The U.S. Army maintained at least seven internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II on the continent, including those listed below and possibly, Fort Florence, Arizona and Fort Meade, Maryland. In addition, the army maintained one internment camp in Alaska, and at least nine in Hawai'i. Lordsburg was the only camp built especially for Japanese Americans. Most were on military bases.
Japanese Americans, including biracial American Indians, were held by the U.S. Army in Fort Richardson, about nine miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, before being removed to Puyallup Assembly Center in Washington State.
Camp Forrest, Tennessee, was a large military facility used during World War II as a training ground for the U.S. Army. A fenced off portion with guard towers and dogs served as an internment camp for Hawai'i's Japanese Americans transferred from Camp McCoy. Although located at about 2,000 feet above sea level, during the summer months, Camp Forrest was hot, and the men shed their Wisconsin winter clothes for Tennessee weather.
Camp Livingston, Louisiana, held over 800 Japanese Americans, including 400 from the West Coast, 354 from Hawai'i, and 184 from Panama and Costa Rica. Those from Hawai'i came by way of internment facilities at the immigration station in Honolulu, Sand Island, internment camp, Angel Island in San Francisco bay, Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and finally, Camp Livingston in June 1942. The summer heat was staggering, and the earth was sandy. Some men dug holes in the sand to cool their bodies.
A former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, the Camp McCoy internment camp was located nine miles west of Tomah, Wisconsin. In February 1942, 170 Japanese Americans from Sand Island internment camp on O'ahu were sent to a corner of Camp McCoy for confinement behind barbed wire. At another corner
of the camp, Japanese American soldiers also from Hawai'i trained to fight in the U.S. Army in defense of freedom. Also at Camp McCoy were German and Italian “enemy aliens.” From Camp McCoy, Hawai'i's Japanese American internees were sent to Camp Forrest.
Fort Sam Houston internment camp in Texas served as an assembly center for reassignment to Lordsburg and Fort Sill. Several groups of Japanese Americans from Hawai'i were sent there along with transfers from Fort Missoula and about 300 indigenous peoples from Alaska.
Located near Lawton, Oklahoma, Fort Sill held approximately 350 Japanese Americans, including those from the West Coast and Hawai'i, previously confined in Fort Missoula. Japanese from Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, and Peru joined the U.S. Japanese in Fort Sill. After the Japanese Americans left Fort Sill, the camp probably confined German prisoners of war.
On May 12, 1942, Kanesaburo Oshima, a barber from the island of Hawai'i, climbed the outer barbed-wire fence in broad daylight reportedly shouting, “I want to go home!” A guard barked out a warning, while another shot Oshima dead in front of his friends who had urged they be allowed to help him get down from the fence and return to the camp. Oshima was depressed, his friends revealed. He had been forced to leave his wife and 12 children who had little means of support. Since his internment, Oshima constantly worried over their well-being, he confided to his priest and friend. Now he was dead. Hozui Nakayama, his priest, presided over Oshima's funeral, which was attended by all of Fort Sill's Japanese Americans. Also present were Army guards with machine guns pointed at the mourners because of they feared an uprising. Oshima was buried in Oklahoma, but years later his oldest son claimed his remains to bring them home for reburial in Kona, Hawai'i.
The army began camp construction in February 1942 just east of the town of Lordsburg, New Mexico. At an elevation of over 4,000 feet, Lordsburg was hot in the summer and freezing during winter. The limestone ground supported only sparse vegetation, and the wind whipped up punishing sandstorms. By July there were 613 Japanese Americans in the Lordsburg camp, transfers from Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, from Alaska, including biracial American Indians, and some 250 from Hawai'i, arriving between June and October 1942. Most, though, were from the West Coast. In all, some 1,500 Japanese Americans passed through Lordsburg between July 1942 and July 1943 when all of them were gone and approximately 4,000 Italians replaced them. In February 1946, the internment camp closed.
On July 27, 1942, an army sentry shot and killed two internees, Toshiro Obata and Hirota Isomura, on their way to Lordsburg. The guard who shot them testified
the men were trying to escape. Both men had a high fever, were too ill to walk from the station to the camp, and were waiting for a ride when they were shot. Two Japanese American physicians asked for an autopsy, which was denied and the army only investigated the case over two months later. Isomura was 57 years old and was a fisherman, and Obata was active in Buddhist church activities. Their deaths cast a pall over the camp.
