It is fitting that this guard tower is the first thing you see when driving up to the site of the former Minidoka WRA Camp. It is located right off the road, near the location of the main gate. It is a replica. Now imagine eight or nine of them surrounding the residential and administrative part of the prison camp.
Nearby is a remnant of the Military Police (MP) station at the main gate.
Walking some twenty feet south from the MP station, you come upon the North Side Canal. Built for irrigation of new agricultural lands, the canal formed the southern boundary of Minidoka. As a consequence, rather than the customary rectangle or square, the residential part of the camp was in a kidney bean shape, situated along the arch of the canal.
Minidoka was located out in the middle of sage brush, about 15 miles north of Twin Falls, Idaho.
There is a 1 1/2 mile path that goes through the National Park Service site. On the NPS brochure and website, it looks like there is not much there. However, along the path you encounter many more buildings than you might expect from the time of the camp. For everything you see, there are frequent interpretative placards. This Minidoka NPS site is a nice surprise.
On the path, you come upon a blue gold mine. Well, actually it is the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. Though small, it is fully staffed with an NPS Ranger, Chief of Interpretation Hanako Wakatsuki, other staff, and volunteers. It also has a well stocked book store. Either Hanako or her staff will take you on a tour of the site, filling you with more information than you might have thought possible. Midway along the walking path, the blue building marks the “official” beginning of a visit to Minidoka.
Thanks for coming with me on the journey. There’s much more to see of Minidoka.
Grace and peace,
Going to Minidoka and Heart Mountain, there are so many things to take in. Given the racially charged rhetoric and policies of our current Presidential administration, it is a disquieting time to examine the vestiges of another racially charged Presidential policy. It reminds me that there are few Presidential heroes when it comes to American race relations.
Minidoka Camp [National Park Service]
Heart Mountain Camp [National Park Service]
In spite of this ever-present context, there are some particular things on which I also want to focus. In some cases, I’ll be verifying information I already have. In others, I’ll be resolving differences in information I have, or I’ll be seeking out something I’ve so far been unable to find.
I know this will probably be boring, but I wanted to let you in on the details I’ll be seeking…
THE CAMP HISTORY
THE CAMP SITE NOW
Buildings and Infrastructure
Of course, there are so many other things that will make themselves known… things I cannot really anticipate. That is one of the best parts of the journey… the surprises.
That’s it for now. Thanks for joining me on the journey. I’ll be back with a string of posts when I return. In the meantime,
Grace and peace to you…
Life has a way of jumping up to bite you when you least expect it. It happened to me today because of my own carelessness. The subject is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).
For many Americans (myself included), FDR remains one of the great American Presidents, because he rallied the nation to overcome the Great Depression and he joined with Winston Churchill to lead the Allies in WW II.
Because of this, I wrote in a FaceBook post this morning that our country needs another FDR, specifically that we need another President with FDR’s type of wisdom, vision, and leadership in order to deal with the crises besetting modern America.
I was careless, utterly and stupidly careless, particularly after spending the last year studying the WW II imprisonment of Japanese Americans and visiting the ten so-called Internment Camps. One dear friend of mine, whose parents were both in the Camps, graciously pointed out my foibles.
There is a profoundly bitter irony that the liberal Democratic icon, FDR himself, is the one who signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the arrest and long imprisonment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent, without any due process whatsoever. He did so at the urging of another liberal icon, then California Attorney General Earl Warren. Here is FDR putting pen to paper.
It is stunning that an order of such staggering consequence could have been done so quickly and by one man.
Then, people were jerked out of their homes and communities and taken to prison camps in remote locations, mostly with harsh weather conditions, where they were held for over three years without recourse.
FDR was a great President. In many respects, like Washington and Lincoln before him, FDR sustained our country in the midst of overwhelming crisis. But his Presidency was terribly flawed as well. That is his legacy, even if most historians do not record it thus. For a President to quickly condemn over 110,000 Americans to prison for no good reason and with no recourse to the courts, is an enduring tragedy of epic proportions.
My friend asked me how to reconcile the greatness and the flaw. I think that is not possible. The terrible flaw remains in spite of FDR’s greatness. Nothing will make that go away. In my mind, there is no other way to put it. FDR’s greatness does not excuse the inexcusable. His greatness and his flaws will remain part of his legacy forever…
I still think that we need another President with FDR’s wisdom, vision, and leadership. But I should have said it much more carefully. I’m sorry for that.
I’m getting ready to visit the last three of the WRA Camps. I’ll be going to the sites of the former WRA Camps: Minidoka, Idaho, Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and Topaz, Utah.
There are three things that remain uppermost in my mind. First, the history of the particular camps. How did the camps come to be located where they were? What was the process for building them? How many people were imprisoned in each one? What were their experiences? Second, the states of the former Camp sites. How much is there to see? Is there evidence of former Camp buildings in the surrounding area? What remembrance events take place? Third, the voice of the people who lived in the Camps. A friend of mine, advising me in the formative stages of this journey, told me in so many words, “Let the voices of the people who were there drive your narrative.” I have tried to do that, seeking quotes from people who were there, including contemporaneous quotes. Mine is a journey to understand and to express solidarity. Theirs is the primary narrative.
