In December, 1941, less than two weeks after the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor, Patrick Pettingill, serving a life sentence
in the Federal penitentiary at San Quentin for murder, led
a group of thirteen inmates, seven doing time for murder and the
rest serving out long-term sentences for other heinous crimes,
in petitioning President Roosevelt to be
allowed to serve the war effort.
Their petition read, in part:
We have no way of showing our loyalty, other than to give our
lives freely of our own accord, without compensation, to our
beloved country. We, singly or jointly, are ready to uphold
the American way of life by meeting fire with fire.
As natural-born Americans we demand the privilege and
opportunity to be converted into human torpedoes
to meet this fanatical Japanese imperialism.
The warden of the prison, feeling the offer was sincere, forwarded
the petition to the White House. I assume that the offer was
declined, and they continued to rot in prison. At the time, Mr. Pettingill
was 27 years of age and had been incarcerated for three years.