It was warm and humid on the morning of March 31, but the uncomfortable conditions could not dampen the spirits of the crowd gathered for the dedication of the former Honouliuli Internment Camp site as Hawai‘i’s newest national historic monument.
The dedication marked the culmination of more than five years of work between the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, landowners Monsanto Hawaii, the National Park Service, the University of Hawai‘i and numerous other community partners to preserve the site as a National Park Service site.
Honouliuli was one of 17 confinement sites in Hawai‘i where Japanese Americans and prisoners of war were imprisoned during World War II. It was built on 155 acres in a deep gulch in Kunia. The internees referred to the area as “Jigoku Dani,” or “Hell Valley,” because of its extremely hot conditions. Approximately 400 Japanese Americans, German and Italian permanent residents were held at Honouliuli, along with nearly 4,000 prisoners of war.
Although efforts to locate the camp began nearly two decades ago, it was not until 2002 that the site was uncovered during an expedition. The effort was spearheaded by Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i volunteers Jane Kurahara and Betsy Young, both retired school librarians.
After a long and exhaustive process that included a resource study by the National Park Service, public meetings and even a petition drive, President Barack Obama signed the proclamation establishing the Honouliuli National Historic Monument at the White House on Feb. 24. Just over a month later, the site was dedicated with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department oversees the National Park Service, flying to Hawai‘i to participate in the ceremonies.
Also participating in the dedication were Gov. David Ige, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner, John Purcell of Monsanto Hawaii and Carole Hayashino, JCCH president and executive director.
The ceremony was conducted on a concrete slab that is believed to have been the mess hall at Honouliuli. Kahu Kaleo Patterson performed a Hawaiian blessing, followed by a Shinto purification blessing by the Rev. Todd Takahashi, whose aunt, a Buddhist priest, was one of the few women who were interned at Honouliuli.
“Today, with the purification of this land, we cast away all negativity associated with Jigoku Dani and ask that the spirits who linger here now help in the endeavor of telling the story of internees and others who were here during World War II, as well as helping each individual here today and who visits in the future, to have a heart not of acceptance, but of love,” Takahashi said.
Secretary Jewell, who grew up in Seattle, where Japanese Americans were interned, became emotional as she addressed the Honouliuli audience. “In Hawai‘i, they [U.S. government] couldn’t intern 30 percent of the population, so they had to be selective,” she said.
The site dedication concluded with the untying of a maile lei — and then picked up again a few hours later with a “community celebration” at the JCCH.
Paul DuPrey, superintendent of the Valor in the Pacific Monument, noted that a national monument or any national park site “is really only as successful as the community that supports it, and all of you in this room and many others were really key to creating the new national monument. So I want to say aloha and mahalo to all of you.”
Gov. David Ige said that he had initially been led to believe that Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i were not interned. As a legislator, he was involved in the effort to preserve Honouliuli. He said he never imagined that more than a decade later, as governor, he would be able to join President Barack Obama for the signing of the proclamation designating Honouliuli as a national historic monument.
Ige thanked the many volunteers for ensuring that the Honouliuli story is preserved, and Secretary Jewell for her involvement and support. The governor also acknowledged the “Hawaii Five-O” team for bringing the story to a national and international television viewing audience with their December 2013 episode titled “Honor Thy Father.”
“This project is a demonstration of how much we can all accomplish when we all work together,” Ige said.
Hayashino also acknowledged CBS and the “Hawaii Five-O” producers, including executive producer Peter Lenkov, for their episode, saying it “had a tremendous impact upon our efforts to preserve Honouliuli.”
Lenkov noted that television can sometimes serve as “a soapbox . . . to make a stand.” He said the “Honor Thy Father” episode was meant “to shed light on a dark chapter in American history. It was meant to inform, share a personal story and remind the world of an injustice.”
Wearing several lei, as well as a haku headband, Secretary Jewell said she arrived, bringing “Aloha, and greetings from Hawai‘i’s native son, the president of the United States, Barack Obama.”
Jewell said that, physically, Honouliuli is not that hard a site to locate. But, she believes it remained buried for so long “because of the shame associated with the internment camp.”
During a visit to Hawai‘i in September 2013, Jewell said she snorkeled near the USS Arizona Memorial and learned about the ceremonies commemorating the USS Arizona sailors when they pass on. She also learned about other veteran commemorations.
“But what we are here to dedicate today is something that is the darker side of war. It’s the side that needs to be told, although she conceded that sometimes the nation is not ready to share that story. She said that in a place as small as Hawai‘i, with a population that lives relatively close to each other, the fact that Honouliuli could be “completely lost from the mid-1940s until 2002, that is extraordinary. And that tells the story of people who wanted to move on, because it was a dark chapter, a chapter that was dominated by stories of valor and heroism, but that did not tell the whole story of the war and the shame Japanese Americans endured.” She noted that unlike on the continental U.S., where people were interned en masse, in Hawai‘i, certain Japanese Americans were “singled out” for incarceration. The suspicion cast upon them lasted their entire lives.
“For those of you that are descendants, I hope that you feel the spirit of your ancestors.”
Jewell called the National Park Service “America’s storyteller.” She said she’s proud that the NPS will now be telling the Honouliuli story.