THE KAERU KID: A most righteous town

bioline_KaeruKidI wrote about an Affordable Travel Club host couple who asked me about my concentration camp experience during World War II in the Dec. 4, 2014 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly: “While we were getting acquainted, they told me about a Japanese American family in Washington state that was not imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II because the town vouched for them. I later made a trip there to investigate this claim, which I’ll write about in a future column.”

This is that “future column.”

While I once thought that this would be part of a longer travel story about my “Great Northwest Adventure,” I realize now it exemplified important history worthy of its own attention.

From the home of my Affordable Travel Club hosts in Spokane, Wash., I drove the 90 miles to Metaline Falls, a tiny town of 250 people where this story is centered. There lived the Japanese American family I had heard about, whose fascinating story I wanted to verify. They had not had to enter a concentration camp during World War II because their town had vouched for their fidelity (http://kac.douglassclan.com/homefront.html).  Unfortunately, the patriarch of the family, George Kubota Sr., was deceased, but I was able to speak with his son, George Jr.

We met at the family’s hardware store, Metaline Trading Company, and I heard the fascinating details of what had happened to them. To set the context of the times, you need to know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 issued Feb. 19, 1942, allowed regional military commanders to designate military areas to exclude anyone of Japanese ancestry from California, Washington, Oregon, and part of Arizona

The younger Kubota said his family, and his uncles who lived in Newport, Wash. and outside of Spokane, were far enough from the coast and thus outside the exclusion zone. However, the military could also designate areas outside the exclusion zone as being of strategic importance and thus remove those of Japanese ancestry in any newly classified area. Metaline Falls had mines producing zinc and lead as well as two hydroelectric generators, so it was of strategic importance. Not only did the Kubota family escape this automatic resettlement, they also overcame a questionable decision.

Local hunters depended on the Kubota family’s hardware store for their ammunition and gun purchases. Yet, all foreign nationals were supposed to surrender their arms and ammunition to the FBI. Rather than lose his precious stock and future income, the elder Kubota hid them. Someone in town reported him to the FBI, and even though it was a small cache, he was imprisoned in Spokane. Fortunately, the editors of the Metaline and nearby Newport newspapers, as well as the majority of the residents, vouched for his loyalty. Amazingly, the FBI released him.

The brave actions of the editors and townsfolk in the face of wartime hysteria against anyone of Japanese descent deserve to be recognized, don’t you think? Washington State Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers honored the Kubotas (father and two sons) with a proclamation in 2015: http://tinyurl.com/jbha5vg.

I would like to see Japanese American museums in Los Angeles, San Jose and elsewhere devote a section to honor those individuals and groups who acted so bravely, and include the Metaline, Wash. townspeople. It could be patterned after the “Righteous Among Nations” award presented by Israel.

The Kubota family’s interesting story continues. George Jr. was drafted during the Korean War and sent to France, where he fell in love with a French woman, Marcell. He married her and they returned to his hometown. George Jr. was so modest that he never told me he had been elected mayor of the town for several terms. I only learned this while doing some research to corroborate what he told me. My research also uncovered some articles in the University of Washington alumni magazine about the Japanese American experiences during World War II titled, “The Stolen Years, Pt 1 & 2” with very interesting comments from alumni about those articles: http://tinyurl.com/zufl8yw, http://tinyurl.com/gtcj935 and http://tinyurl.com/zuycdb8.

The hardware store where I first met George Jr. has since closed and he has retired.

It is easy to throw rocks at those who participated in the movement to deny Americans of Japanese ancestry their constitutional rights for their own economic gains as well as those whose motives were based on racial hatred, but I also saw many injustices and did not say or do anything.

For instance, when I was in the Army during the Korean War, I was sent to Indiana for a brief period. I saw signs in storefronts reading “No dogs, No Negroes, No Soldiers” and kept silent. On another occasion, my travel passion had already begun. So, one weekend I went to see Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. A Hawaiian friend in my group asked to tag along. When our bus stopped in Louisville, Ky. for a rest stop, he wanted to use the “colored” restroom because he thought it would be picturesque. When he was stopped from entering, he could not comprehend the actual reason for the sign. I knew it was wrong, but kept silent.

Another time, when I was graduating from University of California, Berkeley, a classmate wanted me to join him and a group going to San Francisco City Hall to protest the Vietnam War. Being a veteran and also not wanting to jeopardize receiving my degree, I did not participate. I thought about my actions trying to decide if they were pragmatic or cowardly. It reminds me of a famous quotation by Martin Niemöller (1892–1984):

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I had an uncle who was one of the “no-no” boys in Heart Mountain, Wyo. My father, who was an officer in the U.S. Army, was quite angry at his stance. His two other brothers accepted the draft.

