On the 69th anniversary of their departure from Venice to Manzanar, several former Japanese-American internees returned to the site from where they and their families left behind their homes and their war relocation camp experience began.
Beginning on April 25, 1942, the site marked as 933 Venice Blvd., just west of Lincoln Boulevard was where more than 1,000 Japanese-American men, women and children living on the Westside of Los Angeles boarded buses to be transported to the Manzanar internment camp for the remainder of World War II.
Given just days’ notice and limited to bring only what they could carry, they were among thousands of other West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry who were required to be sent to war relocation camps under an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Some of those who departed the civilian control station near Venice and Lincoln boulevards and were just children at the time recalled nearly seven decades later that they were not aware of where their families were being taken.
“At 11 years old you think it’s kind of an adventure because you’re going somewhere, but it’s kind of like being uprooted,” said Noboru Kamibayashi, 80, who was living in Venice and arrived at the departure site with his brother, sister and mother. “There was a lot of uncertainty because we didn’t know where we were going to be staying that night. It was a long bus ride and quite of an ordeal.”
Kamibayashi, who now lives in Santa Monica, is one of several former Manzanar internees who gathered for a ceremony April 25 at the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln boulevards, where members of the Venice community are hoping to recognize the fact that local Japanese-Americans left their homes from that location. The event would be remembered locally with a proposed Japanese-American memorial marker placed at the street corner where those leaving for internment camps gathered in April 1942.
The effort has been spearheaded by the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee and has received support from Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who filed a council motion for the installation of a commemorative marker, as well as state Assemblywoman Betsy Butler and state Sen. Ted Lieu, who authored an assembly resolution allowing for the monument to be placed at the location. Rosendahl has helped secure $5,000 of the $20,000 needed for the project, which must receive California Coastal Commission approval.
The councilman said it was an honor and a privilege to support a project related to such a historic moment in time, and it can serve as a reminder that the experiences faced by Japanese-Americans during WWII should never happen again.
“April 25, 1942 is when Americans of Japanese background were rounded up and it was a huge violation of their constitutional rights,” Rosendahl said at the ceremony announcing the marker. “Never again should an American be pulled out of their homeŠ and taken to a concentration camp; that’s what happened in 1942.
“We are all blessed to be Americans but we, like every other nation on the planet, have issues that we must focus on and must improve in how we live and how we deal with one another.”
The memorial proposal was first discussed by the Venice Peace and Freedom Party and the anniversary of the assemblage of Japanese-Americans in Venice has been noted in recent years with a historic photo of the event in the Free Venice Beachhead. After former Venice High School student Scott Ueda, Jr. wrote an article on the occurrence for the Beachhead in 2009, another Venice High student, Scott Pine, brought it to the attention of his class and then-teacher, Phyllis Hayashibara, who discussed the idea of a memorial marker with Rosendahl.
Pine, who has always been fascinated by history, said having a marker telling of that period of time can remind later generations that just as people’s civil rights were violated during WWII, it can happen again unless citizens remain vigilant. Noting how he was first inspired to act by seeing the historic photo of the assemblage, Pine said learning can take place outside of the classroom and he is pleased that his efforts have helped lead to the memorial.
“I’m humbled and grateful to be a part of this movement,” said Pine, who is now a Santa Monica College student.
Hayashibara, whose parents spent two and a half years at a war relocation camp in Arkansas, said the marker can also serve as a reminder that Venice was a place where people’s trips to the camps originated.
“It happened here, at an intersection that people pass all the time,” she said.
The plan for erecting a memorial marker at the former spot of the civilian control station was widely backed by community groups, including the Venice Neighborhood Council, which endorsed the project in June 2010.
“There isn’t anything more that a community can do but honor its own and honor its history,” neighborhood council President Linda Lucks said.
The proposed monument will consist of a four-foot concrete pedestal, metal plaques and historic signs. Artist Emily Winters, a co-founder of the Venice Arts Council, said memorial committee members helped create the design which includes the figure of a suitcase at the base to symbolize the concept that people only brought what they could carry.
For some former Manzanar internees who were old enough to remember details of their pick-up, seeing the Venice Boulevard site still brings back memories of a troubling time. Longtime Mar Vista resident Arnold Maeda, who was 15 and living in Santa Monica when he boarded the bus, said he continues to point out the spot to passengers when driving by the area and think about what happened.
“I couldn’t help it because of the gut-wrenching anger that would well up in me,” he said.
Though he recalls feelings of uncertainty while waiting to board, Maeda said he was most bothered with having to say good-bye to his German Shepherd, Boy, whom he had to leave behind. But he said many of the negative feelings of his internment have been replaced by hope with the future memorial.
“As an ex-internee, I’m deeply moved to be participating in this program to commemorate the beginning of an historic event,” he said.
Santa Monica resident Yosh Tomita, 75, who was only 5 when his family was taken to Manzanar, has vague memories of the incident but remembers his parents trying to gather him up before boarding the bus. He is glad to know that the community wants to recognize the fact that the Venice street corner is the place from where he and other internees actually left.
Mae Kakehashi recalls being confused about her future when she arrived at the civilian control station at the age of 18 with her brother and two sisters. Kakehashi, who married her husband while at Manzanar after he received a draft notice to serve in the military, said the memorial marker can teach people about the internment situation that may not know what happened.
“I think it’s wonderful and it will remind people that things like this – an evacuation – can not happen again to another group,” the Venice resident said.
Kamibayashi said that although the community plaque recognition is taking place nearly 70 years after the internees first departed, he is gratified that younger people will have the opportunity to reflect on the history involving local Japanese-Americans.
“It’s been many years since it happened and it took a long time for people to recognize it, but I’m happy that the younger generation that never knew what was going on can reconstruct the event,” he said.