Eastern Sierra Nevada, California
Inyo County, California
War Internment Camp
10 miles north of Lone Pine, CA - Location
Inyo - COUNTY
Major highways to reach - PAVEMENT
Independence, Lone Pine - GAS
Quick Ride: Must visit national historic site in the Eastern Sierra Range along the Highway 395 corridor 10 miles north of Lone Pine focused on the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
My U.S. History teacher was Mr. Muenchow.
He was a short rotund man with jet back hair and thick framed dark glasses, the kind that got dark when you walked outside and then changed to clear when you stepped back inside. He had a heavy lumbering walk and a deep baritone voice that filled the room. He was also a Navy vet from the early 1960s, during the height of the Cold War. We spent a lot of time on war. The Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII. Mr. Muenchow was in his high school during the Korean War, and we touched on that too. This was a time when the Vietnam War was never mentioned – ever, it was too recent. The one other thing that was never mentioned in my U.S. History class was the forced internment of Japanese-Americans in the early 1940s.
Fast forward to fall 2005, I had planned a multi-day solo ride that would circle the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. My new motorcycle tour business was barely two years old and the goal was to scout new roads for future tours. There was a general idea of a route, but riding with no plan is often as fun as a scripted time sensitive ride.
Riding along the Nevada border and making my way south along Highway 395, I explored Bodie SHP, several loops and side roads, Devils Postpile at Mammoth, the June Lake Loop, Highway 120 east along Mono Lake to the Benton-Crossing Loop, Lower Rock Creek Rd, 4000 year old trees at the Bristlecone Pine Forest and then while headed for Nine Mile Canyon, 7 miles south of Independence, out of the horizon came the one thing I did not expect. There was a WWII-era guard tower along the highway. What is that?
Yet there it was, a perfect replica of a guard tower, something straight out of the war years. What is that!? My curiosity was overwhelming. Why is that there? I had to flip a U-turn and found myself pulling the burbling Hayabusa into the recently opened Manzanar National Historic site along Highway 395.
Reconstructed guard tower along Highway 395
War Relocation? What is this place? It took a moment to process. Mr. Muenchow never mentioned this.
The surrounding region was pool table flat sloping upwards towards the nearby Sierra Nevada range. Sagebrush in every direction, and dirt. Lots and lots of dirt. The sign at the entrance read Manzanar War Relocation Center which opened in April 2004. I had stumbled onto this new national monument only months after it opened to the public.
In December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack that brought the United States into WWII which had already been raging for several years in Europe. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 to start the war, but had already practiced their new war-fighting techniques in July 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, five years prior to Pearl Harbor. By June 1941, Germany had begun an ill-fated conquest of Russia (and was already starting to be pushed back by late 1941).
The European War was on people’s minds in the United States, but a strong isolationist movement in the United States regarded the conflict across the Atlantic as Europe’s war. President Roosevelt was already helping Britain with an effort known as the Lend-Lease Act by March 1941. The Lend Lease Act quietly ended United States neutrality in the European conflict by supplying the European war effort through Britain, and eventually Russia and China with food, oil, and military equipment in exchange for access to military bases on those respective countries.
The United States had managed to stay out of Europe’s War all the way through the early war years of 1939, 1940, and on through 1941. That all changed in December 1941 when Japan sought to disable the United States Pacific Fleet in one decisive blow. The side effect of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was an instant xenophobic reaction towards Japanese immigrants living on the West Coast, both in the United States and in Canada.
Japanese had begun emigrating to the United States as early as 1868 when famine pushed many to seek a new life in America. Then in 1882, the emperor of Japan allowed citizens of Japan to leave which began a migration to the United States until the 1920s when the government sought to slow the flow of Japanese into the United States. By the early 1940s, some Japanese-Americans were first generation having been born in Japan, others were already second generation having been born in the United States prior to the start of the Second World War. After Pearl Harbor, Americans feared the West Coast would be next in Japan’s annexation of many regions of the Pacific as their military aggressively expanded through the Pacific Island chains. While today we know these fears were largely unfounded, put yourself in the context of early 1942.
Japanese Invasion of American Soil
Japan did invade and annex American territory, but did so in the Alaskan Aleutian chain. Japanese forces bombed Dutch Harbor in June 1942, invading and briefly occupying the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu. The Japanese invasion of continental American soil by a foreign army was the first time for such an occurrence since The War of 1812. The move further shocked the American public only months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Alaska in 1942 was an American Territory and did not become a state until 1959 however all its inhabitants were considered American citizens.
Further alarming to the American public, Japan forcibly removed the indigenous people, known as the Aleuts, and took them to Hokkaido, Japan, the northernmost island in the Japanese island chain. The Aleuts, considered American citizens, were treated as captive prisoners of war and forced to work in labor camps. The Aleuts were kept in an internment camp in Hokkaido, Japan until the end of the war.
Japanese bombing at Fort Mears killed 28 Army personnel at Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak Island, Alaska
Only half returned after the war while most died in captivity. In June 1942, the United States was powerless to stop Japan from forcibly removing American citizens from their indigenous land and placing American civilians in a concentration camp in a foreign country.
War planners in 1942 felt the continental United States could be next as Japan would now be capable of moving down the Canadian coast militarily and threaten Seattle, Portland and beyond. However, Japan’s toehold on American soil was short-lived when the United States sent 144,000 troops to take back the islands by force.
A group of U.S. Marines on the "alert" during the Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska, June 1942. Smoke from burning fuel tanks can be seen in the background.
The Forgotten War
The small Alaskan islands held little strategic value, but the very idea of invaders on American soil was unacceptable to war planners who feared the Japanese would establish Japanese military bases on American soil.
