More than 150 relatives, friends and neighbors filled Florin Community Center on Sunday to celebrate a true American war hero.
Bob Fletcher who officially turns 100 on Tuesday didn't see combat in World War II. But he was shot at for being a Japanese sympathizer when he quit his job to save three local Japanese American farms whose owners were sent to internment camps.
Most of Sacramento's 3,000 Japanese Americans who were shipped off to barbed-wire camps from 1942 to 1945 lost everything even though most were U.S. citizens. Their farms and homes were stolen or foreclosed on by the banks.
But Fletcher, a UC Davis-trained agricultural inspector, knew many Japanese farmers throughout Northern California and hated to see their hard work and life savings disappear.
"They were the same as everybody else it was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor," Fletcher said.
At his neighbors' request, he agreed to work three farms 90 acres of flame Tokay grapes on Florin-Perkins Road while the Tsukamotos, Okamotos and Nittas were locked up.
Fletcher was called a "Jap lover" and dodged a bullet fired into the Tsukamotos' barn. A local business posted a sign reading, "We don't want Japs back here EVER."
One of the many celebrants who gave Fletcher a big birthday hug was Doris Taketa, who was 12 when she was sent to Jerome, Ark., with her father and mother, Joichi and Shizuko Nitta, and two sisters.
"We owe you everything," she said, bringing a smile to Fletcher's face as he finished off a slice of coconut cake, his favorite.
"We had 40 acres of flame Tokay grapes and we would have lost it if Bob didn't take care of it," recalled Taketa, 81.
That's what happened to the farm belonging to her husband's family. His mother, a widow, had paid off 85 percent of her 32- acre farm, "and she didn't have anywhere to come back to because they took it," said Bill Taketa, 85. He was sent to the Manzanar internment camp, then joined the U.S. Army to fight the Japanese. "We stayed in the Florin Methodist Church hostel for a few months," he said.
About 80 percent of the 2,000 Japanese living around Florin didn't return, Doris Taketa said. "They all scattered to New Jersey, and all over the country."
But Fletcher worked the three farms, paid off the mortgages, took 50 percent of the net profit and gave the balance to the owners when they returned.
"My mother called him God, because only God would do something like that," said a moist-eyed Doris Taketa. "I was born on that land. He took really good care of it."
The crowd applauded when they heard the story of Fletcher's heroism.
"It was no big deal, really," he said. "I was able to handle it. It's hard to believe I have so many friends, some I haven't seen in 40 years."
That's Bob Fletcher low-key, modest, solving problems and doing what needs to be done. "A car got stuck, an outhouse needed to be moved call Bob Fletcher," said his brother-in-law, Nevin Nyswonger of Truckee.
For 32 years Fletcher served the Florin Fire Department, retiring as chief in 1974. He donated land for the Florin Community Center the yellow building where his party was held and still helps run the local water district.
Fletcher a former track star can't move around so well anymore, but his mind is sharp, his memory good. He follows his beloved San Francisco Giants and attends the Elk Grove Civil War Club.
His friends and family say he got his courage from his grandfather John Fletcher, who served in the all-volunteer California Hundred cavalry company that helped defeat Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.
Ask Bob Fletcher the secret of his longevity and he'll tell you: "Hard work."
Teresa Fletcher, 87, said that along with hard work, "no drugs, no smoking and he's in love with me!" The couple have been married 66 years.
Fletcher wasn't crying Sunday, but two of his three granddaughters were. "I'm just really proud of my grandpa," said Jenni Hauger of Chattery, Wash.
"I cry every time I think about all he did for the Japanese, while so many others took advantage of them," said his niece, Rachelle Nyswonger of Chico. "Being a good, honest person is not always the most popular thing to do, but it's the right thing to do."