Plans for Camp Lordsburg began in January of 1942, and the camp operated as an Internment and Prisoner of War Camp from June 1942 to June 1945. The camp was constructed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice (DOJ), run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and administered by the U.S. Army under the authority of the Enemy Aliens Act of 1798. Japanese Issei (the first generation immigrants from Japan who were ineligible for U.S. citizenship) were confined at Lordsburg between June 1942 and 1943, after which point the population at Camp Lordsburg was German and Italian POWs.
On February 2, 1942, the Lordsburg Chamber of Commerce received the news by wire from Sen. Dennis Chavez that the War Department would construct an army cantonment at Lordsburg. A total area of 2,120 acres forming an “L” shape, and located approximately 6 miles east of town was seized by the U.S. government and when it was complete, the camp consisted of 283 buildings (including barracks, hospital buildings, officers headquarters, a recreation hall, latrines, and other support buildings); paved highways (the road from Highway 80 to the camp, portions of which are now POW Road); and electric, water, sewage, telephone, and gas systems.
Those who were confined at Lordsburg were transported by train under the cover of night, arriving at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. They were unloaded from the train at the Ulmorris siding some 3 miles north of the camp and then marched, flanked by guard companies, to the camp. The internees’ belongings were collected by a custodial officer and a set of green clothing was issued with the person’s number printed on each article. By November
1942, an inspection report by the International Committee of Geneva recorded a total of 1,523 Japanese men detained at the camp (mostly middle-aged and elderly)—92 from Alaska, 246 from Hawaii, and 1,185 from other parts of the U.S. predominantly along the West Coast.
In general, life in the camp was regimented. The internees were organized into two physical compounds. Each compound elected a “mayor” to represent it to the Army, International Red Cross, Spanish Embassy, State Department and any other agency with which they might communicate. Internees organized a wide range of cultural and athletic activities within the camp, including a Japanese literature group, a watercolor and oil painting group, a musical instrument group, and a poetry society. In addition, there were regular Christian, Buddhist, and Shinto services and lectures. Internees had their own PX where they could buy toilet articles, shaving supplies, cigarettes and candy, etc.
In 1943, the Army sought to house POWs at Camp Lordsburg. With the departure of the Japanese civilian detainees in November of 1943, the Lordsburg Internment Camp was officially redesignated as the Lordsburg Prisoner of War Camp, where Italians captured in North Africa and Italy were held from the fall of 1943 to summer 1944. German POWs were also sent to Lordsburg between September 1944 and summer 1945.