Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
EARLY DAYS AT MANZANAR
COMMENCEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATIONS UNDER THE WARTIME CIVIL CONTROL
ADMINISTRATION, MARCH-MAY 1942 (contined)
While Manzanar was under construction and during the period when its
first evacuee residents were arriving at the camp, the Los Angeles
newspapers described the center in glowing terms. On March 30, 1942, for
instance, the Los Angeles Times reported:
If Uncle Sam's children trapped in Japan by the outbreak of the
conflict fare one-half as well as Japanese whom the fortunes of war and
the will of the Western Defense Command place in Owens Valley. they will
have reason enough to disagree with Sherman's opinion of armed
The present and prospective Nipponese occupants of the fast-building
Owens Valley Reception Center at Manzanar are lucky They couldn't be
censured for hoping, in their own behalf, that the war lasts for
Owens Valley, potentially one of the most fertile in California, and
that means all the world, has the makings of a garden spot to supplement
its natural attractions.
They couldn't wish for better scenery or a cleaner, more healthful
The Manzanar Free Press, which generally took a pro-government
stance in its commentary on evacuation and camp life, offered somewhat
contrasting observations regarding the experiences of the first evacuees
to arrive at the camp. In an editorial on May 2, 1942, the newspaper
noted that evacuees "arrive in Manzanar with a mingled feeling of
uncertainty and bewilderment." "Sooner or later," however, "the
snow-capped High Sierras imbue us with complacency which makes us forget
the bitter war now waging ever nearer our shores." The editorial stated
further that as "a protective measure executed by the Army, we were
moved as a collective racial group far from the industrial
centers." "Some are inclined to be bitter, for being moved from homes
and friends." "Many have suffered financial losses." Nevertheless,
prolonged "idleness makes people forget worldly cares and tribulations."
Thus, all residents "must pitch in and make our camp life really worth
With the aforementioned observations and commentary in mind, this
section will provide insights into the experiences of evacuees during
their removal to Manzanar and the early days of the camp's operation by
focusing on representative eyewitness accounts. The experiences not only
had a significant impact on the outlook and attitudes of the evacuees
during the early internment period, but they also laid the foundation
for serious antagonisms that would plague the center's operation
throughout the war.
Pre-Evacuation Rumors About Manzanar
The arrival of the bulk of evacuees at Manzanar brought to light the
fact that the majority of them had been subjected to rumors in the
pre-evacuation period that would have a negative effect on their first
experiences at the camp and thus contribute to their disillusionment
during the chaotic early days of its operation. On April 14, 1944,
Morris E. Opler, a community analyst assigned to Manzanar by the War
Relocation Authority, prepared a summary report on pre-evacuation rumors
about Manzanar and their effect on its evacuee residents. His report was
based on interviews with three unnamed evacuees from the Los Angeles
area. According to Opler, the rumors were "evidently general" in the
metropolitan area, because the three persons were from three different
and widely-separated parts of the city. The importance of "recapturing
such evidence," according to Opler, was that attitudes and impressions
"which are formed under strong emotional stress perpetuate themselves in
various forms and are often found to have relation to events which
Among the most drastic pre-evacuation rumors, according to Opler's
"interviewees, was the story "that we were being put closely together,
concentrated in a narrow valley between two mountains along an airplane
route, so that if the coast was attacked by Japan we could be bombed and
all killed." Another story was that they "would open the reservoir on us
and drown us all." One interviewee observed: "People expected to get
killed; I expected to die here."
As a result of some stories, the evacuees brought many non-useful
items to Manzanar. Rumors circulated that the site was "full of big,
biting ants and snakes," prompting many persons to bring bulky boots.
There were rumors that Manzanar was inhabited by swarms of big
mosquitoes and that you couldn't get any sleep at night unless you
brought mosquito netting." One evacuee noted: "I still remember how I
ran around trying to find some. And we all got plenty of it because we
understood that the beds were in tiers, one above another, so that you
had to have enough to reach to the floor from the top."
After the first evacuees arrived at Manzanar, rumors started in Los
Angeles that men and women were forced to use the same showers and bathe
together. As a result, "nearly all the girls and some of the boys
brought bathing suits." One of Opler's interviewees had also packed a
"big wash tub" and had it sent to the camp. Because of rumors that
Manzanar was "full of thieves," the evacuees "stocked up on and brought
along" "chains and padlocks and hasps for the doors." Rumors had it that
"you had to get long chains and string all your suitcases together; if
you left one by itself it would disappear."
