CAMP HARMONY, WASHINGTON In the following passage Seattle resident Ben Yorita, one of 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry interned during World War II, describes his experience in the Summer of 1942 in "Camp Harmony," a temporary holding area on the Puyallup fairgrounds, before being transferred to the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho.
Students weren’t as aware of national politics then as they are now, and Japanese-Americans were actually apolitical then. Our parents couldn’t vote, so we simply weren’t interested in politics because there was nothing we could do about it if we were.
There were two reasons we were living in the ghettos: Birds of a feather flock together, and we had all the traditional aspects of Japanese life—Japanese restaurants, baths, and so forth; and discrimination forced us together. The dominant society prevented us from going elsewhere.
Right after Pearl Harbor we had no idea what was going to happen, but toward the end of December we started hearing rumors and talk of the evacuation started. We could tell from what we read in the newspapers and the propaganda they were printing—guys like Henry McLemore, who said he hated all Japs and that we should be rounded up, gave us the idea of how strong feelings were against us. So we were expecting something and the evacuation was no great surprise.
I can’t really say what my parents thought about everything because we didn’t communicate that well. I never asked them what they thought. We communicated on other things, but not political matters.
Once the evacuation was decided, we were told we had about a month to get rid of our property or do whatever we wanted to with it. That was a rough time for my brother, who was running a printshop my parents owned. We were still in debt on it and we didn’t know what to do with all the equipment. The machines were old but still workable, and we had English type and Japanese type. Japanese characters had to be set by hand and were very hard to replace. Finally, the whole works was sold, and since nobody would buy the Japanese type, we had to sell it as junk lead at 500 a pound. We sold the equipment through newspaper classified ads: "Evacuating: Household goods for sale." Secondhand dealers and everybody else came in and bought our refrigerator, the piano, and I had a whole bunch of books I sold for $5, which was one of my personal losses. We had to sell our car, and the whole thing was very sad. By the way, it was the first time we had ever had a refrigerator and it had to be sold after only a few months.
We could take only what we could carry, and most of us were carrying two suitcases or duffel bags. The rest of our stuff that we couldn’t sell was stored in the Buddhist church my mother belonged to. When we came back, thieves had broken in and stolen almost everything of value from the church.
I had a savings account that was left intact, but people who had their money in the Japanese bank in Seattle had their assets frozen from Pearl Harbor until the late 1960s, when the funds were finally released. They received no interest.
They took all of us down to the Puyallup fairgrounds, Camp Harmony, and everything had been thrown together in haste. They had converted some of the display and exhibit areas into rooms and had put up some barracks on the parking lot. The walls in the barracks were about eight feet high with open space above and with big knotholes in the boards of the partitions. Our family was large, so we had two rooms.
They had also built barbed-wire fences around the camp with a tower on each corner with military personnel and machine guns, rifles, and searchlights. It was terrifying because we didn’t know what was going to happen to us. We didn’t know where we were going and we were just doing what we were told. No questions asked. If you get an order, you go ahead and do it.
There was no fraternization, no contact with the military or any Caucasian except when we were processed into the camp. But the treatment in Camp Harmony was fairly loose in the sense that we were free to roam around in the camp. But it was like buffalo in cages or behind barbed wire.
There was no privacy whatsoever in the latrines and showers, and it was humiliating for the women because they were much more modest then than today. It wasn’t so bad for the men because they were accustomed to open latrines and showers. We had no duties in the sense that we were required to work, but you can’t expect a camp to manage itself. They had jobs open in the kitchen and stock room, and eventually they opened a school where I helped teach a little. I wasn’t a qualified teacher, and I got about $13 a month. We weren’t given an allowance while we were in Camp Harmony waiting for the camp at Minidoka to be finished, so it was pretty tight for some families.
From Camp Harmony on, the family structure was broken down. Children ran everywhere they wanted to in the camp, and parents lost their authority. We could eat in any mess hall we wanted, and kids began ignoring their parents and wandering wherever they pleased.
