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State officials, government dignitaries and community leaders observe a Shinto blessing at the ceremony site of the official Honouliuli National Monument on March 31. Photo courtesy of  Molly Solomon/Hawaii Public Radio

By P.C. Staff

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined state officials, community leaders and volunteers on March 31 in Honolulu to dedicate the Honouliuli National Monument, site of the largest and longest-used confinement site in Hawaii for Japanese American citizens, resident immigrants and prisoners of war during World War II.

(From left) JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida, JACL Honolulu Chapter President Jacee Mikulanec and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the Honouliuli dedication ceremony.

(From left) JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida, JACL Honolulu Chapter President Jacee Mikulanec and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the Honouliuli dedication ceremony.

The 155-acre site, located in the Kunia gulch near Pearl Harbor, opened in March 1943. In the years following the war, the area became mostly forgotten and overgrown with vegetation. However, after years of hard work and collaborative efforts by the public and private community partners including the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii and the Honolulu Japanese American Citizens League, President Barack Obama established the new monument, which is now part of the National Park System, in February. Obama used the Antiquities Act to establish the monument, which is now the fifth site in the park system associated with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Following both Hawaiian and Shinto blessings, Jewell — who was also joined by Hawaii Gov. David Ige, U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, National Park Service Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell, JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida, Honolulu JACL Chapter President Jacce Mikulanec and Carole Hayashino, president/executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii — untied a maile lei at the edge of a concrete foundation that was once the camp’s mess hall to officially declare Honouliuli a National Monument.

“As one of the newest units of the National Park System, Honouliuli National Monument speaks of a painful but important chapter in our involvement in World War II — the unjust internment of Japanese Americans and other citizens whose rights were trampled by the prejudice and fear of the time,” Jewell said. “I applaud President Obama for establishing this monument and all those in Hawaii who worked so hard to ensure this place is preserved and the story is told for future generations.”

The site will be managed by the National Park Service. In March, the NPS signed a cooperative agreement with the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii to help provide educational and interpretive opportunities of the site and promote awareness of Japanese American internment experiences during the Pacific War. Monsanto Company donated the land for the new monument and the University of Hawaii signed an agreement with the NPS to assure public access over its lands adjacent to the site.

“The gathering for the dedication of the Honouliuli site as a national park, much like the circle that was formed at the conclusion of the ceremony, was an emotional culmination of over 15 years of effort. Many of us shed tears — what was once only a dream became a reality for ourselves, for our children and for the memory of those who suffered so we could become full Americans,” said Ouchida, who was also presented by Jewell with a copy of an official proclamation signed by Obama.

In a statement following Obama’s declaration in February, Mikulanec said, “The Japanese American Citizens League-Honolulu is pleased that President Obama has designated Honouliuli Internment Camp as a national monument. JACL has helped lead the effort to ensure the story of Japanese American Internment and incarceration is integral to our national story. Nowhere is that story more poignant than in Hawaii — where the bombing of Pearl Harbor set in motion actions that led to the signing of Executive Order 9066 and thus one of the darkest chapters of our collective history.

Continued Mikulanec: “Honouliuli is a symbol of what can happen when fear and prejudice dictate policy in our country — and why we must counter racism and prejudice in any form. JACL has a long history of advocating for civil rights in Hawaii and nationally, and we are honored to be part of this pivotal moment and look forward to the work ahead.”

Japanese American organizations and elected leaders in Hawaii have strongly supported preserving and interpreting the camp. In 2010, Congress authorized the Department of the Interior to conduct a study of the site for possible inclusion in the National Park System, after the late Sen. Daniel Inouye included a provision in the Interior Appropriations bill in 2009, requesting a NPS special resource study on Honouliuli. Jewell visited the area in September 2013 to see the site first-hand.

“This day honors our past — the memories of the former internees — and celebrates the future. The Honouliuli National Monument is a gift to future generations who will now have the opportunity to visit the former internment camp site and learn about the unique WWII experience of Japanese Americans in Hawaii and lessons of civil liberties and the U.S. Constitution,” said Hayashino. “Honouliuli was lost and forgotten for many years. The new Honouliuli National Monument will ensure that people will never forget.”