We’ve seen the layout of the land… Now, let’s take a look at buildings and structures from the Tule Lake WRA Camp that are still there, intact, on the site. There are many more of them than first meets the eye…hidden in plain sight…
This is the Carpentry and Paint Shop. The building has been beautifully restored by the National Park Service (NPS). Since it is right by State Highway 139, this building may become the eventual NPS Vistors Center for the National Monument.
Nearby is the old Camp Motor Pool. Located next to the Caltrans Maintenance Yard, these two motor pool buildings were used by the County for a time. Now, the buildings are within the 31 acres that is owned by the NPS.
Farther down Highway 139, one finds a collection of five large storage buildings from the Camp. There is a railroad spur along side them, dating from the days of the Camp. I’ve captured the three largest of the buildings…
Massive in size, they are in good condition, and have been in constant use since the time of the Camp.
The Federal government sold the five buildings to a local agricultural business shortly after WW II. Apparently, discussions have been under way to return the buildings to NPS ownership. They would be a huge addition to the Camp site and to the NPS interpretation of it. There are two private residential neighborhoods on the former Camp site. One is not far from these storage buildings. One is back where we started today’s part of the trip.
Just east of where we started at the Carpenter Shop, is the location of the Camp’s Military Police (MP) Compound. In this area, we see a small neighborhood. The neighborhood lives on the same streets that were there for the MP battalion. Most of the homes in the neighborhood are clearly made from the Camp’s MP barracks.
Here are photos of three of those homes…
Earlier, I mentioned Camp infrastructure… This twenty five cent word is part of our country’s political discourse. Never a glamorous subject, infrastructure was essential to the operation of this prison Camp full of 20,000 people. The Tule Lake WRA Camp required streets, power, water, and of course a sewer system. The sewer pipes at this Camp were connected to a structure invented by a German engineer, Dr. Karl Imhoff, in 1906. Called an Imhoff Tank, it was commonly used in the U.S. through the late 1950s. The one at the Tule Lake WRA Camp served the needs of the 20,000 people there and was later used by the Newell County Water District, perhaps into the very early 1970s.
I spoke with a man who farmed for twenty years on land in the eastern portion of the Camp (just east of the current Tulelake Airport). He said that occasionally, the Water District would flush the system and the lids throughout the area would pop up, always a startling moment.
This is the Imhoff Tank that was located on the northern edge of the Camp. It was connected to large effluent beds and a sludge bed. There was a second Imhoff Tank built when the Camp was expanded, but it was never put in use.
The Tule Lake WRA Camp… is in the middle of nowhere. That’s true for most of the WRA Camps. This is in part due to site selection criteria that included: ease of acquiring federal ownership or control of the land; suitability for agriculture; availability of water; a large amount of land; and, distance from the West Coast population centers. Now as then, it is easy to miss or to forget that this huge site is even there, let alone that over 18,000 Americans (most of them U.S. citizens) were brought here against their will and without due process. The remote location makes it even more difficult for us to rebuild our collective memory and conscience.
My journey continues… Next, I’ll look at some of the remnants of the Camp that are visible if one digs just a little bit. Thanks for coming along with me… I hope it is worthwhile for you. I appreciate your being there!
Grace and Peace to you,
The Tule Lake WRA prison Camp was placed in the middle of a dry lake bed, on land reclaimed and owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It was a desolate place, bitterly cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The wind could make it “snow horizontally.” Approximately seven miles south of the town of Tulelake, CA, the prison camp was located in an uninhabited area, and was soon larger than any town or city in the area, including nearby Klamath Falls, Oregon.
This photo captures well the basic layout of the Camp. It was taken in the early days of the Camp, before the construction of additional barracks that expanded the Camp capacity to 16,000. The view of the photo is from the ridge running down from Castle Rock, looking from West to East across the Camp. I will include the photo again in subsequent posts, when writing about different aspects of the Camp.
[Source: The California Military Museum]
There is some disagreement about the physical size of the Camp. Most sources agree that the so-called residential and administrative part of the Camp totaled 1,100 acres. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation puts the actual size of the full Camp (including residential, administrative, and agricultural areas) at 5,804 acres. The initial 3,502 acres were owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and turned over to the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in June of 1942. In 1943, 352 acres were “acquired” from the private owners of surrounding properties. At some point, a further 1,950 acres (mostly in the agricultural area but also in the Camp Reception Area) were somehow added. There is no record of the previous ownership of the final 1,950 acres. [Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation]
The current use of the former Camp land is quickly apparent. There are presently two residential neighborhoods on the site of the former Camp; the Tulelake Airport takes up a portion of the former Camp site (with the runway running northwest to southeast on what was the main fire break in the middle of the Camp); there are several commercial and agricultural buildings; 31 acres are owned by the National Park Service (including the Jail, the Stockade, the Motor Pool, and the Carpentry and Paint Shop); there is a Caltrans Maintenance Yard; and, the remainder of the land is in private agricultural ownership.
When you first look at the former camp site, it appears that nothing remains of this Tule Lake Camp that housed nearly 20,000 prisoners, guards, and administrators. In future posts, I’ll show how false this first impression is.
I’ve tried to give an idea of the expansiveness of the 1,100 acre residential/prison compound of the Camp with the following three photos…
This photo was taken on the northern end of the Camp compound (not far from the spot labeled “Main Entrance” in the first photo), looking south. The white farm building on the right of the picture is about one mile away. Everything to the left would have been Barracks (and the associated Mess Halls, Latrines, Wash Rooms, and Recreation Buildings).
This photo was taken at the back of the Camp (near the point in the first photo labeled “Water Tower”), looking North. The tree line in the distance is about one mile away. Everything to the left of the fence would have been Barracks and the associated buildings.
This photo was taken in almost the same spot at the back of the Camp, looking from East to West toward Castle Rock. The tree line is about 1/2 mile away. Everything from where the photo was taken up to to the tree line would have been Barracks, etc.
The following historic photo was taken from a different angle at the back of the Camp…
This photo shows the physical layout of the barracks. It looks back West toward Castle Rock. The vehicle in the picture was probably from the Camp administration.
[Source: Densho Encyclopedia]
Taketora Jim Tanaka, aged 16 upon entering Tule Lake
[Source: Densho Repository]
So, what happened to all those barracks and other buildings that occupied the Tule Lake Camp in 1942-46? That, is a mystery to be solved. In subsequent posts, I’ll try to show more of what the Camp was like and what exists of it in the present. Thanks for joining me on this journey. I hope you will find the trip worthwhile.
Grace and peace to you,
Tule Lake was overcrowded from the start. It also suffered from federal government mismanagement for the duration. This sorry combination was one of the factors that led to major problems at Tule Lake, to its becoming the maximum security prison camp of the WRA Camp system, and to its being such a complex place to understand.
The National Park Service (NPS) has recreated barracks rooms, using an old barracks building which they reclaimed from a land owner in the area. It is on the site of the present NPS Tule Lake Unit, a site shared with the World War II Valor Museum on the Modoc County Fairgrounds.
To get an idea of what I mean by overcrowded, take a look at this image of the inside of a barracks “apartment.”
This small, open room was designed for a family of four who used the room as “home.” It was 16 feet x 20 feet. Notice the wall on the left hand side…in theory, it provided privacy. But, note that the wall only went to the rafter line. Above that, was open space (it was that way for all of the interior walls in the 100 foot long barracks). There was no privacy.
It is difficult to imagine a family living here. It is not a home in any real sense. The families must have been deeply shocked to be shoe horned into one room. A family of four was squeezed into a one room “apartment” that had 320 square feet (s.f.). In 1942 California, a modest sized house for a family of four would have been 1000 to 1200 s.f.
Let’s put this in a WRA context. All the WRA Camps were crowded, with too many people living in too little space (the WRA planned for 32 people to live in each 2,000 s.f. barracks building). Think about that in terms of your current home. Think about it also in terms of what the Camp was originally designed for and how many people actually lived there. The Tule Lake Camp was initially designed to house 15,000, but housed nearly 16,000 people. Then, it’s capacity was expanded to 16,000, but 18,789 came to live there. Only one other WRA Camp, Manzanar, exceeded its design capacity. Manzanar was designed for 10,000 and had 10,046 living there at its maximum occupancy. Most other Camps operated at significantly below capacity, while Minidoka operated at 93% and Amache operated at 91%. There was an appalling over crowding at Tule Lake right from the start. As you will see, that led to major problems.