Because of rumors that Manzanar did not have sufficient supplies of
medicine and cotton, many evacuees brought large quantities of
medications with them. One interviewee told Opler:
I had so much of the stuff that I couldn't get it all in my hand
baggage and carried some in a wooden box. At the train the M.P. wanted
to throw it out because he said the rule was that nothing but hand
baggage was allowed on the train with the passengers. I told him it was
my medicine and begged him to let me keep it and he finally did, but
many people who brought wooden boxes to the train had them thrown
Even though there was medical attention here I found that much of
this medicine didn't last long. At first they had no partitions in the
latrines, just toilets in a row. Some of the women were so ashamed they
wouldn't go to them and got sick. I gave out lots of medicine, ex-lax
and things like that.
Rumors that all camp laundry was to be sent to one facility outside
the camp led to the belief that everyone needed to put their "mark" or
"initials" on every piece of clothing. Thus, prior to evacuation many
evacuees "went around trying to get the proper ink so that they could
put laundry marks on their clothes." Ink supplies quickly diminished.
Thus, some evacuees sewed their initials on every piece of clothing they
took to Manzanar. After the evacuees arrived at Manzanar, they were told
that those "stories were started so that the stores in Little Tokyo and
in downtown Los Angeles could sell their stock." One evacuee had
purchased so much ink that he "was in a hole financially when I got
here." Just prior to evacuation one "couldn't get rope, tags and many
other things in Little Tokyo or "in stores of the Boyle Heights
The evacuees also told Opler that when they went "to the regular
places [civil control stations] to ask what to bring" they were given
inaccurate or misleading advice. For instance, they had been told that
curtains and furniture would be provided at camp and thus such items
should not be taken to Manzanar. When these items were not furnished to
them after their arrival, they became disillusioned.
Concerning the issue of clothes, the evacuees told Opler that "no one
did the right thing." One interviewee, for instance, related:
Mayor Bowron of Los Angeles made a speech in which he said that we
were all to be put to work raising soy beans for the army So I made sun
bonnets and packed away all my good clothes. Practically no one brought
along good hats or shoes. About the only thing that people brought were
slacks and rough work clothes. The mother of one girl I know sold her
good dresses for 5 cents a-piece to Mexicans. Some of these were
expensive silk dresses. People had the idea that they didn't need such
things. They had the idea that they were going into another world.
People didn't seem to look ahead. Because they were told to bring only
what they absolutely needed at the time, they brought summer clothes
only For the first year everyone wore slacks. Perhaps it was a good
thing while the dust was so bad and before the place was settled. But as
these things began to wear out, instead of patching them, as could have
been done, people began to make or buy new clothes and dress up. . .
Prior to evacuation, rumors started that Manzanar did not have
sufficient water supplies. Thus, some evacuees brought innumerable
bottles of water, some of which were whiskey bottles. Opler observed
that his interviewees told him:
They tell of some boys who were sitting by some of these bottles
which had been thrown in a ditch. . . . Some M.P.'s accused them of
having whiskey. They couldn't convince the M.P.'s that it was just water
in the bottles and had to go to the police station with them till it was
Based on rumors that spread through the Japanese community in Los
Angeles prior to evacuation, some parents were "greatly worried about
bringing their daughters up here where everyone lives so close
together." After the first group had arrived at Manzanar the parents in
Los Angeles heard that "the bachelors and the loafers from Hawaii who
used to hang around the drug store at San Pedro and 1st Street were up
here and were doing bad things (raping) the girls." The parents were
warned "to be very careful with their daughters and not to let them go
anywhere alone at night."
The interviewees told Opler that it "was a relief to learn that these
rumors were not true, but there were disappointments the other way too."
Some of the things which happened in the early days of the camp's
operation were "almost as bad as the rumors." As an example, one evacuee
I came in the middle of May, 1942. Our baggage was put out in the
firebreak by block 13. The baggage of one person often was not all
together. A piece would be here and a piece would be there, It was hard
to locate your luggage and get it together. The M.P.'s came to inspect
it. There was a terrible dust storm that day If you weren't there to
open the piece of luggage they would break the lock and go through the
contents. The wind was blowing things all over and people were running
here and there trying to take care of the belongings. Everything got
dirty and all the people were angry. 
'Early Days at Manzanar' (By an Evacuee)
In a foreword to a report on an interview with an unnamed evacuee
concerning the early days at Manzanar Opler observed on April 25, 1944,
that many "of the present attitude sets and the convictions of evacuees
are fully explicable only in terms of events and conditions which
prevailed during evacuation and during the early days of the Center."
Opler noted that "habits of mind which still persist" were established
during the evacuation period and early days at Manzanar. These habits
had developed as a result of the "effects on attitudes toward work," the
"indecision, wrangling and false starts over wage scales," the "petty
dishonesty and hypocrisy which arose over the failure to provide
furniture or an openly approved way of constructing any," and the
"unwillingness of the evacuee to assume responsibility for directions
when their execution may bring him into conflict with other evacuees."
