Read Infamy Online

Authors: Richard Reeves

Tags: #History, #Military, #World War II, #United States, #20th Century, #State & Local, #West (AK; CA; CO; HI; ID; MT; NV; UT; WY)

Infamy (10 page)

On March 27, DeWitt rescinded the order allowing Japanese Americans to “voluntarily” move to other parts of the country. The raids on Terminal Island and smaller Japanese enclaves had effectively ended a widely publicized army program called “Voluntary Evacuation,” which allowed aliens and citizens alike the option to relocate east of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges. The program was backed by the Japanese American Citizens League, which told members, “You are not being accused of any crime. You are being removed only to protect you and because there might be one of you who would be dangerous to the United States. It is your contribution to the war effort. You should be glad to make the sacrifice to prove your loyalty.” That statement largely defined the wartime position of the JACL, the largest Japanese American organization in the United States, and it would produce almost as many adversaries as supporters by the end of the war.

In fact, very few American Japanese had tried to go east. One who did, Mariko Kikuchi, borrowed $55 from her brother Charles, a graduate student at Berkeley, to pay for a train ticket to Chicago, where she did not know a single person. She was lucky. Most of the
who tried were more often than not turned back by hostile Caucasians, often armed men. Restaurants, stores, and gas stations refused to give them food, water, and fuel. Some of the Japanese “volunteers” were badly beaten. Fewer than 9,000 American Japanese made it past the Sierras. Most of them ended up being trapped in a second “War Zone” that General DeWitt created without prior notification in the eastern areas of the Pacific Coast states, lands east of the Sierras and the Cascades. Like the Japanese residents in Military Area No. 1, those east of the mountains were immediately restricted from traveling more than five miles from where they were and were placed under the same 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew. Of the “volunteers,” only 4,000 or so found places to live outside the two war zones, with 1,963 going to Colorado, 1,519 to Utah, and the rest to other states.

In California’s largest cities, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Diego, posters appeared on March 24, 1942, announcing where and when Japanese aliens and Japanese Americans were expected to arrive to be carried away by buses and trains to assembly centers. They were allowed, in the usual wording, to bring “only what you can carry,” usually two suitcases. There was almost no resistance on designated street corners of the cities as the evacuees lined up on the orders of soldiers with bayonets attached to their rifles. In West Oakland, a boy named Ron Dellums was pushed away by soldiers when he ran after a truck on Wood Street taking away his best friend, a boy named Rolland. “Don’t take my friend. Don’t take my friend!” Dellums yelled. Up the road, in Berkeley, a white woman approached the line of American Japanese assembling at a church and asked, “Do you have any Chinese members of this church? My Japanese servant has had to leave, and I thought maybe you could find a Chinese for me. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Bendetsen’s WCCA was responsible for getting the Japanese to assembly centers where they would be held under guard, until ten relocation centers were erected on distant and isolated sites from California to Arkansas. These camps were located on unused government property and Indian reservations, in deserts, swamps, and other terrible places where few people had ever lived or ever would. Seventeen assembly centers were set up along the West Coast, basically taking over large public spaces such as racetracks, fairgrounds, livestock auction grounds, and one abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Inside the “War Zones,” villages, towns, and city neighborhoods were turned into subzones, where, each few days after March 24, all Japanese and those with some Japanese ancestry were ordered to bus stops and train stations. Surrounded by armed soldiers, the evacuees were loaded onto buses, trucks, and trains and taken to the assembly centers. They were unloaded at California centers in or near Fresno, Independence, Marysville, Merced, Pinedale, Pomona, Sacramento, Salinas, the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles, Stockton, Tanforan racetrack near San Francisco, Tulare, and Turlock. Arizona residents were taken to Mayer. Oregonians were taken to the Pacific International Stock Exposition grounds in Portland. Washingtonians were divided between Puyallup and Manzanar, California, the only site to serve as both an assembly center and, later, a relocation camp.

That said, the army or the WCCA—aided by the polite compliance of Japanese families—did a remarkably efficient job of the logistics of moving more than one hundred thousand people to the assembly centers and then on to far and barren relocation sites in six months. Among those who praised the logistics of the moves to the camps was Carey McWilliams, a liberal, even radical, author and California’s commissioner of Housing and Immigration.

The “assembling” of Japanese and Japanese Americans continued through the spring and summer. The evacuation of downtown Los Angeles, where thirty thousand people of Japanese ancestry once lived, was completed on May 8. The
Los Angeles Times
reported on the closing of the last Japanese restaurant in the center of the city under the headline, “Japs Enjoy Their Last Meals in Café Before Internment—Beginning at 8 a.m. Today 2,200 Alien Residents of Colony Will Depart for Santa Anita Center.”

The article began, “Today is the beginning of the end for the little Nipponese settlement just east of City Hall.… With their departure, Little Tokyo will become a ghost community.” The stores became ghost stores, closed and dusty, often with signs in the windows, like the one at an empty grocery in Little Tokyo, which said,

In San Francisco, American Japanese found notes with very different messages slipped under their doors, like this one to the Tamaki family: “This is a warning. Get out. We don’t want you in our beautiful country. Go where your ancestors came from. Once a Jap, always one. Get out.”

On that same day, in Seattle, Yoshi and Theresa Takayoshi, who had been given a surprise going-away party by Caucasian neighbors, sold their popular ice cream shop. For weeks, they had bought a classified advertisement in local newspapers: “Ice creamery, library lunches, residential spot, sacrifice, evacuee.” The shop had machines and inventory insured for $18,000. Dozens of people answered the ad, offering $100 or $200 for the whole thing. The Takayoshis finally settled with a Caucasian buyer for $1,000. They sold their 1940 Oldsmobile for $25.

Theresa, whose father was Japanese and her mother Irish-American, was from New York. She had two sons and they did not find much more kindness after arriving at the Puyallup Assembly Center. The younger one, Thomas, was diagnosed with mumps when his throat began swelling. For six weeks, the growth swelled, turning red. Finally, Theresa’s cousin, a registered nurse, came around and then persuaded a physician to come to their stall and he quickly found that the boy had a swollen lymph gland. Then when her older son began vomiting—it was ptomaine poisoning, common in the camps—the same doctor ordered him taken to a hospital in Tacoma. An army car, with a security guard, took mother and son there. Nurses met her with a wheelchair for the boy, but when she began to follow him, the nurse in charge told her, “You can’t come in. You’re supposed to be in the prison camp.”

One of the saddest of many sad stories was told by Hiroshi Kashiwagi of Sacramento. His forty-year-old mother had dental problems, particularly a painful impacted tooth. Because of curfews it was difficult for her to see a dentist. When she did find a dentist, he told her there would be no dental care where she was going. He then proceeded to pull out all her teeth one by one.

*   *   *

On March 24, uniformed soldiers appeared along the coast, tacking “Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1” on the trees, telephone poles, and walls of Bainbridge Island off Seattle in Puget Sound. The posters read:



1. Pursuant to the provisions of Public Proclamations Nos. 1 and 2 … dated March 2, 1942, and March 16, 1942, respectively, it is hereby ordered that all persons of Japanese ancestry, including aliens and non-aliens, be excluded from that portion of Military Area No. 1, described as “Bainbridge Island,” in the State of Washington, on or before 12 o’clock noon, P.W.T., of the 30th day of March, 1942.
2. Such exclusion will be accomplished in the following manner:
(a) Such persons may, with permission, on or prior to March 29, 1942, proceed to any approved place of their choosing beyond the limits of Military Area No. 1.… On March 30, 1942, all such persons who have not removed themselves from Bainbridge Island in accordance with Paragraph I hereof, shall, in accordance with instructions of the Commanding General, Northwestern Sector, report to the Civil Control Office referred to above on Bainbridge Island for evacuation in such manner and to such place or places shall then be prescribed.

Lieutenant General, U.S.A.

Booklets dropped on doorsteps listed what the evacuees must carry: “Blankets and linens for each member of the family; Toilet articles for each member of the family; Clothing for each member of the family; Sufficient knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls, and cups for each member of the family.… All items carried will be securely packaged, tied and plainly marked in accordance with instructions received at the Civil Control Office.”

There were soldiers and chaos on the island, as there had been when Terminal Island had been cleared by the navy. The scavengers were on Bainbridge, too. Bill Hosokawa, who had just graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle, described their trucks rolling through his neighborhood with drivers shouting, “Hey, you Japs! You’re going to get kicked out of here tomorrow. I’ll give you ten bucks for that refrigerator. I’ll give you fifteen bucks for your piano. I’ll give you two bucks and fifty cents for that washing machine.” Hiroshi Kamiya was forced to sell his family’s pickup truck, with a new battery and four new tires—the brand-new tires alone cost $125—for just $25.

“You trying to sell them?” a man said to Mary Takeuchi, pointing to the gold-ringed china, the family’s most treasured possession. He offered $17.50 for the set. Weeping uncontrollably Mrs. Takeuchi, like Mrs. Wakatsuki on Terminal Island, took the plates down one at a time and smashed them at the feet of the man.

So the 271 Japanese and Japanese Americans of Bainbridge Island, 91 aliens and 180 American citizens, mostly farmers and their families who produced three million pounds of strawberries a year, wearing their best clothes, marched to the ferry
, which would take them to Seattle and beyond. They had no idea where beyond was.

Seattle Times
reported rather romantically on the departure of the Islanders, editorializing, “If anything ever illustrated the repute of these United States as a melting pot of diverse races, it was the evacuation of Japanese residents, American and foreign-born, from the pleasant countryside of Bainbridge Island.… The Japanese departed their homes cheerfully, knowing full well, most of them, that the measures were designed to help preserve the precious, kindly camaraderie among divergent races which is one of this country’s great contributions to humanity.”

Thirteen of the marchers that day were seniors at Bainbridge High School, who had not been allowed to attend their senior ball the night before because of the 8:00 p.m. curfew for all American Japanese. Many of the white residents of the island lined the ferry road, some of them crying and calling out to friends in the march. Some of the spectators were holding the dogs and cats of the evacuees, who were not allowed to carry pets. Many of the dogs had stopped eating when they were taken from their owners and died within a week or two.

The islanders traveled for more than two days in old railroad cars with curtains drawn to Manzanar, a barren, wind-whipped ghost town 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the eastern foothills of the Sierras, on the road between tiny places called Independence and Lone Pine. It was the first camp to open and would be the first camp under the stewardship of the new federal agency the War Relocation Authority.

There was no music and no crowd of white residents waving and crying when the families of Bainbridge arrived at Manzanar. There were construction workers, some of them Japanese volunteers, banging together 504 tar-paper barracks, each barrack divided into six units of sixteen by twenty feet. The camp was surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guard towers with machine guns pointed in toward thirty-six blocks of barracks.

One of the evacuees, Paul Ohtaki, had been a correspondent for the
Bainbridge Island Review
, which had strongly opposed the evacuation, and he filed an upbeat report of that thousand-mile trip from Seattle.

CAMP MANZANAR, Calif. Wednesday, April 1—Bainbridge Island’s evacuated Japanese residents, well and cheerful, arrived here at 12:30 o’clock this afternoon.
The last stage of the trip—which began in Seattle Monday morning—was accomplished by a fleet of busses that met the train at Mojave early this morning. Islanders were greeted by warm sunshine. They found the Owen Valley region to be level land, with high mountains nearby.
Everyone enjoyed the trip, but missed their Island friends. On the train there was group singing, card playing, and “chatting” with the soldiers who accompanied the evacuees. Islanders were treated “swell” by the Army.… From private to commanding officer, they extended help and kindness to the Japanese. Some soldiers wept as they guarded the move.

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