“We saw all these people behind the fence, looking out, hanging onto the wire, and looking out because they were anxious to know who was coming in. But I will never forget the shocking feeling that human beings were behind this fence like animals [crying]. And we were going to also lose our freedom and walk inside of that gate and find ourselves…cooped up there…when the gates were shut, we knew that we had lost something that was very precious; that we were no longer free.”
Mary Tsukamoto, from The National Museum of American History
I will spend the next several weeks of my journey going back and forth to Tule Lake. Thanks for joining me. I hope you will find the trip worthwhile.
Grace and peace to you,
They say, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” That is surely true in the case of my journey. While Thea and I were celebrating our 50th anniversary of life together, playing on the beach with kids and grandkids, I pulled a hamstring. Down I went into the sand. Now, I can walk, and am getting better reasonably quickly… But, driving a few thousand miles in my GMC is not in the cards for a bit. So, I’ve rescheduled my journey…more to follow on that.
One good thing is that it gives more time for research, conversation, and reflection. There have been plenty of all three!
For the next couple of months, I’ll be visiting the Tule Lake WRA prison camp, near Tulelake, CA. No, that is not a typo. The town is called “Tulelake” and the camp was called Tule Lake. The Tule Lake Camp was declared a National Historic Site in 2006 and a National Historic Monument in 2008, triggering the involvement and management of the National Park Service. Yesterday, I made my first visit to the Monument, going on a tour with an NPS summer staffer.
This is just my first glimpse. Not a great picture, I’m sorry to say. But it does give an indication of how utterly bleak the setting for the Camp is. The image reveals that it was the intent of the Federal government to place the Camps in isolated areas, for maximum control. The isolation also maximized the disorientation of the mostly urban prisoners.
Of this Camp, which housed over 18,000 prisoners at it’s peak, and which had all of the buildings to house, feed, and manage them, it is astonishing that there is almost nothing left visible on the land (this insight comes from “Tule Lake Revisited,” by Barbara Takei and Judy Tachibana, Tule Lake Committee, Inc., 2012). There are a few buildings which I will photograph in the coming weeks, but mostly there is nothing. The structure off in the distance is one of two “Imhoff Tanks” that were constructed to process sewage from the Camp. I was standing about 1,000 yards from the tank (the picture was shot with a telephoto lens). The space between us was once filled with barracks. The entire residential space was surrounded with barbed wire and eventually 28 guard towers manned by armed guards. There was a U.S. Army battalion of Military Police who took over guarding the prisoners. Tule Lake was the maximum security prison camp of the WRA Camp system.
There will be much more to follow about this most complex and disturbing of the 10 WRA Camps.
This journey of mine is starting up again at a slower pace. Whatever the pace, I will keep on the path. I hope you will go with me.
Grace and peace to you,
I miss the physical part of the journey, but there is so much to do before I start out again this Fall. Mostly there is research, loads of research to be done. Books to read, articles to seek out, maps to study, schedules to check and re-check, reservations to make, archives to peruse, and people to talk with.
These last two are crucial. The Densho Encyclopedia has thousands of video interviews with people who lived in the camps. Some clips are less than a minute and others go on for nearly an hour. They are treasures all, and one can never tell where a pure gem lurks. Then there are people who lived in the Camps as small children and are willing to talk about it, to reflect on their experience, their parents’ experience, and the American society that caused those experiences. My great joy is in beginning to talk directly with these folks! Over the phone, via email, and best of all over a cup of coffee, sitting across from each other… It is a joy and a privilege.
Reflection and introspection are unavoidable at this stage. They bubble up when I least expect it. It may be a simple comment that reminds me to carefully avoid equating the experience of the Japanese Americans in World War II America with the experience of American contemporaries. They are different, for reasons too numerous to mention here. In this, and many other instances, we have to avoid our American tendency to over simplify our understanding of history by saying, “This is just like _______________ ,” or “This is another _______________ .”
