The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1993, Volume 39, Numbers 1 & 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

By Donald H. and Matthew T. Estes

Images from the Article

December 7, 1941 was a cloudy day, and even for San Diego it was chilly. I was in my hot house in our backyard busying myself with the camellias I grew as a hobby. About noon my oldest son burst through the door. “Papa,” he told me with wide eyes and short gasps of breath, “Papa, Papa, Japan has bombed Hawaii.”

Josuke Sakamoto1


I had gone to the hospital on Sunday morning because it was my usual thing to get up, have breakfast, and go to the hospital for rounds. As soon as I came home, one of my friends, Mr. Taniguchi, called. He said, “Did you hear the radio?” I said, “No, I hadn’t heard the radio because I just got back from the hospital.” He said, “Did you know that Japan has raided and bombed Pearl Harbor?” I said “NO.” And he said, “Turn your radio on.” So we turned the radio on. I got so darn scared after that I didn’t know whether to leave the house or not.

Roy K. Tanaka, M.D.2


Yesterday, Sunday, December 7th, 1941. A day which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

President Roosevelt.3

Over fifty years have passed since the event Josuke Sakamoto, Dr. Roy Tanaka, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were all reacting to. In the frenzied days and weeks that followed December 7, the nation attempted to make up for a generation of unpreparedness and neglect of its military. San Diego, like the rest of America, would never quite be the same again as its citizens readied themselves for total war.

The full impact of the war came quickly to one special group of San Diegans, as selected members of their community were rounded up, herded into busses and vans and rapidly transported northward. Others were placed under arrest and held without bond while their future status was determined by the authorities.

The community thus affected were the Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry of San Diego County, known collectively among themselves as Nikkei.4 Those initially impacted were the Issei. The Issei represented the first generation immigrants who had been born in Japan and arrived in the United States before the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924. This restrictive legislation, passed by an isolationist Congress, used race as a precondition for immigration to the United States and specifically excluded Japanese. In addition, the act formalized the status of Japanese in the United States as “Aliens ineligible for citizenship,” forever denying to the Issei the prize our nation had always held out to all immigrants — citizenship.5

To the Japan of 1924, there was no doubt that the new law jeopardized peace in the Pacific and challenged international friendship. The 1924 law would eventually be considered by Japanese scholars as one of the fundamental causes of the Pacific War that began on that first Sunday in December, 1941.6

On the next morning, the eighth, as soon as I got up the telephone rang. A friend was calling. “Sakamoto,” he said, “do you know that the president of the Nihonjin-kai and all its officers along with the officers of the Butoku-kai, all the Buddhist priests and Temple officers, the staff and officers of the Gakkuen (Japanese School), and many other influential Japanese have been taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation?”7

Beginning in the early months of 1940, at the request of the Justice Department’s Special Defense Unit, Nikkei communities along the West Coast, including those in San Diego County, had been placed under the intense scrutiny of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Eighteen months before Pearl Harbor, three categories of individuals had been established to help define persons who were considered by the government to be potentially dangerous. As newspaper man Bill Hosokawa described them:

Three categories of danger – A, B and C – were established. Leaders with strong Japanese ties were automatically given an “A” classification; in case of war all “A” Issei would be picked up immediately. A “C” category might apply to anyone – alien or citizen – who contributed to a Japanese cultural society, and would be watched, but not necessarily arrested.8

These men, and a handful of women, were the ones Mr. Sakamoto’s caller was referring to that early December morning.

They were individuals whose names had been placed on the “A” list by the Department of Justice. Others included in the initial roundup were officers of local Japanese associations such as fishermen, strawberry growers, vegetable growers, and leaders of sports associations like the judo and kendo clubs. By the evening of December 8, 1941 virtually every Issei leader was either being transported north or held in local jails.

Those remaining were placed under a rigidly enforced curfew that began at eight o’clock in the evening and continued until six o’clock the next morning. Josuke Sakamoto recalled:


Mr. and Mrs. Kita owned a store in Calexico. They were so busy in their general store that they forgot the time. Shortly after 8 P.M. an over sensitive policeman took them to jail for violation of the curfew. The Kita’s had three young children at home. When the parents failed to return home the children called their brother George who was attending San Diego State 135 miles away. George took an absence from school and returned home to care for his younger brother and sisters.9

Dr. Tanaka later recounted an experience with the FBI that occurred as a result of California’s first state-wide blackout:


When I walked into the office (the next day) my receptionist was excited and all pale. She said, “Th-th-there are two men out there they look like the FBI. “… I went into the waiting room and said, “I’m Doctor Tanaka. Is there anything I can do for you?”… They said they wanted to talk to me. So I said, “Alright, go ahead.” “No, no, no,” they said. ” We want to talk to you at FBI headquarters.” I had no idea where the headquarters were, and the agents said it was at Sixth and Broadway. I could just imagine trying to find parking at Sixth and Broadway so I said, “Can I ride with you guys?,” and they said that was just what they had in mind.

As soon as we got there I was taken into the office of Harold Nathan the Special Agent in Charge. He looked at me and said, “What’s the big idea of speaking Japanese on the phone during a blackout?” I said, “I’m an American of Japanese descent and my practice depends on being able to speak Japanese. This man cannot speak English so I speak to him in Japanese. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last five years.”

“Tell me,” I said, “I’m an American citizen, born in this country. I’ve been a Selective Service examiner for over a year and have received a whole bunch of commendations from the governor, Lt. Colonel Hershey, and the President. I’m a doctor. Do you think I should fulfill my duties as a doctor or stay home and not answer the phone in time of an emergency?”

You know the answer I got? He said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t use your rights as a American citizen just now.” I’ll never forget that.10

Besides the curfew, local Nikkei found their bank accounts frozen. By the end of December automobile insurance companies sent most Japanese customers letters of cancellation, with a number of life insurance companies following suit shortly thereafter. On New Year’s day, 1942, the San Diego Union reported the first incidents of violence in the county directed at the Nikkei. The story also noted that local Filipinos were passing out free identification buttons to members of their community.11

On January 21, 1942, at a regular meeting of the San Diego City Council, Councilman Fred W. Simpson introduced a letter he had written to Special Agent Nathan pertaining to the federal government’s disposition of local enemy aliens. In the letter Simpson argued that the presence of the alien Japanese presented a special danger to the area because of the “…known subversive elements among them.” Nathan responded by informing the councilman that the actions they were requesting fell only within the purview of the Attorney General of the United States.

On January 28, 1942, fifty days after the declaration of war, the FBI came for Josuke Sakamoto.

“Is your name Sakamoto? We have come to take you in.” They showed me the warrant as they said I was under arrest. I was taken to the County Jail. We were on the fourth floor. Each cell was surrounded by iron bars. We had our pictures taken and were fingerprinted and then thrown in with real criminals.

The cell was 18 feet by 50 feet. During the day we crouched in the corners to chat, read books or walk back and forth in the cell. We were just like the animals in the cages at the zoo.

Fourteen of us spent a week in that jail. During that time we were taken to the immigration office about three miles away. We had to make this three mile walk three times over three consecutive days. To have to walk through San Diego where we had so many friends; in a single file, chained together, with police guards was a matter that made us feel great personal shame. 13

One week after his arrest Sakamoto and his thirteen companions began the next stage of the odyssey taken by the other Issei leaders of San Diego who had preceded him. In two Dodge vans the men were driven to the Terminal Island federal penitentiary in San Pedro. Three days later, along with several hundred other Issei, Sakamoto and his friends boarded a train for an unknown destination.

On the evening February 9, 1942, the train jerked to a stop at Bismarck, North Dakota where the prisoners detrained. As the group looked around they found themselves faced by armed soldiers.


We asked, “Where are we? Where is this?” Suddenly, I heard a rough voice saying: “What are you taking your time for?” “Get on the trucks quickly.” There were benches on both sides of the hooded trucks. The night was dark and the cold piercing. After we were packed together we began driving through the falling snow.

We drove for about thirty minutes and then the trucks stopped. We were ordered out and lined up in the freezing snow. Divided in to groups of forty we were guided into a barracks that was twenty feet wide and one hundred feet long. There were twenty army style bunks along each wall and a partition at the far end with toilets and showers.

Sakamoto and the others had arrived at the Immigration and Naturalization holding facility at Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota — a camp, Sakamoto noted wryly, named for the president known as the “Great Emancipator.”14

Many of the detained Issei leaders passed through Fort Lincoln before being sent on to other areas. Most would eventually be shipped to camps at Santa Fe, New Mexico; Crystal City, Texas; or Fort Robinson, Louisiana. A smaller number were later allowed to rejoin their families in the ten relocation camps operated by the War Relocation Authority (WRA).

A simple, eloquent Japanese poem written by former San Diegan Kyuji Aizumi from Fort Abraham Lincoln, with the evocative title “Thinking of My Family from this Place of Exile,” reflects some of the dashed feelings of these internees.

Leaving a city of everlasting spring.
I am buried in the snow of Montana
In the Northern Country.
You in San Diego, I in Montana.
The path of my dream
is frozen.15

By the time the letter containing this sentiment reached his family, they too were in exile.

In the interval the forces seeking the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from not only San Diego County, but the entire West Coast had mobilized, and initiated their campaign. Typical of the tenor of the letters generated by these individuals and groups was the communication of Mr. R. L. Fairbank of San Diego who, on February 6, 1942, wrote:

I favor taking all Japs inland to Montana, Wyoming, or the Dakotas where the farmers will need help badly this summer and spring. Will we have to bear another catastrophe before we awake to the fact that they will stop at nothing? As a nation they have no Christian morality, no honor, sympathy, no human feelings for other humans.16

On February 13, 1942, President Roosevelt received a letter from the entire Pacific Coast congressional delegation. The phrasing of the formal resolution contained in the communication is especially interesting in that it contains a precursor of what would eventually become the government’s final determination on the issue of the difference between alien Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry. This document, for the first time, formally requested:


…the immediate evacuation of all persons of Japanese linage and all others, aliens and citizens alike, whose presence shall be deemed dangerous or inimical to the defense of the United States….17

The next day from his headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco, General John L. DeWitt, Commanding General of the Western Defense Command, recommended to the Secretary of War the forced evacuation by federal authority of American citizens of Japanese ancestry.

Five days later, acting on his authority as Commander-in-Chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 “… a sweeping and unprecedented, delegation of presidential power to an appointed subordinate.” The order was so sweeping that, as Roger Daniels has pointed out: “Although its authority was used only against Japanese Americans, it was an instrument that could have affected any American.”18

The recipient of this sweeping authority was Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. In his diary Stimson later noted that the President’s only admonition had been: “Be as reasonable as you can.”19 The Secretary’s response was almost immediate; evacuate all persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens from the previously designated security zones.

San Diego felt the first impact of the Army’s new authority on February 24. The San Diego Union of the previous day reported that all enemy aliens working or residing in San Diego’s restricted area must: “… quit their homes or leave their jobs by midnight tomorrow.” The area closed to all enemy aliens was further described by the Union in the following manner:


Starting on the waterfront at Beech st., extending east on Beach to Kettner blvd., then north and northwest on Kettner to Vine st., then northwest on Hancock st. to Winder st., then northwest on La Jolla ave. to San Diego ave., then northwest on San Diego ave. to Taylor st., turning west on Taylor st. to Rosecrans st., then southwest on Rosecrans to Midway rd. (Mission bay causeway) and then southeast to the Marine Corps base.

The Union story further quoted local FBI head Harold Nathan as saying: ” This warning is not meant to be a threat …, but enemy aliens found in the area after the deadline will be taken into custody.”20

February 23, the same day the San Diego Union article appeared, the City Council of La Mesa filed without action a resolution which had originated early in February under the auspices of the National City Defense Council. That group urged the removal of all Japanese and urged that alien Japanese and their families be moved one hundred miles inland.21

National City Mayor Frederick Thatcher sent copies of this resolution accompanied by a personal letter to the county’s entire congressional delegation. In a similar fashion he urged every city in the county to adopt like resolutions. The City of Chula Vista took no action believing that the federal government had already taken all the necessary steps.

