UNTOLD STORY: Life during internment


On Dec. 7, 1941, the recreational Kilauea Military Camp at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park went from being a place for Army and Navy personnel to catch up on a little rest and relaxation to being an armed detention camp.

“It was chaos,” explained park archaeologist Jadelyn Moniz-Nakamura during a tour of the camp last week. “We were at war, and they were trying to figure out what to do.”

As well as serving as the headquarters for the 27th Division of the Army, housing troops, and providing a training ground, the camp was — for the first five months of World War II — a temporary facility for the detainment of local Japanese “Issei,” or first-generation immigrants, and “Nissei,” second-generation Japanese residents.

The 100-by-50-foot barracks, which is now KMC’s recreation center, housed about 100 detainees. When it was time to exit the barracks, the detainees would line up along the lanai and await a signal from the guards to walk to the mess hall, with armed guards standing on either side.

“At Kilauea, internees had to walk among soldiers armed with bayonets. While food was plentiful and nutritious, the dignity of the people was taken away. Internees were constantly accompanied by soldiers, even to the latrine,” wrote Yoshio “George” Hoshida, an Issei who was detained in the camp.

Before his detainment, Hoshida worked as an employee at Hilo Electric Light Company and was president of the Hawaii Island Judo Federation.

For one hour every day, detainees were allowed outside for exercise, albeit surrounded by guards and within view of a guard tower where a machine gun was installed shortly after Pearl Harbor.

Detainees were allowed to write to family members, but only in English, which would then be read by guards to ensure they were not passing intelligence to the enemy. Families were allowed to visit on rare occasions, but the second time such a visitation was arranged, on Feb. 16, detainees had to speak to their families through a fence as punishment after one man was caught with a letter written in Japanese, according to Moniz-Nakamura.

“He dropped (the letter) on the floor, and a guard found it,” she said.

Despite the internees being treated like prisoners of war, Hoshida wrote in his journal that he felt compassion for the guards, “for them who were called to duty by their country,” and who had to patrol outside in the cold as the detainees slept in the barracks.

New detainees were regularly brought in, and FBI agents often came to question the prisoners. Sometimes, the internees were driven down to the federal building in Hilo for hearings before a local enemy alien board. Some were released or paroled, others weren’t.

Otokichi Ozaki was an employee of the Hawaii Mainichi, a daily Japanese newspaper, and later became a Japanese language teacher at Dokuritsu Gakko in Hilo. A fan of technology, he kept a shortwave radio in his home, where he was able to receive, but not broadcast, signals.

He had been identified well before the attack on Pearl Harbor as a person of interest, and he was picked up quickly Dec. 7. He and others were taken to a Hilo public school, where they were searched and had all sharp objects and anything with Japanese writing on it taken away. Ozaki would become one of the first inhabitants of the detention camp at KMC.

“In his initial days, he feared the soldiers were going to execute them, but his later experiences in Honolulu were much worse, and he felt that they had been spared much at KMC,” according to a Volcanoes National Park pamphlet about the history of the internment camp.

Ozaki would later be moved from Honolulu to the mainland, and did not return to Hawaii until Dec. 10, 1945 — 1,460 days after his arrest.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.