Monday, December 7, 2015

View of A Japanese Internment Camp in Wyoming

December 7th the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  It was a surprise attack.  This is not a Japanese bomber, merely a private plane that just happened to be flying in the vicinity of Heart Mountain.


 Many of our fathers, grandfathers and to the new generation great grandfathers, fought in what resulted from this attack, World War II. My father left high school early and enlisted. I never fully understood why he had done that but maybe walking back to my car from the Veterans Day Parade this past year in Media, I got my answer. I thanked a veteran for his service and asked if I could assist him back to his car, he was using a walker.  It turned out all that really was needed was conversation on both our parts. When I thanked him, he in turn said, thank the Marcus Hook recruiting office. During our conversation, he was telling me it was better to enlist than to be drafted and placed wherever they felt the need, usually infantry.  My father joined the Seabees, a division of the United States Navy. I never really got any of my father's "war stories" and I feel that is a loss.

I feel like my generation was sheltered from the horrors of war when we were children and it makes it more difficult to understand and comprehend the world we live in today.  I do remember being in first grade and having practice air raid drills and the eighth graders would come into the hallway and cover our heads with coats as a protection, but we were not at war during those days and later years were just fire drills and we went outside for practice.

I can't pretend to know the fear in America after this attack, nor can I image the horror the Japanese people who were living in America went through.  Some of these people were citizens, Japanese Americans and others were immigrants for one reason or another. I knew about Japanese internment camps from a movie I saw a few years back, Snow Falls on Cedar, we never talked about such things in school. So when we passed this sign in Wyoming, I wanted to go and see for myself.


There were 10 Japanese Internment Camps in the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Heart Mountain in Wyoming is one of them, it retains one of the most intact hospital complex. This smokestack stands as a icon symbolizing the area.  It was part of the boiler house that provided heat which stood in the center of the camp.


What you see there now is mostly open fields but with the photographs provided and the signage, you get a very clear picture of what it was like, again to me very confusing.  Was it a country club? Swings, swimming pool, ice skating, boys scouts, girls basketball, football games, all these activities were available.


My only reference to compare would be a popular television show in the 1960's, remember  Hogan's Heroes?  It was one of my favorites, that Hogan outsmarted the Nazi's all the time and the crew had so much fun doing it.  Wait a minute, that was a POW camp. Schultz, I see nothing, NOTHING!. This looks like the set of Hogan's Heroes to me. Like I said, sheltered life I led, this was the war to me. Rat Patrol was a little more real life but I preferred Hogan.


This is an actual photograph and it is a little less inviting looking. These people were prisoners.  innocent Americans who did nothing wrong but had descended or possibly immigrated from a country that attacked America on American soil. Free Americans lost their freedom, barbed wire surrounded this compound. There doesn't seem to have been any mistreatment of these citizens, many even thrived in this environment with many comforts and advantages but one thing, one very important thing they did not have is the freedom to come and go as they pleased.


There was a school including kindergarten up to high school. The first high scool class president joined the Army and was killed in France.




A Heart Mountain Fire Department, Police Station and Block Managers that would meet on a regular basis for the good of the people within the compound were on site.





Imagine you are a Japanese American and reading this notice and being striped of your freedom and your dignity. Each person was permitted to bring 100 pounds of personal items or what they were able to carry.


The proof is always in the details and this signage summarizes most of the important facts.  The best was of course saved for last.  I can simplfy it for you. "The internment of Japanese Americans is unique to the period of World War II; however, it is of disturbing relevance today when groups of people continue to be singled out". History tells us so.




As I said earlier, I can't even imagine what it would be like to be so prejudiced against when innocent Americans lost their freedom but former member of the United States Army, United States Congressman, United States Secretary of Commerce and United States Secretary of Transportation does. Norman Y. Mineta and his family were detainees at Heart Mountain Relocation Center.


The walking tour memorial is especially moving. Although many of the buildings are no longer in existence you get the opportunity to peer back in time when the viewpoint was undoubtedly wrong.



This is Heart Mountain, Wyoming in the background.



List of movies and documentaries about this subject Japanese American Internment can be found at Wikipedia.

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