Life After Pearl Harbor for the Nagano Family
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Nagano Family (Photo Courtesy of History Center of San Luis Obispo County)
The Nagano family had been living in Morro Bay since 1917, but everything changed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Patrick Nagano recalls, "These circumstances, fueled by outcries of anti-Japanese sentiments, particularly by those who
had most to gain from our removal, made inevitable the ultimate evacuation of all Japanese from the west coast. This would soon become fact in the spring of 1942, when commander of West Coast Defense, General DeWitt, carried out Executive Order No. 9066, which gave the Secretary of War the authority to designate military areas and exclude all or any people from them. Despite the injustice, disruption, and hardship the order would impose on the Japanese families, it came as no surprise to me."
Families in the Los Angeles area were first to be evacuated, and they were given one week to do so. Families could be seen selling their household items on the streets for whatever amount they could get. Shortly after, it came time for the Naganos and their cousins the Etos to evacuate as well. Their families took advantage of a provision in the Evacuation Order allowing them to move to a "free" zone, which was described as any land east of Highway 99. Therefore, mother Nellie and brother George moved to a home in Reedley, which they had bought beforehand, predicting that they may be asked to leave their Morro Bay residences.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family was spread out, for sister Ellen was living with her husband, a flower grower, in Mountain View, brother William was drafted in Fort Ord, and their father was in Bismarck, North Dakota. Patrick Nagano remained behind in Morro Bay to look after their property, such as harvesting their crops. But it was still a rough ride staying behind.
For Patrick in Morro Bay, "Curfew had been imposed curtailing our movement. We were confined to an area five miles in radius; at night we had to be in our homes by eight o’clock. In spite of these inconveniences I managed to cope with the solitary existence. As the evacuation date neared all arrangements were in place. What remained were a few last minute details: paying final bills, closing bank accounts. This meant having to go to San Luis Obispo." In addition, a box of oranges from Reedley arrived for him, which he was to pick up at the depot (to learn more fruit boxes from family and friends, read this story from a Filipino Immigrant).
On his way to pick up the oranges, he ran into his friend, Bill Kuroda, whose parents arrived in the US from the same area in Japan around the same time Patrick's parents did. According to Patrick, "Ever since the curfew, I had not seen or talked to any friends. I persuaded Bill to park his car and get in mine. We’d have lunch together...once I picked up the oranges. As we proceeded down Osos Street toward the depot, I noticed the time to be 11:00 and in the rearview mirror a city police car following. This didn’t concern me until I came out of the express office with my oranges and found the officer talking to Bill. I asked Bill what was up. He didn’t know. My attempt for an explanation was unproductive. The officer insisted we follow him to the police station.
At the station we were left in a basement room with instruction to wait there. Although
perplexed, we had no cause for apprehension. Yet...we waited...and we waited. Minutes turned into hours...many hours...in all, five hours."
Finally, C.C. Canny, a navy intelligence officer operating in the area, convicted them of being outside of the curfew limit. But the Japanese argued, "it doesn’t make good sense to go all the way to Santa Maria, some 50 miles away, to get a permit from the WCCA (Wartime Civilian Control Authority) office to travel 15 miles to San Luis to do all those things necessary to being evacuated."
Since Patrick knew Canny, he insisted that Canny let him go home, but to his surprise, Canny's response was, "you Japs haven’t ever done one thing for me all my life....Now why should I do this for you?”.
Instead, around six in the evening, Canny left Patrick and Bill at the county jail. The cell was small, dingy, ill-lit, and smelled of urine, for at the time, the jail was in temporary quarters squeezed into the old records building on the corner of Palm and Osos because the new courthouse was under construction. Patrick recalls, "There were two bunks stacked one above the other, and no chairs. One could not sit on the bunks without hitting his head. We had not eaten since breakfast. Supper in jail had been served at 4:30."
The next day, Patrick was convicted by U.S. Commissioner Richard Harris, and his bail was set at $3000. At the jail, Patrick was allowed one phone call, which he used to call Pete
Bachino, an insurance broker, who had been a stalwart friend of the Japanese. He said, "Pete, I need your help....I’ll give you the details later, but right now I’m in jail for curfew violation...I need to be bailed out....The amount is $3,000....Please do what you can for me." Following his call, Pete went to the bank only to find that it had already closed.
Afterwards, Pete hurried to Mr. Kaetzel, an attorney, who advised that Mr. Bachino pay using a property bond, rather than a cash bail, which could be easily forfeited. Therefore, they asked Mr. Charles Serrano, who had known the Naganos, to put up the bond, and he did so graciously. Looking back, Patrick Nagano said that thanks to the three men, "their faith in me and goodwill, I headed for Morro Bay to make the most of my last few days in the county."
Below is the original story by Patrick Nagano, preserved by the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.
Nagano, Patrick "THE EVACUATION: AN UNWELCOME INTERLUDE" History Center of San Luis Obispo County