Copies of this
panoramic photo of Manzanar can be obtained by contacting
and Old facets of Manzanar
Angeles siphoned off all of the water in Owens Valley,
before the Carson & Colorado Railroad, before the
internment of our own Japanese American citizens, before the
mining, sheep, cattle and agricultural pioneers, the area of
Manzanar was used for centuries by the native Shoshone and Paiute
Indians. It wasn't until the early 20th century (around 1910)
that the area of Manzanar developed into a thriving agricultural
community. Remnants of these orchards are still visible today.
Two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 President Roosevelt signed the order to intern
all people of Japanese ancestry. By March of the next year construction
had begun on the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar located
between Lone Pine and Independence in Owens Valley. Manzanar
interned approximately 10,000 people (most of them American citizens)
on some 6,000 acres of arid desert land. The facility consisted of the internment camp,
agricultural use areas, a reservoir, airport, cemetery, and
sewage treatment plant. Approximately 550 acres of this area
was surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers containing the living area for the internees and various administrative
All that remains of the camp are rock foundations, tumbleweeds,
dead orchards and the forever-changed lives of those surviving
10,000 internees. The monolithic marker in the cemetery is an
ever-present reminder of the final price that some Japanese Americans
were required to pay just because of their cultural heritage.
Photographs courtesy of Ray DeLea - 2001
The cemetery monument.
The Japanese Kanji (I, Rei, Toh) reads:
"To Console the Spirits"
Site of the Hospital Complex.
Looking south from the entrance to the cemetery.
Site of the nurses quarters.
Site of the Hospital Complex.
Site of the Hospital Complex.
What once was "home," if it could be called that at
all, is now but ruins and placards. (Dorthea Lange photo)
Charlie Mulcahy of Wilmington,
When I was growing up, I had a neighbor who was like a father
to me. His name was Saburo Seko. His parents were fishermen on
Terminal Island. He told me how the US Army soldiers met him
at the ferry boat terminal one day after attending a movie in
San Pedro. He taught me about the pain his family went through.
How the Jews came into their village and paid them pennies on
the dollar for their home furnishings. How some of the families
were lucky enough to have white families who stored their property
in their homes. He took me camping at Manzanar. I got a week
long tour of where his family lived. He showed me the rock formation
in front of where his home stood that to this day says "SEKO".
His words made the water gardens and the fruit trees come alive.
We went swimming in the water reserve pond. We caught fish in
George's creek. He told me what it was like to graduate from
high school at the "camp". Every time my family drives
U.S. Highway 395, we stop and look around. The last few times,
I have lost where his home was. My friend Sab is gone now, died
of a heart attack. I am glad he shared his
experiences with me.
Charlie Mulcahy (August 2001)
This is a map of the site of Manzanar as it appears today.
David Sosona of San Diego, CA writes:
Having driven past Manzanar many times over the last 30 years,
I finally stopped and looked this past summer (2002). I found
the remnants of the water gardens so compelling that I came back
with a camera about a month later. Unfortunately, I couldn't
do justice to the barren wasteland and scrub that is/was Manzanar.
I've been searching the web this evening looking for pictures
of those gardens as they were--so far no luck. They must have
been beautiful and I have been filled with admiration for the
artistry of their builders.
I remember the stone circle with the cement cap and the phrase
'built by Wada and Crew' along with the date and the signatures
of the crew. I can't describe it exactly, but having a name on
the stonework suddenly made for a sharper connection for me.
Who was Wada? What happened to him? When I saw the letter from
his granddaughter here in San Diego I felt glad
to know that he lives on through her.
