Here is the layout at Manzanar Internment Camp. The Barracks housed 10K people within a square mile. About 110,000 people of Japanese descent were detained in sites like this. There were no charges brought against them. There was no probable cause. There was no due process. They brought what they could carry, leaving homes, businesses, and pets behind. The mapped area was enclosed in barbed wire. Guards in the towers faced in, not out.

April 7, 2018.

Sixteen-year-old Gordon took his saxophone and walked home from the dance at the cafeteria. It had been another big night for the band. The crowd especially enjoyed the Jive Bombers’ rendition of hit song “Don’t Fence Me In”. The dance had been a release from the tension built up by “the survey”.

Gordon was born and raised in Los Angeles. His father was Issei (Japanese born), and his mother Nisei (born in the U.S. of Japanese parents). After the start of WWII the family had been moved to Manzanar Internment Camp. The home he was walking back to was one of many barracks.

There had been tension in the camp for two years, but the survey from administration was making it worse. Two of the many questions were a kind of loyalty test. One asked if they’d be willing to serve in the armed forces in combat. A more complicated query asked if they would forswear any allegiance to the Japanese emperor. Some of the men in camp had been rejected when trying to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attack. Many were U.S. citizens who had never served the emperor. And they had all lost their property and freedom.

No one knew how the answers would be used. A “no” answer might affect the fate of other family members. There was no place to explain your answer on the survey.

What Happened?

The survey questions were a divisive issue in the Japanese community long after the war ended. The U.S government did use the results against individuals. During the war the “No-No Boys” (and sometimes families) received worse treatment.

Jive Bomber sax player Gordon Hisashi Sato eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Korea. He went to school, earning a PHD in biophysics, and became a professor. He devoted himself to the Manzanar Project, a method of feeding waste to salt-and-heat resistant algae, which in turn fed brine, then larger fish, then impoverished communities. The approach has been tried in China, Chile, Sudan, and Eritrea. Sato has earned scientific honors, and a National Geographic article calls him a “maritime Johnny Appleseed”.

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a resolution apologizing for the government’s treatment of the internees. Some restitution was made for those who were still alive. And he said “For here we admit a wrong; here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law”.


After Pearl Harbor the U.S. also made an alliance with Peru, which had over 25,000 Japanese immigrants. Peruvian authorities rounded up most of these and sent them to the U.S.

Japanese in Canada, even citizens, received similar treatment as those in the U.S.

I enjoyed seeing pictures of the Jive Bombers at Manzanar and looked online for profiles of the members. That’s how I found Dr. Gordon Sato. The park features many other interesting stories. (After all, there are 110,000 to choose from.)

Right now, this very minute, we are parked in a Lowes parking lot using their WiFi to make this post in Visalia, California. We are going to look at some big trees! But by the time you read this we should be out of California, somewhere in the desert of Nevada.

* All pics are click to enlarge.

Exterior of what the barracks looked like. Volunteer internees came early to prepare the site for the rapid influx. (They hoped they’d get better treatment for this.)
Barracks interior. The roofs and walls had holes, allowing rain and dust to come in. Internees could have jobs doing support work. They used the wages to improve their living spaces, adding linoleum to floors and celetex to ceilings. As in the rest of the US, they enjoyed dreaming over Sears catalogs.
Barracks were grouped into blocks. Each block had a kitchen/cafeteria building. Fires in the stove never went out. By day the buldings served as cafeterias, by night places to meet and have dances. At Manzanar kids sat with their friends at meals. Family meals were not the norm. Food was an issue. Older folks wanted traditional dishes. Kids wanted the American food they were used to. Things improved after the detainees’ Victory gardens started producing.
There was once a cefeteria on this spot. Here, the root cellar has been excavated. It may have stored some illegal hooch too.
Standing in the cafeteria line was boring. Why not make a nice garden with a water feature to enjoy while in line?
Cafeteria garden building became something of a competition. In each garden water flowed from north to south. Rocks resembling turtles and egrets were included: a wish for good health.
Another cafeteria pond. Gardening wasn’t the only activity, though. Sports, especially baseball, were popular. And good news! When you can’t leave camp your team always has the home field advantage.
Restroom building. No partitions. At least the view of the Sierras was nice.
Memorial erected by detainees in 1943. Each family contributed 15 cents toward the effort. Over 135 people died here. Many were buried nearby. Most were moved after the end of the war.
People still leave memorabalia on the monument. (Not pictured is a small jar of weed.)
This large park was built for all. It was originally named Pleasure Park, but was renamed a few times afterward.
People from all over the camp enjoyed coming to Pleasure Park.
Over 2100 No-No Boys were sent to Tule Camp, which had tighter security. Some would have gladly served if their freedom hadn’t been taken first. Some were conscientious objectors. Some were just offended that anyone would assume they were loyal to an emperor they had never seen. One said yes to the questions, but his Mom disagreed and had the answers changed to no.
Recent portrait of a couple of detainees. The one on the right sports the ID tag she was given on arrival at Manzanar.

4 thoughts on “Manzanar

    1. Really – us neither. That was the most surprising part – the participation by other countries. So much fear.

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