Bob Fletcher, who saved farms of interned Japanese Americans, dies at 101


Bob Fletcher, a Sacramento farmer, saved the farms of interned Japanese American families during World War II. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee)
June 2, 2013

Bob Fletcher, a Sacramento farmer who saved the farms of interned Japanese American families during World War II, died May 23. He was 101.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

In 1942, a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forced Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent to report to barbed-wire camps. Many lost their homes to thieves or bank foreclosures.

A state agricultural inspector, Mr. Fletcher acted instinctively to help Japanese American farmers. He quit his job and went to work saving farms belonging to the Nitta, Okamoto and Tsukamoto families in the Florin community of Sacramento.

In the face of deep anti-
Japanese sentiment — including a bullet fired into the Tsukamoto barn — Mr. Fletcher worked 90 acres of grapes. He paid the mortgages and taxes and took half the profits. He turned over the rest — along with the farms — to the three families when they returned to Sacramento in 1945.

“I did know a few of them pretty well and never agreed with the evacuation,” he told the Sacramento Bee in 2010. “They were the same as anybody else. It was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.”

Mr. Fletcher’s heroism was widely celebrated in the community, including a centennial birthday party for him in 2011 that drew more than 150 people. His inspirational story is recounted in history books, including “We the People: A Story of Internment in America” by Elizabeth Pinkerton and Mary Tsukamoto, whose farm he saved.

“Few people in history exemplify the best ideals the way that Bob did,” said Tsukamoto’s daughter, Marielle, who was 5 when her family was interned. “He was honest and hard working and had integrity. Whenever you asked him about it, he just said, ‘It was the right thing to do.’ ”

Mr. Fletcher, who settled in Sacramento as a farmer after the war, also served people in other ways. He spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Florin Fire Department and retired in 1974 after another 12 years as paid chief. He helped start the Florin Water District in 1959 and was a board member for 50 years.

He was an active member of a local historical society and donated land for a community center.

The only child of walnut farmers in Contra Costa County, Calif., Robert Emmett Fletcher Jr. was born on July 26, 1911, and raised in Brentwood in the San Francisco Bay area.

He earned an agriculture degree from the University of California at Davis in 1933, managed a peach ranch and worked as a state and Sacramento County agriculture inspector during the Great Depression.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Teresa Fletcher; a son; three granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.

Mr. Fletcher, who was in good health until a recent leg infection, was a reserved man of simple tastes. He drank more than a quart of milk a day and enjoyed spending time with his wife or working.

“He never stopped working hard — but not for himself,” said Rick Martinez, a former Florin and Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District chief. “He worked hard to get done whatever needed to be done for others.”

— The Sacramento Bee