Military Wiki
John Lesesne DeWitt
LTG John L. DeWitt
Born (1880-01-09)January 9, 1880
Died June 20, 1962(1962-06-20) (aged 82)
Place of birth Fort Sidney, Nebraska
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch U.S. Army
Years of service 1898-1947
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Commands held Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army; Commandant of the Army War College; Fourth U.S. Army, Commanding General; Western Defense Command, Commanding General; Commandant of the Army and Navy Staff College
Battles/wars World War I, World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Medal

John Lesesne DeWitt (January 9, 1880 – June 20, 1962) was a general in the United States Army, best known for his vocal support of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

General DeWitt believed that Japanese and Japanese Americans in California, Oregon, and Washington were conspiring to sabotage the American war effort, and recommended they be removed from coastal areas. President Roosevelt agreed with DeWitt's recommendation and issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the internment. The president's executive order affected 110,000 Japanese men, women and children. Seventy five percent of the affected Japanese Americans were American-born citizens. Although the removal of the Japanese Americans was technically called an evacuation, it turned out to be internment in detention camps, euphemistically called resettlement camps.

In the course of carrying out the policy, he issued military proclamations that applied to American men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, directing that they be moved from their homes to government created and operated internment camps.

Military career

DeWitt was born at Fort Sidney, Nebraska on January 9, 1880. On October 10, 1898, he was appointed as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army infantry. He would go on to serve nearly fifty years of his life (from 1898 to 1947) within the U.S. Army in various posts.

World War I

In 1918, he set out with the 42nd Division to the battlefields of World War I. At this time, he was already a lieutenant colonel, and continued duties as a quartermaster in the General Staff Headquarters. In July 1918, DeWitt was promoted to full colonel, and continued quartermaster duties for the First Army. He received the Distinguished Service Medal at the end of World War I.

Post World War I

Between 1919 and 1930, DeWitt served in various quartermaster positions at posts such as assistant commandant of the General Staff College, Chief of the Storage and Issue Branch, and the Supply Division. In 1930, he was promoted to the rank of major general, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army. As well as his regular duties as Quartermaster General, DeWitt also assumed control of the Gold Star Mothers' Pilgrimage. General DeWitt was responsible for all logistics involving this Congressionally-approved event.

After returning to the infantry, DeWitt assumed control of the Philippine Division. In July 1937, he became commandant of the Army War College. Two years later, in December 1939, General DeWitt was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, and then assumed command of the Fourth Army as well as the Western Defense Command of the United States Army, with responsibilities for the protection of the West Coast area of the United States from invasion by the Japanese.

World War II

From December 5, 1939 to June 15, 1943, DeWitt was assigned command of the IX Corps Area and its 1942 successor, the Western Defense Command, both headquartered at the Presidio of San Francisco.

DeWitt was in San Francisco on the evening of December 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when air raid sirens were sounded. An estimated 35 Japanese warplanes were supposedly sighted above San Francisco Bay on a reconnaissance mission. DeWitt was furious at the lack of blackout precautions during the air raids. He blasted city leaders at a Civil Defense Council meeting the next day, saying, "Death and destruction are likely to come to this city at any moment... The people of San Francisco do not seem to appreciate that we are at war in every sense. I have come here because we want action and we want action now. Unless definite and stern action is taken to correct last night's deficiencies, a great deal of destruction will come. Those planes were over our community. They were over our community for a definite period. They were enemy planes. I mean Japanese planes. They were tracked out to sea." At the Civil Defense Council meeting, DeWitt suggested that it might have been a good thing if the planes had dropped bombs to "awaken this city." He said, "If I can't knock these facts into your heads with words, I will have to turn you over to the police and let them knock them into you with clubs." DeWitt acknowledged that some people had asked why he didn't give orders to fire on the planes. "I say it's none of their damn business," he responded. "San Francisco woke up this morning without a single death from bombs. Isn't that enough?" [1]

DeWitt recommended that the 1942 Rose Bowl football game, normally played in Pasadena, California, be moved.[2] DeWitt feared that the large crowd of spectators would be too tempting a target for Japanese warplanes. For the first and only time in its history, the 1942 Rose Bowl game was moved to North Carolina.

In February 1942, DeWitt reported to President Roosevelt that no sabotage by Japanese-Americans had yet been confirmed — but commented that this only proved "a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken."[3] He recommended the evacuation of all Japanese from the coastal areas of California, Oregon, and Washington state. The president agreed, issuing Executive Order 9066, and DeWitt then began implementing a plan for classifying, rounding up, and removal of "undesirables".

