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Remembering Walter Woodward (1910-2001)

HistoryLink.org Essay 3111 : Printer-Friendly Format

In this People's History Gerald Elfendahl remembers the Bainbridge Island journalist and defender of human rights Walter C. Woodward Jr. (1910-2001). Woodward was an exemplary journalist who edited and published the Bainbridge Review.

A Human Rights Hero

Walter Woodward and his wife Mildred Woodward (1909-1989) were the only editors on the West Coast to regularly editorialize in defense of the Bill of Rights and neighbors of Japanese ancestry who were unlawfully uprooted during World War II and interned in concentration camps by Presidential Executive Order 9066.

Woodward was one of only 100 citizens inducted into Washington state's "Centennial Hall of Honor" for humanitarian and civil libertarian contributions to the state's quality of life. He was recipient of the National Japanese American Citizen League's Edison Uno Civil Rights "Dove of Peace Award," Washington Newspaper Publishers' Association's "Freedom Light Award", and many other recognitions. The Island's Woodward Middle School was named for him and his wife. Their story was told in the PBS documentary, Visible Target. Walt was the inspiration for the character Arthur Chambers, the newspaper editor, in David Guterson's novel, Snow Falling On Cedars.

Walt Woodward was born February 25, 1910, in Seattle, son of Dr. Walter Carlton Woodward and Carrie Draper Woodward, active and prominent doctor and wife. Walter Sr. came to Washington from Randolph, Vermont, initially to serve as a railroad doctor. Walt's grandfather helped escaping slaves reach freedom on Vermont's "underground railroad."

Walt graduated mid-term from Seattle's Stevens Grade School in 1924 and from Broadway High School in 1928 where he was active in everything from the Stamp Club to track, and was editor of both the yearbook, Sealth and the newspaper Whims.

He graduated from the University of Washington in 1933 in pre-med. At the UW he ran cross country runner and track for coach "Hec" Edmundson. He fondly remembered "Hec" rushing across the track shouting "Nice going, Woody!" when he won the half-mile at Oregon State.

In the early days of the Depression, he volunteered as a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. It became a paying job. He thought, "By golly, you can make a living in journalism!" He leapt at a sports reporter's job with the Juneau Empire and while there, was swept off his feet -- "love at first sight!" -- by a beautiful, bright, red-headed English teacher named Mildred Logg from Bainbridge Island. They married and settled on the Island where he commuted to a Seattle Times court reporter's beat while she taught school. With friends, Walt and Milly purchased the Bainbridge Review in 1940 and added to its banner, "The Only Newsaper in the World that Cares about Bainbridge Island!"

The Island was a checkerboard of forest and farms, many growing strawberries in an industry led by farmers of Japanese ancestry. The Woodwards' first Review office was near Rich Passage, hidden gateway to the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Down the beach, Fort Ward was a top secret Navy radio station, eavesdropping on a world spiraling toward war. "The U.S. is staying out of it," politicians said.

When Her Majesty's Ship Warspite with British flesh and blood still unwashed upon her bombed and shattered decks, limped across two oceans from Crete to Puget Sound for repairs, unofficial Navy censorship soon collapsed. A "common sense" Bainbridge Review story, passed along to the Associated Press, told the nation what everyone here knew. The United States was already involved. The Review's "solemn duty to our readers" brought its first recognition for courageous journalism when Time Magazine praised the "suburban weekly, brightly edited by young Seattlites."

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the Woodwards stayed up all night and rushed a special edition to press -- one page printed only on one side. Its editorial included: "If ever a community was devastated by events over which it had no control, it is Bainbridge Island this day ... and we dare not forget our neighbors of Japanese ancestry."

Dark clouds of fear invaded Puget Sound. Over night, anti-submarine nets spanned Rich Passage and Agate Passage, anti-aircraft lookouts and batteries scanned the skies, and barrage balloons dotted sunset views. The FBI searched for spies, scared folks to death, and hauled away innocents. Islanders joined the Armed Forces, labored round-the-clock at Bremerton and Winslow shipyards -- 3,000 workers commuted to the Island to build 20 steel-hulled Navy minesweepers. And 278 neighbors of Japanese ancestry -- more than 200 were U. S. citizens! -- became the first in the nation to be uprooted by Executive Order 9066.

Isamu Nakao, an Island elder recalls, "One thing remains so vividly in my memory. That was the time when we were asked by the U.S. government to leave our homes and to go to so-called 'relocation camps'. We were devastated!"

The Review was the only newspaper on the coast to repeatedly remind its readers that the Bill of Rights had been violated for some of its neighbors. At the time, few had the courage of their convictions. Walt and Milly's stand was not popular. But they didn't budge. They remembered their civics lessons.

"There was one voice who stood with us," says Nakao. "That was Walt Woodward's. That I will never forget! I know that he took a big beating as far as subscription and advertising losses, however he kept his integrity. He knew what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were all about."

Editorials were not enough! Walt and Milly would not let their neighbors be forgotten. Paul Ohtaki, Sa Nakata, Tony Koura, and Sada Omoto were encouraged to be "Camp Correspondents." They regularly reported births, deaths, marriages, baseball scores, Miss Minidoka beauty pageant winners, and volunteers into the US Army. Islanders did not forget Islanders. This, too, did not happen elsewhere.

Nakao recalls, "While we were in camp, he kept the Island people informed of our situation and did us all a favor I can never forget. When the government said that we could go, Walt and Milly had paved the way for our return."

