Dale Hopper was a teenager living in Jerome, Idaho when he watched the internees unloaded and taken to the Hunt Camp. He runs the Jerome County Historical Museum and lives in Jerome.
Jim: Did you grow up in this area?
Jim: When we talked the last time I was here you told me a little bit about how you were there when these folks started arriving. Tell me a little bit about why you were there and what was going on.
Dale: Well, I was about eighteen or nineteen years old and thought I should know everything I guess so we wanted to go see what was happening so we did. And it was something I'm glad I did do but, it wasn't really as bad as it could have been, I guess, but it wasn't good either.
Jim: When you say it wasn't as bad as it could have been but it wasn't good, what do you mean?
Dale: Well, when we went down there we had no idea what was going to happen and we thought sure there would be problems, but there wasn't - that I knew of any way - but as a bunch of young guys we just thought that had to be something we had to see.
Jim: You were talking about going down there. What did you see? What was it like when you got down there?
Dale: Well, it was the middle of August sometime in that area and it was hot and dirty and when we got there all we saw was a train loaded with people. They unloaded them out of the train with their baggage and threw them in the back of an Army truck then headed for Hunt.
Jim: I can imagine what August was like out here.
Dale: And the railroad tracks where they unloaded them was right out in the middle of the desert between here and Eden. And it was bad of course.
Jim: You had said that you and a bunch of your buddies wanted to go down and see, thought it was something that you should see. How did you know that this was going on? Were people talking about it?
Dale: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was known everywhere that this was the day that they were going to arrive; the first ones would arrive to be put out there.
Jim: What kind of stuff were people saying? Were people scared?
Dale: They weren't especially scared but they weren't happy. Well, of course there's that certain few that said, "Why don't they take them and shoot them and let them go at that?" but very few. Most people weren't happy about the situation and so forth.
Jim: Was that mostly because of what happened at Pearl Harbor or not? What do you think?
Well, it was the middle of August sometime in that area and it was hot and dirty and when we got there all we saw was a train loaded with people. They unloaded them out of the train with their baggage and threw them in the back of an army truck then headed for Hunt.
Dale: Yes. It was Pearl Harbor. It was all tied into Pearl Harbor and everybody was different, same as now. Why everybody has a different idea about this Afghanistan and Iraq. Just the same story.
Jim: You said when they brought these people in on the train and put them on the trucks and sent them off, this was the first load of people who went in there?
Jim: What kind of place was that like to be living do you think?
Dale: (laughs) Well, I'm glad it wasn't me. I'll put it that way. Dust! The people who built that camp; they brought them in here by the hundreds and they stayed anywhere in Jerome they could find and when they came in I don't know if they could get the dirt all off of them in showers. Just trying to clean themselves up, you know how it is in the desert when you start driving through and everybody walking and working in the area. What it's going to do - dirt about six inches deep, loose dirt I should say - and it was a mess. And it hadn't been quite completed when they put them out there but they put them out there and they lived through it.
Jim: Who do you think it was the hardest on to live out there?
Dale: Well, I would presume the seniors. And there were people who were my age now I'm sure when they went out there because there were some of them was hauled in on stretchers and go put you in a tar shack and four or five families in a barracks, nothing but curtains between you and it had to be hard on everybody. I could say this - after the war was over I was in the Army and went to Japan and I met a family out there in Japan that they were out there and the father said, "I'm not staying here. Send me back to Japan." Or anyway, I don't know just what was in to get him back but anyway they went back to Japan. They sent them back and I met this family while I was in Japan after the war and they were some pretty sad people for going back instead of staying here. So it wasn't I guess as bad as they thought it would be or what but anyway that was their feelings.
Jim: What was it like - how old were you when you saw them go into the camps that day?
Dale: Out here?
Jim: Yeah. How old were you?
Dale: Well, I had just graduated from high school. Eighteen or nineteen.
Jim: What did these people look like? What did their faces look like?
Dale: Well, of course I'm sure I kind of was laughing because they would send them out there. Everybody - you know when you're young and you don't think a lot of things but they looked pretty sad - and it didn't - and I'm sure when they arrived out there and unloaded they didn't change them any.
Jim: You said you were young and kids sort of don't have a lot of wisdom I think when they are eighteen or nineteen. It was a tough time. It was a different time in the world back then. When did your feelings start to change or when did you start to realize what these people actually went through?
Dale: Well, I think my feelings were there when they started unloading them and the way they handled those people. I think I changed a lot right there but - after I was in the service and over in Japan and met those people, so many of them, I came home and I thought ever since it was a crying shame to have happen to anybody.
Jim: I was surprised when I started talking to people about this whole issue, about the Japanese being put into camps, talking to people who lived here in Idaho like you did at that time who were in high school or older or younger and I asked them what they thought about these people being put into these camps. I was expecting to hear sort of what you said, that I felt bad, we shouldn't have done it. But a lot of people said just the opposite. They said it was the right thing to do, we needed to do it, we were scared, we were worried. What do you think about that?