When I first considered this journey, one friend of mine, whose parents had each lived in the WRA Camps, encouraged me, trusted me, and implored me to make sure that the words of the people who lived in the Camps drove my narrative. Theirs is not my story to tell. Rather, I must let their words themselves tell their story.
Mine is a different story to tell. My story is to reflect on what we have wrought as a society. It is to consider what we did in this one instance in light of what our society has so consistently done to all peoples of color in our midst. It is to wonder out loud why we have such a difficult time acknowledging our corporate actions. To ponder why white people so consistently say, “We need to move on from that,” or “Yes, it was bad, but I had nothing to do with that.”
We have a new American question… We are addressing it, arguing it, positioning to respond positively or to resist. It is, in part, what our last election was about. We are in the midst of wondering whether or not there is a way we Americans could begin to enact a different American story…a story that must be written together, not just by one part of the society or another. Some earnestly want to do so. Others want desperately to resist. Sometimes, it looks like regression will win, but the new story waits to be formed… the American vision, that brought so many to these shores, awaits a reshaping that brings people out of the shadows to become a full part of the picture offered to the world.
It will happen. There will be fits and starts and shouts of hostility, but it will happen. America will not be made great by going back to terrible narratives of the past. We will be made great by looking forward together.
It is not too late… it is never too late.
This journey of mine is an infinitesimal part of all this. However small my part is, it is a story that needs to be told. So, I will keep on the path. I hope you will go with me.
Grace and peace to you,
The people who were taken to Manzanar retained great human dignity and a profound love of natural beauty. One expression of this was the placement of small clusters of stones near their barracks. This cluster is near where Building 5 in Block 28 was once located. Jeanne Wakatsuki’s father placed a cluster of stones near their “apartment” entrance in the new barracks they moved into in 1943.
“Whitney reminded Papa of Fujiyama, that is it gave him the same kind of spiritual sustenance. The tremendous beauty of those peaks was inspirational, as so many natural forms are to the Japanese (the rocks outside our doorway could be those mountains in miniature). They also represented those forces in nature, those powerful and inevitable forces that cannot be resisted, reminding a man that sometimes he must simply endure that which cannot be changed…
What had to be endured was the climate, the confinement, the steady crumbling away of family life.”
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Child at Manzanar, in Farewell to Manzanar
Walking around Manzanar, I was struck by how many people had walked on the same paths. Most had walked with great courage, born of an injustice so vast and so incomprehensible. Sorrow was a companion for many. Beauty and wisdom were a constant presence.
“Papa’s life ended at Manzanar, though he lived for twelve more years after getting out. Until this trip I had not been able to admit that my own life really began there.”
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Child at Manzanar, in Farewell to Manzanar
I am grateful to walk on this sacred ground, to hear the stories, and to know that I will be back.
I know that on my journey to the ten WRA prison camps, there will be insights and impressions that will emerge from the stories of the people who lived in the camps, and from the very ground on which they walked.
Thank you for joining me on the journey. As I leave Manzanar, my thoughts turn to the Camps ahead of me… This September, I’ll be visiting Minidoka and Heart Mountain. Between now and then, I’ll make the first of many trips to Tule Lake.
In the meantime…
Grace and peace to you,
This Memorial Day weekend, we remember the honor, the courage, and the sacrifice of Americans of Japanese ancestry who served in the American armed forces during World War II.