On March 2, 1942, DeWitt issued "Military Proclamation No. 1" which designated the western parts of California, Oregon and Washington as "military area no. 1", further divided into "prohibited zone A-1" and "restricted zone B." In the first phase of the order, a provision was included directing that "any person of Japanese ancestry, now resident in Military Area No. 1, who changes his place of habitual residence must file a 'change of residence notice' at his local post office not more than five days nor less than one day prior to moving,".[4] Days later, DeWitt announced that the army had acquired 5,800 acres (23 km2) of land near Manzanar, California, for construction of a "reception center" which he said was "to be used principally as a clearing house for the more permanent resettlement elsewhere for persons excluded from military areas.".[5]

Removal began on March 23, 1942, with the resettlement of citizens living in Los Angeles. On that date, General DeWitt issued new orders applying to Japanese-Americans, setting an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and banning ownership of firearms, radios, cameras, and other contraband. DeWitt stated, "Let me warn the affected aliens and Japanese-Americans that anything but strict compliance with this proclamation's provisions will bring immediate punishment,".[6] Northern California followed in April,[7] as DeWitt declared that "We plan to increase the tempo of the evacuation as fast as possible." Citizens in specific areas were required to report to their designated "Civil Control Station", where they would then be taken to an "Assembly Center" for relocation.

All told, DeWitt ordered the removal and internment of 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry (75% of whom were American-born citizens[citation needed]) from their homes to internment camps. According to DeWitt, "a Jap is a Jap,"[3][8] whether they were citizens of the United States or not.

DeWitt's former residence in Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.

A federal judge, James Alger Fee of Portland, Oregon, ruled in November, 1943 that American citizens could not be detained without a proclamation of martial law. DeWitt's response was "All military orders and proclamations of this headquarters remain in full force and effect".[9]

After the relocation of Japanese-Americans was complete, DeWitt lifted curfew restrictions on Italian-Americans on October 19, and on German-Americans on December 24. Technically, the curfew was "inapplicable to the Japanese since all members of this group were removed from the affected zones".[10] DeWitt had a personal vendetta against one Italian in particular Remo Bosia, which is detailed in Bosia's autobiography The General and I.

Lieutenant General DeWitt's orders also regulated other areas of life on the West Coast. A proclamation prohibited deer hunting and the playing of outdoor sports at night.[11] An "Alaska Travel Office" was established to issue permits to anyone seeking to travel into or out of the territory of Alaska.[12]

Less known is DeWitt's role in supervising the combat operations in the Aleutian Islands, some of which had been invaded by Japanese forces. When houses of prostitution were closed across America, General DeWitt allowed Sally Stanford to continue to operate a high class brothel in San Francisco.[citation needed] At the end of his tenure as head of Western Defense Command, he was appointed as the commandant of the Army and Navy Staff College in Washington. He retired from the army in June 1947.

United States District Court opinions

Official notice of exclusion and removal

A report by General DeWitt and Colonel Bendetsen depicting racist bias against Japanese Americans was circulated and then hastily redacted in 1943–1944. The report stated flatly that, because of their race, it was impossible to determine the loyalty of Japanese Americans, thus necessitating internment.[47] The original version was so offensive – even in the atmosphere of the wartime 1940s – that Bendetsen ordered all copies to be destroyed.[citation needed]

In 1980, a copy of the original Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast – 1942 was found in the National Archives, along with notes showing the numerous differences between the original and redacted versions.[citation needed] This earlier, racist and inflammatory version, as well as the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reports, led to the coram nobis retrials which overturned the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui on all charges related to their refusal to submit to exclusion and internment.[48] The courts found that the government had intentionally withheld these reports and other critical evidence, at trials all the way up to the Supreme Court, which would have proved that there was no military necessity for the exclusion and internment of Japanese Americans. In the words of Department of Justice officials writing during the war, the justifications were based on "willful historical inaccuracies and intentional falsehoods."


On July 19, 1954, DeWitt became a full general by special act of Congress for his services in World War II. General DeWitt died of a heart attack at the age of 82 in Washington, D.C. on June 20, 1962, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


  1. "San Francisco Has New Alarm: Jap Planes Positively Over City, General Says", The Pittsburgh Press. December 10, 1941.
  2. "ROSE BOWL GAME CALLED OFF", San Antonio Light, December 14, 1941, pB-1
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stafford, David (1999). Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.. p. 151. ISBN 1-58567-068-5. 
  4. "Army To Ban Aliens From Coast," Oakland Tribune, March 3, 1942, p1, p5
  5. "Army Takes Over Jap Center Site," Oakland Tribune, March 8, 1942, p1
  6. "New Curfew for Japanese Starts Friday," Oakland Tribune, March 24, 1942, p1
  7. "12,800 Japs Face Quick Coast Ouster," Oakland Tribune, April 21, 1942, p1
  8. "Behind Barbed Wire", The New York Times, September 11, 1988
  9. "Judge's Edict Ignored by Gen. DeWitt", Oakland Tribune, November 17, 1942, p1
  10. "German Alien Curfew Lifted", Oakland Tribune, December 24, 1942, p1
  11. "Deer Hunting Must Cease, Army Orders," Oakland Tribune, August 5, 1942, p1
  12. "Alaska Travel Curb Ordered," Oakland Tribune, June 30, 1942, p16

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