Part Two

NOShikata Ga Nai, “It can not be helped.”

.Ten thousand and forty six souls. 10,046 in counting numbers. In 1942 Manzanar was home to over ten thousand Japanese Americans. It was one of ten camps scattered around the United States. From Camp Rohwer in the dismal, mosquito infested swamps of southwestern Arkansas to remote Tule lake in California, they had one thing in common, they were all isolated, inhospitable and barely livable. For the people who were incarcerated there it was to be a long time before the would see their homes again, if ever. On March 25th the first buses from the temporary assembly centers in California rolled through the front gate. Surrounded by barbed wire fences with eight machine gun towers at regular intervals they belied the fact that west coast newspapers and politicians were advertising the voluntary evacuation of patriotic Japanese Americans. There was no doubt that they were in for a hard time. They would have precious little to volunteer for.

The first blocks of barracks were barely complete. The camp was organized like a military base with orderly rows of buildings designed to hold three or four families each. Buildings measured 120X20 feet and were divided into six one-room apartments, ranging in size form 320 to 480 square feet. Each block of 15 barracks shared bath, latrine, and mess buildings. Each family would be housed in a twenty by twenty foot “room.” The room itself was nothing but an undivided space in the barrack. There was no partition between families, no toilet or sink, no insulation or wallboard no ceiling nor carpet on the plank floors. Each of these building was provided with one oil heater to fight of the winters brutal cold and the only air conditioning was the gap between the floor boards which let in the 

Family life in a room the size of your garage. National Archives photo

wind, the sand and the dust, for it was nearly always windy in the Owens Valley. The city of Los Angeles owned the land the camp was on and when the US government condemned it for wartime use they simply bulldozed the already barren square mile of all of its vegetation. There was literally not a blade of grass to be found within the compound in the beginning. Keeping the inside of the building clean was a hopeless task, made even more difficult because the people imprisoned there came from a population where cleanliness and order were very important staples of their culture. There was also little or no privacy in the barracks and not much outside either. The 200 to 400 people living in each block tried to achieve some privacy by hanging blanket or sheets on ropes between families but it did little to help. They were provided no furniture, no chairs, tables or dressers in which to store their meager belongings. Nearly everything that made life comfortable was simply denied them.

——We couldn’t cook in the barracks. They told us it was a fire hazard plus they had confiscated our hot plates at the assembly centers. We had to eat in the halls. We stood in line outside no matter the weather, winter and summer We had to eat whatever they had to serve. In the beginning the food was terrible. Once we had jello over rice. I guess they didn’t deport enough cooks.——Yori Kageyama

For the women in particular, the showers and restrooms were excruciating. There were no stalls or enclosures at all. In a culture where modesty is a virtue, having to shower naked in the open or use the toilet was almost more than some could bear. The earliest arrivals had only outhouses located between the barracks. The cess pits were soon overflowing exacerbating the concerns of a people whose entire culture was built around privacy and order. 

——-My mother was so humiliated that she would get up at three in the morning with the hope that the shower room might be empty. It almost never was. She simply had to learn to live with it.——-Shigeru Ito 

,Absolutely no thought had been given to cultural differences, religious needs or education. There were no schools, nurseries or churches. No playgrounds, no ball fields and only a rudimentary hospital which would be staffed by the prisoners themselves. There were no farm fields for growing crops, no orchards and no parks. Rooms had no furniture beyond an iron bed frame and a mattress which you had to stuff yourself. Nothing had been done to provide for family life in a room the size of your garage. The absolute bare minimum of shelter, period.

At Manzanar, many residents complained about a lack of food. The white camp employees were stealing their already limited supply of food. Sugar and other supplies that were rationed throughout the United States, and many Americans were willing to pay high prices for these goods. The employees cheated camp residents out of part of their food, took the surplus into nearby Lone Pine, Bishop and Independence and sold it at high prices on the local black market. Camp administrators simply turned a blind eye.

