Filed Under Assembly Center

Pinedale Assembly Center

Detained without Charges, Trial or Establishment of Guilt

In the early months of 1942, amidst the backdrop of the Second World War, a hastily built barracks-like facility sprang up on the outskirts of Fresno, California. Known as the Pinedale Assembly Center, it became one of the fifteen temporary detention centers constructed to incarcerate Japanese-Americans until their transport to permanent camps in Tule Lake, California, and Poston, Arizona.

The Pinedale Assembly Center was located in Fresno County, California, and was an integral part of the larger San Joaquin Valley Japanese-American community. Before World War II, this region was home to a vibrant and thriving Japanese-American population. Families had established farms, businesses, and cultural institutions, contributing significantly to the local economy and society.

However, the course of history took a dramatic turn with the issuance of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This order led to the forced removal and internment of Japanese-Americans living along the West Coast. This measure, a response to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and fueled by fear and xenophobia, led to the forced removal and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans. For many in the San Joaquin Valley community, the Pinedale Assembly Center symbolized their sudden displacement and the loss of their homes and livelihoods: scars that forever remained on their lives and lineage.

From June 1923 through November 1931, the property operated as the Sugar Pine Lumber Company, providing the economy with 600,000 board feet of lumber daily. Due to a shortage of working capital and the ill effects of the Great Depression, the company's lifespan was short. Though not a successful business, it did succeed in the firm establishment of the Pinedale community. "Despite the demise of the lumber mill, the community of Pinedale continued to thrive. Leftover scrap lumber from the mill was used to construct new homes and buildings in Pinedale, including Saint Agnes Church. A variety of ethnic groups resided in Pinedale, such as immigrants from Mexico, some African Americans, and Caucasians, all intent upon pursuing their own "American Dream."

Shortly after the war's onset, the Pinedale Assembly Center quickly arose on the property. Like other internment facilities, scantily constructed barracks and other structures became areas of confinement for thousands of innocents. The accommodations were stark, with inadequate living conditions, privacy, and freedom of movement. Families were abruptly separated from their homes and communities, ostracized, faced emotional distress, and endured the challenges of adapting to an entirely new way of life.

From a national perspective, there was a palpable mix of fear and racial prejudice at the time. Despite a lack of evidence suggesting Japanese-American involvement in espionage, government officials and the media echoed the sentiment that people of Japanese descent posed a potential threat to national security. Simply stated, the United States held every individual with Japanese heritage responsible for the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, the narrative surrounding the Pinedale Assembly Center and other similar facilities has undergone a profound shift. The perspective, steeped once in wartime hysteria and racism, has evolved over the decades. The signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, which acknowledged and apologized for the unjust incarceration, was a significant turning point. The act stated that the government's actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" and awarded reparations to surviving Japanese-American detainees.

From the perspective of Japanese Americans, this redress was a long-overdue acknowledgment of the injustices they suffered. Many survivors have shared their stories, ensuring that the lessons from this dark chapter of American history remain as educators against repetition. In Fresno, where the Pinedale Assembly Center once stood, a small memorial now pays tribute to those forced to assemble there. Instead of statues or obelisks, the community chose to commemorate using education and community dialogues via a panoramic display of plaques and photographs. The Sugar Pine Lumber Company water tower remains in the landscape as it claims its place alongside modern architecture. Benches made from lumber cut at the lumber company surround a "Fountain of Remembrance" and provide a resting place for immersion and reflection into the site, a poignant reminder of the resilience of those affected and the need for vigilance against the recurrence of such injustices.

World War II Army veteran Vernon N. Schmidt grew up in the town of Reedley, Fresno County, California. Located approximately 32 miles from Pinedale, his family farmed, worshipped, and received schooling alongside other families in this blended community. His childhood memories and classroom experiences reflect the friendships and influences of Japanese-American citizens.