Between June 1942 through August 1943, more than 3,000 Japanese and Americans died fighting. About 25% of the American invasion force on Attu was killed. In May 1943, a banzai charge by Japanese forces at Massacre Bay resulted in the Japanese forces being killed to the last man and Attu was then back under American control. In a strange twist, Japan withdrew all its forces on the island of Kiska under the nose of the American military and no decisive battle ever took place on Kiska. Known as The Forgotten Battle, few have ever heard about Japan’s invasion of United States territory in 1942 and the battle was further overshadowed by the Guadalcanal Campaign in June 1942 taking place at about the same time.
Less than three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in February 1942, the Japanese submarine I-17 was sent to the California coastline and shelled the Ellwood Oil Field aiming for aviation fuel storage tanks 12 miles west of Santa Barbara. Shells were fired from the submarine at the very same time President Roosevelt was giving one of his fireside chats. The shelling did little damage, only 13 shells were fired from the submarine, but the incident was used as a catalyst for fear of invasion by Japanese forces or more shelling by other Japanese military forces. Unbeknownst to many, the U.S. military had already concluded any large-scale invasion was beyond the capabilities of the Japanese military at that time.
The very next day, the “Battle of Los Angeles” took place. In response to an unidentified radar echo, the military issued a blackout and fired off over 1440 anti-aircraft shells into the skies above Los Angeles for two straight hours. Ironically, five Americans were killed, three in car accidents during the chaos, and two from heart attacks attributed to the stress of the hours long shelling. The radar echo was attributed to a loose weather balloon, but in the aftermath, 20 Japanese-Americans were arrested for allegedly signaling the imagined enemy force.
Another incident occurred on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A disabled Zero managed to crash land on Niihau, the westernmost remote island in the Hawaiian island chain. Three Indigenous Hawaiians of Japanese descent who lived on the island were sympathetic to the Japanese pilot, aiding him in escaping his captors, providing him weapons, and taking hostages. The Islanders were unaware of the attack on nearby Pearl Harbor as the remote private island had no way to communicate with the main islands, the closest of which was Kauai.
An account of the incident made it all the way to President Roosevelt and was used as an example of how Japanese could not be trusted to aid their fellow Japanese during wartime in an official Navy report dated January 26, 1942. The report stated, "The fact that the two Niʻihau Japanese who had previously shown no anti-American tendencies went to the aid of the pilot when Japanese domination of the island seemed possible, indicate[s] [the] likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan if further Japanese attacks appear successful."
Remains of Nishikaichi's Zero on December 17, 1941 on the Hawaiin island of Niihau
What these series of events did do in early 1942 is stoke a collective xenophobic reaction of fear within the United States and Canada towards Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast. Would they be saboteurs, would they undermine the war effort, could Japanese-Americans be trusted when their home country had declared war on the United States?
Xenophobia was not a new idea in 1940s America. Xenophobia was recorded in texts dating to Roman times and the Ancient Greeks. We all know that phobia means fear, but the word also combines the ideas of ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’, essentially meaning fear of foreigners or a fear of what is perceived to be foreign or different than we the people of our land.
Decision for camps
Manzanar is an internment camp. If you did not know the United States had internment camps during WWII for its own citizens, your high school history teacher may have skipped over it. Mine never mentioned it either. Manzanar is only one story in ten of these camps spread across the western United States, with even more camps in Canada. America also shipped German prisoners of war to the United States during WWII, some were interned in Northern California in Modoc County at Tulelake near Glass Mountain. Many other German prisoners of war were also sent to Wisconsin which had a large population of German immigrants in the early 1940s. The grounds at Tulelake are still there, but there is no trace of the camp although the National Park Service has plans to rebuild four of the buildings at Tulelake near the Oregon border.
The genesis for the forceable removal of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast began when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 creating exclusion zones along the entire Pacific Coast, generally following the state line of California and the western halves of Oregon & Washington. The order set in motion the forced relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of whom were born in the United States. By the early 1940s, most Japanese had been in the United States 20 to 40 years and were fully acclimated into American culture and lifestyle. The government defined anyone with 1/16th or more Japanese lineage as sufficient to be interned.
Farewell to Manzanar was a 1976 made-for-TV movie based on the first person memoir of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston who was sent to Manzanar in 1942
The order in April 1942 to remove Japanese-Americans from the West Coast was so quick and sudden, the camps were not ready for occupants. Japanese-Americans were temporarily moved to local horse racing tracks and fairgrounds across California and the West Coast states. Livestock stalls were hastily converted to living quarters. Staging areas in present-day Roseville were also used for Japanese-Americans from Sacramento. George Takei of the original 1960s Star Trek television series was interned as a child at Rohwer War Relocation Center in Rohwer, Arkansas and later transferred to Tulelake War Relocation Center in northern California along the Oregon border. He was one of the children who were sent to live in converted horse stalls at the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, northeast of downtown Los Angeles, California in 1942. However, not all Japanese-Americans went to assembly areas, nearly all those in Manzanar had come directly to Manzanar without having gone to such an assembly center.
Japanese-Americans were never told where they were going or for how long. They were only allowed to take what they could carry, usually a single suitcase or bundle of belongings. Evacuees thought they would be gone for six months, but most were interned for three-and-a-half years.
Military planners hastily constructed 10 camps in 6 states ranging California, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and as far east as Arkansas. Manzanar took on Japanese largely from Southern California regions of Los Angeles and Central Valley regions around Fresno.
People of Japanese ancestry were given as little as six days to prepare for the evacuation and removal to hastily constructed camps in remote areas. Some groups reported that they were given as little as 2-day notice to sell all their belongings, property and pets.
Ten Internment camps for 120,000 Japanese-Americans across the United States in 1942.
