The National Parks


Untold Stories | Manzanar: "Never Again"

Take a look at the interconnected stories of Japanese internment during World War II, Sue Kunitomi Embrey's efforts to commemorate Manzanar internment camp, and the ongoing work of Manzanar National Historic Site to educate visitors about civil rights.

AIRED: June 27, 2012 | 0:14:12



- [Male] It was a very humiliating experience to

be rounded up by your own government.

It was very painful because you not just were cast

as enemies, you lost everything materially.


- [Narrator] After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor

in December of 1941, the United States government

decided Japanese Americans were enemies of the state.

Within months, over 100,000 US Citizens and legal

residents were ordered to leave their homes and

report to one of one of 10 remote internment centers.

Manzanar, in the high California desert,

is one of those internment camps.

(people talking)

- No this is Janice and that's you, oh my goodness.

- This was in Manzanar and it looks like, what,

do you think maybe I was 12 months old?

- Yes.

- And this is Janice and Mom with the bear behind you.

- Oh yeah.

- [Marjory] If you look at our pictures, every group of

folks that are being evacuated were all dressed up.

Can you imaging being ordered to come into camp and

wearing our best clothes and being on time.

It was absolutely asinine when I look back on it.

And if it were to happen today,

oh my I would raise such hell.

- Mom, we need more Spam.

- Here I'll get it for you.

- [Pat] My father never saw me.

My mother was pregnant with me and he gave up his

citizenship and left with his family to go back to Japan.

And my mother was not gonna give hers up.

- Not me, I said I'll join the the waves, the wax,

anything, but I sure am not leaving America.

- 800 volunteers from the Japanese-American community

came up here including my uncle to build the barracks.

So they dressed in their finest, they showed up early,

and they built the barracks where they were to be housed.

The barracks were cobbled together out of scrap lumber

and tar paper, there was no insulation, there was no

privacy 'cause they were just these 20 x 25 foot boxes.

(band music)

- [Announcer] Prefabricated barracks spring up.

It's in no sense a concentration camp, but a city with its

front yard in the snow-peaked Sierra Nevadas.

Here eventually, 12,000 will live and work.

(dramatic music)

- [Sets] I came to camp when I was almost 10 years old.

We left early in the morning, it took us 9 hours

to drive here and we got here, it was really dusty

and it was nothing but just barracks there.

So it was very stark, it was like being abandoned, yeah.

(instrumental music)

- [Jenni] I think when you come out here and you feel the

heat and you see the dust and some years it's very windy,

dust is going up your nose and your hair is just flying

everywhere, you know you really kind of can appreciate

what the people went through.

- Where the Japanese-Americans lived was basically

one square mile and it was enclosed by a

five strand barbed wire fence.

There were also eight guard towers.

Security was really high, very tight.

- One thing I'll never forget my grandmother telling me

is that when they first got here my great grandmother

would sit under the apple orchards and cry and sob

that she couldn't give her children a better life.

That she couldn't provide them the

opportunities that she wanted to.

- Camp was boring, there's nothing to do.

We had to leave everything we had behind,

so you made whatever toys you could make out

of material that you had on hand.

We had no other options, we were stuck

behind the barbed wire fence.

So we made the best we can out of it.

My older brother, he heard one day about some of the

guys they went fishing in the local creek.

So we'd climb under the barbed wire and leave camp.

We never had permission to go,

we just snuck out of camp by ourselves.

- [Alisa] The war of course ends I August 1945,

but the camp didn't close until November 21 of 1945.

And that is because a lot of the people who were here

had nowhere to go.

- Camp life was really bad because we were in

captivity, we couldn't do what we wanted to do.

But a rougher life, a more devastating part of my

life history is when we camp out of camp.

Because in camp you were fed three times a day.

You had necessities of life.

- [Narrator] Before the war, Sets Tomita's father had

a thriving trucking business in southern California

and the family lived comfortably.

When they left Manzanar, they had no home,

no money, and faced rampant predjudice.

The only job Mr. Tomita could find was cleaning rabbit pens.

- The place I lived was a two car garage,

all it has was one single light bulb.

No water, no heat, no electricity, no gas.

We had two beds and nine of us slept in that room there.

So you talk about harsh conditions.

Camp was okay compared to that.

- When the community emerges from camp,

with many people dispossessed of all of their

possessions and livelihood and houses,

they had to bury the pain and anger

and frustration in order to survive.

