Mary Woodward has written a book about her parents, Walt and Milly Woodward, editors of the Bainbridge Review, who were the first to write editorials condemning the relocation of 227 Bainbridge Islanders of Japanese ancestry to internment camps.
The story of Walt and Milly Woodward would seem to be a mere footnote in history — a couple of small-town newspaper editors crusading against the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Yet the Woodwards, editors of the Bainbridge Review, a weekly newspaper serving Bainbridge Island, were the first to write editorials condemning the relocation of 227 Bainbridge Islanders of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. Along the West Coast, theirs was one of the few voices against the 1942 decision by President Roosevelt to move Japanese Americans out of their homes, the kids out of their schools.
“They said this is wrong, unconstitutional. You can’t lock up people not charged with a crime,” said their daughter, Mary Woodward, at a ceremony last spring dedicating a new island monument to those taken during the war.
Now Mary Woodward has written a book about her parents, “In Defense of Our Neighbors: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story” (FenwickPublishing,152pp.,$24.95).
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A book for a memorial
Speaking at the Seattle Public Library last week, Mary Woodward said she is donating all the proceeds from her book to the new island memorial “May It Not Happen Again,” which will become part of the National Park Service.
The Bainbridge Island families were the first of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans nationwide sent to World War II internment camps under President Roosevelt’s order. Most of those taken from Bainbridge Island were American citizens. The memorial, estimated to cost $5 million, will honor Bainbridge Island residents interned during the war. Plans call for a 276-foot story wall, each foot representing a Japanese American living on Bainbridge when the internment began, as well as an interpretive center.
In all, 227 Bainbridge Island men, women and children were herded onto a ferry 65 years ago and taken to internment camps, where they would spend up to the next four years.
Walt and Milly Woodward’s Bainbridge Review hired camp correspondents who filed stories about those in the camp — who married, who had children, how the camp baseball team was doing. In Mary Woodward’s book, Pat Dillon, a classmate of Woodward at Bainbridge High School and later an editor with the San Jose Mercury News, testified to the Woodwards’ determination to get the facts straight, about both the life of the island and the camps. “Week in and week out, the Woodwards got our names right, our events, the Little League scores and standings, the school bus schedules and lunch menus, the tide schedules, the direction of the economic, social and political winds. They got them right and even raised hell doing it,” Dillon said.
Mary Woodward, 62, who has made two trips to Minidoka, the Idaho internment camp where most of the Bainbridge Islanders lived, said she had access to photographs, private collections, tapes and stories from those who were taken from their homes. She still lives on Bainbridge Island and considers many of those who were interned her friends.
A “scandalous” — but accurate — prediction
Walt and Milly Woodward, who met in Juneau when he was a reporter and she a teacher, bought the Bainbridge newspaper in 1941. At the time, Walt was working as a court reporter for The Seattle Times. A few months later, he quit The Times, and the couple dedicated themselves to the Bainbridge newspaper.
The Japanese had moved to Bainbridge Island in the late 1800s during the booming days of the Port Blakely mill. When the mill closed in the early 1920s, immigrants settled into other jobs on the island, and those of Japanese descent became strawberry farmers, grocers and barbers.
After the Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbor, the Bainbridge Review published its first, and only, special edition on Dec. 8. Woodward said her parents wrote in an editorial, “There is the danger of a blind, wild hysterical hatred of all persons who can trace ancestry to Japan. That some of those persons happen to be American citizens, happen to be loyal to this country and happen to have no longer a binding tie with the fatherland are factors which easily could be swept aside by mob hysteria.”
Some residents canceled their subscriptions; some advertisers pulled their ads. But Milly Woodward said when the local drugstore asked for more papers, she knew those who canceled subscriptions were still reading the paper.
She said her parents had a policy that the newspaper would publish every letter to the editor, as long as it was signed and not libelous.
A daughter’s perspective
The introduction to the book was written by author David Guterson, who also lives on Bainbridge Island and wrote the best-seller “Snow Falling on Cedars,” based on events on Bainbridge during World War II. One of the characters in Guterson’s novel was based on Walt Woodward.
“Mary’s parents, Walt and Milly Woodward, are best known as defenders of the constitution,” he wrote. “No daughter, after all, is objective about her parents or entirely free of a psychological burden regarding the family that surely must weigh on her writing. An intermingling of pride, mourning, love and gilded memory is bound to inform it. In the end, all of this is just plain more interesting than a biography contracted to a relative stranger.”
Woodward writes about how the community came together with the evacuation hanging over their heads. She said Bainbridge High School faced rival North Kitsap in a baseball opener, and the coach, Walt “Pop” Miller, sent all six Nisei players onto the field and kept them there, benching his star players. He let his team fall behind 12-5 “because he just wanted all the Japanese Americans to play their last game for Bainbridge and enjoy themselves,” said center fielder Paul Ohtaki. “I will be eternally grateful to Pop Miller for letting all of us play.” Ohtaki would later send dispatches to the Review from the camps.
At the 1942 graduation from Bainbridge High School, 13 chairs were left empty in recognition of the students unable to attend; in 1992, the missing students were invited to participate in graduation ceremonies, and three were able to attend.
When the Japanese were released, most returned to find they had lost everything they had before the war. The Review wrote about the return of the Takemoto family, who found their home in shambles and much of their personal property stolen. Their strawberry farm was filled with weeds.
The community came together and provided emergency supplies, and students from the University of Washington worked on the farm and replanted it with strawberries.
A forgotten bit of history
The Woodwards, who have since died, sold the paper in 1963 to a local couple who eventually sold it to a Canadian corporation.
Woodward said she always knew about the relocation, but none of her classmates ever talked about it. It was never discussed in history classes, and she said some children of those evacuated didn’t even learn about it until they were in college.
Woodward, a former history teacher, said she was once teaching a class of seventh-graders in Bremerton and told them what had happened to those of Japanese descent. The next day three students told her their parents had said, “Our government never would have done that. It didn’t happen. There was nothing in the textbook to prove otherwise.”
Woodward, a first-time author, said it took her a year of thinking about the story before she felt she could write her parents’ story and three years to produce the book. “This was a story that had to be told,” she said.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org