Additional internment camps were built in Canada for 22,000 Japanese-Canadians,
Evacuees sold possessions at steep discounts, and left property & pets in the care of friends. Few protested the order to leave their homes with the saying, Shikata ga nai (nothing can be done). While some Japanese-Americans were able to leave their homes, farms and possessions in the care of friends or caretakers, the vast majority lost everything.
Initially, the U.S. Army wanted to relocate all West Coast Japanese to the Owens Valley. The location of Manzanar 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles was chosen from various other sites for its remoteness, because of its distance from any vital defense projects, and relative inaccessibility. Manzanar had water from streams flowing out of the nearby Sierra Nevada Range and sat on level ground owned by the City of Los Angeles.
Building the camp began in March 1942 with 600 men working 10-hour days including some volunteers from the Japanese- American community participating in the construction of the camp. Some early evacuees voluntary traveled to Manzanar in private automobiles as well as by bus and train to Lone Pine, then boarding buses for the remaining 10-mile distance.
The camp was built over a square mile with large fire breaks in-between blocks of buildings. Spanning 26 blocks, each block contained 20 buildings: 14 barracks, a mess hall, a laundry facility, men & women’s latrine and a communal recreation hall. Each block contained 250 to 400 people. Add that up and it comes to over 500 buildings in one square mile. The 20’x100’ barracks were covered on the exterior by tar paper but had no insulation. The first trainload of evacuees arrived at Lone Pine in late March 1942.
The War Relocation Authority (WRA) only provided cots, a straw filled mattress (essentially a burlap bag filled with straw), three Army blankets and an oil heating stove for each apartment. All furniture had to be made or purchased by the evacuees. In a stark contrast, the administrative staff, known as the, ‘Caucasian staff’, lived on site in staff housing that was painted, air conditioned, and had indoor plumbing and refrigerators. The site was surrounded in barbed wire fence, and eight guard towers were built much like the reconstructed tower along Highway 395. Search lights atop each guard tower swept the camp at night.
Layout of Manzanar in 1945, with large fire breaks in-between blocks of buildings. Auditorium at bottom left. Children's Village orphanage group of three barracks at top right. Firebreaks were used for gardens. 10,000 internees lived in this 1-square mile.
Across Highway 395 east of the camp, a 4800’ runway was built which is still there today. The airport was used to train pilots, fly in supplies for Manzanar, and in reserve if the Japanese ever did attack the West Coast. The Manzanar Airport was part of a network of airports that could be used to fall back to by U.S. Armed Forces if the West Coast were invaded by Japanese forces in 1942. It’s thought the last time the runway was used by planes is the mid-1970s.
The camp at Manzanar took inhabitants as early as March 1942 and by mid-April, as many as 1,000 Japanese-Americans were arriving daily from the fairgrounds and horse racing tracks where they had initially been brought to. Of those sent to Manzanar, 90% were from the Los Angeles area and 65% of evacuees were U.S. citizens. A large majority were farmers and fishermen but most came from urban areas unaccustomed to living in high desert extremes as the camp was at 4000 feet in elevation. The entire population of Terminal Island, a Japanese community of fishermen along the Pacific Coast simply abandoned their fishing boats in the bay by the hundreds.
Two-year-old Yuki Okinaga Hayakawa waits at Union Station for the train taking her and her mother to Manzanar in April 1942
"There were no trees, nothing green, it was all brown...By the time we arrived there, they were in the middle of a dust storm. You couldn't open your mouth because all the dust would come in. You could just barely see, and the only way to keep your eyes clean was just to cry and let the tears wash your eyes out...It was a horrible feeling and there was total confusion." -Amy Uno Ishii
View from the guard tower of arriving internees, the barb wire fence faces in
By September 1942, 10,046 Japanese-Americans lived at Manzanar. While some of the other ten relocation centers were even larger in population, Manzanar was only the 5th largest of the ten relocation centers in the western United States. In total during WWII, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during the war years across these ten camps.
The layout of the camp spanned 6200 acres, about 10 square miles, with the majority of the 20’x100’ barracks centered on a one square mile block. Each family (up to 8 people) lived in a 20’x25’ partition of the 100’ long barracks, or 4 unrelated families per building. Initially, the 100’ long barracks were simply a long open room. The only way any privacy was attained was a blanket strung over a rope between families.
Block governments were formed with a block captain, assistant, and barrack representatives, all of whom were elected by the residents.
The governing body of each block in turn organized activities, social functions, dances, talent shows and numerous other activities for the younger generation. One stark observation upon visiting the newly recreated barracks & women’s latrines, built on the original concrete foundations, is the lack of privacy.
None of the showers or toilets have any partitions and the bathrooms are communal. Only a low wall was built between backs of toilets. Showers were simply a row of shower heads protruding from a wall. Open showers and toilets were the norm in stark contrast to 1940s modesty.
Fierce winds blew over the eastern Sierra across the open high desert creating sandstorms that left a coating of dust on every surface at the camp.
A stark new reality for arriving internees for the next 3-1/2 years. Walls were eventually sheet-rocked, and floors covered in linoleum, families made or purchased their own furniture.
Sand came in through every crack, and during winter, snow blew into the same cracks and holes in the walls. Evacuees nailed tin can lids over knotholes in boards and attempted to add lathe, or thin strips of wood, over expanding cracks in-between boards.
During the hot desert summers, the interiors of the barracks sweltered as the buildings were all black in color from the tar paper and had zero insulation. Some evacuees dug out cellars beneath the barracks which were all on elevated stilts (known as pier & post) to find relief from the summer heat although this practice was outlawed by July 1943 due to safety concerns. The barracks were eventually sheet rocked on the inside and linoleum laid down on the floors.
