Kilauea Military Camp (detention facility)

US Gov Name Kīlauea Military Camp
Facility Type U.S. Army Internment Camp
Administrative Agency U.S. Army
Location Kīlauea, Hawai'i ( lat, lng)
Date Opened 1916
Date Closed
Population Description Held people of Japanese ancestry, citizens and non-citizens, male and female; also held prisoners of war (POWs) from the Pacific theater.
General Description Currently comprising approximately 50 acres within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. One of two camps used to imprison people of Japanese ancestry in Hawai'i.
Peak Population

The largest incarceration site in Hawai'i outside of O'ahu that was run by the U. S. Army before and during the war, currently comprising approximately 50 acres within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Kīlauea Military Camp was used to house prisoners—many of whom were local residents of Japanese ancestry—until authorities transferred them to incarceration centers on O'ahu and the mainland.

Prewar Preparations

Kīlauea Military Camp (KMC) was established in 1916, the same year as Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, as a training ground and recreational camp for sailors and soldiers that stretched over forty-nine acres at a 4,000 foot elevation. [1] By 1937, KMC had vacation accommodations for twenty officers and their families, three noncommissioned officers and their families, and about 200 enlisted men, as well as the fourteen officers and enlisted men of the permanent detachment. The focus of the park staff was to assist the army as "all personnel and facilities were drawn into the war effort." [2] Park operations would be replaced by efforts to aid the army and defend the home front that included incarcerating Japanese suspects from the island of Hawai'i. Prior to the war, park rangers and volunteers formed a group called the Volcano Unit of the Emergency Police Guard while a second group was created called the Superintendent's Advisory Committee on National Defense. [3] One shared goal was to offer park services to army units stationed on the island of Hawai'i. In preparation for war, female personnel also knitted clothes for the Red Cross and staff members also reduced the purchase of copper and aluminum items while stockpiling staple foods for emergency use and creating vegetable gardens.

KMC and December 7th, 1941

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials and local police began arresting mostly male Japanese immigrant community leaders starting on the night of December 7 and continuing over the next few weeks. All such men on the island of Hawai'i who authorities had previously identified as potential threats were taken to KMC. The numbers of inmates held at KMC seemed to have fluctuated but on March 26, 1942, an FBI memo notes that authorities had incarcerated 59 aliens and 20 citizens there. However, authorities had already transferred 106 inmates to Sand Island on March 6, 1942. Another 25 inmates were sent to Sand Island on May 12. [4]

On December 7, Superintendent Edward G. Wingate recalled hearing about the Pearl Harbor attack around 8:15 in the morning. After immediately realizing that "it is the real McCoy" he began calling the Hilo Police department and went over to the Army Recreational Camp to confer with Colonel C.W. Bonham who was in charge. [5] Authorities mobilized the National Guard who assumed their duty stations and issued arm and identification bands. Although Wingate reported "tension and some excitement" with the closure of the park, the main concern of park officials was to distribute passes to allow visitors to return home that night. Many of the activities of park officials thereafter concerned "the numerous reports of strange lights, behaviors and noises . . . as well as several reports of failures to blackout properly." [6] As park officials enforced martial law regulations, military and police personnel across the Islands began arresting Japanese suspects.

KMC would became the largest incarceration center in the islands outside of O'ahu and would be the only preexisting military site that authorities used to incarcerate Japanese suspects as it was untouched by the Pearl Harbor attack and removed from areas of strategic military importance. Later drawings of the camp would include "six 16-ft-by-60-ft barracks, a mess hall, a post exchange and dayroom, guards quarters, a barbershop, and sentry boxes, surrounded by a double security fence." [7] In the mess hall, prisoners were initially surprised by the bounty of food that was available to them and as inmate Myoshu Sasai reported, "we could eat all that we wanted to. If they ran out of something, all we had to do was to raise our hand." [8] A long serving counter separated the kitchen from the mess hall. Inmates picked up stainless serving trays and silverware and walked single file in front of the serving tables while waiting for kitchen personnel to serve them food, then sat six to wooden tables and benches. Later the inmates took their trays and threw away their waste into the garbage before placing the trays along the wall near the exit. When they finished eating, they were free to return to their barracks.

