Feb 12

Japanese relocation, World War II week by week

Seventy years ago the Japanese residents of the county were about to be sent to relocation camps. Some lost everything, others had more caring neighbors as seen in the story below published February 21, 2000.


by Andrea Parker

Masaji Eto holding a head of lettuce, Los Osos 1946.

During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced to relocate, leaving behind homes, farmland and future security.

At the risk of bigotry, ridicule and vandalism, several San Luis Obispo County families took care of their Japanese-American neighbors’ land as all Americans of Japanese descent were sent off to relocation camps. Those local families are the unsung heroes to be honored Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in Cal Poly’s Chumash Auditorium. Silent Heroes is a free event that’s sponsored by the Committee to Honor Those Who Made a Difference.

“Without their efforts, everybody would have come home, and there would have been nothing left, ” said Jim Brabeck, one of the event’s speakers. “In truly difficult circumstances, the quality of individuals really comes out. Those who made a difference are quality people. They put forth a lot of courage to do the right thing.”

Silent Heroes will introduce a new perspective on Central Coast history. “We all have to look at what happened to the Japanese not as an event necessary in war, but how we would feel if it happened to us, ” said Dan Krieger, a Cal Poly history professor who also will speak at the event. “They (the neighbors) are the silent heroes. They never sought any credit and, in fact, endured a lot of nasty things.”

Vard Loomis of Arroyo Grande took care of the Ikeda and Hayashi families’ land during the war. Krieger said that when Kazuo Ikeda was too ill to travel to a relocation camp, Loomis was allowed to care for Ikeda until he recovered. “In the midst of war, when Japanese submarines were shelling the Santa Barbara coast, the Loomises were brave enough to house the Ikedas.”

Pete Bachino and Ernest Vollmer Sr. also will be honored as Silent Heroes.

“It’s sort of like the people who saved Jews during the Holocaust, ” Krieger said. “It’s on a different dimension, but it took a lot of guts to do what they did.”

Though most of the community members who protected the Japanese-Americans’ land have since died, their influence lives on. “That’s real stewardship. We are all our brother’s keepers to some degree, ” Krieger said. “The lesson is if we let it happen to our neighbors, it can happen to us.”

Tribute also will be paid to longtime resident and active community member Masaji Eto, who died in October. Eto’s family owned land in Los Osos, and the Turri brothers took care of the property while the Etos were interned at Manzanar at the foot of Mt. Whitney, said Margaret Eto, Masaji’s wife.

“We’ve been through a lot, and to be recognized is good, ” she said. “It was very unfair, but it was a time of a lot of scare. I guess they (the U.S. government officials) felt we would be better protected there.”

The Etos volunteered to move inland in March 1942 and were relocated to the camp in June of that year. They returned to Los Osos in 1945.

“We came back, and the farm was taken care of – we’d leased it to neighbors, ” Margaret Eto said. “But the house was a mess inside and out.”

Because their neighbors managed the land, the Etos were able to continue their lives in Los Osos. Masaji became active in the community as a member of the Rotary Club and sponsored numerous Japanese to come to America, said Brabeck, a longtime friend. “He was one of those low-key individuals who had the impact of what he was involved in (to be) felt and not heard.”

Masaji and Brabeck worked together for 33 years at San Luis Obispo Farm Supply, where Brabeck is currently the general manager.

Brabeck said he will speak at Silent Heroes about Masaji’s life in tribute to his courage and humility.

“With Masaji’s passing, we want to honor him, ” he said. “He kind of exemplifies the humility of the Japanese community. When I put myself in their shoes, I’m thinking, I’d be mad as hell. I’d be bitter. Masaji was not bitter. He remembered the positive things.”

The hardships and triumphs of the era will be depicted in a sketch written by Steve Dalen, a committee member, local writer and actor.

Based on interviews Dalen conducted with community members who were interned or who took care of local lands, the sketch will be a dialogue between a Japanese actor and an Anglo actor, Dalen said. “It’s going to be a very positive event. Some of it’s very poignant, some touching, some lighter.”

In addition to recognizing the neighbors’ courage at home, the sketch will pay tribute to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, in which thousands of Nisei men volunteered. The 442nd was the most decorated fighting unit in American military history, Dalen said. “These are stories that should be told. I do believe that recognition should be paid.”

The first Pearl Harbor photos were released by the military almost a month after the attack. Telegram Tribune Feb. 3, 1942

In other news from early February 1942, the first official photos were released from the Pearl Harbor attack and county residents got their first look on February 3, 1942 almost a month after the surprise attack. Hard to imagine in this era of instant communication.

The city and county were finally moving together to acquire land for the airport. San Luis Obispo city kicked in $5,000 to help the county come up with the estimate $40,000 land cost. The federal government was planning to pay for construction of runways and lighting. The facility was to be used by the military for the duration of the war.

Axis aliens were given a deadline of February 24 for relocation, it was estimated that 350 persons would be relocated in the county.

General Douglas MacArthur and his troops were engaged in a desperate holding action in the Bataan Peninsula. Their stand tied up Japanese forces and denied access to Manilla Bay. Meanwhile British forces in Singapore were under severe attack.

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