Summers on the Eastern High Sierra could easily reach 100-degree temps, while nights in winter easily dropped into the 30s. High winds blew year-round perpetually generating dust clouds that coated every surface. Internees at the camp routinely woke up in the morning covered head to toe in a fine layer of dust.
Reconstructed women's latrine on the original foundation. The lack of any sort of privacy was a shock to incoming internees.
The Owens Valley around Manzanar was known for less than 5 inches of precipitation per year as this sloped plain lay in the rain shadow of the Sierra Range 180 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Overlooking the camp was 14,384 ft. Mount Williamson. A few more miles to the southwest is Mount Whitney at 14495 ft., the tallest peak in the Lower 48.
The year 1943 saw a slightly wetter year with 8.7 inches of precipitation, but the following year of 1944 saw only 2.5 inches of precipitation for the entire year. In sharp contrast, the camp got 15 inches of snow in February 1944. Average January temperatures were 39 degrees.
Winds in the Owens Valley were so severe during March through June, one wind event ripped the roof off a latrine, and another wind event damaged over 50 buildings.
Four unrelated families lived in 25'x100' open room barracks, There were no side doors, traffic had to walk through each 'apartment' to reach the middle apartments.
Orphans at Manzanar
One of the most untold stories of Manzanar are the orphans of Manzanar. Orphans were sent to Manzanar more than any other of the ten camps due to its location 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles and the camp was ready for internees at an earlier date than the other nine camps. When the order came for anyone of Japanese ancestry to be removed from the West Coast to the internment camps, the order extended to children and even infants, some as young as six months old.
An orphanage known as Children’s Village was established at Manzanar in 1942 in a grouping of three barracks next to a pear and apple orchard that has been planted around 1910, long before the creation of Manzanar. Centered near the 250-bed hospital, these barracks had running water, toilets and a small lawn in the northwest corner of the camp near the present-day Obelisk. The majority of the orphans at Manzanar were from California, but orphans detained from Washington, Oregon, and as far away as Alaska were sent to Manzanar. Half the children were under 7-yrs-old.
Barracks of Manzanar Children's Village
Dorothea Lange took this photo of Children’s Village at Manzanar on July 1, 1942 of superintendent Lillian Iida Matsumoto with her orphans.
Before the war, Japanese American orphans were often cared for by foster families or distant relatives. Orphanages that held any children of Japanese ancestry from Alaska to California were ordered to turn over the children to the U.S. Army. Because the definition of what it was to be of Japanese ancestry was defined as little as 1/16th Japanese, everyday U.S. citizens were swept up in the wartime hysteria of the time. Orphanages and foster families were threatened with penalties and incarceration if they harbored any child of Japanese ancestry.
At the Maryknoll Home for Japanese Children, Catholic nuns attempted to move 33 children outside the exclusion zone, which generally ran long the California-Oregon-Washington border. A priest at the Maryknoll Mission requested more information attempting to clarify what would happen to the orphans. “I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must all go to [an internment] camp,” was the reply Col. Karl R. Bendetsen, the Army’s chief evacuation architect in Washington, D.C. Despite the efforts by the nuns, 6 of the 33 orphans were still extricated to Manzanar.
While records from the time indicate that some orphanages fought to keep the children, all children of Japanese descent inside the Exclusion Zone were sent to Manzanar. In addition, any child born to an unmarried mother at the other nine WRA camps during the war years, mother and infant were immediately transferred to Manzanar.
The U.S. Army also used U.S. Census records recorded prior to the war to track down anyone of Japanese ancestry, a fact that was never admitted to until decades later when Redress efforts gained considerable momentum and further records were declassified.The U.S. Army also combed through records of orphans, some of which did not know they were Japanese. Dennis Bambauer was an orphan living at the Los Angeles Orphanage for White Children who was blond and fair-skinned. He was never told his mother was of Japanese ancestry and was removed from his orphanage and sent to Manzanar at the age of 6 yrs old. Nineteen orphans at Manzanar were considered mixed-race.
Ansel Adams photographed the Children's Village in 1942. Japanese-American orphans as young as 6 months were removed from foster parents, relatives and orphanages and sent to Manzanar
The Children’s Village at Manzanar contained 101 orphans by wars end who were cared for often by the original administrators of their orphanages who chose to go with the children and live at Manzanar as staff. Many of the former staff and children who lived at the Children's Village were interviewed for the Children's Village Oral History Project, and these oral histories have been archived at the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton preserving these personal accounts.
Military records of the deportation of Japanese-American orphans were largely buried and forgotten after the war and were only made public after they were declassified in 1973 and found in the National Archives.
View of the Sierra Nevada Range from Manzanar
Gardens were encouraged as internees planted Victory Gardens within the fire breaks while growing vegetables which family units consumed themselves and donated excess crop yields to the mess hall.
Manzanar was especially known for ornate traditional Japanese gardens. The camp had a higher percentage of professional landscape gardeners in civilian life before the war.
These individuals created elaborate gardens alongside their barracks with large ornate rocks, concrete-lined pools of water, walkways, and bridges. The location of Manzanar being within mere feet of the Sierra Range provided ample raw materials such as large rocks and indigenous plants.
Internees built many ornate Japaneses gardens and water features around the barracks to beautify the camp.
One of these large public gardens remains in the northwest corner of the park complete with reflecting concrete-lined pool and bridge. Known as Rose Park and Pleasure Park, internees constructed two small ponds, a waterfall, bridge, a Japanese tea house and planted over 100 species of flowers. Camp officials further encouraged these gardens to hold down the soils and allow the internees to beautify the camp. After the WRA provided grass seed, internees grew green lawns in portions of the garden displays. The camp even held a ‘Best Garden Contest’ as a way to encourage internees to create ornamental Japanese gardens.
