During World War II, Japanese Americans were incarcerated in at least eight locations in Hawaiʻi.
These sites that include Honouliuli Gulch, Sand Island, and the U.S. Immigration Station on Oahu, the Kilauea Military Camp on the Big Island, Haiku Camp and Wailuku County Jail on Maui, and the Kalaheo Stockade and Waialua County Jail on Kauai.
The forced removal of these individuals began a nearly four-year odyssey to a series of camps in Hawaiʻi and on the continental United States.
They were put in these camps, not because they had been tried and found guilty of something, but because either they or their parents or ancestors were from Japan and, as such, they were deemed a “threat” to national security.
In all, between 1,200 and 1,400 local Japanese were interned, along with about 1,000 family members. The number of Japanese in Hawai‘i who were detained was small relative to the total Japanese population here, less than 1%.
By contrast, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorized the mass exclusion and detention of all Japanese Americans living in the West Coast states, resulting in the eventual incarceration of 120,000 people.
The detainees were never formally charged and granted only token hearings. Many of the detainees’ sons served with distinction in the US armed forces, including the legendary 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service.
During the war, there was a Hawaii Defense Act, Order No. 5 that stated “all aliens were forbidden from possessing weapons, firearms, explosives short-wave radio receiving sets, transmitting sets, cameras, or maps of any United States military or naval installation.”
They could not travel by air, change residence or occupation or move without written permission from the provost marshal.
On December 8, 1941, the first detention camp was set up on Sand Island. Several factors made Sand Island a logical place for establishment of the first detention camp. Geographically, it was an island immediately adjacent to the city of Honolulu in the Honolulu Harbor.
The Territorial Quarantine Hospital had been located on Sand Island and it had housing, food prep and administrative facilities.
Within one week of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI detained 370 Japanese, 98 German and 14 Italians. Almost all of the Japanese detainees were men; of the European detainees, many were women. The European and Japanese internees were segregated.
The first POW of the war (Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, of the captured Japanese submarine that beached at Waimanalo) was also interned at Sand Island.
Each compound operated its own mess and maintained its own sanitary and internal administrations. The detainees supplied their own recreational activities, such as softball and volleyball games. Each compound had its own spokesman.
While most of the internees were residents of Oʻahu, there were Japanese detained on the Neighbor Islands.
On Kauai internees were crowded into the county jail. According to Gwen Allen (Hawaii War Years), the December 12, 1941 issue of the Kauai newspaper reported that “the men are building double decker bunks.” On the Big Island, detainees were interned at Kilauea Military Camp at Volcano.
Restrictions at each were different. On Kau‘i, after two days of war, a newspaper announcement invited families to call on detainees any day between 1 pm and 3 pm and they were allowed to take clean laundry and simple Japanese food.
On Maui, each detainee was given a questionnaire asking if they had any animals that needed feeding and other care, and if so, where can they be found. On the Big Island, there was no public visiting until February 14, 1942.
For some O‘ahu internees, they began their detention at the Immigration Station at Fort Armstrong and were then moved to Sand Island. Internees at Sand Island lived in tents until wooden barracks were built.
“Until books and other materials were allowed, the internees passed the time by smoothing sea shells for necklaces by rolling them on the concrete floors.”
In March 1942, Sand Island closed. Some detainees were sent to Honouliuli Internment camp.
Because arrests and detentions continued through the war, the community remained on edge, fearful as to who might be next. Japanese culture became equated with Japanese political affiliation, and Japanese language clothing and customs suddenly disappeared.
Though some detainees were released after a short imprisonment, the majority were detained for the duration of the war, with most eventually transferred to camps on the continental United States, for a period approaching four years.
Most eventually returned to Hawai‘i after the war.
In 2006, President Bush signed the Camp Preservation Bill (HR 1492), which authorized $38 million in funding for the preservation of former World War II confinement sites.
In part, the intent is that the Honouliuli site become a public historical park where the Hawai‘i internees story can be shared with future generations.
The fact that the internment did happen here in the Hawaiʻi are something to never forget.