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Interview

  • Interviewee:
  •     Ed. H. Runcorn
  • Interviewer:
  •     Janis Gennawey
  • Subject:
  •     Cooperative Stores in Relocation Centers
  • Date:
  •     July 17, 1973
Gennawey

This is an interview with Mr. Ed. H. Runcorn, for the California State University, Fullerton, Japanese American Oral History Project, by Janis Gennawey at Mr. Runcorn's office at 7655 Greenleaf Avenue, Whittier, California, 90602, on July 8, 1973, at 3:30 p.m.

Mr. Runcorn, could you tell me how you got involved with the WRA [War Relocation Authority] during World War II?


Runcorn

This takes me back over thirty years, to think about the War Relocation Authority. It really began on December 7, 1941, which is known as Pearl Harbor Day. I remember it so well. I was teaching world history in a high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and on that day my wife and I had dinner at the home of our dearest friend there, a principal in the school. It was a dark day, and the thing happened so fast that we were really shaken by what came. We knew that there had been bickering between the governments, our government and Japan, because of scrap iron and things like that, but this was a tremendous surprise. So the next morning, Monday, we had an assembly at the high school. President Roosevelt was speaking over the radio, and we all just sat there; we knew it was a terrific historical time, and there was going to be a change for millions of people. The first evidence that I had after that, that the Japanese American people were really involved, was one day in a hotel in downtown Albuquerque. Going up the elevator, I happened to notice standing beside me a very simple little Japanese farm woman with handcuffs on. And that experience was shaking to me. I told my wife about it that evening. Then we began to hear a lot of propaganda both ways, of course, that the Japanese people might be enemy aliens. Besides teaching, I had been trying to bring


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my students along; the war had been going on quite a long time in Europe. Some of the boys were getting restless to get into the Army and so on.

Another interest I had was to teach in the Sunday school of the Methodist Church there, for the young married couples. And the other hobby I had was being the president of a local consumer co-op store. I tell this because both of these things were quite a factor in my life at that time. In the church group I was on the peace committee, and I was opposed to war. I was a conscientious objector, and the cooperative food idea was my way of trying to correct some of the evils that lead to war and tense competition between nations to the point of death. The outcome was that, very shortly after war was declared, the superintendent of schools said that all the teachers would be expected to pay into the government for war bonds. In my situation, I said, "I will make contributions to the Red Cross and to the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia." Well, even though I'd been teaching there, that was the end of my teaching career because I was told, very shortly, that my job would not be carried on the following year.

So at the close of school in 1942, I went to work trying to help the co-op store to survive. I wasn't a very good groceryman. I worked very hard and did not do much reading that summer or anything. But in the meantime I had a co-op leader, a former minister from Kansas City, Dr. Merlin Miller, who had said he had an offer to go to work for the WRA, which was establishing camps in Colorado and a number of other places in the West. He said that they needed men who had the co-op background. So, even though I had lost my job in the school, the man who worked in the agricultural department called me. He knew that I was a conscientious objector, but he said, "Are you blatant about it?" I said, "No." And he said, "Well, come to the job in the next three weeks," or something like that. This was after a good deal of interviewing by the government. That was real enlightening and exciting to me. In November I went to the relocation camp down on the Arkansas River near Lamar, Colorado. There, during that summer, about eight thousand Japanese American people had been gathered. They had been brought mostly from California. There they were, in a . . . we did not think of it at the time as a concentration camp, but it had barbed wire around it, searchlights from the towers at night, and was guarded by some military people. It was exciting to us but tragic to those people from California. It took me a little while to figure out what was up and what to do about it. I was excited because I was getting about three times as much as I had as a teacher in Albuquerque--$145 per month, for twelve months a year. For awhile I wondered, "What am I doing here?" Then one day a government man came out from Washington, D.C., and explained how we were to develop some cooperative enterprises in that Amache Relocation Center. I think how that developed was real interesting.


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These camps were surrounded by barbed wire and, because of the reaction of the people around in the community, the Japanese people were not allowed to go out except in small groups. The WRA was a little afraid, I suppose, that there would be some incidents, or some cruel things would happen, so they would let only a few out at a time. It wasn't until it became evident that the people needed other things besides just a mess hall, and a sixteen by sixteen foot barrack room to live in. The internees needed some kind of enterprise for their barbershop, beauty shop, general store and so on. It worked out that there were only three ways the government could go: they could just treat them as though they were all prisoners and just hand out goods paid for by the American taxpayers; they could authorize somebody in camp or somebody outside camp to come in and establish stores and, therefore, make profit off these people; or they could let the people organize their own cooperative businesses. It was decided--very logically, I think--that the only fair thing to do was to let the people organize their own cooperative enterprises. I should say also that these people were all paid a sum of sixteen dollars for whatever work they did in the center. Of course, they were provided their meals, and they had rather crude shelter in these barrack buildings. If they were leaders or were on the police department helping the Caucasian police, they might get nineteen dollars a month. If they were just clerks, or barbers, or whatever, they got sixteen dollars a month. Under this situation, it became advisable to form the enterprises.

Well, I was the associate superintendent of the Cooperative Enterprises. It was my duty to educate these people as to what a consumer cooperative is and how it would work in that center. That was really a challenge because, as I said, I had been interested in the co-op store back in Albuquerque. I was real enthusiastic about the economic idealism of that, so it was a tremendous challenge, and I enjoyed it immensely. I went up there in November 1942, and a little before Christmas we began to have meetings with the older men, about eleven of them, as I remember. One of them was a wealthy man from Los Angeles, California; a produce man, Mr. Maruse. Others were business people who had just had a few days to leave their business. They were disillusioned, and they were afraid they were in a concentration camp. They didn't know whether they were going to ever have freedom again. So it was a great pleasure to them to see that there was going to be a possibility of some democratic control and ownership in these enterprises. The management was to be handled completely by them. When they learned all about it, I got along with them beautifully. Also, I found that Japanese names are pronounced exactly like Spanish names, and that helped. I had had lots of Spanish American children in Albuquerque High School.


Gennawey

Did you have any Japanese American children in the high school, too?


Runcorn

We had a few there. However, my first experience with Japanese students was up near Greeley, Colorado. There were some Japanese families on very productive farms there. They were in a high school


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where I taught prior to coming to Albuquerque. I remember very well what fine students they were, how they applied themselves and how they observed what their parents wanted them to observe. They were really fine people. So I had a fine attitude about the Japanese people. I think this is interesting: when I first went to Amache, it seemed so strange; here were these people--families, old people, young people--all huddled in this camp, but they took it. The young people particularly took it so well, I remember. It just seemed to be shocking. Here the young high school kids and the elementary kids going to the showers, singing, "Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition," just like all other American kids were doing at that time. (laughter) As we discussed these matters about cooperatives and so on, the older men would be standing around. In the middle of the place, they had placed an institution-sized tomato can that they had used in the mess halls, and the brand was "Slap the Jap." (laughter) They put that out in the middle of the room and spit in it, put their cigarette butts in it, and so on. They just took it in stride very, very well. I was pleased just to see how they took the whole thing.


Gennawey

You had been teaching for some time prior to the war?


Runcorn

Yes. First I started in a Mexican school in New Mexico when I was eighteen years old, and I taught two or three years. Then I went to college at Colorado University. My second job after that was to be in charge of the English classes in a small high school near Greeley, Colorado, and there is where I first met Japanese American people.


Gennawey

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, what reaction did you get from the Japanese Americans in your class and from the community of Greeley at large?


Runcorn

I was in Albuquerque when Pearl Harbor occurred. I don't recall having any Japanese students in Albuquerque; I had them near Greeley. So it wasn't until I got into the camp that I saw a good many young people of Japanese ancestry again.


Gennawey

You've told how you got connected with the WRA. They approached you first; is that correct?


Runcorn

Yes. Well, I applied on the recommendation of this co-op leader from Kansas City. It took several months--while I was laboring away as a grocer there--for the letters and inquiries to come. Finally, it came in the form of a telephone call from the project director, Mr. James G. Lindley, right from the camp near Lamar, Colorado.


Gennawey

Was the WRA a civilian organization?


Runcorn

Yes, yes it was.



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Gennawey

In your position, what training did you give the Japanese American people? Exactly what were they taught?


Runcorn

Well, this was a challenge to me because in the high school I had made it my custom toward the last week of school every year . . . I was interested in that consumer cooperative, and I had a conviction that our capitalist society needed the competition and the idealism of the cooperative movement to kind of balance things and to keep the monopolies from becoming utter dominating factors in our lives. So I rather insisted--though I know the principal was worried, but he let me do it--every year at the end of the year, I brought in a pamphlet which told about the Rochdale pioneers in Rochdale, England, where they began the cooperative movement in 1844. I had been using these couple of pamphlets to tell that story to my students in Albuquerque. So when I went to the camp, I used these same little pamphlets to help educate these men from California, the Japanese leaders. Some of them couldn't speak English very well, but they would talk back and forth and translate, and they got enthusiastic, more so than the students ever did. (laughter)


Gennawey

Did they? They were enthusiastic about setting up the enterprises?


Runcorn

Yes, they were enthusiastic about how it could be applied. They hadn't known anything about cooperatives, I don't suppose--maybe farmer cooperatives out in California, somewhat. But these were mostly businessmen from the Los Angeles area, so it was rather new to them. They were fairly well-to-do men and they said, "Well, this will really work in this camp because we can all buy shares in it, and we'll all have one vote. If we make any earnings out of it, they will be shared according to the way the barbershop is used, the grocery store, and so on." They were quite enthusiastic. I listened to many Japanese harangues back and forth. (laughter)


Gennawey

How were these men chosen to work in the co-ops? Did they volunteer their services or were they chosen?


Runcorn

Well, at the time I began there in December with these men, the project leader had told them that they were going to develop cooperative enterprises. "Well, what is that?" They didn't know, and it was my job to enlighten them as to what a consumer cooperative is. So they had been told, "Now you choose eleven men to be the group that will be a kind of committee to study this whole thing, and then present it to the people. Perhaps then we can form a cooperative."

At first the government had an idea, "Well, we've got a million dollars or so. If you want any help, we'll subsidize it for you." Ah, but I didn't proceed that way at all, and some of the government leaders, I think, were a little bit surprised that we didn't ask for a lot of money. We said, "Well, we'll put on a campaign, and we'll let all the people in the center buy five dollar shares." We had a great time putting up the canvas sign along one of those


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barrack buildings. Each block conducted a drive after this, after the education process had gone clear into the barrack blocks, so that people knew what was going on. And we had this contest; I think that was along in early spring of 1943.


Gennawey

And this was in Amache?


Runcorn

In Amache, right near Lamar, Colorado. Amache was the name of the center. So in a drive, for about three weeks, I think, they raised twenty-five thousand dollars, which was amazing at that time for these people who were limited in their incomes to sixteen and nineteen dollars a month--and then their own savings, in many cases. They were allowed to invest up to one hundred dollars in five dollar shares, and they would all be voters. Each one would be a voter in the enterprise. So it developed that it had a real advantage because many of the people had been very disillusioned. They were afraid: "My, we've lost our freedom; we've lost our property at home." They had been ordered out of their homes with just a few days' notice, and they had to turn their property over to white friends, if they had any, and most of them, I suppose, had some friends. But they were worried about their property at home. Many of the old folks didn't know when they would get home again. Some of them fell ill, went to the center hospital, and just sort of pined away. But the young people were having a great time. They had a lot more associations than they had ever had before. There were several hundred of them there, and they had a high school and other schools in the center. The young people were just having a great time; and the old people were suffering under it. Of course, the middle-aged people were wondering about their property at home, when they would get out, whether they would be treated fairly, and so on, because there was so much propaganda, of course, against Japan and "Japs" in general.


Gennawey

Yes. Did the Japanese Americans in the camps build the different stores, and where did they acquire their goods to sell?


Runcorn

Well, that was interesting. Through the fact that we had the government in back of us, they were able to have things shipped in. As soon as this twenty-five thousand dollars was raised, we began to use that to pay. So the people took right ahold of it, through their own money and their own businesses over the counters in those various buildings. Various barrack buildings were just remodeled a little to where they could put in counters, and a barbershop, beauty shop, print shop, and a general store. I can remember one of the most popular things was just crushed ice with various flavors: raspberry, strawberry, and so on. (laughter) That was a great delicacy, particularly for the young people.


Gennawey

And where did they acquire the goods?


Runcorn

We bought them from various wholesalers, and so on, around Colorado.


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Finally, I put them in touch with the co-op wholesalers in Kansas City. That was an exciting day, particularly for me, when they had a truckload of canned goods, co-op labeled goods, brought from the wholesaler in Kansas City. So they began to find out what co-op food was like, what the brand meant, A-B-C grades, and things like that, that they had at the time. It was bearing out the things that I told them--how a consumer cooperative differed from just a usual private enterprise.

In connection with that, there was a little story I thought was real exciting. We told them, of course, that if they saved the stubs from the little purchases they made in these various stores and so on, that they would get a refund according to the earnings of the cooperative. Well, naturally, if you're paying only sixteen dollars a month wages . . . We were not allowed to pay any more than the government was paying all other workers there, in the police department, the fire department, in the schools and so on. So the co-op paid wages of sixteen dollars for the clerks and nineteen dollars for the managers. Naturally, there were earnings! We told them, "Now to be fair on this, if you just keep your stubs, we'll give you a refund. At the beginning, we don't know what it will be." Of course, many of them never heard anything like this. They said, "Aw, that's just a joke." So they threw their stubs on the floor of the various places. The Japanese janitor, who was making sixteen dollars a month, was one of those who said, "Well, I'll take them at their word and save these." And he saved. He had three thousand dollars' worth of these stubs. When it came time at the end of a quarter or half of the year--I've forgotten which--he counted up his stubs and presented them. They were able to pay a 10 percent refund. Well, he had three thousand dollars worth of these stubs, so he got three hundred dollars! (laughter)


Gennawey

Oh!


Runcorn

That was news in the Japanese newspaper there, that this man had gotten a patronage refund of three hundred dollars from the co-op. (laughter) So it wasn't very difficult to urge the people to save their stubs from that time on.


Gennawey

No! (laughter) Who set the price structure on the goods sold at the different stores and the different services, like the shop, the beauty shop, and the grocery store?


Runcorn

Well, the board members. After this twenty-five thousand dollar drive, of course, they had an election to elect a board of directors. And the board was to set the policy and hire the managers, and the managers would hire the clerks, barbers, and so on, to supply all these services. The leaders were business people, and they, of course, realized that there was no use putting prices too low or too high. So they tried to find out what was fair under the circumstances. They considered that the people were living in the camp,


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getting their food mostly in the mess hall, sleeping in these little barrack rooms, and didn't have a great deal of money, unless they happened to be well-to-do people, as certainly some of them were--at least, there were a few who were in this category. So they set prices fairly. Of course, they had to think about the white government people there, too, because they also patronized this co-op to some extent. They'd go and get their hair cut in this barbershop and things like that. I think we used to get haircuts for about a quarter in those days. My wife went to the beauty shop a time or two, I remember. It was a very modest price compared to today, of course. Still, the people--the board members that had been elected--set the policy of what was fair prices on these things. So far as goods that came from the co-op wholesaler or goods that they had to buy outside, like clothing, they had to pay the regular wholesale prices, of course. So they marked them accordingly. It worked out as a very fair, democratically controlled situation.