The increasing intensity of the anti-Japanese rhetoric was illustrated by the tone of the lead editorial in the San Diego Union of February 25. “The Japs, regardless of citizenship status, are up to no good,” the editorialist noted. “…If we continue to coddle them, (the Japanese) or ignore them because we are afraid we might jeopardize their ‘rights,’ we probably will get precisely what such an addleheaded policy deserves.”22

On March 1 the Army publicly broke its silence on the West Coast enemy alien situation when General DeWitt announced to the press that the military authorities were ready to divulge an evacuation program based entirely on military necessity. In San Francisco, Mike Masaoka, Executive Secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League, told the media that his group was preparing all Japanese aliens and Americans of Japanese ancestry for ultimate removal from the West Coast.23

On Wednesday, March 4, General DeWitt issued a detailed map of the entire West Coast running from Douglas, Arizona to Bellingham, Washington showing the Army’s newly established Prohibited Zones A-1, and B. Zone A-1 included all of the City of San Diego and most of San Diego and Imperial counties. The San Diego Union observed: “In Zone A-1… all enemy aliens and Japanese Americans are to be evacuated progressively. From Zone B enemy aliens are to be removed.”24

On March 19 the Union commented editorially:


The experience we have had with the Japs in the past certainly should cure us of the delusion under which we have been for so long, that they can become responsible and loyal citizens. Let us hope that we never indulge in such fanciful pipe dreams again.25

During the interval between mid-February and late March, younger members of San Diego’s Nikkei community, represented largely by the leadership of the local chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), had been attempting to develop some viable alternative to being rounded up by the Army and sent into an unknown exile. These young men and women were the Nisei, American citizens by virtue of jus soli. Most of these Nisei were in their early twenties when the mantle of leadership was passed to them with the arrest and removal of their Issei fathers.

As the full implications of the Army’s intent became clear, the local chapter suggested that the entire community request evacuation — as a group. Members of the JACL sortied to the East to find a place with enough land and water to support the entire local Nikkei community. They hoped to eventually establish a self-supporting cooperative on rented or leased land. Nothing would be asked of the government beyond those expectations of any group of American citizens. The question was where?

Colorado, under its humanitarian governor, Ralph L. Carr, had offered a haven for displaced Japanese Americans, but the state had already absorbed all the Nikkei it could take. Utah, with its memory of the nineteenth century persecutions of members of the Church of Latter Day Saints was sympathetic, but limited also in its ability to absorb additional refugees. Nevada was decidedly unfriendly with a tendency to arrest every person of Japanese ancestry who entered the state.26

On April 1, 1942, time ran out not only for the young Nisei, but the whole local Nikkei community. On that day General DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order Number 4, and it was definitely not a case of April’s Fool. In an interesting turn of the English language the order announced that: “All persons, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the designated area by 12:00 noon, Wednesday April 8, 1942.”27 DeWitt, the Army, and the government of the United States still could not quite bring themselves to say that they were detaining and removing American citizens. This particular group of American citizens had, by military fiat, become “non-aliens.”

For purposes of the evacuation the Army initially interpreted “Japanese” to mean a resident of the prohibited zones with any ascertainable trace of Japanese blood. Later, it was discovered that a wide range of persons ranging from Japanese women married to Caucasian males through individuals with varying degrees of Japanese ancestry down to as little as one-sixteenth had been caught up by the Army’s order. After the fact, the military initiated procedures to allow specific categories of persons of Japanese ancestry and individuals identified by the Army as being of “mixed-blood” to apply for deferments and exemptions from their detention, and be released from the assembly centers.28

The seven days that followed that fateful April Fool’s Day were ones of intense, anxiety-filled activity as the local Nikkei began to prepare for their diaspora. Everyone, from the very old to the very young prepared to leave. Since the evacuation order specifically limited their baggage to items that could be carried, what could not be stored with friends or sold, was simply abandoned.

Family representatives reported to the Provost Marshall’s Civil Control Station located at 1919 India Street to register and be assigned a family number. These identification numbers were to be transferred to baggage tags and attached to each member of the family. One hundred and sixty-eight families representing 704 persons were registered the first day at the control station.29

On the morning of Wednesday, April 8, 1942, over fifteen hundred men, women, and children gathered at the Santa Fe Depot where they were met by armed military police and two waiting trains. A sense of the day was later recalled by Dr. Tanaka:


They used two trains. I was asked to convoy (be responsible for) the second train. The first train was convoyed by an Army officer, a red head, I think he was at least a captain. I’ll never forget… he came up to me saying: “Look doc this is a hell of a Goddamn mess, isn’t it? But look, don’t forget your convoying the second train. Regardless of the M.P.s and everybody else, you are in command of the second train. Don’t take any shit from anyone. If you do, let me know and I’ll chew someone’s ass out.”30

At around four in the afternoon the Military Police began to load the trains according to an alphabetical list that had been previously prepared. At five o’clock in the afternoon, right on schedule, the first train pulled out. Even at this point in the evacuation the destination of the trains was unknown to those aboard.

Twelve-year-old Ben Segawa, whose family farmed in Mission Valley, remembered, “As the train began to move, armed Military Police came through cars ordering everyone to pull the shades down so we could not see out. It was hot and cramped and people could hardly move.”31

The second train — scheduled to follow the first — experienced a series of delays. To compound the problem, the train also carried the sick and families with infants. By eight o’clock in the evening the train had still not departed and many of the young mothers were concerned about getting milk warmed for their babies.

Dr. Tanaka, the physician in charge of the families, recalled this hectic first night of exile:


Around eight o’clock in the evening mothers started coming up to me saying “We can’t feed the babies.” We did have prepared milk, but we didn’t have any way to warm it.

I asked one of the guards…. He was an elderly man, and I said to him, “Sir, we are having a problem. These mothers have babies that need to be fed, but we need some warm milk. Where can I get some hot water?” He said, “That’s a problem isn’t it.” So I said “maybe we can use the men’s restroom, maybe there’s enough hot water in there.” So that was all I was doing. Commuting back and forth. There was enough hot water… just luke warm…. So I warmed the bottles as best I could and gave them to the mothers, and someone else would hand me their bottles to be warmed. At least the infants ate that night, I don’t think I did.31

Finally, with shades drawn, the second train got underway at one o’clock in the morning. The 125 mile trip to Los Angeles took seven hours. For a military almost obsessed with the speedy disposition of the Nikkei that seems incredible, but for whatever the reasons, the prison train was sidetracked throughout the trip north to allow trains with higher priority cargos a clear line. One advantage that the second train did have over the first was that it was not stoned along the way.

