Puyallup Assembly Center, interview with Miss D

IN: Records of the War Relocation Authority, 1942-1946: Field Basic Documentation located at the National Archives, Washington, D.C . Reel 1. Alexandria, Va.: Chadwyck-Healy, Inc., 1991.

Interview with a unidentified Japanese American woman about the Puyallup Assembly Center. Interviewer: Anne O. Freed. Interview date: 17 April 1943.

Private voluntary interview with Miss D. concerning Puyallup Assembly Center, held on 4/17/43. Interview by Anne O. Freed. Unless otherwise noted all remarks made by the interviewee.

Miss D. is a very mature, responsible individual, probably in her late twenties. She comes from Seattle. Previous to evacuation she was a secretary in the public school system. She was given a good deal of responsibility for Japanese problems in one of the schools. She speaks, reads, and writes the Japanese language quite well and frequently acted as interpreter for the principal.


Miss D stated that most people did not expect the evacuation order. They had to rush to make many purchases but even this became difficult as different areas within the city were restricted. This upset the people very much. The people in the vicinity of Seattle were sent to Puyallup, also known as Camp Harmony. This was formerly a fair ground. The Assembly Center was open in April, 1942. The Center was divided into 4 areas, A, B, C, and D. A was the largest, D the second, B the third, and C the smallest. Miss D was able to describe only Area B in which she lived. The stables were in Area D. Many of the former stores in that area were converted into dwelling units. It was very dark in this area and people had to use electricity even during the day. Area B was described as having a good deal of greenery and was quite pleasant.


The people were taken to Puyallup by busses. A very brief physical examination was given. A family number and barrack were assigned and their bags were searched for contraband. A guard took them to their barrack, then they went to obtain their mattresses and cots. Miss D and her brother had to stuff the mattresses with straw. She stated these were very uncomfortable as she overstuffed them by error. Bugs at times got in the mattresses and they had to be aired frequently.


There were six dwelling units to each barrack. Each unit was the same size and was assigned to each familty without regard to the number of people in it. The walls did not reach the ceiling in order to provide more ventilation. This meant that they could always hear their neighbors' conversations. They built their own furniture. The roofs leaked whenever it rained, which was very frequent.


There were two latrines in Area B. They had automatic flush toilets, 12 in each unit. There were no partitions and the people objected to this. Neither were there any partitions between the showers. Areas A and D did not have enough hot water and the residents had to be given special permission to use Areas B and C showers. In order to prevent athlete's foot, people wore wooded clogs to the showers.


There was one mess hall for each section. The kitchens were kept fairly clean. The food was pretty good, breakfasts were never plentiful but the other meals were. People felt that the menus were repeated too much. They particularly hated pork and beans and wieners. The water was especially bad. One of the men put a bag around the faucet and when he examined it, he found little bugs in the bag. This was shown to the administration but the residents were continuously told that the water was the best in the vicinity. There were complaints when the residents observed that hamburg (sic) meat was brought to the center in open tubs. Dust and dirt would get in. After many efforts to stop this, the administration consented.

People brought hot plates with them although they were not supposed to. Visitors would bring food to them, but if the sentries discovered this, the food would be confiscated. At first food could be sent through the mail and was not examined. Later this was changed.


Anyone who wished to work could obtain a job. The personnel office organized by the JACL took a census of the type of work the people could do. This facilitated placement. There was some favoritism shown in the job assignments but not much, Miss D thought. The evacuees were given employment within their own area and therefore did not get to know much about the other areas. All those who had typewriters were given special work preference since there were not enough typewriters around the center. The administration was very stingy about paper and Miss D ofter used her own. Secretaries were paid $16 per month.


The Internal Security Division under the WCCA acted as the police force of the Areas. Besides this in each area there was an election by (sic) an evacuee chief of police and evacuee policement under him. The areas had their own code of law determined by the residents. The people established their own juries. Gambling was the offense most frequently punished.

Miss D stated that the JACL with the WCCA planned the administration of the assembly center. Many JACL volunteers were sent ahead to set up the machinery. A JACL man was placed at the head of each section. Many of the employees were appointed by JACL men. Miss D thought the people did not object to this arrangement. However, it would seem that she did not feel free to express herself on this subject. She is not a member of the JACL.

