CONFINEMENT & ETHNICITY. Fort Sill is seen in this map of
confinement sites in the western U.S. associated with the
incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. (Image
from the book, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World
War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, National Park
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #12 (June 17, 2019), page 13.
Oklahoma base set for migrant site was WWII
By Adam Kealoha Causey
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — A U.S. Army base in Oklahoma that the federal
government says will temporarily house children crossing the
border without their parents was used during World War II as a
Japanese internment camp.
Historical data from the National Park Service and private
organizations show Fort Sill was among at least 14 Army and
Department of Justice facilities nationwide where Japanese
Americans and Japanese immigrants were interred. The Army’s War
Relocation Authority held about 120,000 Japanese and Japanese
Americans in "relocation centers" during the war with Japan.
Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho, an organization that
documents the history of the United States’ internment of
Japanese people, referred to Fort Sill as "a place layered in
trauma." He pointed to its use as a boarding school for Native
American children and as a prisoner-of-war camp for Apache
"Sites like this need to be permanently closed, not recycled
to inflict more harm," Ikeda said in a statement. "We need to
stay vigilant and we need to be showing up at these places in
protest. No one showed up for Japanese Americans during World
War II, but we can and we must break that pattern now."
The Obama administration also used Fort Sill to house
unaccompanied migrant children during a migration surge in 2014.
Ikeda’s perspective echoed calls last year from state and
federal leaders and locals who objected to the Trump
administration looking into housing immigrant children near the
site of a former internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. Those
plans were scrapped. The Office of Refugee Resettlement,
overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, said it
plans to house up to 1,400 migrant children at Fort Sill, near
Lawton, Oklahoma, about 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.
An e-mailed request for comment from the department was not
returned. In a letter dated June 12, Health and Human Services
secretary Alex Azar and acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin
McAleenan asked congress to appropriate $4.5 billion in
emergency funding requested to "address the immediate
humanitarian crisis at our southern border."
Record numbers of unaccompanied children have been arriving
at the border, largely from Guatemala, Honduras, and El
Salvador. In May, border agents apprehended 11,507 children
travelling alone. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has come
under fire for the death of two children who went through the
agency’s network of shelters and is facing lawsuits over the
treatment of teens in its care. The office has said it must set
up new facilities to accommodate new arrivals or risk running
out of beds.
Fort Sill spokesman Darrell Ames said the post’s information
indicates that following America’s entry into World War II, the
government directed the base to build internment camps for
Japanese Americans, but nothing in the record reflects the camps
were actually occupied by Japanese Americans. Instead, the camps
were used by prisoners of war from Japan, Germany, and Italy.
Officials at the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark &
Museum said they have no information about the base’s use as an
internment or prisoner-of-war camp because that part of its
history is not part of its mission statement.
Shawn Iwaoka, who works in collections at the Japanese
American National Museum in Los Angeles, said confusion abounds
because camps were referred to by different names, including
"relocation centers" or "detention camps," and because the camp
at Fort Sill was much smaller than camps such as Manzanar in
California, which housed thousands of people. The museum’s
collection includes letters a man detained at Fort Sill wrote to
his wife at another camp in California with a pre-preprinted
label that said "internee of war."
"The euphemisms were rampant to kind of soften what they
really were. The museum’s position is that they should be called
concentration camps," Iwaoka said. "They were going into
people’s homes and forcing them to leave their property."
It’s unclear exactly when the camp at Fort Sill opened, but
an encyclopedia Densho publishes shows it closed in June 1942,
almost seven months after the Japanese bombed the American fleet
in Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i. That pushed the U.S. into war and led
the government to open internment camps.
Densho’s records and the book Confinement and Ethnicity: An
Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites,
included on the National Park Service website, show from 359 to
more than 700 people were interred at Fort Sill, including three
German nationals. A guard shot a Japanese man to death while he
was distraught and trying to escape. The Densho Encyclopedia
says detainees lived in tents and that summer temperatures
climbed to 100º Fahrenheit.
Associated Press writers Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and
Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to