Report on Segregation to Tule Lake (Part II)

Detailing of Health Considerations Needed for Poston Residents Transferring to Tule Lake

The memo entitled “Segregation to Tule Lake” is part of a larger report detailing the nursing activities from July 15 to September 15, 1943.  In this document, Elma Rood, Public Health Nursing Supervisor, reports the results of an investigation into the health issues of the Poston internees that will be transferred to the Tule Lake Camp. She lists the number of internees that will need special consideration during their train ride to Tule Lake. These special considerations include special diets, Pullman car space so that they may lie down, and medical supervision by a nurse or doctor. She declares that for patients with serious illnesses, the trip will be deferred and that those taking the train should be able to do so “without any unfavorable incidents”.  Rood sent this memo to Dr. A Pressman, the Director of Health and Sanitation of the Poston Camp, on September 18, 1943. During this time, the War Relocation Authority was making the necessary preparations for the relocation of Japanese Americans who were perceived to be disloyal within the Poston Camp.

About nineteen months after the initial imprisonment of Japanese Americans into incarceration camps such as Poston, the government created a loyalty questionnaire to identify those with “tendencies of loyalty or disloyalty to the United States” (PJD 190). In February 1943, the WRA handed out the questionnaire, which asked two critical loyalty questions: if they would forswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan and swear allegiance to the US and if they would be willing to serve in the US military (PJD 192). These questions were poorly worded and had many unforeseen implications that would affect the internees’ answers. Various reasons for answering “No-No” to the questions included discontent with their treatment, a desire to stay with their family members who were going to be segregated, or an unwillingness or inability to serve in the U.S. military because of personal beliefs or family obligations (PJD 195). If the internee said no to both of these questions and refused to change their answer during later questioning, he or she would be considered a disloyal Japanese American. The WRA decided to relocate the disloyal residents to Tule Lake, starting on September 1943, in order to separate the loyal residents from the “trouble makers” (PJD 208). The residents detailed in Rood’s report were being sent to Tule Lake because of their answers to the loyalty questionnaire or their possibly pro-Japanese activity within the camps.

Tule Lake was already established as a regular incarceration camp before the segregation process. Due to its size and the already large number of resistant Japanese Americans residing there, the WRA selected Tule Lake as the segregation camp for the discontented Japanese Americans. When Tule Lake was designated as such an area, the camp became more militarized. The WRA set up a double eight foot fence and substantially increased the number of guards. The WRA allowed families with clean records who answered “yes” to the two loyalty questions to transfer out of Tule Lake. 6,538 residents transferred out of Tule Lake while 12,173 Japanese Americans transferred in (PJD 208). The now militarized Tule Lake was unable to adequately accommodate this influx of people.

Incarcerees Traveling to Tule Lake by Train

Even though this document shows that the medical staff was aware of medical issues that would need to be addressed during the train ride, Tule Lake was not a suitable camp for people with these issues to reside in. Out of all the incarceration camps, the Tule Lake Camp residents faced the worst conditions. Residents of Tule Lake would later complain of over-crowded and unsanitary housing facilities with no cleaning supplies provided (Petition 6). Rood lists “pregnancy, care and feeding of babies and young children, and chronic illnesses” as conditions that need special medical consideration. However, once the internees left the train, the overcrowded barracks and unsanitary conditions would negatively affect these residents greatly.

The food served at Tule Lake was also of a remarkably lower quality than the other camps.  Petitioners in the camp wrote, “Salted herring often served in this center is really fertilizer; it is not fit for human consumption at all” (Petition 6). In response to the petition, which was written by Tule Lake stockade prisoners in 1944, the administration declared, “for the present, you have to be satisfied with what we have in the food warehouses” (Petition 8). Rood’s letter reported that 67 babies needed special food and 15 people needed special diets on the train. When healthy residents are not receiving adequate food, the special dietary needs of the internees cannot be adequately met either.

Along with the inadequate food and housing, the Tule Lake hospital was undersupplied and inefficient. Tule Lake residents needed to bring their own medical supplies for hospital use because they were not adequately supplied by the War Relocation Authority (Petition 5). The residents also complained that only one ambulance was in circulation to service the fifteen thousand people that were in the Tule Lake Camp (Petition 6). According to the petition, the Hospital Director, Dr. Pedicord, maintained a restrictive and seemingly authoritarian control over the hospital (Petition 6). He required the Japanese doctors to have a permit signed by him in order to treat patients yet he was frequently unavailable. Rood, in her letter, discusses segregation trips being deferred due to the severity of illnesses as well as critical heart cases and diabetes needing special attention. The WRA transferred the residents described in the report due to their answers to the loyalty questionnaire at the risk of their health. For the WRA to risk the health of the internees based on an answer to a poorly worded loyalty questionnaire was an unethical decision.

The WRA published a book in 1946 after the Japanese American incarceration ended called WRA: a Story of Human Conservation. This book asserts that the Japanese Americans “were generally determined to make the tasks of the Tule Lake administrative staff as difficult as possible” (WRA 71). Perhaps in the WRA perspective, the claims of the Petition referenced earlier was another attempt to make the administrators’ jobs more difficult. This book claims that the Japanese Americans in Tule Lake after the segregation were disloyal to the United States, uncooperative while neglecting to carefully examine the  possible motives or reasoning for their actions beside for their loyalty to Japan. They make no mention of the conditions at Tule Lake but they do concede that the “residents had been removed from normal environment for so long and had been subjected to so many disappointments, fears, and frustrations” (WRA 72).This indirect glance at the mental status of the residents provides insight into their camp life and suggests that camp conditions and incarceree treatment were not ideal.

Living Barracks at Tule Lake

Despite the poor conditions of the Tule Lake hospital, several oral histories of workers and patients revealed no glaring complaints about the condition of the hospital. Peggi Bain, who worked as a nurse and was a patient in the hospital, did not mention the lack of supplies or poor treatment in her personal experience at the hospital during her oral interview. On the other hand, Yaeko Nakano, who gave birth to child at the Segregation Camp, acknowledged the death of a baby in the hospital due to the poor conditions. Even so, she said that in her pregnancy experience, “they took really good care of pregnant women.” So according to Nakano, the pregnant women, which Rood’s report lists and provides special considerations for, received adequate treatment. However, Nakano said that when her son had a hernia, the doctors at the Tule Lake Hospital refused to do anything about it. They had to go to Nebraska for treatment.

The letter by Elma Rood shows the types of medical conditions the residents had during their transfer and detention at the Tule Lake Segregation Camp. The poor living and hospital conditions at Tule Lake would worsen the medical issues listed in Rood’s report. Such inadequacy in hospital conditions led to the death of a newborn, which Yaeko Nakano and the Petition mentioned. However, some patients and workers were adequately treated, as the oral histories indicated. The WRA did not need to transfer these residents with medical issues and although they did take precautions, they put the residents’ health at risk by doing so.

 -William Tuminski



Document: Segregation to Tule Lake, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical

                Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Bain, Peggie, interview by Alice Ito, September 15, 2004, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.

Petition to American Civil Liberties Union regarding conditions at Tule Lake. September 19,

1944, Segregation and Tule Lake Collection, Densho.

Miyamoto, Frank, interview by Chizu Omori and Emiko Omori, September 25, 1992, Emiko and

Chizuko Omori Collection,Denso.

Nakano, Yaeko, interview by Tracy Lai, July 4, 1998. Densho.

WRA: A Story of Human Conservation. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, War

Relocation Authority, 1946. Print.