Charlie Mulcahy's story of his friend Saburo Seko would have
been another touching account but for the phrase "How the
Jews came into their village and paid them pennies on the dollar
for their home furnishings." I don't know what really happened;
Whether the people that took advantage of Mr. Seko were Jewish
or whether Mr. Seko accepted prejudices which were common at
that time. I do know that without the balancing accounts of other
internees who were ripped off by THEIR neighbors, Mr. Mulcahy's
story perpetuates a stereotype that is as repugnant to me as
the phrase "Japs" would be to the descendants of Manzanar
internees. I'm not sure I can clarify my feelings any better
than that. Perhaps it rankles because it is not Mr. Seko's firsthand
account but rather a story that is being retold by a non-Japanese-American
who wasn't there at the time. Or, just as likely the reason it
bothered me so much is that at Manzanar I tripped over my own
stereotypes. When I visited the Manzanar cemetery it was July
4. I remember seeing lots of little American flags attached to
the fence and thinking "Now why would there be American
flags at a Japanese Cemetery...." and I remember feeling
ashamed when I realized that I was thinking "Japanese",
rather than "AMERICAN" citizens that were locked up
because of their skin color. A fitting reminder for me that I've
got some "scrubbing out" to do in my own head, and
another reason it's important that Manzanar be remembered.
photographs in this section are Ansel Adams' from the archives of
|I love the faces of these Japanese Americans
and the many lives, hopes, and dreams which they represented.
They didn't choose this time or this place in their lives, yet
their spirit triumphed over it all. For some, bitterness and
resentment followed them the rest of their lives and robbed them
of their youth, their health, and their families. For others,
their willingness to forgive, in spite of the scars, allowed
the Spirit of God to prosper them and restore what fear had robbed
These are some of the true heroes of a fearful time in our country.
They, along with the many men and women who served and died for
their country are the ones to be remembered. Those who spread
fear and imprisonment will ultimately be long forgotten, but
the faces of these who represented real freedom will live on
in the heart of God and in the hearts of men and women for all
(power machines foreman)
Mr. & Mrs.
(dress making instructor)
Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi
Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi
(student of divinity)
(high school student)
from the Wednesday, December 11, 2002 Los Angeles.
Pictures by Bryan Chan (LA Times photographer), story by Bettina
Boxall (Times Staff Writer).
The national park ranger pictured below is John Slaughter.
Reassembling a Sad Chapter of History
|Manzanar, Calif. - A piece of Manzanar came
home this week, trucked down U.S. 395 past the snowy teeth of
the Eastern Sierra to the empty flats on which it once stood.
The return of the weathered mess hall building is a small milestone
in a painstaking effort to tell an inglorious American war story:
the 1942 roundup of 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese
descent and their internment in government camps.
Ten thousand of them were sent here to a plain of stunning scenery,
biting winter wind and searing summer sun, where they managed
to fashion a community out of a charmless, instant town of tar-papered
barracks ringed by barbed wire.
The Manzanar War Relocation Center,as it was called, was dismantled
after World War II, its 800 wooden buildings between Independence
and Lone Pine taken apart or carted away for use by churches
and local towns. Aside from a large auditorium later used by
county road crews, a couple of deteriorating stone guard gates
and a cemetery, not much was left except memories, some of them
good, some of the bad.
The National Park Service is slowly changing that, as it gathers
the fading threads of the Manzanar story and endeavors to weave
them into an enduring public display of America at its less than
For most of the millions who have driven 395 over the past decades,
Manzanar has been a barely noticed blur through the windshield
on the way to the ski slopes of Mammoth Mountain or the campgrounds
of Yosemite National Park.
Even those who stopped and wandered past the camp's half-buried
rock gardens or picked fruit from its old, wind-bent trees often
had little sense of what happened here or what it meant.
"I had no idea we interned 120,000 people. My mom didn't
know," said John Slaughter, who grew up outside Los Angeles
and as a teenager hunted quail and picked pears at Manzanar on
family trips to the Eastern Sierra. He even had a favorite lunch
spot, a rock sculpture built by internees for one of their gardens.
