On February 19, 2015, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation creating Honouliuli National Monument. Honouliuli was a U.S. Army Internment Camp on the island of O'ahu. It was the largest and last-occupied World War II-era civilian confinement site in the Hawaiian Islands. The camp opened in March 1943, replacing a smaller facility on Sand Island. Honouliuli quickly reached a peak civilian population of approximately three hundred detainees, the vast majority of whom were American citizens. The site also served as the largest prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in wartime Hawai'i, holding more than four thousand soldiers and labor conscripts from Italy, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, and Taiwan. Honouliuli continued to hold POWs and a small number of civilian detainees past the end of the war.
Honouliuli was established as a replacement for the Sand Island detention center, which was located in an exposed combat zone in Honolulu Harbor. The camp was constructed on 160 acres of agricultural land located in a gulch at the base of O'ahu's Wai'anae Mountains, slightly northwest of the town of Waipahu. Camp operations fell under the jurisdiction of the provost marshal general of the U.S. Army, who appointed the camp commander. A military police (MP) company—numbering no more than three hundred guards and officers—watched over the POWs and civilian inmates. Eight watchtowers and a dual eight-foot-high barbed-wire enclosure helped maintain security.
Although Honouliuli was not a self-sufficient community like the War Relocation Authority camps, it was designed to accommodate three thousand inmates. There were at least 150 buildings in total, in addition to 170 tents. More than two dozen of these buildings probably served as barracks or living quarters for camp guards. Authorities kept the civilian and POW sections of the camp securely separated. Most civilian detainees slept on double-decker beds in one of fifteen wooden barracks, while others lived in tarpaulin tents. Amenities in the civilian compounds included mattresses, latrines, hot showers, kitchens, mess halls, and eventually a recreation field. The majority of the detainees were Japanese American men, and there were separate compounds created for the Japanese women and the Caucasian detainees. The ranks of civilian inmates included many prewar community leaders, such as territorial legislators Sanji Abe and Thomas Sakakihara. The Japanese male section of the camp was equipped with a medical dispensary, dental clinic, and tailor shop; a post exchange that sold tobacco, soft drinks, and snacks; and a mess hall capable of seating one thousand people.
Honouliuli detainees struggled daily to overcome hot weather, hungry mosquitoes, and constant boredom inside the camp. In fact, Japanese inmates referred to the camp as jigoku dani (hell valley) due to the oppressive heat of the gulch. Popular camp pastimes included woodcarving, letter writing, and vegetable gardening. Many detainees signed up for camp chores—which paid ten cents an hour—and the American Red Cross provided each prisoner with an additional three dollars a month. The most exciting departure from the daily routine, however, was undoubtedly family visits, which occurred two Sundays a month inside camp mess halls. Despite initial concerns on the part of camp supervisors, a group of ten Japanese American children were admitted into the camp in 1944.
At least two sets of international inspectors toured the camp, and the reports they produced were decidedly favorable. Swedish Vice Consul Gustaf Olson, who inspected Honouliuli on at least three occasions, noted that kitchens were equipped with modern ranges and that food supplies were of the "best quality." He praised improvements carried out by the Japanese American detainees themselves, who cleared grounds and walking pathways, planted shrubs and trees, and arranged flowers around their residences in order to beautify their surroundings as much as possible. Electricity was installed in the barracks–enabling the use of radios and electric razors, but lights were generally kept off in accordance with blackout restrictions. Olson was able to meet with a group of elected detainee representatives, but instead of registering complaints they applauded the "humane treatment received from camp guards." Representatives from the International Red Cross, who visited Honouliuli in 1945, described camp accommodations as "excellent," adding that all of the detainees' needs were being met. On the other hand, their report expressed concern that the proximity of the POW camp was harming the resident children.
Hawai'i served as the United States' primary mid-Pacific transfer and confinement site for prisoners of war, with more than sixteen thousand POWs imprisoned in the islands over the course of World War Two. More than four thousand of these men—mostly Okinawans conscripted into the Japanese Army—were held at Honouliuli. Accommodations for POWs were rudimentary in comparison to the civilian side of the camp. POWs lived in pyramidal tents, each holding between six and eight men. Prisoners were issued mattresses, pillows, blankets, and mosquito bars, but had to tolerate cold showers and pit latrines. Nevertheless, inspectors from the International Red Cross described the camp's material conditions as "better than those on the mainland." These facilities included two large kitchens and mess halls, each capable of seating one thousand men.
