Naeko Isagawa Keen

Naeko Keen is interviewed by her grandson Daniel Clark. Mrs. Keen is a native of Okinawa and survived WWII. After the war she married Robert Keen, an American G.I., and came to the United States to live.

Daniel: Where and when were you born?

Naeko: I borned, it's called Tanira, Pacific Islands, small island,

Daniel: Tiny I what? ....

Naeko: Tanira, next to Saipan ...

Daniel: Next to Saipan, ok when?

Naeko: In 1933.

Daniel: 1933. Who was your mother and father?

Naeko: My daddy's name was Sayee and my mother's name was Usako.

Daniel: Usaka.

Naeko: Usako.

Daniel: And your father's name was? ...

Naeko: Sayee.

Daniel: Sayee.

Naeko: Sayee Isagawa.

Daniel: Isagawa. Where were they borned and raised?

Naeko: Okinawa, both of them.

Daniel: Both of them were born and raised in Okinawa. What did they do for a living?

Naeko: Well uh, they raised sugar cane.....

Daniel: Sugar cane?

Naeko: Uh hum, they went there and they cut it so they make sugars over there.

Daniel: What was your father like?

Naeka: My father was well uh, a good worker, he believed in work. He liked to farm, so he had a big family.

Daniel: What was your mother like?

Naeko: My mother didn't live too long, she was sick, she passed away when she had my baby brother, she passed away during childbirth with the fever.

Daniel: Who were your grandparents?

Naeko: They lived on the islands.

Daniel: What were their names?

Naeko: I really don't know, we didn't talk about it, you know, my mother wasn't there to talk about it, when she died I was only four years old..

Daniel: Who was your brothers and sisters?

Naeko: Well, I have two sisters ....

Daniel: What were their names?

Naeko: Fujiko now Fushime, Fujiko is her first name, now she's in Japan, not Okinawa, you see Okinawa's a small place, it's about two, no I guess it's four days by ship ride...

Daniel: You have a brother, don't you?

Naeko: I have a small one, or youngest, Sasishe, my younger sister is still living, she's Miyoko and my oldest sister is in Japan, she's older than I am, there is 15 years difference between me and my sister.

Daniel: So you've got three brothers and sisters?

Naeko: Just one.

Daniel: Well, you've got one brother and two sisters.

Naeko: Uh hum, living, I had four that passed away..

Daniel:Oh really, like in the war?

Naeko: Well during the war, one passed away, and one after we came to an end, she was 17 when she passed away..

Daniel:She died at 17, how did she die?

Naeko:She eat something from can foods, and in that day we didn't have much food and somebody gave it to her, and in those they divided with you, because they didn't have food and so she was working and I think they shared with her, something she ate from a can and it poisoned her and after she ate lunch, she can't talk and she you know, was just poisoned, we took her the hospital and it was too late, after she came back from work, suppose to be and she couldn't walk, and the people that walked with her, they brought her home, they carried her, and we soon took her to the hospital and rushed out and go to the hospital, but it was too late already, it was too late, so she passed away that night.

Daniel: Did you have any more brothers or sisters to die?

Naeko: Yes, two sisters, one from Japan an older sister, she was about 70 or something, I don't know how she was, she's about 13 years older than 1.

Daniel: Was she about 75?

Naeko: Uh hum, and I have another sister that two years younger than me.

Daniel: Your sister that died at 17, was she the only one that died? You had a brother to die to didn't you?

Naeko: Oh, I had,.. but I hadn't seen those, they were before I was, you know...

Daniel: So you never knew them?

Naeko: No, I just heard my mother and sister talk about them, my mother wasn't well then either.

Daniel: Where were you raised?

Naeko: I was raised uh, it's called Rhoda and during the war, and after the war, I guess I was 12 or 13, we came to Okinawa and the war was over, they sent us back home,my daddy was from Okinawa and my mother was to so, we all had to come home, next to Guam, you could see Guam...

Daniel: Next to Guam.

Naeko: Next to Guam, you could see Guam on a pretty day..

Daniel: What did you do for fun, when you were small? Play and stuff?

Naeko: What?

Daniel: For fun when you were a kid.

