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[COMMUNITY] Anti-Government Sentiment Halts Tule Lake as Historical Momument

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  • madchinaman
    Northern California Internment Camp Has a Difficult Past, Shaky Future Efforts to designate Tule Lake Segregation Center as a historic monument meet
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 23, 2006
      Northern California Internment Camp Has a Difficult Past, Shaky
      Efforts to designate Tule Lake Segregation Center as a historic
      monument meet resistance, anti-government sentiment.
      By Julie Cart, Times Staff Writer


      Most of those internees were known as the "No-No boys," because they
      had answered "no" to — or refused to answer — a two-part loyalty
      question that asked internees to renounce the Japanese emperor and
      agree to serve in the U.S. armed forces.


      NEWELL, Calif. — It's nearly impossible to envision now, scanning
      the dusty, vacant lots that butt up against California Highway 139.
      But beginning in the spring of 1942, this was one of the state's
      largest settlements north of Sacramento.

      A community of nearly 20,000 people, it had more than 1,600
      buildings spread across 7,400 acres, with vast vegetable fields, a
      pig farm, a newspaper and a school.

      Surrounded by a 10-foot-high barbed wire "man-proof" fence and 28
      watchtowers, and guarded by a battalion of soldiers and eight
      armored tanks, the Tule Lake Segregation Center near the Oregon
      border was the nation's largest Japanese American internment camp
      and in time became the only one of the 10 in the country that was
      designated for internees considered security risks.

      Most of those internees were known as the "No-No boys," because they
      had answered "no" to — or refused to answer — a two-part loyalty
      question that asked internees to renounce the Japanese emperor and
      agree to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

      Little remains at the site today except a barren concrete jail, a
      weather-battered carpenter's shop and two aging motor pool buildings.

      A six-year effort to designate the site a national historic landmark
      culminated earlier this month with a ceremony at the camp. But
      former internees, the Modoc County Board of Supervisors and the
      National Park Service, among others, have been campaigning almost as
      long for the camp to become a state or national park or be turned
      over to a nonprofit group.

      Proponents of preservation warn that unless action is taken soon,
      one of the most significant vestiges of World War II-era American
      history will pass beyond repair as the buildings continue to decay.

      "It is viewed as the most important of all the camps, in terms of
      the story it tells," said Jon Jarvis, the park service's Pacific
      regional director. "The jail is considered the most important
      remaining building of all the camps. Everybody recognizes it's time
      to do something."

      Within a few years of the camp's closing in the summer of 1946, the
      once-sprawling settlement was dismantled. Some buildings fell victim
      to weather and time. Much of what remained was scavenged: The jail's
      metal bars were salvaged for scrap; the internee barracks were cut
      in half and given to homesteading veterans; and an officers club was
      converted into a grocery store.

      Even the headstones from the camp's cemetery were taken as souvenirs
      and the cemetery was converted into a landfill.

      But some artifacts remain. The water and sewage systems designed and
      built by the internees are still used by households in Newell.
      Although many of the camp's original structures are intact, they
      have been moved and are scattered around the Tule Lake basin. The
      once-menacing guard towers are used as storage sheds, pump shacks
      and backyard playhouses.

      Park service officials say there are more buildings remaining from
      Tule Lake than at all of the other internment camps combined.

      Today the park service operates two former internment camps:
      Manzanar, near Bishop, Calif., designated a national historic site
      in 1992; and Minidoka, near Twin Falls, Idaho, a national monument
      since 2001.

      The campaign to preserve Tule Lake has been complicated by strong
      local objections to any expanded federal presence in a region where
      anti-government sentiments have run high recently. A number of
      residents say they don't object to more protection for the camp,
      even if that means making it a national park, but they don't want to
      see an expansion of federal land ownership in the area.

      The park service has requested congressional authorization to study
      Tule Lake's historic and cultural value, the first step in
      establishing a new park or monument. The county Board of Supervisors
      has endorsed the request.

      Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Roseville), who represents the area, has
      begun work on a bill authorizing the study, a spokeswoman said last

      Much of the work that would go into the study was completed during
      the landmark designation process, according to Jarvis. He said that
      among the purposes of the study would be gauging community interest
      in the camp, determining whether local sentiment favors a park and,
      if so, ascertaining how big it should be and what facilities ought
      to be included.

