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Okamoto, Eugene Kiyoshi

Biography:


Eugene Kiyoshi Okamoto was born August 8, 1888, in Kukuihalele, Hawaii, a farming community on the island of Hawaii. His father, Hatsuzo, was a carpenter, and his mother, Ino, was a housewife. He had two brothers: Ryoichi, a World War I veteran who later lived in Idaho; Toraichi, a businessman who lived in Shanghai; and two sisters: Masu, a teacher in New York state; and Kame, who was married to a Japanese citizen and who left the United States for Japan on the MP Gripsholm, a Swedish passenger ship enlisted to take foreign nationals between the United States and Japan during the war. 

Okamoto classified himself as a sugar chemist in 1918 on his Army draft card. He moved to the mainland in 1928 and worked as a horticulturist, first in Turlock in California’s Central Valley and then Los Angeles. He never married. 

During the forced removal from the West Coast, Okamoto was sent first to the Santa Anita Assembly Center on May 8, 1942, and to Heart Mountain on September 5, 1942. Once at Heart Mountain, Okamoto almost immediately became a thorn in the sides of camp administrators. In one memorandum to War Relocation Authority headquarters, Heart Mountain Administrator Guy Robertson said Okamoto was “very voluble and bitter in his denunciation of the United States Government for Evacuation” and called him a “crack-pot.” Okamoto successfully opposed the creation of cooperatives for the Heart Mountain community enterprises, making the camp the only one of the 10 WRA sites without a cooperative. In 1943, he created the Fair Play Committee of One that opposed many of the steps taken by camp administrators. That changed after the start of the military draft in 1944 to include other incarcerees opposed to the draft, such as Frank Emi, Guntaro Kubota, and Paul Nakadate. 

Okamoto was denied leave clearance from Heart Mountain and was sent instead to the camp in Tule Lake, California, on March 29, 1944. He was arrested on July 20, 1944, with other leaders of the Fair Play Committee and tried and convicted in federal court in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in October 1944. Okamoto was sentenced to four years in the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. But the federal appeals court in Denver overturned the conviction on December 26, 1945, ruling that the judge had erred in making his instructions to the jury in the 1944 case. 

After prison, Okamoto returned to Los Angeles, where he attempted to write a book about his experiences. He listed his occupation in the 1950 Census as a “legal adviser” to the community. Kyoichi Okamoto died in Los Angeles on December 28, 1974.

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