Arriving in Los Angeles the exiles were given a breakfast consisting of a sandwich and a piece of fruit and then were loaded on to busses for the next stage of their journey.33 Their destination — the newly designated Santa Anita Assembly Center, at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California. On the track’s infield the Army had begun to build the tarpaper and wood barracks that would eventually house over 18,500 men, women and children and, for a time, become California’s thirty-second most populous city;34 a city completely surrounded by barbed wire.

Once off the busses the former San Diegans passed through an initial checkpoint where their luggage was searched for “contraband.” Seized immediately were all cameras, radios, and knives of any type. Doctor’s bags were taken, and later returned minus all medications and registered narcotics. Although receipts for the confiscated narcotics were requested from Center authorities, they were never provided.35

Since they were among the first detainees to arrive many of the San Diego families were assigned to horse stables that had been converted into living spaces of eight feet by twelve feet. Tarpaper had been spread on the ground and the walls freshly whitewashed. This did little to cover the reeking smell of manure and horse urine, and the toad stools that regularly bloomed from the straw covered dirt floors. Partitions of tarpaper were also used to separate the stalls, but they did not extend all the way to the ceiling. As a result, one of the ongoing jokes repeated during the stay at Santa Anita dealt with young married couples and their lack of privacy.36

One of the first indications that their friends in San Diego had about their whereabouts and condition was a post card postmarked Arcadia, California:


Arrived at 8:30 a.m. April 8, 1942, after being delayed at the start. We finally got underway at 1:00 a.m. Last minute changes sent us to:


Santa Anita Assembly Center Information Center
Santa Anita, California

Letter will follow. Feel very tired and slightly disappointed.37

Since the number of stables was limited, the remaining families were moved into the tarpaper barracks almost as soon as they were completed. What rose up on the infield were row after row of uniform, black tarpaper covered barracks. At first, finding one’s residence proved a problem for some:


We have been busy getting established in our new homes, which were formally horse stables. We have been given good army beds and blankets. The food is getting better as the cooks become more experienced.

There are just rows and rows of similar houses and we get lost trying to find our own. My girl friends got lost in a blackout which occurred our first night here.38

These barrack-style buildings were typically partitioned into two rooms measuring twenty by eight feet and assigned to families of two or three individuals. Four rooms measuring twenty by twelve feet were assigned to families composed of four to six persons.

Each army “bunk” initially came with a single military wool blanket and a straw tick which served in place of a mattress. For sanitary reasons the tick was to be washed each month. New straw for the tick was provided every two weeks, but because it was normally deposited in the middle of the street, cleanliness remained a challenge for most residents.39

Lighting at the Center was inadequate at best. Each room was allotted a single line with an accompanying forty watt bulb. Almost immediately problems developed with overloaded circuits and blown fuses. The intensity of the issue became serious enough for the civilian manager of the Center, H. Russell Amory, to react officially. In special bulletins issued on April 15, and later on May 1, he requested that the use of all electric heaters, irons, stoves, boilers, heating pads, and curling irons be discontinued at once. In response to a corollary irritant, residents were further warned that: “The Utility section will refuse to replace blown fuses between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.”40

Two weeks later, and with no apparent degree of success, manager Amory responded with yet another administrative notice:


Be advised that all electric appliances and equipment, with the exception of electric irons and electric razors, are to be turned in at the Information Centers not later than 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, May 19, 1942.

To emphasize the serious nature of this problem he added:


Henceforth any evasion of this regulation will warrant immediate investigation and confiscation of the appliance.

For further information, a general inspection of your barracks will be made by the authorities on Wednesday, May 20, 1942.41

Toilet facilities were crude. Inconveniently separated from their living quarters, residents discovered that little provision had been made for comfort, and none for modesty. The facilities consisted of “ten seats lined up: hard, fresh sawed unsandpapered wood; automatic flushing about every fifteen minutes.”42 Because of the lack of partitions many women initially were reluctant to use the exposed toilets, and a number of them were eventually admitted to the Center medical facility with bowel disorders.43 Ben Segawa, recalling his Santa Anita experiences noted:


I remember every time I had to go to the bathroom at night I had to go to another building that was about fifty feet away. The minute I left our barracks, that searchlight would hit you and follow you right to where you were going. The light would wait there until you came back out and the light hit you and followed you right back to your barracks again. They kept track of every move we made. I was only twelve years old, what could I do?44

Later, residents raided a scrap lumber pile and were able to build some temporary partitions for the toilets.

For Nikkei families meals were traditionally times when the family came together not only for sustenance but for serious social interaction as well. Now, along with the other forced changes, this facet of their culture was all but destroyed. At Santa Anita meals were eaten in six communal mess halls that seated from seven hundred and fifty people to a phenomenal five thousand. To accommodate this volume the grandstand of the track was converted into a mess hall. Even then, all meals were scheduled in shifts.

The six mess halls were designed by color: Blue, Green, White, Orange, and Yellow. Residents were issued colored buttons for admittance and numbers to designate their shift.45

On July 29, 1942, the Center newsletter, the Pacemaker, reported that rice was the largest single item of food consumed by Center residents. The White mess hall alone, used three tons of rice per week.46 Until experienced food preparers were either identified among the residents or trained, the quality of the food varied widely.

