On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the removal of all Japanese aliens and Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to prevent anticipated spying and sabotage.
The order came in the heat of a new war, only weeks after Japanese forces had attacked and destroyed the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
About 120,000 people were abruptly taken, with whatever belongings they could carry, to assembly centers at fairgrounds and race tracks, then moved to 'relocation centers' in Arkansas, Arizona and elsewhere far from their homes.
The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by Military Police.
After careful screening, some of those interned were allowed to leave the camps, to live away from the West Coast. Some left the internment camp to serve in the U.S. armed forces.
But for most of the Japanese in America, the camp would be their home until December 1944, when the executive order was cancelled.
They suffered financial losses because they abandoned homes, farms and businesses. Careers were broken and friendships sundered.
'Most important, there was the loss of liberty and the personal stigma of suspected disloyalty for thousands of people who knew themselves to be devoted to their country's cause and to its ideals,' says a pamphlet prepared by the Japanese American Citizens League.
When the order to remove Japanese from the West Coast was issued, the War Relocation Authority, a civilian agency, was established to supervise the operation. Initially it intended to allow the Japanese to live freely in states away from the coast.
But protests by officials of interior states raised objections and forced the federal government to keep the Japanese behind barbed wire.
Families could take to the camps only what they could carry. Camp living conditions were Spartan. People were housed in tar-papered barracks rooms 20 by 24 feet. Each room housed a family. Privacy was practically impossible and furnishings were minimal.
The Japanese were put to work, $12 a month for unskilled labor, $19 a month for professional work.
In the camp schools, caucasian teachers had the Japanese children salute the American flag and sing patriotic songs.
A commission that examined the relocation 40 years later concluded that there was no military reason for it.