A murder mystery 70 years ago at the Manzanar Incarceration Camp is a horrific example of the injustice that deeply divided and hurt the Japanese American community.
A story in the Rafu Shimpo via New American Media recounts the day of the murder, what lead up to it and the investigation that followed.
Manzanar opened in September 1942 and had just been opened for three months. Manzanar’s authorities were beginning to become concerned they would not be able to control the growing tensions there. Accusations began to spread that Manzanar officials were stealing sugar and meat and that some of those in the Japanese American Citizens League were acting as government informants.
In December, Fred Tayama who had just returned from the JACL convention was attacked by six assailants. Police arrested Henry Ueno, a union organizer who had first made the accusations about the thefts in the kitchen.
Protestors gathered the next day outside the Manzanar police station demanding Ueno’s release.
James Ito was resting in his barracks and heard the commotion from the 2,000 protestors outside. He went outside to see for himself and found himself in the middle of the chaos.
Demonstrators taunted police and threw rocks. Two MPs fired into the crowd, killing Ito and James Kanagawa who died five days later.
An inquiry was held to determine if the MPs should be held responsible for the deadly shooting.
Frank Chuman who worked as a hospital administrator recalled what happened.
“Dr. James Goto personally examined each of the victims and took note of the entry wounds, said Chuman. “During the inquest, the authorities ordered Dr. Goto to testify that all of the bullets had entered the victims’ bodies from the front. Such testimony would support the assertion that the crowd was charging toward the soldiers and that the soldiers had fired in self-defense.
“Goto refused to comply with the order and stated that all of the entry wounds were found on the victims’ backs and sides, which indicated that the victims were turning around or already running away when the shots were fired.”
Goto was removed from his position at the hospital.
The MPs who fired the deadly shots were identified as Pvt. Tobe Moore and Pvt. Roman Cherubini. Both testified they fired because they felt they were in deadly danger.
Both were exonerated.
You can read about how the family of James Ito is still trying to clear his name today in a story by Rafu Shimpo via New American Media.