Miss D did not know much about the administrative setup. She was a secretary in the personnel office of Area B. The residents referred to the administrators as "only WPA men", therefore, they did not expect much from them. She was unable to give much information about the personalities of the administrators but recalled that the mess hall manager was very unpopular and was referred to as a "blundering idiot". He was criticized for not obtaining enough fresh food and was very stubborn. It was the feeling of the residents that the administration was not very close to the people and they could not get to know them.

In area B three section managers were elected and under each section manager there were three group leaders. These took charge of the "nose count".


There was a full recreation program in the center. They held many dances and such games as ping pong, badminton, tennis, and croquet. Card playing was very popular. They had a good athletic program. They had volley ball competition between areas. The older people played chess and shogi. Community singing was popular. Practically all the women did some knitting or handwork. Beautiful carvings were made by some out of old pieces of wood. Some of the men in Area B built a small swimming pool for the children. This is the only area that had such a facility for the children.

The educational program consisted of Americanization classes, the usual school curriculum from first grade through high school and a good nursery school. All the teachers were evacuees.


Each section of the Assembly Center was fenced off and in this way the people were unable to circulate throughout the Assembly Center. They were confined to their own areas. On special occasions they could obtain permission to visit a friend or relative in another area. The fences were made of barbed wire, and sentries were posted at each entrance. Much resentment was voiced by the residents against this.


Caucasian friends who visited the evacuees made many purchases for them. They had not been told the type of things they would need at the center and therefore were grateful for this. The people in the administration would also make some purchases. There was no smuggling and no profit-making in this center.


Miss D optimistically stated that Area B was "one large family". There were only 200 people in this area and they got along very well together. In the Assembly Center, at least in Area B, people did not form groups according to the city from which they came, but this was later done in the relocation centers. Most of the residents in Area B were from urban areas.


On the whole everything went along fairly smoothly in the center, Miss D thought. There were no serious occurrences. Miss D mentioned three incidents that were rather unusual. Rumors reached her area that there was a serious food poisoning in Area D. Another unusual occurrence was an attack by a kibei on the cook. This kibei was a very unstable individual who had done this to his mother also. He repeated the attack in Minidoka and was later sent to a mental hospital. This was treated as an individual situation and was not attributed as a characteristic of the kibei generally. There was another incident of an unstable person. A young girl became psychotic while at the Assembly Center. She was a very quiet individual before evacuation and apparently the events of evacuation were more than she could adjust to. She too was hospitalized.

Miss D stated that she knew of no problems of illegitimacy with Area B. There were no opportunities for this to occur. However, it was known that there were several cases in Area D. There were a few empty barracks in that area which the girls and boys discovered and of which they took advantage. The bachelors were housed in that area also.


At first the residents talked to their visitors separated by the fence at the front gate. If a guest stayed too long, the guard would tell him to leave. Later a visiting room was established in which long tables and benches were provided. No guards were posted in the room. The room was always crowded, as many people came to see the evacuees. All packages and cakes were examined to prevent contraband and whiskey from being brought in.


At 9:00 P.M. each evening the group leaders counted people. They had to remain in their barracks during this period. The number missing were reported to the personnel office. There was no curfew. At first they did have to turn lights out by a certain hour, but later even this ruling was relaxed.


Most of the residents objected to leaving Puyallup because they were being sent so far from home. This did not mean that they thought the accomodations in Camp Harmony were particularly good. They had many complaints. But they liked being in familiar surroundings. A sense of loyalty among the Area B people toward Puyallup was built up during their short period of residence there.


Miss D is a very mature, hard working girl. She has a good deal of understanding of the issei. She is rather sympathetic with their point of view although her own ideas may not be similar to theirs. She has been in close association with Japanese people and understands the thinking of all the age groups. She was able to describe the feelings of the people in the center very well. She did not spend much time with the administration but remained among the residents. She gave very little information though on the thinking of the people about the fact the JACL was given so important a share in the administration. She commented that the area people were none too concerned by this.