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Site Manager Says Much Work Ahead of Honouliuli's Reopening

01 Apr 2021 5:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Hanako Wakatsuki, National Park Service Photo: Honolulu StarAdvertiser.

By William Code

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Reprinted with Permission

March 31, 2021

Honouliuli National Historic Site has its first superintendent, but the generally slow pace of planning within the National Park Service means it might take five or more years before construction of visitor services could even start at the wartime internment camp that held Japanese Americans.

Hanako Wakatsuki has been acting chief of interpretation at the USS Arizona Memorial and acting site manager for Honouliuli, which is on Oahu, since late last year.

Wakatsuki has a personal connection to Japanese internment during World War Il: Several generations of her family were incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

"Hanako brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to this position," acting NPS Regional Director Linda Walker said in a release. "Her work at Japanese American confinement sites managed by the park service, coupled with her experience as a regional adviser for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make her well suited for this position."

On Friday, meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii introduced legislation that would promote public education about Japanese American internment during the war, The bill would permanently reauthorize the Japanese American Confinement Sites program with $38 million in annual funding to preserve internment camps across the country — including Honouliuli, according to a release.

The Japanese American Confinement Education Act eliminates a 2021 sunset provision of current preservation legislation, Schatz said. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is a co-sponsor.

"The internment of Japanese-American citizens remains one of the darkest and most shameful periods in our history," Schatz said,

Honouliuli Internment Camp was the largest and longest-used incarceration facility in Hawaii during World War ll. Run by the U.S. Army in a gulch and called Jigoku-Dani, or Hell Valley, by the Japanese Americans held there, the Kunia camp held about 400 internees and 4,000 prisoners of war from 1943 to 1945.

The 160-acre internment camp had 175 buildings, 14 guard towers and over 400 tents. The majority of Honouliuli's civilian internees were American citizens — predominately Japanese Americans — who were suspected of disloyalty, the Park Service said. They were community, business and religious leaders. Some German Americans and other nationalities also were interned.

As a POW camp, Honouliuli held enemy soldiers and labor conscripts from Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and Italy.

The facility has come to symbolize Hawaii's role in the discrimination that was directed at Japanese Americans in Hawaii after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War ll.

In designating Honouliuli as a national monument in 2015, then-President Barack Obama said, "Going forward, (Honouliuli) is going to be a monument to a painful part of our history so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past.

Concrete foundations that in some cases were covered by several feet of earth are the main remnants of the former camp, now a weedy and overgrown, mosquito- filled place.

Wakatsuki said the public will eventually be asked what they'd like to see at the site, and that process will lead to a general management plan. Public access roads to the site still have to be worked out, she said.

"We need to address the access issue before we could go into the general management plan," she said. Being superintendent of Honouliuli is Wakatsuki's full-time job, and right now she's a staff of one.

"But we're anticipating hiring a few additional employees," and the Park Service will utilize interns, she said.

Nate Gyotoku, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, which has taken groups out to Honouliuli and has an exhibit in its education center, said, "I believe that things will move faster with a permanent superintendent there. Hanako has experience with Japanese American incarceration sites, which is also exciting. We recently had our first call together, and it sounds like there is progress."

Group visits by the cultural center to the site haven't occurred during the coronavirus pandemic, and its education center is open in a limited capacity, he said.

Wakatsuki also worked at Minidoka National Historic Site and Tule Lake National Monument, both former mainland internment camps.

[Ed Note: Thank you to Wade Ishimoto for recommending this article and to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for granting permission to reprint.]

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