James Hatsuaki Wakasa

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Name James Wakasa
Born February 24 1880
Died April 11 1943
Birth Location Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
Generational Identifier


Issei man who was shot and killed at Topaz concentration camp, Utah, while walking his dog inside the barbed wire fence, April 11, 1943. Wakasa, 63, a chef, attended Keio college in Japan and immigrated to the U.S. in 1903. He was killed by a single bullet to the chest by a military sentry who later testified that the shot from the guard tower, some 300 yards away, was a warning. The military took the body away and no inquest was held. Believing that a riot might be imminent, the military put soldiers on emergency alert. The Topaz Times and local papers printed the military's claim that Wakasa was killed while going through the fence, but War Relocation Authority investigations established that the body lay several feet inside the fence and a postmortem examination found that the victim was facing the guard when he was shot. The accused, Private First Class Gerald Philpott, was found not guilty in a court-martial trial but the facts were "never satisfactorily disclosed to the residents," wrote Miné Okubo in Citizen 13660 . Not long after the camp funeral, an unauthorized monument to Wakasa was built by the Topaz landscape crew. It stirred concern within the military and, under pressure, the men took down the memorial. Asst. Secretary of War John J. McCloy was so concerned about the monument that he wrote to Dillon S. Myer about the dangers of memorializing the victim of a "justifiable military action."

For More Information

Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Okubo, Miné. Citizen 13660 . New York: Columbia University Press, 1946.

Taylor, Sandra C. Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Last updated June 22, 2020, 6:40 p.m..