Tracing Tracy Territory: Camp Tracy veteran dies in Walnut Creek
by Sam Matthews
Apr 12, 2013 | 3067 views | 0 0 comments | 204 204 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Another tie to the ultra-secret prisoner-of-war interrogation camp at Byron Hot Springs has been severed.

Louis Alfred “Al” Nipkow, a Japanese-speaking American who was an interrogator at what some called Camp Tracy has died, according to an email forwarded to me by David Lee of the Tracy Historical Museum.

Nipkow, who died March 8 in Walnut Creek at the age of 98, was born in Yokohama, Japan, the son of a Swiss silk importer and a Japanese woman.

He attended Japanese and American schools in Japan and spoke fluent Japanese. During World War II, his language skills and knowledge of Japan were put to work as one of the interrogators, along with Japanese Nisei, at the camp 14 miles northwest of Tracy.

Several years ago, I met Al when he spoke about the World War II interrogation camp at a gathering at the tattered Byron Hot Springs Hotel. He recalled how treating the Japanese POWs with respect and kindness paid off, yielding more useful information than could have been expected from the usually closemouthed Japanese prisoners.

“Most of the information our company collected had to do with naval operations and helped to more fully understand how the Japanese navy functioned,” he said.

In 2007, information learned from the POWs at what was officially known as “P.O. Box 651, Tracy, Ca.” was made public, and U.S. military intelligence officers questioned Al about the interrogation techniques used at the base.

At that time, he was belatedly awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his services during the war, an honor he greatly appreciated.

Before Harry’s

Last week’s column, which mentioned that renovation of the old Harry’s Chuck Wagon building at 18 E. 11th St. has been started, elicited a response from Pete Mitracos.

He wrote that he remembers that the Tracy Grill was located there before Harry Compton arrived on the scene in the 1960s.

As I mentioned last week, the Chuck Wagon was really two buildings. And yes, the front of the building was the old Tracy Grill, which, as Pete mentioned, was operated by James D. “Jim” Andrews.

Jim was a highly charged and generous guy. For several years in the 1950s, he cooked a free Thanksgiving dinner at the Odd Fellows Hall for transients, of whom there were a number passing through Tracy on rail cars at that time.

If you really want go back in time, before Jim Andrews operated the Tracy Grill, the proprietor was Jane Taylor, and I believe the original name was Taylor’s Lunch.

Yes, the building has quite a history. We can just hope it has a future, too. There’s still no word from the property owner, Steve Papadakis of Bellevue, Wash., about what plans there are for the building now being renovated.

Furlough days — later

Originally, civilian employees at Tracy-based Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin were to begin taking mandatory monthly unpaid furlough days at the end of this month.

Now the first impact of the sequester, aka “fiscal cliff,” is estimated to be first felt two months later, probably in the latter part of June.

According a depot spokesperson, word has come down from the Pentagon that the number of monthly furlough days for military facilities worldwide has been reduced from 22 to 14, shortening the period required to end the furloughs at the conclusion of the fiscal year in late September.

Cost-savings measures already put into effect throughout the military establishment are the reason the number of furlough days has been reduced by eight. And of course, there could be more changes — even possibly a complete cancellation of the furlough days — depending on what takes place in the nation’s capital.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet

We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at