San Diegan Tets Hirasaki wrote at the time:


Now that we have a number of San Diego men working in the kitchens the food has improved a bit, especially the salads. I heard we are to receive meat soon, but I think it will mostly be stew meat, because we are not allowed knives, only spoons and forks as eating utensils.47

Another former San Diegan, Masaaki Hironaka, recalls:


I clearly remember early on they were serving some meat. It really looked wonderful, so I asked for a second slice, and that was my first encounter with beef heart . I still can’t really stomach it. Even to this day.48

According to Dr. Tanaka, diarrhea periodically became endemic to certain mess halls, prompting the Center to rigidly enforce sanitation standards.49 The hospital at Santa Anita was a seventy-five bed facility headed by Dr. Norman Kobayashi. Dr. Tanaka remembers months of twelve hour days, seven days a week, with a twenty-four hour hospital duty tour every fifth day. The hospital was set up in the paddock area and had none of the conveniences of a modern hospital.


We did some surgery in the hospital. We eventually got the equipment, but it was a while before we could do surgery at all. Before we had the equipment we would send an ambulance to take them to the L.A. County Hospital.

We used to make house calls for people who couldn’t make it to the hospital. There was a couple with only one boy from someplace up north. I remember I was the first to see this boy when he got sick. I told the couple, “This child is awfully sick. Why don’t you take him to the hospital?” And, the father said, “I’m not going to take my kid to a Goddamn horse hospital.” I said, “You and I are more or less in the same boat. Sure that’s not a hospital, but it’s better than staying in a horse stable. At least we could probably do something for him. Take blood samples, things like that.” He said, “Absolutely not.”

Three other doctors looked at the boy and when the fourth saw him he looked so bad that the doctor insisted the boy be brought to the hospital. We had to give the child a transfusion but we had no way to cross match the blood. We sent him to L.A. County but he died there.50

As in most cases of institutionalization, boredom set in quickly, particularly on the young adult population. While the salaries set by the WRA were low, ranging from eight dollars a month for unskilled or semi-skilled labor through twelve dollars for skilled labor, with top salaries available to residents of sixteen dollars a month for professional or supervisory jobs, there was a high demand for any type of job. Some of the younger residents, like Tets Hirasaki who was a messenger during the day, wrote friends requesting that the tools of their former trade being held in storage be shipped to them. Shortly after his tonsorial equipment arrived, Hirasaki began operating as a barber in the evenings.

Young women, too, sought meaningful activity at the Center. In a letter Yoshiko Kubo wrote:


Tomorrow, the recreation center for children between the ages of five and ten years of age opens, and that will take care of the younger children. I hope to start working as a waitress in one of the cafeterias or as a helper in the children’s recreation department.53

As the assembly Center began to take on the form of a medium sized city it acquired its own local paper — the Santa Anita Pacemaker. First published on April 21, 1942, the newsletter appeared at varying intervals, usually twice a week, until the Center’s closure in October, 1942.

Explaining why the name was chosen, Editor Ed Shimano wrote:


…this newspaper is supposed to set the pace for the Japanese in the center…. A pacemaker in a horse race is the horse that leads the way for the others to a certain point, that’s what we are going to do.54

Because temples and churches had historically been mainstays of the Nikkei community they were among the first institutions to be re-organized at Santa Anita. Instrumental in the establishment of Protestant services and Sunday schools was Reverend Kenji Kikuchi, formally of the Japanese Congregational Church of San Diego. Buddhists and Christians shared the grandstand area for services.55

Another pre-war activity that was established with alacrity was a softball league. The premier issue of the Pacemaker reported that the San Diego Falcons had scored their second straight victory, much to the delight of their coach Yas Nakamoto, who immediately issued a challenge to take on all comers.56 A band, an orchestra, choirs, Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops all followed in relatively short order.

In any situation involving incarceration, contact with the outside world becomes of paramount importance to the incarcerated, and is, from the perspective of the authorities, at the same time, a matter of the utmost security.

The earliest contacts with the world outside the barbed wire were made largely through the fence at the Center’s Baldwin Avenue gate on an almost daily basis. Because of the volume of activity around the gate, and a perceived security risk, formal visitor regulations were issued by Center manager Amory on April 20. These initial regulations limited outside contacts to blood relatives (an interesting category since most Nikkei were already detained or in the process of being detained), and business agents. Passes had to be obtained from the Center administration with the designated visiting hours being limited to 2 P.M. to 4 P.M. daily.57

In late June a Visitor’s House was completed allowing non-Nikkei friends to meet with the internees. Visitor’s permits and strict regulations governing the conditions of the visits were still enforced, and guests were limited to a single thirty minute period. In addition, a visiting schedule was initiated and regularly published in the Pacemaker. The schedule was constructed in such a manner that the residents of only one of the Center’s seven districts were eligible to receive visitors on any given day. The schedule was further rotated so that each district would have one Sunday every seven weeks.58

On July 22 the Center newsletter reported that an average of one hundred visitors were coming each week day and three hundred per weekend, further commenting that “the Visitor’s house is one of the Center’s top morale builders.” The same story quoted Susumu Yamanaka, a Center auxiliary policeman, as saying, “… residents often cry with joy when their pets are brought in by friends to visit.”59

In stark contrast, a month earlier the San Diego Union reported,


Evacuation of Japanese from northern San Diego County left the Escondido Humane society the problem of taking care of thousands of dogs and cats, the county supervisors were told yesterday.

According to Pansy Clagget, secretary of the chamber of commerce, “The Escondido Humane Society has been called upon to handle stray animals from Encinitas to the Orange county border and as far east as Palomar mountain. We need help in mopping up after the Japs.”60

To help ease the pressures of a city of over eighteen thousand souls and to cope with the ever increasing number of both personal and environmental problems, the Center authorities, with the permission of the Army, took the first steps to establish an internee based system of self-government.

On May 13, volunteer representatives from each of the seven districts which made up the Center met and discussed a variety of subjects of concern to the community. The consensus of the meeting was that the establishment of a self-governing body was in the best interest of all concerned.

The outline that emerged from the May 13 meeting called for the establishment of a bicameral legislative body. It was proposed that each of the seven districts would elect seven representatives to the “lower” house. The seven representatives from each district would then elect one of their number to be a Councilman. The result was one body of forty-two members and another of seven.

