Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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Notwithstanding the Army's planning efforts for the transfer of evacuees from the assembly to the relocation centers, the evacuees often experienced less than ideal conditions. In its Second Quarterly Report, the WRA reported that during the summer and early fall of 1942 "contingent after contingent of evacuees boarded trains at the assembly centers and travelled hundreds of miles farther inland to the partially completed relocation centers." In addition some 8,000 to 9,000 people of Japanese ancestry were moved from their homes in the eastern half of California (Military Area No. 2 portion of the state) directly into relocation centers beginning on July 9. The WRA observed that in "planning the movement to relocation centers, every effort was made to hold families intact and to bring together people who came originally from a common locality." However, the agency noted:

Evacuees from the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, were first moved to the Tanforan and Santa Anita Assembly Centers and later reunited at the Central Utah Relocation Center. Colorado River Relocation Center drew its population largely from the Imperial Valley, from the Salinas and Pinedale Assembly Centers, and Military Area No. 2. The two northern-most relocation centers — Minidoka in Idaho and Heart Mountain in Wyoming — received their contingents mainly from the assembly centers at Puyallup, Washington and at North Portland, Oregon. Gila River absorbed the whole population of the assembly centers at Tulare and Turlock, plus several contingents from Santa Anita and others from Military No. 2.

"Despite this general pattern," however, the WRA reported that "some mingling of heterogeneous populations was inevitable." Evacuees at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, for example, "were widely dispersed in the movement to relocation centers." "These people, most of whom were originally from Los Angeles, were scattered among the Gila River, Granada, Central Utah, and Rohwer Relocation Centers." Later, some Santa Anita evacuees would also be sent to Manzanar and Jerome. At Granada, "where the highly urban Santa Anita people were combined with predominantly rural contingents from the Merced Assembly Center," the WRA noted that "some minor tensions had already developed between the two groups before" the end of September. "Sincere efforts were being made on both sides, however, to create a better mutual understanding and to develop greater community solidarity." [43]

The train trips, particularly the longer ones, were often uncomfortable for the evacuees. Even on trips of several days, sleeping berths were provided only for infants, invalids, and others who were physically incapacitated. Most evacuees sat up during the entire trip, and mothers with small children who were allowed berths were separated from their husbands. Ventilation was poor because the military had ordered that the shades be drawn for security purposes. The toilets sometimes flooded, soaking suitcases and belongings on the floor. The trips were slow because the trains were old, and sometimes they were shunted to sidings while higher-priority trains passed. Delays could be as long as ten hours. Arrangements for meals were sometimes less than satisfactory, and medical care was frequently poor. Although the WCCA had ordered that trains be stopped and ailing evacuees hospitalized along the route, at least two infants died during the journeys. [44]

Some evacuees were harassed by the military guards. One evacuee later recalled:

When we finally reached our destination, four of us men were ordered by the military personnel carrying guns to follow them. We were directed to unload the pile of evacuees' belongings from the boxcars to the semi-trailer truck to be transported to the concentration camp. During the interim, after filling one trailer truck and waiting for the next to arrive, we were hot and sweaty and sitting, trying to conserve our energy, when one of the military guards standing with his gun, suggested that one of us should get a drink of water at the nearby water faucet and try and make a run for it so he could get some target practice. [45]

Another evacuee remembered:

At Parker, Arizona, we were transferred to buses. With baggage and carryalls hanging from my arm, I was contemplating what I could leave behind, since my husband was not allowed to come to my aid. A soldier said, "Let me help you, put your arm out." He proceeded to pile everything on my arm. And to my horror, he placed my two-month-old baby on top of the stack. He then pushed me with the butt of the gun and told me to get off the train, knowing when I stepped off the train my baby would fall to the ground. I refused. But he kept prodding and ordering me to move. I will always be thankful [that] a lieutenant checking the cars came upon us. He took the baby down, gave her to me, and then ordered the soldier to carry all our belongings to the bus and see that I was seated and then report back to him. [46]

