Evicted During World War II, Former Valley Residents Investigate Possible Redress Claims
(Reprinted from Aug. 2, 1991)
Editor’s note: When this story by then-Hawai‘i Herald writer (and later editor) Mark Santoki story was published in 1991, the fate of the Lualualei farmers still hung in the balance. They made up an unusual group of people who were affected by Executive Order 9066. Further review of “evacuee” cases resulted in residents of other communities becoming eligible for the letter of apology from then-President George H.W. Bush and monetary redress — other Wai‘anae communities, ‘Ewa near West Loch, Pearl City Peninsula, Käne‘ohe, Iwilei, Pu‘uloa, Pauoa and Moloka‘i.
It was the middle of the night. Masanori Matsu-
da was suddenly awakened by the sound of pounding at his front door. When he opened the door, a lieutenant and two noncommissioned officers let themselves in. Pointing a .45-caliber pistol at Matsuda, the officer told him that they were there to search the house. The men proceeded to the bedrooms, where the officer felt Matsuda’s bed with his hands. Feeling the warmth, the officer demanded to know who had been sleeping in the bed. Matsuda told him that he had. The officer did the same for the beds of Matsuda’s mother and father. He also looked under the beds for the enemy he thought the Matsuda family might be harboring.
There are aspects of that evening that have grown cloudy over the years, but Matsuda does recall that he suspected the officer was drunk, so he tried to remain calm so that the officer would not get trigger-happy. This shocking indignity was what the war had brought to the quiet farming community of Lualualei, Wai‘anae, on the Leeward coast of O‘ahu.
In 1941, Matsuda, Patrick Luka and Takeshi Takabayashi worked for the defense contractor Black-Woolley-Glover at the Lualualei Naval Ammunition Depot and radio station. These young Lualualei farmers had constructed the ammunition magazines at the depot and had even erected the barbed wire security fences around the radio station.
Luka, whose farm was situated right next to the radio station, felt he was serving his country through his work. Luka had worked at Hickam Air Force Base prior to his job at the ammunition depot. Furthermore, he had taken out a Farm Security Loan, which was given “in defense of the Territory,” because Hawai‘i was preparing for war.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 22-year-old Takeshi Takabayashi was awakened by his mother, who told him she had seen a plane with a red circle flying overhead. Takabayashi rushed out of the house in time to witness a dogfight between an American P-40 and a Japanese Zero. The Zero proved too maneuverable for the P-40 and the American plane was shot down near Mä‘ili. “That was a bad thing to see, but I saw that,” Takabayashi noted.
Then, only a couple of days later when the Marines arrived to search the Takabayashi farm, Mariano Patagne, a Filipino American who worked for the Takabayashi family, interceded on behalf of his Japanese American employers by pretending to be in charge of the farm. “They go inside the house and just walk right inside. We were real lucky we had Mariano,” Takeshi reflected. “He’s nothing, but what is a Filipino to be blocking the way of war with the Japanese. Nothing holds them back. They just going to storm inside. Boom. Boom.”
Luka remembers that a county agricultural agent named Okumura, from the University of Hawai‘i, assembled the Lualualei farmers of Japanese ancestry and informed them that “within 30 days you are going to be shipped out.” For Luka, who was adopted by a Hawaiian family at birth, the information was especially troubling. He did not have a Japanese American identity, but he had “Japanese blood” in his veins.
Takabayashi recalled that they were evicted with “only one bag, you know, that’s all we get. Leave all the livestock, pigs, chickens and stuff.” Matsuda accompanied his parents and other AJA families from Lualualei to the immigration station in Honolulu. Although he was an American citizen, he had planned to accompany his Issei parents if they were sent to the Mainland.
The group was just about to be shipped out when businessman Walter Dillingham convinced the military authorities that the Lualualei farmers were critical to food production on O‘ahu. In fact, their produce eventually went to provision the military in Waipahu during the war. “We were all in a bunch and ready for go, but they needed us, and so that’s the reason why we stayed back,” Takabayashi exclaims. Otherwise, ‘Haul ’em out; take ’em to the Mainland!’”
A guardhouse was constructed by the Territorial Home Guard after they were allowed to return to their farms. The guards regulated traffic into Lualualei and patrolled the area at night. The AJA farmers and their families were issued black identification badges with personalized numbers, which they had to wear at all times. They were informed that they could not stay in their homes during the evenings for security reasons; if they were caught anywhere within the restricted area after 6 p.m., they would be shot.
All of the Lualualei farmers wondered why only AJA residents of the multiethnic community were being restricted. Fifty years later, Takabayashi still asks, “Why was it supposed to be? Why didn’t they do the same thing to the Germans and the Italians? Had German people over there, too. But only us.”
After all, these very AJAs had built the ammunition bunkers. Why would they sabotage them? If they wanted to, they could have sabotaged them before Dec. 7. These were the people who had built the fence around the radio station. Now, ironically, the fence would serve to “protect” the station from the suspected “saboteurs” — the AJAs who had erected it in the first place.
Robert Fricke, the German American manager of Wai‘anae Plantation, also served as the district chair for the Evacuation Committee, Territorial Office of Civilian Defense. The Office of Civilian Defense established the provisions to segregate the Japanese Americans and empowered the district chairmen to create “work battalions” comprised of these AJAs.
Because wages at Waianae Plantation were not competitive with wages outside, the plantation was short of workers. Since the Lualualei farmers were restricted from their homes at night, they were assigned vacant dwellings at Fricke’s plantation. In exchange for housing, each family was required to send one member to work for the plantation every Saturday. Masanori Matsuda’s father worked for Fricke’s family, while Takeshi Takabayashi represented his family.
The plight of Japanese American farmers restricted from their homes in Lualualei thus served to ease Waianae Plantation’s labor shortage. At the very least, Fricke appeared guilty of a grave conflict of interest.
Nevertheless, the mistrust and mistreatment did not deter Takabayashi from twice volunteering for military service. He was rejected both times because his job transporting produce from Lualualei to market was deemed essential.
Luka applied as well and was rejected — but for a wholly different reason. “When I volunteered for the 442nd, they looked at my name and said, ‘You not Japanese.’ They threw my papers down and said that I could not volunteer for the 442nd.” In spite of having a Hawaiian name, Luka had already been restricted from his home because of his Japanese ancestry. Now he was being rejected from the 442nd in spite of his Japanese ancestry because he had a Hawaiian name. “The way I feel, I am a guy who has no country. The Japanese no like me; the Americans no like me,” Luka recalls.
Takabayashi, likewise, remembers the bitter sting of rejection. “You make one mistake and they can shoot you. [Have] you ever felt that way with your own countrymen? You no mo’ country. They treat you any kind way. You wonder why you’re living. . . . But Ja-
panese people, they exceptionally quiet. Nobody negative. And yet they get the kind because, for one thing, fear is that you can die, you know. . . just like nothing, just like one dog, That’s the only thing that was really — fear. And them guys all say we are enemies. We supposed to be having a gun and shoot in the same direction as they’re shooting, not against each other. And yet, they turn around and shoot backward.”
The Lualualei farmers never formally protested the government’s mistreatment because they feared for the lives of their families. They endured the discrimination, but it was not easy.
“I went to the post office in Wai‘anae with my son, who was 6,” reflects Luka. “He doesn’t know. Only when he looks at the person, he says, ‘Oh, that person is black.’ When you say that the person is black, that’s nothing wrong. How are you going to express yourself when you’re a young child? So this soldier, two of them, I think, told me, ‘You better straighten up your kid.’”
Luka tried to assure the soldier the child meant nothing derogatory when he said “black.” But the soldier persisted. “So I gave my kid licking right in front of him. But the way I see it, if I was a troublemaker, I would just go. I couldn’t cause trouble because I would get in more trouble. So you might as well take what they going to do to you.”
In late 1944, the Lualualei farmers were finally allowed to return to their homes. “One day, the guards were just gone. You feel funny because you’re looking for the guard and nobody’s around,” says Takabayashi, “The barbed wire was on the side already and I felt good, just like we just came out of prison. You feel funny because there’s no guard there anymore. You feel funny kine when you go through the gate, and think: ‘I wonder if they’re going to shoot us?’”
James Araki, who settled in Lualualei right after the war began, emphasizes that he didn’t feel anger, only disappointment. “To us, we could help the country more by producing more, and we could produce more without the restrictions.”
Luka remembers that after the war, “We used to make friends with the servicemen. Servicemen used to come over to our place and we made party for them after the war.” Luka worked for the Naval Ammunition Depot for 25 years after the war.
Takeshi Takabayashi never told his children about his Lualualei experience because, “I want them to live the same way like everybody else. I don’t want them to know about hardship. If they don’t know, then it’s OK. But if you keep telling that kind of stuff to the kids, they’re going to get negative thinking and pretty soon they’re going to start rebelling.” Takabayashi does not want his children and grandchildren to know what it is like to be a man without a country. His rationale is shared by many of the Lualualei farmers who have concealed the injuries inflicted upon them by the government.
Fifty years after the incident, Takabayashi, Luka, Matsuda and Araki have yet to receive an apology from the government. All are in their 70s. For Matsuda’s mother, Tsugano, and the other deceased Issei, it is already too late.
Assisted by the Honolulu Chapter of the JACL, the group is presently investigating the possibility of being covered under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, whereupon they would be eligible to receive an apology and $20,000 in redress compensation. At this time, however, the AJA farmers of Lualualei require more legal documentation in order to prove their eligibility for redress. They are searching for memoranda and other official verification from 50 years ago. If they are unable to secure these elusive documents, they will never qualify for any form of redress.
Takabayashi is not counting on receiving $20,000 just yet. “I don’t feel that way until I get it,” he says. “No one can tell, because you might not get it. You never know. . . . Let’s say $20,000. At the time it was huge wish money. But today, you can buy a car with $20,000. A good car. Or you can make a good graveyard for yourself. A good monument.” Either way, he doesn’t view the $20,000 as a trade-off for what he went through. “No way can. I don’t think you can trade-off. That was real suffering and I was in the midst of it. I don’t think anybody should go through that kind of stuff.”
Not ever again.