He observed that the "psychology seems to be that, as a result of
evacuation, a fundamental opposition obtained between the government,
represented by the Center administration and the appointed personnel,
and the evacuees. The enforcement "of any unpopular ruling, no matter
how plainly it fell in the line of duty, subjected the individual to the
criticism that he was siding with the administration and the government
against the Japanese people." The "tremendous concern of the average
evacuee over unfavorable comment and gossip directed against him made it
almost impossible for the person to perform tasks objectively as he
would have done in a less charged atmosphere." What the administration
desired "was constantly weighed against what was considered to be the
wishes and attitudes of the people." Where "the interests were not
deemed identical, performance and cooperation were poor." These
attitudes formed during the early days at Manzanar would continue "to
exist until greater confidence in the government" was restored." Thus,
it was important, according to Opler, to examine the experiences of
evacuees at Manzanar during their evacuation to the camp and its early
days of operation.
The evacuee that Opler interviewed had arrived at Manzanar on April
2, 1942. Concerning his induction at Manzanar, he stated:
I was on the last bus which transferred us from the train that
brought us from Los Angeles to Lone Pine. The last bus pulled into
Manzanar about five-thirty P.M. I was told to register at the Block 5
recreation hall. There I was assigned an apartment for my family and we
were assigned some blankets. . . .
We slept that night with just the army blankets that were issued to
us, for our bedding was checked in warehouses and the bedding was not to
be distributed till the following day.
I awoke at the crack of dawn and got ready for breakfast. I don't
exactly remember what I had for breakfast but I do know that in those
early days of evacuation, food was pretty good, as rationing hadn't
I wasn't any too anxious to work or to look for a job as we were told
that the wages were to be $21 a month and each person would have to pay
$15 subsistence. This meant that in my case, even if I did work, I would
still owe the government $24, as I had to pay for my wife and son. I
said to myself, 'Heck, I might as well not work at all.'
After breakfast the evacuee went to get his baggage. He noted:
Prior to evacuation I had rigged up a two-wheel pull-cart in order to
carry the heavy baggage to the station. When we left Los Angeles I had
to handle the baggage of three. My wife was pregnant and couldn't carry
anything much and the boy was just a tot and couldn't carry anything. .
. . I had this two-wheeler still and tried to use it now at Manzanar.
But this contraption did not do much to alleviate the baggage problem as
it was sandy all over and then again there were the sewage pits to
cross. I discarded the cart and had some friends help me carry the
baggage from the warehouse to the apartment.
After getting partly settled in our new home, I walked around looking
for the lake that some Caucasian friends had told me about. They had
mentioned that I was going on a nice vacation, as Manzanar was situated
beside a lake, and that I could go fishing, swimming, and boating. In
the winter, they told me, there was skiing to enjoy in the mountains.
This sure turned out to be a sour joke to me for none of those things
were available to us.
I was rather disappointed at the barracks which we evacuees were to
live in. I thought at least each individual family would be assigned to
a separate apartment. Instead, two or three families were crowded into a
six beam apartment, offering no privacy. It didn't matter so much with
the bachelors or the single girls if they slept in quarters together.
But when two or three families were placed in one apartment to make the
quota for the barrack, it was terrible.
As for the facilities, at first we had to endure the telephone booth
type of latrine, which had a chemical task receptacle. When the wind
blew, which was often, it blew right through the latrine. Sometimes it
blew so fiercely that it seemed as if the latrine would be toppled over.
I'm not exaggerating when I say this. At this time the present flush
toilets were not ready from Block 3 on up to Block 12. The other blocks
were not even built yet.
As for showers, hot water was only available in Blocks 1 and 2, as
the volunteer groups lived there. We lived in Block 4, so we could not
bathe every day as it was pretty far to walk in those days. By the time
we bathed and returned home, we would catch cold. In due time, the
boiler was installed in our block so we were able to bathe regularly. It
was about two weeks after we came here, though.
We felt pretty leery walking in the night to the latrine, and there
were snakes all over. The thought of stepping on one was enough to send
a chill up one's spine. I suppose the evacuees from rural districts
didn't think anything of it, but we who were raised in cities didn't
feel just right walking to the latrine at night.
All the barracks in those early days were bare, and when the wind
blew, the dust would seep right up through the cracks in the floor and
through the walls, the ceiling and all over. The construction of these
barracks was of the cheapest and simplest type. Even though there was a
partition between apartments, you could distinctly hear the neighbors
voices and their snoring too. Talk about sand! After walking all day, my
shoes used to be full of it. If I had watered my shoes, I might have
been able to grow thistle weeds. This sand is very hard on leather soled
shoes and it really wears them out fast. We had to sweep the room every
so often and mop once or twice a day because of the sand which was
tracked or blown into the house.
