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Sunday, September 30, 2001

Japanese torn from area in WWII

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

Nearly 1,000 left for camps from Vacaville

In the early 20th century, Japan born Issei (immigrants born in Japan) and American born Nisei (the children of the Issei born in the United States) played a major role in Vacaville’s economy. They leased and operated a majority of the fruit ranches, formed a small economic district nicknamed Japantown along Dobbins Street, bought houses, sent their children to local schools, ran a Buddhist Church and a Methodist Church, operated a sumo wrestling team, baseball and basketball teams, and in general seemed to be fully integrated as American citizens.

All this ended on Sunday, December 7, 1941, just before 11 a.m., when Japan attacked the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, changing how non-Japanese Americans viewed their Japanese neighbors.

Fear reigned among the Japanese residents. Many congregated at Ichimoto’s Candy store that day, one question uppermost in their minds: “Where was Pearl Harbor?”

That night, somebody fired shots at the Buddhist Church. The next morning, Police Chief Alley requested that “for the present, members of the colony do not move about too freely during the day and that they remain at home during the night.”

With their loyalty to the United States questioned, Japanese residents ran a full-page advertisement in The Vacaville Reporter on January 2, 1942: “We Do Condemn the Treacherous and Unwarranted Attack Upon the United States By the Government of Japan.

“Whereas, the American Japanese residing in the city of Vacaville and surrounding territory have adopted this country, of their own free choice as their permanent home and have here worked, lived and raised their children, and Whereas, these Permanent Japanese Residents have become a part of the American institutions and ideals and fully appreciate the benefits of our democracy, and ...

Therefore, be it resolved that we do proudly repledge our loyalty to the American Government and reaffirm our devotion to traditions and institutions of this American Democracy;

“(Signed) The permanent Japanese residents of Vacaville and vicinity.”

But despite all their efforts to ensure their fellow Americans of their loyalty, panic and near hysteria reigned, especially on the West Coast. On February 19, 1942, Executive Order No. 9066 came into law, allowing the Secretary of War and his commanders to remove anyone from any “military area” of their designation. California, Oregon, Washington and much of Arizona would soon be declared off-limits for all citizens and non-citizens of Japanese descent.

Over the next few months, numerous prominent Japanese residents were arrested and interrogated by the FBI, leading people to joke, “If you weren’t picked up, you were nothing in the community.”

Curfew took place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., making it impossible for Japanese residents to attend churches, movie theaters or any other social gathering. The possession of firearms, radios and cameras was forbidden.

On March 24, the community first learned from representatives of the Wartime Civilian Control Administration to prepare for an eventual evacuation.

The Vacaville Reporter gave more information on April 24, 1942: “All Japanese residents of Solano county will be moved to Turlock by noon Sunday, May 3rd. That was the order issued on Tuesday in San Francisco by Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt of the Western Defense Command. DeWitt’s exclusion order affects 13 districts in which reside 12,800 Japanese. These orders will clear 2,650 civilians from portions of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. An additional 1,850 will be cleared from Solano, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Alameda counties. Many other areas in California and Washington are also affected by the order.

“All Solano county Japanese must report at the civil control station at the Legion Hall in Vacaville starting on Monday. At that place the agencies directly connected with the evacuation problem have established office quarters and will issue orders and make necessary arrangements.

“Japanese of this area have foreseen early evacuation and have been busy getting their affairs in order. Business houses have been selling out their stocks. Automobiles, farm implements and furniture have been sold, and in general, most of the Japanese are ready for the removal.

“It is estimated that 75 percent of the orchard lands of this area have been tilled by Japanese, and until such time that laborers can be imported a critical situation will prevail. ...”

Each person to be evacuated could only bring a few items such as bedding, clothes, sufficient knives, forks, spoons and “essential personal effects.”

All other belongings, homes and their contents, businesses, cars, animals, had to be either sold or stored with friends. Most sold cheaply, much was just given away. Others were fortunate to have good friends who helped store belongings, maintained equipment and even monitored bank accounts.

Merchants advertised final sales and gave closing notices. The Hayashi brothers, who ran the Rex Shoe Shop on Main Street, advertised: “We wish to thank the people of Vacaville for their past patronage. In the many years we have been in business here we have enjoyed the friendship and patronage of many Vacaville people. Circumstances beyond our control have caused us to sell our business. We wish Good Luck to our fishermen friends.”

Nearly 1,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans boarded buses and trains headed for the Turlock Relocation center on May 1 and 2, 1942. Tatsuyo “Terry” Hatanaka recalled: “All I can remember is that we got on the train with our baggage and stuff. The people from the (Vacaville) community were on the other side (of the train). They were crying and saying ‘Write us’ and ‘We’ll miss you,’ which was a very tearful thing. ... We just didn’t know where we were going.”

On May 8, The Vacaville Reporter summed it all up in its editorial: “The reverberations of World War II came to this peaceful little community this week with the forced evacuation of all Japanese. Only war could make this government of a free people take such drastic action - herding one race in totalitarian style. This is war at its utmost. This is war such as America has never before witnessed.”