Internment camp bill on its way to president
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Gordon
It was a president's signature that made them infamous, and now, more than six decades later, it will take a president's signature to preserve them.
Congress yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would create a $38 million grant program to help communities preserve the sites where Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals were incarcerated, including the Honouliuli Internment Camp on O'ahu.
The bill goes to the White House for the president to sign into law.
From 1942 to 1945, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals were rounded up and put in War Relocation Authority camps across the country after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Hundreds of other Japanese nationals were held in Department of Justice internment camps.
In Hawai'i, which was under martial law, both U.S. citizens and Japanese nationals were arrested and detained for months at a time.
An estimated 1,440 Japanese, Germans and Italians were interned at five locations on O'ahu, the Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i. The largest was the 160-acre Honouliuli Internment Camp, which opened in March 1943.
It was wedged between O'ahu Sugar Co. fields just west of what is now Kunia Road. The Army cleared the area, surrounded it with barbed wire and placed armed guards around the camp.
The grant program, which would be administered by the National Park Service, would require groups interested in acquiring the sites to match 50 percent of the money.
Dennis Ogawa, chairman of the University of Hawai'i Department of American Studies and an expert on the Japanese-American experience, said the bill underscores the notion of justice and would help Americans better understand this period.
"That episode always reminds us that we can't take this for granted," Ogawa said. "I would like to think that President Bush recognizes that as one of the most important principles that keeps our nation going. This was a major violation."
The Honouliuli camp, which was mentioned in the bill when it was introduced, is on land now owned by the Campbell Estate. All that remains are concrete slabs in a remote gulch that is off-limits to the public. The estate is now trying to sell an 1,800-acre parcel that includes the gulch.
The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i is seeking to preserve the site. Its volunteers have visited the site several times.
Don Amano, a volunteer who co-chairs the center's Hawai'i Confinement Sites Committee, said the bill's passage is a key step, but it was anticipated.
The bill, approved by the House in 2005 and then by the Senate last month, had to clear the House again because of minor changes. That's what happened yesterday, by voice vote.
"With this kind of legislation, everything becomes a mountain," Amano said. "If you can't get past the smallest hurdle, it becomes the mountain."
Amano said he believes the president will approve the bill.
"I am hoping on hope that he will sign it," he said. "I am hoping this does not become the mountain or the great barrier reef that stops us."
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai'i, who has supported the bill all along, in a statement called the camps "symbols of a dark chapter in our history."
"By remembering the grave missteps of the past and by reaffirming our commitment to justice for all, we can ensure a bright future in which our nation's democratic ideals will not be compromised," he said yesterday.
Reach Mike Gordon at email@example.com.