But he never thought much about why the small granite boulders
had been stacked in the middle of nowhere or who had stacked
He became more curious while working as a civilian employee at
the nearby China Lake Naval Weapons Center. Now the facility
manager for the Manzanar National Historic Site, it is Slaughter's
job to make the camp's history known.
"The story really got to me," said Slaughter, 36, who
lives in Ridgecrest. "I come from a very conservative family
and was never told about that. Finding out our country was capable
of doing that - I was ashamed. And I'm ashamed a lot of people
don't know and don't get it."
Chronicling Manzanar is no simple task. Many who lived here are
dead, and the pool of aging internees shrinks every year. More
critically, there is no single truth about Manzanar. There are
For many, internment was a dreadful, humiliating experience,
a brutal reminder of America's racism and its historic demonization
of Asian immigrants. Families whose members had served in the
U.S. Army, become American citizens and barely knew a word of
Japanese were uprooted from their homes and businesses in the
months after Pear Harbor and shipped to the Owens Valley, where
the main product seemed to be dust.
They lived in military-style barracks, stood in chow lines to
eat, showered and went to the bathroom in communal latrines bereft
of even a shred of privacy.
But they also made a life here, sending off for mail-order furnishings
to decorate their spartan quarters, pushing back the long wooden
dining tables for Saturday night dances in the mess halls, planting
their own victory gardens between barracks and even making illicit
booze in secretly excavated cellars.
"I have never felt bitter against the government,"
said George Izumi of Los Angeles, who was sent with his family
to Manzanar when he was 21 and remembers the experience as relatively
benign. Had Japanese Americans been left on the coast, he said,
they probably would have been attacked and harassed because they
looked like the enemy. "If someone had been killed on the
street, no one would have cared. It just would have been another
dead 'Jap,'" he said matter-of-factly.
It is important, Izumi added, for the park Service to memorialize
not only the camp, but what internees accomplished here.
Many others describe Manzanar as a place of woe. In one of the
booklets of camp recollections given to schoolchildren who visit
the site, Rosie Maruki Kakuuchi paints a bleak picture.
"The train ride to Manzanar was like we were being transported
like a criminal. The shades were drawn as we left the city....
After the train ride we were bused into Manzanar Camp behind
a barbed wires and sentry guards with machine guns. It was windy,
dusty and miserable.
"We shared our room with two other families who were strangers,"
continued Kakuuchi, who was 16 when she arrived at Manzanar with
her family. "There was no privacy, only sheets hanging,
separating each family.... As a teenager, one of the hardest
things to endure was the communal latrines with no partitions
and showers with no stalls. This situation was embarrassing,
humiliating and degrading."
Some families spent the duration of the war at the camp; others
were allowed to move to cities in the interior of the U.S.; and
some men signed up for military service.
Designated a national historic site in 1992, Manzanar is overseen
by a tiny staff with a small budget. Slaughter's office is a
trailer at the camp. park rangers work out of cramped offices
in nearby Independence.
In the last few years they have conducted focus groups and invited
the public to inspect and comment on planned exhibits. They have
gathered binders of camp photos taken by Dorothea Lange for the
War Relocation Authority and others taken by internee Toyo Miyatake.
They have recorded long interviews with former internees and
people who worked at the camp.
They have scoured old real estate brochures and newspaper articles
for mention of Manzanar in the early 1900s, when it was
promoted as an orchard man's paradise. That was before the Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power bought up rights to the
valley's water and piped it south to the city [Los Angeles].
And they have hunted for Manzanar buildings that have not been
bastardized. "A lot of the buildings have been modified
beyond the ability to restore," Slaughter said. "We
get calls all the time from people who say 'I've got an old Manzanar
building.' And it's been converted into a duplex with two bathrooms
- it used to be a Manzanar building."
The mess hall, moved to Bishop after the war, is a comparative
gem. It was used for a few years as an infirmary by a military
training group stationed at the Bishop airfield and later became
a clubhouse for a sand golf course scratched out of the sagebrush
next to the airstrip. "I think it was more of a drinking
society than anything," Owens Valley native Fred Phillips,
who works on the camp maintenance crew, said with a chuckle.