Dale: Well, I think it's just people. Everybody thinks differently but at that time too I think people were scared, after they snuck into Pearl Harbor and they - well, nobody had any idea what was going to happen after that and they went right to work on it and got them off the coast and we had two or three families here in Jerome that I went to school with and of course they didn't put them out there. They were locals here and they stayed on their farms and helped out all they could - but I guess the people who did it feel it's the right thing to do and I've got different feelings. Some day I might think it was wrong and sometimes I think it's right because it's just something that happens. Of course we have to accept it regardless if it's right or wrong but I've heard of incidents - well, I'll tell you one is a cousin of mine worked in a feed store over in Gooding and there was a Japanese man came in over there and he threw him out. Picked him up and threw him out. He didn't have a job anymore but that was his feeling. He wasn't going to help those Japs.
Jim: There were a lot of feelings like that weren't there?
Dale: Yeah, there was a lot of people who felt that way. Like this display we have up here in the corner, there's a license, free license to shoot the Japs. Just all kinds of things like that. I mean but it's real hard to say what anybody really felt because everybody was so different.
Jim: And it was a different time in America.
Dale: Oh yes, very much so.
Jim: I think people don't realize maybe what it was like after Pearl Harbor happened. How big of an impact that had. Did you feel that after it was bombed?
Dale: Well, yeah, we felt like it was going to be something big and it was. In fact the day after they bombed Pearl Harbor I walked in the schoolhouse there - I went to school in Wendell - and it was one of my classmates standing atop the stairs and he said, "Well Hopper did you bring your shot gun?" He said, "We'll be over there with them too." And that's what the kids were thinking anyway the day after.
Jim: Did you have any Japanese kids in school with you?
Dale: There was none over there but there was here.
Jim: What was that like for those families living around here?
Dale: Well, I think everybody accepted the ones who were here. We've got a young lady, a doctor over in Wendell. She was raised here and went to school here. Her mom was one of that family that was here. She's half Japanese and she gets along well and of course now it's altogether different. So many at that age really don't know anything about it. It's amazing how many schools we have coming in here now bringing their kids to try to learn something. That's their history and it's quite amazing at the number of people we get through here.
Jim: That just don't know anything about it?
Dale: Right. They know nothing about it. They come in here and they start asking questions and I try to answer what I can. I can't answer them all but I do the best I can for them. But we had a group from up in American Falls not long ago. We had a group from the Deaf and Blind School in Gooding just a few weeks ago and they know absolutely nothing. They know World War II. That's all they know.
Jim: No idea that all of this stuff happened right here? You talk about being there when these folks were put into the camps. After they were in the camps were you aware of them? Did you hear much about what was going on out there?
Dale: Yeah, because they were on the streets, they'd get passes and come to town. They were on the streets. They had athletic teams out there. They had the biggest schools out there, bigger than any in the valley and we had our personal doctor, medical doctor. He was in charge out there while they were there and we would talk to him a lot and we were quite friends of him. And many people questioned, well, what did the ladies do out there? Well, they had their clubs and they had everything and had it not been for them for the Japanese people, here for two years in a row, we would have lost most of our potato and beet crop because we had nobody here to harvest them. But they came out, they made their money, they got paid the same as anybody else and I think a lot of them felt real good about it. And I'm sure others like the gentleman I met in Japan, at the time he didn't feel good but he sure wished he had of.
Jim: Mostly there was nobody to deal with the farms because everybody was off serving in the war and there were no young men back in town?
Jim: You talked about having clubs and the schools out there. They had yearbooks and things like that didn't they?
Dale: Yes. We have the yearbooks right here. I've got them right back behind me here and we have their newspaper. They had a newspaper they published. Our weekly paper printed it for them after they got it ready and they had that and they were undefeated in their baseball team for a long time around here. Everybody accepted them I think. Maybe not wholeheartedly but they did help out with it.
Jim: Looking back at what the country did to these folks, do you feel bad, do you feel embarrassed? As an American do you feel any of that?
Dale: Well, right now I don't think I do. I don't think I'm any smarter now than I was then by any means but at the time every day you'd have a different feeling. It was just according to what happened. But I think it was something that the people thought had to happen. The President and his group felt it had to happen and we'd better accept it that way because anyway, they're supposed to be smarter than we are.
Jim: Supposed to be.
Jim: Another interesting thing in talking with folks who were out there, a lot of them don't want to talk about it.
Dale: Well, it doesn't bother me. I mean, it's gone, the past is the past and the Japanese people are fairly good friends of ours right now or I feel that way anyhow and I think it's just a fight that's over and forget it and get along the best we can.
Jim: You mentioned earlier about the people in Afghanistan, how we see some similarities now. Do you see some of that same stuff? After Pearl Harbor and 9/11, do you see things that are similar there?
