By GERALD YAMADA
Bob Fletcher died on May 23, 2013 at the age of 101 in Sacramento.
In 1942, he was a state agricultural inspector who did not agree with the government-ordered evacuation and felt that Japanese farmers had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. He quit his job and went to work saving farms owned by the Nitta, Okamoto and Tsukamoto families in Florin.
Driven by his principles, he gave up his career to care for these farms. He suffered harsh criticism within the white community for his views.
My mother was the oldest daughter of the Nitta family, whose farm was one of three Florin farms that Mr. Fletcher saved during World War II. My parents and grandparents were imprisoned at the Jerome War Relocation Authority Camp in Arkansas, where I was born. After the war, Mr. Fletcher returned the farm to my grandparents, and they continued to farm it for the next 40 years.
My parents and grandparents never talked to me about their internment experience. Whenever the war was mentioned, my mother only mentioned how grateful she was for Mr. Fletcher’s efforts in saving her parents’ farm. I have very fond memories about my grandparents’ farm and thank Mr. Fletcher for making a difference. He will be missed.
There is a lesson for us here. As Japanese Americans, we tend to focus on the prejudice, hatred, distrust, and disloyalty aimed towards persons of Japanese ancestry resulting in the forced evacuation of 120,000 persons from the West Coast. We must also remember those who had the courage of their convictions to stand up against the government and who tried to help Japanese Americans at the expense of their careers and reputations.
They, like Bob Fletcher, are heroes and must not be forgotten.
Gerald Yamada is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Japanese American Veterans Association.
A Brief Biography
Robert Emmett Fletcher Jr. was born in San Francisco on July 26, 1911 and was raised in Brentwood until he began attending UC Davis in 1930. After college, he managed a peach orchard in Red Bluff, and later became a state shipping point inspector, a job that required him to travel all over California and into Arizona.
In 1942, Fletcher took over the management of three farms in the town of Florin. These farms contained 90 acres of Flame Tokay Grapes. He managed the farms for three families of Japanese decent who were interned for the duration of World War II. While in Florin, he met and married a native of the area, Teresa Cassieri.
After the families returned from internment, the couple purchased their own property in the Florin area and started growing hay and raising Herford cattle.
Fletcher joined the Florin Fire Department when it was organized and served 20 years as a volunteer assistant chief and 12 years as the paid chief.
Organizations that he belonged to include International Fire Chiefs Association, Western Fire Chiefs Association, California Fire Chiefs Association (secretary-treasurer for 10 years), California Rural Fire Association, Florin Firemen’s Association, California Farm Bureau (serving as director of the Wilton Store), Elk Grove School Naming Committee, Florin Historical Society, East Contra Costa Historical Society, and Elk Grove Civil War Roundtable.
He is survived by his wife of over 67 years; their son, Robert Fletcher III; three granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.
Visitation was held May 30 at East Lawn Elk Grove Mortuary in Elk Grove. Services were held at the same location on May 31, followed by a celebration of life at the Fletcher Farm Community Center in Sacramento.
Donations in Fletcher’s memory can be made to the Florin Historical Society, 7145 McComber St., Florin, CA 95828, or to a charity of your choice.