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Less than one week after construction began, the first Japanese American evacuees arrived at Manzanar, which the military continued to call the Owens Valley Reception Center, on March 21, 1942, as part of the Western Defense Command's voluntary evacuation program. A WCCA press release dated March 21, the aforementioned reports by Brown and Merritt and by Silverman, and the Manzanar Free Press, the camp's newspaper prepared and written by camp evacuees under the direction of Robert Brown that began publication on April 11, 1942, provide information on the early arrivals, all of whom were from Los Angeles. While the descriptions of the early arrivals differ in some details, all provide insight into a hectic and chaotic period during which large numbers of evacuees were arriving at a partially-completed camp amid its frenzied construction.

In their report, Brown and Merritt briefly described the first arrivals at Manzanar by stating that on March 21 the "first 84 'volunteers' arrived by bus; the next day 6 more came by private car." The following day, March 23, "710 arrived in a caravan of private cars escorted by the Army." [10]

The WCCA, Manzanar Free Press, and Silverman each provide more information on the first contingents of evacuees to arrive at Manzanar. On March 21 the WCCA issued a press release that stated:

In striking contrast to the fleeing refugees in other lands, the first exodus of Japanese and Japanese Americans from the Western parts of the Pacific Coast states, starts in Los Angeles Monday morning, with a voluntary movement., in ordered arrangement, with military forces as escorts rather than guards.

Instead of pushcarts and wheelbarrows, or walking, the 1000 Japanese affected will travel in their own automobiles, in busses, and by train to the Manzanar Reception Center. . . .

The Los Angeles voluntary movement is the first mass departure from Military Area No. 1 in accordance with the evacuation decrees of Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt. . . . Other evacuations will be continued, to fulfill the Army's mission of minimizing sabotage and espionage in the critical areas of the Pacific Coast. . . .

Those leaving in their own car report at 6AM Monday at the South end of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. They come prepared to start at 6:15, their tanks filled with gasoline, their tires and a spare in good shape, and prepared to buy their own gasoline enroute. Those going by busses report at 7 AM at 222 South Hewitt Street, Los Angeles. The train contingent will leave the old Santa Fe depot at 8 AM.

Each person will bring his or her bedding, except mattresses, tools of his trade, cooking and eating utensils, clothing and personal belongings, and a gallon of water. Those going by train can take what they can carry with them. Those using their own cars can carry what they can load into their machines. Each must care for his own belongings.

Under escort of troops, the caravans will travel in 10-car convoys. Two persons to a coupe or roadster, three to a touring car, and four to a truck are the passenger limitations.

Evacuees will have eaten breakfast when they appear for removal. They will be furnished a cold lunch enroute — and at the end of their 300 mile drive, or their train trip, a warm supper will await them, they will be comfortably housed, awaiting their establishment of community life and their later departure for permanent location under the War Relocation Authority. [11]

In his report, Silverman observed that while construction was beginning at Manzanar the "clamor for removal of the Japanese" on the coast "was rising still higher and the authorities could not delay evacuation" until construction "was complete." Thus, on March 21, "with only two blocks of buildings under way, the first contingent of Japanese — the "headquarter staff" — were brought from Los Angeles in three busses and a streamlined truck." These evacuees, according to Silverman, were "painters, and plumbers, doctors and nurses, cooks, and bakers, and stenographers with the job of preparing for the arrival of the first real group of evacuees two days later." These "first 86 arrived on a Saturday, but there was no week-end vacation for them." They worked "cleaning up kitchens, preparing a temporary hospital, organizing registration blanks, storing food, vaccines and blankets." On Sunday "they learned additional hundreds of evacuees were coming from Bainbridge Island, near Seattle."

Silverman went on to describe the arrival of evacuees at Manzanar during its first hectic days of operation. On Monday, March 23, the

first big group of Japanese left Los Angeles for Manzanar, 800 men who had volunteered to come early and pitch into the heavy work. One section came by train — a day-long trip that began at 8 o'clock in the old Santa Fe station near little Tokyo and finished at dark in the little Lone Pine Station 9 miles south of Manzanar.

The other section came by automobile — a 240-car caravan that started at 6 o'clock in the morning from the Pasadena Rose Bowl. There was every contraption in that caravan from a Model T Ford to a 1942 Chrysler. The cars were adorned with bedding, clothes, suitcases, ironing boards, washing machines, gardening implements, furniture, dishes, and mechanics tools. By official orders, every car contained a gallon jug of water and enough gasoline to run 300 miles. Some trucks carried delicately packed boxes of flowers and tomato plants, all ready for replanting.

Official orders likewise called for a limit of two passengers to a coupe, three to a sedan, and four to a truck. Each car had to have all four tires and a spare in good condition. The schedule allowed for a ten minute stop every two hours, but the schedule-makers were not actually so optimistic — they added an ambulance and a complete wrecking car to the caravan. Inserted into the line were a dozen jeeps, and before the day was over, many of them had to be transformed into diminutive tow-cars.

