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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 17, 2008

Clues sought to Honouliuli's dark past

 •  'Never Again' event marks anniversary

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Honouliuli internment camp opened March 1, 1943, and housed several hundred Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Advertiser library photo

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An archaeological field study at Honouliuli will begin this week to search for more physical evidence of a World War II Japanese internment camp.

Concrete slabs, a stone path and a hole in the ground that likely served as a latrine were previously identified at the Waipahu site, which is being considered for development as a historical center to shed light on a dark time in the nation's history that also played out in Hawai'i.

Even those familiar with the story of Manzanar and other West Coast internment camps may not be aware that at least five camps were established in Hawai'i, said Brian Niiya, resource center director at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.

The cultural center is working with the Japanese American National Heritage Coalition, the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Division and the Historic Hawai'i Foundation to determine the location of former internment camps in Hawai'i.

Honouliuli between Oahu Sugar Co. fields just west of what is now Kunia Road and Kilauea Military Camp on the Big Island are the only sites containing remnants of the former camps. Former camp sites in Ha'iku, Maui, and at Sand Island have been developed for residential and industrial use, respectively, and the exact location of the camp at Kalaheo Stockade on Kaua'i is not known.

Niiya said historians suspect detainees also were held on Moloka'i and perhaps other unidentified locations.

The State Historic Preservation Division recently submitted a report to the Legislature examining the sites' potential for commemorating the experiences of those confined in internment camps.

Niiya said the move to develop the historical sites found its impetus in federal legislation authorizing a $38 million grant to the National Park Service to fund projects connected to internment sites. The Hawai'i effort is gearing up to tap into that money when it's released, but likely will also need additional state and private money, he said.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to be removed from their homes and detained in camps across the country. In Hawai'i, an estimated 1,440 people were interned, most of them Japanese.

Detainees on O'ahu were first held at the Sand Island detention center before being moved to the Honouliuli camp, which opened March 1, 1943.

"We're still learning about what happened here during the war," Niiya said. "By studying the past we can gain more insight into the present. A lot of what happened at the time parallels things that have happened over the past five or six years."

He said the story of the state's internment camps "rounds out the larger story of the Japanese experience in Hawai'i and it's a part of the story that is not as well known."

Niiya said he would like to see all of the five known camp sites preserved to some degree, and the State Historic Preservation Division report suggests commemorative plaques as a first step.

Kilauea Military Camp is the only site where there are still structures once used to house internees. The camp is located within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and is run by the Army as a recreational facility for military and civilian defense employees.

Six 16-by-30-foot structures built in 1933 that used to shelter detainees are now used as vacation cabins and have been significantly altered to accommodate guests, the report notes. There are no signs identifying the site's historical significance.

Located in another part of the camp was an area where Korean and Okinawan prisoners of war were confined that probably also was used by Japanese internees, the report said. Those structures were demolished soon after the war ended and the area is now a maintenance yard.

The SHPD recommended establishing an interpretive center at Kilauea Military Camp since it is the most intact. One or two of the cabins could be restored to provide information on what life in the camps was like, the report said.

The cost of research, site assessments, renovations and operations was estimated at $180,000 for one cabin and $250,000 for two.

The National Park Service and the Army are interested in the project, the SHPD report said, and would like to conduct further archaeological excavations at the site of the former prisoner of war camp and possibly reconstruct a portion of the area.

The report noted that Kilauea Military Camp already is heavily visited and is accessible by car and on foot. "Since there is already a draw to this area, it will make it much more likely for people to visit the site."

At Honouliuli, the former camp property could be leased or purchased from Monsanto Group, and structures and an access road built. The landowner has indicated the property is not good for farming and the company is open to allowing its use as a historical site, the report said.

James Bayman, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai'i, will lead the archaeological team's search for other structures and boundaries at Honouliuli.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.