"...examination of the Army's reports on the shootings gives the impression that the Army's shooting rule comes close to making death, rather than up to 30 days arrest as provided in Article 54 of the Geneva Convention, the penalty for attempted escape."
- James Keeley, Jr., State Department memo, August 1, 1942.1
"Emphasis has been placed on only one aspect of the Japanese alien internees' experience within the detention and internment camps during World War II. Attempts to gain information about this issue from the perspective of the United States government, especially that of the FBI or the INS, have been less than successful, even with the assistance of the Freedom of Information Act, because certain files had pages missing while others have been `sanitized' with passages obliterated by large black marks."
- Tetsuden Kashima5
When the other newly arrived prisoners asked the camp physician about the condition of the two men, they were told that Isomura and Kobata were receiving medical care at the camp hospital. When morning came and the question was asked again, the doctor claimed that the two were shot during an escape attempt while on their way to the camp. Their graves were dug by two other Japanese American inmates, who were told "these graves are for the Japanese who died; if you don't do your work quickly, I will make you dig two more graves."5
When the prisoners demanded an investigation and autopsy, the military commander refused on the grounds that they were already buried. The results of the September 2 hearing on the incident were not made available to the prisoners, although they submitted a report and some were allowed to testify.5
From a report prepared by Togo Tanaka (one of the demonstration's targets):
On the evening of Saturday, December 5, 1942, Frank Matsuda, a Nisei, formerly a Los Angeles restaurant owner and chairman of the Southern District JACL was beaten up by a gang and severely injured.
Early on the morning of December 6 several persons suspected by Masuda of being involved in his beating were ordered arrested. Among these was Dick Miwa, a Kibei junior cook, who for some time had been trying to organize the mess-hall workers and had publicly accused the Assistant Project Director and the Caucasian Chief Steward of theft of sugar and meat from evacuee warehouses. Reports of these charges were widely circulated and generally believed by the residents.
It is not plain that Masuda recognized positively any of his assailants but the bitter and contemptuous opposition of Miwa to the administration and its alliance with the hated JACL made him a natural suspect. Furthermore he could not account for his movements on the previous night. He was therefore taken to the county jail at Independence, California, while the other suspects were lodged in the project jail.
Popular resentment and reaction were immediate. By 1 P.M. a crowd had gathered near Miwa's former residence. A public address system had been set up, and J.Y. Kurihara, among others, made demands (1) for the unconditional release of Miwa, (2) for an investigation by the Spanish Consul of conditions at Manzanar, (3) for further action against Masuda and other inu in camp.
In the course of the meeting, "death lists" and "black lists" of alleged inu, most of whom were JACL collaborators with the administration, were read off. In addition to Masuda, individuals so listed included Tokutaro Slocum, a World War I veteran who had attained American citizenship (under the act of 1935), and who had openly boasted of his connections with the FBI and other intelligence agencies, and Togo Tanaka [author of this report] and Joe Masaoka, former JACL leaders who, serving as "documentary historians" for the WRA Reports Office, were under suspicion of informing on fellow evacuees.
An Issei informant reported, concerning this afternoon meeting, that "the majority sentiment is that they want Mr. Miwa released from jail; they are convinced he was framed and wrongly accused by Mr. Masuda, whose accusation [that Miwa beat him up] is believed to be only another of a list of bad things he has done against the Japanese. Some speakers even said they would `do a lot of killing tonight unless Miwa was released.'" Another Issei reported: "The meeting served to fire up the men with great zeal. Many speakers said that Miwa was being made a scapegoat by the administration because he had exposed the sugar fraud and had sacrificed himself for the people. They said that Masuda was in on the plot. It was decided that unless the administration released Miwa that night, the mess-hall workers would all go on strike the next day."
According to official reports Project Director Ralph Merritt met with evacuee representatives shortly after the noon assembly. Meantime he had requested military police to be in readiness to intervene, and they had lined up at the police station inside the project area. Merritt agreed to bring Miwa back to the project, but insisted that he be confined in the Manzanar jail.
Dissatisfied with this compromise, evacuees assembled again at 6 p.m The second Issei quoted above reported: "The evening meeting was much worse. They're going out to get about then or eleven inu, I can't remember all the men whose names were read off several times over the microphone. I don't know the man's name who made the speech and began calling off the names, but he was terribly excited. the first name called off to be killed was Mr. Masuda. They said that the hospital should be invaded and Mr. Masuda killed because the administration had refused to release Mr. Miwa, and that the Negotiating Committee had gotten no place at all with Mr. Merritt. The speakers were also excited about the soldiers who had been drawn up by the police station and said that as true Japanese `we should not be afraid to die in this cause as our brothers are dying for justice and permanent peace and the new order in Asia.' Most of the talk though was about the inu activities of the men on the `death list.'"
The assembled crowd split into two parts, one heading for the hospital to "get" Masuda, the other moving toward the project jail where Miwa was, by this time, confined. When Masuda could not be found (he had been hidden under a movable hospital bed), the part of the crowd that had headed for the hospital moved toward the barracks of half-a-dozen other alleged inu on the death list but, failing to locate the intended victims, joined up with the larger crowd and pushed toward the police station.