Gennawey

Were there ever any private enterprises set up anywhere in any of the camps?


Runcorn

No. I think not, excepting where some of the people . . . I don't know if it developed there, but in some of the centers, where they were able to get shells from the seaside or the streams, some of the people developed shell craft. And, of course, there were some that were developing art, and ceramics, and things like that, which they sold on their own. That was permitted. But it wasn't possible for a well-to-do man to set up a grocery store inside the camp and charge whatever he chose--that is, after the government had decided that the cooperative would be the best way to prevent a lot of bickering and exploitation. So the cooperatives were well accepted by the whole camp as the best way to supply those things.


Gennawey

I've read, too, that the internees used Sears Roebuck catalogs a lot.


Runcorn

Yes. That was interesting, too. I haven't thought of this for a long time. But for awhile we had a deal with Montgomery Ward, an ordering service for Montgomery Ward. So one of the co-op services was in a little office, where people could come and look at the Montgomery Ward catalog and order things. The co-op would order them, and then the people would pick up the order there after it was delivered. That got to be quite a difficult thing to do.


Gennawey

You had a lot of people going in and ordering that way?


Runcorn

That's right, for awhile. I remember one man particularly, a farm boy from California, who was in charge of that. He was having a time trying to satisfy people. Being wartime, of course they couldn't always get just what they wanted. He was trying his very best, in his courteous way, to please people. That man, E. J. Kashiwase, for the last twenty-five years, has been the chief accountant of the Associated


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Cooperatives, a wholesale co-op in the Bay Area. So this farm boy got his first introduction to cooperatives there, and he has been in the business as an accountant ever since. (laughter) It's interesting.


Gennawey

How were these co-ops accepted by the people in the various camps?


Runcorn

Well, I suppose, there were some people that . . . I'm sure that in the beginning the business people said, "Oh, I never heard of this sort of thing." And I'm sure some of them were negative about it. Certainly the men that I had on the board, that were elected and the ones that had been nominated to set up the committee in the first place, were quite open to it. After they debated it and so on, they accepted it very well. Now, there were two groups of people in the center, which was another experience. The fellows from the city here in southern California . . . Some farmers from the valley in the north were not so well-educated, so far as English was concerned. So in the process of getting bylaws and getting established, there was considerable confusion. And the farmers said, "The city slickers are going to run this business, and we are going to get taken." (laughter) They put out the bylaws in English, and the farmers from the north couldn't read the English versions. There was quite a fuss about it. So one day, all of the men on the original organizing committee resigned to the city council. They just said, "Well, if that's the way they feel, here's our resignation." (laughter)


Gennawey

Oh, no! (laughter)


Runcorn

And the assembly leaders of the town council persuaded them, "No, we want you on there." So they came back on. They said, "Now we have got to have these bylaws all written up in Japanese. This was before we actually had the drive, you see, for the twenty-five thousand dollars. They put those bylaws out all in Japanese. That took another three weeks or a month or so for the print shop, and so on, to do this all in Japanese. After that, it was very smooth. Everybody said, "Well, this is something different."


Gennawey

Do you mean that they all accepted the cooperative?


Runcorn

They accepted it very well, yes.


Gennawey

That's great. In what camps did you set up the co-op?


Runcorn

My first job was at Amache, of course. I was there about two years. After the co-op was established and going well, the government authorities felt that they didn't need two government men. My immediate boss was the business head of the enterprises; I was the associate. My job was more educational. After the educational job was done and the co-ops were going successfully, the government asked me to go to Tule Lake Center, which is in northern California.


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Of course, that was an entirely different situation. There were ten centers originally. By this time, from all of the ten, the majority of the young men were being drafted and volunteering to go into the Army. But there were a few that were so disillusioned that they said, "We will never again have a free life in America." They were disillusioned, and they began to be very critical. So it worked out that the government set aside Tule Lake as the camp in northern California to send those that were dissenters, that had become so disillusioned with this experience that they wanted to go back to Japan.


Gennawey

Could you give me the year that happened?


Runcorn

I'm sure it began at least by 1943. Some of the dissenters in the camps were feeling pretty bad about this. They said, "Well, our only chance of a good life is to go back to Japan." So under those circumstances Tule Lake, which had been just one of the ten centers, was changed into a real concentration camp [segregation center], you might say. I remember they had six hundred military men there all the time. They built the fences higher, more guard towers were built, and this sort of thing.

