Courtesy photo / Northern Land Use Research Alaska
Tent platforms for interned Japanese-Americans stand at Fort Richardson Internment Camp in February 1942.

Courtesy photo / Northern Land Use Research Alaska Tent platforms for interned Japanese-Americans stand at Fort Richardson Internment Camp in February 1942.

Research into interned Japanese-Americans in Alaska receives grant support

104 Japanese-Americans were interned from Alaska at the outset of WWII.

The internment of more than a 100,000 Japanese-Americans in the United States under Order 9066 is well known, an abhorrent act that the American government has since apologized and made reparations for.

What’s less known in Alaska is where some of those people went after they were released from internment camps in the Lower 48.

“We decided to tell this story not just what happened to them during the war, but what they did before the war and after the war,” said archaeologist Morgan Blanchard in a phone interview.

A National Park Service funds-matching grant to the Alaska chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League will help the organization investigate archives and seek out family members of those Japanese-Americans in Alaska that were interned in for the length of the war, the JACL said in a news release.

“This is the first chapterwide effort. There was some effort to document history, but more of individual history,” said Suzanne Ishii-Regan, co-treasurer of the Alaska chapter of the JACL. “We’re grateful for the grant because hopefully it’ll let us get this information published. It’s exciting, it’s a little intimidating.”

In Juneau, the Empty Chair Project has done good work to recognize what happened in the Southeast, Ishii-Regan said. The JACL will carry on the work, as it seeks to find what happened to all of those interned across the state.


The roots of the project were in the discovery of a holding camp for those incarcerated for being of specific national origins at Joint Base Richardson-Elmendorf by Blanchard.

“This kind of came out of a project I started a number of years ago where I discovered where the Fort Richardson Internment Camp was,” Blanchard said. “Along the way, we found the list that gave us the names of everyone that was interned as a foreign national here in Alaska.”

The Air Force readily supported the project, aiding further research into what had happened, Blanchard said. According to records recovered by Blanchard, 104 Japanese-Americans were arrested in Alaska, as well as 18 German-Americans and 5 Italian-Americans.

“When the war started — or even before the war — the government made a list of people to arrest. They started arresting people on Dec. 7th, 1941,” Blanchard said. “When they got arrested, they had wives and kids. The kids were American citizens. Some of the wives were American citizens.”

Half of the German people and all but one Italian people were released, Blanchard said, but none of the Japanese people.

“You had to go before a tribunal, and they would make a determination if you were a dangerous enemy alien,” Blanchard said.

Those incarcerated stayed at Richardson for a relatively short period of time before being transferred to camps in the Lower 48, Blanchard said. Very little information about the Fort Richardson camp exists, Blanchard, much of it destroyed by a fire that destroyed many WWII records.

“There are some instances in which the second generation — young men — who were already enlisted had to guard their fathers,” Ishii-Regan said.

Many young Japanese-Americans eventually enlisted, even as their families were in internment camps in the United States.

“A number of the sons of these guys ended up in the 442nd (Regimental Combat Team),” Blanchard said. “Despite the treatment, a number of them did end up in the war.”

The Army’s 442nd RCT was a segregated Japanese regiment, known for being the most decorated unit of its size in American history, according to the WWII Museum. The 442nd served with distinction in the European theater of the war.

After the war ended the internment camps were closed, many Japanese-Americans returned to Alaska, but others went elsewhere, some even returning to Japan, Ishii-Regan said. Now, the project will attempt to pick up some of those threads.

Following the pattern

“We’re trying to do oral history interviews with descendants. To the best of our knowledge, everyone who was interned is dead,” Blanchard said. “They’re delicate subjects. We’re talking about what the government did to people during wartime.”

The project will attempt to find out what happened to those interned through a number of methods, Blanchard said, including Freedom of Information Act with the FBI, digging through such archives as can be found, and reaching out to family of those interned to collect their stories that have gone untold.

“A lot of our relatives didn’t want to talk about it,” Ishii-Regan said. “Even if you came back a decorated combat veteran, they still faced racism.”

The JACL is also looking for volunteers to help research the subject.

“It appears to us that more than a third of the first-generation men were married into Alaska Native families. They lived in the outlying areas,” Ishii-Regan said. “Many of them were significant contributing members of their communities.”

The grant is funds-matching, Ishii-Regan said, which means the JACL is looking to raise $15,000 to meet the $30,000 grant from the NPS. It’ll allow for more effective research into the past.

“It provides some money to pay for archival research because it doesn’t come free. We were hoping to be able to do a lot more in-person interviews,” Blanchard said. “Some of the goals that are supposed to come out of this, is, we’d like to write a small history of what happened in the state and what happened to the people who were interred.”

To contact the JACL either with information about the interned or to inquire about volunteering, email them at

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or

More in News

Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove poses for a photo on Jan. 9, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. The veteran Alaska legislator was passing through Homer while waiting to take the M/V Tustumena ferry to Kodiak. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Clem Tillion, PFD founder and former legislator, dies at 96

Tillion died Wedneday, Oct. 13, at Halibut Cove home.

Thunder Mountain High School on April 18.  Earlier this fall, vandalism including stolen soap dispensers and toilets clogged with foreign objects such as paper towel rolls were a problem at schools nationwide and in Juneau. But, principals say the local situation is improving. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
After brief surge, vandalism subsiding at local high schools

Principals say internet trends, stress likely behind incidents.

In this Jan. 8, 2020, photo Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, heads to a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. An Alaska man faces federal charges after authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill Murkowski, according to court documents unsealed Wed., Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,File)
Delta Junction man faces charges over threatening Murkowski’s life

Authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill the senator.

Donna Aderhold recites the Homer City Council oath of office and is sworn in for duty at the city council meeting on Oct. 11. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
New council members sworn into duty Monday

Newly-elected Homer City Council members Shelly Erickson and Jason Davis and re-elected… Continue reading

Runners participate in boys varsity race at the Ted McKenney XC Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. The trails recently reported incidents of vandalism and theft. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Vandalism and theft reported at Tsalteshi Trails

One trail user reported stolen skis recently and multiple signs have been defaced.

At left Bonita Banks, RN, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) nurse at Homer Medical Center, and at right, Annie Garay, RN, Community Health Educator, pose for a photo at South Peninsula Hospital on Sept. 27, 2021, at Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)
New hospital community health educator starts

Garay, a Homer raised nurse, came home to ride out COVID-19, wound up doing pandemic nursing.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Montessori school goes to universal indoor masking

As of Tuesday, eight KPBSD schools were operating with universal indoor masking for staff and students.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Crabbers look at cuts to quotas

Tanner, opilio crab quotas cut on top of cancellation of fall king crab fishery.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Judge sides with psychiatrists who alleged wrongful firing

Two psychiatrists said they were wrongfully fired when Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office.

Most Read