The Project Director called on the commanding officer of the military police, and authorized him to declare martial law. A detachment of soldiers shortly appeared, and forced the crowd away from the police station. The Assistant Project Director at this point called the FBI in Los Angeles requesting agents to come into the center and "get at the bottom of this thing." Evacuee spokesmen demanded audience with the Project Director and pressed the commanding officer for release of Miwa. They were refused. The soldiers, who had managed to push the crowd completely away from the police station, now lined up, armed with submachine guns, shotguns, and rifles. Evacuees jeered and made insulting gestures. The soldiers thereupon donned gas masks and threw a number of tear gas bombs into the crowd. The evacuees fled blindly in every direction and some were piled up against a telephone pole, covering it with blood. The crowd re-formed and the soldiers fired, without orders. Within two minutes after the gas bombs had been thrown, no evacuee was in sight except the wounded lying in the street. A short time later a small crowd re-formed and started a parked automobile, aiming the car at a machine gun emplacement. The car curved away from the machine gun, crashing through the northwest corner of the police station and finally stopped against one of the army trucks parked west of the police station. Several bursts were fired by the machine gunner at the car as it swung across the road. The empty car was hit several times, one of the bullets ricocheting and wounding a corporal of the military police.
In all, ten evacuees were treated for gunshot wounds and it was believed that several others were hurt but did not ask for treatment, from fear of implication in the affair. One evacuee died almost immediately. He was a young Nisei, one of whose brothers was then serving in the United States Army. A second evacuee, nineteen years old, died on December 11 from complications resulting from his wounds. Throughout the night military police, augmented by State Guardsmen, patroled the interior of the camp. Among the evacuees, shifts were arranged at each mess hall, and the bells tolled loudly and continuously throughout the entire night and late into the morning...
On Sunday morning (December 13), Masuda, Slocum, Masaoka, Tanaka and some twenty others on the death lists and black lists were, with their families, removed from Manzanar and taken to an abandoned CCC camp in Death Valley, from which two months later they were permanently resettled. Miwa, Kurihara, and others suspected of implication in the "riot" had been sent to the County Jail, and later moved to a Department of Justice Internment Camp (if aliens) or to a WRA Isolation camp at Moab, Utah (if citizens).2
I ran and became one of the curious spectators. The MP fired shots into the defenseless crowd. A classmate, Jimmy Ito, was shot and killed. It was a terrifying experience.8
...By the time the tear gas was clear, I could see one man, not more than ten or fifteen feet away, on the ground face down. Three men tried to take him into the police station. But when a man is dead, he's pretty hard to carry. I open the window and I jump out and helped them carry the body into the jailhouse and put it on top of the table. He was bleeding. He must have been hit from behind at close range. Shot running away... I knew the one we brought in. James Ito. He's eighteen years old. One man, very strong JACL, was sitting in the back of the table. He saw that dead man, and he pounded the table and he said, "I made a mistake! I couldn't believe the United States could do this!" He was not talking to me or anybody else. He was yelling to himself...7
Years later I talked to a lady who was the sister of one of the younger men that got killed. She claimed he had been shot in the back as he fled... She said they had his bloody T-shirt with a bullet hole in the back. They kept it for years. Finally they buried the thing.7
San Francisco Examiner, May 25, 1944:
The witness, a Caucasian employee of the WRA, said he did not know the cause of the argument.
"The guard said, `Don't get out of that truck,'" the witness related. "Anyhow the Jap got out on the driver's side and I am sure the guard said, `Don't come any closer, you b---.'"
"About that time he drew up his rifle, butt end. He was going to hit him on the head.
"The Jap moved, the guard backed up about three feet and shot."2
Report of the Investigation Committee on the Shoichi James Okamoto Incident, based on eyewitness accounts by eight Japanese Americans, July 3, 1944:
...at approximately 2:20 P.M., May 24, 1944, the shooting occurred. The victim, Shoichi James Okamoto, was 30 years old, had been born in Garden Grove, California, and had never been abroad... Okamoto was driving Truck #100-41 at the order of the construction supervisor... to get lumber piled across the highway from the old main gate, which is called Gate #4... In his truck, a swamper named Harry Takanashi... accompanied Okamoto on this assignment... The witnesses, besides Takanashi who rode next to Okamoto, included eleven boys from the heavy equipment crew who were waiting for an Army escort...
According to Takanashi, the new sentry had just come on duty. Word has it that the new sentry was in a disagreeable mood and was known as one of the tougher sentries. The two on the truck went over the line a bit. The sentry, on Okamoto's side of the truck, could see Takanashi's badge, but could not at first see Okamoto's because of the high sidedoor of the truck, and because of the sentry's short stature. It is claimed that the badge was on Okamoto's jacket, as was necessary. The sentry asked to see the badge in a disagreeable fashion. Okamoto showed the pass, was allowed through, and returned with his truck and swamper in a few minutes. On the way back, his truck drove up close to the heavy equipment crew's trucks... At this juncture, Okamoto was driving in towards the gate and the sentry's attention was focused back upon him. While he had been waved through the gate a few minutes before, he was now ceremoniously halted. It is claimed Okamoto said words to the effect of, "Well, here's the pass." Perhaps this sounded cocky to the already irritated guard. The sentry ordered him off the truck and commanded Takanashi to drive. Without a driver's license, the latter explained, he could not drive a truck. The sentry, it is said, was infuriated at this delay. From then on, commands were well peppered with curses... To Takanashi's answer the guard is said to have replied, "You Japs and your WRA friends are trying to run the whole camp." He then turned back to Okamoto... Heavy equipment boys, not many feet away, were talking among themselves of the sentry's aggressive and insulting manner, and some despite the tension--were saying, "They're not all like that," "This one has it in for `Japs,' etc." Okamoto was apparently apprehensive by this time. When ordered out of the truck he had done so reluctantly and had left the truck door opened. At this juncture a Ford V-8, driven by Roy S. Campbell, a Caucasian WRA staff, arrived from the highway and stopped with engine running, about 7 feet from the end of Okamoto's truck.
According to Takanashi and other witnesses, the sentry at that time cocked his gun and went around via front to the other side of the truck where Okamoto was standing. The sentry then ordered Okamoto to the back of the truck. This would have been just outside the gate. Okamoto started but hesitated for an instant. At this point, speculate on the guard's motives, with true concentration-camp psychology, the suspicion is that the guard wished to shoot him outside the gate. (Shot while trying to escape.) Okamoto's hesitation is explained by this point. In the moment of hesitation, in which most say no pipes were lit and no words said, the sentry struck Okamoto sideways on the right shoulder with a rifle-butt. Okamoto raised his right arm and moved his body slightly back to ward off any further blows. While in this defensive position, the guard stepped back one pace and from a distance of four or five feet fired without warning. In all accounts stemming from eyewitness testimony, the act was looked upon as an unprovoked attack, Okamoto fell with what seemed to have been a close-range stomach wound... It is said, in the center, that Takanashi certainly must have been cool-headed about the affair since he summoned an ambulance in less than one minute... the account which he and his co-workers gave as signed testimony to the Police Department in interviews with all eyewitnesses on the scene shortly thereafter is said to be factual and logical. The story of all eyewitnesses, despite already distorted newspaper versions, such as in the S.F. Examiner that the one Caucasian, Roy Campbell, eyewitness account, probably fits the picture drawn for them...
The sentry cursed, seemed nervous, and it is said, swung the rifle in [the heavy equipment crew's] general direction. More cursing--"You people get the hell out of here"--and they fled, Takanashi trying to get the hospital on the phone. Another crew of five stumbling on the scene were ordered back by the sentry...
How long a time before [Okamoto] was hospitalized is not known; some say 20 minutes. According to the physician and surgeon every possible means of treatment was administered... Okamoto died at 12:10 A.M., May 25, 1944.2
6 weeks later, on July 6, 1944, a few days after an inu murder, military officers held court-martial proceedings for Goe. Goe was charged and acquitted of manslaughter after an hour's deliberation.2
In March, he was transferred to Fort Sill, where the guards and the commander were aware of the psychological condition that he had developed in the months since he last saw his family. What follows is an FBI memo dated May 18, 1942.5
One Jap became mildly insane and was placed in the Fort Sill Army Hospital. [He]... attempted to escape on May 13, 1942 at 7:30 a.m. He climbed the first fence, ran down the runway between the fencing, one hundred feet and started to climb the second, when he was shot and killed by two shots, one entering the back of his head. The guard had given him several verbal warnings.5
WRA Report, summer, 1942:
The guards have been instructed to shoot anyone who attempts to leave the Center without a permit, and who refuses to halt when ordered to do so. The guards are armed with guns that are effective at a range of up to 500 yards. I asked Lt. Buckner if a guard ordered a Japanese who was out of bounds to halt and the Jap did not do so, would the guard actually shoot him. Lt. Buckner's reply was that he only hoped the guard would bother to ask him to halt. He explained that the guards were finding guard service very monotonous, and that nothing would suit them better than to have a little excitement, such as shooting a Jap.
Sometime ago, a Japanese [Nisei] was shot for being outside of a Center... The guard said that he ordered the Japanese to halt -- that the Japanese started to run away from him, so he shot him. The Japanese was seriously injured, but recovered. He said he was collecting scrap lumber to make shelves in his house, and that he did not hear the guard say halt. The guard's story does not appear to be accurate, inasmuch as the Japanese was wounded in the front and not in the back.1
We approached the west-south fence, approximately 35 feet away, when an army "jeep" came speeding from the north on the road beyond the fence and, upon seeing us, came to an abrupt halt. The driver stood up from his seat, turned to his companion, and grabbed the submachine gun from the latter's hand. He jumped off jeep and came dashing to the fence pointing his gun at us [and saying] "Scatter or you'll get the same thing as the other guy got."6
On April 28, at Fort Douglas, Utah, court-martial proceedings were held for the soldier who had killed Wakasa. He was found "not guilty."6