I was sent to help the cooperative that they had in Tule Lake, to replace the co-op enterprises superintendent who resigned. I arrived in June 1944. It was 1944 by this time, because I was at Amache for more than a year. When I got up to Tule Lake, of course, that was a different situation. There was tension, bitter anger, between the project director, Mr. Ray Best, and the people. The people inside the camp were rather furious about situations. They were locked into the camp. They were not allowed to go out into the communities. It was really a concentration camp. And the day I arrived there one man had been shot and killed at the gate. The guard said that the man reached for a gun when he asked him for his pass. Of course, that created tremendous fear and tension among the people and among the project director and the staff. They had cooperative enterprises there, so it was my job to go to the cooperative. It was a new experience for me to get acquainted with those leaders. The cooperative leaders, of course, were probably closer to the staff, the Caucasian staff, than most of the other Japanese people in the center. So we were sort of caught in between some of the angry people in the center and the white, controlling, government people.


Gennawey

Was it at Tule Lake that the cooperatives were accused of taking part in graft--both the internees and some of the WRA people?


Runcorn

It was a very serious thing, I remember. One thing that I was concerned about, I remember, was that the government people, who were getting good salaries, wanted the Japanese people to provide servants for them, private servants from the camp. And, of course, the co-op people said, "Well, now everybody is getting sixteen dollars in the camp, but why should we supply our young people as servants


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for these government people at sixteen or nineteen dollars?" So quite an argument developed while I was there in Tule Lake as to what the co-op should do. They'd have it handled through the co-op. The co-op would hire these people and send them out as servant people for the staff. But the co-op leaders didn't feel that they should get away with paying only nineteen dollars a month. So there was quite an argument between the co-op and the government leaders as to what they should pay for these people. I remember, I was involved in that because I thought, "Well, now, it's not fair for these government people, who are well paid, to get these people at just slave wages." You see? So I had a little difficulty with one of the assistant project directors there as to what was fair on that.

In the meantime, serious things were happening at night. By this time, some of the young people there were out of the control of their parents. They were beating people up and trying to develop fear in order that they all would stand together, have Japanese schools, and not English taught in the camp; things like this. It got very tense. Then one night, a sad thing happened. The manager of the co-op, Mr. Y. Hitomi, an internee of course, was caught somewhere outside the door, and somebody cut his throat. He died that night. The tension was terrific. We didn't know whether he was killed because he had been trying to work with the project leaders or whether it was because of something else. We never really learned why this man lost his life. He was a Buddhist. I went to the funeral--the first time I had ever attended a Buddhist funeral service. It was a sad time and a disturbing time, because we really had a concentration camp atmosphere there, and it was very unfortunate.


Gennawey

At that time did you have any contact with the Spanish Consulate? They were supposed to have helped the Japanese Americans in the camps.


Runcorn

The Spanish, from Spain, you mean?


Gennawey

Yes.


Runcorn

I don't know, as I recall there was some foreign group that tried to help. But I wasn't close to that at all.


Gennawey

I see. You weren't in any of the meetings or negotiations, trying to get the camp back to normal.


Runcorn

You mean in Tule Lake?


Gennawey

Yes.


Runcorn

No, I wasn't. It wasn't my job to be directly involved in that. Of course, we did have . . . When the death of the co-op manager there


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occurred and uprisings like that in the camp, they . . . One assistant project director, Mr. Paul Robertson, was a personal friend of mine, a very religious man. He and I would go into the camp on Sundays and go to church together in the Japanese churches. Therewere Protestant churches, of course, among the Japanese people. So we were somewhat closer to the people in the center than some of the others. Some of the others were afraid to go, but we felt that the church leaders and the co-op leaders were on our side, so to speak; we understood them, they understood us. So when they had project staff conferences and so on about the conditions in the center, they called upon this assistant project director, and they called upon me, as the co-op supervisor, to give our views of it.


Gennawey

Oh, I see.


Runcorn

But I don't recall, I wasn't involved at all in any interference with any representative from another country. I do remember, for instance, what an exciting day it was in Amache when the Japanese Red Cross sent supplies in, foodstuffs like soy sauce. Then that was quite exciting to the people, to think that even Japan knew that they were in these camps and had sent some Red Cross goods through. The people were anxious to hear about outside things, because we didn't have television in those days, you see, so we didn't have much opportunity to know very much.


Gennawey

Could you tell me what the policy of the WRA was during the war?


Runcorn

Well, the main purpose, of course, of the War Relocation Authority was to relocate these people so that they wouldn't be so concentrated as they had been in California and on the West Coast. That was the prime purpose, at least that was the thing that was given to us as the reason why they were gathered into these camps; so that they could be redistributed in other American communities, spread out more. One of the prime purposes, then, was to help these people regain their confidence, to go out into other parts of America and find jobs. Most of them did. It was quite successful. They were well accepted wherever they went. Even though the war was still on, they weren't utterly mistreated or anything. They were fearful that they would be, but they were a very courteous kind of people, and they were well accepted.


Gennawey

Did you help in relocating some of your co-op workers?


