A World War II Hero Who Stood Up for Japanese-American Farmers

Bob Fletcher, who heroically looked after his neighbors' farms during their internment, turns 100 today.

By Julianne Hing Jul 26, 2011

When Bob Fletcher’s Japanese-American neighbors were sent away from their grape farms and shipped off to internment camps during World War II, the Sacramento agricultural inspector couldn’t stomach the idea that innocent American families might lose their land and livelihoods while they were incarcerated.

So he stepped in to lend a hand. Fletcher agreed when his neighbors, the Tsukamotos, Okamotos and Nittas, asked if he’d look after their farms, and eventually worked the combined 90 acres of flame Tokay grapes for the families.

"They were the same as everybody else – it was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor," Fletcher told the Sacramento Bee.

Thousands of Japanese-American families were forced out of their homes and away from their businesses when they were interned between 1942 and 1945. Sacramento was home to 3,000 Japanese Americans alone, and the majority never returned because they had no homes to return to. Many had lost their land in the intervening years.

Not so for the family of Doris Taketa, now 81, who was 12 years old when her family was sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas, with her parents and sister. Fletcher worked her family farm, paid off their mortgage, and split the profits down the middle with the families upon their return.

"We owe you everything," Taketa told Fletcher at Fletcher’s birthday party this weekend. "We had 40 acres of flame Tokay grapes and we would have lost it if Bob didn’t take care of it," Taketa said. Taketa’s husband’s family lost their farm after they were sent to an internment camp in Manzanar, California.

For his moral courage and selflessness Fletcher endured sharp criticism and racist taunts, even an attempt on his life, from people who called him a "Jap lover" at a time when it was politically dangerous to be sympathetic to anyone of Japanese descent.

"It was no big deal, really," he told the Sacramento Bee. "I was able to handle it."

Fletcher turns 100 years old today. And in recognition of his heroism, Sacramento County has declared today, July 26, Bob Fletcher Day.

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