Diplomats, Disputes & Deceit World War II's
First Exchange of Enemy Diplomats

Prepared By William H. "Bill" Stewart, 
Military Historical Cartographe

On Saturday, December 6, 1941 the day before the Japanese attack the following day's newspaper headline was being set for Sunday Morning to read, "Emperor To Avert Clash. “It was not to be Sunday morning witnessed the attack on America's slumbering fleet at Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese strike force consisted of the aircraft carriers, Akagi, (Red Castle); Kaga, (Increased Joy); Hiryu, (Flying Dragon); Soryu, (Green Dragon); Shokaku, (Soaring Crane) and the Zuikaku.

The American carriers absent on the day of the attack were: USS Lexington (CV-2) which left Hawaii on December 5th for Midway Island. The Saratoga (CV-3) was in San Diego, the Enterprise (CV6) was returning to Pearl Harbor on December 7th and some of her aircraft flying to Hawaiian shore bases were caught in the attack.

The remaining four U. S. carriers were in the Atlantic and would soon be transferred to the Pacific. These were the USS Ranger (CV-4) returning to Norfolk, Virginia, the Yorktown (CV-5) and the Hornet (CV-8) already at Norfolk on December 7th and the Wasp (CV-7) in Bermuda.

At the end of the day much of the Navy's Pacific fleet previously at anchor now lay resting in Pearl Harbor mud.

Ten days later on December 17, an executive at the Greenbrier Hotel, deep in the Appalachian Mountains, at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia was having his morning coffee while reading the newspaper headlines. The manager had no way of knowing that what had occurred so far away in the Hawaiian Islands would so very quickly impact the hotel. He noted the front page headlines that morning which read:"Vast War Powers Granted the President", followed by "Government May Seize 7 Billion in Alien Property” and "Admiral Nimitz Replaces Admiral Kimmel as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. “The fact that the Japanese attack force did not destroy the U. S. Navy's aircraft carriers in the Pacific fleet because they happened to be at sea during the attack must have sent a chill up Admiral Yamamoto's back. If it didn't  they soon would.

The hotel manager also read where a U. S. censor had been appointed; weather forecasting had been eliminated as being an aid to the enemy. There were more photographs of the devastation at the naval base-a place that few Americans had ever heard of until that fateful Sunday morning.

Just after lunch the manager received a telephone call from a representative of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O), the owner of the hotel, who inquired if the Greenbrier would be interested in housing the Axis diplomats, their families and the nationals of various enemy countries. Later that evening a second call was taken by the hotel management from the State Department informing staff of an order issued by President Roosevelt that the foreign diplomats of the warring nations were to be removed from the nation's capitol within 48 hours and taken to the Greenbrier. The staff was then advised of the imminent arrival of the uninvited guests and were reminded they were "avowed agents of a hostile governments and to be aware some were undoubtedly the directing heads of fifth column activities in the United States. “(The term Fifth Column relates to infiltrators or collaborators with the enemy).

The Protocol Division of the State Department advised the hotel when such officials are caught in a country during war, the diplomats are entitled to living conditions according to their customary living standards which, in the United States, would be maintained as far as possible while awaiting their return to their homeland.

The United States Government official in charge of overseeing the detention of the internees at the Greenbrier Hotel and Virginia's Homestead Hotel, the locations for the internment, was Roy L. Morgan, special agent for the FBI. He was to monitor the activities of 1,200 European and Japanese diplomats confined to the two hotels from December 1941 until June 1942, while waiting repatriation to their home countries. During this period Agent Morgan filed many confidential memoranda to J. Edgar Hoover concerning the activities of the detainees. The reports to Hoover contained a wealth of information regarding the Japanese diplomatic mentality and efforts of espionage in the United States. They form the basis for much of this article.

Early on while confined at Hot Springs Virginia, before their transfer to the Greenbrier one Japanese was said to have stabbed a waiter for refusing to betray his country. Apparently the Japanese tried to bribe the waiter with $500 to mail a letter which was forbidden by the FBI. When the waiter refused and turned his back to walk away with the comment, "I'm going to report you", he was stabbed in the back with a table knife. He was taken to the C & O Railroad hospital across the State line at Clifton Forge Virginia, 15 miles away.

After a short stay at the Homestead Hotel the Japanese were transferred to the Greenbrier Hotel at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The Germans were not very happy to have the Japanese at the historic and elegant Greenbrier. Some observers anticipated that there would be some class distinction between the Germans and the Japanese.

An embassy clerk confirmed to Agent Morgan "the Japanese did not mix well with the Germans because the Germans think they are better than the Japanese. For this reason the Japanese resent the Germans. “

First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy expressed his feelings very frankly stating he has "utter contempt for England and very little love for Germany. The German people are very authoritative and overbearing, his Government did not trust the German nation and worried for fear of Japan being double crossed. Germany is out to get all it can out of Japan. The Japanese are a very proud race and feel superior. “

The above being a somewhat surprising comment considering the two nations were allied in the war against the United States and England.

Once the diplomats and their entourage were ensconced in the hotel, the FBI was present on 24 hour duty to make certain that no communication emanating from the hotel of any kind was made by any of the enemy internees. All mail was censored.

The Immigration and Naturalization Department was charged with border security. Hotel personnel were investigated, then provided with identification and pass cards Guard houses were erected at all entrances. These were manned by a staff of 88 guards. All persons attempting to enter the property were investigated. Flood lights were erected about the grounds and illuminated throughout the night.