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First Name: John

Last Name: DeWitt

Birthplace: Fort Sidney, NE, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Lesesne

Date of Birth: 09 January 1880

Date of Death: 20 June 1962

Rank: General

Years Served: 1898-1947
John Lesesne DeWitt

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John Lesesne DeWitt
General, U.S. Army

John Lesesne DeWitt was born at Fort Sidney, NE, on 9 January 1880. On 10 October 1898, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry. He would go on to serve almost fifty years of his life (1898 to 1947) in various posts within the U.S. Army.

World War I

In 1918, he set out with the 42nd Infantry Division to the battlefields of World War I. At this time, he was already a Lieutenant Colonel, and continued duties as a Quartermaster in the General Staff Headquarters. In July 1918, DeWitt was promoted to full Colonel, and continued Quartermaster duties for the 1st Army. He received the Distinguished Service Medal at the end of World War I.

The Inter-War Years

Between 1919 and 1930, DeWitt served in various Quartermaster positions at posts such as Assistant Commandant of the General Staff College, Chief of the Storage and Issue Branch, and the supply division. In 1930, he was promoted to the rank of Major General, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army. As well as his regular duties as Quartermaster General, DeWitt also assumed control of the Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimage. General DeWitt was responsible for all logistics involving this Congress-approved event.

After returning to the Infantry, DeWitt assumed control of the Philippine Division. In July 1937, he became Commandant of the Army War College. Two years later, in December 1939, DeWitt was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, and then assumed command of the Fourth Army as well as the Western Defense Command of the U.S. Army, with responsibilities for the protection of the West Coast area of the U.S. from invasion by the Japanese.

World War II

From 5 December1939 to 15 June 1943, DeWitt was assigned to the Western Defense Command.

DeWitt was in San Francisco on the evening of 14 December 1941, one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when air raid sirens were sounded. An estimated 35 Japanese warplanes were supposedly sighted above San Francisco Bay on a reconnaissance mission. (Actually, Japanese warplanes never traveled within three thousand miles of San Francisco over the course of the war.) DeWitt ordered American planes and antiaircraft defense not to fire without his order. "People called me up and asked why I didn't start to shoot. It's none of their damn business!"

DeWitt was furious at the lack of blackout precautions and blasted city leaders the next day. "If I can't knock it into you with words, we'll have to turn it over to the police to knock it in with clubs. They were enemy planes and I mean Japanese planes. Put out your lights and take it! If you can't take it, get out of San Francisco now!"

It was DeWitt who recommended that the 1942 Rose Bowl football game, normally played in Pasadena, CA, be moved. DeWitt feared that the large crowd of spectators would be too tempting a target for Japanese warplanes. For the first and only time in its history, the 1942 Rose Bowl game was moved to North Carolina.

In February 1942, DeWitt reported to President Roosevelt that no sabotage by Japanese-Americans had yet been confirmed - but commented that this only proved "a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken." He recommended the evacuation of all Japanese from the coastal areas of California, Oregon, and Washington state. The President agreed, issuing Executive Order 9066, and DeWitt then began implementing a plan for classifying, rounding up, and removal of "undesirables."

On 2 March 1942, DeWitt issued "Military Proclamation No. 1" which designated the western parts of California, Oregon and Washington as "military area no. 1", further divided into "prohibited zone A-1" and "restricted zone B." In the first phase of the order, a provision was included directing that "any person of Japanese ancestry, now resident in Military Area No. 1, who changes his place of habitual residence must file a 'change of residence notice' at his local post office not more than five days nor less than one day prior to moving." Days later, DeWitt announced that the Army had acquired 5,800 acres of land near Manzanar, CA, for construction of a "reception center" which he said was "to be used principally as a clearing house for the more permanent resettlement elsewhere for persons excluded from military areas."

Removal began on 23 March 1942, with the resettlement of citizens living in Los Angeles. On that date, General DeWitt issued new orders applying to Japanese-Americans, setting an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and banning ownership of firearms, radios, cameras, and other contraband. DeWitt stated, "Let me warn the affected aliens and Japanese-Americans that anything but strict compliance with this proclamation's provisions will bring immediate punishment." Northern California followed in April, as DeWitt declared that "We plan to increase the tempo of the evacuation as fast as possible." Citizens in specific areas were required to report to their designated "Civil Control Station," where they would then be taken to an "Assembly Center" for relocation.

All told, DeWitt ordered the removal and internment of 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry (75% of whom were American-born citizens) from their homes to internment camps, whether they were citizens of the United States or not. Contrary to many beliefs, DeWitt was always very civil and cared for every citizen of the United States of America, including the Japanese-Americans. It was just at a time of war that certain precautions were needed.

Although a federal judge, James Alger Fee of Portland, Oregon, ruled in November 1943, that American citizens could not be detained without a proclamation of martial law, DeWitt's response was "All military orders and proclamations of this headquarters remain in full force and effect."

After the relocation of Japanese-Americans was complete, DeWitt lifted curfew restrictions on Italian-Americans on 19 October, and on German-Americans on 24 December. Technically, the curfew was "inapplicable to the Japanese since all members of this group were removed from the affected zones." DeWitt had a personal vendetta against one Italian in particular, Remo Bosia, which is detailed in Bosia's autobiography, The General and I.

Lieutenant General DeWitt's orders also regulated other areas of life on the West Coast. A proclamation prohibited deer hunting and the playing of outdoor sports at night. An "Alaska Travel Office" was established to issue permits to anyone seeking to travel into or out of Alaska (which was not a state at that time).

Less known is DeWitt's role in supervising the combat operations in the Aleutian Islands, some of which had been invaded by Japanese forces. When houses of prostitution were closed across America, General DeWitt allowed Sally Stanford to continue to operate a high class brothel in San Francisco. At the end of his tenure as head of Western Defense Command, he was appointed as the Commandant of the Army and Navy Staff College in Washington.

He retired from the Army in June 1947.

Post-Retirement Promotion

On 19 July 1954, Lieutenant General DeWitt became a four-star general pursuant to Public Law 88-508.

[Eleven lieutenant generals (including DeWitt) were promoted to 4-star rank on 19 July 1954. Seven promotions were granted to living retirees; four were awarded posthumously.]

Death and Burial

General John Lesesne DeWitt died of a heart attack on 20 June 1962 in Washington, DC. He was 82. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 2.

Honoree ID: 221   Created by: MHOH




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