Jerome As It Was

The National Archives have extensive photos of life in the Jerome WRA Camp.  I have selected a few that capture the heart of it and illustrate some key points made about the prison Camp.  All photos, but the last, are from the National Archives.

View from the Hospital

This is a picture of the Camp, taken from the Hospital, looking north.  This is near the Southern edge of the residential area of the Camp, close to where highway 165 currently runs, and where the remains of the Hospital Smoke Stack are now.

In the rain

A young girl walking across the Camp in the rain.

“Environmental conditions were muddy and cold and they were plagued by mosquitoes and snakes.”

Source: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (Department of Arkansas Heritage)

Men Digging Drainage Ditches

Men digging drainage ditches in the Camp.

“Even when the construction company left the camp it was still not complete, the jobs of drilling wells, laying water and sewage pipe and building roads were left for the Japanese Americans to finish.”

Source: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Mess Hall

The new Mess Hall.

The kitchen

Mess Hall Staff at work.

View of Block 7

A view of Block 7.

Woman working her garden

A woman working her garden. The wood you see piled up in the background was firewood for the stove inside the barracks building.

A barracks "apartment"

An “Apartment” in one of the barracks. With the absence of partitions, people improvised to provide what privacy they could.  Japanese Americans made the furniture shown in this picture, using scrap wood from around the Camp.


This picture is of a display in the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, part of an exhibit entitled, “Education in Exile.” The Center is a unit of the Central Arkansas Library System, and is located in downtown Little Rock, at 401 President Clinton Avenue.

It is possible to gloss over the experience of people in the Camps. That would be one way to observe the photo above.  I think, however, that the preceding photos show the extent to which people will go to make the best of a terrible situation.  The woman at the table and whoever made the furniture were providing a measure of order and hope for the members of their family.

I’ve tried to capture the Jerome WRA Camp in the best way I know how. 

Next, we move to an interlude at a Museum in the small city of McGehee…




Jerome as it is Now…

The Jerome WRA Camp was about 130 miles southeast of the city of Little Rock, Arkansas.  There is almost nothing left of the camp that once held 8,947 Americans of Japanese ancestry for nearly two years. When the camp was built, the land was wooded swampland which local farmers had tried to convert to farmland. It is now part of large scale farmland, surrounded by forests, bayous, a short distance west of the Mississippi River.

The site of the Camp is on the east side of US 165, about 18 miles south of McGehee, Arkansas.   Approaching, you need to remain alert, or you will drive right by the granite monument that commemorates the Camp…


Here is the monument on a small square of land, just off Highway 165.

The next four photos offer different views of what was the central residential part of the prison Camp site.   The Jerome Camp was about 10,000 acres in size, much of which was used for farming during the two-year life of the Camp. The residential part of the Camp was about 500 acres.

Farmland Left

From the monument, looking to the North, on the edge closest to Highway 165.

Farmland Behind

Looking to the East from the monument, toward the back of the property. The residential area would have extended all the way to the tree line.

Farmland Right

Looking to the South from the monument, toward the end of the residential area, also along the edge of Highway 165…

Smoke Stack

This is what remains of the towering smoke stack of the Camp hospital, located on the Southern edge of the residential area of the Camp.

“…the camp itself was located in a kind of swamp, a cleared out swamp. Because around the camp was a pretty high level… six or seven foot high levees, you know. And this area that we were in evidently, they must have drained it or something, you know. And then that’s where they built it because these were built off the ground, three or four feet, three feet maybe. Because when it rains in Arkansas, it rains like… like no tomorrow, you know, it just floods. And then on one side, the side next to the road, where the main road is, and the railroad tracks, there was no levee there but on three sides there was a levee. And then within the camp, within the block itself, there was a slight levee with a channel dug so that the water could flow out.”

Osamu Mori, Jerome (from Densho Digital Archive)

Next time, we’ll explore what the Camp was like, through historical images and observations…

Thanks for continuing with me on the journey!

Heading to Arkansas

This leg of my journey required some imagination, because there is so little physical evidence at three of the four WRA Camp sites in Arkansas and Arizona. During the first nine days of April, I visited the Jerome and Rohwer Camps in Arkansas and the Gila River and Poston Camps in Arizona.

