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)
The self-styled superpatriots of Hood River—boasting that their county was a national leader in war bond sales—did not back down. On December 22, five days after Washington announced that Japanese and Japanese Americans could return to the West Coast, Post 22 paid for advertisements in the
Hood River County Sun
, ads that were also distributed as posters.
Under the War Department’s recent ruling you will soon be permitted to return to this county.
FOR YOUR OWN BEST INTERESTS, WE URGE YOU NOT TO RETURN.
Public records show that there are about 25 or 30 families, out of some 600 Japanese, who have not already sold their property in Hood River County. We strongly urge these to dispose of their holdings. If you desire assistance from this Post in disposing of your land, we pledge ourselves to see that you get a square deal.
If you do return, we also pledge that to the best of our ability, we will uphold law and order, and will countenance no violence.
HOOD RIVER POST NO. 22
DEPARTMENT OF OREGON
In another broadside, referring back to Pearl Harbor, Post 22 asserted, “Every adult Japanese in this valley knew what was brewing. NOT ONE TOLD!”
There were two small newspapers in the county. The
’s editorial was headlined: “They Must Never Come Back.” The competition, the
Hood River News
, never directly attacked Post 22 or its members, but it did print four editorials from out-of-state papers attacking the post and its members. It also printed twenty-five letters, all but two of them critical of the Legion post.
From January to March of 1945, the Hood River campaign was centered around six more full-page newspaper advertisements signed by Kent Shoemaker, a former commander of Post 22, who was the county clerk. The first one appeared on January 26 in both the
under the headline, “So Sorry Please, Japs Are Not Wanted in Hood River.” The ad, which included Post 22’s resolutions, was signed, “Yours for a Hood River without a Jap.”
That ad was an open letter to Reverend W. Sherman Burgoyne, the pastor of Asbury Methodist Church. It played off a letter to the editor printed in the
, in which Burgoyne wrote, “Every person in Hood River is disgraced.” That week, Reverend Burgoyne came close to disgracing himself, writing to Post 22, “Personally I don’t think any group of foreign language or habits should be allowed to congregate in a single place, no matter what race they may be. It keeps them from thinking and living ‘American.’”
The next Shoemaker ads showed maps of Japanese-owned land and listed the names of 480 local residents he said were against letting any
return to the valley. Next came an ad quoting anti-Japanese copy from
, with 421 other names, under the line, “We, the undersigned residents and taxpayers of Hood River County, are one hundred percent behind Hood River Post No. 22, American Legion, in ALL their efforts to keep the Japs from returning to this county.” The fourth and fifth of the six ads listed 384 more names including former Oregon governor Walter M. Pierce, a former state senator, George Wilbur, and an “educator” named T. S. Van Vleet who concluded, “A Jap is just an ‘educated,’ unbridled, sadistic modernized barbarian.” That last Shoemaker ad was headlined, “No Japes Wanted in Hood River.” “Japes” was defined as a combination of “Japs” and “apes.”
The white men of Hood River were also traveling the state and appearing at mass meetings organized by the Oregon Property Owners’ Protective League. On March 13, a meeting in the town of Gresham was advertised by posters reading, “How Will We Rid the Coast of Japs? Get the answer to this problem that vitally affects you and every Oregon resident at the patriotic MASS MEETING at Union High School—$100 in Door Prizes Given Away.”
While the ads were running in Hood River, Sergeant Frank Hachiya, the local boy working as an interpreter in the Philippines, was killed in action. The
told that story under the headline, “Sergeant Hachiya, Spurned by Legion Post, Dies Hero’s Death in P.I.”
Anti-Japanese racism was not only in Hood River, of course. Lieutenant Colonel James Hanley, an officer from another small town, Mandan, North Dakota, was a commander of one of the three battalions in the 442nd, and he happened to read a short commentary in his hometown newspaper, the
Mandan Daily Pioneer
, saying, “There are some good Jap Americans but it [doesn’t] say where they’re buried.” Hanley, a friend of the editor, Charles Pierce, wrote home:
Yes, Charlie, I know where there are some GOOD Japanese Americans—there are 5,000 in this unit. They are American soldiers and I know where they are buried. I wish I could show you some of them, Charlie. I remember one Japanese-American. He was walking ahead of me in a forest in France. A German shell took off the right side of his face.
