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Manzanar
Manzanar Panorama

Copies of this panoramic photo of Manzanar can be obtained by contacting
See USE NOTICE on Home Page.

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New and Old facets of Manzanar

Before Los 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 facilities.

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.


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Photographs courtesy of Ray DeLea - 2001

Cemetery
The cemetery monument.
The Japanese Kanji (I, Rei, Toh) reads:
"To Console the Spirits"

Hospital
Site of the Hospital Complex.

Cemetery
Looking south from the entrance to the cemetery.

Sign

Nurse Quarters
Site of the nurses quarters.

Sign

Hospital
Site of the Hospital Complex.

Sign

Hospital
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)

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Charlie Mulcahy of Wilmington, CA writes:
Ray,

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 Manzanar Maphis experiences with me.

Charlie Mulcahy (August 2001)

This is a map of the site of Manzanar as it appears today.

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David Sosona of San Diego, CA writes:
Ray,

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.

Dave
(October 2002)

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 All photographs in this section are Ansel Adams' from the archives of the American Memory Project


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 them of.

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 time.

ahio
Ahio Matsumoto
(commercial artist)

bert
Bert Miura
(pattern maker)

hidimi
Hidimi Tayenaka
teruko
Teruko Kiyomura
(bookkeeper)

dennis
Dennis Shimizu

fumiko
Fumiko Hirata

hidimi
Hidemi Tayenaka
(woodworker)
tetsuko
Tetsuko Murajami
(secretary)

kay
Kay Kageyama

bunkichi
Bunkichi Hayashi
(project attorney)

sumiko
Sumiko Shigematsu
(power machines foreman)
yaeko
Yaeko Nakamura

kishio
Kishio Matoba

matsuro
Mitsuo Matsuro
(fireman)

dennis
Mr. & Mrs. Dennis Shimizu
yeko
Yeko Yamamoto

ryie
Ryie Yoshizawa
(dress making instructor)

nurse
Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi

nurse
Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi and patient
yonehisa
Yonehisa Yamagami
(electrician)

tatsuo
Tatsuo Miyake

mori
Mori Nakashima
(student of divinity)

sam
Sam Bozono
(policeman)
yuri
Yuri Yamazaki
(high school student)

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la times
Excerpt 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 best.
manzanar
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 them.

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 many.

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.
john
"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 walk-in cooler.

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 like."


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Dark Era Remembered
by Sam Stanton

Excerpt 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.

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manzanar1
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 opening.

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.

 manzanar2
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 Saturday.

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 some roads.

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 made.

"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.

manzanar3
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. curfew.
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 catch.

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. *

manzanar4
Frank Hays, superintendent of the Manzanar
National Historic Site, stands in a mock-up of a
barracks inside the interpretive center.

manzanar5
An internee scratched the date of Feb. 23, 1943, in a cement
basin around a water spigot near Block 19 at Manzanar
internment camp.


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 Library of Congress - More Manzanar prints on line can be found HERE.
Simply type in the word Manzanar and let the search begin.


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Dry ditch at the site of Manzanar

Japanese American National Museum

369 East First Street, Los Angeles, California 90012
phone: (213) 625-0414, fax: (213) 625-1770

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20-Mule-Team History  

 
Manzanar Internment Camp Portraits & History  

 
Manzanar High School Portraits & History  
 

Manzanar Journal - Berry Tamura

 

Manzanar Free Press

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Manzanar Town, Owens Valley

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This page was last updated on 03 October 2019