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Enduring Communities

An Issei's Six Years of Internment: His Struggle for Justice

My father, Yoshiaki Fukuda, was a minister for the Konko religion. He was born in Nara prefecture in 1898, raised in the village of Kamikitayama, and graduated from Matsumoto College and the Imperial University in Tokyo. He attended the Konko seminary in Okayama ken and came to the United States in 1930 with his wife, Shinko, to do missionary work. He established the Konko Church of San Francisco and became responsible for the Konko Churches in America.

On December 7, 1941, when World War II broke out, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) came to the San Francisco church looking for him, they were told that he was at the San Jose church, where he was picked up by the authorities. On December 29 he was sent to the first of a series of Department of Justice (DOJ) and US Army-administered internment camps at Missoula, Montana; next to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas on April 10, 1942; then to Lordsburg, New Mexico, on May 7, 1942; and thereafter, on July 23, 1943, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was finally sent to Crystal City, Texas, on February 10, 1944, where he remained until September 29, 1947, more than two years after the war ended on August 11, 1945.

Due to the serious illness of his wife, my father was briefly reunited with his family at the War Relocation Authority [WRA]-administered Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Upon arriving in Topaz he was met by families of men who were being detained in the DOJ camps inquiring about their situations and the possibility of family reunification. There was mail censorship in these DOJ internment camps. In order to meet the information needs of these separated families he organized a meeting to answer their questions. There were those in relocation camps who viewed these DOJ internees as "bad people" and believed that their families should not be associated with them. These internees were the immigrant-generation Issei leaders of the Japanese communities in America who some people viewed as being disloyal and pro-Japanese. At that time Issei were not allowed to become US citizens. There apparently was an informer at this meeting who reported back to the authorities on the views of Reverend Fukuda, for two days later he was sent back to Lordsburg, New Mexico, as a disruptive influence. There were also informers in the DOJ camps, as there were within Japanese American communities before the war started.

The men who were picked up by the FBI numbered 736 on December 7, 1941; 1,370 by December 11, 1941, and 2,192 by February 16, 1942 (these are all on the mainland and included some women). Eventually, 4,555 individuals had been processed through the Santa Fe DOJ camp. A total of approximately 7,000 had been interned and some were released before they got as far as the Santa Fe camp. That is a lot of people. Which of you have had a parent, grandparent, or other relative picked up? What were they charged with?

Next in line came the hearing process whereby a determination was made as to which people were to be held and who were to be released to rejoin their families in regular relocation camps. The Alien Enemy Hearing Board consisted of three people. The internees did not have legal counsels. The Justice Department defined the hearing as an administrative proceeding and a privilege granted to the internee. Because it was not a trial, the Justice Department reasoned, there was no need for counsel. The internee's task was to prove innocence; failure to do so resulted in long-term internment. Without counsel, however, proving innocence was virtually impossible. (See Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003]).

Yoshiaki Fukuda's hearing consisted of eight activities in which the Alien Enemy Hearing Board was interested. He was surprised by the amount of information they had on him, as to how it was collected, and the length of time involved in this endeavor: 1) being closely associated with counsel generals and other officers of the Japanese Foreign Service; 2) providing accommodations at this church to officials of the Japanese government and members of the Japanese Army and Japanese Navy; 3) having met with the Counsel General of Germany and of Italy and also with the presidents of both the German and Italian Societies in San Francisco; 4) being a reserve officer in the Japanese Army; 5) holding receptions whenever Japanese Navy ships visited San Francisco; 6) sending packages of food and other items to soldiers of the Japanese Army; 7) visiting soldiers of the Japanese Army stationed in China and Manchuria; and 8) being a member of the Japanese Veteran's Society of Southern California.

The above cannot be classified as crimes, acts of espionage, or subversive activities. Then there is my grandfather-in-law who was a farmer in the city of Compton in Los Angeles County. Most likely the only activity that he could be connected with was being an officer of the local Japanese language school. He was reunited with his wife and adult daughter in the Tule Lake Segregation Center in California and eventually repatriated to Hiroshima, Japan, after the end of the war, accompanied by his adult daughter to help take care of her elderly parents.

There were stories of physical abuse and mistreatment. One such story was reported in the June 2000 issue of the Crystal City Chatter:

. . . the Issei never monku-ed (complained) . . . very few even talked about their hearings and interrogation . . . the abuse they received from the guards and those who questioned them. We learned through few books that our Issei wrote that they were abused physically as well as mentally. I do recall an Issei man (name withheld) that came to one of our earlier Crystal City picnics and cried over and over at my goza area, how he was kicked, hit and was sobbing as he said, “I was just a farmer . . . what did they want? What could I have done to be arrested and taken away to Santa Fe and Lordsburg, New Mexico? I did nothing but they kept hitting and kicking me . . . please don't forget us . . . please don't forget what happened to us" . . . he kept repeating and crying (all in Japanese).

The internees had no real effective method of dealing with this type of cruel treatment for the longest time as they didn't know under what international law they were being detained. They finally got copies of the Geneva Convention and found out that Japan had signed to become a signatory fifty days prior to the outbreak of World War II. They were then able to use the Geneva Convention to legally complain through the Spanish Counsel about the way they were being treated.

Conditions improved after the Geneva Convention came into use, but at the same time those who complained too much paid the price. A petition was sent to Willard F. Kelly, Assistant Commissioner for Alien Control on February 7, 1944, " . . . for the earliest transfer of all the Family Reunion Group of Santa Fe to this Crystal City" by Yoshiaki Fukuda as chairman of this group to reunify internees with their families.

An interoffice memo by W. F. Kelly in response to this petition of February 14, 1944, stated: " . . . he (Fukuda) has shown himself in a number of ways to be a troublemaker. He was, without doubt, one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the element at Santa Fe which recently delivered several threatening ultimatums."

This type of administrative thinking could possibly result in Yoshiaki Fukuda being one of the last ones to be released from Crystal City. I recall that we would ask just about everyday whether we were being "released," hoping that we would not be deported. One of the more distressing outcomes of these Department of Justice camps was the internment of Latin American Japanese (most of them from Peru). This was a cruel practice to use against innocent bystanders so that they could be used in an exchange for Americans interned by Japan. What was worse was that after the war they found themselves unable to return to Peru, unwanted by the United States, and in many cases forced to repatriate to Japan. They are still seeking redress for these injustices.

Another "collateral" damage was done to the Nisei children (US citizens) of Issei who repatriated to Japan. These children were placed in a war-torn country facing starvation and a bleak future. Some of them were able to return to America, but how many were not as successful? How many families repatriated to Japan and how many people were involved? How many were Nisei?

* Nobusuke Fukuda will be speaking in a presentation titled, "Alien Places and Alien People: Department of Justice Internment Camps During World War II " at the Enduring Communities National Conference on July 3-6, 2008 in Denver, CO. Enduring Communities is a project of Japanese American National Museum.


© 2008 Nobusuke Fukuda

issei World War II Yoshiaki Fukuda

About this series

Enduring Communities: The Japanese American Experience in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah is an ambitious three-year project dedicated to re-examining an often-neglected chapter in U.S. history and connecting it with current issues of today. These articles stem from that project and detail the Japanese American experiences from different perspectives.