R.C. and the Masudas
by Wendy McElroy
The story of Kazuo and Mary Masuda is both a cautionary and inspiring tale. The brother and sister were Nisei and, as 2nd generation Japanese-Americans, they were targeted for brutal oppression by their own government during World War II; their story cautions us against judging people based on ancestry, especially during times of crisis when emotions easily substitute for reason. Their story also inspires us through the bravery displayed by Kazuo and Mary. Equally inspiring are the rare individuals who spoke up on their behalf – not years afterward when the political 'error' was clear and the defense was safe but while the injustices were actually occurring. Perhaps loudest among those rare voices was R.C. Hoiles, the libertarian editor and co-publisher of the then-Santa Ana Register (now the Orange County Register).
The tale begins abruptly on the morning of Sunday, December 7th, 1941. In a speech delivered the next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the 7th "a date which will live in infamy". A surprise aerial attack by the Japanese against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii had crippled the U.S. fleet. At the time of the attack, World War II had been raging for over two years. Although America clearly supported the Allies (initially the United Kingdom and France) against the Axis Powers (initially Germany, Italy and Japan), the U.S. had not entered the war and there was significant domestic resistance to doing so. Within an hour of the President's speech, however, Congress formally declared war against Japan; on December 11th, Germany declared war on America.
The Masuda family immediately felt the full impact of Pearl Harbor upon their lives. On the evening of December 7th, Gensuke (George) and Tamae Masuda were at their farmhouse in Talbert, Orange County, California when there was a knock on the door. At that time, Orange County was an agricultural area with the soil constituting its wealth. According to a 1940 census, the Japanese-American community comprised 1,855 people, most of whom were engaged in farming. Many were Issei – first generation Japanese who had immigrated. Gensuke had arrive in America in 1898 to work on a railroad in Oregon and, then, he moved to Talbert where he leased 200 acres and eventually purchased 10 more, all of which was farmed as a family.
Sheriff's deputies were the ones who knocked. Without explanation, they took Gensuke and loaded him onto a bus with 18 other Issei. Ten days later -- without trial, legal representation, or the right of appeal -- Gensuke was accused of “subversive activity” and incarcerated in a stockade at Ft. Missoula, Montana. The authorities never provided specific reasons for their accusation; it may have resulted from nothing more than a pervasive fear that the Japanese would invade the West Coast and be assisted by resident Japanese citizens, such as Gensuke.
The news of his father's imprisonment incensed Kazuo, who had not been present at the farmhouse with other family members. On October 17, he and his brother Takashi had boarded a train to report for military duty at their respective basic training camps; they were volunteers. Through the proper authorities at Fort Ord, Kazuo Masuda (Pvt. 39,166,362) wrote a letter to Washington D.C. in which he professed his father's allegiance to America. He wrote, in part,
“I cannot believe my father has done any act of disloyalty toward the United States. He has been a resident of this country for over 40 years, that is to say since 1898. He has been a farmer for over 35 years During this time he has seen his sons and daughters grow into good, solid American citizens....He has, in my opinion, maintained during his 44 years of residence in this country a perfect record of unquestionable loyalty to this country. He has never been arrested for any violations of the laws of this country. That he would commit acts which endanger the safety of this country is unthinkable....In all the 23 years I have lived with my father, he has never uttered a single word against the United States. He has always considered this nation his country, and I believe he has done his part in making it the great nation that we are. He did not, as so many others have done, send any of his children to Japan for any part of their education. He wanted his children to be Americans. I know that he has succeeded in his wish. He has often expressed hope that he would be able to spend the remainder of his life in the United States.”
Kazuo's letter is credited with Gensuke's early release, at which time he joined Tamae and the remaining family in Fresno where they had retreated to live with a relative for the sake of their own safety. That safety would be short-lived.
On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that gave the War Department authority at their sole discretion to exclude any “persons” from prescribed areas, including much of the West Coast. The Order was the basis of a campaign of relocation and mass detention aimed at both Issei and Nisei. In October 1942, the Masuda family joined thousands of other Japanese-Americans at the Fresno County Fairgrounds where they had been ordered to assemble. They were held there for 56 days before being loaded onto trains for the five-day trip to the Jerome Relocation Center -- a 10,000 acre internment camp that stretched over three Arkansas counties. Thus, the Masuda family joined over 110,000 Japanese-Americans who were forced from homes and businesses to be interned behind barbed wire that was monitored by armed guards. Jerome was one of ten primitive 'relocation' centers created by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in Colorado, California, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Idaho and Arizona. The majority of internees were American citizens; their detention lasted from 1942 to 1945.