The army convoy was a military escort, officers emphasized, and definitely not an armed guard. They enforced driving precautions rigorously — particularly one which said no evacuee could get out of his car on the left-hand side — and the results were satisfactory; the caravan arrived in excellent condition. It, too was a slow all-day trip, with the speed cut down to accommodate the slowest car, and the evacuees reached Manzanar just at dusk.

Waiting for them were hot dinners, beds and a welcome from the 86 "pioneers."

For the next few days, the evacuees had not enough work, plenty of discomforts, and a snarl of misunderstood organization plans to unravel. The houses were almost finished, but the "almost" meant lack of windows, and that meant dust in everything. The showers weren't ready.

Silverman reported that one week later, on Wednesday, April 1, the Army "started the first load of the families to join the volunteer workers already at Manzanar. He noted that

a special train was prepared to leave Los Angeles at 8 o'clock (it left nearly an hour late), crowded with women and children and old folks, carrying baggage cars loaded with trunks, suitcases and 1000 lunch boxes. Two physicians were on board to take care of any emergency, but the only medical call came when one doctor cut himself trying to open a box; his colleague gave prompt and effective treatment. . . .

With 1000 expected to come on that first train and another 1000 expected on the following day, camp officials found their estimates were 40 per cent off. Only about 400 arrived on the first day [April 1] and 878 on the second [April 2]. [12]

In a special edition printed on March 20, 1943, the Manzanar Free Press commemorated the first anniversary of the camp's operation. An article in the anniversary issue described the first hectic days at Manzanar:

The first merry outburst of incredulity flooded around them on that cold afternoon of March 21 when 61 men and 20 women stood on the threshold of their future abode. There was nothing on the vast flat land before them except the groundwork of future homes that was having its inception. Within the first range of rough lumber was the skeleton of the simple, crude abodes which were soon to house 10,000 evacuees.

According to the newspaper, 35 of the first volunteers or pioneers had the task "of preparing something palatable from the potatoes and canned stew, hash, corned beef, etc., that were piled up heterogeneously where the police station now stands." Perishable foodstuffs, such as milk, were stored in two ice trucks at Lone Pine. Joseph R. Winchester, chief steward at Manzanar, went to Lone Pine daily with several evacuees to get food until the ice boxes were installed at the camp. Part of the "fun" at that time, according to Winchester, was "carrying 400 loaves of bread in his car for three days."

The newspaper article went on to describe the crude facilities encountered by the first evacuees to enter Manzanar. It noted:

The sewer until then [ca. early April] had consisted of a ditch, two feet wide and four feet deep extending from Block 1 to Block 6. An amusing incident was told of three evacuees who had become drunk on the way to Manzanar. They were walking around at dusk, having a happy time sobering up when they lost one member. Almost in vain they searched for him, when they espied him helplessly clutched by the ditch which had drenched him badly by the time five men succeeded in pulling him out.

The latrine for both men and women was an ungainly, "portable" outhouse, hooked up and dragged back and forth between the barracks. When its use was no longer needed, it was dragged up beyond Block 6, carrying a woman occupant who was trying vainly to get out!

Typical of the early evacuees were those who, having lost jobs or seeking adventure in an unenviable situation, had been eager to see what Manzanar was like. Eighteen-year-old Masiumi Kanamori . . . came with two other school friends, secretly harboring the idea of earning a little money, wanting to take in the new life from the start. . . . [13]

During April evacuees entered Manzanar in large numbers, swelling its population as camp construction continued. On April 11, for instance, the first issue of the Manzanar Free Press reported:

Pushing aside the sage brush and literally growing from the desert sand, Manzanar has mushroomed into the bonanza town of '42, boasting today a population of 3,302.

In 3 weeks this magic town has boomed ahead to become the largest city in Owens Valley — the largest California city east of the Sierras.

From the time when 85 hardy pioneers, including 8 girls, came from Los Angeles to stake out their new homes in skeleton buildings, additions and improvements have been constantly speeded.

Today 575 buildings are occupied. . . .

Hot water is already running in some of the showers and laundries and work is being pushed on the others. As additional blocks are completed, more contingents are anticipated to swell Manzanar. [14]

Two weeks later, on April 25, the newspaper observed that "3000 newcomers in the next three days climaxes three weeks of wondering when and from where the next contingents would arrive." These new evacuees, who would come from the Los Angeles area (Santa Monica Bay area, Sawtelle in West Los Angeles, and the Burbank and Glendale districts of the San Fernando Valley), would

find a cozier and cheerier welcome for during the three weeks' lull, carpenters and workmen were able to go ahead and complete steps and windows, washing facilities that will help make their adjustment. [15]

In the same issue, the newspaper reported that Griffith and Company would complete the camp in "a matter of days." With a construction crew of 600 men at work ten hours a day, 600 buildings had been erected to date. Proposed plans called for 770 buildings. J. Hopinstall, the company's contract representative, reported that "buildings are put up at the rate of two an hour and that 25,000 board feet of lumber are being used every ten minutes." [16]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002