My uncle, who was a brilliant orator and one of the leaders of the “no-no” boys, protested against the loss of constitutional rights by the Japanese Americans but he and the others in the group were ostracized by the majority of Japanese Americans even though he was correct. He was imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and had to leave his wife and infant son in camp. After the war, he was labeled as a federal ex-felon and could only find work in the produce market. He died before he was given the recognition he deserved, but at least some of the other “no-no boys” lived long enough and were finally recognized. It is tough to be a martyr. What would you have done in similar circumstances?

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Comments

  1. Recently read Neil Nakadate’s book and if any Nikkei museum does open a “righteous among nations section”, the following should be considered:

    In Neil Nakadate’s “Looking After Minidoka” soft cover issue on page 87:

    Clarence “Buddy” OLIVER and Cora OLIVER of Porland, OR
    Miss Mabel Downs
    Miss Jane Chase

    Page 88:
    Rae Hungerford and family
    Fumi’s Doctor

    Page 95:
    Supreme Court justices:
    Owen ROBERTS
    Robert Jackson
    Frank Murphy

    Page 125:
    Bus driver (name unknown)

    Page 170:
    Richard L. Neuberger

  2. Kaeru Kid says

    I suspect that many readers have not read the links in this article such as the Univ. of Washington alumni magazine ones. There are so many people that would also deserve to be included as most righteous such as Floyd Schmoe and Lee Paul Sieg, among others. I hope readers take the time to read all of the links and especially the letters to the editor at the end. Racism is alive and well in this country but I am encouraged by the number of letters reviling those with such views.

  3. Jim Furuichi says

    I really appreciated your story about the Kubota family and their experience with Executive Order 9066.

    What got me more interested in George Jr.’s story was about his uncle being a “no no” boy in Heart Mountain, because our family was at Heart Mountain, also. I was just a child in 1942, 4 years old and the youngest of the Furuichi family from Los Altos, California. Father Tomizo “Tom”, mother Yoshiye, eldest brother Ben, sister Toshiko, brother Fred, and sister Betty. (Note: George Jr.’s uncle was not a “no no”. I was talking about my Uncle. KaeruKid)

    I did not know until about 25 years ago, the fact that my sister Toshiko, who married David Kawamoto, who was also a”no no” boy and had spent two and a half years in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Federal Prison. There were a number of others in Heart Mountain who were “no no” boys, such as Frank Emi and Mits Koshiyama. Many other names that I can not remember at this moment.

    What was George Jr.’s uncle’s name?

    My dad’s youngest brother George joined the 442nd Combat Infantry out of Heart Mountain.

    David Kawamoto’s younger brother, Roy, also joined the 442nd and came home as a decorated soldier, while his brother David was in prison.

    My brother Ben graduated Heart Mountain High School in June 1943, in August he got his draft notice and went into the Army and became a paratrooper.

    After I had found out about my brother-in-law David being a “no no” boy, I wanted to talk to him about his experience, however, it was too late, he had already passed away.

    I would like to hear about other family stories before it is too late and all gone.

  4. Jim Furuichi says

    A little bit more about my brother-in-law, David Kawamoto. He was a senior to be graduated from San Jose State in June 1942 and did not get his diploma then, since he was sent to Heart Mountain. He was a big guy for his time for a nisei, 6 feet tall and strong. He was into Judo and was a NCAA wrestling champion, besides playing baseball and basketball. A quiet gentleman who did not talk much, but was confident in his beliefs and courage.

  5. Kenji Taguma says

    From the editor of the Nichi Bei Weekly:

    I read your latest column with interest, particularly since I’ve been involved in helping to bring the story of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee — and other Nisei draft resisters — out to the public over the past 20+ years. I actually know several Heart Mountain Nisei draft resisters, as my father was a Nisei draft resister out of the Granada (Amache), Colorado concentration camp.

    I actually knew Frank Emi, one of the seven Fair Play Committee leaders, fairly well, and conducted an oral history of him. I figure that the uncle that you write about is none other than PN. The first of some two dozen programs I organized as a student was a forum on Nisei draft resistance, and Frank Emi stayed at our home in West Sacramento.

    One thing: Heart Mountain resisters, by and large, were not “no-no boys.” They actually answered “yes” in most cases, or qualified their answers. Nisei draft resisters are often misconstrued as “no-no boys,” a mistake rooted in John Okada’s novel of the same name.

    Interesting to hear some of our shared familial legacy rooted in wartime resistance. A friend of mine, Frank Abe, was the filmmaker who created “Conscience and the Constitution” — a film on the Heart Mountain resisters. More on his film, and resources: http://www.resisters.com.

    Your uncle was an honorable man.

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