Eventually they boarded us on army trucks and took us to trains to be transported to the camps inland. We had been in Camp Harmony from May until September.
Source: Archie Satterfield, ed. The Home Front: An Oral History Of the War Years in America: 1941-45 (Chicago, 1981) pp. 330-338.
THE ZOOT SUIT RIOT The worst example of anti-Chicano violence in the 20th Century history of the United States is described below by historians, Julian Samora and Patricia Vandel Simon. In the early 1940s many Mexican American teenagers wore "drapes." This popular style of clothing resembled the zoot suits worn in Harlem. It was designed to be comfortable to dance in, and was sometimes used as a signal that the wearer belonged to a club or gang. Most Anglos called the outfit a zoot suit and assumed that only hoodlums wore them.
In 1942, in the name of national security, all the Japanese Americans on the west coast had been taken from their homes and interred in camps. With this group of scapegoats safely out of the way, Los Angeles newspapers began to blame crime in the city on the Mexican Americans. They began to give prominence to incidents involving Mexican Americans, or as they called them, "zoot suiters."
On the evening of June 3, 1943, eleven sailors on shore leave walked into one of Los Angeles's worst Mexican American slums and became involved in a fight with persons unknown, but who were thought to be Mexican Americans. This incident stirred up the anger of the citizenry, as well as that of the many members of the armed forces who were stationed in Los Angeles.
The next evening two hundred sailors hired a fleet of taxicabs and drove through the heart of the city to the Mexican American communities on the east side. Every time they saw a Mexican American boy in a zoot suit they would stop and beat him up. The city police did nothing to stop them.
The following two nights the sailors were joined by other servicemen as the wandered freely through the city harassing Mexican Americans. Los Angeles police arrested several severely beaten Mexican American boys on charges of rioting, even though no resistance had been offered by the Mexican Americans. The newspapers featured headlines such as "44 Zooters Jailed in Attacks on Sailors."
On June seventh, thousands of civilians joined in the riot. Filipinos and Negroes as well as Mexican Americans were attacked. At midnight military authorities decided the local police could not handle the situation and declared downtown Los Angeles off limits to military personnel. The rioting spread to the suburbs for two more days before it finally subsided.
The Los Angeles zoot suit riots touched off similar disturbances across the country in the summer of 1943; in San Diego; Beaumont, Texas; Detroit; Evansville, Indiana; Philadelphia and Harlem.
Source: Julian Samora and Patricia Vandel Simon, A History of the Mexican American People, (Notre Dame, Ind., 1977), p. 157.
NISEI SOLDIERS IN EUROPE Despite the internment of the vast majority of Japanese during World War II, a Japanese-American Army unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, fought in against the Germans in the Italian theater and became one of the most decorated American units during the war. A brief account of their heroism is detailed below by one of their officers, Lt. Daniel Inouye who later became the U.S. Senator from Hawaii. Few men fought in all of the 442nd's campaign and battles. Our casualty rate was so high that eventually it took 12,000 men to fill the original 4,500 places in the regiment. But fewer men still missed a battle as long as they could stand up and hold an M1. The outfit has the lowest AWOL rate in the European theater of operations and the only men I ever heard about going over the hill had very special reasons....
When we reached Leghorn [the site of a battle with German troops] we were trucked north to an area in the sector of the 92nd Division, to which the 442nd was now attached. The 92nd was one of only two outfits in the army made up of Negro troops. The had fought hard and lost many men and the Germans seemed to take a fiendish delight in bombarding them with propaganda leaflets--a white man making love to a Negro girl, and the inevitable caption: "Is this your wife?" And the taunting questions: "What are you fighting for? To go back to slavery to your white masters?"