To get to the Jerome and Rohwer Camps, I flew into Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, and set out driving through the countryside. My first destination was McGehee, Arkansas, a small town that is about half way between the two camps. I had not expected such physical beauty.

Almost everywhere I go, there is beauty to be seen.  The highways take you through mile after mile of pine forests.  There is something peaceful about such a drive, if you are on an adventure. Water is everywhere, and the closer you get to the Mississippi River, the more water there is.

Driving on US Highway 278 through the country, I crossed something called Bayou Bartholomew.  On my drives to and from Little Rock, I crossed this Bayou several times. My new Arkansas friends told me that it is the longest Bayou in the world, stretching 359 miles from Arkansas into Louisiana… Something way outside my experience…

Bayou Bartholomew 2

This is the type of beauty that I saw in the Bayou Bartholomew (not my picture). It is a foreign thing for someone who has spent most of his life living on the West Coast.  There are all kinds of critters who live in it and on its periphery, like this character seen below (again, not my picture)…

Bayou Bartholomew1

When the waters of the Mississippi River rise, going over into the flood plain areas that run alongside it, critters like this one and others (including a variety of poisonous snakes) will migrate out of their homes and into swamps and other flooded land.  This was the environment into which thousands of Japanese Americans were sent.  Despite its inherent beauty, it would have been a strange and frightening place to be put into a prison camp that flooded regularly with the winter and spring rains. Both the Jerome and the Rohwer Camps were in areas subject to such flooding.

“[Rohwer was] far enough south to catch Gulf Coast hurricanes, far enough north to catch Midwestern tornadoes, close enough to the [Mississippi] river to be inundated by Mississippi Valley floods, and lush enough to be the haven for every creepy, crawly creature and pesky insect in the world.”

Eiichi Kamiya, Rohwer

(from WWII Japanese American Internment Museum, McGehee, Arkansas)

One question that has intrigued me is why the Federal Government decided to put two of the WRA Prison Camps all the way out in Arkansas, near the Mississippi River.  It is a long way to transport people from the West Coast.  Three criteria key to the selection of WRA Camp sites were: distance from the West Coast; remoteness from cities; and, ownership and/or easy control of the land by the Federal Government.  In the case of the Arkansas WRA Camps, the land came under Federal ownership and control because the Farm Security Administration (a New Deal agency whose mission was to combat rural poverty in America) purchased the land from farmers who had gone bankrupt trying to drain the swampy land for farming.

Despite the wild beauty of the location, neither Camp was in a place that appeared hospitable to West Coast dwellers, particularly those who had been forcibly removed from their homes.

My next posts will explore the Jerome Camp.

Thanks for coming along on the journey!

“Temporary Address”

Imagine that this is your new address…


Could be anywhere West of the Mississippi River, in some place isolated from other human communities, some place that is not only remote but also known for its harsh climate.  Most certainly freezing cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer. You won’t know where it is for several days and once you get there it will never truly feel like home. A real home involves some matter of choice:  either you chose to be there or some loved one chose to bring you into the world right there.

Why is it in such a remote place?  That one is easy.  The government thought that you and “your kind” are threats to American security.  So, the best thing to do is to move you away from other Americans, out where you can only do minimal damage.

OK, but why does it have to be so damned cold in the winter?  We’re from the Pacific coast. Don’t they realize that we’ll get sick out here, or at the very least experience great hardship from the cold?  Don’t they understand that the buildings are drafty and not insulated in any way?  Don’t they know that the snow will blow horizontally among the buildings?  Yes, I think the government does understand that.

Then, there are the summers. If you are lucky, it will just be overwhelmingly hot, with precious little natural shade available.  The deeply unlucky will be stuck in some swampy, damp pit near the Mississippi, with snakes and all sorts of unwelcome critters as guests.  If there is dust, it will find its way up into your barracks because they were built with green lumber that will dry so much that the cracks will be like super highways for the dust and any little critter that cares to enter.  Don’t they know they’ve built places to live that have terrible shortcomings?  Yes, I think the government does know that.

