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Study examines little-known WWII internment camp in Alaska

  • Members of the Tanaka family stood together at the Minidoka Japanese internment camp in Jerome, Idaho, where they were held in forced incarceration during World War II. Alice Tanaka Hikido, left, and her sister, Mary Tanaka Abo, who was the child in the foreground, participated in a Feb. 19 ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, that was held to remember the forced incarceration of more than 200 Alaskans, and to unveil the results of a study about a little-known Japanese internment camp that was erected there during World War II. Also pictured are Nobu Tanaka, back left, John Tanaka, in uniform second from right, standing next to Shonosuke Tanaka. (Alice Tanaka Hikido via AP)


    Alice Tanaka Hikido, left, spoke with base spokesman Jim Hart at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska on Feb. 19. Hikido participated in a ceremony on base held to remember the forced incarceration of tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry, including her family, in U.S. internment camps during World War II.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska » Alice Tanaka Hikido clearly remembers the bewilderment and sense of violation she felt 74 years ago when FBI agents rifled through her family’s Juneau home, then arrested her father before he was sent to Japanese internment camps, including a little-known camp in pre-statehood Alaska.

The 83-year-old Campbell, California, woman recently attended a ceremony where participants unveiled a study of the short-lived internment camp at what is now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Archaeologists working on the research used old records to pinpoint the camp location in an area now partially covered by a parking lot. The Army study is expected to be finalized later this year.

“As I look back, I had no idea as a child that the U.S. and Japan were having difficulties,” Hikido said. “It was a tremendous surprise to me.”

Hikido herself was interned at Idaho’s Minidoka camp with her mother, younger sister and two brothers a few months after her father’s arrest during one of the nation’s darkest chapters — the forced incarceration of tens of thousands people of Japanese ancestry, including Americans, during World War II.

Her father eventually joined his family in Idaho in 1944. They spent more than a year there together before the war ended and they returned to Juneau.

Her father, Shonosuke Tanaka, was among 15 Japanese nationals and two German nationals who were rounded up in the territory of Alaska almost immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

That number would grow to 104 foreign nationals, mostly Japanese, who were arrested in Alaska as alien enemies. An estimated 145 others, including some Alaska Natives who took Japanese names in marriage, also would be sent to internment camps outside the territory under Executive Order 9066, which launched the exile of about 120,000 Japanese-Americans.

Before leaving Alaska, Tanaka and 16 other men were briefly housed at the Anchorage Army post formerly known as Fort Richardson.

Archaeologists recently zeroed in on the site based on documents including a map and the only two known photographs, according to Morgan Blanchard, a local archaeologist who worked on the study.

“Although it was known that this camp existed — it shows up on all the lists of camps that existed during the war — no information was available,” Blanchard told a small crowd during a Feb. 19 Day of Remembrance ceremony at the base. “So we filled in a lot of the blanks.”

Researchers discovered debris such as .30 carbine rounds and barbed wire fragments at the site, but they were unable to find anything definitely connected with the camp, Blanchard said. Researchers believe — but can’t say with certainty — that the 17 foreign nationals who were sent to the post were actually held at the camp, constructed between February and June 1945.

It was only after her father joined them in Minidoka that Alice Hikido and her family heard his story for the first time, from his apprehension in Juneau to various internment camps including at least one in New Mexico.

The family’s time in captivity forced the closure of her father’s Juneau cafe. They reopened it upon their return, with the help of a welcoming community.

Hikido and her 75-year-old sister, Mary Tanaka Abo, are the only surviving members of her family who experienced the internment.

Today, Hikido sees the same distrust of some foreigners that her family experienced so many decades ago. It’s troubling to her to hear politicians whipping up that fear by demonizing certain minorities.

If there’s a lesson to learn, she said, it’s how crucial it is for individuals to arm themselves with knowledge.

“It’s incumbent upon citizens to be well-informed,” Hikido said. “If you’re well-informed, then fear doesn’t overcome your better judgment.”

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    • why would she. it seems very few people even knew this camp existed. just another partisan remark from a far left liberal. hey, why doesn’t Obama have a brain? bet you can’t answer that.

      • Don’t paint mikethenovice with your paintbrush. If you spend three days reading his comments, you’ll realize the guys says all kinds of things! 🙂

        BTW, we capitalize the beginnings of sentences here in the USA.

    • I would say having your family put into an internment camp because of your race and having your possession and property confiscated by the government with no due process qualifies as abuse.

  • Had no idea any Japanese would emigrate to Alaska back then as the economic opportunities were very limited for anyone with limited abilities. Guess my perception of the economic opportunities in Alaska was faulty and that a Japanese would ever emigrate to such frigid climes. Also that, Exceutive Order 9066 was universally applied even to Japanese residing in Mexico, Central and South America., notwithstanding sovereignty issues. Back than World politics was dictated by England and endorsed by the US. Nazism and the “Yellow Peril” we’re the threats to their esteemed geo-political power?

    • Regarding:
      “Had no idea any Japanese would emigrate to Alaska back then as the economic opportunities were very limited for anyone with limited abilities.”

      You’re assuming the family had limited abilities.
      They ran a business in Juneau !!!

      “…..Had no idea any Japanese would emigrate…. emigrate to such frigid climes.”

      It also get freezing cold during winter in parts of Japan.

      Have you ever been to Juneau?
      I have. The last time was in summer and Alaskans were sunning themselves on the shorelines, as our cruise ship pulled out of Juneau.
      On another vacation I walked around in Tee-Shirt, Bermuda-Shorts, Baseball Cap and tennis-shoes.

      Sort of reminds me of Lee’s column where she discusses those who never lived in plantation homes, making foolish statements about how life was working for the sugar companies.

  • “It’s incumbent upon citizens to be well-informed,” Hikido said. “If you’re well-informed, then fear doesn’t overcome your better judgment.”

    Profound indeed!

    • President FDR was well informed after Pearl Harbor, well informed by none other than J. Edgar Hoover as a matter of fact. Clearly, being well informed didn’t prevent EO 9066. At best one can argue that FDR was no more or less a racist than your average American man of privilege in 1941-45. The difference from most is that he had the authority and the forces at his disposal to act with his heart rather than his brain. Remember that the Pearl Harbor attack meant that public sentiment was on his side concerning the declaration of war (there was only one, lone, dissenting vote cast) and the war’s conduct. It meant he feared little or no political opposition when it came to the treatment of so-called enemy aliens, their spouses or descendants.

  • Yes. The Japanese issei and their American born nisei kids in Alaska suffered the same fate as their US mainland counterparts due to idiot FDR’s executive order. Most were sent to Minidoka, Idaho. A wide sweep roundup of anyone with Japanese blood, including anyone else married to them. Strange that only suspected German and Italian aliens were incarcerated, not a wholesale incarceration of anyone with Italian and German blood. Answer, white prejudice during those times against a small minority unable to defend themselves. Could it happen again, this time against the Chinese Americans or Arabic Americans? Listen to Trump and we’re well on our way.

  • The disconnect between the comparison with the Japanese being interned back in WWII is that they were indeed loyal to the United States and did no harm to it’s citizens. In today’s society not all the “minorities” being targeted are loyal and go on mass shootings and kill innocent U.S. citizens. These individuals are actually on a mission to take over our great country. The profiling in some instances are warranted but as to how it is done is a difficult line to draw.

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