Naeko :Oh, we had a lot of fun, played volleyball..

Daniel: You played volleyball?

Naeko: Yes, we played it a lot, we had a good time, jump rope, all kinds of stuff that children play here

Daniel: So it was about the same things kids do here?

Naeko: Yes, what kids do here.

Daniel:What kind of toys did you play with?

Naeko: Of course, I would play in my young days, dolls and stuff but during the war, we didn't do much, after I was 10 or 11, we didn't play much, we didn't have much time to play.

Naeko: Because, during the war, we didn't have, we didn't have nothing. We worked hard just the same as the rest of them did. At night time we would they be out,... my sister had two children, I have to carry them and watch over her children and they can raise them up. When I grew up it was hard. War World II was going on and then we then we did not get school at all, because there was no school. We lived in a cave day after day night after night, every day and so we didn't have no time for play, no play at all three years we lived and hid and after we grew up, then were shipped back to where we all came from, my parents were from Okinawa, so we were shipped back to Okinawa and I was old enough and supposed to be in school, but my daddy was shot up...

Daniel: Was shot up?

Naeko: Yeah, he had his arm off and cut off ...

Daniel: He didn't have no arms?

Naeko: No, he didn't have nothing but a stub because he didn't have no hand, and he had one arm...

Daniel: He got shot up during the war?

Naeko: Yeah, shot up in the war, and he was sick all the time, seems like he had something wrong with him all the time, he was sick, anyway he had problems with a lot of things, he can't work, that was the reason I didn't get to go to school, because I have to work so we could have some-thing to eat. Because we didn't have back then, no welfare, no food stamps, the government didn't give us nothing. We had to raise what we eat, we raised rice, and we go out with everybody, it was a group of children, all of us worked, five or six would get together work here at this place, the next day next place, anyway, we took turns about it, we worked together. My daddy just laid there, I think he had cancer or something, he was something bad.. his arm was shot off and something had set......

Daniel: Like gangrene?

Naeko: Gangreen- something had set up on it, he couldn't do nothing, about three years later he passed away, but he couldn't do nothing, he was so sick and skinny, he wouldn't eat much, he couldn't eat, no doctor, and in those days, they weren't no doctor at all, it was a small islands, small islands like Saipan, they don't have, they didn't have nothing, nobody to help, I was only 16 years old, I had to quit school at 15 years old and tried to help my daddy, you know, me myself, eat and my sister and brother was little. My brother was only eight years old and my sister was nine or ten, my sister had to go to work too.


Naeko: She didn't get to go to school, because we had no to help, she had to go to work and take care of the children, a babysitter, and I had to be housekeeper, I had to clean house, things to sell, my brother I tried to keep in school, and then when he came home, me and him would go get wood to sell and fix it up (bundle up) to make money what we could selling wood. I couldn't go to work in those days, nobody was there to take care of my daddy. So the only time, was when we got out and sell wood and buy something to eat and we raise stuff, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oh we had a tough time, we planted some potatoes and rice and I get out and work with other people with the rice, it's in the water and mud, and raised some rice and during harvest time, I helped them and get their rice and then my time our rice, my sister and all would get together and harvest ours. We were in hard times, we raised potatoes and sweet potatoes to eat anything we could not buy except salt, and everything you want to eat you raised potatoes, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, you eat everyday meal and rice ....

Daniel: Mash potatoes?

Naeko: Irish potatoes!

Daniel: Irish potatoes, oh! So where did you go to school?

Naeko: Well, I was in school until about the 6th grade, then of course, my daddy was sick, so I had to quit. So, I didn't get to go to school hardly at all, I was in the 3rd grade and then the war came and then I had to quit, all the school houses were burnt up, all the houses were burnt up. We lived in a cave ... rock caves ...

Daniel: The houses were burnt up?

Naeko: Everything was burnt up!

Daniel: Where the Americans attacked?

Naeko: Yes! Sure everything burnt up and scattered!

Daniel: Did they bomb it or something?

Naeko: Yeah they was, all of it, burnt up everywhere, there wasn't a piece left flat, the houses were all flat, so we lived in caves, you know, rocks on top of us..

Daniel: Cliffs?