As I prepare for my last three visits, researching, making appointments and reservations, planning my photos, and more, I’ve included in this transitional post, some more pictures of the people who were taken to the Camps against their will. The pictures speak for themselves…
Faces of the WRA Camps…
Boarding the bus to the Camp. [National Archives]
Arriving… [National Archives]
Nursery School [National Archives]
A young family [Densho Digital Repository]
Dentist [Densho Digital Repository]
Nurse [Densho Digital Repository]
Doctor [Densho Digital Repository]
Laying pipe [Densho Digital Repository]
Working the fields [Densho Digital Repository]
Farming [National Archives]
Displaying produce ready for shipment [Densho Digital Repository]
And, on this Memorial Day Weekend…
PFC Joe M. Nishimoto [U.S. Department of Defense]
Private First Class Joe M. Nishimoto, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Killed in Action, in November 1944. Posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000.
Going home… [National Archives]
Thanks for coming along for the journey. I’ll be back soon.
Grace and peace to you,
They are people of hope… That is, the two peoples (the Japanese Americans of the Poston Community Alliance and the Colorado River Indian Tribes) are manifestations of hope. Brought together by the respective injustices that were done to them and the hardships they have endured, these people work together out of a countenance of abiding hope.
[Densho Digital Archive]
They have a vision. Out in the middle of the desert, near the Arizona/California border, in an area unknown to most, they will build a historical site that will commemorate the imposition of the Camp upon the Indian Tribes, and the imprisonment within the WRA Camp of Americans of Japanese descent.
“The Poston Community Alliance strives to achieve the following:
- Restore existing historic structures located at the Poston Camp I Elementary School Site, now a National Historic Landmark.
- Build an interpretive center and museum.
- Create a multicultural village to tell the stories of the incarcerated Japanese Americans and the Native Americans who shared a desert home during World War II.
- Provide educational materials, including media arts projects, to inform the public of the Japanese American incarceration.”
[Poston Community Alliance Website]
They have a place in which to carry out their vision. Here, they will teach visitors what happened, how it came to be, what the Constitutional violations were, how people suffered and endured and built a new life, and why it must never happen again.
That place is fenced and protected so they can do their work…
Perhaps the most ambitious job will be to somehow preserve the ruins of the Camp 1 Elementary School Auditorium.
Restoring the barracks will show how people lived, in the midst of their captivity.
People will come to the new Visitors Center (to be created in the restoration of this former classroom building) to learn about Poston.
Most important, they have each other… The Poston Community Alliance and the Colorado River Indian Tribes have each other as partners. That partnership is fueled by solidarity of experience, by obvious mutual respect, by dignity, and by tenacity. I am certain that they will succeed in their efforts together.
Thanks for coming along on this journey. Next stop, in a few weeks, will be the WRA Camp Minidoka.
Grace and peace to you,
Just across the highway from the Monument, on Poston Road, is a parcel of land that the Poston Community Alliance is working to turn into an active historical site. This is where the second part of the Pilgrimage took place. We were all bused to the grounds and then set free to tour the area, with folks available for interpretation. Dianne Kiyomoto, one of the leaders of the Poston Community Alliance, graciously explained what was there.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes donated 3.7 acres for the “Poston Restoration Area.” The Camp 1 Elementary School at one time occupied the two acres. The buildings (built by the internees out of un-reinforced adobe bricks which they made by hand) were later used by the Tribes (who added the concrete walkways). The Poston Community Alliance (former internees, their families, and friends) and the Colorado River Indian Tribes will work together to develop the site as a historical resource.
Here are pictures from the Pilgrimage to the Camp site.
This former school building will become the Visitors Center.
This barracks will be restored to show how people were housed at Poston.
Walking the length of the site…
In the center of the historic restoration site looms the remains of the Camp 1 Elementary School Auditorium. The Poston Community Alliance hopes to complete some form of restoration. On the Pilgrimage, it was a magnet, with people exploring inside and out what was an important, central feature of the Camp.
Exploring the interior.
In the end, all Pilgrims were left to pause, to reflect upon their past, their experiences, and what they would bring forward with them from this Pilgrimage.
Next up, a reflection upon People of Hope… more precisely, Two Peoples of Hope, walking and working together.
Thanks for continuing with me on the journey.
Grace and peace,
This April, I had the privilege of visiting Poston during the Poston Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is organized by the families of people who had been imprisoned in Poston. The organizers come from Los Angeles, Fresno, and Sacramento; people come to the Pilgrimage from all over America. This year, the outdoor part of the Pilgrimage started on the Camp site at the Poston Memorial Monument.
Check out the Google Maps link below… When you do that, you’ll see an interactive, aerial image of Poston, AZ, focused on the area of Poston Camp I. It is the farthest north of the three Camps at Poston. If you move the map around, you’ll see the site of the Poston Memorial Monument (on Mojave Road). Slightly north-west, you’ll see the two acre site of the Poston historical work (on Poston Road).
Poston on Google Maps (Zoom in and out to get the full context)
The following pictures show people gathering at the Monument on April 7, 2018.
Official photographers preparing for the ceremony of the day… Family members who dedicated commemorative bricks were about to come up to visit.
Marlene Shigekawa, Project Manager of the Poston Community Alliance, welcomes the pilgrims.
A tribal land use official telling how the tribes and the families of the former internees worked together to build the monument.
Listening to Miss Indian Arizona extend a welcome.
The Tribal Chairman talks about the solidarity of the Indians and the Japanese Americans.
Then, the people went up to the monument, passing by the Monument’s Kiosk…
Pilgrims on the move…
Next up, Poston: Pilgrimage II. We’ll look at the site where the Poston Community Alliance and the Colorado River Indian Tribes are working together to create a visitors center and historical site.
Thanks for joining me on the journey.
Grace and peace to you,