At the end of the lengthy train trips were the new relocation centers. To travel-weary refugees, the spectacle of guard towers and armed sentries in the middle of vast, primitive expanses of nothingness came as a rude shock, especially since they had been assured that the relocation centers were to be residential communities without the most repressive aspects of the hastily-constructed assembly centers. [47] Upon arrival at the relocation centers the evacuees underwent an often grueling "intake" procedure, which usually took about two hours. The process included five principal steps: (1) a medical check; (2) issuance of registration and address forms to each family group; (3) assignment to quarters; (4) emergency recruitment of evacuees needed in the mess halls and other essential community services; and (5) delivery of hand baggage to individual families. [48]

In his The Governing of Men, Alexander H. Leighton described the "intake" process and its effect on the evacuees at the Poston relocation center. He observed:

In May the physical shell of Poston began to fill with its human occupants. First came the volunteers and then a swelling stream of evacuees until the city of barracks had become alive. . . .

[The] first volunteers were soon followed by others until a total of 251 turned to work in the growing heat and cleaned up the barracks for the 7,450 evacuees who arrived during the succeeding three weeks. The volunteers worked at the receiving stations interviewing, registering, housing and explaining to the travel-weary newcomers what they must do and where they must go. . . .

The new arrivals, coming in a steady stream, were poured into empty blocks one after another, as into a series of bottles. The reception procedure became known as "intake" and it left a lasting impression on all who witnessed or took part in it.When the bus stops, its forty occupants quietly peer out to see what Poston is like. A friend is recognized and hands wave. The bus is large and comfortable, but the people look tired and wilted, with perspiration running off their noses. They have been on the train for twenty-four hours and have been hot since they crossed the Sierras, with long Waits at desert stations. . . .

They begin to file out of the bus, clutching tightly to children and bundles. Military Police escorts anxiously help and guides direct them in English and Japanese. They are sent into the mess halls where girls hand them ice water, salt tablets and wet towels. In the back are cots where those who faint can be stretched out, and the cots are usually occupied. At long tables sit interviewers suggesting enlistment in the War Relocation Works Corps. . . . Men and women, still sweating, holding on to children and bundles, try to think. A whirlwind comes and throws clouds of dust into the mess hail, into the water and into the faces of the people while papers fly in all directions. . . .

Interviewers ask some questions about former occupations so that cooks and other types of workers much needed in the camp can be quickly secured. Finally, fingerprints are made and the evacuees troop out across an open space and into another hall for housing allotment, registration and a cursory physical examination . . . In the end, the evacuees are loaded onto trucks along with their hand baggage and driven to their new quarters; there each group who will live together is left to survey a room 20 by 25 feet with bare boards, knotholes through the floor and into the next apartment, heaps of dust, and for each person an army cot, a blanket and a sack which can be filled with straw to make a mattress. There is nothing else. No shelves, closets, chairs, tables or screens. In this space 5 to 7 people, and in a few cases 8, men, women and their children, are to live indefinitely.

"Intake" was a focus of interest and solicitude on the part of the administrative staff. The Project Director said it was one of the things he would remember longest out of the whole experience at Poston, He thought the people looked lost, not knowing what to do or what to think. [49]

While the intake process was an inauspicious introduction to the WRA for the evacuees, the physical condition of the relocation centers at the time of arrival also contributed to their feelings of disaffection. At the end of September the WRA reported on living conditions in the centers:

Seriously hampered by wartime shortages of materials and wartime transportation problems, construction of the relocation communities went busily forward under supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers throughout the summer months, At most centers, the building of evacuee barracks was finished on or very close to schedule, Installation of utilities, however, involved more critical materials and consequently moved forward at a considerably slower rate. At some of the centers, evacuees were forced temporarily to live in barracks without lights, laundry facilities, or adequate toilets. Mess halls planned to accommodate about 300 people had to handle twice and three times that number for short periods as evacuees poured in from assembly centers on schedule and shipment of stoves and kitchen facilities lagged behind. In a few cases, where cots were not delivered on time, some newly arriving evacuees spent their first night in relocation centers sleeping on barracks floors. At nearly all centers, evacuee living standards temporarily were forced, largely by inevitable wartime conditions, far below the level originally contemplated by the War Relocation Authority.