Dale: Well, yes I think they are. Yeah, after 9/11 why we thought everybody should be grabbed and they got a lot of them and I guess there are still some that haven't had their chance to prove right or wrong but I felt that way. They had better be careful. And I think they've caught - well, over in England they just got some a couple of weeks ago that were ready to blow something up and right now I think there are supposed to be more security here now than there was back then. I mean, when they came into Pearl Harbor, why I don't think anybody ever thought anything about it. But now and after 9/11 and all these other goings on why it's, it's scary. I tell you, on myself, for oh, a couple of years ago I couldn't watch the Federal news, national news because when they'd start to fight, why, tears started rolling down my cheeks and I've gotten over - well, in today's paper a young man from Jerome was killed and that gets to me real bad.
Jim: People talked about in World War II how it felt like the whole nation was at war, that everybody was fighting, that everybody knew somebody who was serving and sometimes I don't feel that people feel that today. But from what you are saying it seems like you are there with them and feel that.
Dale: Definitely. I'm with them. I'll never forget it. It's something that is just there and the things that happened to me that I can't forget it. One thing that really bothers me, if you get a family, wife and kids talking about a husband and dad that had just been killed and I turn the television off real quick because I cannot - better be careful, it will start here.
Jim: Did you serve yourself? Did you serve in the service?
Dale: Oh, yes.
Jim: Where did you serve? How long?
Dale: In the Philippines. I was in the Philippines and after the war was over I was in Japan for about three months - and then I got to come home.
Jim: Why was World War II so different, the way people felt about it, do you think, than now? And different from Korea and Viet Nam and The Gulf War and this war have a very different feeling?
Dale: Well personally I don't feel any different than any of them. I kind of feel like that they were probably necessary but now sometimes I change my mind about this one that is going now because well, there's more of the boys been killed after it's all over - supposedly over - and they're still over there - three or four every day practically. But people - I don't remember back in World War II of anybody saying we shouldn't be there. I don't think I ever heard that.
Jim: And now you do.
Dale: Now I do. You hear it a lot now.
Jim: I noticed that the flags were flying at half-mast today and it must have been because of the boy that you mentioned.
Dale: Well, it could be. I don't know for sure but I saw it when I went to the post office to pick the mail up, I saw in the paper that says, "Jerome boy loses his life" or something on the headlines and so I bought the paper and I usually don't but I did. I wanted to see who he was. I personally don't know the family but I feel for them.
Jim: Do you sometimes not want to pick up the paper and not turn on the news?
Dale: My wife is real concerned about me turning on the news and we try to watch the local news and if it gets too deep we turn it off.
Jim: How come?
Dale: I can't handle it.
Jim: You've said you had the chance to meet some of these folks who were in the camps and the Japanese folks who were in this area back then. What do you talk about when you see those folks? Do you talk about those days?
Dale: We see quite a few people come in here and yes, they talk about what happened when they were out there. Most of them here now were little kids when they were out there and they talk about the jobs they had, they had victory gardens they called them, that they planted out there and all kinds of things but we never get too deep into it. At one time here we had a young man - well, there were two young men and their mom. One of them was from Hawaii and the other one was from Washington DC and we talked a little about the situation and with her being out there and the boys were raised out there for three years. I don't think I can remember any Japanese people saying anything too bad about the thing. The camp wasn't good. We know that. Have you seen the barracks? Okay, you know too what they lived in.
Jim: Not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination.
Dale: No, no. (long pause)
Jim: You talked about how kids now don't know much about what happened out there. What should they know?
Dale: Well, they know what happened. They should start from bombing of Pearl Harbor and what we did then, they should learn what we did then. Around here in our local schools, fourth and fifth graders is primarily we get so much about and they ask some pretty good questions about why this happened. They don't know that we were bombed and started the war and what did they do with them after the war was over and that's something that we don't know. I guess they were each given so much money and they turned them loose like me when I got out of the service. They turned me loose and said, go home or wherever you want to go. And that's what happened to them. But some of those kids can get pretty personal and have some hard feelings.
Jim: What do you think about those guys who were in the 442nd?
Dale: Well, the most decorated in the war so they must have been good.
Jim: A lot of those guys came from Idaho.
Dale: Yeah, yeah. I've got a file upstairs of all of them that were from around here. In just a card that they were enlisted or drafted or volunteered, whatever they did.
Jim: Pretty amazing when you think of guys going from being in the camps to being heroes. They were heroes in combat.
Dale: Yes, they are. Definitely. Those people had some pretty hard feelings, not hard feelings, good feelings about this country or they couldn't do that.
Jim: That part of it is an interesting story too. A lot of people don't know about that either, about what happened to these guys -
Dale: Yeah. Hardly anybody knows that. You can talk to people, oh I guess one out of ten might have heard of the 442nd or whatever but - the others - well, "What's that? Who were they?"
Jim: That almost seems like it's kind of a shame or something.
Dale: Yeah, yeah, it's just another one of those problems with the whole situation.
Jim: Well hopefully we'll let people know more about that with this show. Anything else you want to tell us?
Dale: I think we've covered it quite well.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: Of Camps and Combat