The FBI imprisoned my grandfather on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Agents suspected him of disloyalty because he owned a shortwave radio and operated a fish market that sold foodstuffs to Japanese fishermen docking in San Pedro harbor, of Los Angeles.
They took him from his sickbed, as he recuperated from as asthmatic seizure for which he had been hospitalized. They took him before he could gather up his medication.
The agents interrogated Grandfather at the Immigration Detention Center on Terminal Island. They refused him visits by family members.
Finally, agents allowed Grandfather to see his son, who had enlisted in the American Army and later went overseas as a military intelligence interpreter.
The son, in uniform, explained he felt an obligation to defend his country, the country that had imprisoned his father, that later relocated his mother, sister and brother. But Grandfather's eyes were glazed, his words barely coherent.
"This is not my son," he said in a bizarre way. Grandfather could not be dissuaded that the uniformed figure was an interrogator impersonating his son.
Stunned by his father's confusion, the son left the small, cell-like room. It was the last time the two men saw each other. Grandfather died shortly thereafter. They never got to say goodbye.
May Asaki Ishimoto was in her late teens, living with her parents and nine brothers and sisters in Hanford, Calif., on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. "I was naive," she says now, "but my parents felt the hostility" toward Japanese-Americans.
She remembers that her older brother enlisted in the American Army as soon as he could after the attack. And she remembers her mother going into the back yard of their farmhouse to burn the children's Japanese-language textbooks, some bamboo swords and Japanese magazines. "Dad and I might have to go away because we're Japanese citizens," her mother told her. Japanese immigrants were forbidden by federal law from becoming American citizens, but in many cases their children were citizens by birth.
"Mother was certain we kids would be left behind, so she gave us instructions on how to conduct ourselves." But within the year, Ishimoto and her family -- except her older brother in the Army -- were taken from their home and evacuated to a "relocation center" in Jerome, Ark. The First Reactions
On the night of Dec. 7, 1941, Chicago attorney Arthur J. Goldberg sat at home contemplating "the terrible news" of the Pearl Harbor attack.
"I got a call from the FBI that they had picked up my assistant, a Japanese-American woman named Elizabeth Ohi," Goldberg recalls. "I immediately went down and asked the FBI clerk, 'What are the charges against her?'"
"None," the clerk replied, "but you know about Pearl Harbor."
"Then release her to me immediately or I'll get a writ of habeas corpus," said Goldberg, who became a Supreme Court justice 21 years later.
Ohi was released that night. She soon enlisted in the Navy, where she served as an ensign. The Hearings
Suspicions of disloyalty on the part of Japanese-Americans, who populated a large portion of the California coast, intensified after Pearl Harbor. "People thought, if the Japanese can hit Pearl Harbor this week, why can't they come and bomb the West Coast next week," says James H. Rowe Jr., who was assistant to the attorney general from 1941 to 1943.
Forty years after the fact, a commission has been established to study the justification of Executive Order 9066 of Feb. 19, 1942, which forced the evacuation about 120,000 citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry, mostly from the West Coast, and put them into 10 guarded camps across the United States.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Interment of Civilians today begins hearing testimony on whether the United States government committed a wrong against those affected by Executive Order 9066 and other related orders of the U.S. military forces.
Over the next year, the nine-member commission will conduct hearings across the country, then submit a report to Congress. According to Rep. Norman Mineta (D-Calif.), the hearings are necessary if only to prevent a recurrence. "When the hostages were taken at the embassy in Tehran," says Mineta, "people were saying arrest all Iranians, deport all Iranians -- even though they had committed no crimes here."
Says commission chairman Joan Z. Berstein, "In the course of our work, the commission will take care to listen to those who have not been listened to before." The Decision
James Rowe, a government witness scheduled for today's hearings, says people in government weren't "doing much thinking" about civil liberties in 1942 because they were too busy worrying about the war.
"There were no great liberals charging down to help the Justice Department, which was against concentration camps from tghe beginning," says Rowe. Attorney General Francis Biddle, "a great civil liberties man," Rowe says, didn't want to inherit the reputation of A. Mitchell Palmer, the post-World War I attorney general who conducted "a lot of Red raids."
FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover gave Biddle a memo advising against mass evacuation, says Rowe. "Hoover said, 'The Japanese-Americans are not dangerous. There are some bad ones and if I want them, I'll grab them.'"
But as Rowe remembers it, the War Department wanted to purge the West Coast of Japanese-Americans.And the Army said mass evacuation was a "military necessity."