Henry Ueno who headed the kitchen workers carefully monitored the theft of sugar and other food items, trying to verify that the prisoners were suffering from this lack of food. He found the supply of sugar delivered to the mess halls to be 6,000 pounds short and went to the camp officials showed them the records and complained. He was quickly removed from his job, labeled as a subversive and troublemaker and promptly jailed in Lone Pine. The next morning he was returned to Manzanar and thrown into the camp jail. People in the camp formed a large protest outside the main administration building. The camps military police quickly formed and surrounded the protestors, armed with fixed bayonets and canisters of tear gas. Someone in the crowd threw a light bulb which popped when it hit the ground. Soldiers then threw tear gas at the crowd. Ueno recalled: “That stifling smoke quickly covered the whole area. People were gasping and coughing and trying to get away. The sergeant in charge was yelling, “Remember Pearl Harbor, hold your line.” Some one amongst the soldiers fired a shot and then they all started firing.”  When the smoke cleared, one Japanese American boy, just seventeen lay dead in the dirt and eleven more were taken to the camp hospital where a twenty-one year old died from a terrible stomach wound. This became known as the Manzanar Massacre.

One of the results of this was the immediate removal to the Tule Lake punishment camp in northeastern California of all collaborators (Spies) who were working for special treatment and favors by the government officials who ran the camp. Things gradually settled down after this but the blackmarket thefts never stopped. The prisoners had no direct access to camp supplies in the warehouses and little was ever done by the camp director to stop the practice of theft.

One of the outcomes was that administrators came to realize that the prisoners were not just ignorant farmers or fisherman but were comprised of people from all walks of life. Highly educated people who represented every major profession. Lawyers, educators, business owners, bankers, college students, architects, engineers and union organizers were among those imprisoned. 

Manzanar had 36 residential blocks each with 14 barracks all separated by streets and firebreaks. There were no streetlights and it was hazardous to move around at night. The streets were unpaved of course and there was no water in the buildings. In the winter the ground became a sea of mud, often covered by snow and in the summer it baked under the heat to a brick like consistency. At its height the camp held nearly eleven thousand people of all ages who lived, worked and played there.

The blocks held people from they same area which turned out to be a blessing. People from Arroyo Grande or Guadalupe for example were mostly in the same buildings or were close neighbors. This wasn’t done through any sense of sympathy for the deportees but simply because when you were checked off the train or bus from your hometown it was simply easier to keep the group together.  For the initial internees it helped to build a small sense of community.

From the very beginning people tried to organize their lives. As thousands of people began to flood into the camps the authorities scrambled to organize and educate them in the rules and schedules of the camp. For people who had recently run their own lives it was a shock to be herded from place to place, stand in long lines and go through the humiliation of being treated as if you were just a number. Just like going to boot camp one said. Poked and prodded by doctors, issued numbers in lieu of your name, standing in line to be issued bedding, a thin mattress for your single iron bed and an two gray Navy issue wool blankets. In a nod to the temperature extremes each resident was also issued a Navy peacoat and in the old photos you can see small children wrapped up in these man sized jackets. Eligible citizens were even issued identification cards that would allow them to vote in the November election of 1942. Wrap your mind around that, imprisoned against your will, deprived of your property and livelihood, locked in a desert hell hole guarded by guard towers manned by soldiers with loaded machine guns and rifles but we are going to make sure you  can exercise at least one of the rights given to American citizens by the constitution, the right to vote for the candidate of your choice. The elected officials who sent you here without any due process who said, “It’s for your own protection,” but who also made sure the five wire barbed wire fence was constantly patrolled and machine guns pointed, not outward but inward.

Amongst different age groups two stand out as the most affected. Adults who had managed their own lives and businesses could and did organize themselves, electing block committees, advocacy groups and attempting to build communities within the many, many restrictions set down by the authorities. As with all government agencies, especially those removed from the center of power as the administrators of the camps were, they were charged with imposing rules they did not agree with or had no hand in writing. 

It was forbidden to speak, read or write Japanese, . For the oldest among the prisoners this was a major hardship as with many immigrants from foreign countries they had never learned rudimentary or perhaps no English. This was true of people of all countries who had come to the United States though it was only applied to the Japanese. Old folks who came with no family who could translate had real difficulties. Even the Buddhist churches were forbidden their own languages during services.

Then there were the young, the teenagers who had just left their home towns, and high schools where they had never given much thought to any differences in race or ethnicity. This was especially true in small towns like ours where there were differences between adults but not so much amongst kids. Elementary and Secondary schools are a world of their own. 

It was April 1942. Arroyo Grande’s Japanese were ordered to report to the high school. They were allowed to carry only one bag with them. Everything a family thought they would need had to be stuffed into that bag. High school kids stood in small groups talking in low voices. Amongst the crowd were kids who were not going, friends who had shown up. Friends who saw no differences.