Naeko: Cliffs yeah, you go under, like a cave that's what it was, cave.

Daniel: When you did go to school, where did you go?

Naeko: After we came back, let's see, I came back, I was started in school and then my daddy got sick, so I didn't get to go to school.

Daniel: Where was it?

Naeko: Okinawa.

Daniel: Okinawa?

Naeko: Okinawa, back soon after War World 11 was over, I guess about 1946, in 1945 was during the war, so it was 1946, they shipped us all back where we came from, Okinawa was my daddy's homeland, so they shipped all of us to Okinawa. Okinawa didn't much either after the war, they didn't have nothing.

Daniel: How did the teachers make the students behave? They whipem

Naeko: Yes, they whip them..

Daniel: Did they whip you with a belt or with a switch?

Naeko: A paddle.

Daniel: A what?

Naeko: A paddle, you know a flat thing ...

Daniel: A paddle, yeah I do.. Did you ever get into any trouble at school?

Naeko: I didn't have time to get in trouble, cause I didn't get to go much.

Daniel: What religion were you, when you were growing up in Okinawa? Buddha, God or what?

Naeko: We didn't believe in anything.

Daniel: You didn't acknowledge God, Did you pray or anything like that?

Naeko: Well, they had a sun god, that is true,

Daniel: A sun god?

Naeko: Uh hum, the sun god, they had in school ....

Daniel: Oh really,

Naeko: They had it, use to be, before the war,

Daniel: They had Bud and stuff like that ....

Naeko: Yeah, some of them ' some people worshipped Bud, we had they had, you know, sun god, that what it was. They called him Armateous.

Daniel: Ok ...

Naeko: Armateous, Can't you say Armateous?

Daniel: Armateous?

Naeko: Armateous, that's the sun god, that's what they called him.

Daniel: What holidays did you have? I guess you didn't have Christmas or nothing like that uh?

Naeko: Yeah, we had Christmas.

Daniel: Oh, really?

Naeko: Yeah, Christmas, but not too much of, You know there were some people were Christians, there ...

Daniel: What did you all celebrate? Did you all celebrate Christmas

Naeko: Yeah, they had Christmas.

Daniel: Did your family?

Naeko: My sister sometimes did, they have New Year's too, we did..

Daniel: Thanksgiving and things like that?

Naeko: No, we didn't have those things.

Daniel: Ok, do you remember any funny stories or pranks that were pulled when you were growing up or when you were in school, at school or maybe at home?

Naeko: No.

Daniel: How did teenagers court when you were young?

Naeko: I don't know much about teenagers my age, I was working.

Daniel: How did you meet Papa then? How did you all court?

Naeko: Well, he came to see me when he found out where I lived, He came to see me and we'd talk, we started talking then.

Daniel: Did you work?

Naeko: Oh yeah, I was working for a civilian there, you know, washed and cleaned up, I was a cleaning lady.

Daniel: Did you go out on dates, you go to town or anything?

Naeko: We went to the movies.

Daniel: Movies?

Naeko: Yeah, he took me to the movies, sometimes he took me to his camp...

Daniel: On base?

Naeko: Yeah, base.

Daniel: Well, how did you meet?

Naeko: Well, he just came around to the store, and I was there ...

Daniel: Was you working at the store?

Naeko: It was a little store, well I came back from work and I sat down and have a coke or something, A lady we called Mamason, she was a friend, you know, I was living in the back side of her house, from the store there I was a block or two so you know..

Daniel:Oh you didn't work at the store?

Naeko:No, I didn't work there, I just worked at the army camp, I worked as a maid, for a lieutenant

Daniel:He was a lieutenant?

Naeko:Yeah, he was a lieutenant, you know, they've got rooms, his wife came to Okinawa, so I worked for them to, I stay with them and every Saturday she let me go home. Anyway, through the week I stayed with them, then I usually came to the store, a friend, a neighbor, I was living at the back of the store, so I stayed there and when I came back in the evening I'd catch a bus in front of the store so that where I met him. He was sitting there drinking a coke or something and that's how I met him.

Daniel:When were you married?

Naeko:In Okinawa.

Daniel:It Okinawa, was it in the church or what?

Naeko:They have churches, yes, chaplain ...

