WASHINGTON — Once called Jigoku Dani (Hell Valley), the Honouliuli Internment Camp site on Oahu was given national monument status on Thursday by President Barack Obama.
The designation ensures the future preservation of Honoululi, which opened in 1943 and was the largest and longest used World War II confinement site in Hawaii. Obama made the announcement on the 73rd anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II.
Using the powers of the presidency, Obama also gave national monument status to Pullman, the historic South Side, Chicago neighborhood where African American railroad workers won a significant labor agreement in the 1930s; and the Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado, a 21,000-acre site along the Arkansas River popular for whitewater rafting.
During a ceremony at the Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago, Obama announced the Honouliuli designation with a nod to his upbringing in Hawaii.
“Now, first, we’re announcing a new park in my home state — before I was adopted by Illinois — my home state of Hawaii. And the Honouliuli was once an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. Going forward, it’s going to be a monument to a painful part of our history so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Announcing a “Find Your Park” campaign next month and an “Every Kid in a Park” pass in the fall, Obama said, “Conservation is a truly American ideal. The naturalists and industrialists and politicians who dreamt up our system of public lands and waters did so in the hope that by keeping these places, these special places in trust, places of incomparable beauty, places where our history was written, then future generations would value those places the same way as we do.”
In Honolulu, Gov. David Ige welcomed the new designation, which will place the former camp’s stewardship under the National Park Service.
“President Obama’s action ensures that generations to come will be able to visit the Honouliuli Internment Camp and learn about the experiences of persons of Japanese ancestry who were forced to stay there during the war,” said Ige. “The monument will remind all who visit of the terrible injustice these families endured, even while many of their husbands, sons and brothers were fighting for the United States.”
The tragic history of Honouliuli, located approximately 25 miles northwest of Honolulu, remained largely forgotten until 2002. Honouliuli was opened in March 1943 to hold U.S. citizens and resident aliens of Japanese, German, and Italian descent, as well as Japanese prisoners of war. The area housed over 150 buildings, guard towers, and tents on the 160-acre site. Many of these people were detained for the duration of the war and none were ever charged with a crime.
The detentions began immediately following the strike on Pearl Harbor, with estimates of over 350 Issei and Nisei — including community journalists, Buddhist priests, Japanese language school teachers and even World War I veterans — being arrested in the first 48 hours following the attack, and over 2,200 imprisoned by the end of the war. These people were detained at a number of sites across the Hawaiian Islands, with Honouliuli becoming the largest.
In 2009, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye included a provision in the Interior Appropriations bill in 2009, requesting the special resource study. A stand-alone bill, S. 871, the Honouliuli Internment Camp Special Resources Study Act of 2009, was also introduced by Inouye in the 111th Congress, with then-Rep. Mazie Hirono (now a senator) introducing the companion bill, H.R. 2079, in the House of Representatives. Sen. Daniel Akaka and then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie (later governor) were co-sponsors of the respective bills.
Carole Hayashino, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, applauded the president’s actions. In December, Hayashino, Jacce Mikulanec, president of the Honolulu Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and Hawaii’s congressional leaders, including Sen. Brian Schatz, presented petitions to Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell with signatures of more than 6,000 Americans supporting the inclusion of Honouliuli in the national park system.
“As a new national monument, Honouliuli will be a great gift to our state and nation,” Hayashino said. “On behalf of the Japanese American internees and their families, I want to thank President Obama for vindicating the honor of those who were incarcerated and for recognizing the historic site as a lesson in injustice and forgiveness for all Americans and for future generations.”
“By using his power under the Antiquities Act to designate Honouliuli as a national park, President Obama honors the thousands of men and women whose civil rights were violated, and is helping to ensure that the Japanese American wartime experience will never be forgotten,” said Mikulanec.
“Honouliuli represents a dark period in our history when thousands of Japanese Americans in Hawaii and across the country were forced into internment camps during World War II,” said Schatz. “This historic site will memorialize the strength and bravery of the many Japanese Americans who faced discrimination and serve as a reminder to ourselves and future generations that we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past.
“Our deep gratitude goes to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, the Japanese American Citizens League and others who worked tirelessly for this achievement. It is meaningful and right that Honouliuli has finally received the historic recognition it deserves.”
Sen. Hirono said, “The detention of more than 1,000 innocent Hawaii civilians during World War II remains a dark chapter in Hawaii and our nation’s history. The stories of those detained at Honouliuli and internment sites like it across the country are sobering reminders of how even leaders of the greatest nation on Earth can succumb to fear and mistrust and perpetuate great injustice.
“The president’s executive action is an important step in protecting Honouliuli and the stories of those who were detained in our state and across the nation, highlighting an important but often forgotten piece of our national history. Preserving the site has long been a priority for our Hawaii delegation — from Sens. Inouye and Akaka to our current delegation. I will continue to work closely with the administration, state and local leaders as well as my delegation colleagues to ensure federal resources are delivered for this important project.”
Hawaii’s representatives in the House also issued statements.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: “The designation of the Honouliuli camp as a national monument serves as a solemn reminder that in our nation’s history bedrock civil rights have been disregarded in times of conflict as a result of unfounded fear and panic. Honouliuli was a central piece of the brutal and discriminatory internment system created during World War II; today, the structure remains as a memorial that will educate future generations about the precariousness of freedom in wartime.
“Mahalo to President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Jewell for recognizing the history of Honouliuli and for making this designation a priority.”
Rep. Mark Takai: “The internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II is a tragic example of what happens when we allow fear and hatred to take the place of rational and just actions. Honouliuli will serve as a place where we will be able to educate the coming generations about the importance of civil liberties for all people.
“Now more than ever, we must learn from the mistakes of the past, and the designation of Honouliuli as a national monument will give Hawaii a chance to shine light on this serious issue. I would like to extend a warm mahalo to President Obama for taking the initiative to preserve this historically significant piece of land.”