Our side didn't help much. The division officers' clubs were segregated--this in the heart of a war zone--as was every other recreational facility. One of the first things our regimental C.O. did was send word through the 442nd that we were to steer clear of both the white and colored clubs. Since there was no way we could change a rotten situation, he wanted us to be as free of it as we could, and we kept very much to ourselves.
The mission of the 92nd was to breach the western anchor of the Gothic Line, a system of rock and concrete fortifications high in the mountains of northern Italy. Elaborate bunkers and fortified machine gun nests made it seem impenetrable. When the commanding general...asked whether the 442nd could take Mt. Folgorito [part of the Gothic Line] in a week's time...our C.O. replied drily, "I think you can count on it."
We jumped off at midnight of April 5, two battalions moving through an unreconnoitered gorge and scaling the cliffs on the enemy's right... Later we learned that some of the men had slipped and bounced as much as 100 feet down the steep slopes--one fell to his death--but not one of them cried out and the soundless advance went on. We took the Germans by complete surprise...
We moved up that slope and almost at once three machine guns opened up on us.... I looked down to where my right hand was clutching my stomach. Blood oozed between my fingers... We were pinned down and now the moment was critical... I lobbed two grenades... And as I drew my arm back...I saw a German soldier...aiming a rifle grenade at my face from a range of ten yards. As I cocked my arm to throw, he fired and his rifle grenade smashed into my right elbow and exploded and all but tore my arm off.... I turned to throw as the German was reloading his rifle. But this time I beat him. My grenade blew up in his face and I stumbled to my feet, firing my tommy gun left-handed, the useless right arm slapping red and wet against my side...
Source: Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Journey to Washington, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1967), pp. 141-142, 150-152.
ONE SOLDIER'S STORY: WALTER HIGGANS IN EUROPE The vignette below is an account of Walter Higgans, a Navajo soldier in the U.S. Army who was captured by the Germans in World War II only to escape to the Soviet Union. The Germans were tryin' to come down this mountain road and we were supposed to try to stop them. We went into this heavy thick forest area where everything was so thick that you couldn't see far at all. But the Germans kept sending out patrols, and there was firing back and forth, in patches like. Then everything cut loose. While those patrols were keeping us busy, their tanks had moved up practically right on top of us and they were so close you could hear the recoil from their guns when they fired. So we started to fall back slowly and we had been doin' this for about three hours, and all of a sudden the platoon on our left ran through us and they were yellin' that the tanks had moved in and were coming this way fast. They had only .30 caliber machine guns, and you can't fight tanks with that. They left all their stuff behind. We went down into this big arroyo where they had been.
About that time, I was a squad leader, a buck sergeant. I talked to the platoon leader and he talked to a lieutenant and the captain of the company, and they said to go get all the equipment that was left back up there, but nobody would go because the tanks were too close. So the captain talked to the battalion commander, and he said to go back up and hold the line. By that time three of us, and one of these was a cousin of mine from Blue Notch, we had already gone up there and brought back most of the rifles and grenades that they had left there. Then the telephone line got knocked out with all the firing. So two of us were sent up in the direction of the tanks to fix the telephone wire. There was lots of cover--something like ferns growin' about shoulder high--and this other guy got separated from me. All at once there were two Germans standin' right behind me and I was captured...
We escaped because they were going to move us into Berlin, and we didn't want to be caught in the middle of the fighting. We got through the Russian lines and into Poland to Danzig, because we had heard that it was an open city. But that place was torn to pieces, so then we headed down to Warsaw and then from there to Lodz. And from Lodz we went across to Kiev. All this time we were waking, and while this was going on I got arrested about twelve times, because I was walking with these white boys and the Russians wanted to know who I was. They didn't even know that I was an American and that I was born over here. They'd throw me in jail and put me through interrogation by somebody who could speak English. I kept tellin' them that I was an Indian, but they would just laugh and say that there were no Indians over here and I had to convince them. They finally turned me loose one place and then I'd get arrested at the next town. After the twelfth time, I asked them to give me a pass. The Germans had taken all our identification from us. When I was in jail, the others were good enough to wait for me. There were twelve of them, and I was the odd one, the thirteenth.
