Visit to Heart Mountain World War II Japanese-American Confinement Camp left us speechless…

About 14 miles west of Cody, Wyoming, stand a few remaining barracks, hospital boiler house, and watch tower from the Heart Mountain WWII Japanese-American Confinement Camp where more than 14,000 Americans were confined over a three year period.

Over the course of the three years it existed as a War Relocation Authority (WRA) facility, from August 1942 to November 1945, some 14,000 incarcerees passed through the confinement camp. Many were destined to stay within its barbed wire confines the entire time. At its peak, the population was 10,767. — from HeartMountain.org

We visited the camp memorial this morning; speechless, the remote barracks cold in the distance as we read the memorial plaques in the quiet frozen landscape.

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One of several remaining barracks left at the Heart Mountain Confinement Camp, now a National Historic Landmark.

Even though I’d heard of the camps, the full impact of the depth and breadth of what those camps represented — and their geographic nearness — in a Constitutional nation that purports to embrace all people as equal really hit me, profoundly, because I always thought of these types of horrific human rights violations as ancient history, a primitive ignorant phase in our human history.

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Like so many others, I thought we had evolved past this kind of thinking, this level of racism, prejudice, violations of human rights — in the United States of America, of all places. Heart Mountain Relocation Center is now a designated National Historic Landmark.

“May the injustices of the removal and incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, never be repeated.” — from Heart Mountain High School Class of 1947

So many thoughts filled my mind, so many things I thought I wanted to say, to write, yet I’m simply beyond words to express how I felt, how I feel about it other than sickened that this happened in such recent history, in our nation, and how such things are allowed to happen as people get swept up in frenzies that test our very humanity. Another plaque by the National Park Service sums it up best when they wrote that “all were victims of racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and failed political leadership.”

Between 1942 and 1945, guard towers and barbed wire fences on this site confined a community of nearly 14,000 forcibly uprooted people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens. All were victims of racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and failed political leadership.

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Recently, we watched an outstanding story on the relationship between Senator Al Simpson (R, Wyoming) and Norm Minetta (D, California) who met as Boy Scouts when Minetta’s family was confined to the camp. They became life-long friends and were instrumental in the quest to right the wrongs of the past. The story and interview with the two men is both heart-warming and reminds us who are as Americans; well, it did for me anyway.

Click here for the link to the CBS news story about Simpson and Minetta; the interviews with the two men are simply wonderful to watch. I’ve watched it several times and each time I still laugh and cry.

President George Bush, through Simpson’s and Minetta’s efforts, did what he could to try and right the wrongs done to our American citizens confined to the camps, including the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

“Forty-five years after World War II, the U.S. government did the right thing and apologized for its wartime abuse of civil liberties. Every president isn’t perfect, but President Bush embodied true leadership by maintaining a sense of political decency and decorum.” — Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi reflects on President George H.W. Bush’s contributions to Japanese American redress as presented in the Billings [Montana] Gazette

Click here for the link to Higuchi’s full commentary.

We are hoping to come back for the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage event July 2019 to learn more; hopefully have the opportunity to hear stories from those who were there.

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There is a small visitor center at the camp now but we’d gone out early in the morning before it opened. We’re looking forward to learning more when we return in the summer.

There is a Confinement Camp in Colorado that we also hope to visit. Still so hard to believe that this happened and that it happened in our nation, in our own backyard, and so recently in our history. And yet, in light of the current cultural-political climate, it shouldn’t be so hard to believe; not then, not now.


Photos in this post © 2018 B & K Hartman

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