East of Fresno on the other side of the Sierra is where one of 10 World War II relocation camps was built. It is called Manzanar.
Manzanar housed Japanese-Americans who were thought to possibly be aiding the enemy. The camp closed after World War II came to an end.
75 years after Manzanar’s construction, some survivors revisited the site.
KSEE24’s Joe Moeller was there for their pilgrimage to Manzanar.
“I remember my mother telling us we are going to camp. I thought at the time, ‘oh camp.’ Then she said we got to get you different clothes. I started realizing this camp wasn’t like any camp that I was familiar with, said Mas Ouki, a man who spent three years at Manzanar.
Manzanar sits in the lifeless area on the east side of the towering Sierra Mountains.
It was a camp built 75 years ago, but now it is a national historic site.
To understand the story of Manzanar, and why it was put in such a remote place, you must look back to December of 1941.
I remember my mother telling us we are going to camp.
Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor is when Manzanar’s story began. It led to the U.S.’s involvement in World War II.
After that, Japanese-Americans were treated differently.
President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. Japanese-Americans were considered a threat after that.
Those living on the West Coast had six days to grab the items they could put in a suitcase. They were loaded onto trains and buses and transported.
Manzanar was one of 10 war relocation camps built west of the Mississippi.
Roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in the internment camps; 62 Percent of them were American citizens.
More than 11,000 people were forced to live in Manzanar – each with their own story to tell.
The cemetery remains in place, and replicas were built.
75 years after the executive order was signed – survivors, family, and others returned for a pilgrimage to revisit history and to commemorate what happened.
“To all persons of Japanese ancestry, we will never forget when our people were forced to assemble like cattle for an unknown destination for an indefinite amount of time,” event speakers said in unison at the pilgrimage.
In the crowd there were several Japanese-Americans who spent years of their lives behind barbed wire on this very land.
“I worry that most people don’t know about what happened to us. It was very desolate,” Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig said.