A tentative constitution was drawn up and forwarded to San Francisco for WRA and Army approval which was granted. Elections were set for Friday, June 5, and a ten-day campaign began to register all eligible voters.61 The new constitution defined an eligible voter as any resident over twenty-one years of age.62 Under this definition, suffrage was extended to all Issei, most of whom had never participated in an election due to high poll taxes in Japan, and their exclusion from eligibility for United States citizenship. In commenting on his newly acquired right one Issei pointed out, “It’s a new experience for us. Most came from Japan where we were required to pay a tax to vote and most of us couldn’t afford it.” Another first time voter, Masayoshi Kojima joked, “A lot of grandmothers and grandfathers will be going out to vote. The Nisei better behave.”63

In the end, 5,924 of the 10,365, or just over 57 percent of those eligible, cast their ballots in what turned out to be the Center’s only major round of elections.64 The newly elected legislature then ratified the Constitution and By-Laws of the Santa Anita Assembly Center.65

About the same time that the structure of the Center’s self- government experiment was being developed, the administration was also planning the introduction of a major work project. With a substantial labor pool available, it was only a matter of time before the authorities directed war related activities to the Center. In this case it was a camouflage net project commissioned by the United States Army’s Quartermaster Corps in early June. The fact that the Center’s administration placed a high priority on the project may be seen by the fact that a series of special incentives were offered to workers who would volunteer for this activity. Participants were given “front of the line” mess privileges and a promise of special consideration for transfers to other activities at a future date. Even the editorial staff of the Pacemaker supported the project to the extent that they offered to do volunteer work, without compensation, every Saturday.66

The project, however, was dogged by problems from its inception. There were rumors that those failing to volunteer would be “blacklisted by the authorities,” or worse, drafted into other less desirable jobs. There were allegations that private contractors were using internee labor and reaping huge profits at their expense. The rumors became serious enough to force manager Amory to specifically deny each charge in the Pacemaker of June 9.67

As their job progressed, workers became concerned by the fact that they were breathing the fine, dust-like residue of the burlap being used for the nets. In addition, there was a growing belief that the dye used in the burlap strips was responsible for a growing incidence of dermatitis among the net workers.

Another factor adding to the disquietude was a delay by the administration in paying the net workers. This was not a problem unique to the net project. The difficulty was rooted in the WRA bureaucracy which had the checks originate in San Francisco, almost guaranteeing a delay in delivery.

It is clear that the Center officials were aware of the worker’s concerns about health conditions. It is also evident that the staff realized there were rumors of “black-listing” circulating among the net workers. Yet despite growing uneasiness the administration continued to push for an increase in both the number of workers required on the project and in net production.

On June 16, after the surreptitious circulation of a leaflet calling for a strike, the workers reacted with a “slow down.”68 San Diegan Fusa Tsumagari wrote at the time:


Yesterday the workers on the camouflage unit went on strike. This doesn’t sound very good and if it gets out to the public it will probably give a terrible slant on us here. However, let me tell you the workers side first. There has been much grumbling lately because from what we understand the pay checks from April 3 to 15 have been made and are waiting for one of the officials signature — and still the checks haven’t come out. On top of that rumors got around that the camouflage workers weren’t going to get paid at all. One fellow had an argument with the foreman and all the others joined in with their fellow worker and said that they refused to work. It happened that the food had been just terrible for the last two days so that too was another reason to stop work.

The result of the strike was that everyone thought the strikers were unwilling to work on a defense project. That was not the idea at all. They demanded better food and something definite about their pay.

We have better food now. I guess it’s worth it to stir up trouble once in a while despite the criticism it arouses.69

The Center’s administration immediately called a general meeting of the net workers. After a heated discussion involving both promises and threats, committees of workers were formally authorized.70 There were no further major work stoppages. The project, involving over twelve hundred workers, finished out its three months of existence by producing over twenty thousand camouflage nets for the Army.71

However, no matter what efforts were taken to normalize life at Santa Anita, the fact still remained that it was a concentration camp with barbed wire, armed guards and twice daily roll calls. The presumption of the government of the United States was that the residents were enemy sympathizers whose loyalty was questionable at best. The treatment of the internees reflected this attitude. Barracks were regularly searched for items labeled by the Center authorities as “contraband.” These items were listed prior to each inspection and grew to include cameras, radios, electric razors, Japanese language records and books, and all food items.72

Internal pressure began to rise noticeably after General DeWitt’s June 1 order for not one, but two complete counts of all residents daily. The counts were conducted at six o’clock in the morning and nine-thirty each evening. By the end of the month the nine-thirty count was quietly dropped.73 In addition, all barracks were subjected to weekly sanitary inspections.

All of this was compounded by on-going morale problems caused by late pay checks, harsh working conditions, and the poor quality and quantity of the food. There was also a widely held belief that certain camp employees and officials were abusing the system to obtain goods intended for the internees. Dr. Tanaka recalled,


Of course the rumor was rampant that one of the butchers was stealing meat by putting it in his truck and covering it with a tarp and taking it out of the center and selling it. I think this was probably true because, one morning I was taking care of a patient and couldn’t go to breakfast. So, after I finished I went to the mess hall. Knowing that it was closed, I went into the back door to the kitchen. There were these two white cooks. They had a platter just covered with crisp bacon and both of them had three or four fried eggs apiece. I tell you I felt like taking the damn thing and shoving it in their faces. I never saw bacon the whole time I was at Santa Anita. But, there was bacon there.74

The growing feeling of uneasiness was further exacerbated on July 15 with the expansion of areas in the Center that were to be considered “out of bounds.”75

On August 4 the authorities ordered yet another search of the Center for contraband. Unlike past inspections this one was unannounced, and as it progressed rumors of pilfering of personal belongings by the civilian police began to spread.

In the end, the pent-up frustration of five long months boiled over. Fusa Tsumagari wrote at the time,


On Wednesday the Army (not from Frisco though) ordered our barracks searched for contraband. Previous to this whenever such an order was issued we were given bulletins and notified on everything. This, however, was done abruptly with no reason given and did not give the people a very good attitude toward the search. Then, they closed certain gates and would not allow people to pass unless they were searched. This, too, aroused their anger.

