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 (9 page)

Warren then produced a list of what he called danger points around the state, which included “Japs adjacent to” and “Japs in vicinity of”: Livermore Field, a gravel runway used as an emergency landing site by the navy; Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads; Oakland Airport; Holt Caterpillar Tractor Company; and all dams supplying water to San Diego and vicinity.

The chairman of one of the congressional committees, Representative John Tolan, who was from California, interrupted to say, “When that came up in our committee hearings there was not a single case of sabotage reported on the Pacific Coast. The sabotage would come coincident with [an] attack, would it not?”

“Exactly,” Warren answered.




2, 1942

In late January, before the president’s order, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox announced that all Japanese, men and women, citizens and aliens, would be removed from Terminal Island off San Pedro Harbor at the southern tip of Los Angeles. The island was owned by the U.S. Navy, which had a base and an airstrip there, Reeves Field. The navy also supervised two shipyards on the island. Many Issei leaders, fishermen with their own boats and radios, aliens on FBI lists, had been taken away within twenty-four hours after Pearl Harbor. They were scattered in twenty-seven Justice Department jails, prisons, and new camps around the country. Their families did not know where they were being held—or if they were alive. After the fishing community leaders were arrested, the one-mile-by-five-mile island had become a place mostly inhabited by women—who worked in island canneries—their children, and old people. They were told they would have weeks to prepare for the evacuation.

Rumors and hysteria kept building along the coast. One story, a true one among dozens of rumors, frightened many Californians: the shelling of an oil storage depot near Santa Barbara by a submarine. There had been other submarine attacks off the coast, but news of real incidents had been censored; this one, on February 23, was witnessed by hundreds of local people watching the submarine from the beach, as if it were part of a fireworks show. Fifteen shells were fired, hitting one oil tank. The target, the Bankline oil refinery in Goleta, estimated the damage at $500, but newspaper headlines compared it to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The puny shelling of the American mainland was the first since the British attacked Washington, D.C., in the War of 1812. “The Battle of Los Angeles,” as newspapers called it, was fought the next night, February 24, with army antiaircraft guns blasting hundreds of rounds into the sky for almost an hour. Five people died, two of heart attacks and three in automobile accidents, as Angelenos fled for their lives. The guns failed to bring down the “enemy,” a U.S. Navy weather balloon. The
Los Angeles Times
headlined: “LA Area Raided; Jap Planes Peril Santa Monica, El Segundo, Long Beach.”

Continuing bad war news from the Pacific Theater heightened the demands to remove American Japanese from the coast. On February 25, the Terminal Islanders were told they had to leave in less than forty-eight hours. They would be allowed to take away only what they could carry.

At dawn on February 26, 1942, a joint federal-local operation was launched on the island with armored cars and jeeps crawling through the narrow streets, machine guns aimed at the small houses rented to workers by the canneries. Not far behind the army vehicles were empty trucks driven by civilians, junk dealers, secondhand furniture and appliance dealers, offering to buy items at humiliating prices. “You won’t have any need for them where you’re going,” was the call of the scavengers. Islanders called them “the vultures” or “the Jews.” Some of the unwelcome visitors pretended to be FBI agents, warning residents that they would be forcibly evacuated within hours. Then an hour later, other white men, accomplices, would come attempting to buy whatever families had left.

More than a hundred fishing boats were left bobbing at anchor in the harbor, many with “For Sale” signs on their cabins. Left unsold, many of the boats were requisitioned by the Coast Guard or the navy to be refitted as patrol boats, used mainly along the Panama Canal. Acres of expensive nets covered the beaches. Ko Wakatsuki, who lived in Santa Monica, was the owner of two boats, the large one, the
, was worth about $25,000. He disappeared. His family never knew where he was until they read in a Santa Monica paper that he was charged with carrying oil to Japanese submarines. The Coast Guard had arrested him when they saw oil drums on deck. The drums were filled with fish heads and other chum used for bait. He ended up in jail in Bismarck, North Dakota. As she was packing to leave, his wife, Riku, was harassed by scavengers wanting to buy her best dishes, worth about $200. One by one, she took the dishes out of their velvet jackets and smashed them at the men’s feet.