The building was subsequently used for storage and then abandoned.
But it was never carved up. The kitchen area still contained
the huge original iron stove used by camp cooks, as well as the
What's more, Inyo County was willing to donate the structure
to the Park Service. "Generally, what we hear is, 'I have
a building, how much will you give for it?'" Slaughter said.
"And that's not what we're about. We don't want to get in
the real estate business, buying up old buildings."
Two sections of the hall were transported the 45 miles from Bishop
on Monday by a Southern California house-moving company. The
other half was scheduled to be trucked down today. The parts
will be joined together at a spot near the old camp auditorium,
which is undergoing a $5.2 million conversion into a visitors
center scheduled to open late next year.
Along with the mess hall, the Park Service hopes to erect a couple
of original barracks and reconstruct some outbuildings to create
a small demonstration block that will provide visitors a glimpse
of Manzanar life.
"It really helps bring back a flavor of what the site must
have looked like," Manzanar superintendent Frank Hays said
after the first two sections of the mess hall arrived at Block 14. "It's only one building on
a pretty flat expanse, but it does help you imagine what it was
Dark Era Remembered
by Sam Stanton
from the Friday, April 23, 2004 edition of the Sacramento Bee
Pictures by Paul Kitagaki Jr. , story by Sam Stanton (Sacramento
Bee Staff Writer).
Thanks to Sam Stanton & the SacBee for allowing me to add
this to my website.
Masahiro Nakajo, 76, of Sacramento was one of the more than 10,000
people of Japanese descent who were interned at Manzanar during
World War II. He will be one of the 1,000 people who are expected
to attend Saturday's dedication ceremony.
|Sacramento resident R.M. Cowell
had an answer to "this Japanese question" that engulfed
the nation in the opening days of World War II.
It should be handled "the same as our automobile tires,"
Cowell wrote in a February 1942 letter to The Bee.
"If you have apparently good tires but are not sure of one
of them, you will put it where it will be the safest for you
- on the spare. I think we have many thousands of acres of spare
land in the interior of our country away from seaports and manufacturing
centers where these aliens will be useful and satisfied."
And that's what the government did, eventually moving about 120,000
Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals to 10 "War Relocation
Centers" in isolated areas of the United States because
of fears of sabotage.
|In years since, the move has been
denounced by historians and American leaders as illegal and shameful;
and Saturday, surviving residents of one of the camps will gather
in the Owens Valley in east-central California to remember their
wartime hardships and celebrate the opening of a new National
Park Service museum dedicated to the memory of that era.
The Manzanar National Historic Site Interpretive Center features
8,000 square feet of exhibits devoted to a history of the camp,
as well as two movie theaters featuring a film history narrated
by former internees, guards and camp workers.
"It's important that we have a living history so people
don't forget," said Sue Kunitomi Embrey, an 81-year-old
Los Angeles woman who spent a year and a half living at the Manzanar
internment camp during the war.
"It's especially important now with what's happening in
Iraq and with a lot of the Middle Easterners being scrutinized
by the FBI or being held at Guantánamo Bay with no charges
and no way to get an attorney," Embrey said.
| "That's what happened to our parents.
They were held for months and years without any reason except
that they were enemy aliens."
Embrey is part of a group that has worked for years organizing
annual treks to the site to see that Manzanar is not forgotten;
she will be one of the featured speakers at Saturday's grand
Manzanar opened in 1942 along an isolated section of U.S. Highway
395 south of Bishop, and eventually comprised 800 buildings,
including schools, mess halls and wood-framed barracks. At its
peak in September 1942, the camp housed 10,046 internees. By
spring 1945, as World War II wound to a close, its population
had dropped below 5,300, according to the National Park Service.
