Iriye, Fred Homi


Fred Homi Iriye was born on August 1, 1923, in Watts, California, the youngest of four sons born to George and Miwa (Mary), who were immigrants from Japan. Iriye’s father George was a truck farmer, who was eventually able to acquire 20 acres of land in El Monte, California, where the family also ran a fruit-grocery market. The endeavor was successful enough that George Iriye was able to send his three older sons to college. Iriye, the youngest, graduated from El Monte Union High School in 1942 and happily began at Pasadena Jr. College, but was only able to complete half of a semester before the family was forced from their home. Just before leaving, Iriye applied to other universities but was told they would not accept a Japanese person. About two years later, his mother would cite this experience as contributing significantly to Iriye’s exceptionally bitter attitude toward the evacuation. 

The Iriye family, totaling nine people, arrived at Pomona Assembly Center on May 15, 1942, then at Heart Mountain on August 26, 1942. Iriye lived in apartment 17-18-E. At both places, Iriye quickly got a job in the warehouses, hauling coal and doing tractor work. In the spring of 1943, he accompanied his brother Louie to a beet farm in Montana. In each instance, Iriye was noted to be a diligent and dedicated worker. Though his family described him as a social and active person, Fred apparently did not share much about his life with his family–in terms of either his social life or his decision to ignore his draft notice. Iriye answered No to Question 27 and Yes to Question 28 on the 1943 loyalty questionnaire. The Iriye family was close-knit, but Iriye’s decision was made entirely on his own. His mother could not even say with certainty whether Iriye had ever attended any Fair Play Committee (FPC) meetings. 

Iriye was arrested on April 7, 1944, and was tried and convicted in the June 1944 draft resister trial. He was sentenced to three years in the federal prison at McNeil Island, Washington. While there, he worked as an electrician at the power plant. According to interviews with some of his fellow draft resisters, he was widely admired for his wisdom and level-headedness, despite his youth. Sadly, Iriye would never return home to his family after his incarceration. Two days before his release date in 1946, while giving a thorough tour of the power plant to the inmate who was to replace him as electrician, Iriye touched a live wire and was electrocuted. Many of the resisters gathered in Los Angeles for his memorial service a few days later, to mourn the young man for whom they held so much respect and care. As one of his fellow Heart Mountain resisters, Yosh Kuromiya, remembered, Iriye’s intellect, athletic abilities, and leadership skills had often left Kuromiya wondering what “had led Iriye to associate himself with such a…bunch as the members of the FPC.”

Despite how highly Iriye was thought of by his fellow inmates, it is unclear whether Iriye and his family were able, before his tragic death, to work through together any of the bitterness that Iriye felt toward the whole process of their forced removal and incarceration. Indeed, Kuromiya remembers feeling at the memorial a sense of bachi–a Japanese word with origins in Shintoism that means a divine punishment for immoral and disrespectful behavior–emanating from Iriye’s family’s demeanors. Of course, it is also possible that Kuromiya’s memories of this service and the Iriye family have been colored somewhat by his own return home, experiencing the resentment and anger toward the draft resisters from within the Japanese American community. Either way, Fred Iriye’s death was considered one of the great tragedies of the draft resister saga.

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