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Documents Offer Glimpse of WWII Detention Center : Tujunga: Priests and bankers were among those sent to temporary station.

September 14, 1995|DANICA KIRKA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Today is the dawn of the CCC camp of Tujunga which is outside of Los Angeles. . . . We are prohibited to go within 10 feet of the fence, and it is most painful to be cut off from the outside world."

--Daisho Tana's diary, Sunday, March 15, 1942

From the day after the Pearl Harbor attack until the end of 1943, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ran a little-known detention center in Tujunga for civilians classed as enemies of the United States.

Daisho Tana, a teacher and Buddhist priest, was among them.

But his is a story that until now has been largely untold. Historians have focused on American citizens of Japanese ancestry ordered by presidential proclamation into camps tactfully called "relocation" centers.

Little attention has been given to the thousands of Japanese citizens and lesser numbers of Italian and German citizens taken to 10 permanent and 20 temporary detention facilities created by the INS during World War II.

One of them was the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp six miles north of Burbank. The camp, now the site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, became the gateway to detention for the judo instructors, bankers, Buddhist priests and community leaders the U.S. government dubbed dangerous enemy aliens once war began.

Now, recently released documents promise to reveal their stories.

In 1991, federal archivists discovered by chance the Los Angeles-area enemy alien files, including 2,625 individual case files, but needed years to organize the material. The documents became publicly accessible just this year, said Paul Wormser, an archivist at the National Archives office in Laguna Niguel.

Those documents also reveal new information about a separate, U.S. Army-run detention facility in Griffith Park.

The new documents could fill gaps for historians, professional and amateur. Among the first to solve a family mystery is William Hohri of Lomita.

Hohri was a promising gymnast living in North Hollywood in 1941, the Americanized son of Japanese immigrants. His father, Daisuke, then 57, also living in North Hollywood, was a Methodist minister who served a mostly Japanese congregation that met at an American Legion hall.

Authorities arrested Daisuke Hohri within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the nation into World War II.

William Hohri wasn't sure why his father, now dead, was detained--until he discovered the INS file two weeks ago in Laguna Niguel. It had been difficult to communicate with his Japanese-speaking father, who did not want to talk about it. The son found that the government had singled out Daisuke Hohri in part because he was a religious leader.

"I was just stunned," William said, his voice quivering with anger. "I don't think anybody can believe their rationale. Because he was a Christian preacher, he was more suspect than if he were a farmer."

Daisuke Hohri was one of 311 Japanese citizens arrested by Dec. 10, 1941, in contrast to the arrests of 59 Germans and 10 Italians, the FBI's regional office in Los Angeles reported.

Although authorities in other nations routinely detained citizens of countries with which they were at war, U.S. authorities were selective, detaining only those considered "dangerous."

Stung by criticism that the United States had overreacted to the threat represented by German citizens during World War I, federal authorities were more discriminating in choosing Germans to detain during World War II, said Roger Daniels, a historian at the University of Cincinnati.

"Our security people felt that they could make judgments about white people," Daniels said. Authorities at the time believed, for example, that if they examined the membership of a German-American organization, they could "figure out which were dangerous and which were not."

Not so for the Japanese, whom Daniels said U.S. authorities found "inscrutable." Immigration laws complicated matters, as Japanese citizens living in the United States, such as Daisuke Hohri, were barred from becoming citizens, regardless of how long they had lived here.

But in the charged atmosphere that reigned during the war, the public applauded. INS historian Marian Smith said few questions were raised at the time regarding the constitutionality of federal policies.

"You don't do a lot of soul-searching when you have the support of the American people behind you," she said.

And the U.S. government didn't need much cause.

"It's true they were on lists as being possibly harmful to the United States. But they were [listed for] doing things like teaching in a Japanese-language school," Daniels said. "All of this is guilt by association."

Daisho Tana was among those caught in the fervor.

He was 40 when the war broke out, a Japanese-language teacher living in Lompoc with his wife and two children. He told federal authorities he had studied at Kyoto Buddhist College in Japan and had come to the United States as a missionary seven years before the war began.

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