On December 7th, 1941 Japan unleashed its military might on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu killing or injuring nearly three thousand people, which launched the U.S. into World War ll.
Racial bigotry in America went ballistic against Japanese Americans and on February 19th, 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to imprison 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese heritage for the rest of the war as potential Japanese spies.
These families were given just days to report to “detention centers” forcing many of them to sell their homes, cars and other possessions at fire sale prices.
Bob was a California agriculture inspector in the Sacramento area and knew Japanese American farmers would lose their farms to foreclosure for being unable able to work them and to pay their property tax and other bills.
One of those farmers, Al Tsukamoto desperately made Bob a business proposal. If he would run the Tsukamoto farm and the farms of the Nitta and Okamoto families, and pay the mortgage, tax and insurance while they were away, he could keep the profits.
Bob agreed. “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.”
Bob quit his agricultural inspector job and for the next three years, worked all three farms, a total of 90 acres, often working 18 hour days.
Although he could have lived in their homes, Bob lived in a migratory worker bunkhouse and kept just half the profits, banking the rest for the three families.
When Bob married, his wife Teresa joined him in living in the bunkhouse. And in 1945, just before the families returned, she cleaned the Tsukamoto’s home so the family would have a lovely home to return to after being locked away for three years.
Following the war, anti-Japanese bigotry continued to run very high and in some cases suppliers would not sell to people of Japanese ancestry. Bob stepped in again buying the supplies for them as they reimbursed him for his expenses.
Some people called Bob a “Jap lover,” but he ignored their taunts.
After the war, Bob and Teresa bought land in Florin, near Sacramento and ran a cattle ranch. He
was a devoted family man who often volunteered to help his community, such as serving as a volunteer Florin firefighter for decades.
But at the age of 101, on May 23rd, 2013 Bob passed away in Sacramento. Teresa, his wife of 67 years survives him, as does their son Robert Emmett lll and three granddaughters and five great-grandchildren.
Bob is also survived by generations of those Japanese families whom he rescued in their time of desperation, and by many other people who recognize him for the unsung hero that he was, for he had the courage to make a meaningful and compassionate difference.