Then to top that, they began to confiscate such things as scissors and knitting needles as contraband. Then some of the police had the nerve to steal people’s money and remove things from people’s houses without allowing the occupant to see what was taken. One policeman in particular aroused people to such a degree that they began to mob him. Incidently, a Korean was leading the men in their raid. Many people had grievances against him before as he was claimed to be a “stool pigeon.” Unfortunately the mob of people were so aroused that they chased him and beat him with chairs. Incidentally, this led to the discovery of liquor smuggling and the jailing of some stewards of the mess halls.

The Army took control for three days and everything was at a standstill. We, and also the Army, were glad they finally moved out. The newspapers did not give this version, but that’s the way we saw it.

Dr. Tanaka recalled:


Over in the Orange mess hall there was this widower and his son… he had some cash stashed away, and told his son where it was…. The kid was playing outside when he saw in inspector come in and break the lock and go into the room. So, the kid ran into the room and went to the place where the cash was supposed to be hidden. He came dashing out saying, “He stole our money, he stole our money!” This guy jumps into his pickup truck, but all the people surround the truck, lift it up, and turned it over. So he got out of the truck and ran to the mess hall. There was the administration building with an adjoining M.P.s office…. The crowd said one guy there was a Korean and an inu, or informer. They said that they had seen this informer point people to the security police. So, a bunch of kids made a bee line to the administration building. They were going to beat and kill this guy…. I remember some of the San Diego bunch in the group too. They took a typewriter and threw it at the guy.

The M.P.s had guns stored under the Red mess. I think some of the kids were going to break in and steal the guns. So, the M.P. lieutenant says, “Yeah, you probably could break in and take the guns. And, some of us would have been killed, but you people would have been killed too. Let’s not lose our heads over a small incident like this.”

The report that appeared in the Pacemaker presented a sanitized version of the “disturbance.”


After being stationed within the Japanese assembly center for two days, as the result of a disturbance accented by the beating of an evacuee of mixed Japanese and Korean ancestry Tuesday afternoon, the military police were with drawn yesterday evening.

The assault on the evacuee occurred during a routine inspection by the interior Police. Suspected of being an informer, the evacuee was set upon by several hundred other evacuees.

A milling crowd of about 2000 Japanese gathered almost at once. Military police stationed outside the Center were summoned. Some 200 were ordered in.

The beaten evacuee, badly, but not seriously hurt, was rescued by the soldiers and removed to a hospital.78

After the riot, life settled back into the normal Center routine. A week after the disturbance the Center manager, H. Russell Amory was returned to his regular duties as Works Projects administrator for the Los Angeles office of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Confirmed as the new manager by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) was the Center’s assistant manager, Gene W. Wilbur.79

With the arrival of the new manager came word that the residents of Santa Anita would shortly be transferred to the facilities that would hold them for the remainder of the war. On August 18, Margaret Ishino wrote Clara Breed, “We are going to a relocation center soon, but where ever I may be I shall never forget your kindness and all the pleasure you have given to me and Florence through your books.”80

Fusa Tsumagari wrote the same day:


It seems we are going to be moving soon. “Poston, here we come.” According to the latest rumors, the way we are going out is by I.D. number….

We have all been allocated so much money to buy clothes from the Sears Roebuck Catalogue…. We have been promised that if we evacuate before they are issued, the clothes will be forwarded to us.

As the tempo of relocation picked up the former San Diegans at Santa Anita were put on notice by the Pacemaker



The complete evacuation of the Santa Anita Assembly center will begin on Wednesday, (Aug. 26) when a contingent of approximately 600 persons will leave by train for the Colorado River project at Parker, Arizona.

An additional group of 600 evacuees will leave for the same destination on Thursday (Aug. 27). The two groups will be made up of families evacuated to Santa Anita from San Diego city.82

The former San Diegans were once again required to prioritize and divide all their possessions into three categories: hand luggage, baggage, and freight. As before everything was subject to inspection for contraband both before loading and after arrival at the final destination.83 Louise Ogawa wrote:


The time has come again for me to say “good-by” until I hear from you again at my new home…. We, San Diegans, are going to leave Santa Anita for Parker, Arizona on Wednesday or Thursday…. It seems that we are going further and further away from San Diego, but I hope to be back soon…. The camp is in an uproar just talking about evacuation…, it reminds me of the day when I left San Diego.84

On the evening of August 26, those remaining at the Center were not allowed inside the fenced off departure area to see their friends off. Those leaving were denied re-entry once they had passed the loading gate.85

Representative of the feelings of those San Diegans who were, for the second time in five months, again facing an unknown future is a cryptic post card written by Tets Hirasaki:86

Dear Clara:Leaving for Poston tonight.




1. Josuke Sakamoto, California To Nihonjin [California And The Japanese] (San Diego: By the Author, 1969), 14.


2. Interview with Roy K. Tanaka, M.D., San Diego, California, 21 February 1979.


3. Radio Company of America, “President Roosevelt’s Address to the Congress of the United States: as broadcast to the Nation on December 8, 1941.” Disk number 27734-A and B.


4. The term Nikkei is widely used with the Japanese-American community to designate any person of Japanese ancestry residing in the United States.


5. For further information on the 1924 Act see: Thomas A. Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People, 4th ed. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950), 704-706.


6. Hikomatsu Kamikawa et. al., Japan American Relations in the Meiji-Taisho Era, trans. Michiko Kimura (Tokyo: Pan Pacific Press, 1957), 448-454.


7. Sakamoto, California to Nihonjin, 14.


8. Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans, (New York, William Morrow and Company, 1969), 217.


9. Sakamoto, California To Nihonjin, 18.


10. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979.


11. San Diego Union, 1 January 1942, 2B; 2 January 1942, 9.


12. San Diego City Council, Minutes, 27 January 1942.


13. Sakamoto, California To Nihonjin, 19-22.


14. Ibid., 28-29.


15. Kenji Kikuchi, comp. Aizumi Kyuji No Omoide [Memories of Kyuji Aizumi] (Hollywood, CA: By the Author, 1967), 22.


16. R.L. Fairbank to the San Diego City Council, 6 February 1942, Defense File I. Office of the City Clerk, San Diego, CA.


17. U.S. Congress, House, Select Committee Investigating Defense Migration, National Defense Migration, 77th Congress, 2d sess., 19 March 1942, House Report, 1911, 3-4.


