Santa Cruz County History - Executive Order 9066 and the Residents of Santa Cruz County

Return of the Evacuees
by Rechs Ann Pedersen

San Jose (UP) - James Yamamoto, 40-year-old Japanese-American, ...born in San Jose and a graduate of Campbell High school, was one of the first Japanese-Americans permitted to return to the west coast area from which he was evacuated with others of his race in 1942. Sentiment among his neighbors and friends was that he had never "caused any trouble and should be left alone" on his berry farm. Yamamoto himself said simply that he was "glad to be back."(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. November 20, 1944. p.1.)

Stockton (UP) - Youthful veterans of the Pacific war who just a few months ago were shoveling dead Japanese into coral trench graves, now are carefully restoring a desecrated Japanese cemetery here. Under the direction of Jack Vineyard of Stockton, Calif., ex-marine raider battalion member, a group of 28 discharged veterans now students at the College of the Pacific has voluntarily assumed responsibility for the care and restoration of the burial ground. ...All of the men were bitter in their denunciation of citizens who sat by while the desecration continued, as well as of those who committed the acts. "I thought we were fighting against this sort of thing, not for it," said ex-marine Bob McDonald, Pacific Grove. "It makes me mad to come home to something like this." (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. July 20, 1945. p. 2.)

Although some individuals had returned to the West Coast in 1944, the majority returned after the Western Defense Command lifted its exclusion order. (See Release of the Evacuees) Public Proclamation No. 21, issued on December 17, 1944, revoked the mass exclusion order and took effect on January 2, 1945. Public Proclamation No. 24 revoked exclusion orders on individuals in September 1945.

The first evacuees back to the Watsonville area came only as a visitors.

January 30, 1945:

Frank Sakata, Pajaro Valley Nisei who was evacuated three years ago, and who now is farming with his family in eastern Oregon, was here on business Monday and Tuesday. He was accompanied by another former local Nisei, "Sox" Yamaguchi. ...As far as is known, Sakata and Yamaguchi were the first Nisei to visit the valley since the army lifted the evacuation ban early in the year.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. January 30, 1945. p.1.Full-Text)

In May, the Riptide reported on a family returning to Live Oak.

May 25, 1945:

Residents of Brommer avenue in the Live Oak districts are being sounded out as the welcome which might be accorded the Otsuki family... While the majority of the neighbors felt that it might be best for all concerned if the Otsuki family postponed their return until the Japs have been crushed, they say they feel no animosity toward the former residents and if they return - well, there simply is nothing to do but accept them. (Riptide p.3 Full-Text)

Japan signed the terms of surrender on September 2, 1945. At the beginning of September, 77 persons of Japanese ancestry had returned to the Watsonville area. By the end of September, the number increased significantly. Most local evacuees had been sent to the camp at Poston, Arizona. It began closing down sections in the Fall and was completely closed by November 28, 1945.

September 5, 1945:

With the war department and the Western Defense command issuing proclamations terminating the exclusive [sic exclusion?] program Tuesday night under which persons of Japanese ancestry were banned from the three west coast states, the Pajaro valley's present Japanese population of approximately 77 individuals was expected to increase steadily in the next few weeks. ...F. E. Rhodes, head of the local WRA office in the Lettunich Bldg., said Wednesday that WRA estimates expect 40 per cent of the evacuated Japanese to return. In the Pajaro valley, where 2300 were evacuated the latter part of March, 1942, that would mean approximately 900 will be returning in the next six months to a year... Inmates who are unable to manage for themselves when the camps are closed will be assisted by the War Relocation authority and local agencies of their home areas, it was said.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 5, 1945 p. 1.Full-Text)

September 12, 1945:

In the first group movement since lifting of the Japanese exclusion program Sept. 4, 74 Japanese evacuees arrived at Watsonville junction Wednesday morning, Fred Rhodes, local WRA official stated.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 12, 1945 p. 1.Full-Text)

September 21, 1945:

Second large group of returning Japanese to the Pajaro valley arrived Friday morning with 97 men, women and children leaving the train at Watsonville Junction, Fred Rhodes, local WRA official announced. ...The new arrivals bring the valley's Japanese population to nearly 250. WRA estimates show that 900 of the 2300 evacuated Japanese are expected to return eventually from relocation camps.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 21, 1945 p.1.Full-Text)

The War Relocation Authority Office (WRA)

The WRA opened an office in Watsonville to help returning evacuees on January 7, 1945. It's purpose was to assist persons of Japanese descent in resettling. The office closed April 19, 1946. "Although the WRA is closing its office, it is planned to form a group in the Pajaro valley to continue assisting returned evacuees in any resettlement problems. ... Those desiring to aid the group or committee carry on after the WRA office closes may contact local officials at the Stoesser Bldg., telephone 2202, or they may contact the Rev. George Goodwin, telephone 2316." (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. January 18, 1946. p.1.)

Employment and Housing

According to the head of the local War Relocation Authority's office in Watsonville, the "biggest problem facing local WRA representatives is housing. Jobs, Rhodes said, are plentiful, but hostels will have to be established throughout this area to house the returning Japanese. The Buddhist temple on Union St., is ready to be used as a hostel." (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 5, 1945 p.1)

Besides the Buddhist temple, property owned by Mr. Sakata, who had visited the area earlier in the year, was used as housing.

September 8, 1945:

Hostel accommodations for servicemen and ex-servicemen and women of Japanese ancestry and their families will be made available through arrangements completed this week between the Presbyterian Home Missions board and the War Relocation authority for joint sponsorship of Gilroy Hot Springs, owned by Frank Sakata, formerly of the Pajaro valley and now of Oregon. The hostel will be taken over Sept. 15. ...The hostel will be available to Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara county Japanese.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 8, 1945 p. 1.Full Text)


"Some found their belongings, which had been stored by churches or trusted neighbors, while others discovered their homes in disarray, their things stolen or broken." 1 The newspapers do not tell us if the returnees had problems reclaiming their farms as was reported in some places along the West Coast. Nor do we know from newspaper accounts if they still had their farm equipment. Newspaper articles indicate that the equipment may have been used by or sold to other farmers.

March 18, 1943:

Sacramento (UP) - Most of the farm equipment, owned by Japanese and Japanese-Americans when they were evacuated from the west coast, has been placed in farmers' hands to be used in 1943 crop production, the War Relocation authority revealed Thursday.According to Director Dillon S. Mayer, of the WRA, only about 150 tractors remain to be sold by the WRA property office in California, Washington, and Oregon.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian March 18, 1943 p. 1.)

April 10, 1943:

"It is not known just how much Japanese equipment is stored in the Pajaro Valley, a survey Saturday showed. It was reported that some machinery formerly used by Japanese in the Pajaro Valley had been sent to the San Joaquin Valley and other state points prior to the evacuation last spring. However, it is believed that a considerable amount of the stored equipment could be used here this year. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. April 10, 1943. p.1)

Reaction to the Return

"There was prejudice on the part of some Caucasians, while others welcomed the return of the Japanese with open arms."2

September 18, 1945:

President Don O. Colegrove of the Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture of the Pajaro Valley, Tuesday issued the following report on the recent survey regarding the public attitude of members on the return of Japanese evacuees: "At the request of many of its members, the chamber recently sent a questionnaire to its entire membership, which embraces a broad cross-section of the business, industrial and civic life of the city of Watsonville and its environs. This questionnaire propounded inquiries on the attitude of local people with respect to the proposed return of Japanese to this locality. ..." (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 18, 1945 p.1 Full-Text)

To the Editor:I have just noted the very recent C.C. survey concerning the ever-present Japanese problem in our midst. This report certainly demonstrates that our locality has a goodly majority of red-blooded Americans. Of late we have been learning of an increasing number of "Jap lovers" - people meeting the trains to usher these homecomers back to the Promised Land, while many are throwing their doors all but off the hinges to see that these people have employment.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 20, 1945 p. 8.Full-Text)


December 18, 1944:

With Gov. Earl Warren calling upon all chiefs of police and sheriffs in California to "join in uniform compliance to prevent intemperate action," west coast residents Monday prepared for the return of Japanese aliens and citizens of Japanese descent after two and a half years of enforced absence...(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. December 18, 1944, p.1.)

The violence against returnees that had been feared by many, did materialize in some areas of California. The Library found one reported incident in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian.

September 24, 1945:

Watsonville had its first case of public hostility against returning Japanese Monday, 2:10 a.m., when unidentified persons threw or shot a flare toward the Buddhist temple, corner of Bridge and Union St., which is being used as a hostel by the Japanese.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 24, 1945. p.1.Full-Text)

September 25, 1945:

Watsonville police and Santa Cruz county authorities, investigating the first public hostility here against the returned evacuees, lost no time in declaring that persons found guilty of inciting trouble will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This is as it should be and their attitude will be backed by all civic-minded and progressive citizens.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 25, 1945. p. 6.Full-Text)

Our Native Land

September 26, 1945:

To the Editor: Quoting from G.W. Cornell's letter of Sept. 20 to the editor, "everything possible should be done to encourage all Japanese to return to their native land ..."

Perhaps we could have just as easily relocated elsewhere but, my dear Mr. Cornell, because CALIFORNIA was our native land, we have returned. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 26, 1945 p. 3.Full Text)


  1. Nakane, Kazuko, Nothing Left in My Hands; An Early Japanese American Community in California's Pajaro Valley. Seattle, Young Pine Press, 1985. (as quoted in Nihon Bunka. Chapter 4: A Time to Reflect: 1945 to Present)
  2. Ibid.

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