Monday, November 3, 2014

Manzanar

Warning ! This blog post has no pictures. Also, some people may be offended by the subject and rightly so.

The end of October and early November 2003 after visiting our oldest son in San Francisco we were headed to 29 Palms, California to visit our youngest son at the Marine Corps base. We took I-80 through the Donner Pass to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains and spent the night in The Tahoe Valley Campground in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The park was closed for the season, but they let us stay the night. There was a big snow storm in the area the next morning. Fortunately we got an early start headed south on US 395 to Lone Pine.    

I have been fascinated with the Mt. Whitney area since I saw Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra many, many moons ago. For this reason Kathi and I have been to Lone Pine, California several times as it is the nearest town and gateway to Mt. Whitney. We always stay at the Boulder Creek RV Park in Lone Pine when we are in the area. We were in Lone Pine for a few days and needed a few groceries. Since there is very little business in Lone Pine, we drove about fifty miles north to Big Pine -- still not a huge grocery store, but a little bigger.

We left Lone Pine about 9:30 in the morning bubbly about the fresh air and beautiful mountains we were seeing as we headed north. We came upon a sign that said Manzanar National Historic Site. I had heard of Manzanar before, but it was buried deep in my memory. I pulled off the side of the road and looked to my left and saw what looked like a main gate of a military installation. At that point I recalled that Manzanar was a Japanese American internment camp. Kathi and drove in to view the site.

As we entered the site, out mood became somber. My feeling was that this place was something for Americans to feel ashamed about. We talked and were not sure if the feelings came from the grounds we were on or from inside ourselves -- I still don’t know. All the buildings had been torn down, but there was a small cemetery and some road signs remaining. A few informative signs told us where a few of the buildings had been. It was easy to leave the site, but difficult to leave the feelings behind.

Some history: In 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR signed an executive order relocating Japanese Americans away from the west coast. The government used confidential census data to identify Japanese Americans in Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona and relocated them. About 5,000 relocated voluntarily and 110,000 to 120,000 were put in one of ten internment camps located in California, Texas, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico and Montana. American citizens without trial or charges were locked up by the American government for no offense whatsoever. Talk about paranoia and overreaction.

Think about this. One third of the population of Hawaii was of Japanese descent and 5,000 of them were put in relocation camps. How did the Census Bureau know which ones to trust?

Manzanar was one of the larger camps. The camp was guarded by military police and border patrol agents. The government called them War Relocation Camps and Internment Camps. The ones incarcerated thought of them as prison camps or concentration camps. The people lived in 36 barrack type buildings with no ceilings and had to use communal latrines. Think how this lack of privacy had to affect the proud and private Japanese people. They had farm land, hogs and chicken farms, schools for the children and churches surrounded by barbed wire.

I will stop there as much information is available about the subject. All our travels through life cannot be filled with pleasure. This trip made that clear to me.

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