Runcorn

Well, that wasn't my job. Of course, the WRA had a staff of people that were outside in various places--Chicago, New York, and so on--to find openings for the people. My job was to help them with their cooperatives as long as some people remained in the center. Of course, as time went on, the younger people were getting out. The older people were somewhat afraid to go and it was difficult to find jobs for them. So as it went, there were more and more older


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people in the camps and fewer young people. My main job was just to help and advise them, be a go-between in the cooperative enterprises, and to see that those businesses would be carried on successfully and ultimately wound up. I was up in Tule Lake for two or three months, then I was sent to Washington, D.C., to be a kind of auditor supervisor. They called me to go to all of the centers, nearly all of them. I went to all but the two in Arkansas. It was my job, then, to be sort of a traveling man, to go to the various co-ops, meet the leaders, get their financial statements, and report to Washington as to how successful they were, what problems they might have, and so on. In the latter part of my stay with the WRA, my headquarters was supposed to be Washington, but actually I had an office in Los Angeles, and I traveled from one center to another--two or three weeks at each one--to work with the co-op people.


Gennawey

And this was what period?


Runcorn

Well, that lasted right up to the middle of 1945. The co-ops were being wound up more and more as the people left the centers. They had to be closed, so it was my job just to see how they were coming along on their financial problems, so there wouldn't be losses and unfortunate situations in that way.


Gennawey

So you saw the centers, then, just as they were being built and as they ended.


Runcorn

As they were getting ready to close out completely. I didn't stay on until the complete closeout of them. I was in one of the centers in Arizona on the day that Japan surrendered. Stocks were being reduced and the people relocated before V-J Day, August 14, 1945, the day I left. I'm sure the co-op members got all investments with dividends. I'll never forget V-J Day! (laughter)


Gennawey

What happened? Could you tell me about the day? How the people felt that were still in the center?


Runcorn

These were not Japanese people in the sense that they had any relationship to Japan. They were really not any more related to Japan than my grandfather was related to England, after he came from England and had lived in this country for many years. They were American people, and very few had sympathies for Japan. The ones that went to Tule Lake, of course, were disillusioned, and they felt that they were Japanese; they didn't want to be American anymore. But I think the general result of that was that, after the war was over, only a few--I don't know how many hundred--went back to Japan. But many of the people that were in Tule Lake, I'm sure, got back into American life after the thing was over; so it was just disillusionment for most of them. There were a few hundred, I know, that went back to Japan. They just gave up and said, "Well, we'd better go back to Japan. That's


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our own country." But, for the most part, those were older people and middle-aged people who had not integrated well into American life. It was often said that, if the war had occurred ten years later, this unfortunate camp experience probably never would have happened, because the older people, the Issei, had been . . . Well, they came here from Japan, and many of them had not learned English very well. They lived pretty close to their own groups, and they weren't very well known in many of the other communities. They lived in their own parts of town, and so on. People were somewhat suspicious of them, especially if they were in competition with them in their farm work. That was one reason why, I think, all of this came about. But the Nisei, the younger generation, the first generation born in America, were just coming on. Many of them were just coming out of high school or college, and they weren't old enough to have a wide influence in American life. But had it been a few years later, I'm convinced they would have sold themselves as American people and this thing wouldn't have happened. The way it worked out, after they came back--they had all accepted it so well--that they were accepted back. I think even the Issei people gained property rights, and so on, after the war was over.


Gennawey

So you feel mainly it was based on hysteria due to the war?


Runcorn

Yes, there was a lot of hysteria, that's true. And there was propaganda, ugly cartoons and so on, against the Japanese people because of the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor. It just overwhelmed the American people, and made some very terrified about what might happen. So it was a sad chapter in American history, but I think the Japanese Americans came through in a very heroic way. They accepted the situation and many things were bitter to them; but they took it. We often said, there in the Amache camp, that if we had gathered up a bunch of Kansas farmers, just east from there, and put them in a camp like that, we would have had some terrific brawls and murders and everything you can imagine. The Japanese keep very good control of their children, and they have good family lives. So we had very few incidents like that in my experience, except in Tule Lake, where things got out of hand, partly because of the close military surveillance there--they just were not allowed out of the camp. They were prisoners indefinitely, and they didn't know how long it was going to last. They didn't know how the war was going to go, and so everything was really a frightening situation.


Gennawey

Do you believe that the family structure of the Japanese Americans broke down somewhat with their internment?


Runcorn

I doubt it very much--not in the nine centers. In the Tule Lake camp, it was obvious that some of the young hoodlums there were out of control of their parents. And they were frightening their own people, and threatening and brawling. And, of course, this man was killed. We just figured that probably some bitter young man


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had done that. But in the other centers, I wasn't too close to the people, except in Amache, in that way. But I didn't see much evidence that family life broke down at all.


Gennawey

How about the morale and the attitudes of the people during the course of the years? Did you find that that was breaking down?


Runcorn

You mean after they came back, in 1945, when they got out?


Gennawey

Yes.


Runcorn

Well, some of them suffered, of course. They would come home and find their goods had been stolen. They had stored them away, and there had been thefts; there'd been losses, and so on. They felt real sad about it, but so far as I know, the ones I've visited since then took it in very good stride. I've always found them to be a very courteous, a fine kind of people.


