News Column

Internment site sought for national park

May 9, 2014

By William Cole, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

May 09--At the start of World War II, about 2,000 Hawaii people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated, with Honouliuli Gulch becoming the largest and longest-used confinement site in the territory.

On the West Coast those of Japanese heritage -- two-thirds of them American-born citizens -- were forced from their homes under presidential executive order and sent to camps, according to the National Park Service.

The mass incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese background was the largest forced removal of people in U.S. history.

That injustice, later described by Congress as an act of "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a lack of political leadership," is a dark moment in U.S. history the federal government wants to re-create at the old Honouliuli Internment Camp in Kunia so that others can learn from past mistakes.

The National Park Service said Thursday it wants to make the former camp, now weedy and overgrown, a historic site as a new unit of the national park system, or a national monument.

"Visitors would have the opportunity to learn about Honouliuli Internment Camp, World War II internment in Hawaii, martial law, civil liberties and peace and reconcilation," the park service said in the new study.

In 2009, Congress authorized the study of Honouliuli and other internment sites in Hawaii, as well as an environmental assessment.

Carole Hayashino, executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, lauded the latest report's findings.

"The draft report reaffirms our belief that Honouliuli, as the longest-operating World War II Japanese-American internment and POW camp (in Hawaii), represents a unique chapter in American history and a lesson in civil liberties and the U.S. Constitution," Hayashino said.

The park service said Honouliuli and the U.S. Immigration Station on Ala Moana Boulevard, where internees were processed after the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks, are "nationally significant" for their central role as internment sites.

Fifteen other Hawaii sites were used for shorter periods, interned fewer numbers of people or have been substantially changed, the park service found.

Monsanto Hawaii said it plans to donate the land for the Honouliuli center. A final decision has yet to be made, but the park service said the camp plan is "feasible as an addition to the national park system" as long as public access can be secured.

The immigration center can't be designated as part of the park system because of its continued governmental use, officials said.

Members of Hawaii's congressional delegation and Gov. Neil Abercrombie applauded the latest step in the establishment of the Honouliuli center.

"I commend the National Park Service for their commitment to honoring the tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans across the country and in Hawaii who were taken from their families and placed in camps like Honouliuli during World War II under suspicion that they would not be loyal to the United States," U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said.

She noted that many had family members who then served in the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team defending the U.S.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in the face of racism and persecution, Japanese-Americans "responded with bravery and patriotism," while U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa pledged her assistance in preserving the historic site.

According to the park service, of the 158,000 people of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii at the beginning of World War II, approximately 2,000 were interned.

Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the park service's World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, said more Japanese were interned on the mainland because in Hawaii the Caucasian power structure "stepped forward and said, 'We can't do the jobs you want us to do unless we have the bulk of our Japanese-American citizens working.'"

Japanese-Americans in the Hawaii National Guard also were allowed to return home, he said.

Honouliuli held approximately 320 civilian internees and became the largest prisoner-of-war camp in Hawaii with nearly 4,000 individuals from Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, Japan and Italy, the park service said.

Road improvements would cost as much as $20 million, and National Park Service operation could cost up to $750,000 annually, the new report said. Monsanto and University of Hawaii land would be used for the site.


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Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)

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