18. Roger Daniels, The Decision To Relocate Japanese-Americans, (New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1975), 49.


19. Hosokawa, Nisei, 274.


20. San Diego Union, 23 February 1942, A-2.


21. La Mesa City Council, Minutes, 24 February 1942. Chula Vista City Council, Minutes, 9 March 1942.


22. San Diego Union, 25 February 1942, B-2.


23. Ibid., 2 March 1942, B-1,2.


24. Ibid., 5 March 1942, A-2.


25. Ibid., 19 March 1942, B-2.


26. Interviews with: George Ohashi, 7 February 1982. Motoharu Asakawa, 20 February 1982. At San Diego, California.


27. U.S. War Department, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration, Order Number 4, Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry, 1 April 1942.


28. U.S. War Department, Office of the Chief of Staff, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast 1942, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), 1943, 145- 47.


29. San Diego Union, 2 April 1942, A-1,2.


30. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979.


31. Interview with Ben Satoshi Segawa, San Diego, California, 27 May 1973.


32. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979.


33. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979. Segawa Interview 27 May 1973. Interview with Masaaki Hironaka, San Diego, California, 27 May 1973.


34. Santa Anita (California) Pacemaker, 2 June 1942, 1. Hereinafter cited as Pacemaker. The Pacemaker was the “official” internee published organ for the Santa Anita Assembly Center. The authors appreciate the loan of a complete set of the Pacemaker from Mrs. Elizabeth Yamada of San Diego, California.


35. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979. Segawa Interview, 27 May 1973. Hironaka Interview, 27 May 1973.


36. Hironaka Interview, 27 May 1973.


37. Tetsuzo Hirasaki to Clara Breed, 9 April 1942 The authors are deeply indebted to Miss Clara Breed, retired San Diego city librarian for her loan of over 250 cards and letters she received from local Nikkei from 1942 through 1946.


38. Fusa Tsumagari to Clara Breed, 10 April 1942.


39. Hironaka Interview, 27 May 1973.


40. Wartime Civil Control Administration, Santa Anita Assembly Center, Special Administrative Bulletin, 1 May 1942.


41. Wartime Civil Control Administration, Santa Anita Assembly Center, Administrative Notice Number 6, 14 May 1942.


42. “Life in a California Concentration Camp,” Anonymous letter, Nation, 154 (6 June 1942): 666.


43. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979.


44. Segawa Interview, 27 May 1973.


45. Pacemaker, 24 April 1942, 4.


46. Ibid., 29 July 1942, 6.


47. Tetsuzo Hirasaki to Clara Breed, 4 May 1942.


48. Hironaka Interview, 27 May 1973.


49. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979.


50. Ibid. The boy who died was probably five-year-old Shigeto Tauchi, whose funeral was the first held at the Center. See: Pacemaker, 6 June 1942, 4.


51. Hironaka Interview. Segawa Interview. (both) 27 May 1973.


52. Tetsuzo Hirasaki to Clara Breed, 22 April 1942.


53. Yoshiko Kubo to Clara Breed, 14 April 1942.


54. Pacemaker, 24 April 1942, 1.


55. Interview with Reverend Kenji Kikuchi, La Jolla, California. 12 November 1978.


56. Pacemaker, 21 April 1942, 1.


57. Wartime Civil Control Administration, Santa Anita Assembly Center, Special Bulletin (Visitor’s Passes), 21 April 1942.



58. Wartime Civil Control Administration, Santa Anita Assembly Center, Administrative Notice No. 11, 16 June 1942.


59. Pacemaker, 22 July 1942, 2.


60. San Diego Union, 2 June 1941, B-3.


61. Pacemaker, 15 May 1942, 1.


62. Ibid., 2 June 1942, 5.


63. Ibid., 3 June 1942, 1, 4.


64. Ibid., 6 June 1942, 1.


65. Ibid.


66. Ibid., 12 June 1942, 1. The offer was accepted by manager Amory in a printed letter of the Pacemaker, 19 June 1942.


67. Ibid., 9 June 1942, 1.


68. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979. Hironaka and Segawa Interviews 27 May 1973. Kikuchi Interview, 12 November 1978.


69. Fusa Taumagari to Clara Breed, 17 June 1942.


70. Pacemaker, 19 June 1942, 1.


71. Anthony L. Lehman, Birthright of Barbed Wire (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1970), 47.


72. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979. Hironaka Interview, 27 May 1973. Pacemaker, 29 July 1942, 1.


73. Pacemaker, 2 June 1942, 1; 24 June 1942, 1.


74. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1942.


75. Wartime Civil Control Administration, Santa Anita Assembly Center, Administrative Order No. 16, 10 July 1942. Segawa Interview, Hironaka Interview, 27 May 1973. Pacemaker, 15 July 1942, 1.


76. Fusa Tsumagari to Helen McNary, 10 August 1942.


77. Tanaka Interview, 21 February 1979.


78. Pacemaker, 8 August 1942, 1.


79. Ibid., 15 August 1942, 1.


80. Margaret Ishino to Clara Breed, 18 August 1942.


81. Fusa Tsumagari to Clara Breed, 24 August 1942.


82. Pacemaker, 26 August 1942, 1. Page one of this issue of the Pacemaker shows the date as 22 August 1942. All other pages as 26 August 1942.


83. Ibid., 22 August 1942, 1.


84. Louise Ogawa to Clara Breed, 24 August 1942.


85. Pacemaker, 26 August 1942, 1. Kikuchi Interview, 12 November 1978.


86. Tetsuzo Hirasaki to Clara Breed, 26 August 1942.


Donald H. Estes is a professor of history at San Diego City College. Married to Toshiye C. Hasegawa, he has been involved with the local Japanese American community all his life. He attended San Diego State University and UCLA. Professor Estes has been the recipient of major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the East West Center. He has published extensively on Japanese Americans, and serves as a member of the Scholarly Advisory Board for the Japanese American Museum.

Matthew T. Estes is a graduate of San Diego State University where he is currently working on a graduate degree in history and a teaching credential. He has previously published articles on the Japanese American experience, and is an active member of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego. His area of interest is the San Diego Nikkei community and relocation.