Terminal Island: A Lost Tale of World War II
April 13, 2017
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed thousands of lives. The most frequently talked about are the 2,403 American servicemen who died during the attack. What’s often overlooked, since it doesn’t paint the United States in the best light, are the over 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-American citizens who were incarcerated in internment camps shortly after the attack.
Distrusting anyone with Japanese ancestry, the United States government took drastic measures that lasted from February of 1942 to March of 1946. Among these stories of displaced, innocent people forced from their homes is that of Terminal Island, located between San Pedro and Long Beach, CA.
Terminal Island Before the Attack
Originally known as Isla Raza de Buena Gente and Rattlesnake Island, in the early 20th century the island became the site for a steam station built by Southern California Edison Company and of a new, albeit temporary, Ford Motor Company factory. In 1927, the Naval Reserve began using Allen Field, a civilian facility on the island, to build an aviation training center.
Terminal Island eventually became the home of approximately 3,500 Japanese-Americans. For years, they had inhabited a region of the island known as East San Pedro or Fish Island, their isolation leading to their own dialect and culture; but their comfort shaken when their own ancestors flew into Pearl Harbor and attacked the naval base and nearby airfields.
The United States immediately knew who was behind the attack, the bright red dots on the planes doing nothing to hide the truth. While the attack was devastating to the whole country, the families that called Terminal Island their home would face a special loss.
By February of 1942, the country had turned against residents of Japanese ancestry, interning them in camps along the West Coast. Not safe from this persecution were the 3,500 Japanese and Japanese-American residents of Terminal Island. Or even the island, for that matter. On February 19th, two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Terminal Island residents were given 48 hours to evacuate their homes and the island to join others in the internment camps on the mainland.
To make matters worse, not only were they evicted from their homes, the neighborhoods they had built over the years were razed. When many of them began to be released in January of 1945, they returned to nothing and were forced to relocate from an island they had helped settle.
Today, Terminal Island is protected under a preservation plan by the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, its rockier World War II, post-Pearl Harbor history forgotten by many.