Wartime Civil Control Administration


The Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) was an agency set up as part of the Western Defense Command to implement the mass forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. In addition to engineering the logistics of removing some 110,000 people from their homes and businesses in a short period of time, the WCCA also quickly built and administered a series of seventeen temporary detention camps to hold those who had been removed through the spring and summer of 1942, before overseeing their transfer to more permanent camps administered by the War Relocation Authority by the end of fall 1942.

Contents

Establishment

The WCCA was established in March 11, 1942, by General Order No. 35 issued by General John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, "[t]o provide for the evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry from Military Area No. 1 and the California portion of Military Area No. 2 of the Pacific Coast with a minimum of economic and social dislocation, a minimum use of military personnel and maximum speed; and initially to employ all appropriate means to encourage voluntary migration."[1] Karl Bendetsen, who had played a key role in the promulgation of Executive Order 9066 that authorized the mass removal, was named the commanding officer of the WCCA and was also promoted to colonel the following day at the age of thirty-four.

Bendetsen set up the headquarters of the WCCA in the Whitcomb Hotel in downtown San Francisco, building a staff and bringing in leaders of various federal government agencies with whom assistance and cooperation would be needed from. Within days, forty-eight field offices would need to be established throughout the west, along with ninety-seven short term "civil control stations" that would carry out the actual removal mandated by the civilian exclusion orders.

Prior to establishing the WCCA, the Western Defense Command had promoted "voluntary" resettlement of Japanese Americans from the West Coast in anticipation of exclusion. But it became apparent shortly thereafter that such "voluntary" resettlement was not going to work for the vast majority of Japanese Americans and that some sort of detention facility system was going to have be built. As such, an "Assembly Center Branch" was formed with Rex Nicholson, regional director of the Works Project Administration appointed as chief. He was replaced by Emil Sandquist on June 30.

Implementation and "Assembly Center" Program

After the "voluntary" resettlement period was brought to an end on March 27, the WCCA began to organize for the forcible removal and confinement of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. With the help of Census Department data, it divided the coast into 108 areas containing about 1,000 Japanese Americans each and sequentially issued "Civilian Exclusion Orders" for each area. These orders required Japanese Americans residing in that area to report on a specific day about a week in the future, bringing only those possessions that they could carry to be transported to temporary detention camps. The WCCA arranged bus transportation to these camps, euphemistically called "assembly centers." The WCCA was also initially responsible for storing inmate belongings and for insuring that farms vacated by Japanese Americans would continue to be operated by non-Japanese Americans.

Given the short time frame they had to work with—the first exclusion order was issued on March 24 for Bainbridge Island—the WCCA quickly acquired and adapted seventeen facilities to serve as the "assembly centers" or "reception centers." The WCCA first considered Civilian Conservation Corps camps, but with one exception, rejected them due to their being too small and not well suited to the needs of families. (The Mayer, Arizona camp, which housed just 250 people, was the one camp that had been a CCC facility.) They also considered military barracks, but found that those were needed for troops and POWs and that they were also ill suited for the needs of families. As a result, the "assembly centers" mostly were adapted from existing public facilities such as fairgrounds, horse racing tracks, and livestock pavilions near the areas people would be removed from. In addition, the sites for what would become the longer term incarceration centers Manzanar, California, and Poston, Arizona, had been selected and construction begun, allowing some detainees to move directly to those two facilities, which were dubbed "reception centers" by the WCCA. The fifteen "assembly centers" included Mayer in Arizona; Fresno, Marysville, Merced, Pinedale, Pomona, Sacramento, Salinas, Santa Anita, Stockton, Tanforan, Tulare, and Turlock in California; Portland in Oregon; and Puyallup in Washington.

Transfer to WRA and Dissolution

The War Relocation Authority was formed on March 18, 1942, and was charged with administration of the longer term detention facilities that were completed by the fall of 1942. The last act of the WCCA was to oversee the closing of the "assembly centers" and the transfer of detainees to the WRA camps. These transfers were by trains that embarked late at night on what were in many cases multi-day trips. Curtains and shades were kept drawn and passengers were kept under armed guard. Incarceration continued.

The WCCA was dissolved on March 15, 1943.

See also the entries for the individual "assembly centers" listed above and sites of incarceration.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1982. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

Fiset, Louis. Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

de Nevers, Klancy Clark. The Colonel and the Pacifist: Karl Bendetsen, Perry Saito and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Forward by Roger Daniels. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2004.

Footnotes

  1. John L. DeWitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1943), 41.