Bainbridge editor who decried Japanese internment dies at 91

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Consider the hysteria coursing through much of the country during World War II. Then consider the actions of a small-town newspaper editor named Walter C. Woodward, and you might regard him as a hero.

Mr. Woodward died yesterday (March 13) on Bainbridge Island of apparent kidney failure at age 91. His legacy was his newspaper voice, his lonely, thoughtful editorials in behalf of his neighbors of Japanese ancestry and against internment.

He was a doctor's son, born Feb. 25, 1910, in Seattle. He began newspapering as a teenager for his campus paper at Broadway High School, from which he graduated in 1928. After graduating in pre-med from the University of Washington in 1933, he worked as a reporter at The Seattle Times, then as a sportswriter at The Juneau Empire.

It was in Alaska where he met a redheaded schoolteacher named Mildred Logg. They married in 1935 and settled on Bainbridge Island. By 1940, with the help of friends, Mr. Woodward and Milly, as she was known, were in business together, publishing and editing the weekly Bainbridge Review.

Its masthead read, "The Only Paper in the World That Cares About Bainbridge Island!"

In February 1942, the couple, through the paper, would show how much they cared about all Bainbridge Island residents. That is when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the evacuation of all Japanese from the West Coast.

There were about 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States at the time. On Bainbridge Island, there were 278, including at least 200 who were U.S. citizens, according to island historian Gerald Elfendahl.

Sam Nakao was 26, living with his parents, helping them run a strawberry farm. "All the papers up and down the West Coast supported our being moved out. Walt was the only one who said they were violating the Bill of Rights and that it was a wrong thing to do," Nakao said.

Indeed, for three months, Mr. Woodward's was the only West Coast newspaper to editorialize against the Japanese internment.

As he watched families being shuttled to camps like Minidoka in Idaho and Tule Lake in California, Mr. Woodward refused to let the island forget them. Despite angry readers canceling their subscriptions and pulling their ads, he published stories from the camps by correspondents about births, marriages and beauty-pageant winners, Elfendahl said.

After three years, when the families were free to return home, many returned to Bainbridge.

"The only guilt I had had was my face," said Jerry Nakata, who was 18 when the war broke out. "When I came back, I didn't experience any hostility," which wasn't the case in some cities in California, Nakata said. "A person like that. The honorable thing he did, you can't say enough about him."

Mr. Woodward was the inspiration for the newspaper editor in David Guterson's best-selling novel "Snow Falling on Cedars."

"This is a person who, in many ways, has been mythologized. What's easy to forget is he was a fine human being," Guterson said.

A boating enthusiast, Mr. Woodward wrote a weekly boating column for The Seattle Times from 1966 to 1977. He was also a member of The Times' editorial department.

He was awarded the "Dove of Peace" by the Japanese American Citizens League in 1986. He was inducted into the state Centennial Hall of Honor in 1989 as one of the 100 Washingtonians who have contributed most to the state's quality of life.

He was preceded in death by his wife in 1989; his brother, Robert Woodward; and sister, Mary Jean. He is survived by daughters Mary and Mildred of Bainbridge Island and Carolyn of Albuquerque; nine grandchildren; one great-grandson; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Memorial services will be held March 24 at Woodward Middle School, 9125 Sportsman Club Road, Bainbridge Island.