Times Past

Dan Krieger: Those who were their brothers’ keepers

Haruo Hayashi told the audience “We will never forget what these men did for us!”

In 1996, nearly 900 people gathered in Cal Poly’s Chumash Auditorium to honor Silent Heroes: A Tribute to the Courageous Individuals Who Protected the Properties of Japanese-Americans Who were Interned during the Second World War.

Several of these individuals, including Ernest Vollmer, were associated with the Bachino and Stockird insurance business, now called Morris and Garritano.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese American community on the Central Coast was removed in the spring of 1942.

The Issei and Nisei who leased their farms had to walk away from all they had worked for. A small number of families owned their own land by virtue of a family member with American citizenship.

What would happen to their homes and land in their absence?

Insurers Vollmer and Pete Bachino had gotten to know the Japanese American community. They regarded them as longtime friends.

Vollmer, a German American, recalled the anti-German hysteria that swelled up in 1917 when the U. S. went to war against Germany.

Vollmer’s father, a businessman, experienced hostility from some customers and associates.

Patrick Nagano recalls how his family in Morro Bay was fortunate in having Ernest Vollmer lease their land. He was an incredible caretaker, and their land was returned to them in excellent order.

The nonreal estate holdings of the Tamejii Eto family of Los Osos were closely attended to by Vollmer. Unfortunately, the Los Osos ranch and the family home were leased by an inattentive neighboring family.

When the Etos returned in 1945, the home had been looted, and the doors were ajar. The land had not been properly fertilized and cared for.

It took Masaji Eto nearly a decade of work to bring his father’s farm back to the productive levels of 1941.

Pete Bachino, according to Patrick Nagano, assisted “many Japanese families in lots of ways.”

Bachino saw to it that the taxes, insurance and any mortgages were paid on time. Both he and Ernest Vollmer made frequent on-site visits to be certain that the families who rented the land were behaving as good stewards.

Patrick has especially fond memories of Bachino. The Nagano family had moved to the San Joaquin Valley under the first phase of the Relocation Order.

Patrick had been left behind by his family at the Little Morro Creek Ranch. When they shipped a crate of oranges from Reedley, he drove into San Luis Obispo to pick it up at the Railway Express office.

A curfew restricting the Nisei to a maximum distance of five miles from home after 6 p.m. was in effect. Both Patrick and his Shell Beach friend, Bill Kuroda, were delayed in town and arrested.

They had to spend a night in the cramped and smelly temporary county jail in the old Hall of Records on Osos Street.

They were hauled before Judge Richard Harris. He advised them to plead guilty and imposed bail of $1,000, a huge amount at the time.

Patrick contacted Pete Bachino. The banks were closed on Saturday afternoon, but Bachino finally made arrangements for the release of both young men.

Pete Bachino and Ernest Vollmer have been named repeatedly in interviews with the Japanese community as loyal friends.

They and others like them helped preserve what was to remain of the Japanese community after 1945. They were their brothers’ keepers.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.