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Bob Fletcher dies at 101; saved farms of interned Japanese Americans

Fletcher quit his job as a state agricultural inspector and managed 90 acres in Sacramento owned by the Nitta, Okamoto and Tsukamoto families. He returned the farms to the families in 1945.

June 03, 2013|From Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports
  • Bob Fletcher quit his job as a state agricultural commissioner to manage the farms of three Japanese families in Sacramento during WWII. "They were the same as anybody else. It was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor," he later said of the families.
Bob Fletcher quit his job as a state agricultural commissioner to manage… (Randall Benton / McClatchy-Tribune )

Bob Fletcher, who quit his job as a state agricultural inspector during World War II to save the Sacramento farms of interned Japanese American families, died May 23 in Sacramento, his family announced. He was 101.

A few months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forced Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent to report to barbed-wire camps in 1942. Many lost their homes to thieves or bank foreclosures.

In the face of deep anti-Japanese sentiment — Fletcher was taunted as a "Jap lover" and nearly hit by a bullet fired at a barn — he stepped in to save the farms of the Nitta, Okamoto and Tsukamoto families.

He worked 90 acres of California table grapes, paid the mortgages and taxes, and took half the profits. He turned over the rest — along with the farms — to the three families when they returned to Sacramento in 1945.

"I did know a few of them pretty well and never agreed with the evacuation," Fletcher told the Sacramento Bee in 2010. "They were the same as anybody else. It was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor."

His inspirational story is recounted in history books, including "We The People: A Story of Internment in America" by Elizabeth Pinkerton and Mary Tsukamoto, whose family farm he saved.

"Few people in history exemplify the best ideals the way that Bob did," said Tsukamoto's daughter, Marielle, who was 5 when her family was interned. "He was honest and hardworking and had integrity. Whenever you asked him about it, he just said, 'It was the right thing to do.' "

The only child of Contra Costa County walnut farmers, Robert Emmett Fletcher Jr. was born July 26, 1911, in San Francisco and raised in the East Bay.

He earned an agriculture degree from UC Davis in 1933, managed a peach ranch and worked as a state and Sacramento County agriculture inspector during the Great Depression.

After the war, he bought a ranch in Sacramento and raised cattle. He spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter with a local fire department and retired in 1974 after another 12 years as paid chief.

In good health until recently, he never smoked or drank alcohol, said his brother-in-law Nevin Nyswonger. A reserved man of simple tastes, Fletcher drank more than a quart of milk a day and enjoyed spending time with his wife or working.

"He never stopped working hard — but not for himself," said Rick Martinez, a former Sacramento fire chief. "He was a true public servant."

Fletcher is survived by his wife of 67 years, Teresa, of Sacramento; son Robert Fletcher III of Idaho; three granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.

news.obits@latimes.com

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