The busses ground their gears as they pulled up the steep hill and pulled into the parking lot behind the school. The doors hissed open and the WRA officials began checking people in as they boarded. A group of teenage girls were holding each other, some crying out loud some just stunned. Only some were going to The collection center in Tulare, some were not, they didn’t have to because they were white. Really the only difference, they were white. Twenty five of the 58 students in the class of 1942 were Nisei. In one hour the school was reduced by nearly half.  Most would never return.  

Lapel tag for No. 04220 bound for Poston Camp.

At Arroyo Grande high school, as the busses pulled away and the woman  across the street cried, classmates and friends stood quietly, some girls quietly crying boys standing mostly silent, stoic in the way young men must be at times of stress and hurt, one or two reaching up to the window and shaking hands with other boys who they had known all their lives. Boys who they had played with as little children, boys they knew like brothers.  

High school kids are for the most part united against the adult world and though they have their differences they can stand together against what they consider unjust behavior by adults. Don Gullickson, Gordon Bennett, Marylee Zeyen, Tommy Baxter and the irrepressible John Loomis would never, as long as they lived, forgive what was done. Teenagers hate injustice. 

Clarence Burrell, the principal of Arroyo Grande HS took it upon himself to drive to the Tulare fairgrounds racetrack in June where his students were being held and personally deliver their diploma’s. The Arroyo Grande Women’s Club passed box lunches up through the windows of the busses to people many of whom had lived in this little valley for generations, my grandmother and her friends among them. Mrs Gladys Loomis, Miss Barbara Hall, Mrs Ole Gullickson, Mrs Chester Steele and Mrs J W Shannon, some but not all. Not everyone felt the same way. 

The owners had left their keys in the ignitionAt literally the same time, doors were being kicked in, windows broken and the homes and businesses of the departed were being vandalized. Furniture, farm equipment and belongings that could not be taken were destroyed. Cars and trucks were stolen. The owners had simply left the keys in the ignition knowing they could not be saved and before the busses left many of the cars were simply driven away never to be seen again. The hateful had a field day. It was the same town of just over a thousand people. Two sides of the same coin. Many still not reconciled to this day. Uneasy lies the issue of race.

The country the Japanese Americans loved had kicked them to the curb and they felt isolated and alone. Camp administrators at Manzanar did little help overcome this belief. The only thing they could do was to rely on each other as they were all in the same boat. Having a tight community and close friends to rely on would help make the suffering a little bit easier Though locked up in the camps and taken away from their normal lives they organized and tried to bring a sense of normalcy into the camps. The brought tradition with them. They brought philosphy with them and they brought religion. They brought what they had learned in America. They needed to somehow outlast the tough times they saw coming and they did it by relying on things that could distract them form the hardships and atrocities all around them.

Part Three

What They Did…. Their Stories.

Aiko Hamaguchi RN, Manzanar, National Archives, Ansel Adams




Yuki Okinaga Hayakawa aged three, National Archive Photo

I took my first trips up and down U S Highway 395 when I was just two years old. Manzanar had been closed for just two years. Over the decades I have passed it by many times. It was always notable for the fact that there was nothing there. No road sign announcing it’s site, no buildings other than an old run down auditorium and the cut stone gatehouse. It was like all the rest of the open high desert land that surrounded it, Saltbush, Mormon Tea, Rabbitbrush, and Lupine that, when in bloom gave just a splash of color in the dry, desiccated ground bookmarked between the eastern Sierra Nevada’s Mount Williamson and the massive Keynot peak, lurking in the Inyo mountains to the east. It was like all the rest of the open, high desert land that surrounded it, Saltbush, Mormon Tea, Rabbitbrush, and Lupine that, when in bloom gave just a splash of color in the dry, desiccated ground bookmarked between the eastern Sierra Nevada and the massive Keynot peak, lurking in the Inyo mountains to the east. Midway between the tiny towns of Lone Pine and Independence my dad would point it out in a matter of fact way as the place they kept the Japanese during the war. That was all. 

I’ve driven that stretch of road almost more times than I can count but on this trip something about Manzanar was different. We decided to stop. There were a couple buildings I had never seen before and it was obvious the National Parks Service which owns the site was making an attempt to make Manzanar accessible. The place was almost completely deserted and only a young woman from Germany and an older couple were there. You can drive and walk completely around what was once the home to more than 13,000 Japanese Americans. About one third of the disingenuously labeled internees who were in fact prisoners guarded by guard towers with armed soldiers on duty 24 hours a day, were ineligible for citizenship because Federal law forbade native born Japanese from becoming  American citizens. The other two-thirds were born in this country and by Constitutional right were citizens of the United States. 