We finally walked down to Odessa and, boy, I never seen such an awful lookin' bunch of people in my life. We had been tradin' our clothes for food, but we were still half starved and almost naked on top of that. This was toward the end of March 1945, when we got down there...
Source: Jack O. Waddell and O. Michael Watson, eds., The American Indian in Urban Society, (Boston 1971), pp. 373-375.
BLACKS, WHITES, ASIANS IN WORLD WAR II HAWAII The following vignette, taken from a 1993 article authored by Beth Bailey and David Farber, describes the complex racial order that African Americans found themselves in when they served as soldiers, sailors and war workers in Hawaii. Their experience profoundly reshaped thinking about race among whites, blacks and Asians on both the islands and the mainland. Well over a million service personnel and civilian employees of the military...were brought to Hawaii by reason of war. Among those men and women were approximately 30,000 people of African descent--soldiers, sailors, war workers. They came to a place that, before World War II, had no "Negro Problem," in part because few people on the islands recognized that "Negroes" lived in Hawaii. In 1940, according to one estimate by the territorial government, approximately 200 "Negroes of American birth" lived on the islands... Most people on Hawaii did not bring the racist ways of the mainland into there daily lives. They did stereotype one another: many Americans of Japanese ancestry looked down on the Chinese, and often upon the haoles [whites]. The Chinese looked down on the Filipinos. Round and round it went. Each ethnic group had its suspicions of the others and definite hierarchies existed. But such prejudices were not the white heat of the mainland's rigid caste society. The lines were less absolute... It helped that no one group held a majority... Hawaii was much more progressive on the issue of race than the rest of the U.S.
The men and women who came to Hawaii from the mainland were uniformly shocked by what they found. On the streets of Honolulu or in small towns on the Big Island, "white" ness was not the natural condition. All newcomers were surprised, but reactions varied. Some praised what they saw...others were mightily upset by it; still others just confused...
Writing home in private letters to family and friends, wives and sweethearts, black men who had come to Hawaii as servicemen or war workers discussed the possibilities of Hawaii's wartime racial liminality. A shipyard worker wrote: "I thank God often for letting me experience the occasion to spend a part of my life in a part of the world were one can be respected and live as a free man should." Another young man tried to explain to his girlfriend: "Honey, its just as much difference between over here and down there as it is between night and day." He concluded: Hawaii "will make anybody change their minds about living down there." "Down there" was the Jim Crow South, the place about which a third man wrote, "I shall never go back."
White men and women from the mainland also saw the possible implications of Hawaii's racial landscape: "They have come as near to solving the race problem as any place in the world," wrote a nurse. "I'm a little mystified by it as yet but it doesn't bother anyone who had lived here awhile." A teacher found it world shaking: "I have gained here at least the impulse to fight racial bigotry and boogeyism. My soul has been stretched here and my notion of civilization and Americanism broadened."
Not everyone was so inspired. One hardened soul, in Hawaii with her husband and children, wrote the folks: "Down here they have let down the standards, there does not seem to be any race hatred, there is not even any race distinction... I don't want to expose our children too long to these conditions." A white man wrote back home: "Imagine that the South will have some trouble ahead when these black bastards return. Over here they're on the equal with everyone... They're in paradise and no fooling." Others made it clear they did not believe the trouble would keep: "Boy the niggers are sure in their glory over here...they almost expect white people to step off the streets and let them walk by... They are going to overstep their bounds a little too far one of these days and those boys from the South are going to have a little necktie party."
If Hawaii was "paradise"...there was a snake in this paradise, too. "As you know," one man wrote back to the mainland, "most sailors are from Texas and the South. They are most[ly] Navy men here, and they have surely poisoned everyone against the Negro...with tales of Negroes carrying dreadful diseases, being thieves, murderers and downright no good."