Rose and Pleasure park present day in the northwest corner of the camp
Feeding 10,000 people
Food for 10,000 people at this remote location was a challenge during 1942 and many internees struggled to adjust to camp food. In March 1942, chefs prepared 710 meals from canned goods and served it on metal mess kits. By 1943, the regions around the camp were readied for cultivation, land was leveled, and irrigation canals built to bring water from the spring runoff from the Sierra.
By 1945, mess hall workers served 28,790,221 meals to 11,040 Japanese-Americans at Manzanar.
By design, the camp was intended to be self-sustaining producing enough food on site to feed the 10,000 inhabitants.
Twenty-nine types of produce were grown across 870 acres. Some crops flourished; others struggled to grow in the alkaline soil and hot dry summers. Internees grew onions, beets, potatoes, radishes, turnips, cabbage, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.
Old orchards planted around 1910 near the camp were still producing apples and pears. The camp produced so many vegetables by 1943, 11% of the yield was shipped to other internment camps at Tulelake along the Oregon border and Poston located near the Arizona border. The Anaheim Cannery received 14 tons of tomatoes in late 1943 grown at Manzanar.
Twenty-nine types of produce were grown across 870 acres surrounding the camp.
The camp expanded into a livestock program with beef cattle, chickens, and hogs to provide meat to the camp diet. While the beef cattle operation was short lived, chickens and hogs flourished. By 1945, 60,000 eggs were produced and 6900 chickens were consumed. 2000 hogs were cared for on-site and provided 400,000 pounds of meat, all while being fed the camp garbage.
Additional crops were planted to provide food for the hogs and chickens at the camp. A Future Farmers club was established at the high school to allow students to care for the feed animals.
A food processing plant also operated to process the vegetables grown and create indigenous Japanese foods. Tofu production reached 1250 pounds each month for consumption along with miso, a soybean-based condiment. Excess crops were harvested then dried, pickled or dehydrated for future use. By 1945, mess hall workers served 28,790,221 meals to 11,040 Japanese-Americans at Manzanar.
Industry within the camp was centered on producing sustaining items for daily camp life. A camouflage net factory was the only outside product the camp produced under the WRA but internal conflicts shuttered the plant at the end of 1942 and the building was converted to the mattress factory in 1943.
The mattress factory produced mattresses for the inhabitants of the camp as internees had originally only been provided a burlap bag full of straw to sleep on. Once 4000 mattresses were produced, the operation was converted to a furniture factory that built furniture for use in the living quarters of the camp, the school, and the hospital. Office furniture such as desks, chairs and filing cabinets were produced. Scrap lumber was used to produce Christmas toys. All the school furniture was built on-site for use in the school. A garment and alterations operation were started to make clothes for the internees and alterations were done to existing clothes along with a domestic sewing machine repair shop.
Spiritual needs of the internees were quickly addressed and church attendance grew to a level where the existing accommodations were unable to hold the internees who wanted to attend services. Protestant church services were attended by over 2000 people weekly while the Catholic Church held its first mass in March 1942. The Buddhist Church grew to such a degree, it was split off into two sects, the Shinshu and Nichiren.
Building a school for K-12 school age children was especially challenging in the early months of the camp, inadequate teaching materials, disorganization, and lack of educational material plagued the early months of the camp. Japanese-American children had been removed to the camp in the midst of their school year. Initially, a corner of one of the barracks was used to start a school. Students sat on the floor for classes, as there were no desks or chairs.
The population included 2300 school age children, with 1300 in elementary school, and 1400 in secondary school. By the 1943 school year, equipment and supply issues had largely been resolved. While the school employed some Caucasian teachers, others were fellow internees who were teachers in civilian life.
The education provided during the war years centered on an Americanization program of student curriculum, with classes in Democracy and U.S. History classes. The school song read, ”We are building for tomorrow for a strong and active life. Not for fame or gold to borrow nor to wage a war of strife. Forward! Forward! Forward for America!”
The camp also created an adult school where internees learned to speak and write English. The high school operated as any other school of the time with sports and clubs such as the science, woodshop, future farmers, drama, judicial committee, baton, Latin, Spanish, home economics, letterman and even a shorthand club.
The main hall at Manzanar, which is the present-day visitor center, was the center of the camp. Functioning as an auditorium, it was completed in September 1944 and used for school dances, plays by the children, and other school functions. In June 1945, a thousand people attended the high school graduation ceremony of 177 students.
A high school yearbook was published for the Manzanar High, Class of 1945, entitled ‘Our World, Manzanar, California.’ The introduction in the 1945 high school yearbook reads:
From a dusty wasteland to a lively community, Manzanar has progressed to become an exciting chapter developing from World War II. This part of the story depicts the temporary war time life of 10,000 tireless, self-sacrificing residents living in a one square mile of barracks. To those people with their simple pleasures....to those men and women with their green growing gardens of the spring and snow covered barracks of the winter, who have put aside temporarily the life of their sea and their own and... to the husband and his wife... to the son in the service, his children... to the grandparents, the aunts, the cousins, the nephews... to those who so bravely have demonstrated their belief and their sacrifice for our way of life, hereby dedicate... Our World.
Sports and Recreation
School age children played many sports at Manzanar while baseball was especially popular. An inter-mural league was formed, and each league had four teams. A nine-hole dirt golf course was built on the grounds along with baseball diamonds, football field and volleyball courts. Wrestling teams, volleyball, track & field, weight lifting teams, and tennis teams were also formed.
Baseball leagues were created and over 100 teams formed. High schoolers in the camp did play against other area high schools, but internees were not yet allowed to leave the camp so Manzanar was always the home team.
The highlight of the school year was the football game between Seniors vs Juniors. The account of the game was reported as:
The highlight of the sports program in Manzanar High School was the football game between the Senior and Junior class in late October. The Juniors threatened the Senior goal a number of times but were thrown back either by the powerful Senior line or by penalties.