“Dear Uncle…   I know that you’re safe in Chicago, and I hope you are well.  We’re out here in the middle of the desert.  It’s hotter than blazes and there is no place to hide from the sun that never seems to go down.  Darkness is my best friend in the summer.  I hope that you’ll write, to let me know that I still know someone outside this prison fence.  Please write.  The Camp name, city, and state are important,  but please don’t forget our number, Block 14, Building 1.  Otherwise, I’ll never see your letter.  Don’t ask me about the address, about what kind of place has an address like that.  I’ll tell you all about it one day.”

No… We should never take people out of their homes, to place them out in the middle of nowhere in some godforsaken place with no neighbors, with nowhere to go and no permission to go there, with weather that defies the imagination and with buildings that do not withstand it.  We should never take people to a place where their local address is Block 14, Building 1.

Back on the Road…

Soon, I will set out on the road again, this time heading to Arkansas and Arizona to visit four of the WRA Camps.  I am so glad to be back at it again!  It is with a mixture of trepidation and hope that I set out.  It is, after all, a sorry chapter in American history that I am exploring.  One where our principles of fairness and civil liberties were abandoned out of fear bent by racism.  Right at the start of the American entry into World War II, Americans let fear overcome wisdom and our Constitution.  Reason said, “We’ve got this, no need to panic.” Fear and hatred said, “We can’t take any chances… ’round them all up!”  So, we did.

I have slowly discovered and felt the darkness permeating the WRA Camp sites.  It would be hard to escape, even if I wanted to.  Some places are worse than others.  So far, the Tule Lake Camp is at the top of that list.  I’ve noticed that some people are loath to even acknowledge, let alone to talk about, this period in American life.  I can understand that and I guess I can drag myself to sympathize.  But, acknowledge and discuss it we must, lest another ugly chapter rear its fearful head once again.  I have heard that finding some humor in the thing would make it easier for others to take in. If there is any humor to be found, it is certainly not mine to express. That would only be rightly lifted up by those who lived through the experience, or by their descendants offering up, perhaps in a story.

There is a measure of hope that appears to anyone who ventures on this path, looking at the darkness of the WRA imprisonment. It is to be found in the courage and tenacity of all those men, women, and children who lived in the WRA Camps.  It is there in the way they lived in the Camps, and it is there in the way they carried on with life after leaving the Camps. It is there in the way former prisoners and their descendants work to remember the WRA Camps today.  Their hope glows like a beacon in the night. I hope to reflect some of that light on the rest of my journey.

Thanks for joining me…



Today, I look at this picture and it is more disturbing than ever before.  I try to imagine what it would be like for someone standing with a clipboard, backed up by armed guards, and telling me and my family to hike over to Block 14, Building 1, that this would be our new home for who knows how long.

The lie inherent in such a direction is that such a building was never intended to be a home. Home is not where 32 mostly unrelated people are crammed into a space of 2,000 square feet.  Back home, in Southern California or the San Francisco Bay Area, or the Central Valley, a family of 4 usually lived in a home of 1200 to 1,400 square feet.  No, this building was not intended as a home. It was intended as a prison barrack.

Most homes have a yard of some sort, even a small one.  Instead, the surrounding here looks like a prison yard.  The land is nearly barren.  Yes, there are basketball hoops between the buildings for recreation, and the sound of bouncing balls would be a welcome diversion for some.  For others, it would be an irritating noise that could not be avoided, a constant reminder of captivity.

The view of the Sierra Nevada would be strikingly beautiful.  But, it would also be a reminder that I could not go there. It might be a source of hope that one day I would go out the gate of this prison camp and then go wherever I wanted… free like the birds who fly overhead. I would try to hold onto that hope with all my might.

Like so many did, I would try to make this a home. Perhaps, adding my own hand made furniture. Perhaps, a family member would plant some small plants, or place some beautiful stones by the entry stairs. Perhaps, we would gather to tell stories of the past and to make up new stories about this present. Perhaps, out of this prison we would fashion a home, as an expression of freedom and resistance and hope.

As I listen to the current distortions of what passes for our nation’s political discourse, I am struck by how common place lies have become. How amazing is it that the greatest of lies and liars seem to go unpunished, their lies unnoticed by so many. Anything based on a fundamental lie cannot be good. That is why I am drawn back to this image. It was a lie that this building was intended to be a home in some innocuous process of “relocation” and “protection.” It was meant to be a prison.