After dinner, many headed to the latrine to take their nightly bath at an extension that was built on the back of the barrack with half a dozen toilet bowls. Urinals lined up against a wall without any partitions; wash basins lined another section. Stalls where four people could take showers together occupied the rest of the room. With hooks at the entrance for their clothes, inmates shared bath facilities as well as hot water that was in limited supply, as it came from the boiler in the kitchen. As a result, the first bathers often had to wait until the water became hot while the last bathers ran the risk of it being used up when it was their turn to shower. A sense of camaraderie developed among the inmates as noted by inmate George Hoshida who observed that "here, sharing together the same fate in this time of emergency, they were brought together closer as humans on equal plane and closer comradeship." [9]

As the war progressed, authorities brought additional prisoners into the camp. Each carload was greeted with excitement from the inmates, curious about the newest arrivals. Upon catching sight of the barracks as the car drove through the camp, Hoshida observed that "people behind the windows were now waving gleefully at the newcomers as the guard unlocked the doors to herd them into the barrack." [10] As soon as Hoshida was brought inside, he was "surrounded by outstretched hands and joyous embraces . . . as though to welcome home their separated son or friend." [11] New arrivals continued to arrive at the camp and other inmates, desperate for news, eagerly welcomed them.

Hearing Boards

In February 1942, authorities began holding hearings at the second floor of the post office in Hilo, taking groups of four to five people where they would be questioned by hearing councils consisting of "soldiers, and lawyers and a haole big shot from Hilo." [12] The Department of Justice created alien enemy hearing boards on the mainland and Hawai'i that were comprised of civilian community leaders to determine the fate of alien enemy detainees. In contrast to the mainland hearings, officials interviewed Hawai'i detainees over a period of days and detainees could have lawyers as well as character witnesses. Often an FBI agent would present the case against the detainee from his FBI file and board members questioned the detainee on contents in his file, thoughts on the war, and sentiments about Japan and America. According to Sasai they were allowed to call their lawyers but were told that it "would be probably a waste," as they would only be questioned. At the hearings, however, "friends and family would crowd the corridors to peer through the windows to get a view" as hearing boards in Hilo were conducted within the community reflecting the unique nature of incarceration on Hawai'i island.

After the hearings, authorities would send the inmates back to the barracks at Kīlauea Military Camp where they would pass the time playing cards, chess, or Japanese go. Later when it was a bit warmer, authorities gave inmates basketballs and they were allowed to play on a court at the northern end of the front grounds. Hoshida recalled that while some "threw balls at each other, or in groups," others strolled around the court or sat on benches sunning themselves and talking. [13] Although this was a nice respite from the barracks, it did not decrease their loneliness. A Red Cross report in September 1942 confirmed that "internees are isolated from the outside" and denied "privileges according to the internees of other camps" including "being authorized to read why they are interned" for periods up to two months. [14]

Inmates also occupied their days reading magazines and books, walking around, or writing letters. For many, letter writing was the only way of communicating with their families and maintaining personal ties. Although letters were censored with officials cutting out any account of the camp, Hoshida recalled that "letter writing became the main consolation and receiving them was a source of great pleasure to be looked forward to each day." [15] However, letters had to be written in English and most of the Issei inmates were unable to read or write English. Thus, Hoshida and others were kept busy volunteering this service for their fellow inmates.

Departure from Hawai'i Island

On February 15, 1942, authorities announced that immediate families could visit the inmates who would soon be sent to the mainland. The military authorities stated that incarcerated aliens could not, under international law, be kept in a combat zone and must be taken to an area where hostilities were unlikely. Thus, they would be sent to incarceration camps on O'ahu or the mainland despite the fact that Pearl Harbor had been attacked only two months earlier and it had become the center of America's military mobilization in the Pacific. Authorities permitted each inmate $50 and instructed families and friends to provide that amount and to purchase warm clothes, and allowed a notary public to come to document their business affairs. As families frantically scrambled to buy warm clothes for the inmates, Sasai imagined that "the stores in Hilo must have ran out of their stock" of suitcases, hats, gloves, and coats. Police officers brought in these items to the inmates while families were allowed to come to the barracks and say their farewells. By summer, most inmates had been relocated thus freeing the barracks for military use although the precise date of closure remains unclear. [16] As of September 19, 1942, the Red Cross reported that six inmates were still housed in Hilo although when they were released remains uncertain. [17]