The first quarter showed hardly any action, with both sides following the other’s defense and going through different plays.In the second quarter, the Juniors threatened the Senior's goal seriously. From their own 30-yard line they booted the pigskin.
Mike Minato, the safety man for the Seniors fumbled and the Juniors recovered the ball over the Senior's 10-yard line. Two line plunges failed. The third time they ran around to the right and picked up about nine yards. Then a penalty was called for fifteen yards. This brought the ball back to the Senior's 35-yard line. On fourth down and barely 15 to go, the Juniors took to the air. The pass was for about five-yard gain as the half ended.
In the third quarter the Seniors took to the air and went marching down the field only to lose the ball on downs. Then the Juniors kicked and the seniors again started their march. With about five minutes to go, Co-captain Reggie Shikami displayed an array of passes.
He let one fly for about 55 yards with Shiki Manuyama on the receiving end. There with first down and goal to go, the seniors again took to the air.
On the second trail, Shikami passed to Taddy Nakashima in the end zone. It was completed but Nakashima was over the side line and the play was called back. Third down and fifteen to go. This time Shikami threw the pigskin to Mas Imamoto, who went into the atmosphere to snag the ball. After a short conference with the head lineman, it was agreed that the ball would have to be caught outside the end zone if the goal post had not been there.
Fourth down, and the pass didn't connect. After a few climaxing plays the game ended a tie, 0-0.
The 80-page yearbook (excerpt below) published for the graduating high school class of 1945 became more than a yearbook for the high school, but an account of a teenager’s life in the internment camp during 1944-1945 and expanded well beyond simply portraying sports teams and clubs.
As of February 1943, internees were allowed to leave the camp if they met certain conditions, including staying away from the West Coast exclusion zones. Japanese-Americans who became college age or were in college at the start of the war were allowed to return to college as long as their school was not in the exclusion zones. More than 4000 college-age students left the ten camps to enroll in new colleges further east.
Others were finally able to join the armed forces. Initially after Pearl Harbor, the branches would not take Japanese-Americans having deemed them unsuitable for service because of race or ancestry. An estimated 33,000 Japanese-Americans served in the U.S. military in every branch of service with the majority serving in the Army in the 442nd Infantry Regiment. However, Japanese Americans, much like African Americans, served in segregated units. The 442nd Infantry Regiment shipped out in August 1943 for the North African campaign before moving on to Italy and the liberation of Rome. The 442nd became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
Japanese-American service persons also played a crucial role in the Pacific theater as they were used by Intelligence services to translate Japanese documents and coded messages.
Later in the war, numerous Intelligence service graduates served as translators, interrupters, and investigators during the American occupation of Japan immediately after the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
Record of Camp Life
Of the ten internment camps in the United States, Manzanar gained a reputation as being the best-preserved record of daily life there through photographs and the camp newspaper. The Manzanar Free Press newspaper was started in April 1942 and continued till the camp closed. Growing to three times weekly, articles documented daily camp life on a weekly basis.
Much of the day-to-day life of living in the camp was documented by Togo Tanaka. As the editor of a Japanese English newspaper in Los Angeles in 1941, Tanaka took on the role reporting about camp life with a fervor as one of two camp documentarians. He wrote hundreds of articles and even sent reports to the University of California, Berkeley which was studying the internment.
Tanaka wrote, "I cannot see how it is possible for any human being of normal impulses to be cooped up within limited confines of barbed wires, watchtowers, and all the atmosphere of internment and not be touched by the bitterness and disillusionment all around him."
Photographing Camp Life
Photographer Ansel Adams was too old to be drafted for the war, but participated in photographing various aspects of the Second World War. He volunteered to photograph life in Manzanar.
Ansel Adams was best known of his stunning photography of national parks and western landscapes, Adams photographed agriculture scenes, sports events and in a departure from other photographers at the camp, created over 200 portraits of individuals who lived in the camp.
He made the journey to Manzanar in fall 1943 into 1944 and thought of this wartime project as his most meaningful. When the photographs were published in 1944, they were thought to be highly controversial. Adams had been instructed not to photograph the guard towers, but did so anyway.
The collection of photographs Ansel Adams took while at Manzanar was donated to the Library of Congress in 1965 and forgotten. With renewed interest in this chapter of history as the Redress Movement gained increased momentum through the 1980s and 1990s, Adam’s photographs served as a window to view this period of time through his lens.
Ansel Adam’s Manzanar photographs are now part of the Library of Congress and viewable on-line.
Toyo Miyatake was an internee living at the camp who had been a professional photographer before the war. Internees were not allowed to have cameras, but Miyatake built a makeshift camera from a lens he had smuggled into the camp in his luggage and took photographs without permission of camp authorities.
Once they found out, he was allowed to continue and created over 1500 images that survive today. Clem Albers, Francis Stewart, and Dorothea Lange were other notable photographers who documented camp life
End of Camps
As it became apparent in late 1944 the war would end soon, opinion began to change within the Armed Forces that it was no longer militarily necessary to continue the internment of Japanese-Americans. While verbal battles raged in government, the final decision still rested with the president, who delayed making any decisions till after the election in late 1944. Roosevelt handily won a 4th term as president and wasted no time in issuing a new proclamation in December 1944. Most Japanese-Americans would be free to leave the ten camps voluntarily as of January 2, 1945.
Fierce debates raged in some West Coast cities in late 1944 as it became apparent the war would soon end and the camps close. Over 7000 Japanese-Americans from Seattle had been sent to the camps. As the war drew to a close, these fierce debates swirled in the court of public opinion around Seattle.
