Japanese Evacuation Report #8

Japanese Evacuation Report #8 Joseph Conard, Collector. Box 3. Notebook, April 1942. Hoover Institution Archives.

Seattle Office
American Friends Service Committee
3959 - 15th Ave., N.E.
Seattle, Washington
April 2, 1942


Dear Friends:

The evacuation pattern here in the Northwest is becoming set: all Japanese, citizen and alien alike, are "frozen" into their homes for the time being. No travel except to and from business (housewives shopping count as business), no more voluntary resettlement (we are testing today to see whether a single person with a job and a place to live awaiting her in the East may receive an Army permit to leave), no leaving one's home after 8:00 p.m. or before 6 a.m. (we are making special permission for some students to attend Easter Sunrise services), and, we are told (haven't tested yet), no going to restaurants or the movies. Then within the next two or three weeks all 10,0000- or so Japanese in this region will be moved by the Army into "assembly centers" now under construction, at the Puyallup Fair Grounds for the Tacoma group, at the Renton Race Track for the Seattle group. Later during the summer all 10,000 will be moved again, this time to "reception centers" to be built in Eastern Washington or in Idaho which will resemble the Owens Valley center at Manzanar in California. And eventually the Japanese will again be moved into "resettlement areas" developed by the Relocation Authority under Eisenhower.

Yesterday Floyd Schmoe and I drove down to have a look at the "assembly centers" in Renton and Puyallup (pronounced Pew-allup). At Renton, some 15 miles from Seattle is a large race track. Its only permanent buildings are a grandstand and several rows of stables, now inhabited by horses. No construction is yet underway there.

At the Puyallup Fair Grounds, 40 miles from Seattle, 15 miles from Tacoma, all was a madhouse of swarming carpenters. Boxlike buildings were being thrown together on a huge field that was formerly the parking lot. First the grass was scraped off the surface of the field with steam shovels. Then 2 by 4s were laid on the ground and planks nailed onto them. Then walls with one tiny window every twenty feet in the rear wall, no windows on the side, and a small door (no window in it) at the front. Over all a tarpaper roof. There will be approximately 40 rows of these rabbit hutches, 4 hutches to a row, 6 rooms to a hutch. Each room is about 20 feet square and is separated from the next room by a partition that runs up part way to the roof. Each room is to house a Japanese family. If there is an average of 5 persons to a family, our arithmetic says 4800 people will be living in these boxes this summer (The newspaper says 5000).

You can imagine how our hearts sank. One single little window for each family. The floors laid right on the ground. Mud everywhere (no wonder the Japanese are advised to bring rubber boots with them). No plumbing facilities. (Apparently for washing, etc., the people will have to cross the street over to the main Fair Ground buildings, but we're not sure of this). Army barracks -- even C.P.S. barracks-- are palaces by comparison. And not healthy young men are to live here, but women and children: old men, old women, babies. The Army estimates that 9 children a day (!) will be born in the assembly centers. According to the papers this morning, pregnant mothers are the Army's biggest headache in the evacuation program. These buildings aren't as good as the ones animals are kept in at race tracks and fair grounds. And the Japanese people out here aren't animals. They are middle class farmers and business people, refined, moral, and self-reliant. If you were to take the members of the Board of the Service Committee and their families and herd them all into huts on the Sesquicentennial Grounds in South Philadelphia, the disgrace would be no worse than it is to take these charming, cultured, college-bred young men and women and their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and herd them together in these boxes at Puyallup.

By way of contrast, the part played by the Army in the evacuation of the Bainbridge Island Japanese was splendid, the epitome of thoughtful planning and friendly efficiency. Friendly soldiers drove army trucks around the Island and picked up the Japanese families and brought them to the ferry. The ferry left exactly on time, and on the way over to Seattle the Japanese were divided up into groups and when the ferry docked each group walked briskly to the Pullman car to which it was assigned. Pullman porters were on hand and helped old ladies board the train, each person was given $2.00 a day to spend in the diner for food, and to each group a soldier was assigned who looked like Mother Carey as he counted his flock to see to it that none, old or young, get lost. A large crowd of some 2000 people were down to watch the train pull out, mostly Caucasians who came down from the business district during lunch hour. What impressed me most was their silence. No one said anything. No one did anything. The Japanese silently walked off the ferry in groups and entered the Pullman cars. By walking up and down in front of the crowd, I managed to catch the eye of each one of the dozen or so Japanese I had come to know on the Island last week and waved them a friendly goodbye. You should have seen them beam in reply! One friendly face in all those hundreds of alien ones! The whole thing went off like clockwork and so warm and good did I feel about the way He wouldn't build rabbit hutches for human beings to live in!

