Perennial Vintners
Japanese Internment
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Mike Lempriere is a small family farmer on Bainbridge Island, his business is Perennial Vintners, where he grows winegrapes and makes and sells the wine. This article is by Mike, and is not guaranteed to be historically accurate - I do my best to be faithful to the intent, however - it is written with informal in-passing discussions with the people concerned.

The Perennial Vintners property is next to the Suyematsu Farm on Day Rd. This farm was established by a Japanese immigrant family in the 1920's, the Suyematsus. This is my story of their son Akio.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII, America reached a pinnacle of anti-immigrant hysteria, and chose to lock up those of Japanese origin. On 19-Feb-1942, with Executive Order 9066, the wheels were set in motion. On 24-Mar-1942, ExclusionOrder No. 1 was issued, which designated Bainbridge Island as the first area of removal.

It must be made clear - the people concerned here, were American Citizens. These were people who had immigrated to America, legally, from Japan.

The American government made the choice to "intern" entire families. When a family had been established, they could have chosen to only intern the parents, recognizing that the children were born in America and were citizens, however they chose to keep families together. From my distant view 74 years later, I see both good intentions and poor choices in this decision, you'll have to decide for yourself.

There are many plausible reasons Bainbridge was chosen as the first place of removal. Most importantly was probably the fact that it was an island with a small community, thus could be easily contained in event of dissent or trouble. (Bear in mind there was no bridge at that time, only ferry access.) The official justifications were the proximity of military targets, e.g. Bremerton Naval Shipyard, Boeing, etc.

On 30-Mar-1942 just six days later, the families were lead at gunpoint to a ferry at the south end of the island. The current WSDOT ferry dock is across the harbor from that original dock. The site had been abandoned for many years, and has now had a memorial built there (see BIJAC website) - it's well worth the trip to visit. Please note that the families were cooperative, there was no violence. In fact in subsequent removals in other communities, the soldiers were directed to remove the bayonet from their guns as the experience on Bainbridge had been peaceful.

They were ferried across Puget Sound, and put onto trains in Seattle. They rode through the night, then were herded onto buses, and driven to the Manzanar Relocation Center. This was a crude and incomplete set of cabins in a desert with nothing else around. They were involved in completing the camp, with such details as getting a sewer system working.

These families were somewhat better off than others in the area. In Apr-1942, almost 8,000 Nikkei (emigrants living outside of Japan), were brought to the Puyallup Fair Fairgrounds where they were housed in horse stables and some temporary buildings. They were held there until Sep-1942. Most of these people were taken to Minidoka in Idaho.

A brief aside - the renowned photographer Ansel Adams was commissioned by the government to photograph Manzanar. He was instructed that he would not be allowed to show the perimeter wire fence or the guard towers in his images. (He did manage to sneak in some - in viewing these images, if you're observant, you may occasionally see the shadow of the fence.) To some extent this was a blessing, as through his images we see the people and the daily life in the camp.

About 2 years into the war, the Suyematsu family was moved from Manzanar to Minidoka. (I wish I'd thought to ask Akio why.) Another year or so later, when the war was over, they were released. They were each given $25 to get "home" with. Most had lost their homes, their land, their livelyhood.

Akio's family returned to Bainbridge, and were amongst the lucky ones, they got their property back. Akio recounted that his dad had bought the property from a local man named Burns (I think he ran a local electrical company) and that he asked only that they catch up on the back taxes as they could.

Now the most amazing part of this story - after release, Akio joined the service and fought for America. I believe he was an MP stationed in Germany.

After his service, Akio returned to his family farm and took a job at an island auto repair business to help his dad catch up on the property payments.

Akio's dad passed away (in the 1980's?), and Akio moved to another house on a largish parcel just off Manzanita Rd. a mile or so away. Akio started farming that property in addition to the Day Rd. property. During the 1990's he sold portions of that farm to Mike Paulson and Karen Selvar - both of these people worked with Akio on both farms, and both are still farming his, and their, parcels today.

About this time, Gerard Bentryn of Bainbridge Island Vineyard and Winery (BIVW) convinced Akio to grow winegrapes for BIVW (Akio was in his 60's at this point). He worked with BIVW and expanded grape plantings over several years. After a few years, he sold the vineyard areas to Gerard. These areas are all still in grapes at this writing.

In (2001?), the people of Bainbridge Island voted on an Open Space bond to "preserve the rural character of the island". They taxed themselves $8M. The city has since used up that money by buying farms as the farmers retired. The land was then stripped of development rights and in the future can only by used for farming. Most of Akio's property, both on Day Rd. and off Manzanita are now in this program and being actively farmed by Karen Selvar.

Karen is in her early fifties at this writing. Her first job as a little girl, age 9, was picking strawberries for Akio. The only job she's had in her life is working side-by-side with Akio on the farm. With his passing, Akio's surviving brother and sister (Akio never married), made sure that Karen could afford to buy all the equipment she needed from the estate so as to continue farming as she had with Akio all those years.

Akio passed away 31-Jul-2012, his entire life working the farm. He was out in the weather working away, until the last few months of life. He was the model American citizen, and is sorely missed by those of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

Mike Lempriere, 18-Dec-2015


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