Paul Ohtaki, former Review camp reporter, reports, "Only one other newspaper, a paper in Orange County, CA, had an editorial in opposition to 9066. And they had only one!"

The Review endured, withstood abuse, despite threatened and actual subscription and advertising losses. Fear and prejudice did not disappear. After World War II, more than half of the uprooted families returned to Island homes. The Review exposed one anti-Japanese racist's outcry, and it dissolved in the light. The war was over.

Now the editors' challenges changed. They led campaigns for a "Living Memorial Field," a new library, schools, and an Agate Pass Bridge to the Kitsap mainland. They saved their largest 60-point type for headlines: "BRIDGE AT LAST!" and "WE DID IT!" for 1948's state high school basketball champs. The Review also championed planning, zoning, and consolidated phone and mail service.

Walt refused to be drawn into McCarthy-era communist witch hunts. He reported escapades of a mischievous and elusive Island black bear, rather than a global Russian one. In Seattle, folks had a field day with these stories that appeared to ridicule Senator McCarthy and his bear hunters.

Politics called in the late 1940s and he and Milly left the Review in the hands of Phil Sisk and went to Washington, D.C., to work for the National Republican Party.

Wayne Jacobi, Bainbridge Review co-editor from 1955 to 1961 reflects, "Walt was a world class journalist. As a writer, he was more folksy and less slick than, say, a New York Times writer. He was absolutely dedicated to collecting information and sharing all he could with the community. He was world class!"

Jacobi adds, "No opinions were allowed in a news story. Walt would remind us, 'You know the objective. I know the objective. Now let's go out there and be objective!' People took the Review as the authoritative voice of the truth. And the paper always had a place for anyone to write in who disagreed or had something to say."

Woodward served as Washington Newspaper Publishers' Association president in 1961. He and Milly stepped down as Review editors in 1963. Dave and Verda Averill accepted the challenge. The Woodwards remained co-owners until 1988, when they sold their interest to the Averills. Walt would say, "That's the only time you make any money in the newspaper business!"

"Capt." Woodward, "First-Mate" Milly, and their daughters enjoyed cruising a crowded 21-foot outboard named Big Toot. They graduated to an old-wooden Big Toot II, and lastly, to an Ed Monk-designed Big Toot III. While Milly went back to teaching high school, Walt worked on The Seattle Times ditorial board and also whipped out popular columns on boating, and delightful books -- Big Toot and Cruising to Alaska -- Without Rocking the Boat Too Much!

Alaska? They were really about cruising life, with a family, Mother Nature, and the Creator.

Woodward worked to elect Governor Dan Evans, served a stint as chair of the State Pollution Control Hearings Board, and the one time "Justice of the Peace" was appointed first Hearing Examiner for the State Shorelines Hearing Board in the 1970's. He was Winslow's first land use Hearings Examiner. Walt wrote Review guest columns into the 1990's and volunteered regularly at the Island's social service agency, Helpline House.

At the Freedom Light Award ceremonies, Island historian Gerald Elfendahl concluded, "Woodwards' legacy is as basic as our nation's -- that we -- all citizens, and especially journalists! -- dare not forget our civics, history and social studies lessons that the Bill of Rights is only as strong as the courage of our citizens to stand up for it; or as Linda Allen's song about the Woodwards echoes, "For the sake of the children, this story we tell. We must watch out for cracks in the Liberty Bell!"

Governor Gary Locke noted "...We are indeed fortunate, Walt, that you used your editorial voice and publisher's power on behalf of the citizens who were discriminated against."

President Clinton wrote, "... The framers of the Constitution recognized that with a free press came great responsibility and you have fulfilled that responsibility with conscience and integrity."

Woodward was a founding member and lay reader of Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church. He was also active in the Island Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, and taught boating safety for the U.S. Power Squadron. Walt was a Poulsbo Yacht Club Commodore and volunteered regularly at Helpline House until the last few years.

Walter Woodward Jr. died on March 13, 2001. He was preceded in death by his wife Mildred in 1989 and his brother, Robert Woodward, and infant sister, Mary Jean. He is survived by three daughters: Mary and Mildred ("Mij") of Bainbridge Island, and Carolyn of Albuquerque, NM; grandchildren: Laurie, Daniel and Jeffrey Burdick; John, David, Jaime and Joseph Weindl; and Brodie and Riley Woodward-Pratt of Bainbridge Island; one great-grandson, Adam Weindl; and numerous nieces and nephews.

His awards and recognitions include:

 

  • US Army's 442 "Go-for Broke" veterans' recognition, Winslow, WA, 1976;
  • Kitsap Law Association's. Liberty Bell Award, Port Orchard, WA, May 1986;
  • National Japanese American Citizen's League Edison Uno Civil Rights "Dove of Peace" Award, Chicago, IL, July, 1986.
  • Manzanar Reunion Committee's Defenders of the Constitution Award, Los Angeles, September 1987, and
  • Washington State Centennial Hall of Honor, Tacoma, November 1989.
  • Washington Newspaper Publishers' Association's Freedom Light Award, Tacoma, September, 1998.

He was featured in two film documentaries, Visible Target, which was viewed on PBS, and Pacific War Headlines, which showed on Japan's NHK national television. The Woodward Middle School on Bainbridge Island was named for him and for his wife, and he was the basis for the character David Guterson's character, Arthur Chambers, newspaper editor, in his best selling novel Snow Falling on Cedars.


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