Obit of the Day: “It Was the Right Thing to Do”
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which designated portions of the United States as “military areas.” As such, the Department of War and the U.S. Armed Forces were allowed to remove any citizens from the area they deemed to be a threat to national security, especially those individuals of “Foreign Enemy Ancestry.” The U.S. government meant the Japanese*.
Over 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese (and Korean^) heritage were sent to internment camps across the western United States. Some would remain in the camps for the duration of the war. (Ironically, the 442nd Infantry Regiment, composed entirely of Japanese-Americans, became the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. Army with 21 Medals of Honor and 8 Presidential Unit Citations.)
Reaction to the removal of the Japanese residents up and down the West Coast of the U.S. varied. It was a battle of xenophobia versus civil liberties. But, in general, few non-Asians did anything about it.
Bob Fletcher did. Working for the state of California as an agricultural inspector, Mr. Fletcher quit his job and began looking after the farms of three families who were interned: the Nittas, Okomotos, and Tsukamotos.
Besides caring for over 90 acres of farmland, Mr. Fletcher paid the families’ mortgages and taxes. He kept half the profits but held the rest aside. When the families were released at the end of World War II, he returned to them their farms and the other half of the profits.
Marielle Tsukamoto, who was five when she was interned, said of Mr. Fletcher, “He was honest and hardworking and had integrity. Whenever you asked him about it, he just said, ‘It was the right thing to do.’”
Bob Fletcher, who was married to his wife Theresa for 68 years and drank a quart of milk a day, died on May 23, 2013 at the age of 101.
(Images of Bob Fletcher, undated, and Marielle Tsukamoto with her grandmother, circa World War II are courtesy of blogwalker.edublogs.edu)
Also check out the OOTD for Gordon Hiyabayashi who fought internment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
* The U.S. government did round up Italians and Germans as well. There were two major differences in the internment of those groups versus the Japanese: 1) Sheer numbers. The Italian community saw less than 300 members arrested after Executive Order 9066 was issued. The Germans would have 11,000 “enemy aliens” detained. The Japanese saw 120,000 community members relocated. 2) Citizenship. Japanese citizens, whether here for 50 years or 7 years, were grouped along with Japanese non-citizens. The U.S. however only focused on non-citizens among Italians and Germans.
^ Koreans were group with Japanese because Korea (Manchuria) was under Japanese control since 1910.