Independence, Inyo County, California

Manzanar

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MANANZAR*

By Vera T. Jones

In the early 20th century Manzanar was a lovely rural community. They raised and shipped apples and pears and had large alfalfa fields. The houses were scattered among the trees which hardly needed irrigation as the water level was high from the run-off from the hills. The Ezra Taylors lived there a while before moving to Lone Pine, and in April of 1927, we visited them there. An apple orchard full of pink and white blooms, with a background of snow-capped Sierras is a picture I shall never forget.

But the City of Los Angeles needed more water! They bought so much of the land that they had control of the water. The Aqueduct was built and the water went to the Southland over violent protests of the Valley people, but to no avail. The people moved away. The houses were moved or torn down. The orchards were made into firewood and alfalfa fields slowly dried up and desert shrubs reclaimed the land.

World War II came and the government made a big airport East of Route 395. They decided to build a Reception Center for the Japanese from the Los Angeles area, on the West side of Route 395. where Manzanar was.

Great truck and trailer loads of cement, lumber, and machinery came in every day, and men and machinery ran about like pre-historic monsters, putting in sewers. light poles, and houses for 10,000 persons. The carpenters got over $1.00 an hour, and time and half overtime, and all worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week! Most local families boarded some workmen. We had three, plus a young family for a short while.

Late in March, 1942, we watched 130 cars of Japanese evacuees pass by with baggage trucks, ambulances and guards in Jeeps. The cars were all makes and in all conditions - four had broken down and were being towed. All was very quiet and orderly. These were the single men to help on the project.

Barracks and mess halls were done enough for shelter, but we heard it was a mad house, with over 1.000 workmen: carpenters, engineers, surveyors, electricians, and now evacuees to be housed and fed. When finished, there were living quarters for families, schools, libraries, recreation centers, and a hospital with 150 beds. The farmers raised vegetables for the Army.

On April 5th, the women and children came, by trainloads and busloads. By then the light poles were up and the buildings wired. They looked like small apartment houses, with four families to a house, built of light lumber and tarpaper. The freshly-graded ground was dusty. Everything was well-organized, and the Japanese were gentle and courteous. I wonder if I could have done as well, under the circumstances?

By October the Japanese had planted flowers and vegetables and were enthusiastic about the soil. They had some suicides, but were treated all right. Some of the young men were sent to Utah to harvest sugar beets.

When the war was over, they were disbanded. Everything but the buildings now used by the County Roads for Maintenance went; houses, light poles, etc. Bedding, dishes, and tools were sold, and everything was bulldozed under.

On April 14, 1973, my sister and I went to see a plaque placed on the stone house that was once a sentry gate. Several hundred Japanese, a few Indians, and a sprinkling of whites attended. The last paragraph on the plaque speaks the minds of more than the Japanese.

IN THE EARLY PART OF WORLD WAR II.110.000

PERSONS OF JAPANESE ANCESTRY WERE

INTERNED IN RELOCATION CENTERS BY EXECUTIVE ORDER #9066, ISSUED ON FEBRUARY 19,1942.

 

MANZANAR, the FIRST OF TEN SUCH CONCENTRATION CAMPS, WAS BOUNDED BY BARBED

WIRE AND GUARD TOWERS. CONFINING 10.000

PERSONS, THE MAJORITY BEING AMERICAN CITIZENS.

 

MAY THE INJUSTICES AND HUMILIATION SUFFERED HERE AS A RESULT OF HYSTERIA, RACISM AND ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION NEVER EMERGE AGAIN.

 

MANZANAR COMMITTEE/JACL APRIL 14,1973

 

Copy of Wording on Memorial Plaque at Manzanar

 

 

{*Copied without permission from Saga of Inyo County 1977 by Chapter 183, Southern Inyo American Association of Retired Persons.}

 

 
 
 
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