KALAHEO — U.S. Park Service archeologist Jeff Burton, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii representatives, and residents of Japanese descent, recently explored Kalaheo to find an anomaly: an internment camp for Japanese-Americans established during World War II.
Out of national-security concerns during the war, leaders of the federal government established 10 camps along the West Coast, incarcerating more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent.
But because the Japanese population was so large in Hawai’i during the war and because the Japanese contributed significantly to Hawai’i’s economy, the common notion for decades has been that similar camps could not have been set up in the islands.
Five of them might have existed on Kaua’i, O’ahu, the Big Island and Maui, historians say.
Recently, a group of 10 or so folks searched for a lost camp of Kaua’i, known as the Kalaheo Stockade. It is believed to have been located on what is now the Medeiros Farms chicken operation mauka of Kaumuali’i Highway.
The chicken farm is located on a hillside offering sweeping views of Kukuiolono Park in Kalaheo and the ocean beyond.
The best chance of finding the lost camp that day rested on the frail shoulders of Toraichi Marugame, 88, of Lihu’e.
He said he was a 24-year-old detainee at the camp in 1942, and was confined there because he was a Japanese radio announcer for KTOH, Kaua’i’s first radio station.
The search yielded no signs the stockade ever existed, but Marugame knew he was home. Assisted by a cane and his 53-year-old son, Lance Marugame, a Honolulu businessman, Marugame walked carefully on grounds where he believes a barracks existed.
The elder Marugame sucked in the air, and was delighted he could see the ocean from the chicken-farm site. He remembers seeing the ocean from the campsite 63 years ago.
But Burton was not convinced of the existence of the camp, because no concrete evidence turned up, that of slabs with dates, for instance.
“There is nothing to say that it was here,” he said. “I would think a military prison would be more centrally located.
He said he plans to do more research, and will try to secure old photos and maps of the stockade, to try to pinpoint the camp’s location.
The discovery of the stockade and the other camps in Hawai’i would prove once and for all they existed.
Burton said his research indicates one was created on Kaua’i, two were created on O’ahu, one on Sand Island and one in Honouliuli Valley, which he visited recently, one was created on the Big Island, and one was created Maui.
Burton is regarded as among the nation’s leading experts on camps.
He wrote “Confinement and Eternity,” which carries detailed information on the 10 war-time internment camps on the Main-land.
The camps were primarily located on the West Coast, and were operated by officers of the U.S. Army and the War Relocation Authority.
Burton said the impetus to find the camps in Hawai’i came during his research, and his contact with leaders of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii on O’ahu.
Shayna Ann Akiko Coleon, public-relations director of the organization, said Burton’s work is important, and that finding the camps is historically and culturally significant to the Japanese community in Hawai’i.
“We hope to preserve the information, and to have it accessible to young folks on each island, so they will know what happened on their island,” she said.
During the Kalaheo search, Burton, assistant Mary Farrell, members of the center, and Kaua’i residents of Japanese descent searched through jungle brush, looked for concrete slabs that might have served as foundations for buildings of the lost camp, and walked through skeletal-framed buildings at the chicken-farm site.
They found no evidence the camp existed, but were undaunted.
“It is hard to say whether this is the place, ” said Betsy Young, a volunteer with the center who grew up on Kaua’i and remembered hearing stories from family members about the stockade. “But there was a stockade.”
Young, whose maiden name is Fujii, said she would “mark the place with a monument” if the Kaua’i camp is found.
Marugame said he didn’t fight his incarceration at the camp, but was worried about his young wife and one child at the time. His family later grew by another four children.
Marugame remembered that he was put in a long barracks, and his existence was one of “only you going to eat and sleep.”
The camp was home to 50 American soldiers who were jailed for criminal offenses or misconduct, and other Kaua’i residents of Japanese descent, he recalled.
“The solider stayed separate from the Japanese men,” Marugame said. He said he had to stay only three months at the camp due to intervention by Kaua’i journalist and businessman Charlie Fern, owner of the radio station and long-time editor of The Garden Island.
“He came to the stockade, and he saw me, and he asked me what I was doing there,” Marugame said. “I got out in three months.”
He coped with the camp experience by keeping calm. “No sense you get mad, this and that,” he said. “I can be calm for anything that come to me.”
Marugame said he showed his patriotism to the United States by joining the Army, went through training as an interpreter, and was assigned to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo for the rebuilding of post-war Japan.
While in Tokyo, Marugame said he visited his parents in Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic bomb attack on Aug. 6, 1945.
Coleon said getting Marugame’s insights are of high priority for the JCCH.
“It is basically to preserve the story, because without these oral histories, they will be gone by the time they (elderly Japanese residents on Kaua’i and in Hawai’i who lived through the camp experience in Hawai’i) pass on.”
The searchers also recalled other Kaua’i folks incarcerated at the Kalaheo stockade, including the Rev. Paul Ozumi, a nationally-renowned newspaper columnist at one time, and had relayed information that was passed onto generations of Japanese families on Kaua’i.
Burton and Farrell, who work in Tucson, Ariz., were to fly to the Big Island and Maui to try to find the internment camps there, Coleon said.
Leaders with the JCCH have collected document, oral histories and artifacts from internees in Hawai’i, and showcased them during the opening of a display, Dark Clouds Over Paradise: The Hawai’i Internees’ Story, in June 2004.
The display will be put on exhibit at the Pacific Tsunami Museum on the Big Island this year. Artifacts, photos and oral histories related to the camp experience in Hawai’i will be welcomed by JCCH leaders, Coleon said.
“We feel every camp on each island is important,” she said. “Each has its own story to tell.”
Those who wanting to donate photos and documents on the internment camps can contact Coleon at 1-808-945-7633, ext. 27, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JCCH’s Web site is www.jcch.com.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com.