Daniel:Where did you get married in the church?

Naeko:In the chaplain.

Daniel:In the chaplain, What was the ceremony like?

Naeko: Simple.

Daniel:Simple, a lot of people there or not?

Naeko:No, I wore a dress, not a fancy dress, just casual one.

Daniel:Just casual dress, Did you go on a honeymoon?


Daniel:What was your husband's name?

Naeko:Robert Daniel Keen.

Daniel:Robert Daniel Keen. How many children did you have?

Naeko:Four, I had five, I lost one, Bobby, Betty, one between Betty and Barbara, he was a boy, Roger, so I have four living. Two girls and two boys.

Daniel:Where were they borned? Bobby was borned in Okinawa, wasn't he?

Naeko:Yeah, Bobby was horned in Okinawa, Betty was borned in the United States.

Daniel:In Grundy, In a hospital?

Naeko:She was borned in Richlands hospital anyways, it was Richland's hospital.

Daniel:Where was Mom borned at?

Naeko:In Grundy, Barbara was borned at Grundy hospital.

Daniel:And Roger was borned at Grundy hospital too?

Naeko: Yes.

Daniel:Do you think it would be easier to raise children back then, than it is today?

Naeko:I don't know, it was hard back then to.

Daniel:You don't think it has changed much?

Naeko:I think it's hard to now a days.

Daniel:You were in Okinawa when the war took place?

Naeko:No, I was in the Pacific Islands next to Guam.

Daniel:You ran to the cliffs for safety right?

Naeko:We stayed in caves, big caves, a big ole hole and under a rock.

Daniel:Was there a lot of fighting near you?

Naeko:Everyday bombing, sometimes we had school, even though war was going on under the rock, we had to sit down, fix up like a chair, everyday we'd get bombed, you'd get use to it, in behind, bombs would drop, sometimes in front, that's the way we use to live for a long time for three years.

Daniel:What had you been told about the Americans?

Naeko:We didn't say nothing, we didn't know what they were like.

Daniel: You didn't know nothing about them.

Naeko:No, we didn't know nothing about them, this war , they bombed us out and scared us out everytime they dropped a bomb and you know, machine guns and shoot it up every which way, scattered bullets every which way, scarred us, we just got use to it in everyday life, bullets would fly every which way, we just humped up, you know, tried to dodge.

Daniel: Where were you, when you saw your first Americans?

Naeko:It was about 1943, I think, everybody was looking for people, we thought we were still fighting, the Americans GI's were coming in big ole GMC Trucks, plumb full with G. I.s there and they were hollering and we thought the war was still going on, we were use to the war, so every day, everyday, we'd hear the airplanes coming or machine guns, we'd just humped up hide behind a rock, anything you'd just laid, and if you come out, you were lucky, I guess, we'd dig potatoes, and I guess they seen us sometimes.

Daniel:Did your family support the war, your daddy

Naeko: Yes he did, he got his arm shot off, so he had to just lay there ...

Daniel: Your brother was in the war to, so did he fight?

Naeko: He fought, but I don't know what war it was, I didn't see..We were small when they left and he never came back.

Daniel: He never came back, you never seen your brother again?

Naeko: No, he never came back,....

Daniel: Did he die?

Naeko: We just saw their pictures, that's all I know, my two oldest brothers.

Daniel: Your two brothers went to war and never came back.

Naeko: They never came back, I don't know where they shipped them, I don't know, they never came back, so I can't hardly remember my brothers, because they were so much older than I was.

Daniel: Why did you decide to leave Japan? You and Papa, why did you decide to come?

Naeko: Well, he came ...

Daniel:Uh hum, and you left with him to go to America, back to his family, Why did you come?

Naeko: Well, we got married, and I had Bobby, at that time, I had Bobby.

Daniel: Was it frightening to leave your home and family.

Naeko: Yes, I did, but you see, you had a child, you have to look to his future, cause I know, what kind of future held have if I stayed in Okinawa, and raised him it was going to be an outsider, you know Okinawa ....

Daniel: People would look down on you..

Naeko: Yeah, people would look on you, racist, you know they're not nice to you even though they laugh at you. So I didn't want that to happen to him, I was married, even though I was afraid to come to the United States.

