Gladys Mitsuyo Sallas, age 96, of Waddell, AZ, passed away on September 9, 2022. She was born February 5, 1926.
On February 19, 2017, Gladys participated in the event “Journey for Justice: EO 9066 75th Anniversary” as a “Panel of Witness”. The following are the words she shared that day.
Good afternoon, y’all. (laughter) Yeah. Y’all. I lived in the south. My name is Gladys Mitsuyo Sallas. For many years, I did not want to remember what happened, nor did I speak of events after EO 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt. I will share a little of my background. I was born on a sugar plantation on the island of Kauai.
My dad was born on the island of Kauai, therefore an American citizen — a Nisei. He was manager of the carpentry department of Mainpuri sugar plantation. My mother came from Niigata City, Japan, as a young girl. She married Dad after a short courtship.
We lived in a Japanese camp of the plantation. The Portuguese and Filipinos on their own camps. We were close neighbors. Before the war, once a week, the Portuguese ladies would fire up the huge brick ovens, to bake their sweet breads. Which is now sold as King’s Hawaiian Bread, but it tasted much better back then. (laughter) They would send a huge loaf to our family. Once a year, they slaughtered their hogs, and made Portuguese sausage and blood sausage, which they shared with our family also. In turn, Mother made her delicious maki sushi to share. They loved her sushi, and we enjoyed their bread and sausages. The Filipino ladies made their famous chicken long rice, and for dessert made a mochi rice, brown sugar and coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, which they shared with our family. It was quite often. Mom made her maki sushi in return.
We had a good rapport with all the people in the different camps. We were all friendly, and happy together, exchanging food and things. It was a carefree life. Our weekly routine was: on Saturday, Mother and I would do our laundry. There were seven of us, so it was an all-day job. Some of you might remember those days. No washing machine, so we scrubbed the laundry on a wooden washboard, with grooves, which my dad made. And hung the laundry to dry on the line. We had to wash on that Sunday, December 7, 1941, because of the rain the day before. My dad had gone fishing that morning, so we were unaware of what was happening on Oahu. Kauai is approximately 90 miles north of Oahu, where Pearl Harbor is located.
After Dad came home, he turned the radio on, and then we knew what had happened that morning. My oldest sister Myra, who had moved to Honolulu to attend McKinley High School due to their curriculum – it took over ten days until we knew she was safe. We had no phones in our home until after the war, and it was chaos and uncertainty, not knowing what was going on. We felt isolated, living on the plantation. When Executive Order 9066 was signed, the FBI and the military gathered all the prominent people and their families, and the prominent Japanese business men who traveled between Hawaii and Japan, and incarcerated them – some on the mainland, and others in Honolulu in a location we were not aware of until much later. I guess it was kept a secret for various reasons.
The military tried to incarcerate the whole Japanese population, but they found out it was impossible, because the Japanese were the majority of the workforce. All the Japanese who had jobs in Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, and any military facility were required to find other jobs which did not have any government or military connection. All the islands were placed under martial law. And the military ruled. We were allowed to be outside only during daylight hours and to leave our camp only to go to school. Our windows were covered or blacked out, so the light would not show. At night, the military patrolled our camp, and if any light showed, they fired their rifles in warning, and banged on the door of the house.
Since we had nothing to do at night, and I loved to read, I went to bed early and read my book under the futon with a flashlight. The futon was hot; however, the light did not show through like a blanket. Around ten p.m., Dad would knock on my door and say, “Flashlight out, Gladys.” (I didn’t know he knew.) Reading was my only enjoyment.
One of Dad’s responsibilities as manager of the carpentry department was to drive to Port Allen, where the ships brought lumber and supplies. One of his trips back from the port, he was driving on the main highway. An Army truck emerged from a side road and collided into Dad’s vehicle. It did not matter that Dad had the right of way; we were under martial law. So the Army detained Dad for sabotage. We were not aware of what had happened to Dad. The general manager of the plantation was contacted by the Army, and he knew Dad was an American citizen by birth, so he came to get Dad’s birth certificate to prove his citizenship to the officials. Dad was finally released.
Dad was a gentle, soft-spoken man, and I never saw him so angry. He was so upset that his family was put through what happened next. The military came to search our home, and turned everything out of their drawers, and turned everything upside down, but could not find anything to incriminate Dad. We lived in fear all the time.
I had just entered the freshman class, which is the ninth grade, when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. I was 15. Don’t do the math, I’m 91 today. (laughter) Because all the young men were drafted into the Army, and the shortage of laborers, all of the high school students 14 and above were allowed to attend school only three days a week, and the other three days, the children who lived on the plantation were required to work in the cane fields. It was hard manual labor, pulling weeds in the hot sun. We had to cover our faces with strips of cloth, and a large hat to protect from the sun, and long-sleeved shirts to protect our arms from the cane leaves, which were very sharp and full of hair, which was very itchy.
Shoes could not be worn because of the mud. We wore tabis made of denim material. You had to have two pairs so you could wash the one pair, hang to dry, and wear the spare the next day. We got paid one cent per line. The most I earned was 75 cents to a dollar, for eight hours.
Our high school activities were held only during daylight hours on Sundays. On weekends all the Japanese men who were left at home were picked up in Army trucks to clear land for air fields. (It was mandatory that they volunteer to work wherever you were needed by the Army. ) We were prohibited from speaking Japanese. We spoke to Mom and Dad in Japanese only in the house. My siblings were much younger than I was; therefore, they did not retain the language at all. Mom was so sad. We had a food shortage, especially rice. We had to learn to eat poi, which I acquired a taste for. You may know poi is made my steaming and pounding the taro root, and is a staple for the Hawaiians like rice is to us. Due to the meat shortage, we raised chicken for eggs and meat. Spam became very popular because of the meat shortage, and still is popular today.
We were treated very badly, called awful names, by the same people we had such a good rapport with. It was difficult to be segregated; it took a long time for anyone to trust each other and be friends again. It was never the same. The good old days were gone forever. Thank you.
Left to right: John Tateishi, Koji Ozawa, Marian Tadano
Shee, and Gladys Sallas after the EO 9066 75th anniversary
in 2017 at the JACL-AZ Hall. Photo credit: Bonnie Sumida