Most of the camp's original buildings and features were sold
and carted away long ago.
The Manzanar internment camp once comprised 800 buildings. Two
of the survivors, above, await restoration. Another of the original
buildings, an auditorium, houses the 8,000-square-foot Manzanar
National Historic Site Interpretive Center, which will be dedicated
|The museum is in an original building,
an auditorium built by internees in 1944. Guard shacks built
by camp residents also remain, as do barracks, a cemetery and
Officials hope the museum will spark newfound interest in the
area, which was established as a national historic site in 1992
and received $5.1 million in federal funding four years ago to
establish the museum.
Last year, about 57,000 people visited Manzanar, said Superintendent
Frank Hays. With the advent of the museum, officials hope more
than 250,000 people will visit annually.
About 1,000 people are expected for Saturday's ceremonies, including
Masahiro Nakajo, a 76-year-old resident of Sacramento's Pocket
area and a retired mechanic and landscaper.
On March 28, 1942, Nakajo and his parents were sent to the camp
from their Los Angeles home; he plans to attend the opening with
his wife and other family members, including grandchildren.
Like many former internees, Nakajo for years did not speak of
his experiences in the camp, until prodded by grandchildren to
recount what life had been like and what sacrifices they had
"My father said, 'It looks like we're going to get ready
to evacuate,' " Nakajo recalled. " 'The government's
going to take us somewhere.'
" Each family member was allowed to bring one bag of possessions,
and they had to decide quickly what those would be.
"All I heard was that it's the desert and there's a lot
of rattlesnakes out there," he said. "So I knew I'd
better have high-top boots. "And I knew it would be cold."
The government's decision to send people of Japanese descent
to the camps was renounced years ago, and lawmakers eventually
approved payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee.
But at the time, in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor, there were widespread fears that Japanese citizens living
in the United States and American citizens of Japanese heritage
might pose security risks, especially on the West Coast.
A garden built by internees at Manzanar, above, has withstood
the ravages of time.
|In news accounts stunningly similar to reports
today on the possibility of terrorist attacks, officials warned
that water systems, defense plants and other infrastructure were
threatened by "Fifth Column" agents of Japanese Americans
bent on sabotage.
The FBI made sweeps of Japanese neighborhoods, arresting suspects
and seizing radios, weapons and ammunition. One raid in February
1942 in Sacramento and the surrounding area netted 112 arrests,
according to a Bee account, including suspects "considered
to be dangerous to the welfare of the United States."
Eventually, officials created a restricted zone along the coast
where Japanese, Italian and German nationals were required to
stay within five miles of their homes and to abide by a 9 p.m.
|Soon after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered
the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans living in areas
where there were concerns about sabotage; approximately 120,000
people were dispersed to 10 camps around the country.
Nakajo remembers Manzanar as a place of extreme boredom and isolation.
He held a series of jobs in the camp that paid $16 monthly, and
he spent his earnings ordering luxuries such as corduroy pants
from Sears and other catalogs.
Occasionally, he would slip through the wire fencing that surrounded
the camp to go trout fishing. He remembers being caught once
trying to slip back in, and having the guards take his entire
But he expressed no bitterness about the experience. He was released
in 1944, when he was allowed to go to work on a Riverside-area
farm; in 1948, he joined the Army, eventually serving in combat
in Korea along with his brother.
Today, Nakajo plans to show his family around the camp and to
try to explain what life was like.
And then he's going fishing.
* The Manzanar National Historic Site Interpretive Center opens
Saturday, 24 April 2004, in the restored high school auditorium
at the former internment camp on U.S. Highway 395 south of Bishop.
Frank Hays, superintendent of the Manzanar
National Historic Site, stands in a mock-up of a
barracks inside the interpretive center.
An internee scratched the date of Feb. 23, 1943, in a cement
basin around a water spigot near Block 19 at Manzanar
Dry ditch at
the site of Manzanar