Visit to Manzanar War Relocation Center

Manzanar War Relocation Center in Inyo County, California

My photo of the entrance sign, taken during my visit to Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

During a road trip a few years back, I was Southbound on U.S. 395 through the Owens Valley North of Lone Pine, California. This area is roughly between Fresno and Death Valley National Park, with wide open desert views. What I didn’t expect was to see the sign in the photo above:

Obviously, the “war relocation” part of the sign caught my attention. It was an unplanned stop, but well worth the time!

Quick history notes from the National park service website:

-Owens Vally Paiute occupied the area for thousands of years. As “Americans” sought farmable land outside of Los Angeles, the Army forced the Paiute out.

-the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941 triggered the Federal government to be suspicious of all individuals from Japan, especially those living on the West coast.

-in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an Executive Order authorizing the forced removal of all “enemy aliens” from the West coast. Individuals from Japan and their descendants were the primary target group.

-the Federal government leased the land from the City of Los Angeles to create the War Relocation Center

-the National Park Service is now the guardian of the War Center site to preserve it. The original gym building is now a visitor center, with an extensive collection of 1940s newspapers, posters, and other material, showing the anti-Japanese attitude of the government at the time

The Park Rangers are actively seeking information from individuals and families that have ties to Manzanar. When I stopped by the information center, an older woman was there with her family-she had been an internee there as a young child!

-over 11,000 individuals that were labeled enemy aliens lived or passed through Manzanar while it was open. It was the first of 10 relocation centers set up across the U.S. The youngest internees were newborns, the oldest in their 80s.

manzanar cemetery
The Manzanar cemetery monument, photographed during my visit to Manzanar War Relocation Center in California

The cemetery was created on the Northwest side, just outside of the boundary for the living area, two months after the “camp” was opened. It is basically on the opposite side of the site from the entrance. The first person buried there was a 63 year old widower that was sick when he arrived at the camp. Ironically, his grave is still on site, as he did not have any family members to relocate his remains after Manzanar closed in 1945.

The National Park’s page about the cemetery at Manzanar (link below) indicates that of 150 deaths over the time the camp was used to hold Japanese, 14 were buried there. Most of the decedents were claimed by family and buried closer to home after the camp closed, but 6 individuals are still interred here. The page also has an interpretation of the Kanji symbols on the cemetery monument.

Origami paper swan chains hang from the wooden fence around the cemetery.  My photo, taken during my visit to Manzanar War Relocation Center in California

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