As far as I know nearly every kid of Japanese Ancestry I went to school with was born or lived in one of the ten so-called re-location camps spotted throughout the western United States. None of them were old enough to remember what it was like at Gila River camp in Poston Arizona or Tule Lake in the bleak scrublands of California’s far northeast corner, the camp built especially for the most troublesome prisoners. Freezing in the long cold winters, stovetop hot and constantly windy in the short summers, Tule Lake was reserved for those considered most disloyal. Sixteen guard towers, searchlights, a lighted perimeter fence and a fifty foot deadline manned by 1,200 fully armed soldiers all looking inward, “For their own protection”  said the camp commander.  All of this overlooked by the eternally frowning Castle Peak, it’s brow lowered and radiating disapproval. Whether it was the Japanese Americans or the military overseers know one knows but nonetheless, equally oppressive.

“Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku,” Tomorrows wind will blow tomorrow. This Japanese saying means, “tomorrow’s another day” and to not worry about the future. I love this elegant proverb because it encourages perseverance in the face of hardship. Hardship it would be.

 A very old woman who lived across the street from Arroyo Grande High School stood on her front porch, holding the door knob to steady herself, unashamed tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched the Japanese-Americans loaded on the line of busses parked on Crown Hill. They were her friends and neighbors, each one with a dangling name tag in a button hole. The group waiting quietly, some sitting on suitcases or bundles of personal possessions rolled up in bedsheets or stuffed in gunny sacks. They did not know where they were going, only that their lives were completely shattered. They were leaving their homes, farms and businesses and as yet had not an inkling of how or when they would be able to return. 

There was Family #41605. The father, an American citizen, born right here in Arroyo Grande. His own father was also born here as was his wife. She was pregnant with their third child and she was destined to conceive and deliver another in the concentration camp at Gila River Arizona. It would be a boy with a kings name and we would be lifelong friends and high school classmates in the nineteen sixties.  The father was my dads age. They were friends too. We have an 11th grade high school photograph where they sit in the front row, right next to one another. They wear crisp white shirts, dirty corduroy pants, both destined to be farmers in our little valley. 

There was a 17 year old high school student, slim and earnest looking in his glasses, his family was #14436. His was a farming family too. A former Boy Scout in my scoutmaster father’s troop 13, Dad always said that he was one of the funniest boys he ever knew. There was no smile today, he stood with his brother waiting patiently.

They were all apprehensive and slightly bewildered by this turn of events. They were hardly surprised by the hatred that had so intensified since December 7th.They had heard General John L DeWitt, commander of the Western Approaches command which covered Washington, Oregon and California state that “The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United State soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted. It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will certainly be taken.”  A comment of such self serving purpose can hardly be believed.

That bewildering logic didn’t deter California’s Attorney General and the next Governor, Earl Warren. Warren, a future Supreme Court Justice was a proponent of forced evacuation and helped to drive public opinion to support the Army’s policy. President Franklin Roosevelt signed order number 9066 on February 19th, 1942 ordering that all Japanese and Japanese Americans be removed from the zone of the Pacific to evacuation centers and then taken to the so-called war relocation centers for internment. No matter the sex, no matter the age, University students, National Guard serving soldiers, Teachers, Professors, nurses and doctors and even adopted Japanese American children were ordered sent. Photographers, artists, architects, it didn’t matter. All.

Japanese Americans and other Asians in the U.S. had suffered for decades from prejudice and racially-motivated fear. Laws preventing Asian Americans from owning land, voting, testifying against whites in court, and other racially discriminatory laws existed long before World War II. President Roosevelt had ordered the FBI, Naval Intelligence and Military Intelligence to conduct thorough investigations into the loyalty and sympathies of Japanese Americans in 1940. Both the Munson Report of 1940 and a second investigation finished in 1942, written by Naval Intelligence officer Kenneth Ringle and submitted in January, likewise found absolutely no evidence of subversive activity and strongly urged against mass incarceration. Both were ignored.

General DeWitt was quoted as saying, “A Jap is a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is a United States citizen or not.” Mrs Roosevelt as well as some cabinet members in Washington were against the policy but with a by election coming in November 1942 the president was concerned about west coast voters so he turned a blind eye to those who though the policy was both unwise and wrong.

