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As nation remembers Pearl Harbor attack, historian recalls local detention center

December 06, 2012|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com
(Courtesy of the…)

As the nation commemorates the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Friday, local history enthusiasts are focused on a little piece of history near the Crescenta Valley where thousands of individuals of Japanese Americans were held for months following the devastating attack in 1941.

What is now Verdugo Hills Golf Course was once the La Tuna Civilian Conservation Corps camp before it was converted to a detention station for thousands on their way to internment camps in Montana, North Dakota and New Mexico.

Recently released records at the National Archives and Records Center at Laguna Niguel acknowledged the existence of the camp for the first time, but local historian Lloyd Hitt has been researching the station for years.

And early next year, the Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management Committee is expected to discuss a motion submitted by City Councilman Richard Alcaron that the site be designated a historic and cultural monument.

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From the camp’s opening until it closed in late 1943, roughly 2,560 people were processed, Hitt said.

Up to about 300 people could be detained at the station — a barbed-wire enclosure with lights, seven barracks, an infirmary, mess hall and office buildings, Hitt said. There, armed guards processed individuals considered “enemy aliens” who had been taken into custody by the FBI on Dec. 16, 1941 — the same day the detention camp started operating.

According to information Hitt has compiled, 75% of detainees were of Japanese descent, with Italians and Germans mostly filling out the rest of the count.

The FBI, he said, were mostly concerned about the Japanese fisherman because they felt they “knew our coast too well.”

The camp’s director, Merrill Scott, was personally against the forced detention, and so ran the facility with fairness in mind, Hitt said.

“He really felt bad about the whole situation,” Hitt said. “He stated outright that he could send these people home on Friday night and they’d all come back there Monday morning without worrying about any of them. They were just that kind of people, the Japanese.”

But with that option out of his hands, Scott set up a “democratic process” in the camp, Hitt said.

The barracks all had a designated leader and somebody was in charge of the mess hall. There was also an abundance of space for gardening.

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