As the islanders were frantically packing, the island’s physician, Dr. Fred Fujikawa, a graduate of Berkeley and Creighton University Medical School, stayed up for two nights, dismantling his X-ray machine and other equipment. Mrs. Misako Shigekawa, owner of the island’s only pharmacy and a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, locked up the place, leaving the medicines and equipment there. She never saw them again. The doctor’s wife, Kiyo, had two houseguests, friends from Sacramento, who could not get off the island because the only bridge to the mainland was blocked by soldiers who had also shut down the island’s ferry. Dr. Fujikawa went to the Terminal Island immigration office to ask if they could go home. He was pushed into a room, had his fingerprints taken, and then was photographed holding a number across his chest. The
Los Angeles Times
headline the next day read: “Japs Evicted on Terminal Island—FBI Police and Deputy Sheriffs Round Up 336 of estimated 800 Aliens in Harbor Area.”

*   *   *

The Terminal Island evacuation was the first large roundup of American Japanese since the days immediately after Pearl Harbor. When Executive Order 9066 was signed, federal agents, under Justice Department orders, began new rounds of “search and seizure” arrests of alien fishermen, boat owners, and community leaders up and down the West Coast—almost always without charges. Almost all of those jailed were immigrants from Japan, but some, particularly in the San Francisco area, were Italian aliens. Most of the Japanese were detained or arrested and their boats were seized. Almost all the Italians were simply ordered not to go to sea. Younger Italian Americans, American citizens, were allowed to fish only in areas designated by the government. In Santa Cruz, twelve Italians and twenty Japanese were taken into custody on February 9—the Italians were quickly released—and similar roundups were done in San Diego and Monterey. The Italians called it
la mole notte
, “the sad night.” The
Santa Cruz Sentinel
, which had been calling for restraint and pleading the case of the Italians and a few Germans working in Monterey Bay and San Francisco, ran a banner front-page headline that declared, “Fishermen with 23 Sons in Army and Navy Are Bound to Wharf While Boats Lie Idle and Sea Food Is Needed.” On the editorial page it said, “With its problem of separating fifth columnists from peaceful and worthy residents of foreign birth, the Department of Justice has had no time to work out formulae which will safeguard the nation and at the same time allow such men as Santa Cruz’s fishermen to earn a living for their families and add to the country’s food supply.”

In fact, very few Italians and Italian Americans were affected by curfews or relocation. The State Department summarized its dealings with Bendetsen in a memo on February 22, 1942: “It now appears to the Army that these persons are not as dangerous as was at first thought.… In this connection, Bendetsen mentioned the DiMaggio family.” Still, General DeWitt wanted Joe DiMaggio’s alien parents evacuated. “No exceptions,” he said. As late as May 20, 1942, he was insisting that Germans and Italians should be evacuated.

That was too much for McCloy, who responded, “I want to explain to you personally that in approving this program, both the President and the Secretary of War did so with the expectation that the exclusions would not reach such numbers.… We want, if at all possible, to avoid the necessity of establishing additional relocation settlements.” Unmentioned was the fact that if Americans of German and Italian ancestry were incarcerated, camps would have to be built for millions of people.

In the end, the DiMaggios, who had never applied for American citizenship, were not jailed, but they were not allowed to use their fishing boat or go to the small restaurant they owned on Fisherman’s Wharf. By the end of the waterfront sweeps, 787 California fishermen were banned from coastal areas. One of the fishermen prevented from going to sea was Stefano Ghio, the father of three of the Santa Cruz men in the military. One of the sons, Victor Ghio, told the
, the local newspaper:

Here I was in the Navy. I had another brother in the Navy and another brother in the Army, and they do this to my father? It was a bunch of B.S., a lot of B.S. I talked to my superiors about it, but hell, there was nothing they could do. They told me to do my duty and that was it. It’s too bad, that’s all. My dad and some of the rest lost some good fishing seasons, I’ll tell you that.

One Italian American sailor stationed in San Francisco went to the Presidio and confronted General DeWitt. “He wouldn’t listen to any reason whatsoever, to nothing,” said Chief Boatswain Mario Stagnaro. “Everybody to him was an enemy that wasn’t an American citizen.” Stagnaro described their meeting: he said to DeWitt, “These are the greatest people in the world,” and DeWitt replied, “Well! Why didn’t they become citizens?” Stagnaro said, “General, they never had the opportunity; never had an opportunity to learn; they raised big families, and they stayed at home.” But DeWitt was not persuaded, and Stagnaro later concluded, “He was a damn fool, a complete nut, in my opinion.”