- [Narrator] For years even mentioning the internment

experience was taboo among Japanese-Americans.

Finally, in 1969, 250 students and activists

returned to reclaim their history.

Now thousands make the annual pilgrimage to

remember past injustices and raise awareness

of other civil right struggles.

- We're here to continue the legacy.

And bringing friends and community together to

remember what happened at Manzanar in hopes of

something like this never happening again.

- My mother became connected to these young students

in this Asian pride movement and came back to Manzanar

in '69 and Manzanar became bigger than life over the

course of the next year or two.

- [Alisa] Sue Kunitomi Embrey was really the driving force

behind the creation of Manzanar historic site.

She began organizing the pilgrimages and for almost

40 years was involved in preserving this site.

She was very patriotic, not someone whose patriotism

was sort of mindless nationalism but defending your

country, and making your country stand for what its

Constitution says it stands for.

- [Quote of Sue Kunitomi Embrey] I want people 50 years

from now to remember what was there.

Although it was a negative place, we want to turn it around

to be positive so that people will always remember that

America is a democracy - Sue Kunitomi Embrey

- [Narrator] After that first visit, Sue Embrey

threw herself into the cause.

The next year, she brought her children.

So here I am 11 years old, 12 years old, and

I get to come to Manzanar to the next pilgrimage,

and we pull up and I look around and I said

where's Manzanar?

I'm thinking what the heck, all this excitement,

all this animated discussion all this time

and there's nothing here, there's desert.

- [Narrator] After the war, the camp was quickly torn down.

If not for a small monument built to honor Manzanar's

dead, no one would know the camp had ever existed.

- [Male] No one ever dreamed we would have a park.

No one ever dreamed we would have the national

government take responsibility for this and many

people didn't want them to.

There were large numbers of even former internees

that felt that why are you bringing this up now?

It's in the past, it's going to cause unnecessary

attention to us, there's people out there that

already hate us don't give them more ammunition.

- [Narrator] For two decades, Sue Embrey and others

pushed the government to commemorate the site.

Finally, in 1988 congress issued a formal apology

and paid $20,000 in reparations to every surviving internee.

Four years later, the Manzanar National Historic Site

was established.

At the end of every pilgrimage, former internees tell

their heart wrenching stories.

- The infant mortality inside the camps was 10 times

higher than outside the camps.

So, that's incredible.

We were to believe that children were deemed

as dangerous to this country.

- My family lived this.

I imagine my grandmother with five children,

teens on down to my mom who was three.

Which is the same age my daughter is now.

This can't happen again, ever.

- My dad had tractors, he had trucks, we had two cars.

He must have been doing fairly well financially.

And then of course the war started and everything

came to and end and that's how I'm sure many Japanese

families were affected.

It was just totally devastating.

- [Narrator] Other civil rights

activists share their stories too.

- My wife, they always harass her, tell her to go, go back.

This still goes on.

- As a Muslim-American, I've been discriminated so many

times because of stereotypes that have been presented

by the media, people telling me I saw it on MSNBC,

I saw it on this TV, you know, literally, literally.

- You had to speak out because nobody

spoke out for us and it makes a difference.

- These kind of things are going on now,

and I think we tell the story because we really feel our

country, I don't think they've learned much about prejudice.

- [Alisa] A lot of people think of the National Parks

as the great natural areas and the great recreational

areas, but I think one of the really neat things about

National Park system is that we also preserve our

history, and not just the glowing parts of our history,

but in some of the newer parks like Manzanar,

like some of the civil rights sites, we are actually talking

about some of the not so wonderful parts of our history.

- Roots were pulled up, people's lives were

altered forever.

It was an important part of our history because

we have a Constitution, and it says that we have rights.

And these people basically were told,

that it doesn't apply to you.

- [Alisa] Having Manzanar as a part of the National Park

system allows people to come and learn about this

chapter of history and I think it gives people

an opportunity to think about their own civic

responsibilities and what we can each do to help

America live up to its promises.

- How the government treats the citizens,

that's our story, so I think if we don't have

that conversation we're not doing what we

should be doing here at Manzanar.

- [Quote of Sue Kunitomi Embrey] We want to shout to the

World that we are a great nation,

willing to say that we are sorry about what we did.

And not only are we a democracy but we

work at it for all of us.

The working at it is the

important part - Sue Kunitomi Embrey

(instrumental music)

(instrumental music)