On the Path…

It is an in between time for me right now.  I’m in between visiting the Tulelake Camp in Northern California and visiting Poston on the Colorado River in Arizona.

But, I’m also between looking at this specific thing, this WW II internment, and considering it in the broader context of race relations in America.  So many people say there is no such connection, but it is unmistakable.  There is a particular image that captures the connection.  It is the California Historic Marker that was placed in front of the Tulelake Camp on May 27, 1979 (the name of the Camp is misspelled on the marker).

TuleLake State Marker 02

“These camps are reminders of how racism, economic and political exploitation, and expediency can undermine the Constitutional guarantees of United States citizens and aliens alike.” 

It draws me to a quote by one of my favorite contemporary American Philosophers… Mr. Wendell Berry, farmer, poet, and philosopher. Mr. Berry wrote this many years ago:

“I do not know how exact a case might be made, but it seems to me that there is an historical parallel, in white American history, between the treatment of the land and the treatment of women.  The frontier, for instance, was notoriously exploitative of both, and I believe for largely the same reasons.  Many of the early farmers seem to have worn out farms and wives with equal regardlessness, interested in both mainly for what they would produce…”                           

Wendell Berry in Recollected Essays, 1965-80

I believe there is a similar parallel involving the treatment of virtually all people of color who have come to America (or were here in the first place) as well as people who live in poverty or on the very edge of it.

As women march and inspire others to join them in marching, I hope that we will remember the connection between this movement today, this tidal wave, and the sacrifices of all those who have gone before. Walking together builds solidarity and makes a point for all to see and hear.  So too does being mindful of historical solidarity with all who have marched before, with all who have navigated the seemingly endless path of contradiction between American political philosophy and the reality of American history.

This day, my heart is full of thanks and blessing for all those who have walked and struggled.

Soon, I’ll be back on the path of my journey to the Camps.  I’m going next to Poston, Arizona and then to Arkansas to see the Rohwer and Jerome Camps and to visit the Japanese American Internment History Museum in McGhee, Arkansas on the occasion of its fifth anniversary.  I promise to share many photos and perspectives.  I hope you’ll stay with me for the rest of the journey.  It is a path better traveled together.


Getting Ready…

The New Year is about to start and I’m getting ready to go back out on the road. First stop will be Poston, Arizona in January.  My blog posts will start-up again in February and continue through the year as I visit Arizona, Arkansas, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado.  I’ll conclude with a visit back to where I started, Manzanar.

In the meantime, I wish for you a blessed and peaceful New Year in 2018.

A Maximum Security Prison

Tule Lake Historic 02

This photo from the California Military Museum shows the Stockade front and center at Tule Lake.  The jail, which was built shortly after the photo was taken, was adjacent to the Stockade compound. Both feature heavily in the rest of this story.

Tule Lake started out as one of the 10 regular WRA prison Camps. The WRA leadership quickly mishandled (and in some cases abused) the process of questioning the 110,000 people who had been taken to the WRA camps about their loyalty to the United States.  This may have been driven by a U.S. Government assumption that Japanese Americans were not loyal.

The whole questioning process was basically an unmitigated disaster.  The questionnaire that the government used was put together without any consultation whatsoever with Japanese American leaders.  Even for simple questions this created difficulties.  For questions 27 and 28, the process created terrible problems:

  • Question number 27 was especially problematic for second generation men. It asked if  they were willing to serve on combat duty wherever ordered. This, despite the fact that their families were imprisoned without due process.
  • Question number 28 was deeply problematic for first generation men and women.  It asked individuals if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear any form of allegiance to the Emperor of Japan.  It is Important to Note: 1) a racially based federal law prevented first generation Japanese American men and women from becoming U.S. citizens; therefore, 2) a “Yes” answer could easily make them persons without a state (a dangerous position in the middle of a world war), many of whom were being threatened with deportation.
  • The questionnaire  allowed for only “Yes” or “No” answers to the loyalty questions.
  • A “No” answer meant that the person was branded “Disloyal.”
  • A “Yes” answer qualified by comments about the injustice of the WRA internment was also branded “Disloyal.”
  • The two questions were poorly explained in several of the Camps (including Tule Lake). There was considerable pressure to comply, and there was substantial resistance to the entire process.
  • The two questions weren’t really questions…they were demands masquerading as questions.
  • Beyond this, the questions were asked of people who had been imprisoned without charges or a trial. Any normal person in this circumstance would have had reservations about the questions and would have been reluctant to just blindly answer “Yes” as the government demanded.