During the internment upheaval what did major newspapers have to say? Next to none so much as criticized the massive violation of civil liberties; newspapers on the West Coast were especially silent about or supportive of internment. A March 6, 1942 editorial in the San Francisco News was typical in arguing: "Japanese leaders in California who are counseling their people, both aliens and native-born, to cooperate with the Army in carrying out the evacuation plans are, in effect, offering the best possible way for all Japanese to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States."
One newspaper was a remarkable exception. On Feb. 5, before the internment order had been announced, the feisty libertarian publisher R.C. Hoiles declared in the Santa Ana Register: "The recommendation of the grand jury to have all alien enemies removed from Orange County calls for a difficult undertaking. Every bit of wealth that these workers are prevented from creating, which we so badly need during the war, will have to be created by the labor of some other worker. "Of course, there is no such thing as absolute security. We must run some risks in every move. Risks are life itself. It would seem that we should not become too skeptical of the loyalty of those people who were born in a foreign country and have lived in the country as good citizens for many years. It is very hard to believe that they are dangerous."
As internment became law, Hoiles' defense of the Japanese-Americans became more aggressive. In an October 14th column, he called the evacuations “unconstitutional” and argued that “convicting people of disloyalty to our country without having specific evidence against them is too foreign to our way of life and too close akin to the kind of government we are fighting....We cannot help but believe that we would shorten the war and lose fewer lives and less property if we would rescind the order and let the Japanese return and go to work, until such time as we have reason to suspect any individuals of being guilty of being disloyal to America.” He called for correcting “the error” as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Kazuo experienced his own personal battles in the military. Although he ranked first in Morse code classes, the Signal Corps rejected him and he was offered work as a gardener instead. When the 442nd Infantry Regiment was formed at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Kazuo joined and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. The 442nd was formed in early February 1943 to establish an all Japanese-American volunteer combat unit. It became known as the “Go for Broke Regiment” because of its extreme valor. “Honor By Fire” by Lyn Crost -- the definitive book on the 442nd – claimed it was the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in U.S. military history, collectively receiving 18,143 decorations, including 9,486 Purple Hearts.
On furlough from the 442nd, prior to going into active battle in Italy, Kazuo visited his family at Jerome in block 15-03-D. Shortly thereafter the Masudas were moved to the Gila River Relocation Center, in the hot Arizona desert. It was at Gila that Tamae received a Western Union telegram from the War Department in which her name was misspelled. It read, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Staff Sgt. Kazuo Masuda was killed in action on 27th August in Italy. Letter follows.” Kazuo was 25-years-old. The subsequent one-page letter offered little additional information, claiming that “reports of this nature contain only the briefest details as they are prepared under battle conditions and the means of transmission are limited.”
An article in the “Fifth Army News” filled in the blanks when it reported on the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action being posthumously awarded to Kazuo. The article read, in part,
“While the 442nd was attached to the 34th “Red Bull” Division, Masuda was operating from a forward observation post but enemy shells cut communication lines, making the OP useless. Unwilling to risk the lives of members of his mortar crew, he obtained a mortar tube, 20 rounds of ammunition and an extra helmet. With his load, Masuda walked 200 yards through enemy fire.
“Using the helmet packed with dirt as a baseplate, he went into action when the enemy attacked, firing all 20 rounds and repulsing the Germans. The Nazis located his position and subjected him to an intense mortar and artillery fire but Masuda held his ground, returning to his line for more ammunition. His fire was so effective, another attack did not even threaten the company line.
In the action in which he subsequently was killed, Masuda crawled ahead of his men when they heard noises. He discovered himself only five yards from the enemy. Firing his submachine gun, Masuda called to his men to withdraw. They, thinking he was following, retired. Next day, they found Masuda dead, with his sub-machine gun in his hands and facing the enemy, lying over a dead German machine pistol operator.”
At Gila, the Masudas held a Buddhist memorial which was rendered all the more significant by the fact that another son, Masao, was due to report for duty.
On April 30th, 1945, Adolph Hitler committed suicide; the war in Europe was all but over. In the Pacific, the tide of war had turned clearly and solidly against the Japanese although the official surrender did not occur until August 15th.
In early May, Mary Masuda was granted permission to travel to Talbert to prepare the way for her parent's return to their farm. Mary discovered that someone, without paying rent or receiving authorization, had farmed the Masuda land and lived in their home. On the first evening of her return, she was 'visited' by five men who threatened bodily harm if she did not leave town; the Gila News-Courier (May 15) identified the men as “several Orange County farmers.” The hostility Mary experienced was not an isolated event. In reporting on the threats against her the “Utah Nippo” (Salt lake City) stated, “The new incidents are in addition to 15 shooting attacks, one attempted dynamiting, three arson cases, and five threatening visits...in California in the last four months.”
