Let My Father Go Free

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Kenzo Sakanashi, 1933, Lompoc, CA

On February 19th, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, my great-grandfather, Kenzo Sakanashi, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on suspicion of being an enemy alien. He spent over two years separated from his wife and three children in prison camps from North Dakota to New Mexico. Only after consistent petitions was his case reconsidered, allowing him to finally rejoin his family in one of the general internment/concentration camps.

These are the words that sentenced him to this long imprisonment and caused fear, anxiety, and ill health to his wife and children:

“Detainee is an educated man, according to Japanese standards. He is a man of intelligence and apparently has an important and influential position as foreman at Lompoc. He endeavored to make the Board believe that he was just a poor, agricultural laborer, when the facts were clearly to the contrary. The Board believes that he is a wily individual, fully in sympathy with Japanese policies and by virtue of his position, and his intelligence, constitutes a potentially dangerous enemy alien. When asked about his stand in the present war, he skillfully evaded the questions;

The Board recommends internment for Kenzo Sakanashi for the duration of the war.”

After the military draft was reinstated for Japanese American citizens, my grandfather, aged 20, wrote his final petition to have his father released before being called to give his own life for his country.

“Feb. 27, 1944

Department of Justice
Alien Enemy Control Unit
Washington, D.C.

Attention: Mr. Edward J. Ennis, Director

Gentlemen,

My mother received your letter dated December 23, 1943, stating that father, above-named subject, is being re-examined in the Review Section of your unit, a rehearsing deemed unnecessary at this time and when decision is made, he will be notified whether any charge can be made in his status as internee.

May I therefore sincerely request that his case be considered for parole.

I am now 20 years of age and a one hundred percent American citizen of Japanese ancestry. My loyalty to this country from the beginning of the Registration at the Relocation center has been firmly in affirmative. As you may know we are now being reclassified 1-A (Grandpa could be drafted) and are awaiting our call. My brother, Kenichi, 22, is also in perfect physical condition, a citizen of this country, and has been strictly an affirmative man for the Registration, and will be subject to call at any time. The only other child of his 3 children is Kimiko, 24, daughter who has relocated to Cleveland and is working as a stenographer. My mother is with us 2 boys at present and is very anxious about my father. When we are called to arms, my mother will be all alone in this center. My sister is not able to support her with her small income outside. We are therefore hoping that case of Kenzo Sakanashi be considered.

Both mother and father are quite aged and are not enjoying any too perfect of a physical condition. Mother has not been very well ever since her husband’s internment and father has been ill seriously previous to his internment. He has been suffering from diabetes and gall bladder complications. Only through my mother’s careful planning in his diet he was able to enjoy freedom from his constant pain. In past few weeks, we have learned that he is not very well. Will you please have him considered in this regard also. It is my belief and hope that you may agree that he be given consideration for the following points for his case:

1: He came to this country in 1905, a young boy of 18, and has not returned to Japan since, except for a brief period of 3 mos. to take his bride in 1918. If naturalization of citizenship had been eligible, he would have had enjoyed citizenship for more than 30 years.

2: He has three children, all a citizen of this country, born, raised, and educated in this country. His two sons are awaiting call for arms and a daughter doing her share to help out with the war efforts as a civilian.

3: He has no desire to repatriate to Japan, nor does any member of his family. United States is our country and his, for living here more than half of his life time, and is willingly ready to sacrifice his two sons to fight and preserve the freedom of democracy. He always writes us that our duty in this war is to show the people that, we, the nisei, are doing our share in this fight for democracy, that all human beings are created equal.

4: His sole interest has been and is to rear us to become a useful citizens of this country. We believe and know he has succeeded, but this fact has not been as yet recognized by your department.

The above, I hope, will aid in studying his case. Won’t you please give most careful consideration in regard to my father’s case. We most anxiously hope that an encouraging tiding will be in store for us.

Yours most sincerely,

Takeshi Sakanashi”

On the eve of our new President’s inauguration, may we Americans strive to create a better democracy — the one that my great-grandfather believed in and encouraged his sons to live and die for.
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