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Gordon Hirabayashi Campground
  • AaronAaron November 2011
    Gordon Hirabayashi Campground in Arizona is near the site of a World War II era federal prison camp the history of the site is on the Forest Service website and is reporduced here:

    Desert Dwellers wanted a road up the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains to provide an escape from the summer heat, but building the road through the steep and rocky terrain was expensive. To cut costs Federal prisoners would supply most of the labor, and a minimum security "Federal Honor Camp" was begun in 1937 to house the prisoners. There were no fences or guard towers at the camp; painted rocks marked the boundry.

    Durning two decades of labor, the prisoners constructed 24 miles of road through the Coronado National Forest, with the route winding from 2,800 feet in elevation at the base of the mountains to over 8,000 feet in the cool pines. The Catalina Highway was completed in 1951, and the honor camp buildings were torn down in the 1970's. Little reamins at the site beyond foundations and rock walls built by the prisoners.

    A Prison without bars
    All of the prisoners at the honor camp had been convicted of Federal crimes, ranging from immigration law violations to tax evasion to bank robery. During World War II, many of the prisoners at the honor camp were conscientious objectors, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Hopi Indians, whose religions prohibited them from serving in the military. Some of the prisoners were japanese Americans protesting the "Japanese American Relocation," the largest forced removal and incarceration in U.S. history.

    World war II
    After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, nervous U.S. officials were afraid that Americans of Japanese heritage would conduct espionage and sabotage along the West coast. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, wich authorized the Secretary of War t designate military areas from which "any and all persons may be excluded." Over the next 3 months, 117,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them American Citizens, were forced from their homes in California, Western Washington, Western Oregon, and Southern Arizona and imprisoned in large, crowded internment camps surronded by barbed wire and guard towers.

    A Citizen's Dilemma
    In 1942, Gordon Hirabayashi was a senior at the University of Washington in Seattle. Instead of reporting for relocation, Hirabayashi turned himself in to the FBI. He challenged the constitutionality of internment and a curfew imposed on Japanese American Citizens, since both were based solely on race or ancestry. Hirabayashi was one of only three people to directly challenge the government's roundup by openly refusing to comply with the relocation order. His cases went all the way to the Supreme Court, but Hirabayashi was convicted. In a landmark decision in American judicial history, the court ruled that racial discrimination by the government was constituional in the face of a genuine military threat. Because the Federal Attorney would not provide transportation, Hirabayashi hitchhiked alone from Spokane, Washingtion, to Tucson to serve his sentence at the honor camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

    The Tucsonians
    Some of the honor camp prisoners during World War II were young Japanese American men. In 1942, Japanese Americans had been classified as "4-C", unsuitable for military service because of race or ancestry. Two years later teh draft was reinstated for all Japanese Americans, and many served in the military with distinction. However, over 300 refused to be drafted until their Constitutional rights as citizens were restored and their families were released from internment camps. The reisters did not object to the draft in itself, but hoped that by defying the draft they would clarify their citizenship status. Their protest had little effect; the reisters were convicted of draft evasion and served 2 to 3 years in Federal prisons. Over 40 of the resisters were sent to the honor camp in leg irons and chains, but ironically, once there, they had greater freedom than their families did back in the interment camps.

    Righting a Wrong
    President Harry S. Truman pardoned the draft resisters in December 1947. Forty years after Hirabayashi's original conviction, it was discovered that the Justice Department had withheld evidence that the forced removal and internment of Japanese Americans durning World War II was motivated by racial prejudice, wartime hystaria, and failed political leadership. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledged the injustice and apologized for the internment.

    Lest we Forget
    In 1999, the Coronado National Forest named a new recreation site at the old honor camp after its most famous inmate, Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi, to honor him and other resisters of conscience who were imprisoned there. At the dedication (from left above) were Tucsonians Joe Norikane, Hideo Takeuchi, and Ken Yoshida; Coronado National Forest Supervisor John McGee, Gordon Hirabayashi, Congressman Jim Kolbe, Tucsonian Harry Yoshikawa, Takashi Hoshizaki, Tucsonian Noboru Taguma, and Yosh Kuromiya. In 2001, interpretive signs were installed at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site to tell the story of the old honor camp and its connection to the Japanese American internment. Bottom left photograph: Color Guard, Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84, Sacaton, Arizona. Bottom right photograph, from left: Hopi conscientous objector Roger Nasevama, Ken Yoshida, Gordon Hirabayashi, Sus Yenokida, Harry Yodhikawa, and Noboru Taguma at the sign unveiling.