When Japanese Americans complained about hard labor, which, they said, the Geneva Conventions disallowed, the camp authorities cut off the newspapers, turned off the lights earlier at nights, banned listening to the radio, and reduced canteen privileges. The men petitioned the Spanish embassy in New Orleans (Spain represented citizens of Japan in the United States during the war), and when the ambassador and a U.S. state department official arrived in Lordsburg to investigate the men's claims, the camp director told them the work was entirely voluntary. The men asked the investigators who would voluntarily work in 110 degree heat especially elderly men who were priests and office workers and not used to outdoor, manual labor. They were forced to perform inhumane labor, the Japanese Americans testified. When the investigators left, the army dispensed more punishment on the men.
A third incident reinforced the men's contention that the army mistreated and abused them. About 30 Japanese American men followed a tractor shoveling dirt and removing stones for a road outside the camp when the tractor broke down. The driver stopped to get replacement parts, and asked the men to return to camp to await his return. When a sentry saw the workers returning to camp early, he assumed they had gone on strike and raised the alarm. A few hours later, a military police captain confronted the men and accused them of striking. He then fired a shot at the feet of the work gang's leader, scolding him and the men. When it was clear the men were innocent of the charge, the army explained that the captain's actions were justified and refused to apologize.
A state prison near Strington, Oklahoma, the internment camp during World War II held mainly Japanese American “enemy aliens” but also German naval prisoners of war. It later became a state hospital for patients with venereal disease, and then a medium security prison.
On the island of Maui, Haiku Camp served as an internment site for Japanese Americans such as Toraji Yano, a plantation worker and store employee. Japanese song books in his possession and his brother-in-law's photograph in a Japanese naval officer's uniform condemned him. At Haiku, Yano met leaders of Maui's Japanese American community, including Shodo Kawamura, Shoten Matsubayashi, Shigeru Terada, and Tetsuji Hanzawa. Many were transferred to camps on O'ahu but Yano remained in Haiku for several months. There were 51 Japanese Americans interned on Maui in January 1942, 56 the next month, and only nine
in September 1942, four in August 1943, and one in December 1943. Most were transferred to camps on O'ahu or released.
Located amidst sugarcane fields at Honouliuli gulch, near Waipahu on the island of O'ahu, Honouliuli internment camp opened on March 1, 1943, replacing the camp at Sand Island as the principal site for internment in the army-ruled territory. A Swedish vice-consul visited Honouliuli shortly after it opened and found some 250 Japanese Americans housed in frame cottages each with eight to 10 occupants sleeping on double-deck beds. The camp had a medical dispensary and hospital, dental clinic, canteen, and kitchen. On his second visit in May 1943, the vice-consul found that electricity had been installed, and the internees had planted trees and gardens. He counted 84 issei and 154 nisei in the camp.
That periodic visitor failed to capture the true feelings of the internees by describing Honouliuli's physical plant. Dan Nishikawa recalled with anger his forcible internment, and credited his interest in crafts for preventing him from going mad. He told how during the first three months white internees received fresh fruits and vegetables and even pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, while Japanese Americans ate only canned foods like pork and beans and chili con carne. Only after they protested did the Japanese Americans receive fresh fruits, vegetables, and eggs. U.S. pilots, Nishikawa testified, flew low over the camp, and practiced bombing runs, buzzing the internees' shacks. When he complained, Nishikawa was told that in the event of another attack by Japan, U.S. planes would bomb the Honouliuli camp first.
Sam Nishimura compared Sand Island with Honouliuli, and preferred the latter camp because he enjoyed the family type internment with nine men sharing his cabin. Several of Nishimura's housemates worked in the kitchen, he explained, and they returned at night with pastries and coffee for snacks before lights out at 9 o'clock. Still, Nishimura noted, daily life was regimented around roll calls in the morning and evening, and surprise inspections kept them on edge. Confinement was stressful, Nishimura agreed, and some broke down and “lost their minds.” He described a Japanese American who rolled a rock in his hand constantly smoothing out its rough edges until the four-inch-square rock became a perfect baseball. When asked what he intended to do with the rock, he replied he was saving it for his sweetheart. The man, Nishimura said, was “just going at it everyday. Nothing else. Nobody talked to him” (Okihiro, 249).
