Elected officials, National Park Service staff, and Japanese American community leaders gather for the Honouliuli dedication ceremony. (Photo courtesy Priscilla Ouchida)

HONOLULU — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined Hawaii Gov. David Ige, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, state and local officials, Monsanto representatives and community leaders on March 31 to dedicate the Honouliuli National Monument, the site of the largest internment camp in Hawaii for Japanese and European Americans and others during World War II.

President Obama established the new monument, now a part of the National Park System, in February. Jewell visited the area in September 2013 to see the confinement site first-hand. She also heard from members of the community about how the National Park Service could play a role in preserving this difficult chapter in U.S. history and sharing the importance of protecting civil liberties.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (left) takes part in the blessing ceremony.

Speakers at the dedication at Honouliuli Gulch also included Peggy O’Dell, deputy director for operations, National Park Service; Carole Hayashino, president and executive director, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii; and John Purcell, Hawaii business and technology lead and vice president, Monsanto.

The ceremony was followed by a community celebration at the JCCH.

Honouliuli was designated as a national monument after years of hard work and collaborative efforts by the public and private community partners, including the JCCH and Honolulu JACL.

The late Sen. Daniel Inouye included a provision in the Interior Appropriations bill in 2009, requesting a National Parks Service special resource study on Honoululi. A stand-alone bill, S. 871, the Honouliuli Internment Camp Special Resources Study Act of 2009, was also introduced by Inouye in the 111th Congress, with then-Rep. Hirono introducing the companion bill (H.R. 2079) in the House of Representatives. Sen. Daniel Akaka and then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie were co-sponsors of the respective bills.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation issued the following statements to commemorate the occasion:

JCCH President/Executive Director Carole Hayashino with “Hawaii Five-0” actor Daniel Dae Kim.

Sen. Hirono — “The stories of the more than 1,000 innocent Hawaii civilians detained at Honouliuli during World War II cannot be forgotten, and as a national monument, the Honouliuli Internment Site will be an ever-present memorial of an important but often forgotten part of our nation’s history.

“Preserving the site has long been a priority for our Hawaii delegation — from Sens. Inouye and Akaka to our current delegation — but our work is not yet done. My hope is that Honouliuli will be preserved in a way that visitors will get a sense of what this dark period of our country’s history was like and acknowledge that it should never be repeated.

“I want to thank Secretary Jewell for her participation in today’s dedication. Over the coming weeks and months, I will continue to work closely with the administration, state and local leaders as well as my delegation colleagues to ensure necessary federal resources are delivered for this important project.”

Sen. Schatz — “The Honouliuli Internment Camp symbolizes a dark time in our history when thousands of Japanese Americans in Hawaii and across our country faced discrimination and were forced into internment camps. It is also a reminder of the strength, resilience, and remarkable collective spirit the internees showed in the face of racism and brutal persecution.

“Our deep gratitude goes to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, the Japanese American Citizens League, Secretary Jewell, our entire Hawaii congressional delegation – past and present – and many, many others who fought for years to enable us to share this important part of our history with the world.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — “Honouliuli was a central piece of the brutal and discriminatory internment system created during World War II; today, the structure remains as a memorial that will educate future generations about the precariousness of freedom and civil liberties in wartime.

“I am pleased to join the entire Hawaii delegation in celebrating this designation, and in saying mahalo to President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Jewell for recognizing the historic nature of Honouliuli and for making Hawaii a priority.”

Rep. Mark Takai — “On behalf of Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, it is my pleasure to send a warm aloha to President Obama, Secretary Jewell of the Department of the Interior, Director (Jonathan) Jervis of the National Park Service, Deputy Director O’Dell of the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, President Hayashino of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, the Monsanto Company, President (David) Lassner of the University of Hawaii and all those who helped rediscover and designate Honouliuli as a national monument.

“We are gathered here today in honor of the dedication ceremony of this important piece of history, whose legacy will be preserved and shared with future generations.”

 White House Ceremony

Hayashino and JCCH Staff Associate Jane Kurahara also attended the White House signing ceremony on Feb. 24, along with Jewell, Schatz, Hirono, Takai, and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), among others. Kurahara, a long-time volunteer for JCCH, has worked tirelessly to protect and preserve the site.

“Today, I think about all the people who made this day possible,” Kurahara said at the time. “Starting with the Campbell Estate vice president who spent a full day with us on the search to locate the site of the Honouliuli Internment Camp to the high school students who wrote letters to President Obama. All along our journey to rediscover and preserve Honouliuli people have been supportive, people wanted this to happen, and I am very grateful.”

President Obama greets Jane Kurahara of JCCH as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell looks on. (White House photo)

“Jane Kurahara and I have the honor of representing the memories of Honouliuli internees, all Hawaii’s internees, their families, and the thousands who have supported the effort to preserve Honouliuli,” said Hayashino. “Witnessing President Obama sign the declaration to establish the Honouliuli National Monument inspires me. I am inspired by the voices of the Japanese American internees, inspired by the dedicated work of community volunteers, inspired by the overwhelming support from the community and inspired to know that Honouliuli will never be forgotten.”

Ige, who was in Washington for a National Governors Association meeting, said, “Visiting the White House and meeting with President Obama, not once but several times, was a highlight. It was an honor and a privilege to be part of the Oval Office signing ceremony designating the Honouliuli camp a National Historic Monument.”

Opened on March 1, 1943, Honouliuli was built on 160 acres in west Oahu. The camp site was hidden from view in a deep gulch that the internees called Jigoku Dani, or “Hell Valley.”

Honouliuli was constructed to intern citizens, resident aliens, and prisoners of war. The camp held approximately 320 internees, mostly second-generation Japanese Americans but also Japanese, German and Italian permanent residents who were living in Hawaii. Honouliuli was also the largest prisoner-of-war camp in Hawaii, incarcerating nearly 4,000 individuals.

In total, during World War II, over 2,300 Japanese American men and women from Hawaii were incarcerated, including many prominent community leaders, teachers, journalists, religious leaders, local politicians and World War I veterans.

Support for the designation grew over the spring and summer, when the National Park Service held a series of community meetings throughout Hawaii to present the initial findings of a federally funded study of the site, and invited attendees to offer comments and ask questions.

In December, Hayashino, Jacce Mikulanec, president of the Honolulu JACL, and Hawaii’s congressional leaders presented petitions to Jewell with signatures of more than 6,000 Americans supporting the inclusion of the Honouliuli Internment Camp in the National Park System.

“Honouliuli serves to remind every American about the critical importance of safeguarding civil liberties and maintaining our values during times of crisis,” Obama said in the proclamation. “It is important to recognize Honouliuli as a part of our shared national heritage and national consciousness. It is a place to reflect on wartime experiences and recommit ourselves to the pursuit of freedom and justice.”

President Obama with guests attending the Honouliuli signing ceremony, including members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation and representatives of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

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