Fool or not, General DeWitt was now the most powerful man on the West Coast.

*   *   *

It was clear that mass evacuation was coming—and soon. John McCloy of the War Department traveled to San Francisco and asked Japanese American Citizens League leaders to support the government and help with evacuations: “We know that the great majority of citizens and aliens are loyal and being appreciative of that, we are most anxious to see that you don’t suffer any more than necessary the loss of property values. We want to have conditions just as humane and comfortable as is possible.… Above all, we want to give you protection.”

In Monterey, an Issei and a World War I veteran named Hideo Murata went to see Sheriff Alex Bordges, an old friend, and asked whether this was really going to happen, that Japanese were going to be put in concentration camps. He showed the sheriff an “Honorary Citizen” certificate awarded him by the Monterey County board of supervisors, which read, “Monterey County presents this testimonial of heartfelt gratitude, of honor and respect for your loyal and splendid service to the country in the Great War. Our flag was assaulted and you gallantly took up its defense.”

“It’s not a joke; it’s happening,” said Bordges.

Murata went to a hotel in Pismo Beach, paid for a room, and shot himself in the head. In his left hand, he clutched the testimonial from the county.

He was not the first or the last Japanese American suicide. And there were other ominous stories. Another World War I vet who was rejected when he tried to enlist, Joseph Kurihara, angrily declared, “I am going to become 100 percent Japanese.” He began forming a unit of the anti-American “Black Dragons.”

*   *   *

On February 28, the
New York Times
headlined, “Japanese Moving Day Looms: West Coast Opinion Hardens in Favor of Removal of Aliens and Citizens Alike.”

“Investigations by Earl Warren, State Attorney General,” wrote Lawrence Davies, “showed instances in which an airfield was surrounded entirely by Japanese-occupied land. An air base was located next to arid waste tracts on which ‘not even a jack-rabbit could grow’ but on which Japanese began farming.”

After quoting Warren several times, Davies wrote, “All of these developments changed the mood of the public and made Japanese in some sections of the Coast, particularly California, fearful for their safety.”

The article ended in puzzlement: “Federal officials take the position that although the Army can order American-born Japanese out of military areas they cannot tell them where to go, because such orders or even advice would deprive them of their rights as American citizens.”

Indeed. With West Coast Japanese living under travel restrictions and curfews, DeWitt and Bendetsen continued working on various evacuation plans. On March 2, General DeWitt issued Public Proclamation Number 1, declaring parts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona as Military Area No. 1. Other parts of those states were declared Military Area No. 2.

On March 11, the general announced the formation of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), to be headed by Colonel Bendetsen. Back in Washington a week later, President Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority (WRA). The WCCA was given a mandate to find “assembly centers” to temporarily hold the more than one hundred thousand Japanese on the West Coast and southern Arizona for months, while the WRA was to build permanent concentration camps east of the Sierra Nevada in California and the Cascades in Oregon and Washington. The army announced that the first evacuees would be Japanese, aliens and citizens—and later Germans and Italians. The second part never happened. Suspect German and Italian agents were in Justice Department prisons and camps, but despite DeWitt’s pleadings there was never any serious discussion of mass evacuation.

On March 18, the president called Milton Eisenhower, a forty-three-year-old assistant to Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard, to the White House and said, “Milton, your war job, starting immediately, is to set up a War Relocation Administration to move the Japanese-Americans off the West Coast.… And Milton, the greatest possible speed is imperative.” Once again, the army got what it wanted, evacuation, which was, in fact, already under way. The War Department, however, was only willing to handle the logistics of the relocation of the
in seventeen temporary assembly centers and then to move them on to the ten relocation camps being built east of the Sierra Mountains. The job of actually running camps was passed to civilians under Eisenhower, the youngest brother of Dwight Eisenhower, an army brigadier general largely unknown outside the service but, importantly, a favorite of army chief of staff George Marshall.

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