Immigration Center and O'ahu Incarceration Sites

Upon arriving in Honolulu, many inmates were taken first to the Immigration Station near Honolulu Harbor or directly to Sand Island Detention Center on O'ahu where they were held until military authorities determined that they would be transferred to incarceration sites on the mainland. Over 75 families including at least 270 family members from Hawai'i island joined their husbands and fathers in mainland incarceration centers, with the majority sent to Jerome , Arkansas with others departing to Crystal City , Texas, and Ft. Abraham Lincoln (Bismark) , North Dakota. [18] Later, some families would be sent to other centers including Tule Lake , California, Gila River , Arizona, and Santa Fe , New Mexico. Like their mainland counterparts, Japanese families from Hawai'i island had a limited number of days to secure or dispose of their property as they could only bring with them clothes and the basic necessities. Although a mass disposal of personal property did not occur in Hawai'i as witnessed on the mainland, remaining Japanese likely could not have ignored the departure of these families and valued community members that occurred at the same time of the closure of Buddhist temples, Japanese language schools, Japanese language newspapers, and businesses. Traditional community institutions were being overturned and entire families relocated in the tumultuous months following the Pearl Harbor attack impacting those who lives were not directly affected by the incarceration and relocation of former community leaders.


Following the departure of Japanese inmates in 1942, authorities built a prisoner of war (POW) camp at KMC in 1944 where Okinawan and possibly Korean POWs were held. By July of 1945, approximately 100 POWs were housed at KMC and between 80 and 140 POWs were there when the war ended. [19] Recent studies and published accounts from inmates during World War II have begun to shed further light on KMC's role in the incarceration of Japanese from Hawai'i Island who like their counterparts on O'ahu and other neighbor islands, were similarly arrested and incarcerated due to racist fears during World War II.

Currently, KMC is open to all active and retired military, active and retired Department of Defense civilian employees including Coast Guard Civilians, members of the Reserve and National Guard, and dependents and sponsored guests. Some buildings that existed during World War II can be seen as KMC contains the most intact incarceration camp structures in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1998, a comprehensive overview of the history and cultural resources of Kilauea Military Camp was drafted for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [20] Given its historical significance, the National Park Service has done some interpretive programs on the site although more research is needed.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Commission of Wartime Internment and Relocation of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

Kashima, Tetsuden. Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Internment during World War II . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.

United States, National Park Service. Honouliuli Gulch and Associated Sites: Final Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2015.


  1. AGF Hawai'i 1945, untitled manuscript prepared by Army Garrison Force, Hawai'i, Central Pacific Base Command, dated October 20, 1945. Ephemeral property # 0186, U.S. Army Museum of Hawai'i, Fort DeRussy, Honolulu, p. III-133.
  2. Jadelyn J. Moniz Nakamura, "Up in Arms! The Struggle to Preserve the Legacy of the National Park Service During Wartime," Hawaiian Journal of History 47 (2013), 191.
  3. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO) Archives, Superintendent Report, 1927-1945 , 42.
  4. Jeffrey F. Burton and Mary M. Farrell, World War II Japanese American Internment Sites in Hawai'i (Tucson, Arizona: n.p., 2007), 11.
  5. HAVO Archives, Superintendent Report, 1941 , 2.
  6. HAVO Archives, Superintendent Report, 1941 , 3.
  7. Burton, 'World War II Japanese American Internment Sites in Hawai'i , 15.
  8. "Mr. Myoshu Sasai," Japanese Relocation and Internment: The Hawaii Experience (henceforth JIRHE) Item 239, 2, Hawaiian Collection, Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
  9. George Hoshida, Life of a Japanese Immigrant Boy in Hawaiian America: From Birth Through World War II, 1907-1945 . JIRHE, 256.
  10. Hoshida, Life of a Japanese Immigrant Boy , 255.
  11. Hoshida, Life of a Japanese Immigrant Boy , 256.
  12. "Mr. Myoshu Sasai," JIRHE Item 239, 3.
  13. Hoshida, Life of a Japanese Immigrant Boy , 264.
  14. "S-23 Red Cross Report," JIRHE Item 412.
  15. Hoshida, Life of a Japanese Immigrant Boy , 265.
  16. Burton, World War II Japanese American Internment Sites in Hawai'i 15.
  17. "S-23 Red Cross Report," JIRHE Item 412.
  18. Tatsumi Hayashi, JCCH Hawaii Japanese Internee Database (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, n.d. XLS).
  19. Burton, World War II Japanese American Internment Sites in Hawai'i 15.
  20. United States, National Park Service, Honouliuli Gulch and Associated Sites: Final Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2015), 28.

Last updated March 22, 2016, 9:50 p.m..