The Nisei, American native-born citizens of Japanese immigrants, comprised 70,000 of the 120,000 sent to internment camps. Vern and his wife Violet recall the confusion and sadness of witnessing those they grew up with being "herded up and sent off like cattle." Unable to give his friends the proper sendoff on what he remembers as a Saturday, Vern and his brother, Glenn, worked the family farm with their father to provide for their family during wartime. Over 80 years later, he shared, "These individuals were our high school friends. Several years down the line, our Class of 1943 organized a gathering in Reedley, during which we presented retroactive 1943 High School Graduation Certificates to many of these individuals. This heartfelt gesture brought forth a flood of happy tears from those in attendance."

The collective memory of the Pinedale Assembly Center is intimately tied to the Japanese-American community's resilience and determination in the face of adversity. Within the San Joaquin Valley community and beyond, there has been a concerted effort to document the stories of those processed at Pinedale and similar camps. This documentation includes oral histories, photographs, and personal accounts that shed light on the challenges and triumphs of those affected. Additionally, museums, educational programs, and tools exist to educate the public about this dark chapter in American history.

In summary, the history of the Pinedale Assembly Center is deeply rooted in the rich tapestry of the San Joaquin Valley Japanese-American community. The collective memory discussed serves as the memorial to the strength and steadfastness of individuals who endured internment and serves as a vital reminder of the suffering experienced by those who lived during the Second World War.

Images

Preparing for Relocation A group of evacuees prepare to relocate to a permanent site. Source: Pinedale Assembly Center - Evacuees Date: 1942
Pinedale Assembly Center Plaque A brief description of the memorial's purpose and suffering of those who assemble in this area. Source: Laura Bailey Creator: Plaque placed by California State Parks in Cooperation with the City of Fresno, Japanese American Citizens League and Central California Nikkei Foundation Date: January 22, 2023
A Towering Reminder In the landscape behind the "Fountain of Remembrance", the water tower remains that served the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Source: Laura Bailey Date: January 22, 2023
Reflection Area A bench made from lumber milled from the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Seated from this bench, the visitor can view the "Fountain of Remembrance" and the water tower original to the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Creator: Laura Bailey Date: January 22, 2023
Executive Order 9066 Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to detain anyone of Japanese descent during the course of World War II. Source: Authorization Given to the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas Creator: U.S. Government Date: February 19, 1942
Internment Map A diagram designating assembly and internment locations across the United States. Source: Laura Bailey Creator: Plaque at the Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial site. Date: map: circa 1945
Instructions! Notice of evacuation to all persons of Japanese Ancestry. Source: Photo by Laura Bailey Creator: Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration: Presidio of San Francisco, California Date: Created: May 23, 1942
Acknowledgment and Apology President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. He is surrounded by Hawaii Sen. Spark Matsunaga, California Rep. Norman Mineta, Hawaii Rep. Pat Saiki, California Sen. Pete Wilson, Alaska Rep. Don Young, California Rep. Bob Matsui, California Rep. Bill Lowery, and JACL President Harry Kajihara. Source: Saturday Evening Post Creator: Unknown Date: August 10, 1988
Innocence Before War Vernon N. Schmidt shares his 1st and 2nd Grade photo from a pre-war Fresno County, California. Included in the class are several Nisei Japanese-American students. (Vern is on the second row - third student from the right) Source: Private Collection of Vernon N. Schmidt Creator: Lincoln School - Miss Linscheid's Class Date: October 26, 1932
A Local Veteran's Perspective WWII Veteran and area native, Vernon N. Schmidt, explains to a visitor his perspective on living in a region where his childhood friends were sent to internment camps. Creator: Dan Bailey Date: January 22, 2023

Location

625 W. Alluvial Avenue, Fresno, California

Metadata

https://pinedalememorial.org/
Laura Bailey, “Pinedale Assembly Center,” Global World War II Monuments, accessed July 24, 2024, https://worldwariimonuments.org/items/show/29.