagan signs the Reparations Bill for Japanese-Americans

And, of course, that is something that will hopefully that it never happens again to anybody in our country. So, in a way, I think we sacrificed that way by our families remaining back on the mainland, while we sacrifice ourselves, our portion of it, overseas. "

Whitey Yamamoto's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Whitey Yamamoto and National Archives.

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