* * *
In letters back home, black servicemen fumed about the spread of racial hatred. "They preach to the natives a nasty, poisonous doctrine that we must fight like hell to overcome. They tell the native that we are ignorant dumb, evil, rapers, and troublemakers. They have the native women to a point they are afraid to even speak to our Negro boys."
The responses of the local people to the black malihini (newcomers) were complex and somewhat unpredictable. Although some sociologists at the time speculated that the local population would not accept negroes...in fact local men often lent their support to blacks against whites...
This is not to say that the propaganda of African American inferiority had no effect... Local women wrote frequently of their fears. "I am very scared of these Negro soldiers here in Honolulu. They make my skin shrivel and myself afraid to go near them," wrote a Chinese girl. A young Japanese woman wrote in almost identical terms: "They are so big and dark... Seeing them around while I'm alone gives me the 'goose-flesh.'" Another Japanese woman was a little more reflective about her feelings. After sharing a perfectly uneventful bus ride with four black soldiers she wrote a friend: "Gee, I was very frightened... Funny isn't it how I am about them. One would be that way after hearing lots of nasty things about them."
Some local women recognized the unfairness of local fears. One young woman of Japanese ancestry, writing in a private letter, criticized her peers: "They are going to have a dance for colored boys...only 18 girls are willing to go--such cooperation. Imagine us here talking about color equality and when it come to those thing not enough cooperation. I sure would like to have gone to it...but you know Mother."
Source: Beth Bailey and David Farber, "The 'Double-V' Campaign in World War II Hawaii: African Americans, Racial Ideology, and Federal Power," Journal of Social History 26:4 (Summer 1993:818-821, 825-827.
WORLD WAR II: SEATTLE'S ECONOMY TRANSFORMED In the following vignette I describe how Seattle emerged as a major site of war production, a process which transformed both the city and the region. The Second World War generated profound changes in economic and social conditions in the Pacific Northwest, prompting historian Carlos Schwantes to describe the years 1941-45 as the beginning of the modern era for the region. The Puget Sound area soon became a major center for ship and aircraft construction, which in turn stimulated other sectors of the economy. The region's shipbuilding industry was revived in 1941 after its virtual collapse following World War I, as eighty-eight shipyards, twenty-nine in Seattle alone, furnished vessels for the Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. Seattle's aircraft industry also came of age during World War II although the process of growth and transformation had begun long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Boeing Airplane Company in September 1939 employed 4,000 workers making military planes for the Army Air Corps and some commercial aircraft such as the Clipper airships which crossed the Pacific. After fighting broke out in Europe, the British Royal Air Force purchased the company's B-17 Flying Fortress bombers for use against Nazi Germany. As orders came in, Boeing's work force grew accordingly to nearly 10,000 by June 1941, 20,000 in September, and 30,000 when the United States officially entered the war on December 8, 1941. In 1943, Boeing began production of the Super Fortress a larger, longer-range B-29 bomber from its facility in Renton, a Seattle suburb. Boeing workers soon produced one B-29 bomber every five days and one B-17 every twenty-four hours. By 1944, at the peak of wartime production, Boeing employed nearly 50,000 workers in the Seattle area and amassed total sales of more than $600 million annually, sharply contrasting with the $70 million value of all Seattle manufacturing in 1939.
Although no other Seattle firm could rival Boeing in employment or production, other companies also experienced spectacular growth during World War II. Pacific Car and Foundry Company in Renton, which manufactured logging trucks before 1941, now produced Sherman tanks and employed nearly 4,000 workers in 1944. Shipyards in the Puget Sound area including the Navy's facility at Bremerton and twenty-nine yards in Seattle, employed 150,000 workers by 1944. Seattle's wartime contracts totaling 5.6 billion dollars, ranked it among the nation's top three cities (after Detroit and Los Angeles) in per capita war orders.
Source: Quintard Taylor, The Forging of A Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle, 1994), pp. 160-161.