Gennawey

And throughout their internment in the nine camps, except for Tule Lake, their morale kept fairly high?


Runcorn

Yes, I think it did. Yes, and even many of them were quite patriotic, in sending their boys off to the Army, and so on. Of course, as everyone knows, the Japanese American boys--particularly from Hawaii--were in one special group that was over in Italy. They were a rather heroic type of people. The Japanese people followed that group, of course, with great interest.


Gennawey

Were you involved, during this time, as a Quaker?


Runcorn

Actually, I was a Methodist in Albuquerque and also a conscientious objector. I was unhappy when the Methodist Church voted, in Kansas City or somewhere, there in a big conference during the war. By just one vote, they decided that they would bless the war, so to speak. I was disillusioned with that, so I never remained in the Methodist Church. And as I traveled about for the various centers, I was able to visit the Quakers in Washington. The Florida Street Meeting in Washington was my first experience in a Quaker meeting. I remember particularly a fine old gentleman there was really giving us a terrific talk about the destruction of Dresden. Just a day or two before, the beautiful city of Dresden had been bombed, into the earth, practically, by American planes. He was, of course, very sad about that. So this experience in the relocation center caused me, of course, to think about these things more than I would have if I had stayed where I was before the war. It led me also to California. The young Japanese American people were always getting the football games on the radio in these centers, and I learned a lot more about California through that. (laughter) Then after coming to Tule Lake, of course, I decided that I'd like to come to Whittier, which is an old Quaker town. I've been here all these years since then.



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Gennawey

So you were, of course, aware that the Quakers were helping at this time?


Runcorn

Yes. The Quakers sent people around from the American Friends Service Committee. Occasionally there would be somebody who came to the camps to try to understand the situation and meet with people there who were concerned along that line. And that brought me more in touch with that. So when I came to Whittier, one of the first things we did, of course, was to become members of the Friends Church. It was a fine experience for me to find that this was a church, even during the war, in which the minister was concerned about the conscientious objectors and the camps that they were in, as much as he was about the young men from the church who were in the Army. I didn't find that concern in most of the other churches at that time.


Gennawey

As a teacher, I wonder if you could comment on the schools in the camps?


Runcorn

Well, I wasn't too close to them. I got to know the superintendent of the school in Amache. They were trying to conduct a good American high school there, just as they would in any American community. The Japanese American children were greatly encouraged by their parents to do well in school, and they did. They were a fine bunch of students. As a whole, I would say, they were probably better than most students normally would be--that is, an average group of students--because they were encouraged by their parents to really succeed with their schooling.


Gennawey

In visiting the ten centers, did you observe the attitudes of the communities near each of these centers in the different states?


Runcorn

Well, the camp that I knew most, of course, was there in Colorado. There was a very small town right next to the camp--Granada, Colorado. It was just a small place, and some of those people were a little frightened by eight thousand people coming up on the hill above their town and taking over some of the bottom land. On the Arkansas River, there was the agricultural project for the Japanese. Some of the farmers had sold land to this government project, and they were worried about it and a little fearful, I think. But it wasn't long until the Japanese made friends with them, and pretty soon one man--his name was Tsuchia, I think--who had been a butcher, got a job in one of the stores in town. He also knew the fish business. They brought in fish, which I'm sure they never had had in that store before, and they brought in other meats. The town boomed, in a sense, because some of the Japanese people couldn't very well buy this in the co-op. We didn't push that sort of thing because the people were provided with their food in the mess hall. But if they wanted to buy a nice big fish, they had to go out of the camp and go down to the fish store, and things like that. So the Japanese, as they could find jobs out in


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the local community, or nearby, or way off, were encouraged in every way to get out. So they were accepted quite well.


Gennawey

In Amache, then, the people could get out of the camp and go into the local town?


Runcorn

Oh, well, a few of them in the beginning. Then as time went on and the townspeople began to say, "Oh, well, these are just people the same as anybody else," and they weren't frightened, and then they were allowed to go out more; they were encouraged to go out more, especially if they could get jobs on the farms up and down the valley. So they were doing anything they could, of course, to encourage them to get out and find jobs on the outside. The people around the communities said, "Oh well, these are just Japanese American people. They're not Japs from Japan." (laughter) So as rapidly as they learned that . . . why, the resettlement process was going on all the time, you see.

I remember one experience down in Arizona: I went out one night to a restaurant with some Japanese people from the co-op group. Boy! The air was so intense there. You could just tell they thought, "Well, these are Japs. These are our enemies." We were afraid that they were going to hit us over the head before we could finish our meal! But nobody lifted a hand or did anything to offend anybody. We finally were allowed to eat and go. But I think I felt a little bit like a black man in the South must have felt eating in a white establishment, because you could tell there was fear, and there was hate in the eyes of some of the people around us. And they think, "Oh, there's one of these white men with them, too. What kind of a guy is he?" (laughter) You see.


Gennawey

How about in the community near Tule Lake camp?


