News / USA

Japanese-American Internment Camp Site Reopens as Museum

Wyoming's Heart Mountain once housed 14,000 detainees

Most of the artifacts at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center were donated by former internees.
Most of the artifacts at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center were donated by former internees.

Multimedia

Audio
Irina Zhorov

The site of a Japanese internment camp during World War II has been transformed into the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center in Wyoming. The grand opening is this weekend.

During World World II, as the United States battled Japan and the other Axis powers, 14,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated at a remote camp. Ex-internees, their descendants and local residents worked together to develop a place that would tell the stories of the forced relocation and teach its visitors lessons for the future.

Back in time

The road to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, is lined with golden fields of hay in late summer. The landscape is mostly empty until a tall smokestack appears on the horizon, growing into a vertical dark line above the fields. It’s all that remains of the hospital at Heart Mountain Internment Camp. Then Heart Mountain itself looms in the distance.

Replicas of barracks have been erected where the original camp stood. They house the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center. Walking into the newly opened museum is to travel back in time, surrounded by the faces and voices of those who were held here against their will.

Steve Leger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, stands in a replica of a lived-in barracks room.
Steve Leger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, stands in a replica of a lived-in barracks room.

Steve Leger, the center’s executive director, leads the way past an exhibit showing the internment orders that were posted in Western cities.

In the hysteria that followed Japan’s surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese-American families across the West were ordered to pack what they could carry and get on trains headed to isolated camps like the one at Heart Mountain.

At the time, the camp was the third largest town in Wyoming.    

Exhibits follow the timeline, from normal life on the West Coast to sudden deportation. The history is written as first-person accounts with recorded testimony by ex-internees.

Acknowleding internees' plight

Ten Japanese internment camps were set up during the war. Only two have established centers to acknowledge and pay tribute to what internees went through. The museum at Manzanar, in California, is run by the federal government.

Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, stands next to a life-size photo of her parents taken in the camp.
Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, stands next to a life-size photo of her parents taken in the camp.

Heart Mountain was set up by a private non-profit organization. Shirley Ann Higuchi, whose parents were interned here as children, is the chairman of the mostly Japanese-American board responsible for running the center.

She  learned only recently about the importance of Heart Mountain to her parents, who were second-generation Japanese-Americans, or Nisei.  

"When this experience occurred, the Nisei, being the quiet American and not talking much about this, their philosophy was to always look ahead, to endure, to keep on pushing forward and don’t look back," says Higuchi. "I think part of what occurred during that process was they really didn’t have the time to really process this and grieve and get angry."  

This learning center, she says, is one way to help the Japanese-American community do that and heal.

Time for reflection

Board member Doug Nelson says that the issues addressed by the center are relevant today, as the nation confronts a different enemy.

"Throughout American history, but you don’t have to think too much beyond today, the effort to balance our national security with our protection of people’s individual civil rights has always been in time of war or national anxiety, has always been a difficult balancing act."

In that respect, Nelson hopes the center will provide the opportunity for education, as well as reflection.

A replica of one of the camp’s watch towers in the exact place where it once stood. The smoke stack of the hospital is in the background.
A replica of one of the camp’s watch towers in the exact place where it once stood. The smoke stack of the hospital is in the background.

He notes that during the war, some of the camp’s neighbors accepted the argument that Japanese-Americans were a threat to the United States. Others rejected that idea, and sympathized with and befriended internees. In fact, it was local residents who wanted to establish the center and got former internees involved.

In addition to their memories, those who spent time here contributed artifacts and photographs.

Higuchi walks from a life-size image of her parents as adolescents at the camp to a more recent photo taken at an annual reunion. Several generations of internees and their families smile as they stand atop Heart Mountain.

Higuchi reads a quote from an elderly man who returned for the reunion. "I return to Heart Mountain to grieve, for all that was taken from us, our homes our lives, our voices. I return to Heart Mountain to celebrate the strong spirit that helped us survive, the traditions we kept and treasured and the bravery, creativity and courage of people who faced prejudice and hardship with dignity and determination. I return to Heart Mountain to remember."

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid