Today in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the removal of any or all people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” The military in turn defined the entire West Coast as a military area. While 9066 also affected Italian and German Americans, the largest numbers of detainees were by far Japanese.
The West Coast, motivated in part by racism against Japanese Americans, erupted after Pearl Harbor into furious demands to remove them en masse to relocation camps for the duration of the war. Japanese immigrants and their descendants were systematically rounded up and placed in detention centers. Evacuees, as they were sometimes called, could take only as many possessions as they could carry and were housed in crude, cramped quarters. In the western states, camps on remote and barren sites such as Manzanar and Tule Lake housed thousands of families whose lives were interrupted and many lost businesses, farms and loved ones as a result. By June, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to remote internment camps built by the U.S. military in scattered locations around the country for the next two and a half years.
In her memoirs, Eleanor Roosevelt recalled being completely floored by her husband’s action. A fierce proponent of civil rights, Eleanor hoped to change Roosevelt’s mind, but when she brought the subject up with him, he interrupted her and told her never to mention it again.
On December 17, 1944, Major General Henry C. Pratt issued Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese-American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes. During World War II, 10 Americans were convicted of spying for Japan; not one of them was of Japanese ancestry.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, upholding it both times. On February 19, 1976 Gerald Ford signed an order prohibiting the executive branch from reinstituting the notorious World War II order. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a public apology on behalf of the government and authorized reparations for former Japanese internees or their descendants.
“They died with the greatest possible violence. Nowhere in the Pacific have I seen such badly mangled bodies. Legs and arms lay 50 feet away from any body.” — Robert Sherrod, reporter at the landing beach.
“Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.” — Admiral Chester Nimitz
“I hope to God that we don’t have to go on any more of those screwy islands.” — wounded Marine
Today in 1945 Operation Detachment, the U.S. Marines’ invasion of Iwo Jima, was launched. Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific island 4 1/2 miles long by 2 1/2 miles long, guarded by Japanese artillery, but to American military minds, it was prime real estate on which to build airfields to launch bombing raids against Japan, 660 miles away.
The bloody battle of attrition lasted until March 26. The Marines lost 6,821 men killed and nearly 20,000 wounded. 19 of 24 battalion commanders who landed with their men were killed or wounded. In one battalion, fewer than 150 of 900 men survived unhurt. 27 Marines and naval medical corpsmen won the Medal of Honor, 13 posthumously.
Of the 21,000 Japanese defenders, most died fighting. Only a few hundred mostly wounded became prisoners.
The US occupied Iwo Jima until 1968, when it was returned to Japan.
Happy birthday Amy Tan, novelist, born today in 1952 at Oakland, California.
At age 26, she learned that her mother had three daughters from a previous marriage and journeyed to China to meet them. The experience inspired her first novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989). The book became a bestseller and was made into a movie in 1993.
Tan’s second novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), was followed by The Hundred Secret Senses (1995). She also wrote two children’s books and played in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders with fellow writers Stephen King and Dave Barry. Tan’s latest book is The Valley of Amazement (2013).
Congratulations Leslie Townes Hope, known as entertainer Bob Hope, and wife Dolores who married today in 1934 at Erie, Pennsylvania. The marriage lasted until Bob Hope’s death 69 years later; probably the most enduring marriage of entertainment celebrities.
In May 2003, Dolores Hope was at her husband’s side as he celebrated his 100th birthday. Remembered as Hollywood’s “Mr. Entertainment” and the “King of Comedy,” Bob Hope died less than two months later.