Honouliuli was built to hold up to 3,000 internees, and barbed-wire fences divided the camp to separate men from women and Japanese from Germans and Italians. In addition, Japanese and Korean prisoners of war captured in the Pacific were confined in “hell valley” or jigoku dani, a name given to the place by the Japanese American internees. The valley trapped the sun's heat, and the camp boiled with humidity. From 1943 to 1945, approximately 2,700 Korean prisoners of war, nearly all civilian laborers and a few soldiers were interned in Hawai'i. Imperial Japan conscripted Korean men to serve in its military, and forced Korean workers to build its military bases throughout the Pacific. Japan also forced Korean women
to serve their men as prostitutes. After the war ended, the Korean prisoners of war returned to Korea in December 1945.
The number of Japanese Americans held in Honouliuli internment camp reached a peak of 324 in January 1944, but by September 1945, there were only 25 Japanese Americans. The lifting of martial law in Hawai'i on October 24, 1944, made the internment of U.S. citizens difficult. The army, thus, removed many to concentration and internment camps on the continent where President Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 remained in force. The end of martial law, however, did not terminate the military's control over Hawai'i. On October 18, 1944, before the lifting of martial law, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9489, which authorized the Pacific Ocean commander to declare Hawai'i a military area, regulate travel, maintain press censorship, and exclude and intern “enemy aliens” and all those considered security risks. In that way, the military maintained control over Hawai'i until the war's end.
The Kala? heo Stockade on the island of Kaua'i was used as an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Paul Shizuo Muraoka was a U.S. citizen who lived in Japan from 1932 to 1934 and worked at the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu for six months. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) picked him up, and held him in solitary confinement for a month in the gymnasium shower room on Lihue sugar plantation. He was later transferred to the Kalāheo Stockade where he joined others like Shinobu Taketa, a plumber, Mr. Senda, a photographer, Hisashi Fujimoto, and Kazuto Yokota. After a year in the stockade, Muraoka and his wife and Taketa and his wife were sent to Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas.
On the island of Hawai'i, Kīlauea Military Camp served as an internment site for that island's Japanese Americans. Myoshu Sasai, a Buddhist priest, was taken by a Hilo police officer and two soldiers from his wife and young child on December 8, 1941. Sasai knew the police officer, and was his marriage counselor. “They would have an argument, the husband and wife,” explained Sasai, “and I would call them over and have a meal with them and make them shake hands.” Pearl Harbor changed that, and Sasai now sat in a “sampan bus” that made about a dozen stops picking up internees before depositing them at Kīlauea Military Camp.
A large hall lined with beds and lockers greeted the men. Throughout the night, a constant stream of buses emptied their load, and by morning, there were more than a hundred internees. To get to the mess hall, internees had to walk between two lines of soldiers with bayonets. As he walked that gauntlet, Sasai recalled, he was shocked by the starkness of the camp. Inside, however, food was plentiful and nutritious. “They really fed us well,” reported Sasai, “but outside, around the mess hall, soldiers surrounding us.” Even when going to the toilet, soldiers accompanied the internees. When an internee tried to escape by climbing the fence, Hishashi Fukuhara remembered, the soldiers shot the man. “They killed him; they shot him dead,” testified Fukuhara (Okihiro, 219–20).
In February 1942, at the Hilo post office, a hearing board of soldiers, attorneys, and a local “haole big shot” interrogated the internees as family members strained to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. “While at the hearings, friends and family would crowd the corridors to peer through the windows to get a view,” Sasai wrote. Sasai's greatest enjoyment was to see his wife and child during the two or three times he appeared before the panel. Two FBI agents informed Sasai that he was destined for internment on the continent. Family members were allowed to enter the Military Camp to bid their final farewells but, recalled Sasai with great sadness, “we really didn't have too much to say besides take care of yourselves and stay well. The talks were long, but that's what it boiled down to.”
The men were loaded onto Army trucks and driven to Hilo harbor where they boarded the Waialeale. Japanese American internees were confined to the upper deck, bound for Sand Island internment camp, and below them were their sons, nisei volunteers for the U.S. Army. Sasai reflected upon that sad irony. “Boys born in Hawaii, young boys from Hawaii are going. Even though their citizenship may be different, they are on their way. We are going someplace too. I thought we were all being forced to go.” Japanese Americans, in disregard of their citizenship, were “being forced to go,” Sasai understood. “Normally the ocean is pleasant,” he observed, “but in wartime, the ocean is scary. You don't know what is in it” (Okihiro, 220).
There were 85 Japanese American internees on the island of Hawai'i in January 1942, 110 in February 1942, six in September 1942, and two in June 1944. Most were transferred to O'ahu and later, the continent, and others, released.
The army, under martial law, evicted the Public Health Service from Sand Island to convert its facilities into an internment camp. The station's medical director received word of that intention on December 7, 1941, as the smoke still billowed over Pearl Harbor. The following day, the army began work on the island and camp. Situated in Honolulu harbor, Sand Island served as an immigration quarantine station, which had houses, kitchens, and administrative buildings that could readily serve as an internment camp. The island could also be easily guarded to prevent escape attempts.
The army divided the camp into sections, a compound for up to 250 Japanese men and another, for white men, 25 Germans and Italians, and a third compound for 40 women, including Japanese and whites. Each unit had its own kitchen and mess hall and recreational facilities. For the first six months, the camp's internees slept in tents while the barracks were being built. Yasutaro Soga described Sand Island's beginning. After a strip search, the Japanese Americans were led outside in the rain and ordered to erect 20 tents. Because most of the men were elderly and not used to physical labor, they found the task exhausting and frustrating because they had to work in the rain and gathering darkness. “We were soaking wet from rain and perspiration,” Soga remembered, and the men completed the job around nine o'clock at night. They then slept in those tents with their wet clothes (Okihiro, 215).
In addition to the trying physical conditions, the army instituted practices to tax the mind. Roll calls each morning and evening regimented the day, and searches, including strip searches, were common and reduced privacy and a sense of self-control. A former internee exclaimed, “They stripped us down and even checked the anus. We were completely naked. Not even undershorts. They even checked our assholes.” Once the guards lined up a group of men against a wall and threatened to shoot them. “With that threat,” another internee remarked, “there was no need to say anything more” (Okihiro, 217).
Men and women worried over the fate of their families, and, Soga wrote, “we grew desolated more and more,” and “we were insecure and impatient.” A Japanese American attempted suicide by slicing his wrist with a razor, and a priest insisted he was pregnant. Many suffered depression, and some became insane. The army heightened that sense of insecurity by conducting surprise raids and searches of the internees' tents, holding frequent interrogations, and picking random individuals for confinement in an isolation cell with only water and hard crackers. Kokubo Takara from the island of Kaua'i died on Sand Island, perhaps from conditions in the camp and from the lack of proper medical care (Okihiro, 216).
At least 18 Japanese women and ten German and Italian women were held in the women's compound on Sand Island. The wife of the camp's commander, Carl Eifler, oversaw the women. The Japanese American women arrived at Sand Island, like the men, through jails, military camps, and Honolulu's immigration station. They were community leaders, again, like the men, including Japanese-language school teachers, Buddhist and Shinto nuns, and a few, like Umeno Harada, because of their connection with their husbands. Harada's husband, Yoshio, helped a downed Japanese pilot involved in the Pearl Harbor attack on the island of Ni'ihau, and both were killed while trying to elude capture. Umeno Harada, newly widowed and a mother of three young children, was interned as an accomplice.
On February 17, 1942, two days before President Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 that authorized the mass removal of Japanese Americans on the West Coast, the army selected 172 Japanese Americans from the Sand Island internment camp for shipment to internment camps on the continent. These, the army said, were the “troublemakers.” On the morning of February 20, military trucks, escorted by jeeps mounted with machine guns, sped the men out through the back gate of the immigration station past family members who had come to catch a last glimpse of their men. Once on board the Ulysses Grant, the men were confined below deck until the ship arrived a week later at Angel Island in San Francisco bay.
One of those men, Suikei Furuya, recorded his continental odyssey. From Angel Island, which once detained Chinese and Japanese migrants, Furuya was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin and then Camp Forrest, Tennessee. He wrote of conflicts among mentally strained men who shared a single barracks, of the joy of receiving letters from home, and of baseball games and an evening lecture series, the most popular activities at Camp McCoy. The huts at Camp Forrest, Furuya recalled, “were makeshift and cracks were seen all over the place,” and when it rained, the roof leaked and the floors were “always flooded.” The bedding was dirty, and the
authorities refused to provide clean sheets and covers. “I couldn't stand the smell of them,” Furuya wrote. Meals at Camp Forrest, however, were good, and in the evening the men basked in the glow of fireflies. “I felt so relaxed that I forgot the hard conditions that I was placed [in].” Just as the men began to settle in, they were moved to Camp Livingston in Louisiana.
Camp Livingston, Furuya reported, was divided by wire fences to separate Japanese from Hawai'i, Panama, and the West Coast. With many highly educated men, he wrote, the internees organized classes on Japanese culture and a curriculum for an internee college. On one occasion, the men refused to carry pine logs for a military airport being built outside the camp. The labor in aid of the U.S. military was in violation of the Geneva Convention. The army retaliated with a general lockdown, and provocatively stationed sentries with machine guns pointed at the men inside the internment camp. Thus threatened, the men relented, and carried the logs for the military.
