Putting a Human Face on the
La Tuna Canyon Detention Center
We’ve heard much about CV’s WWII “Japanese internment camp” over the years. What is now the site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course was, during the war, an interrogation center for resident Japanese, German and Italians who were perceived as being a possible threat to national security by the FBI. From December 1941 until late 1942 nearly 3000 prisoners were interrogated at La Tuna Canyon Detention Center. A lucky few were released or allowed to join their families in the larger internment camps, but the majority were transferred to larger prisons.
When we look at Japanese internment through today’s eyes, it seems a horrible injustice – a huge mistake. But during those early years of the war, west coast residents were terrified and fully expected a Japanese attack. Fear demanded action, and that action was to arrest all Japanese or Japanese-Americans with military backgrounds or leadership positions in the community.
In 2006, Lloyd Hitt of the Little Landers Historical Society tracked down some Tuna Detention Center internees or their children and recorded their stories, which I’ll share with you. I’ll use initials to protect their identities.
The reasons for their arrests were sometimes trivial. Many of the arrested Japanese were fishermen in the San Pedro area. Mr. TH was an importer with contacts in Japan when he was arrested. Mr. HT was a teacher, Mr. SS was a Buddhist priest, Mr. HH taught Judo, and Mr. GY was a member of the PTA of his kid’s Japanese school. Mr. RY and his brother Mr. MY, both farmers in Irvine, were arrested because RY’s wife had been visiting Japan at the outbreak of the war and was presumably trapped there. Mr. HM, a farmer in Long Beach, had been invited to be a member of the school board for his kid’s Japanese school. When he protested that he wasn’t qualified, he was told that they just needed one more member, and that he wouldn’t have to do anything. But then, because of his school board position, he was arrested and held at Tuna Camp for a month, then on to prison in New Mexico.
Probably feeling betrayed by the U.S., he asked that he and his family be repatriated to Japan. Instead they were all sent to Tule Lake Internment Camp, the designated camp for “troublemakers,” where they sat out the war. Mr. KY was arrested by the FBI on the night of Dec. 7, 1941 because he had been in the Japanese Army before moving to the U.S. After a few days in jail, he was transferred to Tuna Camp. His wife and kids couldn’t find out where he was, but just before he was shipped to a federal prison in Montana, they discovered his location and got to visit him. After a stay in Montana, he was released to Manzanar Internment Camp to rejoin his family. Late in the war, he and his family were taken from the camp and put on a train to New York where they were released.
It was very hard for the families. Mr. KH was arrested and held shortly at Tuna Camp before disappearing into various other prisons and camps, his family not knowing his location. His daughter remembered visiting him at Tuna Camp during his brief stay there. She remembers standing outside the fence crying, looking at her father but unable to touch him. Mr. TU’s daughter remembers visiting her father at Tuna Camp and being threatened by a guard with a rifle and bayonet, and told not to speak any Japanese. This family was sent back to Japan at war’s end, where they were abused by the local Japanese for their association with Americans. The daughter eventually returned to the U.S.
It was sad then and it’s sad today. These are stories of abuse and mistrust that should never be forgotten. It’s important that a monument to this dark time in America’s history be established at Verdugo Hills Golf Course. I hope that the current owner of the property will agree to let that happen.