Yes, South Hill Has a History

Japanese Internment Summer of 1942

by Carl Vest

In the summer of 1942 the United States was just entering World War II.  Because of that war South Hill would get its first significant population boost.  But earlier in the year, near the northern slopes of South Hill between its crest and the City of Puyallup a different undertaking was getting underway.  It was an accelerated building project that could have been considered a type of housing development.  It was, in fact, however, the construction of an American concentration camp.  Officially this creation was named The Puyallup Assembly Center.  Unofficially it was called Camp Harmony.

Camp Harmony had its roots in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December, 7, 1941.  That incident generated a wide-spread feeling of distrust toward people of Japanese descent then living in the western United States. A significant outcome of this expressed emotion was the issuance of an Executive Order (9066) by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which authorized military authorities to remove any person from any specifically designated military area.  The military commander of the US West Coast, Lt. General John L. DeWitt, then declared the entire region a restricted military zone --- using the executive order as his authority.  He made it official on March 2, 1942 by issuing Public Proclamation No. 1.  That decree was followed, on March 24th by the first civilian removal order, for people of Japanese ancestry living on Bainbridge Island.

Puyallup, Washington, was selected as one of the geographical points for the creation of assembly centers to gather people --- who had been designated for relocation from restricted military areas.  The Western Washington State Fairgrounds, at the foot of the north slope of South Hill, were chosen as the actual place where an assembly center would be built.  The complex was constructed in approximately one month, during April, 1942, and designed to hold about 8,000 people.  It was divided into four areas, scattered in and around the fairgrounds, designated A through D, each being an independent community with living quarters, communal kitchens and other facilities.  The living structures were individual units, 15 by 40 feet where entire families were housed ---approximately 165 were built.

The Army began transporting people to the Puyallup center on April, 28, 1942.  During that month about 500 were relocated.  The big flood was in May when the camp’s daily population exceeded 7,000.  The largest concentration was 7,593 on May 21st.  The average number housed during the summer was 5,704, with a typical stay being 117 days.  By August the big inflow was over.  On September, 12, 1942 the camp was empty. 

Camp Harmony was never meant to be a permanent concentration camp.  It was a collection point.  Most evacuees came from the Seattle-Tacoma area and Alaska.  They were then moved to permanent relocation centers, mostly to Tule Lake, California, and Minidoka, Idaho.

Camp Harmony was in existence for only about eight months.  But it affected a lot of lives and should be remembered as part of the Puyallup-South Hill history.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.