he was one of many incarcerated at a concentration camp, a U.S. government facility known opaquely as the Manzanar War Relocation Center. His offense: being born to Japanese parents.
The United States government via a Presidential Executive Order (now you know the power a President can wield) decided to herd, without due process or a declaration of martial law, some 120,000 men, women and children living in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona into remote concentration camps.
Bob Hirohata was one of many hot rodders you know by name imprisoned without reason, cause, or legal recourse. Larry Shinoda
and Takeo "Chickie" Hirashima
are probably known to you as well.
Some left the camps long before the end of the war, through a method created in 1943, when the U.S. Army began recruiting volunteers for an all-Nisei unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The 442nd fought valiantly, taking part in the rescue of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Forest in France, as well as campaigns in Italy and Germany, earning the nickname of Purple Heart Battalion and the distinction of being the most decorated Army unit for its size and length of service.
One of the regiment’s achievements was liberating a unit of Dachau, a Nazi death camp, an action not officially acknowledged for years afterward, by the 442nd whose own families were still held in concentration camps in the U.S. Ask me why I'm not racist, and angry with people who are.
Bob, was not yet a teenager when he was sent to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds assembly center in Pomona, that is home to the NHRA Winternats, Grand National Roadster Show, and LA Roadsters Show, to the concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
Bob got out of the Navy in 1952, and doing well from the thriving family insurance business in Los Angeles, took his car over to the Barris Brothers who had done a terrific job on Nick Matranga’s then famous 1940 Mercury Coupe, told them chop the top and change the side windows to get the hardtop look, plus whatever they felt would make it look amazing.
The inside was pinstriped by Von Dutch, and I read on the HAMB that Bob made the knobs, and went on supplying Barris with them.
Hirohata’s car was the first chopped 1951 Mercury and the first hardtopped 1949-1951 Mercury.
So, then he went and changed hot rodding in the 50s.
But about Bob Hirohata?
The story, from George Barris is that he was murdered while changing the oil on a car in his parents driveway in 1981, shot execution style May 14, 1981. The murder was never solved.
Why? It's reported that it's connected to working with his parents who owned an insurance company, and parking lots in downtown L A., he witnessed a crime of some type and testified against the criminals who ended up in jail.
Barris had Mamie Van Doren model with the car for Hot Rod Magazine, which he wrote articles for Hot Rod back in the 50s
Larry Shinoda, after the concentration camp, served in the National Guard during the Korean War, built Ardun-equipped drag-race cars and won his category at the NHRA Nationals in 1955. Shinoda could be found in the pits at Indianapolis, too, where he was involved in designing a race car.
The unconstitutional illegal imprisonment of Japanese-Americans remains a national disgrace 75 years later, and is brought back to the news as when Kyle Miyata Larson won the Pure Michigan 400, as Larson's mother is Japanese-American. His maternal grandparents, Manjo and Betty Miyata, spent the war years as prisoners at Tule Lake.
FDR’s executive order was rescinded in 1976. In 1988, the U.S. Civil Liberties Act provided apologies and some measure of financial settlement for the injustices, and later laws provided for preservation of some internment camp sites as memorials. In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to 20 members of the 442nd.