On the afternoon of Sunday December 7, 1941, as the country reeled from the attack on Pearl Harbor, Queen Anne residents wondered about what must be going through the mind of their neighbor at 1025 1st Avenue W., home of the Consul of the Empire of Japan in Seattle, Yuki Sato.
Police and FBI agents were sent to guard the home immediately after the attack, for the protection of the consul and his family, and to question and search anyone coming or going from the residence. No casual visitors were allowed and only one reporter out of the gaggle that had gathered was given permission by the FBI to approach the home. He was the only one who managed to get a statement from Sato that day, which was, “I am very sorry. I have no statement to make this time.”
Reporters then turned their attention to a much smaller-scale drama playing out outside of the home. A delegation of neighborhood youngsters, as The Seattle Times described them, arrived at the consul’s home to pay their respects to their friends, the Sato children. Per their orders, the agents refused to admit them to the property. But one of those children would not be deterred.
8-year-old Gordon Lewis, resident of 411 Prospect St. and West Queen Anne School third-grader was determined to deliver a Christmas gift to his buddy, Syuki Sato, also 8. Lewis somehow talked his way to an entrance and was able to hand off his gift to a maid. The Sato children leaned out of upstairs windows to speak to their turned-away friends on the street below. One of them shouted, “We can’t come out and play now. Those policemen won’t let us.”
The newspaper’s take on the story was indicative of the anger, shock and creeping mistrust of the moment, and unfortunately missed the more salient takeaway. The title of the Times article was “Ironic Drama Marks Gift to Consul’s Son.” This angle was chosen because among the dime-store items Gordon had selected for Syuki’s gift was a toy bomber.
Perhaps they thought that their readers were too outraged to want to read a story about an act of kindness toward a friend and neighbor who had suddenly become the target of suspicion and hostility for events outside of their control. Perhaps they were too outraged to see it themselves at the time. The kindness of the children’s expression of support and of Gordon’s determination to deliver his gift was even more profound when one considers a fact that the article mentioned only in passing. Gordon was brought to deliver the gift by his father, a United States Navy lieutenant-commander.
Two months later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which initiated the forced relocation of 120,000 West Coast Japanese American citizens on February 19, 1942. Sato and his family were forced to leave Seattle a little earlier; they departed for an internment camp for Japanese consular officials in Hot Springs, Virginia on December 30, 1941.
There is plenty to be collectively ashamed of as we look back on how American citizens of Japanese descent were treated by the United States government. Sadly, the knee-jerk reaction to mistrust and suspect our fellow citizens in times of political strife and conflict seems to transcend the hard-earned lessons of such tragic actions as Executive Order 9066. But we can look back on the day that has lived in infamy for 80 years and take a small bit of pride remembering how a delegation of Queen Anne children represented the best in all of us.