Raymond Booth has again written us a good letter describing the picture as he and Friends down the Coast see it. We agree that we are wise not to play much share in the evacuation itself, although as individuals we are still trying to help Japanese individuals get located in jobs in the East and Middle West ("Middle East" as they say out here). The Friends Meeting in Everett is planning to offer the few Japanese in Everett space in the Meeting House for storing their possessions they must leave behind. (The property-left-behind problem is still being badly handled: the Government giving no guarantees that it will be taken care of officially, but merely suggesting that the Japanese either sell all their possessions or store them with neighbors). We are dubious, however, as to the advisability of Friends in the Northwest attempting to relieve the Government of any evacuation responsibility by offering to care of the old and sick in Quaker hostels. We are not well enough trained nor do we have the physical resources for any such project. But we are very much interested in the idea of Friends here and elsewhere getting together on a model resettlement project, perhaps in Eastern Washington or Idaho. We have several spots in mind for such a community and it appeals to all of us a project where we could put long-term effort: the problem launched by the evacuation is not going to be solved for some 20 years, maybe more, regardless of the length of the war. The forces that worked to pass the Oriental Exclusion Act and now to bring about this evacuation will be working after the War to prevent the return of all these wonderful people. Our model resettlement project could serve as a laboratory for trying to work out a solution. And during the war it might serve as a place for West coast C.P.S. boys to get out of the woods, and into touch with human beings. Maybe we could show our disgust for the Puyallup Valley rabbit hutches best by starting to work immediately on plans for a resettlement project that will respect individuals and treat Japanese like human beings, etc. The soon we start, the sooner we'll get them out of the boxes. As you all know, Floyd Schmoe has been doing a wonderful job of drawing up plans for such a resettlement scheme. Now that the Government has given its O.K. to a very small scale project over near Wenatchee in Eastern Washington, our hopes are rising that we might through Raymond Booth's contacts with Eisenhower develop something fairly speedily.

The work with students, helping them to get located, proceeds apace. Here in the office, Floyd is handling our share in it, and Japanese boys and girls are coming in steadily to consult about their individual personal problems. I enclose copies (until they run out) of a questionnaire that is being circulated on the University of Washington campus among Japanese students still in school and mailed to those who have at one time this year been enrolled. It is being sent out by the Coordinating Committee, headed up by Dean O'Brien and including YM and YW and us and others. Out of the first 150 answers to this questionnaire, 78% said they wanted to continue in college, 12% said no,, and 10% were uncertain. 25% said they had enough cash to continue, 45% said they were broke, 20% weren't sure, and 10% said they had some money. About half listed their cash assets, and the average amount listed was $405 (six out of the seventy who listed assets had between $1000 and $3000). 70% said they could continue in college if they received supplementary sums, 27% said no, and 3% didn't know. It was surprising that 60% of them named specific colleges where they wished to continue their studying, the other 40% not being sure or merely stating the type of institution they wanted to attend.

Not much is being said nowadays about our German and Italian friends. They too are suffering under the travel and curfew restrictions. Here through the University Friends Meeting we are urging Friends to go call on the refugees and others after 8 p.m. As you know we held our Monthly Meeting in the home of our one Japanese member (a student at the University who lives at the YMCA) to show our willingness to suffer with him. We have called a meeting for tomorrow morning of all the people who have helped up in visiting Japanese families and extending spiritual handshakes to suggest they go out again, calling on Japanese during the curfew hours. Maybe some of them can call on some of the Italians and Germans too. We are helping one splendid German-Jewish refugee make plans for settling himself and his family in Chicago. We are considering (our Vashon Island spring vacation work project for college students among the Japanese farmers having been so successful) taking over one of the Japanese vegetable farms down the hill from the University and operating it as a work project for college boys and girls. There are a lot of ifs and ands and buts about this, but it's our latest idea.

The Japanese girls who had been living at Floyd Schmoe's home rushed back to their families over the mountains to Wapato and Yakima, thinking that they would thus escape the evacuation and curfew. Their homes over there are 175 miles east of Seattle, over the mountain in Central Washington on the very fringe of the Defense area, but they arrived to discover that that area too is to be evacuated and the curfew applies. Mob violence at the hands of vigilantes over there has been very bad: Mrs. Boyd (Caucasian hardware store owner who has been helping Japanese) is being boycotted per official resolution of the Grange, the Japanese Language School building was burnt to the ground, and the warehouse of one of Floyd's girl's parents was burned to the ground, and over there have been threatened and badly treated. All this East of the mountains! No defense industries or anything...

Yours heartily,

Thomas M. Bodine