John Lesesne DeWitt served for nearly 50 years of his life, from 1898 to 1947, in the United States Army. DeWitt joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant on October 10, 1898, when he was 18 years old. How he was able to do that at such an early age is hard to imagine, but we must assume that he had completed officer school at that time. General DeWitt retired from the United States Army as a Lieutenant General in June 1947. Seven years later, on June 19, 1954, by a special Act of the United States Congress, General DeWitt was appointed to the rank of a full general.
General DeWitt served in the United States Army during both World War I and World War II. In 1918, during the First World War, DeWitt served on the battlefields of Europe as a Lieutenant Colonel. At the end of the First World War, DeWitt received the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1930, DeWitt was promoted to Major General, and he then became the Quartermaster General of the United States Army. And in 1937, General DeWitt was appointed Commandant of the Army War College.
In December 1939, General DeWitt was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, and 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 of the United States from invasion by the Japanese.
In February 1942, General DeWitt, in his capacity as the United States Army general responsible for the military security of the west coast, reported national safety concerns to President Roosevelt. General DeWitt’s national safety concerns involved the large concentration of Japanese Americans then living in the three western coastal states consisting of California, Oregon and Washington. General DeWitt was concerned that, in case of a military invasion of the west coast by the Japanese, the reliability of the Japanese Americans was in question.
General DeWitt recommended, to President Roosevelt, the evacuation of all Japanese Americans from the coastal areas of California, Oregon and the state of Washington. President Roosevelt agreed with the General DeWitt recommendation and issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the evacuation.
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.
General DeWitt was responsible for the safety and security of the entire west coast of the United States. February 1942 was only a little over two months following the debacle of Pearl Harbor. He reported to President Roosevelt that “no sabotage by Japanese Americans had yet been confirmed”. But he added to that, “there is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken”. Whether he made that statement on the basis of fact, or fear, is not clear. But apparently, there was no hesitation on the part of Roosevelt to listen to DeWitt’s concerns, and the president issued the executive order.
General DeWitt served in his capacity as head of the Western Defense Command until June 15, 1943. He was then apparently needed, because of his expertise and experience, in the Pacific conflict with the Japanese. For the remainder of the Second World War, General DeWitt served in his role as a more active participant of the Pacific conflict with the Japanese. One of his major tasks was the supervising of the combat operations against the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands, some of which had been invaded by Japanese forces.
Following the Second World War, General DeWitt ended his military career by serving as Commandant of the Army and Navy Staff College in Washington, D.C. He retired from the United States Army in June 1947, 49 years after joining the United States Army as a junior officer.
General John Lesesne DeWitt died of a heart attack at the age of 82, in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 1962. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He had served his country as a military officer, during two turbulent wars, for most of his life. Unfortunately, it included his disturbing decision to strongly recommend the internment of many of his fellow citizens.
John L. DeWitt, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_L._DeWitt
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