Delos Emmons

Name Delos Emmons
Born January 17 1888
Died October 3 1965
Birth Location Huntington, WV

Delos Emmons (1888–1965) was a distinguished military career officer who served as the commanding general in Hawai'i and the head of the Western Defense Command during World War II. Emmons oversaw the implementation of martial law in Hawai'i and is credited with preventing the mass exclusion of Japanese in the Islands. He also promoted the entry of the Nisei into the military with the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion and eventually encouraged the end of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans on the mainland. After serving in a number of positions such as head of the Alaskan Department and commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College, Emmons eventually retired in 1948. [1]

Emmons' Early Military Career

Delos Carleton Emmons was born on January 17, 1888, in Huntington, West Virginia. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in June 1909 and was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry. He later transferred to aviation and rose through the ranks, becoming a major general in 1939. He was soon promoted to lieutenant general and became chief of the Air Force Combat Command in June 1941. He replaced Major General Walter C. Short as commanding general of the Hawaiian Department on December 17, ten days after the Pearl Harbor attack. He requested Army Air Force Headquarters to send additional planes to build up the forces in Hawai'i, anticipating the battle of Midway.

Implementation of Martial Law

Emmons oversaw the implementation of martial law in Hawai'i following the Pearl Harbor attack. Martial law involved the outright suspension of constitutional liberties as civilian courts were declared closed. Additionally, all government functions—federal, territorial, and municipal—were placed under army control, and a military regime was established. As the commanding general, Emmons held the title of the "military governor" of Hawai'i and controlled the entire civilian population with absolute discretionary powers. [2] According to some "Emmons played a key role in the fate of Japanese Americans in Hawaii" by challenging allegations of sabotage made by Navy Secretary Frank Knox. [3] Emmons is thus credited with preventing plans for the mass forced removal of Japanese from the Islands citing logistical problems, cost, and labor shortages. However, in lieu of mass removal, the army and the FBI quickly rounded up aliens and other suspicious persons in the Japanese community who had been investigated earlier for being disloyal or dangerous during a war. Of the 1,569 persons eventually detained on suspicion of disloyalty, 1,444 were of Japanese descent. Many were asked about their relationship with Japan and the local Japanese community as well as their allegiances and loyalty to America. Eventually, 981 internees were sent to mainland detention camps. The rest spent the early years of the war at Sand Island detention camp and were later moved to Honouliuli Internment Station outside of Ewa on O'ahu. [4] Emmons also played a key role in the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion and supported the entry of Nisei into the military who were partly responding to "extreme insecurity" in wartime Hawai'i. [5]

During the period of military rule in Hawai'i that lasted until late October 1944, some 181 general orders were issued under the names of the commanding general Emmons and Lt. Col. Thomas H. Green, the latter having been given the title of "Executive, Office of the Military Governor." Under that title—and operating from the Office of the Territorial Attorney General at 'Iolani Palace, which the army had appropriated for its military governor's functions—Emmons and Green collectively controlled much of civilian life and criminal law enforcement in Hawai'i until mid-1943. [6]

Emmons authorized Green to extend army control even to the full range of federal administrative functions. These eventually included all the wartime powers exercised by the Office of Price Administration, the War Production Board, the War Labor Board, and other "alphabet industries." The army's general orders in Hawai'i also controlled wartime wages and working conditions. The military controlled allocations of labor on the plantations, including "sweetheart deals" with the sugar and pineapple plantation companies by which they kept their labor force in place but contracted their workers out to the army's military construction projects. The army won over powerful employer interests and thus gained political influence within the civilian community by criminalizing job switching and absenteeism from work. Under martial law, employees were required to gain employer permission to leave a job. It was an offense to be absent from a job without permission. [7] Organized business groups, therefore, provided enthusiastic support for army rule.

Emmons' Later Career and Retirement

Returning to the continental United States in June 1943, Emmons was later appointed as the commanding general of the Western Defense Command at Presidio, San Francisco, and is credited for taking steps to end the incarceration of Japanese Americans. In 1944, Emmons headed the Alaskan Department at Fort Richardson and two years later became commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia. He remained in that position until he retired on June 30, 1948. Emmons died nearly twenty years later on October 3, 1965 ending a distinguished career that included a number of awards and decorations.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Allen, Gwenfread. Hawaii's War Years . Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1971.

Anthony, J. Garner. Hawaii Under Army Rule . Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1955.

Hazama, Dorothy Ochiai and Jane Okamoto Komeiji. Okage Same De: The Japanese in Hawai'i 1885-1985 . Honolulu: Bess Press, 1986.

Kimura, Yukiko. "Some Effects of the War Situation Upon the Alien Japanese in Hawaii." Social Process in Hawaii 8 (November 1943): 18-28.

Niiya, Brian, ed. Encyclopedia of Japanese American History, Updated Edition, An A-to Z Reference from 1868 to the Present . New York: Facts on File, 2001.

Scheiber, Harry N. and Jane L. Scheiber. "Constitutional Liberty in World War II: Army Rule and Martial Law in Hawaii: 1941-1946." Western Legal History 3.2 (1990): 341-378.

United States Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

U.S. Air Force. "Lieutenant General Delos Carleton Emmons."

U.S. Army Pacific. "Biography: Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons."


  1. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities .
  2. Harry N. Scheiber and Jane L. Scheiber, "Constitutional Liberty in World War II: Army Rule and Martial Law in Hawaii: 1941-1946," Western Legal History 3:2 (1990): 344.
  3. Brian Niiya, ed., Encyclopedia of Japanese American History, Updated Edition, An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present (New York : Facts on File, 2001), 159.
  4. Dorothy Ochiai Hazama and Jane Okamoto Komeiji, Okage Same De: The Japanese in Hawai'i 1885-1985 (Honolulu: Bess Press, 1986), 132.
  5. Yukiko Kimura, "Some Effects of the War Situation Upon the Alien Japanese in Hawaii," Social Process in Hawaii Vol. VIII (November 1943): 18.
  6. J. Garner Anthony, Hawaii Under Army Rule (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1955), 10.
  7. Ibid., 43.

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