Changing the World, One Farm at a Time
The New York Times, June 6, 2013:
Bob Fletcher, a former California agriculture inspector who, ignoring the resentment of neighbors, quit his job in the middle of World War II to manage the fruit farms of Japanese families forced to live in internment camps, died on May 23 in Sacramento. He was 101. ...The Sacramento Bee, May 31, 2013:
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States government forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans on the West Coast out of their homes and into internment camps for the duration of the war.
Near Sacramento, many of the Japanese who were relocated were farmers who had worked land around the town of Florin since at least the 1890s. Mr. Fletcher, who was single and in his early 30s at the time, knew many of them through his work inspecting fruit for the government. The farmers regarded him as honest, and he respected their operations.
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in February 1942 that made the relocation possible by declaring certain parts of the West to be military zones, Al Tsukamoto, whose parents arrived in the United States in 1905, approached Mr. Fletcher with a business proposal: would he be willing to manage the farms of two family friends of Mr. Tsukamoto’s, one of whom was elderly, and to pay the taxes and mortgages while they were away? In return, he could keep all the profits.
Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Tsukamoto had not been close, and Mr. Fletcher had no experience growing the farmers’ specialty, flame tokay grapes, but he accepted the offer and soon quit his job.
For the next three years he worked a total of 90 acres on three farms — he had also decided to run Mr. Tsukamoto’s farm. He worked 18-hour days and lived in the bunkhouse Mr. Tsukamoto had reserved for migrant workers. He paid the bills of all three families — the Tsukamotos, the Okamotos and the Nittas. He kept only half of the profits.
Many Japanese-American families lost property while they were in the camps because they could not pay their bills. Most in the Florin area moved elsewhere after the war. When the Tsukamotos returned in 1945, they found that Mr. Fletcher had left them money in the bank and that his new wife, Teresa, had cleaned the Tsukamotos’ house in preparation for their return. ...
He was never much for celebrating his role in the war, and he noted that other Florin residents had helped their Japanese neighbors.
“I don’t know about courage,” he said in 2010 as Florin was preparing to honor him in a ceremony. “It took a devil of a lot of work.”
In the face of deep anti-Japanese sentiment - including a bullet fired into the Tsukamoto barn - Fletcher worked 90 acres of flame Tokay grapes. He paid the mortgages and taxes and took half the profits. He turned over the rest - along with the farms - to the three families when they returned to Sacramento in 1945.The Sacramento Bee, July 25, 2011:
"I did know a few of them pretty well and never agreed with the evacuation," he told The Sacramento Bee in 2010. "They were the same as anybody else. It was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor." ...
"Few people in history exemplify the best ideals the way that Bob did," said Tsukamoto's daughter, Marielle, who was 5 when her family was interned. "He was honest and hardworking and had integrity. Whenever you asked him about it, he just said, 'It was the right thing to do.'"
Fletcher was called a "Jap lover" and dodged a bullet fired into the Tsukamotos' barn. A local business posted a sign reading, "We don't want Japs back here – EVER."
One of the many celebrants who gave Fletcher a big birthday hug was Doris Taketa, who was 12 when she was sent to Jerome, Ark., with her father and mother, Joichi and Shizuko Nitta, and two sisters.
"We owe you everything," she said, bringing a smile to Fletcher's face as he finished off a slice of coconut cake, his favorite.
"We had 40 acres of flame Tokay grapes and we would have lost it if Bob didn't take care of it," recalled Taketa, 81. ...
Ask Bob Fletcher the secret of his longevity and he'll tell you: "Hard work."
Teresa Fletcher, 87, said that along with hard work, "no drugs, no smoking and he's in love with me!" The couple have been married 66 years.