Hood River Incident

The history of Japanese Americans during World War II usually calls forth vivid images of barbed wire, tarpaper barracks, and observation guard towers. Yet, the reach of anti-Japanese American sentiment and racial hostility extended far beyond the concentration camps into small town America. The Hood River incident of 1945 is a prime example of the everyday prejudice and racist beliefs that contributed to the government's systematic removal and detention of the Japanese American community. Although Dillon Myer, the War Relocation Authority's director, had famously promised that incidents of violence against Japanese Americans would be the exception rather than the rule during the war, acts of discrimination and aggression were not unusual, especially on the West Coast.

In early 1945, the small community of Hood River, Oregon, became the site of a national scandal that dramatized the rise of racial prejudice and wartime hatreds. In January of that year, leaders of the local American Legion Post removed the names of 16 Japanese American veterans from the local honor roll. Their rationale was a collective doubt in these veterans' allegiance to the United States, and possible dual citizenship with Japan—a fallacious belief that seemed ludicrous considering some of these men had lost their lives fighting on be-half of the United States. Veterans who were removed included a serviceman who had shown bravery in combat on the European Front and was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts. Most notably, the group included Frank Hachiya who served in military intelligence and died in the Philippines on January 3, 1945, after showing great courage. Hachiya's bravery was recognized with the military's posthumous awarding of the Distinguished Service Cross; the media coverage of his death increased pressure on the legion to reverse their initial decision. As the New York Times wrote in an editorial, “Perhaps Private Hachiya never knew that the Legion post had dishonored him back home. Perhaps some day what is left of him may be brought back to this country for reburial among the honored dead.”

The news of the egregious activities in Hood River spread across the nation. Life Magazine ran a lengthy article covering the event; Collier's deemed the incident a product of “blind hatred.” John Haynes Holmes, a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union, compared the Hood River erasure to Nazi Germany, stating: “When Hitler came to power he shocked the world by removing names of Jewish soldiers from the war memorials of Germany.” After receiving such negative publicity, the national commander of the American Legion, Edward Scheiberling, ordered the Hood River Post to replace the names on March 12, 1945, six weeks after their initial removal.

The symbolic act of the desecration of the honor roll was paired with reports of discrimination against local Japanese Americans who had remained in Washington and Oregon to maintain agricultural operations during the war. Some Washington-based farmers, for example, found it difficult to sell their produce in the area due to an increasingly insular and uncomfortable racial climate. In the first couple months of 1945, local organization named the Oregon Property Owners Protective Association held a rally to call for deportation and enforcement of 19th-century alien land laws against Japanese Americans. Membership in this association was made up of legionnaires who had voted for the removal of the names. The legion had been a vehicle of anti-Japanese sentiment and xenophobic lobbying since earlier in the century. Around this same time in 1945, the legion had published advertisements in the local Hood River newspaper publicly warning Japanese Americans to avoid returning to their homes upon release from the camps.

Despite these local accounts of discrimination and exclusion of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest, some members of the community sought to counteract their fellow citizens' racist actions. In Hood River, some individuals came together to advocate for and aid those Japanese American residents who decided to return to their homes and reclaim their property. A nation-wide boycott of apples grown in the region attempted to put counterpressure on the area's more conservative groups. Yet, these efforts did not fully assuage the damage done by the townspeople's racist activities. Not surprisingly, fewer than half of the town's former Japanese American residents returned to the river valley after the war.

Jenny M. James

References

Girdner, Audrie and Anne Loftis. The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese-Americans during World War II. London: Macmillan, 1969.

Okihiro, Gary. Columbia Guide to Asian American History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

“Private Hachiya, American.” New York Times, February 17, 1945.

Tamura, Linda. The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.