The Remember the Pearl Harbor League was a group based in the Auburn Valley of Seattle made up of farmers and businessmen. They issued a fervent anti-Japanese pamphlet that read, “On the sole ground of disloyalty, all Japanese should be removed from the United States and its territories.”
Their group went as far as advocating amending the United States Constitution to remove Japanese-Americans of their citizenship rights. Two-thirds of the internees at Manzanar were U.S. citizens. Opposition to resettlement went all the way to the Washington governor Mon C. Wallgren who was quoted by the Seattle Post Intelligence in January 1945, “declared emphatically that he is unalterable opposed to the return of any Japanese to the Pacific Coast states for the duration of the war.”
However, some civic groups such as the Seattle Council of Churches, American Friends Service Committee and the Seattle Civic Unity Committee welcomed the Japanese back to Seattle while emphasizing Christian values of hospitality and acceptance. Churches established hotels to act as temporary housing, along with programs to provide jobs, housing and social services. These groups further served as a liaison between returning Japanese-Americans and local government. The Council of Churches also enabled locals to sponsor a returning family while providing temporary housing.
The Seattle Council of Churches provided housing and meals to help the Japanese get re-established. As the summer of 1945 arrived, Japanese-American opposition groups around Seattle began to fade, while the government began a publicity campaign to highlight the many heroics of Japanese-American soldiers serving in the 442nd Infantry Regiment.
After the war, the Japanese had to rebuild their lives. A vast majority not only lost their personal liberties, many lost their homes, businesses, livelihoods, and savings. As they left Manzanar in 1945, not all returned to their homes in California. Sentiment against the Japanese had already reached its peak in 1943. Newspapers ran polls in 1943 that reached 90% of respondents along the West Coast did not want the Japanese to return.
After 1945 as the Japanese were freely allowed to voluntarily leave, many spread out across the United States after the war and completely started over.
The empty homes left by Japanese-Americans had been filled and lived in during the war years. Little Tokyo in Los Angeles was now Bronzeville and Japantown in San Francisco was now filled with African Americans.
Prior to the Second World War, America had been a largely agrarian, or agricultural-based society with the majority of Americans living in rural areas.The war years produced a mass migration to cities to aid in war production industries with people now living in the homes the Japanese had left behind.
Although internees began leaving the camp as early as October 1944, the last internee did not leave until late November 1945, months after the war’s end.
A significant number refused to leave and had to be forcibly removed as the camp was dismantled around them. Not all wanted to leave the camp. Some had nowhere to go after losing their homes & livelihoods 3 years earlier. The WRA gave each person $25 and a one-way ticket via bus or train. Many chose to travel to the Northeast portion of the United States, as far from the West Coast and Pearl Harbor as they could reach, as northeastern regions promised the least amount of racial prejudice. On the West Coast, pre-war populations of Japanese American did not return to prewar levels till the 1950s.
With their homes, farms and neighborhoods gone, many who returned to Los Angeles created temporary housing in trailer parks in Burbank, Santa Ana, Lomita, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Santa Monica, and Long Beach. These trailer parks eventually closed by mid-1946 until only 100 trailers remained. Two Japanese-American trailer parks remained open with the Burbank facility closing in 1948 and Sun Valley in 1956.
In Sacramento, the WRA used army barracks at Camp Kohler, a former migrant camp, in the present-day Foothills Farms neighborhood in Roseville as temporary housing for returning internees. Ironically, this was the same facility that had been the Sacramento Assembly Center three-and-a-half years prior as the internees were being sent to the camps.
Japanese-Americans who returned to Los Angeles created temporary housing in trailer parks in Burbank, Santa Ana, Lomita, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Santa Monica, and Long Beach.
After the war, Manzanar was largely forgotten. Buildings were dismantled board by board, and some even transported whole to Lone Pine to serve as outbuildings on farms and ranches. One barrack was transported to nearby Lone Pine and converted to a motel.
The large auditorium built in late 1944 and used for the spring 1945 graduation of the camp’s high school students is the only original building that remains. After the war, the auditorium was purchased by Inyo County and leased to the Independence Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. By 1955, it was used as a maintenance garage by the Inyo County highway department until 1996 when it was acquired by the National Park Service.
Manzanar in 1969, largely forgotten and deserted
The first official pilgrimage began in December 1969 when 150 people from Los Angeles organized a caravan of buses and cars. The participants were mostly college students who came to view the site their parents and grandparents had been taken to in 1942. Questions by this third-generation of Japanese-Americans to their parents and grandparents began a genesis for a slow decades-long healing & restoration of the site.
Work began the following year in 1970 to gain recognition to the historical significance of Manzanar, and in effect, the work of these students would take over three decades when the National Park Service opened the site to the public as what we see today.
Manzanar in 1969 when the former auditorium was used by the Inyo County Highway Department
A historical landmark plaque was added to the camp in 1973. The plaque was installed on the front wall of the stone guardhouse by 83 yr old Ryozo Kado, the original stone mason who built the guardhouse while interned at the camp thirty years earlier. 1500 people attended the pilgrimage in April 1973. For the occasion, Kado reassembled his original seven-man evacuee crew who were his apprentices in 1943 and helped him build the guardhouse which still stands today.
The plaque reads:
In the early part of World War II, 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were interned in relocation centers by Executive Order No. 9066, issued on February 19, 1942. Manzanar, the first of ten such concentration camps, was bounded by barbed wire and guard towers, confining 10,000 persons, the majority being American citizens. May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation never emerge again.
The Redress Movement
Executive Order 9066 was formally ended in February 1976 under President Gerald Ford and an apology was issued for the interment stating: "We now know what we should have known then — not only was that evacuation wrong but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans. On the battlefield and at home the names of Japanese-Americans have been and continue to be written in history for the sacrifices and the contributions they have made to the well-being and to the security of this, our common nation."
