Editor’s Note: The following is a story written back in 1982 by long-time Manzanar Committee member Fred Bradford about his experiences during the 13th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.
Lone Pine is a small town about halfway to Reno from Los Angeles. It is also on the route to Death Valley and to the Mammoth ski area. Other than for local fishing, most people would not stop at Lone Pine except to gas up. It is not an exciting place to be.
Nor is Manzanar, the site of one of the Japanese American “relocation” centers, is a few miles north of Lone Pine. Manzanar’s only redeeming feature is the crystal-clear, smog-free and breathtaking view of Mount Williamson and the Sierra Nevada range on the west and a lesser mountain range on the east. The terrain is that of high desert.
Unlike some of Manzanar Pilgrimages when the weather has been cold and nasty, this year the sun was out and there was little wind. Only occasional dust-devils (miniature tornadoes) would suck up dust and sand high into the sky.
The fine weather and the radiance of the other pilgrims caused me to forget the reason I was visiting Manzanar forty years after the establishment of the “relocation” camps. Over three hundred people had come to Manzanar including three buses from the Los Angeles area.
The events of the day began with a small ceremony at what was the main entrance to Manzanar. Here, two small stone gate houses now stand. They were built by one of the “internees” Ryozo Kado, after the war. These and the old school auditorium (now housing road equipment for the county) are the only structures on the square mile site that used to house more than 10,000 “internees.” The ceremony was a memorial to Mr. Kado, who had been in ill health the last two years and died early in March of this year. A catholic priest of the Maryknoll fathers gave the blessing. The Maryknoll fathers had been the intermediaries between the “internees” and the United States Army bureaucracy that “guarded” and administered the camp. The priest himself was one of the “internees” (the words in quotes are the polite and antiseptic terms used by the news media at the time of the “relocation.” For “relocation” read “concentration,” for “internees” read “prisoners”).
After the opening ceremony, most of the people followed a self-guided tour through the camp. The walk was about a mile to the other end of camp and along the way, many historical sites were pointed out. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (who owns the land) required the Army to destroy all evidence of the camp and return it to nature after the war. In true Army fashion, returning the site to nature meant leaving broken glass, old foundations and a dump pile of old dishes not even covered with dirt.
Outside the campgrounds at the end of the tour is the burial ground for those who died while in the camp, including a three-month-old child. Mr. Kado, the stone mason mentioned before, had erected a monument at the burial grounds during his internment. After several years of legal work by the Manzanar Committee, the State of California finally registered this area as an official historical landmark.
In front of the cemetery, the Manzanar Committee had set up a public address system on a truck. Picnic tables and a potluck lunch were ready when we arrived.
After the meal, we braved the hot sun for speeches and readings. The highlights were the Catholic and Buddhist ceremony at the monument after which everyone was invited to lay flowers on the monument. The official events closed with the Japanese dance “ondo.”
Although almost everyone left the area for home (a five-hour drive back to Los Angeles), I tagged along with my friend Tak and the Manzanar Committee and stayed in Lone Pine that evening.
During dinner we discussed the events of the day and later gathered in a motel room for dessert of sweet-potato pie. Most of the discussion centered on the experiences of Elaine and Karl Yoneda. They and their three-year-old son (considered potential threats to the government) were at Manzanar starting in 1942. Elaine is the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, and Karl was raised in Hiroshima.
Elaine is a great storyteller and did most of the talking. Now in her 70’s, her voice is still big and healthy.
She used her powerful voice often in her fight to gain respect and dignity for the internees in the camp. Even though she is four feet eleven inches tall, she was considered a troublemaker by the administration.
In late 1942, just after a riot instigated by a small group of Japanese loyalists called the Black Dragons, she and her son, as well as several other internees on the Black Dragon hit list, were removed from Manzanar “for their protection.”
This little group was trucked deep into Death Valley to an abandoned CCC camp that had no plumbing or heat. Shortly after that, she was paroled and allowed to return to Los Angeles with her three-year old “potential threat.” Karl was allowed to go to Idaho to help with the harvest. Many crops were rotting in the field. It was only with the help of the Japanese Americans released from the camps that the harvest was saved. Karl later joined the US Army.
Fred Bradford is the Treasurer of the Manzanar Committee.
The views expressed in this entry are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
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