[Source: Densho Digital Encyclopedia]

The loyalty questioning could have been the stuff of satire and late night comedy.  However, it was no joke.  It was yet another tragic aspect of the process of taking Americans to the WRA Camps.

In July 1943, after the loyalty questioning debacle, the government decided that it needed a maximum security prison within the WRA Camp system for all of the “Disloyal” Japanese Americans.  The Government chose Tule Lake.  Tule Lake WRA Camp became that maximum security prison and was renamed “The Tule Lake Segregation Center.”  A battalion of U.S. Army Military Police was brought in, complete with armored vehicles, to maintain order at the prison Camp. This set in motion a huge movement of people between the WRA Camps.

  • “Loyal” people in Tule Lake were shipped out to other WRA Camps.
  • “Disloyal” people from the other WRA Camps were brought to Tule Lake.
  • Some people in Tule Lake who were “Loyal” elected to remain in Tule Lake in order to be close to family members who were “Disloyal.”
  • Eventually, 18,789 Americans came to live in Tule Lake, in a prison camp designed for 16,000 people.

There was no due process if you were branded disloyal, were sent to the Stockade, or were put in the Jail. An arbitrary decision, by some combination of civilian and military authorities at Tule Lake, sent one to the Stockade or to the Jail.  There was never any explanation. There were no hearings or trials.  People just ended up behind an additional row of barbed wire and possibly in a concrete blockhouse-style jail.

“…then as I recall, from one side of the camp the military came with a list of people and the administration came from the other side, and they picked up all the people on that list. And my brother’s name and my name was on that list. Why, we don’t know.”

K. Morgan Yamanaka, Tule Lake [Source: Densho Digital Repository]

Jail 01

This is a picture of the jail now.  It is a concrete blockhouse, built by prisoners in the Camp. Several years ago, Caltrans built a steel cover for the building to prevent further deterioration of the concrete.

Jail 02

This is a picture of one of the jail cells.  The steel gate, steel beds, and toilet have been removed.

Jail 03 National Archives

This photo shows the same cell crammed full of inmates in late 1943 or early 1944. Conditions were unbelievably cramped.  The Jail was designed for 20 prisoners; 100 were crammed into the block building.

[Source: National Archives]

Jail 04 Tule Lake Committee

This photo shows the guards manhandling a prisoner.  You can see that people were sleeping on cots in the corridor.

[Source: The Tule Lake Committee]

Jail 05 National Archives

This is an image of one of the steel cage structures that enclosed the cells.  The steel cage pieces are presently in storage awaiting restoration of the Jail.

[Source: National Archives]

The Stockade

The Stockade was located on the Western side of the Camp. The Stockade compound included:

  • An open area surround by a high barbed wire fence.
  • Two barracks buildings.
  • A mess hall.
  • A latrine building.

The Stockade was designed for 100 prisoners; 400 were crammed in there.

Stockade under construction DDR

This is the stockade under construction in 1943.  [Source: Densho Digital Repository]

Terror was a frequent visitor to the Stockade.  It often involved late night harassment by the Military Police. Here is Morgan Yamanaka talking about midnight raids at the Stockade Barracks…

“As a matter of fact, one of the times in my life I was actually scared was when, one of those midnight raids — are you familiar with Thompson sub-machine gun, the round cartridge? That Thompson machine gun was aimed at my belly by a young soldier who seemed to be shaking because he was scared. Well, I know something about arms because in martial arts we were studying arms. His trigger finger was on the trigger. Well, if you’re shaking like this the damn finger could… and I’m aware of this, so I think that was about the only time in my life I was physically scared.”

K. Morgan Yamanaka, Tule Lake [Source: Densho Digital Repository]

The conversion of the Tule Lake Camp to a maximum security prison was the harshest feature of the WRA Camp system.  With its methods, the Tule Lake Prison Camp magnified the violation of due process that was inherent the imprisonment of 110,000 Japanese Americans in the WRA Camps in the first place. It was a dark, enduring chapter.

