KUNIA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A significant symbol of Japanese-American history, hidden deep within an overgrown gulch in Kunia, will soon gain more recognition as President Barack Obama plans to designate the Honouliuli Internment Camp as a national historic monument.
Honouliuli, one of Hawaii's largest and longest-used World War II internment camps, was constructed in 1943 to hold more than 300 internees and 4,000 prisoners of war. Dubbed "jigoku danji" or "hell valley" by inhabitants, Honouliuli is often looked back on as a dark period in history when thousands of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and across the country were forced into internment camps under excruciating conditions during World War II.
The overgrown gulch where Honouliuli resides has kept the 120-acre site hidden from view and largely untouched. However, Thursday's designation announcement will mark a major historical change, putting the internment camp under the management of the National Park Service to help preserve its history and ultimately shed a light on the untold stories of the site.
The announcement has been long anticipated by some members of Congress and other entities – such as the Japanese Cultural Center and Japanese American Citizens League – who have been pushing for the designation.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said on an interview on Hawaii News Now Sunrise that many people in Hawaii still don't know there was an internment camp here, but the designation will provide resources necessary to be presented in the way it should be.
"My hope is that the site will be preserved and presented in such a way that people will get the sense of what it must've been like, and to also acknowledge that this dark period of our country's history should never be repeated, but the stories need to be told," Hirono said.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who also helped facilitate designation, commended Obama's announcement, saying Honouliuli has finally received the historic recognition it deserves.
"This historic site will memorialize the strength and bravery of the many Japanese-Americans who faced discrimination and serve as a reminder to ourselves and future generations that we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past," Schatz said in a statement.
Obama is expected to make the announcement on Thursday, according to the White House.