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Camp offers screenings of movie, tour
It is one of the greatest injustices the U.S. government has ever visited upon its own people, across the country and right here on Hawaii Island.
Innocent Americans were imprisoned, families were torn apart and much of the lassting damage — to individuals and their relatives, businesses and reputations has never been fully repaired.
And yet, many of the specifics of the internment of Japanese Americans dufing World War II have been lost to time.
More than 110,000 residents and citizens of Japanese descent across the nation were detained and held following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Less than 2,000 of them resided in Hawaii at the time, and yet historians say complete records detailing who was detained and all the locations that held them have been lost or no longer exist.
In an effort to reclaim and reinvigorate discussion of that history, Honolulu-based filmmaker Ryan Kawamoto partnered in 2009 with the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii to produce the first, full-length documentary dedicated to the experience of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans during and in the aftermath of the war. Despite the documentary being completed in 2012, the group continues to find new evidence and hear new stories from surviving relatives, deepening the public’s understanding of the impact the U.S. internment policy had on Hawaii.
Last week, East Hawaii residents were provided a pair of screenings of the film, as well as a guided tour of the Kilauea Military Camp facilities at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which served as a detention site for more than 106 Japanese Americans living on the island.
According to Kawamoto’s film, “The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawaii,” Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Hawaii were taken into custody on a much smaller scale than in other Japanese communities around the country because
of economic concerns. Japanese farmers and other workers made up an enormous part of the state’s labor force, and the War Department decided only high-profile individuals, such as teachers, community leaders and religious heads, would be taken from their families and placed in detention camps around the state and later on the mainland.
While fewer Hawaii residents were detained, the result of this selective imprisonment created a difficult situation for them when they were released. Many of those who hadn’t been imprisoned thought those who had must have done something to deserve it, despite the fact not a single internee was ever charged with a crime, Kawamoto said.
“They didn’t want guilt by association. The detainees carried a stigma, and no one came to their defense,” he said Tuesday during the tour of Kilauea Military Camp.
The camp is one of three known locations on Hawaii Island where detainees were held. The other two that have so far been verified include Waiakea Prison and Hilo Independent Japanese Language School. Kawamoto and Japanese Cultural Center President Carole Hayashino said Tuesday afternoon that while they were visiting the national park to share information with the public, they also came to continue their search for additional sites.
“We’re asking for the public’s help in finding these places,” Hayashino said. “Many people never talked about it (being held in the camps). But there are more stories out there, more information.”
The pair were set to visit an area near Waiakea, where a landowner thought another camp might have been located.
“We really don’t have any evidence at this point,” Kawamoto said, “so we’re going out to look at it.”
Many of the attendees of the film and tour said they were surprised to learn Japanese Americans were interned on the Big Island, adding that getting to hear the stories and see the locations where they happened shed light on a dark time in the history of the United States.
Gordon Ching, who teaches business education at Hawaii Community College in Hilo, said he couldn’t help but think about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as he learned about the internment camp.
“You ask yourself, ‘Can history repeat itself?’” he said. “Yes it can. Often, you can’t prevent panic in times of war, and I think future generations need to remember this, and shouldn’t have knee-jerk reactions.”
Life during internment
On Dec. 7, 1941, the recreational Kilauea Military Camp at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park went from being a place for Army and Navy personnel to catch up on a little R&R to being an armed detention camp.
“It was chaos,” explained park archaeologist Jadelyn Moniz- Nakamura during a tour of the camp last week.
“We were at war, and they were trying to figure out what to do.”
As well as serving as the headquarters for the 27th Division of the Army, housing troops, and providing a training ground, the camp was — for the first five months of World War II — a temporary facility for the detainment of local Japanese “Issei,” or first-generation immigrants, and “Nissei,” or second-generation Japanese residents. The 100-foot-by-50-foot barracks, which is now KMC’s recreation center, housed about 100 detainees. When it was time to exit the barracks, the detainees would line up along the lanai and await a signal from the guards to walk to the mess hall, with armed guards standing on either side.
“At Kilauea, internees had to walk among soldiers armed with bayonets. While food
was plentiful and nutritious, the dignity of the people was taken away. Internees were constantly accompanied by sol- diers, even to the latrine,” wrote Yoshio “George” Hoshida, an Issei who was detained in the camp.
Before his detainment, Hoshida worked as an employee at Hilo Electric Light Company and was president of the Hawaii Island Judo Federation.
For one hour every day, detainees were allowed outside for exercise, albeit surrounded by guards and within view of a guard tower where a machine gun was installed shortly after Pearl Harbor. Detainees were allowed to write to family members, but only in English, which would then be read by guards to ensure they were not passing intelligence to the enemy. Families were allowed to visit on rare occasions,
but the second time such
a visitation was arranged, on Feb. 16, detainees had to speak to their families through a fence as punishment after one man was caught with a letter written in Japanese, according to Moniz-Nakamura.
“He dropped it (the letter) on the floor, and a guard found it,” she said.
Despite the internees being treated like prison- ers of war, Hoshida wrote in his journal that he felt compassion for the guards, “for them who were called to duty by their country,” and who had to patrol outside in the cold as the detainees slept in the barracks.
New detainees were regularly brought in, and FBI agents often came to question the prisoners. Sometimes, the internees were driven down to the federal building in Hilo for hearings before a local enemy alien board. Some were released or paroled, others weren’t.
Otokichi Ozaki was an employee of the Hawaii Mainichi, a daily Japanese newspaper, and later became a Japanese language teacher at Dokuritsu Gakko in Hilo.
A fan of technology, he kept a short-wave radio in his home, where he was able to receive, but not broadcast, signals.
He had been identified well before the attack on Pearl Harbor as a person of interest, and he was picked up quickly Dec. 7. He and others were taken to a Hilo public school, where they were searched and had all sharp objects and anything with Japanese writing on it taken away. Ozaki would become one of the very first groups to inhabit the detention camp at KMC.
“In his initial days, he feared the soldiers were going to execute them, but his later experiences in Honolulu were much worse, and he felt that they had been spared much at KMC,” according to a Volcanoes National Park pamphlet about the history of the internment camp.
Ozaki would later be moved from Honolulu to the mainland, and did not return to Hawaii until Dec. 10, 1945 — 1,460 days after his arrest.