On March 30, 1942, the U.S. military removes the more than 200 Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island, located in Kitsap County a short ferry ride across Puget Sound from Seattle. The removal comes a month after President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) signed Executive Order 9066, giving the military the authority to designate areas "from which any or all persons may be excluded" ("Transcript ..."). The order sets in motion the expulsion of some 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to 10 inland prison camps, based on their ethnicity and heritage. None is ever accused of any crime or charged or convicted of any act of espionage or sabotage. Bainbridge Island's Japanese American residents are transported to what will become the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, becoming the first in the country to be incarcerated in a government concentration camp.
Protesting an Injustice
After the first announcement of the executive order in February 1942, the only West Coast newspaper editors to write against internment were the young couple who co-owned and co-published the Bainbridge Review -- Walter C. "Walt" Woodward Jr. (1910-2001) and Mildred Logg "Millie" Woodward (1909-1989). In an editorial they expressed the "hope that the order will not mean the removal of American-Japanese citizens, for it [the Review] still believes they have the right of every citizen: to be held innocent and loyal until proven guilty" ("Not Another Arcadia").
When a short time later, on March 24, 1942, U.S. Army troops posted Civil Exclusion Order No. 1 around the island, giving Japanese Americans just six days to evacuate, the Woodwards spoke out against "this high-handed, much-too-short evacuation order," arguing that this was not enough time for the evacuees to settle their affairs (In Defense ..., 57). Among the unresolved issues was the fate of the expected three-million-pound crop of strawberries that were farmed on Bainbridge Island mainly by Japanese American farmers. Some Filipino American employees signed agreements with Japanese American landowners to harvest the crop and to manage farms until the owners could return. White island residents also assisted in caring for assets.
A Sad Day
Sadness marked the day the military removed Bainbridge Island's Japanese American residents. Military trucks traveled from house to house gathering the families, who could take only the belongings they could carry. People left pets behind. A Filipino American husband stayed behind as his Japanese American wife left, and the sheriff boarded up the community-hall windows and posted guards to protect the stored belongings that internees left behind.
The 227 Japanese American islanders were put aboard the ferry Kehloken at the Eagledale dock on the south side of Eagle Harbor (the large bay indenting the island's east side), opposite the site on the bay's north side where the Washington State Ferries landing was subsequently located. The Bainbridge Review reported that the evacuees remained composed as they boarded the boat. Onlookers, including some of the soldiers carrying out the order, "wept unashamed" ("Evacuees Sing on Trip"). Ichiro Nagatani, head of the Japanese American Citizens' League at the time of internment, told the Review that most of the Japanese Americans harbored no bitterness, but declared, "We are just as good Americans as the next guy ... only we haven't had a chance to prove it" ("Johnny and Ichiro ..."). The ferry took the islanders to Seattle, where they were loaded aboard a train that quickly departed for California.
Because the government had not yet completed any incarceration camps in the Northwest, the Bainbridge Island group was transported to the Owens Valley Reception Center (subsequently renamed the Manzanar War Relocation Center) in the desert of east central California. They were not the first Japanese Americans to arrive at Manzanar -- a voluntary advance party from Los Angeles was already working at the camp. Nor were they the first group of Japanese Americans forced from their homes -- 500 Japanese American residents of Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor had been removed from that island on February 25, but were not immediately sent to an incarceration camp (they would arrive at Manzanar not long after the Bainbridge Islanders). But the 200-plus Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island were the first to be taken from their homes and incarcerated.
The Bainbridge Islanders were almost the only Northwesterners sent to Manzanar. Most of the Japanese Americans removed from Seattle and the rest of Western Washington, as well as some from Oregon and Alaska, were sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in south central Idaho. Many from Bainbridge wanted to join friends and family at the Minidoka camp, and there were some conflicts between the small group of Washingtonians and the Californians they were incarcerated with at Manzanar. Within a year, the government permitted the transfer and all but a few families from Bainbridge Island (who stayed at Manzanar to be with relatives from California) were moved to Minidoka, where they remained for the duration of the war.
Return and Remembrance
After the war, only about half of the island's Japanese American residents returned. According to the Bainbridge Island School District's Minority History Committee, some stayed away because they did not want to return to start over. Others found new places to settle, having seen other parts of the country during the war. Those who returned to the island settled back in largely without incident. One local group tried to prevent their return but received little popular support, and a majority of islanders welcomed their returning Japanese American neighbors, in contrast to other communities where many white residents actively resisted the return of Japanese Americans.
More than a few of those who did return to Bainbridge Island noted the role that Walt and Milly Woodward played in the positive reception they received. While the Bainbridge Review's staunch opposition could not prevent the internment, the paper's regular reports on the Japanese American islanders' activities in the camps -- the Woodwards employed interned islanders as camp correspondents for the Review -- kept them in their neighbors' thoughts during their absence, and its advocacy for welcoming them home provided support to other islanders who felt the same way, which did not exist in communities where the press was actively hostile to returning Japanese families.
In 2002, a small memorial marker was dedicated at the end of Taylor Street on former site of the Eagledale dock, from which the Bainbridge Island Japanese community was sent into internment 60 years earlier. Its plaque read:
"On the morning of March 30, 1942, 227 Bainbridge Island men, women, and children, most of them United States Citizens, were escorted by armed soldiers to the Eagledale ferry landing. They solemnly boarded the ferry Kehloken and departed on a lonely journey with an unknown destination and fate.
"They were exiled by Presidential Executive Order 9066 and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1 because they were Nikkei -- persons of Japanese ancestry. With only six days notice they were forced to hastily sell, store, or make arrangements for all of their possessions, businesses and property. They were allowed to take only what they could carry or wear.
"They were the first of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans to be forcibly removed from their homes and experience three years of unconstitutional internment. No all were interned. Some were drafted into the military, some were unjustly imprisoned, and some moved away -- but all were forbidden to remain.
"We dedicate this site to honor those who suffered and to cherish their friends and community who stood by them and welcomed them home. May the spirit of this memorial inspire each of us to safeguard constitutional right for all.
"Nidoto Nai Yoni 'Let it not happen again'" ("Memorial").
Over the next decade, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial was developed on the site, which became part of the City of Bainbridge Island's Joel Pritchard Park when the park was created in 2006. The memorial includes traditional entry gates, a pavilion, and a story wall that was dedicated in 2011.