Secretary of Interior Harold L. Ickes explained, “The hoodlums grow more desperate in their lawlessness as some of them see that they will not be able to establish an economic beachhead on the property of the evacuees they vainly hoped would sell out or run out.”
When Mary reported the incident to the police, she was told that nothing could be done about it. The sheriff changed his mind several days later due to public and official pressure.
R.C. Hoiles spearheaded the public pressure by featuring a photo of Mary and Masao on the front page of the then-Santa Ana Register (now the Orange County Register). He also published lengthy commentaries by Mary, as well as columns defending the returnees and their property rights. On June 6th, in a letter-to-the-editor, Mary expressed her gratitude to Hoiles. “This letter should have been written long ago and I hope you will forgive me for my negligence,” she wrote. “The fine publicity of my incident, along with the large picture of Masao and myself appearing in the front page of your newspaper was indeed a great honor and I am deeply grateful to you....It is truly gratifying to know that an influential concern as your newspaper is standing by the minority group, for the democratic principles so that our gallant men who are giving their supreme sacrifices are not dying in vain.”
The official pressure came from government agents, especially those within the War Department and WRA, who understood the postwar wisdom of reversing the hostility toward Japanese-Americans which they had been instrumental in creating. Whereas Hoiles publicized the injustice being done to returnees without fanfare, the officials trumpeted their own role in 'correcting' the Masuda matter. On December 8th, Four Star General Joseph W. Stilwell, accompanied by General Arthur E. Easterbrook, took the unprecedented step of flying 3,000 miles from Washington, D.C. to visit the Masuda farm which had been returned to the family. There he presented Mary with a Purple Heart on behalf of Kazuo. Usually such medals are presented by the highest ranking officer in the area at the nearest army installation. Traditionally, the medal is given to a parent and both of Kazuo's parents had been present. Arguably, however, Mary was the more press-worthy family member due to her earlier news coverage.
A December 10th press release from the WRA declared of the ceremony, “There were four newsreel companies there; two broadcasting networks; and many reporters and photographers. General Stilwell in a history-making little drama of modern democracy walked up to the weather-beaten front porch of the Masuda home and pinned the D.S.C. on Mary Masuda.” Life Magazine memorialized the moment. Thereafter, Stilwell and Mary proceeded to a 'United America' rally at the Santa Ana Municipal Bowl, which included Hollywood celebrities. Introduced by Will Rogers, Stilwell declared, “Who, after all, is the real American? The real American is the man who calls it a fair exchange to lay down his life in order that American ideals may go on living. And judging by such a test, Sgt. Masuda was a better American than any of us here today.” Actor and army captain Ronald Reagan spoke on behalf of the American Veterans Committee. Mary also addressed the crowd.
In 1948, Kazuo's body was brought home from Italy for burial in Westminster Memorial Park, Orange County. But the controversy over his Nisei status did not end with death. On November 20, 1948, a headline in the “Citizen” read, “Home Town Cemetery Bars Burial of Nisei War Hero.” Kazuo was refused burial in a “desirable” plot (e.g. one with trees and lawns) because of a restrictive covenant against those of Japanese ancestry. General Mark Clark, under whom Kazuo had fought, intervened; the cemetery relented. Kazuo was buried in a “desirable” plot with full military honors. His grave became a gathering point for annual ceremonies honoring Nisei veterans who had died in the war.
In 1957, the Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670 was founded in Orange County. On December 17, 1975, the Kazuo Masuda School was dedicated In Fountain Valley and became the first American public school named for a Nisei.
In short, the honors so richly deserved eventually came. But in a public ceremony in November 2005, it was R.C. Hoiles that Kazuo's brother Mas thanked on behalf of his family. Mas stated, "We are very grateful for what he did.”
What R.C. Hoiles did was to speak out against an injustice at a time when it had overwhelming public support. After the war, it became popular and politic to defend the Nisei. But Hoiles spoke when it counted most -- while the injustice was happening. He did not act in self-promotion; he spoke from simple decency.
When the Nisei veterans returned from Italy in July 1946, President Harry S. Truman stated, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice – and you have won.”
Three years earlier, in a letter sent to Mary while she was in a detention camp, Kazuo wrote, “I'll be alright wherever I may be. I can take care of myself. Of course, no one likes this war, no one likes to fight and die if he doesn't have to, but it is much easier if one know what he is in here for. Myself and the rest of the Combat Team, I believe, know for what he fights. It is for us, our future in America....Of course, we haven't been treated exactly fair, we've been kicked around. We know that. But we can take it on the chin and come up fighting and we will win out in the end.”
Please check out merchandise related to this article at the Vulgus e-store.
Proceed to next article. Return to last article. Return to general Hoiles page. Go to Vulgus Home Page.