As the United States entered WWII, there were many American politicians, columnists, broadcasters, and military officials who questioned the loyalty of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Fueled by the venomous rhetoric of Lt. Gen. DeWitt and columnist Walter Lippmann, some politicians went so far as to say that Japanese Americans were disloyal as a group and a danger to American national security. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Men and women volunteered from the Camps and from Hawaii to serve in the military. The Densho Encyclopedia estimates that approximately 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the Army during World War II and/or in the immediate aftermath with the occupation forces. Of these, an estimated 6,000 people served in the Military Intelligence Service and 18,000 men served with the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team. [From, Densho Encyclopedia]
The first two women enlistees, [from Dept. of Defense Archives]
It is difficult to find an exact number of Japanese American women who served in the armed forces during WW II. I have not found a reliable number I can share. However, the following illustrates the range of military occupations of the women who did serve…
“…many second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) women wore U.S. military uniforms. Nisei women contributed to U.S. war efforts in various ways, including as army personnel, military nurses and doctors, as well as photo interpreters and linguists with the Military Intelligence Service. The history of Nisei women in the U.S. military began when the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) started to accept Nisei women in February and November 1943, respectively. The backgrounds, experiences, and struggles of Nisei women who served in these corps have just started to be revealed in the last couple of decades by scholars.” [from, “Japanese American Women in Military” in Densho Encyclopedia]
At the conclusion of training, [from Densho Encyclopedia]
Men served with courage and distinction in the U.S. Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Suffering tremendous casualties in the European theater, the 442nd was one of the most highly decorated units in the war. One reliable source estimates the total number who served in combat at between 7,500 and 8,500. I have been unable to find more definitive statistics.
Known by it’s bravery and toughness, the 442nd had the motto, “Go For Broke.” This painting, which recreates a battle of 442nd infantrymen against German tanks, gives an inkling of what the motto reflected. [Source: U.S. Army Center for Military History]
In little more than one and a half years of battle, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was involved in five major campaigns in Europe.
On the march toward battle, [White River Valley Museum]
Rescuing the “Lost Battalion,” [Japanese American Museum, San Jose, CA]
The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded an extraordinary number of individual military honors:
Units of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded six Distinguished Unit Citations, with one awarded in person by President Harry S. Truman.
President Truman and the 442nd [National Museum of American History-Smithsonian]
During the one and a half years of battle, the 442nd sustained terrible casualties:
[Source: Densho Encyclopedia]
“…I had the honor to command the men of the 442nd Combat Team. You fought magnificently in the field of battle and wrote brilliant chapters in the military history of our country.”
“They demonstrated conclusively the loyalty and valor of our American citizens of Japanese ancestry in combat.”
General Mark W. Clark
“All of us can’t stay in the [internment] camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated. I don’t know if I’ll make it back.”
Tech. Sgt. Abraham Ohama, Company “F”, 442nd RCT,
Killed in Action 10/20/1944
Of course, Manzanar had its own group of young men who volunteered to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Four of these young men were killed in action while fighting with the 442nd:
Pfc. Frank N. Arikawa – July 6, 1944
Sgt. Paul T. Kitsuse – November 2, 1944
Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori – April 5, 1945
Sgt. Robert K. Nakasaki – April 5, 1945
“Manzanar has its first gold star mother. We had dreaded the day when some family in Manzanar would receive the fateful telegram….”
[Manzanar Free Press article on Pfc. Frank Arikawa’s death]
Grace and peace to you,
In a place faraway from home…where people were taken against their will and in utter violation of their Constitutional rights…still in that place, there were some who sought to make places of beauty. It was a tenaciously human act of creation. The largest such place in Manzanar was created by Mr. Nishi.
Kuichiro Nishi, a nursery owner and garden designer from Los Angeles, led the creation of what was first called Rose Park, then Merritt Park, and finally Pleasure Park.
“With its visually striking rock gardens, ponds, rustic bridge, gazebo, and diverse plantings—including roses that Nishi cultivated—the park became a sanctuary of tranquility for the Manzanar community.”
Careful attention to detail is about more than precision. It is also about care for others. More precisely, it is taking care of the minute detail of design and construction so people will be able to appreciate and experience a place without thinking about it.
Here is a spot which seems like a portal to the world outside.
“Sometimes in the evenings we could walk down the raked gravel paths. You could face away from the barracks, look past a tiny rapids toward the darkening mountains, and for a while not be a prisoner at all.”
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Child at Manzanar, from Farewell to Manzanar
Grace and peace to you,
When I first drove to Manzanar in the winter, I was struck immediately by the sheer immensity of the place. The Owens Valley is a vast remote configuration; the plane of the valley floor seems to go on forever. On the western edge there is the southern Sierra Nevada. Topping it all is an intensely blue sky. The tableau suggests a limitlessness…almost as though there was no end to the captivity.
