On the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

My dad turned 86 this past January. He was 11 when FDR signed Executive Order 9066 ordering all Japanese living on the west coast inland. Today is the 75th anniversary of that Executive Order.

1936: Azusa, California.
Back row: George, Henry, Minoru, Saburo, Yoshinao, Yoshio
front row: John, James, Kagi (my grandmother), with Stephen and Hannah, Ginzo (my grandfather), and Grace. 
This is his family in 1936, before Pearl Harbor, before the older boys went off to war, before the rest of the family packed what they could carry, before they left behind their Azusa farm, before they made their way to the Pomona Assembly Center.

1942: A train stop on the way to Heart Mountain.
Dad, Uncle Jimmy, and Auntie Grace are on the right, looking out the window. 
In August of 1942, they arrived at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. My father's older sister, Grace, happened upon this photograph in a World War II commemorative calendar. That's my dad, the little arms of either my Auntie Hannah or Uncle Steve, Uncle Jimmy, and Auntie Grace looking out the train window. Dad remembers this as a long ride. Trains carrying goods for the war took priority on the rails, so their train made many stops, waiting for other trains to pass. My dad was only supposed to pack necessities, but he decided to take his marbles with him. I wonder if those glass spheres survived the journey or if they were lost and rolled away.

1942: Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
back row: Hannah, Yoshio, Yurikichi Ikehara (cousin), James
front row: Stephen, Ginzo, Kagi, John (hiding), Grace.
This is a family shot taken at Heart Mountain. The family is older and smaller. Yoshinau, Sab, Min, Henry, and George were all in the service. James got permission to attend the University of Illinois. As you can see, my grandmother is in a wheelchair. She had MS and, as you can imagine, the camps were not ADA compliant. The winter was particularly hard on her with lows below zero on many days. They requested to relocate to a camp at a warmer location. The authorities approved the move, but said the family was responsible for transportation and the costs incurred. So, Uncle George took a leave from the army, acquired a truck, and moved the family to Gila Rivers, Arizona.

1943: Gila Rivers, Arizona.
Yoshio, John, Hannah, Kagi, Ginzo, Stephen, Grace. 
While the family was in internment camp, the Department of Agriculture confiscated and sold the family's farm equipment. Their trucks were left behind because the family had sealed the tires in a basement. Uncle Sab and Uncle Henry took leave and went to the farm to drive the trucks to a friend in Colorado, but they were stopped by local police. Although they were released a couple of days later, they weren't able to deliver the trucks. So, Yoshinao asked for a leave to settle this business and visit the family at Gila Rivers. There, he was reunited with an old girlfriend. They married a year later. That is one silver lining Uncle Yosh talked about from this era. 

The caption on the Online Archive of California reads:
"Mr. G. Nakada of Azusa, California states he has had no difficulty
selling his products. He is the father of 11 children,
7 of them serving in the U.S. Army." photo by H. Iwasaki.  
photo by H. Iwasaki.
Dad is in the hat and striped shirt.
photo by H. Iwasaki.
Dad rarely smiled for the camera, but here you see his charming grin. 

In 1945, the family returned to their farm in Azusa. These photographs, part of the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, show how well this Japanese American family adjusted once they were back home. My dad, however, doesn't really remember it that way. He got into fights whenever someone called him a Jap, and he fought quite a bit.

There is much being written right now about FDR's Executive Order 9066 and comparing these injustices to our country's current shifting immigration policy. In the Japanese American community we like to say, "Never again." This is just one family's story, and I hope we will do all we can to hold up the promise of "Never again."


  1. Amazing photos. They really tell their stories. Thank you for sharing. Your dad is a treasure for all of us. I am so glad he is still here to enjoy his grand kids. Because after all he has been through, he deserves nothing less.

    1. Thank you so much, Sandee, for reading and sharing. I'm so glad my kids know their amazing grandpa!

  2. I am so amazed that your family's experience is (relatively) well documented in such high-quality photographs. They likely were staged to make their (white) American viewers feel better about the internment camps. However, they *do* show that these camps were real and that American citizens, including your Dad, were imprisoned. We must never, ever, forget that this happened.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Andrew. My family is fortunate to have so many amazing images. There are portraits of the family from their first through their last children (to be sent back to family in Japan).