The administration told us to mop at least once daily and to keep
everything off the floor at least six inches off the floor. Now,
how were we to keep our belongings six inches off the floor if we had no
lumber with which to build stands? Every time we mopped we had to put
our belongings on top of the beds. We were told not to take lumber
scraps or otherwise we would get into trouble. The administration
promised us furniture at that time. I couldn't believe this promise so I
gathered scraps of lumber from here and there and tried my best to build
some crude furniture for the home. . . .
The evacuee described the somewhat primitive early medical facilities
and treatment provided to residents at Manzanar. Among other things, he
The hospital was housed in Block 1-2-2, a two-bed hospital at that
time. The clinic was located in the next room, 1-2-1. The doctors then
were Dr. G. and Dr. T. They deserve a lot of credit for their untiring
medical aid to the evacuees. In spite of the lack of facilities and
equipment they performed surgery and gave constant medical attention to
As more evacuees came, the hospital began to take up most of Block 7.
There were residents in Block 7 but they were moved elsewhere to
accommodate hospital patients and to provide larger rooms for surgical
and clinical work.
Dental work was established rather late as there was no equipment at
first. . . .
The evacuee observed that the camp's administrative staff was housed
in Block 1-8 during the early days. He commented about the first
At first the canteen was run by a Caucasian group as a branch of the
Fort Ord canteen. During those early days, the canteen had a tremendous
turnover in business. The canteen was located in Block 1-9-4 and it was
jammed full from the time it opened until it closed.
After the WCCA had determined the wage policy for the camp, the
evacuee joined the Manzanar police department. He described some of his
experiences on this job:
I then took a job on the police force as one of the patrolmen. I took
this job principally because I thought I would get a uniform and shoes
and a horse on which to ride around the Center. This job as policeman
had many drawbacks, such as constantly having to tell new evacuees, and
old ones too, not to go beyond certain boundaries. Thus we created
The unoccupied barracks were constantly frequented by lovers at night
so we had to patrol the lonely outposts and stop those things. I know
how young couples feel when in love, so I did not discourage them but
told them to keep off my beat. There were many complaints coming in to
the police stations about such conduct so we were 'elected' to stop them
if we could.
On the police force we worked eight full hours a day with one day a
week off. Those who worked at the desk usually got Sundays off. There
were three shifts, with each crew going on single shift two weeks before
Imagine working from midnight on till eight in the morning! I felt as
if I worked two days instead of just eight hours during that shift. It
was one of the most thankless jobs, but I managed to stick on until I
found out there was no chance for promotion. I tried pretty hard, but I
guess I didn't have the right connections, for newcomers got better
ratings than some oldtimers.
It sure seemed funny when we had orders to apprehend any lumber
thieves. Here were most of us taking lumber to build furniture for our
own homes. This was a bone of contention between the evacuees and the
Then you ran into things like this. There was an instance when we had
orders from the hospital to keep all visitors away from the hospital
between certain barracks where the contagious disease cases were. One
woman had a daughter who was sick with measles and the mother was
staying with her child during the period of quarantine. This was
supposed to be two weeks. Long before it was over I saw her in Block 15,
waiting with the crowd for the new incoming evacuees. She had no
business there but what could I do? I didn't want to create a scene as I
knew this woman was a blabber. Fortunately the doctor saw her and told
her to go back to the hospital. I don't blame this woman for wanting to
greet her relatives as they came to Manzanar, but at the same time she
broke a hospital rule. She might have spread measles to other people's
children. Anyway, this woman has got no 'cabeza' (head).
The evacuee went on to describe the mess halls during the early days
I had one helluva time trying to make my son eat. He just wouldn't
touch anything or do anything except look around at the people. You see,
we've never taken him to a cafeteria or restaurant regularly back home.
The noise and confusion distracted his mind from the food. . . . Our
family is not the only one which had trouble making children eat. It has
happened in the majority of the families with small children. . . .
Sometimes we eat at home and my sons eat much better there than at
the mess all. On the other hand, we (my wife and I) can eat in peace and
need not hurry through our meals as we do when we eat at the mess hall.
Yes, for the simple truth is that the mess hall workers don't like late
and slow eaters as they want to hurry and get out of the kitchen as
quickly as possible.
Regarding the dust and windstorms at Manzanar the evacuee
I can readily sympathize with the Middle West 'dust-bowl' victims. We
in Manzanar sure experienced what the 'dust bowl' victims underwent.
Several times after I had washed and hung the clothes out to dry, a
sudden wind would whip up and the ensuing dust storm would blacken the
clothes. And worse yet, the sand and dust would get in the clothes and
it was worse to wash them over than it was the first time. I felt like
cursing. but what could I do but wash them over.
Concerning gossip among the evacuees at Manzanar and its impact on
morale in the camp, the evacuee pointedly noted:
Japanese people are known to be gossips, especially women. Any little
thing is subject for gossip. It is no wonder some people go batty from
staying cooped up like this. 
Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002