Most of you already know December 7, 1941. It is a date that most people remember because it is the date that the nation of Japan bombed the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and which caused a declaration of war.
Following that declaration, came a period of hysteria which resulted in the signing of EO 9066, on February 19, 1942. This order gave the military power to remove any person of Japanese ancestry from the west coast or any designated military zone.
In Kent, the Japanese community was a large and productive minority. In the early 1940s, Japanese families were busy farming the valley and running associated business activities. The White River Buddhist Church was founded in 1909 to provide for the needs of the community. There was a Japanese school founded to provide the language and cultural lessons of the old country. The first Japanese Parent Teacher Association was founded here in our valley.
Once the decision had been made, from April until June, the Japanese and Japanese American families were given 5-10 days to wrap their affairs, sell or give away anything they could not take with them. Some friends, neighbors, and churches offered to store belongings. Unfortunately, three years is a long time, and many people moved or storage facilities were robbed.
While EO 9066 authorized transporting citizens to assembly centers governed by the military, no preparations were made to get the people to the train stations to start the journey. Many had friends and neighbors who gave them rides. Some had to walk several miles. Your neighbors from Kent reported to the Renton train station and were sent to Pinedale, CA, near Fresno.
Not one was trusted or left unguarded. Older children and teenagers could not understand what they had done so wrong. They were following all instructions willingly but there was an armed soldier always present.
Luggage was a luxury so bed sheets were tied together to bring belongings. Families of young children had to bring diapers, and even though children could not carry much, adults could only bring what they could carry. And what should they take? They had not been told where they would be going nor for how long.
From the Renton transit station, it was a train ride to Pinedale, California (outside of Fresno). This three-day train ride was with windows covered. No one was allowed to know where they were going until they got there. No beds, just benches. No real food, just sandwiches and water.
Pinedale, CA was a temporary stop while a permanent camp was being built. But, again, soldiers watched all residents, young and old.
After living in Pinedale from May until July, they were moved once again to their new homes; one of the 10 permanent relocation camps. Some families found themselves in places like Tule Lake in CA or Minidoka in Idaho. Others ended up in Heart Mountain, WY. During their three year stay, they experienced record breaking highs of over 115 and lows of 30 degrees below zero. This was in sharp contrast to the mild weather of Kent, WA.
Individual houses and small farms were exchanged for barracks grouped by blocks.
The ground around Heart Mountain was desolate wasteland, especially when compared with the fertile soil of the Kent Valley.
Eating was done on a communal basis with long lines for meals. Each block of 12 barracks housed about 250 people who shared a common mess hall, latrine, laundry, and multi-purpose recreation hall.
These are just a few examples of the disruption to the social structure of the community!
The end of the war in August 1945, and the closing of the American Concentration Camps were not the end of the story for many Kent families. They still had to integrate back into a community and society that didn’t always want them. Because we live in the greatest country in the world, the US government apologized for this tragedy and promised this would never happen again.
President Truman on (July 15, 1946) said to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on the White House lawn, “You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice – and you won.”
President Reagan on (Aug. 10, 1988) said ”Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. …Government actions were based on hysteria, racism, and failure of leadership in government.”
President Clinton on (July 15, 2000) said “Rarely has a nation been so well-served by a people it has so ill-treated. …in the face of painful prejudice, they helped define America.
More Info and Programs:
GKHS Documentary Screening, September 19 and September 20, 2015.
White River Valley Historical Society has a permanent exhibit that tells some of the stories of Japanese families in the White River Valley.
Shirakawa contains the story of White River Valley Japanese families from the late 1890s until just after World War II. It is well worth a read.
Yakima Valley Museum has a permanent exhibit that tells the story of the local Japanese families but also opens a traveling exhibit, Uprooted, on September 28, 2015.
The Heart Mountain Interpretative Center
The Legacy of Heart Mountain Documentary
Densho is an organization that specializes is telling the stories of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Back to the Kent Stories page.