Times Past

Patrick Nagano: a distinguished life beyond World War II internment

Ann and Patrick Nagano with their daughter Karen in 1945.
Ann and Patrick Nagano with their daughter Karen in 1945. Courtesy photo

A crate of oranges landed Patrick Nagano in San Luis Obispo’s very primitive jail.

Patrick was one of the sons born to Yoshio and Kanaru Nagano at the family home on Little Morro Creek in November 1918. He graduated from San Luis Senior High in 1936. That fall, he entered Stanford University where he made history by being the first Japanese-American to letter in a major sport playing varsity baseball. He graduated in 1940 cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, a strong wave of nativist fear infected the West Coast. The Nagano family understood the consequences. They leased land near Reedley and prepared to leave their Morro Bay farm. Patrick remained behind to wrap matters up.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the military to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones, " from which "any or all persons may be excluded." It was primarily aimed at relocating enemy aliens and all Japanese Americans, including U.S. citizens like Patrick Nagano.

It took less than a week before the military began removing all Japanese-Americans and Japanese from the West Coast.

Patrick Nagano recalled:

“A curfew had been imposed . . . We were confined to an area five miles in radius. At night we had to be in our homes by eight o’clock. As the evacuation date neared (there) were a few last minute details like paying final bills and closing bank accounts. This meant having to go to San Luis Obispo.”

San Luis Obispo was nearly 10 miles beyond the limit. You had to travel nearly 50 miles to Santa Maria to get a permit from the WCCA (Wartime Civilian Control Authority) or travel 15 miles to San Luis Obispo. And so Patrick decided to take what he thought was a perfectly appropriate risk.

“Just the day before, a notice had come from the express office that a box of oranges from Reedley had arrived. Great! I could pick them up at the time. So off I went.

“One last thing to do was picking up the oranges. I was about to head for the depot when I ran into Bill Kuroda. Bill and I had been classmates at San Luis High School. Ever since the curfew, I had not seen or talked to any friends. I persuaded Bill to park his car and get in mine (and) have lunch together. I picked up the oranges.”

When they left the depot, a San Luis Obispo policeman insisted they follow him to the police station and after hours of waiting, to County Jail.

“At the time, the jail was in temporary quarters squeezed into the old records building on the corner of Palm and Osos, while the new courthouse was under construction. The cell was small, dingy, ill-lit, and smelly. On entering the cell, I nearly kicked over a can brimming with the urine of former occupants.”

The next day, Saturday, they were taken before U.S. Commissioner Richard Harris who asked Nagano and Kuroda, “How do you plead . . . Guilty or not guilty?” Both replied, “Not guilty!”

Harris advised them to plead guilty and imposed bail of $1,000, a huge amount at the time. Nagano contacted Pete Bachino, an insurance broker who was a stalwart friend of the Japanese. The banks were closed on Saturday afternoon, but Bachino finally made arrangements for Charles Serrano, a friend of the Nagano family, to post bail.

Patrick Nagano joined his family in Reedley, only to be moved to the Poston Relocation Center on the Colorado River Indian Reservation the following summer.

He volunteered for Army Military Intelligence Service and attended the Army language schools at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling, Minn. There he met and married Ann Ono. Karen, their first child was born at Fort Snelling Hospital.

The M.I.S. assigned Nagano to the European theater. His assignment was to be parachuted into the Japanese Embassy in Berlin before the Russians could obtain the intelligence documents. Fortunately for Nagano but not for the Western Allies, Berlin fell to the Red Army before that could happen.

Nagano returned to Morro Bay to become one of its leading citizens. He died last week at the age of 96. He was a prime example of what NBC anchor Tom Brokaw referred to as “The Greatest Generation.”

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association.