Manzanar National Historic Site is about halfway between Independence and Lone Pine just off Highway 395 and it commemorates the Japanese/Americans who were incarcerated in American concentration camps during World War ll. Manzanar was only one of ten camps that were established in 1942 by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to establish the military-controlled areas. At that time the United States was responding to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but one result was to force approximately 120,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and business to be indefinitely detained in military-style camps.
Almost 70% of the people confined in the camps were American citizens by birth. Most of the other people had been living in the United States for many years but hadn’t obtained citizenship yet. These people were assigned ID numbers, given a few days to pack only what they could carry with them, and then loaded into cars, trucks, busses or trains and taken to temporary relocation centers in Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona. From there they were moved into the camps where they found daily life was very harsh and difficult.
By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese/Americans were living in 504 barracks at Manzanar. Each barracks building contained 4 rooms with 8 people in each room. They slept on cots with mattresses that were made of straw with little or no privacy, shared communal meals in a mess hall, and had to share showers and latrines without any partitions. The entire 500-acre area was patrolled by military police and it was surrounded by barbed wire fences with searchlights and 8 guard towers. The people relocated to Manzanar were not used to living in a desert climate where summer temperatures reach 110º F. and winter temperatures often drop below freezing. The intense winds that swept through the valley often covered Manzanar with dust and sand that the inmates had to laboriously sweep away.
But Manzanar National Historic Site is also a testament to the people’s will to survive and make the best out of a terrible situation. They established boys and girls clubs for their children with recreational programs for music, dance and sports. They cultivated gardens with irrigation canals so they could grow their own fruits and vegetables, raised chickens, cattle and hogs, made their own clothing, and established churches and temples to maintain their faith. They also served as mess hall workers, firefighters, doctors, nurses and teachers. They even manufactured camouflage netting and experimental rubber for the U.S. military forces, and published their own newspaper named the Manzanar Free Press.
By the time World War ll ended, 11,070 Japanese/Americans had been incarcerated at Manzanar and some of them had spent 3-1/2 years there. Three months after the war ended, the last people were allowed to leave. Today Manzanar serves to remind future generations about how fragile our civil liberties can become.
Peter Cross is an accomplished article writer and creative writer who has produced hundreds of articles for many different clients since 2006 when he retired from his consulting business.