WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League applauds President Barack Obama’s Feb. 19 designation of Honouliuli as a national historic monument.
The site, located in a gulch in central Oahu, was used during World War II to imprison Japanese American community leaders and their families. The monument will preserve a forgotten but important part of American history about the treatment of thousands of Americans living in Hawaii.
“I am delighted to learn that the Honouliuli incarceration site has been added to the National Park System as a national historic monument,” said JACL National President David Lin. “We are grateful to the National Park Service for recognizing the significance of the site as a component of World War II and as the site related to the forcible imprisonment of Japanese and other Americans.
“As the longest operating World War II Japanese American confinement site in Hawaii, Honouliuli represents a unique chapter in American history and a very important lesson in civil liberties and the U.S. Constitution. This inclusion in the National Park System will ensure that the story of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II will continue to be told and remembered.”
“Today, the president opened the windows so healing winds can blow on a place that was once called ‘Hell Valley,’” stated JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida. “Years ago, droves of innocent men were rounded up and placed in prison centers by the military because they were Japanese priests, teachers, and community leaders. Their incarceration remained a secret because of the unwarranted shame they bore for a crime they did not commit.
“On the 73rd anniversary of the signing of the executive order authorizing the internment, the government has acknowledged this story by creating a learning place where discussions about tolerance and diversity can be elevated.”
Located approximately 25 miles northwest of Honolulu, Honouliuli is the site of the largest and longest used World War II confinement site in Hawaii. Those of Japanese ancestry made up over a third of the population of Hawaii in 1941. In contrast to the mass incarceration taking place on the mainland, Japanese American community leaders and those with close cultural or economic ties to Japan were selectively targeted and detained throughout Hawaii.
The detentions began immediately following the strike on Pearl Harbor, with estimates of over 350 Issei and Nisei 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.
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, in addition to approximately 320 internees. Many of these people were detained for the duration of the war — a period of more than three years — and none were ever charged with a crime.
Honouliuli was closed in 1946 following the last of the POW repatriations and the site was sold as farmland. The site and its history were largely forgotten until the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii began to research and document Honouliuli’s history in the 1990s, leading to the rediscovery of the site in 2002.
Since then, a number of organizations, including the JACL Honolulu Chapter, JCCH, the University of Hawaii, and Monsanto Hawaii, have worked to preserve and interpret the site in an effort to educate the public about a largely unknown chapter of Hawaiian and American history.
In 2009, Congress authorized the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study to review Honouliuli for possible inclusion to the National Park System. In 2011, JACL passed a national resolution supporting these efforts and began meeting with members of Congress and other government officials to inform them of the historic and cultural significance of the site and to garner their support for national park status.
In December 2014, a group of staffers from the JCCH and Honolulu JACL visited officials in Washington, D.C. to deliver petitions with over 6,000 signatures supporting the inclusion of Honouliuli into the National Park System.
JACL is dedicated to securing the civil and human rights of all Americans and preserving the historical and cultural legacy of the Japanese American community. The preservation and interpretation of the Japanese American World War II confinement sites ensures that their important and distinct place in American history will continue to educate future generations against repeating injustices of the past.