Category Archives: Tule Lake

Discovering my father was a no-no boy

chef George Heart MtnThis is the story of a rank-and-file supporter of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, one of the many never named who chipped in two hard-earned 1944 dollars to the defense fund for the young draft resisters.

His name was George Yoshisuke Abe, and yes, he was my father. Dad died in his sleep on April 1, his last laugh on all of us. He was 91.

Ht Mtn crew cropIn preparing for his service, I revisited a chronology he wrote some years ago, and was startled to discover something I’d completely overlooked: Dad was in fact a no-no boy.

This is what he wrote of the time he was handed the loyalty questionnaire in 1943.

At first I answered Yes, Yes to questions 27 and 28 but late after talk with Mr. Oda and Nisei friends I changed the answer to No, No and went to administration building to have it notarized. Before that Nisei girl officer in the office wrote explanation for reason of changing the answer in loyalty questionnaire. After notarized I hand the letter to hakujin officer in the same office. At that time I never realized the seriousness of Yes, Yes and No, No. I sure found out the consequence later.

About a month later Yes, Yes and No, No groups were separated. The Yes, Yes and the disloyal to U.S. about 1000 of them were shipped to different camp later known to be Tule Lake segregated camp in Calif. I went to see departure of Yes, Yes group [here he probably means the No-No group] because some of my friends were going. It was terrible scene to see. Loved ones and family being separated and tears were flowing everywhere. Out of segregated, some had change of heart and some were shipped to Japan.

Dad then wrote of the later JACL campaign to solicit volunteers for the Army as a demonstration of Nisei loyalty, and the reinstitution of the draft in early 1944.

Some volunteered.  Others resisted draft and taken to jail. There were talk of drinking soy sauce that made heart rate to go way up so that Army examiner will reject on ground of bad heart. Somehow the draft never came to me. I had already registered for draft before the evacuation in 1941 in County of Santa Clara draft board #111. I carried draft card with me so I wasn’t worried too much.

1948 portrait croppedIt’s regrettable the things one never thinks to ask until it’s too late. Why did he change his answer from yes-yes to no-no? Since he did register as no-no, why wasn’t he segregated to Tule Lake with the others? And since, on paper at least, he was 22 when Selective Service was reinstituted for the Nisei in 1944, why didn’t he get the call until  1947? He may not have known himself.

I can’t say that Dad’s personal wartime resistance was the reason for making CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, or for maintaining this blog. I’ve never drawn the direct connection. But it’s not hard to see how one’s origins shapes a person and motivates them.

He will, of course, be deeply missed. Goodbye, Dad, and thanks for everything.

“Stop the Fence at Tule Lake” lawsuit update

Tule Lake mapWe received this news update from leaders of the Tule Lake Committee, which  has filed suit to stop construction of a massive 8-foot high, 3-mile fence around the local airport that will cut off public access to the Tule Lake site.

“Besides being utterly unnecessary in such a desolate place, such a fence would desecrate the physical and spiritual aspects of Tule Lake, which has great historical and personal importance to me and many others,” says filmmaker and therapist Satsuki Ina in her petition on Change.org.

The Herald and News of Klamath Falls, Oregon, recently reported on a March 19 meeting  on National Park Service planning for the overall site. In discussing what it calls the” knotty lawsuit,” the article quotes locals who support the fence without getting comment from Japanese American opponents.

Here, then, is the comment from fence opponents:

NEWS UPDATE: Thank you for your support of our action to stop the fence at Tule Lake.

We maintain that this $3.5 million dollar plan to erect a massive 3-mile long, 8-foot high perimeter fence around the Tulelake Airport, accompanied by a dozen related projects, will cause destruction to Tule Lake’s historic fabric and close most of the site to future visitation.

In American history, the Tule Lake concentration camp was the site of devastating offenses to our Constitution, the rule of law, and the right of due process. It is a place of mourning, a place where thousands of lives were destroyed. Rather than helping to heal the wounds of the wartime injustice, the proposed Tulelake airport expansion on this historic site continues to send an unfortunate message of exclusion.

Herald and News photo by Gerry O'Brien
Mike Reynolds, superintendent of Lava Beds National Monument and the Tule Lake Unit, WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, describes the size and scope of the Newell project to about 60 people March 19 at Tulelake High School — Herald and News photo by Gerry O’Brien

Under California law, Modoc County’s plan to extend an expiring 40-year land lease for another 30 years requires environmental review because Tule Lake is a California Historic Landmark. Attorneys for Modoc County believed they could waive compliance, leaving the Tule Lake Committee little recourse to filing a Writ of Mandamus so the courts could decide.

We are currently in pre-trial discussions.  Parties to the lawsuit include Modoc County, the City of Tulelake, the Macy’s crop dusting business, and the Tule Lake Committee.

In the meantime, if you haven’t yet signed the petition to Stop the Fence at Tule Lake, please consider doing so now. You’ll be joining nearly 26,000  signatories, most of whom signed thanks to the support of actor/activist George Takei on the basis of this one single tweet:

Here also is Mr. Takei’s personal testimony on the petition:

When I was but a small child, my family and I were forced at gunpoint from our home in Los Angeles and spent years in two internment camps, first in the swamplands of Arkansas, and then at Tule Lake. I have spent my life ensuring that we never forget, and never repeat, these mistakes of the past. This fence would prevent any visitors to the grounds of the former internment camp, include the infamous stockade. It would be a body blow to our efforts to keep this critical piece of American history, however blighted, from fading from our collective memory.

All forms of camp resistance are focus of Suyama Project

A new project out of UCLA has an ambitious goal: to preserve the history of the entire range of dissidence and resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Suyama Project web banner

The full title is a mouthful: The Eji Suyama, 100th Battalion/442nd RCT Draftees, No-Nos, Draft Resisters and Renunciants Archival Collection Endowment. Eji himself was a  Nisei vet who survived the rescue of the Lost Battalion, a chief of surgery in Maine, and a frequent voice in the vernacular press who would caution against the super-patriotism of the postwar JACL and many veterans’ groups while championing the principled stands of the draft resisters and others. We received several letters from him in support of our film while in production.

The Suyama Project has an interesting take in recognizing that even small acts of defiance, like stealing lumber to make furniture or sneaking out of camp to go fishing, could be considered acts of everyday resistance to government authority. The project’s mandate, however, is to collect archival material on all dissent, including the various riots and civil unrest, the military resisters, the Moab and Leupp Citizen Isolation Centers, and the focus of a community forum March 7 in San Francisco: the unique story of the men in Block 42 at Tule Lake.

audienceA full house at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center turned out to hear the story of Block 42, where  in February of 1943 military police illegally rounded up three dozen men for refusing to answer either a Selective Service questionnaire or an Application for Leave Clearance, both of which included a troubling loyalty oath.

kashiwagiPlaywright Hiroshi Kashiwagi testified to what he witnessed: the ringing of the mess hall bells at 5pm sounding the alarm of the arrests, the military police hauling out the men from  Block 42, the mothers and sisters screaming for the men not to be taken.

brothers2Mamoru “Mori” and James Tanimoto of Gridley told how they were sent to an outside jail and then held without charge at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp. There they were interrogated, rousted at night under bright lights, and made to hear the clicks of guards ominously loading their rifles as if ready to shoot, making the men believe they were going to be executed. Then from the darkness a voice shouted no one was going to escape under his watch, and the men were returned to their barrack.

From the audience, Ben Takeshita shared a similar story of mental torment, of how his brother Spencer had been taken to the CCC camp, put before a firing squad, offered a blindfold, and watched helplessly as the soldiers were given the commands “ready, aim … fire,” as blanks were fired.

After one month, the War Department and FBI told the Tule Lake camp director that he had no legal authority to arrest people for failing to sign an administrative form, and the men of Block 42 were returned to camp. Hiroshi joked that he always thanked the Block 42 boys for “taking the rap” for other no-no’s in camp, as he in Block 40 and others at Tule were never themselves arrested.

The Tanimoto’s have told their story before, at Tule Lake Pilgrimages past, but as Barbara Takei observed the story was not documented outside that circle. The Suyama Project is looking for more stories and materials of this kind for its archival collection, and we urge your support. Its website provides several links to this site and our film.

And thanks to project coordinator dvdsMartha Nakagawa for recognizing CONSCIENCE and RABBIT IN THE MOON in her remarks as “the two films that together led JACL to apologize” for its wartime suppression of camp resistance.

Legacy of Fair Play Committee lives on at two Bay Area Day of Remembrance events

Two separate Day of Remembrance events in San Francisco next weekend feature the memory and the legacy of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.

All forms of camp resistance, including that of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain, will be recognized at the 2015 Bay Area Day of Remembrance, Sunday, February 22, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. The theme of the event sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society is “Out of the Shadows of Infamy: Resistance Behind Barbed Wire.” Their promotional film produced by Cary Matsumura presents voices from the community, including archived outtakes from CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION that feature Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi and Professor Roger Daniels:

It’s a pleasure to see that Cary included video of Seattle Issei redress visionary Shosuke Sasaki that we shot for Densho. UPDATE: Here’s a link to Sunday’s DOR 2015 Program. Thanks for mentioning Resisters.com as a source for some clips and including two versions of the courtroom photo in the printed program.

Bay Area DOR

The day before, on Saturday, February 21, the notable Films of Remembrance series will include “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” which also features a sequence on the Fair Play Committee.  This series too has a trailer. Catch a glimpse of the Wyoming courtroom photo at the 1:17 mark:

Films of Remembrance screens at the New People Cinema in San Francisco Japantown. It’s curated by Kenji Taguma and sponsored by the Nichi Bei Foundation.

Films of Remembrance 2015

Get a gift of our DVD from Densho

For the month of December, our Two-Disc Collectors Edition DVD is being offered as a premium gift for those of you who donate $125 or more to The Densho Project in Seattle. It’s our way of supporting Densho’s mission of using digital technology to preserve and make accessible primary source materials on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, and vice versa.

Custom Tule Lake stampNot only that, but all donors get a gift of these cool custom first-class postage stamps with an image of Tule Lake.

And there’s more: for every dollar you donate, the National Park Service will contribute two dollars. Learn more about the Densho Online Giving Challenge Match for December.

Our film has enjoyed a long and productive partnership with Densho and executive director Tom Ikeda. Densho supported transfer of our analog Sony Betacam-SP interview tapes to the digital DVCAM format, which enabled us to produce all the featurettes, outtakes, and extended interviews for the DVD bonus disc. In return, all 26 of our interviews have been donated for permanent preservation in the Densho Digital Archive. Check out the Frank Abe Collection for hours of fascinating material we couldn’t even squeeze into the DVD extras.

Frank Abe Collection

The Frank Abe Collection consists of interviews conducted by filmmaker Frank Abe for his 2000 documentary, Conscience and the Constitution, about the World War II resisters of conscience at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. The interviews are with surviving Heart Mountain resisters, as well as others who were in some way connected to them or the controversy within the Japanese American community surrounding the resisters. The interviews are typically not life histories, instead primarily focusing on issues surrounding the resistance movement itself.

For more information about Frank Abe’s Conscience and the Constitution, please visit www.resisters.com orwww.pbs.org/conscience.

Stop the Fence at Tule Lake

Join the growing movement and sign the petition to Stop the Fence at Tule Lake. More than 500 people have now sent emails via the Change.org online petition sponsored by the Tule Lake Committee, urging the FAA to deny an 8-foot high fence around the local airport that is evidently used mostly for local crop-dusting planes.

Outline of proposed fence at Tulelake Airport
The outlines of the Tule Lake National Monument and of the Tulelake Municipal Airport are superimposed on a wartime photo of the Tule Lake Segregation Center. You can see how a fence around the airport would destroy the physical and emotional integrity of the site. Artwork by Evan Johnson.

Tule Lake is ground zero for the government and JACL program to segregate dissidents and so-called “troublemakers” inside America’s WW2 concentration camps. Conscience and the Constitution touches upon this. Tule Lake is the last great untold story in Japanese America. Several films about the Segregation Center are in the works. I urge the FAA to deny the fence and keep the landscape and horizon of the Tule Lake site unbroken, and protect the physical and historic integrity of the site for visitors and filmmakers.

Petition backer Evan Johnson questions claims that the fence is even needed for aviation. He writes, “I don’t get the motivation for the fence – which serves no realistic safety function. This airport is essentially the crop-duster operation, essentially serving one man.” Johnson also provides the following research:

  • Percentage of aircraft wildlife strikes that are deer strikes: 2
  • Number of deer strikes in California between 1982–2000: 13
  • Number of reported strikes of any wildlife anywhere in Modoc County: 0
  • Month during which most deer strikes occur: November
  • Time of day at which deer strikes are most likely: Dusk
  • Number of owners with registered aircraft at Tulelake airport: 3
  • Number of aircraft which they currently registered: 10
  • Number of those registered to Nick Macy: 8
  • Amount of money in farm subsidies paid by the USDA to Modoc County in 2010: $464,000
  • Amount one registered owner of a single plane at Tulelake airport received between 1995–2010: $298,792
  • Estimated average cost to build 16,000 feet of 8′ chain link fence: $303,840
  • To build that fence topped with barbed wire: $343,840
  • Number of times per day the FAA recommends walking an airport fence circumference for inspection: 1
  • Number of employees at the Tulelake airport who will be doing this: 0

So please sign the petition at Change.org. Here again is the link. Also, go the Facebook page for “Stop the Fence at Tule Lake” and LIKE it. Thanks.