Although civilian detainees initially outnumbered POWs, Honouliuli increasingly took on the air of a POW camp as U.S. forces in the Pacific advanced towards Japan. A large number of civilians were released on parole in 1943, provided that they signed waivers absolving the U.S. government and individuals from any liability for their confinement. Many more were either transferred to mainland camps or shipped to the continent as "evacuees" for the purposes of continued confinement, twice in 1943 and again in November 1944. Nevertheless, twenty-one civilians remained confined in Honouliuli as late as September 1945–all Japanese male Issei or Kibei. The reduction in civilian prisoners freed up camp space and resources for Honouliuli's expanding POW population. Early POW arrivals consisted of Koreans conscripted into the Japanese Army, who were taken prisoner following the Americans' November 1943 capture of the Gilbert Islands. Tensions between Korean and Japanese POWs prompted camp authorities to construct a partition separating the two national groups. A much larger influx of POWs—from both the European and Pacific fronts—occurred during the summer of 1944. By war's end, the camp held 3,980 POWs. Repatriation of these prisoners began in December 1945 and continued through the following year.
At present, the site is owned by Monsanto, an agricultural company that purchased a larger parcel that includes the site in 2007. Since then, the site has been the subject of research and of archeological field schools held by the nearby University of Hawai'i, West Oahu and two pilgrimages organized by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and Japanese American Citizens League. A Special Resource Study gauging the suitability of the Honouliuli site becoming a National Park Service unit is currently ongoing.
On February 19, 2015, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation creating Honouliuli National Monument, which will be managed by the National Park Service.
Authored by Alan Rosenfeld, University of Hawai'i - West O'ahu
Commission of Wartime Internment and Relocation of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.
Falgout, Suzanne, and Linda Nishigaya, guest editors. Breaking the Silence: Lessons of Democracy and Social Justice from the World War II Honouliuli Internment and POW Camp in Hawai'i. Social Process in Hawai'i, Volume 45. 2014.
Kashima, Tetsuden. Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Internment during World War II. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.
Soga, Yasutaro (Keiho). Life Behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai'i Issei. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008.
2. Although Koreans, Okinawans, and Formosans (Taiwanese) were all subjects of Japan during World War II, military authorities in Hawai'i listed them separately. More than 16,000 POWs had been interned in Hawai'i by the war's end. The majority of POWs held in Honouliuli were Okinawans. For a detailed breakdown, see Provost Marshal Section, "Vital Statistics: POW Compounds, Prisoners of War, and Internees in Hawaiian Islands," Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i Resource Center, Archival Collection 19 (hereafter cited as JCCH 19), Box 9, Folder 30. See Gwenfread Allen, Hawaii's War Years (Kailua: Pacific Monograph, 1999), 221.
7. For more on camp security, see especially Burton and Farrell, "Jigoku-Dani." For discussions of the barbed-wire enclosures, see Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Internment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004), 84; Hank Sato "Honouliuli Internment Camp: Oahu's Footnote to a Dark Chapter," Honolulu Star Bulletin, 18 March 1976; and Provost Marshal, "Control of Civilian Internees."
10. For discussions of camp amenities, see Swedish Vice Consul Gustaf W. Olson, "Reports on Hawai'i Internment Camps," 19 June 1943 and 23 September 1943, JCCH 19, Boxes 7 and 8; Alfred L. Cardinaux, International Committee of the Red Cross, "Report on the Prisoner of War Camps on the Territory of Hawai'i, Visited in December 1944" 1 February 1945, JCCH 19, Box 9, Folder 27; Provost Marshal, "Control of Civilian Internees"; Burton and Farrell, "Jigoku-Dani," 25; Kashima, Judgment Without Trial, 84-85; and Sato, "Honouliuli."
12. For more on children in Honouliuli, see Eugene Slattery and Louis Springer, "Requests for Family Internment on the Mainland of the U.S.," 1 December 1943, JCCH 19, Box 9, Folder 18; Cardinaux, "Report"; and the daily camp commander's reports in National Archives and Records Administration (hereafter cited as NARA) Record Group (hereafter cited as RG) 494, Entry 25, Boxes 334 and 335.
This event article is presented in full from the Densho Encyclopedia
© Densho 2017. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Where indicated, images and other primary source materials may be subject to use restrictions by their respective rights holders. More information »