By spring, signs had appeared in Bill’s neighborhood ordering all persons of Japanese ancestry to report to a local church by noon on May 9. The instructions said to bring bedding, clothes, utensils, and personal effects, but no more than could be carried. The instructions did not say where they would be going or how long they would be gone.
In the coming days, Bill’s family scrambled to sell their belongings. They gave up the lease on their store and hotel. They tried to sell the family truck, but no one would buy it, so they had to give it away.
Similar scenes played out up and down the West Coast, as Japanese Americans prepared for their forced incarceration. They sold what they could—houses, furniture, cars—often getting only a fraction of what they paid originally.
At the church, Bill and his family joined dozens of others. Many wore their best clothes—mothers in floral dresses, fathers in neatly pressed suits. Small children clutched their mothers’ hands, wearing their finest coats—and bewildered expressions.
Eventually, everyone was loaded onto buses and taken to the Santa Anita Racetrack, one of 16 so-called assembly centers. These assembly centers were makeshift accommodations in fairgrounds, racetracks, and other large spaces, where Japanese Americans were to be held while more permanent relocation camps could be built.
Conditions at the racetrack were dismal—crowded, smelly, dusty. Bill’s grandparents had to sleep in the horse stalls, which reeked of manure. One day, Bill got lost trying to find the bathroom. “It was embarrassing,” he remembers. “I ended up wetting my pants. I’ll never forget that.”
Sometimes Bill would stare longingly at the movie theater across the street. Only days earlier, he could see a movie whenever he wanted. Now the theater might as well have been on the moon.