The WRA went on to report that "most of these difficulties were either straightened out or well on the way to solution" by the end of September. Still ahead, however, was "the sizable job of constructing buildings which were not included in the agreement with the War Department" such as schools and administrative housing. "With the fall term already started at most public schools in the United States, evacuee children were getting ready to resume their education in barracks and other buildings which were never intended for classroom use." [50]

Other developments also contributed to the confusion and disgust of many evacuees as they entered the relocation centers, One of the most disconcerting issues confronting both the WRA and its new charges was the agency's unreadiness to undertake its mandate. Having selected the sites for the relocation centers, the WRA quickly turned to its second job — development of policies and procedures that would control the lives of the evacuees — while the centers were being constructed. In his letter to Eisenhower on April 6, Masaoka set forth a long list of recommendations for regulating life in the camps and stressed, among other things, the importance of respecting the citizenship of the Nisei, protecting the health of elderly Issei, providing educational opportunities, and recognizing that the evacuees were "American" in their outlook and wanted to make a contribution to the war effort. [51]

Although the WRA agreed with many of these recommendations, it was slow in developing policies for operating the relocation centers. The WRA would later describe the difficulties it encountered as it grappled with the issue of policy formulation:

Ideally the War Relocation Authority should have had a complete set of operating policies drawn up and ready to go into effect when the first contingent of 54 evacuees arrived at the gates of the Colorado River Relocation Center on May 8, 1942. Actually it was 3 weeks after this date before the agency produced a set of policies which were then frankly labeled by the Director as 'tentative, still fairly crude, and subject to immediate change.' And it was not until August, when more than half of the evacuee population had been transferred to WRA supervision, that the Authority was able to provide the centers with carefully conceived and really dependable answers to some of the more basic questions of community management.

The chief reason for the delay in producing a reliable set of basic policies lies in the fact that WRA had to start virtually from scratch, . . . no agency — governmental or private — had ever been called upon before to care for the needs of a tenth of a million men, women, and children who had been uprooted from their homes under a cloud of widespread popular distrust in time of total war. The problem of managing camps under these conditions were so unprecedented, so complex, and so unpredictable that the process of policy formulation continued, at varying levels of intensity, throughout the major part of the agency's active life. Nevertheless, the principal outlines of center management policy were laid down in 1942 — in tentative form in a statement issued at the Washington office on May 29 and then, somewhat more thoughtfully and against a brief background of actual operating experience, in an agency conference held at San Francisco in the middle of August. [52]

Given the limited time available and the novelty of WRA's task as both jailer and advocate for the evacuees, it is not surprising that the agency was not fully prepared for the evacuees when they began arriving at the relocation centers, Furthermore, the "Tentative Policy Statement" issued in mimeographed form on May 29 must have left the evacuees puzzled and confused. Committed to a policy of detention even before the relocation centers were completed, the WRA announced that it had begun making plans to assure evacuees "for the duration of the war and as nearly as wartime exigencies permit, an equitable substitute for the life, work, and homes given up, and to facilitate participation in the productive life of America both during and after the war." [53] Nevertheless, the fact that WRA was unable to provide dependable answers to basic questions, such as policies on evacuee employment and compensation, self-government, internal security, education, agricultural production, and consumer enterprises in the relocation centers, until late August and early September contributed to the disaffection and anxiety that increasingly characterized evacuee reactions to the relocation centers. [54]

The confluence of diverse political interests had again conspired against the evacuees. The condition of the relocation centers at which the evacuees arrived in 1942 were barely an improvement over the hastily constructed and makeshift assembly centers they had left. The increased freedom and possible resettlement they had anticipated had been reversed in favor of confinement, and the rules and policies that would govern their uprooted lives for the indefinite future were uncertain, tentative, or non-existent, The Manzanar War Relocation Center, located in the arid expanse of Owens Valley in eastern California, will provide a poignant case history of the WRA administered program to both detain and relocate persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002