After 11 months in Louisiana, Furuya was sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) internment camp, Fort Missoula in Montana where he joined Peruvian Japanese, Germans, and Italians. The excitement of greater freedoms in being allowed to play baseball and golf, go fishing, see movies, and take photographs in camp was surpassed by the fervor generated among the men with the entrance of forty women internees. Christmas 1943 was memorable, reported Furuya, because of the gifts—books, green tea, shoyu, miso, medicines—sent by the Japanese Red Cross. “We were so grateful for their kindness,” he recalled, “that we didn't know how to express [it] in words.”
On April 3, 1944, Furuya left Montana for Santa Fe, another DOJ camp, where he joined some 800 internees from Hawai'i. “The four years of camp life,” reflected Furuya, “were not after all in vain. We learned a lot…. We learned to appreciate our wives…. We found that those who were respected in our communities turned out to be completely opposite of what we expected them to be, whereas others whom we thought idles but we found beautiful personalities among them.” Still, Furuya longed for freedom beyond the barbed-wire fence. “I must have been mentally exhausted from constantly living together with a mass of people,” he wrote. “I had a strong desire to be alone in a quiet atmosphere …” (Okihiro, 260–62).
Meanwhile, back in Hawai'i, on March 1, 1943, the army closed the Sand Island internment camp, and transferred the internees to Honouliuli internment camp. Sand Island held 190 Japanese Americans in January 1942, 292 in February 1942, and 319 in September 1942.
Waiākea Prison Camp on the island of Hawai'i held Japanese Americans together with civil offenders such as rapists and burglars. “The Waiakea Prison Camp is the most convenient and practicable institution for confinement at hard labor on Hawaii,” the army commander of Hawai'i district boasted. “The county jail is a rest house [by comparison].” The camp's internees, he reported, were employed working on the Hilo airport “where hard labor means just that.” According to the camp's
prison report, a sentence of one month at hard labor was given for using profane and obscene language, three months of hard labor for being a “disorderly person,” six months for being a “common nuisance,” and one year for possession of excessive amount of currency and unlawful possession of a Japanese flag.
The Wailua military prison on the island of Kaua'i served as a temporary internment camp for Japanese Americans apprehended on that island. Kaetsu Furuya, a Japanese-language-school principal, was confined there together with his friend, Kokubo Takara. On the evening of December 7, 1941, Furuya was taken to the Wailua facility, which had iron bars and an iron slab for a bed. There were no toilets, only a one-gallon can that had to be called for, and the place was infested with mosquitoes. “We all got swollen faces from mosquito bites,” remembered Furuya. Breakfast consisted of coffee and a cracker so hard that “it wouldn't break even if you bit it” (Okihiro, 218).
Jukichi Inouye, another Japanese-language-school principal on Kaua'i, was taken on December 8, 1941, and placed in the Waimea jail, which he described as cramped, the toilet was a bucket, and “there was no place to hide.” After three days, and he and nine others were placed without an explanation in a dump truck and driven away. “We were wondering where they were going to execute us. Some thought the graveyard that we were nearing was going to be the place. But then we went by it without stopping.” Instead, the men were taken to Wailua military prison where they joined Furuya and the others. There were 70 to 80 priests, language-school teachers, and community leaders, Inouye estimated.
Inouye described interrogations before an examination board, like the alien hearing boards on the U.S. continent, consisting of a military officer and three managers from Lihue sugar plantation. In February 1942, 27 internees from the Wailua military prison, Furuya and Inouye included, were transferred to the Honolulu immigration station and then, Sand Island. Haruko Inouye witnessed the men's departure from the port of Nawiliwili, Kaua'i. The men were in a truck, and the guards kept “the internees on one side and the families on the other side.” That separation, she said, was like the neighbors and friends who shunned them fearing they would be picked up by the military. “They thought anything could happen to them, so they tried to avoid me” (Okihiro, 219).
Interned on Kaua'i were 41 Japanese Americans in January 1942, 53 in February 1942, nine in September 1942, one in August 1943, and two in June 1944.
The army maintained internment camps for Japanese Americans on the islands of Moloka'i and Lana'i. There were four confined on Moloka'i in January and February 1942, and on Lana'i, two in January 1942, and three in February 1942. These internees were released or transferred to other camps.
Gary Y. Okihiro
Okihiro, Gary Y. Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865–1945. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.