Paul Kusuda’s column
Remembering forced removal/incarceration
Paul H. Kusuda
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By Paul H. Kusuda

Toward the end of April, I was a member of a panel discussion, primary sponsor, Madison
Chapter, American Constitutional Society, together with Attorney Hal Harlowe, Professor of Law
at University of Wisconsin-Madison AsifaQuiraishi-Landes, and Moderator Jean Feraca.  The
Madison Chapter Program Committee decided to host a program “…that examines the legal,
social and moral lessons to be learned from the United States’ mass internment of Japanese
Americans during World War II.  Given recent developments, this shameful chapter in American
history has taken on new relevance.”  

The observations, comments, and questions raised by the Moderator were incisive enabling
coverage of many topics related to the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 persons of
Japanese ancestry who were residing in the West Coast states of California, Oregon, and
Washington.  On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promulgated Executive
Order 9066 authorizing the Secretary of War “…to prescribe military areas…from which any or all
persons may be excluded…”  Because the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was December 7,
1941, the Order was actually written relatively quickly and carried out with little delay.  

My personal feelings were that there was no legal rationale to justify any mass removal of U.S. citizens without the federal
government going through processes covered by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.  All secondary education
students in California had to study both the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution.  As citizens, we all felt
protected by provisions of the U.S. Constitution requiring due process of the law.  (I overlooked the government’s need to
consider compassion—that is, when families were comprised of both American citizens and alien parents, could family ties
be remain whole?  Citizens of Japan who emigrated to the U.S. were denied until 1952 the privilege to become naturalized
as American citizens; therefore, Japanese parents [Issei] were ineligible for U.S. citizenship while their children [Nisei] were
American citizens by birth.)  The “family-split” dilemma had to be taken into account when hysteria, xenophobia, race hatred,
economic considerations, etc. played the major role in the federal decision to dispense with Civil rights considerations in
favor of national security—forced removal and incarceration of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the three West Coast
states.

Among questions asked of me during the panel discussion was “How soon after public notice was made did you and your
family have to leave?  That was not easy to answer since I had an inkling because within a month after December 7, people
of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave Terminal Island, an enclave of fishermen and families living a few miles south of
Los Angeles.  Being of college age, I joined a group of young men who borrowed trucks to help Terminal Islanders move
inland to homes of relatives and friends in the LA area.  They had about two or three days’ notice from local officials.  That
unofficial evacuation went almost unnoticed because it was sudden as well as unofficial; so, I had early knowledge of what
was happening a harbinger of future activity.  A couple of months later, official notices were posted throughout the western
parts of the West Coast.  

In Los Angeles, notices were tacked on telephone poles, roadside trees, or strapped to standing poles. Census Tract
Areas were grouped to become specific areas for   evacuation.  In L.A., groups were sent first to Wartime Civilian Control
Centers (viz., county fairgrounds and race tracks) and then to more permanent War Relocation Centers.  So, our family was
aware of areas being evacuated; we had been told that evacuated areas were to be considered taboo, that is, no one of
Japanese ancestry was to enter an evacuated area.  I didn’t pay any attention to that because I knew people could not
distinguish Japanese from Chinese from Filipino or any Asian; I had no identification mark or tattoo; I’m an American.  So,
what else is new?

For one thing, when the official notice for evacuation from the area where we lived, I started to write about what was
happening to our family.  I didn’t maintain the note-taking when too many things began to happen, and I was too occupied to
keep up any kind of a diary.  However, what I wrote answered the question raised about how much time we had after the
posting was made.  The following is what I wrote:

“May 11, 1942—Orders for evacuation finally appeared on telephone poles and in shop windows.  The Order that affected
the area around 410 S. Crocker, where we have lived to date, was Civilian Exclusion Order No. 66.  After noon today, most of
the area of Los Angeles will be barred from all persons of Japanese ancestry.   After today, noon,the area where I can
wander is limited so that I can’t go farther north than E. Third St.; farther south than E. Sixth St.; farther west than So. Main
St.; and farther east than about three or four miles.

“May 12—Registration for evacuation took place today at the old Southern Pacific  Railway Station.


“May 14—Medical examination (very cursory in details), so-called to appease the public, no doubt, were given today at the S.
P. Depot.  We are to leave from this station for Manzanar California, at 6:30 a.m. (scheduled departure) Saturday morning,
May 16.

“May 16—We remained awake the
whole night of the 15th and the entire
morning of the 16th packing and
repacking our baggage.  By about 4:
00 a.m. (16th) (Sat.), we were all
packed and ready to go.  At about 5:45
a.m., Mr. Wendell Warden and I
loaded a car with some of the stuff
and left for the Southern Pacific
Railway Station. By luck, we loaded all
our heavy, bulky articles into a freight
car by 6:15 a.m.  Mrs. Warden and
Billy, her son, stayed with us until we
left by bus (not train, as we formerly
supposed) for Manzanar, California,
which was 8:30 a.m.  Our departure
was scheduled for 6:30 a.m.  We
arrived at Manzanar at 3:00 p.m.  The
trip took approximately five hours
since there were two rest periods.  At
noon, we spent one hour eating lunch
and stretching our legs.  Our new
home was Block 19, Building 9,
Apartment or Section 2; Owens Valley
Reception Center, Manzanar,
California.”

Subsequently, I made entries in the
notebook at various times in May to
November 11. Then, in early
December, all hell broke out, and I
began to make entries again. On
hindsight, I can see that I should have
taken time to record some of what I
did, observed, and thought.  Well, that’
s how life is.  Most of us go with the
flow and do not recognize that history
needs records at the time things
happen.  I did write many letters to
outside-of-camp friends and recorded
meeting notes as part of my work
responsibilities when I had
employment in the Center’s adult
education program.  Many of those
documents are part of the collection
maintained at the Manzanar National
Historic Site; P.O. Box 426;
Independence CA 93526-0426.