      Most of the land that made up the camp is divided among about 300
      private owners. The 45 acres included within the boundaries of the
      historic landmark are owned by the California Department of
      Transportation and the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

      Craig Dorman, superintendent of nearby Lava Beds National Monument,
      favors protection for the Tule Lake camp. He said that despite
      efforts by Caltrans, some structures are deteriorating and only
      minimal repairs have been made.

      "The destruction and vandalism have been ongoing since the end of
      the war. The future of this camp rests with the politicians and the
      people here. This could be a real loss, to our national history and
      the rich history of this region," he said.

      Except for the jail and a surrounding stockade, Tule Lake was
      similar to other internment compounds, with children attending
      schools and adults working to keep the camp going. The camp's
      farmers were so successful that their produce was shipped to other
      internment sites.

      But there were frequent acts of defiance, hunger strikes,
      demonstrations, fights with camp overseers and an assault on a camp
      doctor. At one point, martial law was declared.

      Tule Lake's reputation as a hotbed of resistance created a
      heightened atmosphere of mistrust in nearby communities, an
      uneasiness that residents still recall.

      "You have to understand the psychology of the time," said John
      Bowen, 78, a World War II veteran who grew up on a family farm near
      the camp. "We didn't know if the Japanese were going to land on the
      coast at any time. It was sort of a scary situation. We were led to
      believe that Japanese could not be trusted, because of the attack on
      Pearl Harbor. Even though they may be citizens of the U.S., there
      was every probability they would communicate or sabotage things."

      Hiroshi Shimizu, 63, who spent two years at Tule Lake as a child,
      said efforts by former internees to preserve the camp have been
      stymied in part by lingering wartime insecurities.

      "It's been difficult to make inroads into the community," he
      said. "Because it was a segregation center, there was almost no
      contact between the camp and the local people. It's been that way
      until recently."

      Many survivors return to the camps across the nation every two
      years. After a pilgrimage to Tule Lake a few weeks ago, former
      internees complained that they were buzzed by a small plane while
      they were conducting a memorial ceremony at the former cemetery.

      During a cultural event the next day at a theater in nearby Klamath
      Falls, Ore., an anonymous phone caller protested the event,
      according to a police spokesman, and windows on two of the visitors'
      tour buses were shot out.

      "I am continually amazed at people who have one tiny sore spot and
      take any chance to rub it to open old wounds," said Bill Quinn, a
      local historian who lives in Tulelake.

      "I fought the Japanese in the Pacific for 30 months and have not a
      liking for them," he said. "But every time the internees come here
      to share their experiences, I am reminded how great and wonderful
      these people are."

      Many residents said they were mainly concerned about the potential
      loss of private property should the camp become a park.

      John Cross, the general manager of the Newell Potato Co-op, which
      sits within the grounds of the former camp and uses five former camp
      buildings, said he had supported the historic landmark status, as
      long as no private land was appropriated.

      "When they wanted to include our buildings, we fought tooth and
      toenail against having our property listed," Cross said.

      Much of the mistrust stems from the 2001 drought, during which the
      Bureau of Reclamation reduced the allocation of federal irrigation
      water to farmers in the Klamath Basin to protect two species of
      endangered fish.

      "We have as much distrust of the federal government as the internees
      did," Cross said. "The federal government came along and shut off
      all our water here five years ago. There is no way that we want the
      government's fingers involved with the operation of our business."

      But Cindy Wright, who established a museum of local history, said it
      made no sense to allow the antipathy toward the federal government
      to spill over to the efforts to protect the camp.

      "I am so frustrated with my neighbors," she said. "This community is
      afraid of people coming in and changing things."

      Many here insist they revere their region's history, including the
      segregation camp era. Some residents have returned camp artifacts,
      and others have joined efforts to preserve structures.

      Mike Bunch, who owns Tulelake Auto Parts, recalled proudly how his
      relatives responded after a wooden cross erected by internees was
      knocked down during a winter storm 30 years ago. Bunch, 48, said his
      father and grandfather quickly organized a group to restore it.

      The men replaced the small marker with a much larger one, welding
      two 20-foot-long steel pipes together. With four-wheel-drive trucks
      and a winch, the group hauled the white-painted cross to the
      original location on a mountain overlooking the camp. Bunch, then a
      teenager, said he installed a hand-etched brass plaque at the base.

      "It was just something that had to be done. Whether it's good
      history or bad history, it's our history, and that has to be
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