Kenji Inomato

This is a story from Johnny Kiki pal about his grandfather. My grandpa Kenji Inomato was born in Negata japan on September 25th 1885 after his father died grandpa stowed away on a steamship with an English sea captains permission and sailed from japan in 1897 to see the world he swam ashore in new york harbor in 1899 and worked as a waiter in the shipyard district in 1906 he joined the US navy. In 1919 two navel officers appeared in federal court attesting to his character and he was naturalized the same day. He returned from the navy after 30 years honorable service these factors would eventually prove invaluable during WWII in 1938 grandpa moved his family of six to LA after the 1941 attack on pearl harbor uncle Takashi then 7 years old remembers going outside the house on Kimli avenue in LA and heard same neighbors yelling “that house is gunna be mine” they were claiming houses owned by Japanese who were ordered incarcerated. Dad had just been fired from his dream job as a civil service airplane mechanic at an army air force base in McCullen field California he had also recently married and mom was pregnant with my sister Sandra, grandpa had also been fired at his job at the LA Bureau of water and power who had allegedly falsely stated on his employment records he had requested to go on leave. Dad bitterly opposed to being incarcerated because he was an American citizen and his father had honorable served his country for 30 years in the United States navy. What more proof of loyalty was necessary? That was when the family got their orders to evacuate dad contacted the United States attorney office in downtown LA to protest and apply for exemption. The odds were flat against exemption especially since armory John L Dewitt. In charge of the evacuation program had published in the newspapers it was useless to apply for exemption. Dewitt was not inclined to make any exceptions and even refused president franklin d. Roosevelt’s wife request to release a Japanese woman and his children from imprisonment. Dewitt repeatedly claimed Japanese could not be assimilated into American society and you could not change them with a piece of a paper. Amazingly, however in April 1942 grandpa was temporarily exempted from imprisonment by US attorney William Flate palmer a man of very progressive political views. Even more incredible 5 months later in September 1942 grandpa was honorable exempted from incarceration from the intolerant racist general Dewitt himself. The officers under whom grandpa had served had written letters to Dewitt attesting to his loyalty and long and honorable service this was a bold move by these officers and at a time when Japanese antipathy was at its apex there is a record of one other Japanese male who had been sent home at his death bed at the convenience of the government to die from complications of a coronary thrombosis. A few other Japanese were granted temporary exemptions from curfew by US attorney palmer and one in particular was granted temporary exemption from incarceration. However each such individual was subsequently incarcerated following Dewitt’s annulment of the US attorney’s orders accordingly grandpa was the only full blooded to issei to have been issued an exemption badge and permitted to live in his own house in LA throughout WWII. He was required to wear his badge at all times. The rest of the family their spouses of Japanese ancestry and their children were scheduled to be incarcerated some of the non-japanese wives were ordered to camp merely because they were pregnant with a child of Japanese ancestry. As for the published bases for his exemption general Dewitt wrote in the army’s official WWII publication. Final report, Japanese evacuation from the west coast 1942. Only one full blooded Japanese male a citizen of the United States was authorized reside in the evacuation area a special exception was made in his case because of long and honorable service in the United States navy. Dad threatened the office of naval intelligence that he had three brothers who knew how to use shotguns and would resist any attempt to incarcerate any member of his family. Luckily ONI seemed somewhat amused at his brashness we were thus fugitives in the eyes of the FBI however with the good graces of god and letter writing by dad to President Roosevelt general Dewitt and two other officers of the western defense command we were however subsequently exempted in December 1942 on the confidential policy. Following Pearl Harbor Japanese were being beaten shot and killed by vigilantes and other haters. It was thus a bitter sweet experience living in the lion’s den of anti-Japanese sentiment in LA in 1942 the family maintained a low profile and had limited contact with others. Problem was though the children of school age uncles Takashi and Tadashi were chased home by schoolmates that used to be their friends and were insulted by their teachers. Worse older uncles Takeo and Yosho were involved in a horrible car accident on the grapevine on the 99 highway in December 1942 when the ambulance came and the medics saw their Japanese names they covered them up and falsely pronouncing them as dead. Consequently uncle Yosho died on the scene from his untreated injuries and Uncle Takeo unconscious at the time was placed in a cooler along with the corpses at a morgue in Bakersfield California. When grandma came from LA to Bakersfield to identify the bodies while crying and rubbing her dead sons forehead Takeo moved. Fortunately he regained consciousness three weeks later grandpa worked throughout the war and driven toward by my uncles in the backseat of the car. Because the kids were hoppa they were thought to be Filipino, Mexican, Hawaiian, or other ethnicities no knew our home address because if they did we would have all been injured or killed it was bad enough that some individuals outside the neighborhood heard about the Japanese family living in the area and suspected we lived on 43rd St. and McKinley avenue someone threw a rock through the window on one occasion. However the vigilantes never knew for sure because the LA police department and the FBI classified our address as confidential and would give out no information. The catch 22 in the family’s exemption from the camp was that if we reported any significant problems while living in the evacuated areas or got into trouble with the authorities our exemptions would have been revoked and we would have been sent to prison with the other individuals of Japanese ancestry accordingly we never reported any incidents as described above. Bottom-line the family survived. In 1969 grandpa honored as being the oldest living member of the most decorated battleship in WWI history the mighty USS New Jersey. Uncle Takeo who was falsely pronounced dead at the accident volunteered for duty in the US army’s 100th battalion company C of Hawaii he fought alongside the celebrated 442 all Japanese battalion receiving the coveted combat infantry the all mans distinguished unit badge European African Middle Eastern campaign medal WWII victory medal and the good conduct medal. Dad worked closely with a lawyer and 2 newspaper men from the catholic inter racial council of LA risked his safety to promote the release of the imprisoned Japanese and return to the west coast. The full story along with scores of photographs and supporting documentation along with military, government, civil service employment records and so forth are memorialized in my book “The stately Stewart, the fragrance of freedom”

 




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