In August 1942 the busses from Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Guadalupe arrived at the little town of Yellem just outside Tulare in the San Joaquin Valley. 

 “…we had to get off and carry the things we could carry and march, walk into the town to the racetrack. People came out as if it was some kind of parade, but a parade with soldiers on the both sides, with their bayonets fixed and up. It was just a very humiliating experience.” – Yosh Nakamura, Densho Archives

They were ushered off the streets and into the stables and the infield of an old horse racing track. They waited quietly with their meager belongings while they were processed in. Some of the people were settled in newly completed temporary barracks buildings, so new that they still smelled of pine sap, the floors covered with construction debris. Others not quite so lucky were marched to the old stables and installed in horse stalls, still covered with dirty straw hay and reeking of horse urine and manure. 

Bedding was not provided, just an old mattress cover that the prisoners had to stuff with straw themselves. Quietly and stoically they set about making the best of it. One of the qualities of Japanese Americans at that time was not to make waves, strive to give no offense and to endeavor to fit in by remaining almost invisible to non-Japanese people.

Most were to remain at the racetrack for as long as five months. They were in almost complete ignorance about what their fate would be. Where would they be going. No one knew and no one in authority would tell them, Rumors and gossip had to fill the void. Radios had been confiscated and no newspapers were allowed. Nearly every periodical in the country was foaming at the mouth with outrage and printed every kind of rumor and falsehood. They encouraged removal of the “enemy race” from the West Coast as a military necessity, and fully supporting the president‟s final decision.

The prisoners themselveswere deliberately kept in the dark.  The justification for the removal was ostensibly to thwart espionage and sabotage, but babies, young children, the elderly, the infirm, children from orphanages, and even children adopted by Caucasian parents were not exempt from removal. In all, over 17,000 children under 10 years old, 2,000 persons over 65 years old, and 1,000 handicapped or infirm persons were removed.

“……my mother got us up before dawn. She had us dress in as many layers of clothes as we could wear. She had packed everything she though we could carry in suitcases and duffel bags the night before. They were left by the door. Just after dawn a military truck stopped in front of our house and two soldiers hopped down and marched up to our door. The carried rifles with the bayonets attached and pistols. One of them knocked on the door using the butt of his rifle until my mother came and opened it. No one said a word. She had us carry our little duffels down to the truck where the soldiers lifted us up. I looked back to my mother standing in the street, carrying her suitcase with my little sister held tightly against her breast. She had tears streaming down her cheeks.” ___James Ota Koga

 Stuffed into the fairgrounds in the blistering heat of a San Joaquin valley summer where temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they waited patiently. Most followed the lead of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and cooperated with the removal as a means to prove their loyalty. A few were vocally opposed to the removal and later took legal action that eventually reached the United States Supreme Court. 

It was to no avail. In 1944, when the Pacific War was well on its way to being won and there was no rational argument for keeping Americans in the camps ,the court handed down its ruling in Korematsu vs United States.   In a majority opinion joined by five other justices, Associate Justice Hugo Black held that the need to protect against espionage by Japan outweighed the rights of Americans of Japanese descent. Black wrote that: “Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race”, but rather “because the properly constituted military authorities … decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast” during the war against Japan. The dissenting justices Frank Murphy, Robert H. Jackson, and Owen J. Roberts all criticized the exclusion as racially discriminatory; Murphy wrote that the exclusion of Japanese “falls into the ugly abyss of racism” and was akin to the “the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial  Fascist tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy.”

The other side of the coin was represented by Harold L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior and personal friend of both the Roosevelts who wrote: ”It has long been my belief that the greatness of America has risen in large part out of the diversity of her peoples. Before the war, peoples of Japanese ancestry were a small but valuable element in our population. Their record of law-abiding, industrious citizenship was surpassed by no other group. Their contributions to the arts, agriculture, and science were indisputable evidence that the majority of them believed in America and were growing with America.

Among the casualties of war has been America’s Japanese minority. It is my hope that the wounds which it has received in the great uprooting will heal. It is my prayer that other Americans will fully realize that to condone the whittling away of the rights of any one minority group is to pave the way for us all to lose the guarantees of the Constitution. As the President has said, “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” ___Harold L. Ickes

Notwithstanding any of this resistance, the massive engine of the federal government simply rolled on. What had been put in motion could not be stopped.

Next___Part Two.

The Howlings of the military, government, and press drove the evacuation forward…..