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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bill may preserve WWII camps

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The U.S. Senate approved a bill that would help communities preserve forgotten sites across the nation where Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II including a long-lost camp in Honouliuli Gulch.

The bill, approved unanimously by the Senate on Thursday night, would create a $38 million grant program in the National Park Service. Although it passed the House exactly one year earlier, it must return there for review because of amendments adopted by the Senate. It also would require the president's signature to become law.

The Senate approval comes as the owner of the land where the camp once stood Campbell Estate is actively trying to sell an 1,800-acre parcel that includes the gulch.

Estate spokeswoman Theresia McMurdo said the land, which is zoned for agriculture, has been on the market for 18 months.

The area's link to a dark chapter in Hawai'i history is explained to each potential buyer, but McMurdo yesterday declined to describe their reaction. She also would not reveal the asking price.

"It's part of the negotiations," she said.

Between 1942 and 1945, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans and alien residents were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in 10 War Relocation Authority camps or several Department of Justice internment camps nationwide.

In Hawai'i, 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 preservation bill was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who yesterday said he hoped the bill would be signed into law by the end of the year.

Inouye said the camps were the product of a nation that "allowed prejudice and wartime hysteria to violate the human dignity and rights of people who were citizens of the United States."

The grant program would require groups interested in acquiring the sites to match 50 percent of the money. The matching percentage was raised by the Senate. The House originally approved a 25 percent match.

All that remains of the Honouliuli camp are concrete slabs hidden behind tall brush. Because it sits on private land rarely seen by the public, it had faded into more than 60 years of memory. Even the farmers who used the area, were unsure of the stories they had heard about the camp.

But the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i is working to preserve the state's internment camp sites. Don Amano, a volunteer who co-chairs the center's Hawai'i Confinement Sites Committee, is optimistic the bill will pass.

"We are still a little disappointed with the matching percentage, but without the impetus of a bill like this, it becomes even more difficult to acquire property," Amano said. "This helps. It is a step in the right direction."

Amano also thinks the community will support a preservation effort. "I think there is this awareness of it and I think we will have more interest," he said. "I don't think this is a subject that has fallen by the wayside and no one cares."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.