Runcorn

Well, at Tule Lake they did not allow internees out of the camp because they took the attitude, "Well, these people are enemy people. They want to go back to Japan." So they did not allow them out. Of course, when Tule Lake first opened up, it was just one of the relocation camps. I'm sure the internees had some contact with people outside then. But I had to take the money from the co-op and drive into Klamath Falls every day because they didn't allow a Japanese man to do it. The administration was a little fearful that somebody would beat him up or something, so they were not allowed out. Of course, that made for intense feelings on the inside, because they felt that they were prisoners of war, you see. I don't know what the people around Tule Lake felt because I never saw them in contact with Japanese people there very much.


Gennawey

Can you cite any examples of Quaker involvement?


Runcorn

Yes. The American Friends Service Committee was very conscious of these centers. From time to time, they sent people to try to understand


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the situation. I remember Herbert Nicholson was one of the men who came occasionally. I saw him only recently, a very elderly man now, still rather excited about what he was able to do to comfort the people and to try and help them adjust. I remember some of the administrative leaders were a little worried when Herb Nicholson came, because he would sympathize with the people so much that the administration felt that they were being pitied a little too much, or something. They were afraid something would happen, but nothing ever did. The people needed friends, and they appreciated that. Many of the Japanese American people were church-minded people. I remember in Amache particularly that there were many different sects that wanted to have a church of their own. The assistant project director was a strong church man, but he had to sort of bear down, and he said, "Now, we've got only about thirty mess halls in this barrack city. And we can't spare too many of these mess halls for churches." So, he met again and again with them. They finally agreed that they would have one mess hall that was for all the Catholics, another for the Protestants. My wife and I often went to those meetings. One Sunday we might have a Japanese Methodist speaking, and the next time it might be an evangelist of some sort. They were very cooperative in just taking their turns in these various churches, you know. So it was an interesting experience from that angle.


Gennawey

Did the people feel abandoned by the general American public?


Runcorn

Well, I'm sure they felt isolated, and at first they surely felt mistreated. I heard stories of how they were mistreated here at Santa Anita, for instance. When they were first gathered up, they were gathered up in a very few days, very much like some of the Russian Jews were gathered up according to the show Fiddler on the Roof, which I just happened to see the other day. In that case, the people were given three days to leave. Now, I don't remember how many days the Japanese people had, but it was very short notice. Some from California were moved to the Santa Anita recetrack. They lived in the stalls where the horses had been. They had to clean those out and try to live there for several weeks, I think, while these centers were being built. One of my Japanese friends that was a leader in the co-op said, "Boy! It was pretty hard for me to see my old dad in one of those stalls. When they brought the food in, they just put it down on the floor and kicked it in under the door." So, some of the treatment at the beginning was very rugged and very alarming to the people. They didn't know whether they were going to be treated just like the Jews had been treated in Germany. But, of course, it never came to anything that extreme.


Gennawey

Was this initial movement into the camp at Santa Anita handled by the WRA?


Runcorn

No, that was done by the military. I think it was an order from the military that this be done, and they were brought into those places and kept there until such time as these barrack towns could be


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built out in the deserts. That was another thing that was pretty dreary for the Japanese people: they love flowers and plants, and here they were put out into the driest parts of the country, you know. Where the wind blew such dust storms, and cold winters, and so on, that they were not used to. But, as I said earlier, they came through with flying colors. They just did better than most any group of American people, I think, would have done under such stress. I'm very sorry that our country did this to them, but I hope it will always be a lesson to us not to use such methods in dealing with people. Because we're all people, and we all act pretty much the same under various stresses of life. We need to find a more humane way to treat each other.


Gennawey

I have a couple of final questions. Was Amache the first center to have a cooperative or were there other camps that established co-ops simultaneously? For instance, was there at Manzanar and Poston, say, other men who had jobs comparable to yours? Do you know any of their names? Was there any coordination of co-op policies between the different camps? Was that your boss's job?


Runcorn

There was a superintendent and associate superintendent of the Co-operative Business Enterprises in each of the ten centers beginning in 1942. Two or three times in the next two years both government and co-op board members had co-op conferences. I remember one in Salt Lake City and another in Arizona. Mr. Hugh H. Anderson, my friend, still was the co-op enterprises superintendent at Poston, Arizona. He manages a $2,000,000 San Gabriel Valley Postal Credit Union in Alhambra, California, today. Mr. Lee C. Poole was another co-op superintendent; he was at Manzanar for awhile.


Gennawey

Mr. Runcorn, do you think there is anything else we should discuss, or do you think that we have coverered everything?


Runcorn

I think we've covered it enough from my point of view. (laughter) I appreciate this opportunity to dig back and do this. It did a lot in my life, I'm sure. It was exciting, as I say, for young Americans to get government jobs like that, where we had a challenge. It changed my life. As a result of that, I moved to California in 1944, and as soon as the government job ended I arranged a job as field man for Associated Co-ops, which was the co-op wholesale here in California. I did that for four years, as a field man, then I moved into the credit union movement. So for the last twenty-three years, I've been managing the Whittier Citizens Credit Union here in the community. It is that office that we've been meeting in for this interview today.


Gennawey

Well, thank you very much.


Runcorn

You're welcome.



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