Congress passes bill to preserve internment camps

The Honolulu Advertiser | December 5, 2006

WASHINGTON Notorious internment camps where Japanese-Americans were kept behind barbed wire during World War II, including a camp in Honouliuli Gulch, will be preserved as stark reminders of how the United States turned on some of its citizens in a time of fear.
As one of its last acts, the Republican-led Congress today sent President Bush legislation establishing a $38 million program of National Park Service grants to restore and pay for research at 10 camps where the government sent people of Japanese descent after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hawai'i Sens. Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka, who authored and co-sponsored the measure, respectively, hailed its passage in a joint press statement.

"Now, these internment camp sites, which for more than 60 years have been symbols of a dark chapter in our history, will be transformed into places of remembrance and learning, " Inouye said. 

Inouye was a member of the 442 Regimental Combat Team during World War II, which was made up primarily of Japanese-Americans. One third of the soldiers were Mainland Japanese-Americans who volunteered for combat, even though their family and friends remained behind the barbed wire of the internment camps.

Akaka who served with the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, said that by passing the measure, Congress "has recognized the sacrifices made by our Japanese-American soldiers and their families."

"Their experience is an important part of our shared history, which all Americans must continue to learn from," Akaka said.

Lawmakers returned today for only four days of work before Republicans call it quits after running Congress for 12 years. Democrats will control both houses for the first time since 1994 when a new Congress reflecting last month's election starts up in January.

The National Park Service already operates facilities at two of the 10 War Relocation Authority camps: Manzanar National Historic Site in California and the Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho. The money in the bill the House passed today on a voice vote and sent to Bush would go to them and eight others, to be operated by state and local governments or organizations.

The Senate passed the bill last month. The Park Service says the program is too expensive, but the White House has not signaled opposition to it.

The camps housed more than 120,000 Japanese-American U.S. citizens and residents under an executive order signed by President Roosevelt in 1942. At the time there were fears that Japanese-Americans were loyal to Japan, and Roosevelt's order prohibited such people from living on the West Coast.

In Hawai'i, an estimated 1,440 Japanese, Germans and Italians were interned at five locations on O'ahu, the Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i. The largest was the 160-acre Honouliuli Internment Camp, which opened in March 1943. It was wedged between O'ahu Sugar Co. fields just west of what is now Kunia Road. The Army cleared the area, surrounded it with barbed wire and placed armed guards around the camp.

The internment camps, which marked largest forced relocation in U.S. history, were also operated in parts of Washington, Oregon and Arizona. The sites named in the legislation are in Hawai'i, California, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.

The last of the camps closed in 1946, and President Reagan signed a presidential apology in 1988.

The bill would give grants to non-federal organizations for historical, research and restoration work at the sites named in the legislation, as well others selected by the Interior secretary. The grants would require 50 percent in matching funds.