Further moves were made by subsequent presidents. In 1980, redress organizations enabled an investigation to be opened under then President Jimmy Carter to determine if the internment was justified. The ensuing commission found little evidence of disloyalty by Japanese-Americans in the early 1940s and came to the conclusion that racism was the chief motivating factor for the ten internment camps.
Further movement forward occurred under President Ronald Reagan when in 1988, Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act where a formal apology was made for the internment. A conclusion of “war hysteria, race prejudice and a failure of political leadership” as the cause of the war internment camps was a part of the Civil Liberties Act. Reparations were paid to 82,219 surviving individuals of the internment.
In December 1991, Under President George H.W. Bush, the U.S government on the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack wrote: “In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”
The United States Congress made further moves in 2001 when it authorized that the ten internment camps in the United States be preserved as historical landmarks writing, “places like Manzanar, Tulelake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency."
Overall, the Redress Movement showed that the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese- Americans during World War II was one of the most blatant violations of United States Constitutional rights in the history of the United States.
After a National Park Service study of all ten sites, it was determined that Manzanar presented the best opportunity for preservation and interpretation. The United States Congress established Manzanar National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, on March 3, 1992.
During the decades long debate fought over establishing Manzanar as a national historic site in the 1980s and 1990s, Robin Winks, Professor of History at Yale University wrote: “Education is best done with examples. These examples must include that which we regret, that which is to be avoided, as well as that for which we strive. No effective system of education can be based on unqualified praise, for all education instructs people of the difference between moral and wanton acts and how to distinguish between the desirable and the undesirable. If this premise is correct, we cannot omit the negative lessons of history.”
Soon after the National Park Service gained control of the Manzanar site in 1997, it began converting the largest building that originally was the gymnasium into a museum and interpretive display shortly before my first visit in 2005. They also had begun rebuilding the guard tower that stands along Highway 395.
As you walk through former-gymnasium in present day, the place has an eerie reverent feel as this is the very same space used by internees of the camp in 1944 and 1945.
In present day, over 100,000 people visit Manzanar per year. The NPS recorded 1,275,195 people visited from 2000 through December 2016. However, the many tour groups I have brought here, the camp is often deserted, the parking lot empty as our 10 to 20 motorcycles roll in. There is also a driving tour that circles the perimeter of the camp. First time I rode the perimeter, it was all hardpack sand, but still manageable on the motorcycle and worth it to see the obelisk and the Japanese garden, both in the northwestern corner of the camp.
The annual pilgrimage to Manzanar that started in 1969, continues on the last weekend in April to this day with a group ranging 1,000 to 2000 people assembling to remember and pay tribute at the large white Obelisk in the northwest corner of the camp. The obelisk was built by the Manzanar Japanese in 1943. The inscription can be translated as "soul consoling tower."
The obelisk is one of the few remaining structures from the war years. The concrete tower looks as though it were built yesterday, even after 80 years, as it was recently restored and is cared for and maintained by volunteers.
Mr. Muenchow taught U.S. History at my high school for 29 years. Everyone knew him. He taught history class for my two older brothers. He taught my two younger sisters. Over his 29 years at the same high school, he taught an entire generation of kids in my small hometown. Mr. Muenchow left us in 2017 at the age of 81 and was laid to rest at a Veterans cemetery in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Ever since that wandering ride down the eastern Sierra Nevada nearly 20 years ago, I’ve brought many motorcycle tour groups to Manzanar War Internment Camp so that they too can absorb & process this often unknown chapter in our history, however uncomfortable it may make us feel. Mr. Muenchow never taught us about the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans. I’d like to think he’s looking down on us and he’d appreciate me taking over this chapter of U.S. History for him.
Obelisk built by Manzanar Internees in 1943.
The characters translate as "Soul Consoling Tower"
Where to Next?
Manzanar is located in between Independence and Big Pine on the north end of the Owens Valley. The site is framed against the sheer wall of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range with nearby peaks over 14,000 feet.
Highway 395 is not a motorcycle ride that immediately comes to mind when one imagines the ultimate motorcycle ride. It’s long, flat, straight and mostly a four-lane major highway stretching from the Mexico to Canada border. However, pick any day not during winter or when it’s snowing out and you see no shortage of motorcycles, often big Cruisers, running up and down the Highway 395 corridor. This road runs on the base of the Sierra Range on the eastern side for the full length of the range.
However, if you take a day like I did those two decades ago to explore, visit Bodie SHP, ride Highway 120 east to the Benton-Crossing Loop, the June Lake Loop, Mammoth to Devils Postpile. Ride Lower Rock Creek Rd and especially head up Highway 168 to the Bristlecone Pine Forest to see 4000-year-old trees. The Laws Museum is at Bishop and the Movie Museum is in Big Pine. Several spider roads head off into the Sierra Range to camping areas but offer stunning views of looking down on Highway 395. Death Valley is a mountain range away.
Manzanar - Photo Gallery
MORE INFO: Manzanar War Internment Camp
RIDE IT on a PASHNIT TOUR
Manzanar National Historic Site
5001 Highway 395
Independence, CA 93526
Main state highway to reach - PAVEMENT
Main state highway - CURVES
Independence, Lone Pine- GAS
Independence, Lone Pine- LODGING
4100 ft - PEAK ELEVATION
36°43′42″N 118°9′16″W -GPS LOCATION
LISTED NEARBY ROADS:
Highway 120 East
June Lake Loop
Mammoth - Devils Postpile
Lower Rock Creek Rd
Highway 168 - Bristlecone Pine Forest
Whitney Portal Rd
Horseshoe Meadows Rd
The Forgotten War - Aleutian Island Chain 1942
1945 Manzanar High School Yearbook
Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar