Once Lost, Internment Camp In Hawaii Now A National Monument : Code Switch The camp, created in 1943, held as many as 4,000 prisoners — including hundreds of Japanese-Americans — and became known as "Hell's Valley."

Once Lost, Internment Camp In Hawaii Now A National Monument

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/393284680/393284681" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We're about to visit one of this country's newest national monuments just designated by President Obama. It's a place in Hawaii that was an internment camp created under Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. It held thousands of prisoners, many of them Japanese, many of them American citizens. Hawaii Public Radio's Molly Solomon reports.

MOLLY SOLOMON, BYLINE: In West Oahu, not far from Pearl Harbor, is the internment camp, Honouliuli. Carole Hayashino is the president of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. She says the heat, the bugs and the general misery contributed to it being called Jigoku-Dani.

CAROLE HAYASHINO: That was the nickname, Jigoku-Dani - Hell Valley. But there were many stories. Families were visiting their family members interned. They would be blindfolded. And they'd board a bus in downtown Honolulu, and then they would be driven into the gulch.

SOLOMON: So they had no idea where they were going.

HAYASHINO: They had no idea where they were going.

SOLOMON: Thick brush and overgrown trees now cover the 160 acres that was once Honouliuli. Following the war, the site remained hidden from view for decades and was eventually rediscovered in 2002 by volunteers at the Japanese Cultural Center. Hayashino says they located it by tracing an aqueduct in the background of an old photograph.

HAYASHINO: The internees didn't talk about it. The pain was so deep. They didn't share their own camp experience with their families. We almost lost this history.

SOLOMON: As we step out into the gulch, Hayashino shows me the concrete foundation of what was once the camp's mess hall.

HAYASHINO: Our volunteers put in this - the steps down into the mess hall. If you look at the historic photos, you can envision a mess hall. I think initially, it was built with walls, but it was so hot down here, they took the walls down and became kind of just open air.

SOLOMON: One of the Japanese-Americans interned in Hawaii was Harry Urata, a boarding school student. He recalled the morning Pearl Harbor was bombed for an oral history collected by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

HARRY URATA: I still remember that morning; 7:50, I was at dormitory. All of a sudden, music stopped - Hawaiian music - announcement came out again. This is a war. Entire Hawaiian island under enemy attack.

SOLOMON: Urata, who passes away in 2009, was born in the U.S. but educated in Japan. He told the oral history interviewer that FBI agents showed up at his civics class to take him to Honouliuli, where he was imprisoned for more than a year.

URATA: How come I've got to stay inside here although I am American citizen? We are there under suspicion. They just suspect us.

SOLOMON: Unlike the internment camps on the mainland, the wartime incarceration of Japanese in Hawaii was done on a much smaller scale. Those targeted were religious leaders, local business owners and people like Urata, who went to school in Japan. The Japanese Cultural Center's Carole Hayashino says removing that leadership had a huge impact.

HAYASHINO: You're leaving an entire community leaderless. It's selective, yet it's very strategic.

PAUL DEPREY: It's important to the story of what the experience was like during the Pacific War and World War II, in general.

SOLOMON: Paul DePrey works with the National Park Service, the agency now creating a plan for Honouliuli.

DEPREY: That's why we need to protect and preserve sites like this because if we don't, it will be forgotten.

SOLOMON: Creating a national monument at Honouliuli is a strategy of a different kind - keeping memory alive. For NPR News, I'm Molly Solomon in Honolulu.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.