Hanley went on to describe other incidents of heroism and self-sacrifice by Nisei, and then wrote:
I wish the boys of the “Lost Battalion” could tell you what they think of Japanese Americans.… The marvel is, Charlie, that these boys fight at all—they are good soldiers in spite of the racial prejudice shown by your paragraph. I know it makes a good joke—but it is the kind of joke that prejudice thrives upon. Our system is supposed to make good Americans out of anyone—it certainly has done in the case of these boys. You, the Hearst newspapers, and a few others make one wonder what we are fighting for. I hope it isn’t racial prejudice.
But it was Hood River and its American Legionnaires that became a national symbol of intolerance. Post 22 continued to refuse to recognize the service of Japanese Americans for four more months, even after the national commander of the more than 12,245 American Legion posts in the country, Edward Schieberling, who had himself urged that
not try to return to their homes and property on the West Coast, reversed himself and told Post leaders that their actions were hurting the Legion and “the war effort.”
Post 22 responded that Japanese could not be assimilated in American society. Its members maintained that position into April, finally restoring the names of the sixteen Nisei on April 29, 1945. By then, national grocery chains were reporting local boycotts of Hood River’s famous apples, and bankers in Portland were refusing to lend money to some Hood River farmers. There were also reports, which proved to be untrue, that the post’s charter might be revoked by officials of Oregon’s state organization.
* * *
Stanley Hayami’s first letter home from Europe was dated February 7, 1945, from “Somewhere in France.” He wrote that France felt in some ways like the United States, though there were some differences: the houses looked older, and some were destroyed by bombs. He also noticed that the French, at least the ones he had seen so far, seemed very poor, wearing tattered clothes and scavenging for scraps.
We were having “chow” near the railroad tracks, and being a wasteful people, we threw some of the food we didn’t feel like eating on the ground. Pretty soon some old Frenchmen came by and picked up the scraps of bread and baloney. One of them saw me watching and so he pointed at the baloney and said “Woof.” I guess he had a little pride and wanted me to think that he was picking it up to feed to his dog, but I don’t think poor Frenchmen like him spend a great deal of their time looking for scraps just so they can feed it to their dogs.
His older brother, Frank, was also in France during the “champagne campaign” on the French Riviera. He wrote home to report the day when by chance he happened to see Stanley and reported that his brother was gaining weight and strength since leaving the camps. Frank was in his jeep just behind the lines when he saw Stanley. They spent a couple of hours talking that afternoon. He told his parents that Stanley was “looking very fine—and sure has gained much weight since I saw him back in Heart Mountain—nice and husky now. Big hands and big body. And still smiling his nice big smile.” He added: “We’re O.K. Everything’s nice and peaceful here.”
Stanley’ s next letter was sent on February 27, saying that he had seen Marseille and Paris—from the back of a truck moving troops around France. Now, back in Southern France, he added:
Right now I’m up front here, living on top of a mountain. The Jerries are on the next mountain. It’s nice and warm up here, get enough to eat, don’t do much, and the Germans aren’t giving us too much trouble (not now, anyway).… I would just about forget the war if it wasn’t for the artillery lobbing shells over us and if I couldn’t see the dead Jerries lying around below. (They were killed before I got here when they tried to attack.) I didn’t feel so good when I first saw the dead Jerries, but no one pays much attention to them when we go working around them—they’re just part of the landscape now. So the dead ones don’t bother me anymore—they say it’s the live ones I should worry about.
He wrote again on March 19, using his middling Japanese, with an update on friends he had seen in the 442nd.
