Frank S. Emi, the last survivor of a small group of Japanese American World War II internees who led efforts to resist the draft on grounds that they were being asked to fight for democratic rights abroad that were being denied to them, has died.
Mr. Emi, who was running a thriving Los Angeles grocery when his family was uprooted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Dec. 1 at Citrus Valley Hospice in West Covina, near Los Angeles, said his daughter, Kathleen Ito. He was 94 and had a number of ailments related to old age.
For Mr. Emi, who had to abandon his business, his home, and his belongings for a cramped barracks at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, the incarceration was a calamity.
Like most of his fellow evictees, he accepted the upheaval with resignation. But when the federal government decided in early 1944 to reopen the draft to Japanese American men in the camps, Mr. Emi joined six other Heart Mountain internees in opposing the order.
They formed the Fair Play Committee, which dared to ask how they could be ordered to fight for freedom abroad when they were denied it at home.
The committee was responsible for the only organized draft resistance in the camps. Their defiance resulted in imprisonment for draft evasion of 300 men from 10 camps.
The seven leaders of the movement were convicted of conspiracy to violate the Selective Service Act. Mr. Emi - who had a deferment because he was married and had children - served 18 months at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan.
"He was one of the really small number of Japanese Americans of his generation who found the courage in camp to develop an articulate public position questioning the legality of what was being done to the Japanese American community, and he very much paid the price for that," said Eric L. Muller, a constitutional law expert at the University of North Carolina who wrote a book about the resisters.
Mr. Emi's daughter does not recall him talking much about his draft-resistance work in the first decades after the war.
Among his Nisei, or U.S.-born, generation, the heroes were the men who fought in the 442d Regimental Combat Team, a highly decorated unit made up mainly of Japanese Americans, many of whom had families in the camps. The resisters were maligned as traitors.
The committee leaders were exonerated in December 1945 when a federal appeals court overturned their convictions. The other resisters were pardoned by President Harry S. Truman.
After his retirement in the 1980s, Mr. Emi joined the Japanese American redress movement. He began speaking publicly about his wartime civil disobedience, determined to educate the community about the patriotism at its core.
- Los Angeles Times