A black spot in America's history, Manzanar was the result of rampant xenophobia and the signature of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Executive Order 9066 on was February 19, 1942. By June 1, 1942, the War Relocation Authority took control of a hastily built Manzanar and 11,061 resident aliens and U.S. citizens were processed and incarcerated behind strands of barbed wire and eight guard posts.
Covering only one square mile, 36 blocks of wooden barracks would be home for some of the residents until September 1945. 135 internees would never leave. They are buried on the west side of Manzanar near the I REI TO (Soul Consoling Tower) Monument, which was crafted by master Japanese stone masons in August, 1943. The annual Manzanar Pilgrimage is held on the last Saturday in April. It has been held for the last thirty years and former residents, descendants and others gather to rededicate the cemetery with Buddhist and Christian ceremonies.
The forced evacuees strived to build a community, painting the barracks, planting fruit trees and gardens and even digging small ponds in the hope of capturing some semblance of the pre-attack normalcy. At 4,000 feet, the harsh dry desert was worlds away from homes along the west coast. Schools were set up and two classes of students graduated high school during Manzanar's existence. Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist Houses of Worship welcomed believers.
Despite being uprooted from their homes and lives, the residents didn't become bitter or turn on their country. Many worked within the barbed wire at Manzanar's camouflage netting factory supporting the war effort. Others joined the service, fighting with honor and bravery in the European theater. The 100thBN/442nd Regimental Combat Team made up mostly of Japanese Americans was one of the most decorated. Sadao Munenori's family was held in Manzanar. This 19 year old boy was cited for bravery in Italy and received the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Just one of the many stories about Manzanar.
An excellent on-line book, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview
of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites
by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord concerning this page of United States history may be found here.
References to Manzanar occasionally pop up on television and on the silver screen. In the movie "Die Hard" starring Bruce Willis, Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) mentions Manzanar as the boyhood home of Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) in 1942 and 1943. I often wonder how many movie patrons catch the reference.
There's a plaque located at the site of another camp in Arizona. It simply reads:
May it serve as a constant reminder of our past so that Americans
in the future will
never again be denied their constitutional rights and may the remembrance of that
experience serve to advance the evolution of the human spirit.
Nat. Park Service Manzanar
Main | Trip Reports | E-mail | Natural & Prehistoric Sites