"That's a great phrase," says Rowe. "Edward J. Ennis, also with the Justice Department, and I would go talk to the whole damn mass of congressmen and senators sitting in an informal group. They'd say, 'The Army says evacuation is a military necessity. So whom should we believe -- generals or a couple of lawyers like you?'"
"The great journalist Walter Lippmann favored" evacuation, Rowe says. "California Attorney General Earl Warren, who became a great civil liberties chief justice, was the leader of putting Japanese-Americans in camps."
When evacuation seemed inevitable, Ennis, Biddle and Rowe held a last meeting with Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson, "one of the country's great lawyers."
"Everybody sort of bowed down to this man who was quite old at the time," recalls Rowe. "Somebody once said two hours with Stimson was worth 20 hours with anybody else.
"Biddle a younger man, was impressed with Stimson. But Ennis told him, 'You just can't do this.' Stimson looked at him and said, 'Mr. Ennis, you just have to assume that we are all of us men of good will.'"
At first the military evacuated "restricted areas" -- power plants, shipyards and other possible targets. Then counties were evacuated. And finally, the entire West Coast. The Evacuation
The first evacuations were chaotic, recalls Paul Bannai, who was interned and is now serving as the commission's executive director. "I went down to help move the people by Terminal Island, which is near the Long Beach naval yards. Many of the men were fishermen and had aready been picked up. The women and children were given 24 hours to get out.
"We went down there with any kind of truck we could find," says Bannai, who was 22 at the time. "There were hordes of scavengers who knew the circumstances and were taking advantage of it. They'd say, 'I'll give you $5 for that stove or $50 for that car.' They knew the evacuees could only take what they could carry."
Few, if any, resisted the evacuation order, because Japanese-Americans "are law-abiding people," says Bannai.
But William M. Hohri, who spent a couple of years in the Manzanar, Calif., camp, offers another expanation: "Those of Japanese ancestry suffered discrimination in jobs, housing and ownership of property. So our removal was consistent with the general pattern of discrimination already established." The Assembly Point
May Asaki Ishimoto vaguely remembers her parents selling their car, storing furniture in a shed and asking neighbors to watch their property.
She can't remember how she got to the assembly center in Fresno, but she recalls having to wear a tag with a number on it and having to stand in line to be inoculated.
"People were told to be orderly, not to question any of this," she says. "The idea spread that if we were loyal to our country, then we would not object to any of this."
Families were assigned to single rooms in barracks that had been hastily constructed from cheap knotty pine and tar paper. "In a corner was a pile of hay," says Ishimoto. "They told us to fill flour sacks with the hay. We put these filled sacks on army cots and used them as mattresses." t
In the assembly center, Ishimoto's mother had to be hospitalized for high blood pressure, a condition she had never had before. A doctor advised the family to go to the Gila (Ariz.) Relocation Center because it was closest to Fresno. But the ailing woman insisted on going to the Jerome, Ark., camp, because it was closest to the Illinois Army camp where her oldest son was training for combat. Guards and Gardens
George Wakiji was 12 years old when he and his family were evacuated from Pasadena to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. The center was actually a race track and some families had to live in the horse stables. The Wakijis were lucky; they got to live in makeshift, tarpaper barracks.
"We were in the assembly center about six months before going by train to the gila Relocatin Center in Arizona," recalls Wakiji. "All the windowns on the train were covered because the Army didn't want people to see us or know was going on."
Paul Bannai went by bus to Manzanar Relocation Center. After a seven-hour bus ride through dry, dusty desert, he on found himself standing in a haze of windblown sand.
"It was a typical day," says Bannai. "It was late afternoon, but you couldn't see the sun because there was so much sand in the air."
The camp was enclosed by barbed wire and tall watchtowers manned by armed soldiers. Barracks, arranged in blocks, shared mess halls and communal bathrooms.
"There was no privacy, even in the toilets," says Bannai. "Eventually, people used scrap lumber and built partitions between the toilets. They also built tables for their barracks. Although deprived of ordinary necessities, everyone used his own resources to make the best of the situation."
Many people planted gardens or built fish ponds, recalls Wakiji. "People went into the desert and brought back plants that could live in the dry conditions. There were little canals nearby and people would catch live fish and bring them back to put in the ponds."
Wakiji and his friends devoted most of thier time to sports. "People in the Gila camp built two tennis courts and a golf course on sand."
Ishimoto recalls that elderly people in the Jerome camp did woodcarving and other handcrafts. "There were a lot of talent shows, some dances and movies."
But gardens and talent shows didn't make up for all the other deprivations. The camp schools were substandard, says Wakiji. "We had to use wooden benches and tables. Some teachers were evacuees with no teaching experience. Some of the teachers from the outside probably were unable to get jobs at any of the other school systems."
Adult evacuees worked and were paid $12, $16 or $19 a month, depending on skill level, says Bannai. Doctors who worked in the camp hospital earned the top wage of $19 a month. Visit to the Camp
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) never was forcibly interned, but he knows something about the camps' pall of frustration.
He was in the Hawaiian contingent of the 442nd Japanese-American Infantry Regimental Combat Team. "There was conflict between the Hawaiian and mainland [Japanese-American] contingents," says Inouye. "We used language differently and came from different environments. Then somebody had the bright idea of sending a selected group of Hawaiians to one of the camps."
Inouye and about 200 other Hawaiian GIs went by truck from Camp Shelby, Miss., to the Rohwer (Ark.) Relocation Center. "The barbed-wire enclosure and high towers with machine guns looked like Stalag 17. We were wearing American uniforms, but bayonet-toting soldiers searched us. Normally that would be a signal to fight, but I didn't want to fight someone carrying a bayonet."
"We were told several of the stark rooms in the barracks were set aside for us, and the families who lived there would spend two nights in the mess hall. When we saw what they had to live with -- paper-thin walls -- we all slept in the trucks."
"We came to appreciate the mainland soldier -- to think that he volunteered to serve a country that imprisioned him. I have searched my sould and to this day I cannot say whether I would volunteer if I had been in a camp like that." The Bitter Legacy
Ishimoto's mother, Mine Asaki, succumbed to her blood pressure ailment shortly after being relocated in Arkansas. Mother and daughter had been very close. "Mother would talk about how disappointed she was that the whole family was evacuated," says Ishimoto, whose father was a World War I Navy veteran.
"Her death was traumatic for me. I knew it would not have happened if we were not going through the relocaton."
Like many evacuees, Ishimoto deeply resented her situation and periodically felt angry and bitter. "Being in camp made me hate everything Japanese," she says. "I thought if Japan hadn't bombed Pearl Harbor, then we wouldn't have to go through all this. When I came out of camp, I couldn't even remember how to speak the Japanese language." The Issues of Redress
There is no way to quantify this type of anguish, so "you can't put a price tage on it," say Inouye. "Putting a price tag on it would cheapen the whole thing."
Inouye, therefore, does not favor the direct-payment redress bill sponsored by Rep. Mike E. Lowry (D-Wash.).
Rowe also opposes redress. "I think things happen in times of war that are regrettable," he says. "I don't think anything should be done. Who would you pay and how would you put a value on their property?"
"I don't want the money," says Ishimoto, who now lives in Silver Spring. "And I don't think punishment would make me feel better. There's nobody around any more to take the punishment." She mentions the late Gen. John L. DeWitt, the military commander who carried out the evacuation order and described evacuees as an "enemy race" -- "There was such a hatred for that man, people called him nitwit."
Lowry's bill would provide each internee $15,000 plus $15 for every day of detention. "The bill had 17 sponsors of a pretty broad range. Everybody I've heard has said the relocation was a terrible thing."
"Besides the fundamental question justice, redress has a deterrent factor," says Masaru Ed Nakawatase, national representative of native American affairs for the American Friends Service Committee."In this most capitalist of nations, it would be known that if this should happen again, there would be a price to pay."
The commission hearings and redress issue have inflamed some people who sometimes don't differentiate between Japanese nationals and American citizens of Japanese ancestry.
"Soon after I introduced the redress bill, the phone calls and hate mail were terrible, just unreal," says Lowry. People said why give money to "those who bombed Pearl Harbor."
William Hohri, who will be testifying as chairman of the National Council for Japanese-American Redress, says Japanese-American acceptance of whatever resolution the government offers would be like their accpetance of the evacuations in 1942. "A lot of us are saying we don't want to back off again -- not twice."
Says Wakiji: "Like most Japanese-Americans, I can forgive my country for what it did to me. But I can never forget." The Hidden History
In 1974, I was on the last leg of a three-month-long nebulous search for identity. I had roamed through South Korea and parts of Japan.
And now I was standing in Tokyo's Haneda Airport, waiting for my plane to California, smiling and saying goodbye to a relative I had only recently become aware of -- my grandmother's sister.
But Great-Aunt wasn't smiling back. She was sitting straightbacked on a chair in the waiting area. Her voice crescendoed, and she started getting tears in her eyes as she spoke her parting words.
I don't understand the Japanese language. So I asked her bilingual daughter, Kimiko, "What is she telling me?"
Kimiko replied, "She says the American Army killed your grandfather."
I was 24 years old at the time, and I didn't know anything about how my grandfather had really died or what had really happened to my relatives during World War II, I had barely known about the camps.
I had stumbled onto direction.