Walking out on the site in winter, it is cold, the air is dry, and the land seems almost devoid of life. It was a harsh place to send 10,000 urban dwellers mostly from coastal California.
There is a deep incongruity here…that this place of immense beauty and wildness could also be a place of captivity.
Walking out in Manzanar in the spring, one sees that life is coming back to the place. In the midst of the vastness, one sees the wildflowers, leaves on the trees, and the wild shrubs sprouting their light green. There is a bit of color where there had been almost none. It is the color of life… Walking around, I feel that the people who were taken to Manzanar were aware of nature’s life cycle there. Deep in my heart, I hope that this life cycle in which they lived offered some measure of comfort.
There was an outdoor theater in the northern part of the Camp. Here you see the view from it, looking northwest to the Sierra. I imagine that it gave a sense of the larger beauty of things. The raw beauty and power of the high desert and the southern Sierra Nevada reflected the appreciation of beauty, as well as the tenacity of the people who were taken to Manzanar.
“I can now understand how an eagle feels when his wings are clipped and caged. Beyond the bars of his prison lies the wide expanse of the boundless skies, flocked with soft clouds, the wide, wide, fields of brush and woods—limitless space for the pursuit of Life itself.”
Kimi Tambara, Minidoka, from the National Archives
As I continue to walk around Manzanar, I hope my photos and reflections, and especially the commentary of people who lived there, will bring this place to life for you.
Grace and peace,
It might have been a place of fond memories of songs and skits were it a summer camp dining hall. It might have been a place of stability were it a military Mess Hall. The first would have been part of a voluntary experience. The second would have been part of a patriotic choice to serve the nation in the context of WW II.
But, it was neither of these things. There was no choice in the matter of eating in a Manzanar Mess Hall. Rather, it was a place where people were compelled to eat food that was mediocre (especially in the beginning), in a setting which was utterly lacking the intimacy of a family meal together.
There was a wide range of reactions to eating in a Mess Hall. It was disruptive and unsettling for families, because it took them out of their routines of eating together. It was liberating for some and enervating for others. Some children found it to be a great adventure, seeking out friends in Mess Halls far away from their own barracks. Some young adults made new friendships or found new love in the Mess Halls. Whatever the reaction, there was the simple reality that the Mess Halls were yet another expression of the absence of choice and the lack of a real home for each person who was taken to Manzanar.
A bit of perspective. There were 10,046 people inside the Manzanar prison Camp. They ate three meals a day, roughly 30,138 meals a day served in 36 Mess Halls…365 days a year. That is about 11,000,370 meals each year, in 36 Mess Halls…about 305,500 each year for each Mess Hall. The Mess Halls were meal factories and distribution centers.
The following pictures are of a reconstructed Mess Hall at the NPS Manzanar site.
The first four pictures are of the kitchen.
Standing in line, waiting to be served, this was the view of what lay ahead.
A fuller view of the kitchen itself.
One of the preparation tables.
A central preparation table.
The next photos show the Mess Hall itself.
The view of the Mess Hall from the serving line.
An NPS exhibit photo, showing apparently unrelated men eating a meal.
An NPS exhibit photo, showing a family eating a meal.
A photo capturing the density of one half of the eating area. The NPS exhibit photo in the background shows that young people occasionally had dances in the Mess Halls.
There were widely varying accounts of the Mess Hall experience. Two impressions are shared below by people who were taken to Manzanar…
“Thursday was always ‘slop-suey’ and Wednesday was always fish (smelt). Smelt is what we used for bait, not for eating.”
Mary Suzuki, Manzanar, Densho Digital Archives (DDA)
(Did you eat together as a family?) “As far as I remember, no. We were always running around to the other mess halls. We never ate together as a family.”
(Did the food get better?) “Yes, when they recruited former chefs from camp people and they taught other camp people how to cook.”
(What was your favorite meal?) “Fried rice with an egg on top.”
George Kiyo, Child at Manzanar, DDA
I hope my photos and reflections, and especially the commentary of people who lived there, will bring Manzanar to life for you.
THANKS for joining me! If you’d like to follow this blog, just scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click the “Follow” button. I invite you to share this blog with others as well in order to spread awareness and knowledge.
Grace and peace,