Daniel: What was it like coming to a new land?

Naeko: First, I was real worried because it was a strange place then, I didn't know their kind, I didn't know what it was like. I didn't know how to act, you know, I didn't know nothing about it. A new land and people.

Daniel: Completely different.

Naeko: Yeah, you know, my mother-in-law was real nice and friendly they treated me like one of their own and then I had Bobby, it made it easier ...

Daniel: To accept you ...

Naeko: Yeah,

Daniel: How did you get to the U.S., what did you take, did you take a boat?

Naeko: A boat.

Daniel: What was it like on the boat?

Naeko: It took about two weeks to get there, so it was real hard, it was rough waters, and I got sick, I was pregnant about three or four months along with Betty.

Daniel: So when did you come to the U.S.?

Naeko: When, I think it was 1955, 1 think we came in April or May.

Daniel: How did you feel when you first got off the boat in San Francisco, since it's such a big city? What did that feel like?

Naeko: I was just seem like excited, never seen it before, and different and I was scared to because it was a different country.

Daniel: Where did your husband take to make your first home?

Naeko: Well we stay hotel that night in San Francisco, then we bought a car, and then we drove, I didn't, he did, all the way from San Francisco to Grundy, VA all the way to his, of course, it took us a week.

Daniel: It took you all a week?

Naeko: Uh hum, it took us a week to get to his home.

Daniel: You all stayed in motels and stuff like that?

Naeko: Ole yeah, every night, almost every night, he would drive until he couldn't drive. He'd drive all day long and by evening time, held get tired and stopped and sometimes it would be 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. before we'd stop. We stay the night and the morning we'd start again and the baby, Bobby was small, he was only a year old. It was too hard on him too.

Daniel:Did you feel like the people in the States were racist then, were they rude or were they helpful?

Naeko:I thought they were real nice.

Daniel:Were the people in San Francisco nice and everything?

Naeko:There, they were all strangers.

Daniel:A big city, like when you stopped at motels and stuff?

Naeko:No, at motels you just paid for the rooms and when the morning come you just leaved. We never seen the people, we just go to the office at the motel, you paid that night and when morning came we just left, you didn't have to worry about it.

Daniel:So the people on the whole, were pretty nice?

Naeko:Seemed like, yes.

Daniel:What did Papa, your husband do for a living?

Naeka:At that time, he was in the army, so he had to go back New Jersey and I stayed Daniel:New Jersey, he had to go back to New Jersey?

Naeka:Yeah, he had to go to New Jersey for a while, that's where his station was, and he had to go back ...

Daniel:While you were staying with his family?

Naeko:Yeah, see he stayed about two years, about a year and half

Daniel:You never seen him or did he come in?

Naeko:Well, he stayed there at Okinawa, and then his next term was, you know, in the army, was New Jersey, so had to go Camp something, I done forgot, anyway in New Jersey, he had to go, he got to stay about two weeks furlow, then after that the two weeks, he has to go back to the army where his camp was in New Jersey.

Daniel:When did you first come to Bland County?

Naeko:First, we lived where his Daddy and Mommy were in Grundy, on Dismal.

Daniel:You lived on Dismal.

Naeko: Yeah, we lived on Dismal, and he hunted over here and we found a place..

Daniel: How did you feel about coming here?

Naeko: I liked it because you know, it's quiet and peaceful place..

Daniel: You liked it a lot, Did you like the mountains?

Naeko: Yeah, I liked the mountains, so did your Papa.

Daniel: Do you ever go back to Japan to visit?

Naeko: Yeah, I went twice.

Daniel: You went back more than twice, haven't you?

Naeko: I went back by myself once.

Daniel: Then you and Papa went..

Naeko: Then I went twice since Papa died.

Daniel: Then you just went back recently didn't you? You went with Bobbie?

Naeko: Yeah.

Daniel: Has it changed in Japan a lot since you left?

Naeko: I don't know, doesn't seem like it.

Daniel: Okinawa hasn't changed much?

Naeko: Seems like a little bit has changed but not too much, it's still is crowded and all, but not much has changed since I was there before.,.with Papa .....

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