When Murata came last year the 442 was in a very big battle. Murata
wa boku ni uimasu
senso wa tottemo kuwai desu
” [Murata tells me “war is very scary”]. Remember David Ito? He got a bronze star medal the other day. Remember Yo and Mas Tsuruda that lived near us in Pomona? Well their brother is in my company and he won a silver star!
How are you folks at home? Frank says you may go home to California about May.… You oughta have a lot of fun if you go back to Calif.
In late March of 1945, the 442nd was ordered back into combat again as part of the Fifth Army near Pisa, Italy, under the command of General Mark Clark, the same General Clark who had argued against Japanese internment in 1942. He had asked General Eisenhower if the 442nd could be brought back from France. “They are the best goddamned fighters in the U.S. Army,” he told Ike. General Clark wanted the 442nd to lead the final attacks on the Gothic Line, a line along the Apennine mountains and ridges between Italy and Austria, the line Hitler called the last barrier between Allied forces and the German homeland. It was guarded by more than twenty-seven hundred German machine-gun nests and bunkers, constructed over a year by slave laborers. With Americans at the bottom of the ridges, the two sides had been deadlocked for the six months since the 442nd had withdrawn and been sent to guard the French-Italian border in comfort.
At 5:00 a.m. on April 5, 1945, the 100th/442nd charged into the no-man’s-land between the two armies. The heroism of the next few days became a part of American legend. Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori, a twenty-two-year-old
auto mechanic from Los Angeles and Manzanar, rushed forward under heavy enemy fire when his platoon leader was badly wounded, lobbing grenade after grenade into two German positions, silencing both. As he worked his way back to join his squad, an enemy grenade fell into a shell crater where two of his squad members had taken cover. He threw himself on top of the grenade, saving his two buddies at the cost of his own life. Private First Class Munemori was the first Nisei awarded the highest combat decoration the United States could give, the Medal of Honor.
Two weeks after that, the 442nd was attacking Colle Musatello, the last of the ridges marking the Gothic Line. Daniel Inouye, the Hawaiian who quit his medical studies to enlist and who won a battlefield commission as a lieutenant, had been shot in the chest in an earlier engagement, but the bullet was stopped by two silver dollars he kept for luck in a shirt pocket. On April 20, he was commanding a rifle platoon that charged up Musatello in the early morning hours. He was yards in front of his men, forty yards from the last German strongpoint on the ridge. He grabbed a grenade and as he wound up to throw it he felt a heavy pain in his side. When his men caught up with him, they saw that he was gushing blood from his side. Inouye kept advancing and then his legs gave out and he collapsed. The attack faltered. But Inouye got up and tried to throw his last grenade. He was stopped by a German rocket grenade that ripped off his right arm. He pulled the grenade from his dead hand and then threw it. Somehow he stood up and charged, firing a machine gun. He was hit again and began rolling down the hill. He was bleeding from his right side, with wounds in his stomach and in his right leg. “Get up that hill,” he screamed to his men. And they did.
* * *
On April 22, only two days after the Nisei’s heroic fight at Colle Musatello on the Gothic Line, three “kotonks” serving in the 522nd Artillery Battalion, Sus Ito, Yul Minaga, and George Oiye, came upon what looked at first to be lumps in the snow. They were bodies, some of the three hundred prisoners in one of 139 satellite concentration camps clustered around Dachau, the first of Hitler’s concentration camps.
When Private Shiro Kashino, who joined the army from Minidoka, first saw the row of huts behind barbed wire at Dachau, he said, “This is exactly what they had built for us in Idaho.”
One of the survivors, Solly Ganor, a sixteen-year-old inmate, was both amazed and terrified by his encounter with Japanese American soldiers, remembering later:
I thought, oh, now the Japanese are going to kill us. And I didn’t care anymore. I said, “Just kill us, get it over with.” The soldier tried to convince me that he was an American and wouldn’t kill me. I said, “Oh, no, you are a Japanese and you’re going to kill us.” We went back and forth, and finally he landed on his knees, crying, with his hands over his face, and he said, “You are free. We are American Japanese. You are free.”