KALAHEO — United States government archeologists and leaders of an O’ahu-based Japanese cultural group searching for Kaua’i’s lost World War II interment camp for Japanese-Americans may have hit pay-dirt Saturday.
Deep in the jungles and in heavy rains, U.S. Park Service archeologist Jeff Burton, his wife and assistant Mary Farrell, an archeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, members of the Japanese Cultural Center of O’ahu and interested residents of Japanese descent found three concrete slabs within a quarter mile of each other.
Because the slabs could be the foundations for a military barracks, a mess hall and a latrine, the three structures identified in historical documents that made up the “Kalaheo Stockade.”
Swarming mosquitoes only brought more authenticity to the find.
Historical documents also chronicle relentless mosquito attacks on the occupants of the stockade, 50 American troops who had committed offenses, and Japanese Americans from Kaua’i.
“This is all very promising,” said a beaming Farrell. “The evidence points to it.”
The find may help confirm the existence of five war-time interment camps in Hawai’i for Japanese Americans, although they were much smaller than the 10 Mainland camps that were established during World War II.
Farrell said the Kaua’i find will most likely be substantiated with oral histories and maps of the buildings that could come forward from Hawai’i residents as more research goes on.
Japanese Americans were put there because they were perceived to be a threat to U.S. national security after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, triggering the war between America and Japan in the Pacific.
Burton, Farrell and others from the Japanese Cultural Center came to Kaua’i two weeks ago and checked out the grounds of the Medeiros Farms chicken operation in hopes of locating the stockade, based on the remembrances of Toraichi Marugame, 88, of Lihu’e.
Marugame 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. He was released after three months of incarceration.
Though he swears the Medeiros Farms area was the site of the stockade, no traces of it could be found there.
The searchers came back to Kaua’i Saturday after getting more information from island hikers who said they came across slabs in the area where Saturday’s search occurred, and after new information was sent to those at the Japanese Cultural Center.
Wayne Jacintho said he got involved after reading an article about the first search, and recalled that a relative saw slabs in the region, and told him that “prisoners were there.”
The discovery of the first slab came after a grueling hike over muddy roads.
They were tired and wet when they found a worn and pitted cement foundation that, in places, rose three feet from the ground. Heavy vegetation covered the surface.
The searchers almost seemed to be in disbelief as they came upon at the slab. Some shrugged their shoulders.
The searchers included Jane Kurahara and Betsy Young, both volunteers with the Japanese Cultural Center, Marilyn Yamaguchi of Lawa’i, and Paul and Rachel Yamauchi of Kalaheo.
“Could this be the slab for the stockade?” Farrell asked, her voice rising. Burton and others paced off the width and length of the slab. The slab measured perhaps 40 feet by 100 feet.
The searchers also looked for signs that Japanese Americans of another time visited the site, perhaps staying there as prisoners. They did, a large bottle one said held sake.
That conclusion could have merit, but “people could have been drinking here during the plantation days,” Burton said.
Farrell and others speculated the slab could have supported a warehouse, partly because five areas along the slab looked as if they had been fitted with wide doors years ago.
The searchers turned their attention elsewhere after Jacintho discovered the second slab, perhaps a 100 yards mauka of the first slab.
Through twisting jungle vines and brush, the searchers forged ahead, pulling themselves away from vegetation that hooked their shoes as they pushed through the jungle.
After a walk of perhaps 10 minutes, the searchers came upon the second slab, and they fell silent as they stared, almost in wonderment.
The edges of the slab, rising three feet above the ground, could be seen, illuminated by sunshine after a heavy rain.
“I don’t know what this slab is all about, but I thought it would be worth checking out, just in case,” Young said.
On the way out of the jungle, the searchers came across another surprising find, a third slab that might have been the site for a home for a Kaua’i family at one time, or maybe a home for military officers whose job it was to manage the stockade.
The searchers were ready to go home when they came upon a fourth slab, perhaps 20 feet by 20 feet, by accident.
Because of the small size of the slab and its closeness to the two larger slabs, Burton theorized it might have been the site of a latrine.
Farrell said the discovery of the two large slabs and a small slab all pointed to the possibility they found what the searchers came for Saturday.
“We needed three building pads, because they (old documents on the stockade) say there was a mess hall, a bar-racks and a latrine, which was how Mr. Marugame described it,” Farrell said.
She and her husband are based in Tucson, Ariz., but she said they probably will fly back to Kaua’i in the future because “this (what was found) is an archeologist’s dream.”
Earlier in the day, Les Ventura, a Korean-War Marine veteran and hunter, led the group to another area of Kalaheo to find the stockade. But nothing conclusive tuned up.
The site of the three slabs, because it has been relatively untouched for 60 years and contains structures of historical value that could tell the story of interment by Japanese Americans in Hawai’i, could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Farrell said.
Those wanting to donate photos and documents related to the internment camps can contact Shayna Ann Akiko Coleon, JCCH public-relations director, at 1-808-945-7633, ext. 27, or at email@example.com. JCCH’s Web site is www.jcch.com.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org.