John L. De Witt - Military Career - World War II

World War II

From December 5, 1939 to June 15, 1943, DeWitt was assigned command of the Ninth Corps Area and its 1942 successor, the Western Defense Command, both headquartered at the Presidio of San Francisco.

DeWitt was in San Francisco on the evening of December 14, 1941, one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when air raid sirens were sounded. An estimated 35 Japanese warplanes were supposedly sighted above San Francisco Bay on a reconnaissance mission. DeWitt ordered American planes and antiaircraft defense not to fire without his order. "People called me up and asked why I didn't start to shoot. It's none of their damn business!"

DeWitt was furious at the lack of blackout precautions and blasted city leaders the next day. "If I can't knock it into you with words, we'll have to turn it over to the police to knock it in with clubs. They were enemy planes and I mean Japanese planes. Put out your lights and take it! If you can't take it, get out of San Francisco now!"

It was DeWitt who recommended that the 1942 Rose Bowl football game, normally played in Pasadena, California, be moved. DeWitt feared that the large crowd of spectators would be too tempting a target for Japanese warplanes. For the first and only time in its history, the 1942 Rose Bowl game was moved to North Carolina.

In February 1942, DeWitt reported to President Roosevelt that no sabotage by Japanese-Americans had yet been confirmed — but commented that this only proved "a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken." He recommended the evacuation of all Japanese from the coastal areas of California, Oregon, and Washington state. The president agreed, issuing Executive Order 9066, and DeWitt then began implementing a plan for classifying, rounding up, and removal of "undesirables".

On March 2, 1942, DeWitt issued "Military Proclamation No. 1" which designated the western parts of California, Oregon and Washington as "military area no. 1", further divided into "prohibited zone A-1" and "restricted zone B." In the first phase of the order, a provision was included directing that "any person of Japanese ancestry, now resident in Military Area No. 1, who changes his place of habitual residence must file a 'change of residence notice' at his local post office not more than five days nor less than one day prior to moving,". Days later, DeWitt announced that the army had acquired 5,800 acres (23 km2) of land near Manzanar, California, for construction of a "reception center" which he said was "to be used principally as a clearing house for the more permanent resettlement elsewhere for persons excluded from military areas.".

Removal began on March 23, 1942, with the resettlement of citizens living in Los Angeles. On that date, General DeWitt issued new orders applying to Japanese-Americans, setting an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and banning ownership of firearms, radios, cameras, and other contraband. DeWitt stated, "Let me warn the affected aliens and Japanese-Americans that anything but strict compliance with this proclamation's provisions will bring immediate punishment,". Northern California followed in April, as DeWitt declared that "We plan to increase the tempo of the evacuation as fast as possible." Citizens in specific areas were required to report to their designated "Civil Control Station", where they would then be taken to an "Assembly Center" for relocation.

All told, DeWitt ordered the removal and internment of 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry (75% of whom were American-born citizens) from their homes to internment camps. He stated, "A Jap is a Jap", whether they were citizens of the United States or not.

A federal judge, James Alger Fee of Portland, Oregon, ruled in November, 1943 that American citizens could not be detained without a proclamation of martial law. DeWitt's response was "All military orders and proclamations of this headquarters remain in full force and effect".

After the relocation of Japanese-Americans was complete, DeWitt lifted curfew restrictions on Italian-Americans on October 19, and on German-Americans on December 24. Technically, the curfew was "inapplicable to the Japanese since all members of this group were removed from the affected zones". DeWitt had a personal vendetta against one Italian in particular Remo Bosia, which is detailed in Bosia's autobiography The General and I.

Lieutenant General DeWitt's orders also regulated other areas of life on the West Coast. A proclamation prohibited deer hunting and the playing of outdoor sports at night. An "Alaska Travel Office" was established to issue permits to anyone seeking to travel into or out of the territory of Alaska.

Less known is DeWitt's role in supervising the combat operations in the Aleutian Islands, some of which had been invaded by Japanese forces. When houses of prostitution were closed across America, General DeWitt allowed Sally Stanford to continue to operate a high class brothel in San Francisco. At the end of his tenure as head of Western Defense Command, he was appointed as the Commandant of the Army and Navy Staff College in Washington. He retired from the Army in June 1947.

United States District Court opinions

Official notice of exclusion and removal

A report by General DeWitt and Colonel Bendetsen depicting racist bias against Japanese Americans was circulated and then hastily redacted in 1943–1944. The report stated flatly that, because of their race, it was impossible to determine the loyalty of Japanese Americans, thus necessitating internment. The original version was so offensive – even in the atmosphere of the wartime 1940s – that Bendetsen ordered all copies to be destroyed.

In 1980, a copy of the original Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast – 1942 was found in the National Archives, along with notes showing the numerous differences between the original and redacted versions. This earlier, racist and inflammatory version, as well as the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reports, led to the coram nobis retrials which overturned the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui on all charges related to their refusal to submit to exclusion and internment. The courts found that the government had intentionally withheld these reports and other critical evidence, at trials all the way up to the Supreme Court, which would have proved that there was no military necessity for the exclusion and internment of Japanese Americans. In the words of Department of Justice officials writing during the war, the justifications were based on "willful historical inaccuracies and intentional falsehoods."

Read more about this topic:  John L. De Witt, Military Career

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