“A Place of Solace…”

Place of Solace

This is a photo of Castle Rock, and its peninsula.  It is the most prominent nearby geographic feature and was visible from anywhere in the Camp. Castle Rock provided a place of solace for many people who were imprisoned in Tule Lake.  Up until the summer of 1943, when Tule Lake became a maximum security prison, people from the Camp were able to walk up the mountain at specified times.  It became a place of religious observation and spiritual meditation.

Tule Lake was a complex prison camp, and I have only scratched the surface. I will miss being there, looking for stories, solving mysteries. Hopefully, I’ll be back, perhaps at the next remembrance gathering there.  Thanks for going with me on the journey to this troubling place.

Soon, I will begin preparations for visiting the two WRA Camps in Arkansas.

In the meantime, I wish you continued blessings of grace and peace,




One of the most interesting things about the Tule Lake Camp concerns things that are NO LONGER VISIBLE…or, REMNANTS of things that are long gone… There are Mysteries to unpack and Stories to tell.

Remnants of buildings and structures can be found all over the site of the Tule Lake WRA Camp.   Some are in plain sight…if you recognize what they are.  Others are more illusive.  Often, you need to cross a fence in order to find them.

Come with me on this part of the journey…this pursuit of mysteries and stories.

Wide View of TL 1943 LOC

This is a wide view of the Tule Lake Camp in 1943.  Roads filled the Camp in a city-grid pattern, connecting the barracks blocks and the administrative areas. The roads were everywhere.                                                                                      [Source: Library of Congress]

Remnant of Road

If you wander, ignoring the fences, you’ll find a patchwork of the old roads.  Here is the remnant of a road heading East, near the airport.

Somebody doesn’t want you to wander out here.  The Tulelake Airport folks, with the apparent backing of the FAA, are planning to erect an eight foot fence out there. It would cut off access to about half of the former WRA Camp.  Some people suggest it is a matter of national security.  What?… there is no one out there… there are hardly any airplanes taking off or landing.  In four days of visits (weekdays and weekends), I never saw one airplane using the airport. Is the fence to stifle curiosity and memory?  When I wander out in these fields, on these roads, I imagine the hundreds of thousands of interactions that took place among the people who were taken to Tule Lake.  Shouldn’t we be about discovery instead of covering things up?

The remnants of the roads are there, but look in the first picture in this post… it is filled with barracks.  Where did those barracks go?  There was housing for 16,000 people in that picture.  Where are they now?  It’s actually a mystery that is easily solved.  After WW II, the federal government decided to give a group of returning veterans the use of the barracks and the agricultural land from many of the WRA Camps.  In the case of Tule Lake, the government conducted a lottery for returning GIs.  The winners each received 80 acres of former camp land for a farm, and the right to 1 1/2 barracks for a home and an out building. It was the last use of the Homestead Act (from the post-Civil War era).

In my previous post, I mentioned meeting a man who farmed for 20 years on former Camp land.  He had purchased his 80 acre farm and house from a WW II veteran who had homesteaded the land and who was retiring from farming.  The man I met lived in a house converted from one of the Camp barracks.  Mystery solved…  By the way, that man expressed the hope that the NPS would find one or two of the barracks and transport them back to the Camp for restoration.

Across another barbed wire fence, on Tulelake Airport land, I found this foundation for what was called a Bathhouse at the Tule Lake WRA Camp.  At the near end, are two rows of holes in the concrete floor.  These were for the toilets, which were separated by a three foot high partition.  At Tule Lake, there was an efficiency of construction in that each Bathhouse building had a men’s latrine and shower at one end and a women’s latrine and shower at the other, with a boiler room in the middle.

Bathouse Foundation

The next photo shows a linkage of the underlying Camp infrastructure.

Remnant of Infrastructure

This telephoto image shows the foundation of a bathhouse with the Imhoff Tank sewage treatment facility in the background. Each Block of 14 barracks buildings was served by one Bathhouse building. There were at least 74 such Bathhouses in the Camp, not including those for the MP s and administrative staff.  They were all connected to the Imhoff Tank via sewer pipes.  I have no idea where those buildings went, but I do know where the underlying pipes are…in the ground.  Let’s go back above ground to look at one of the most prominent aspects of the Tule Lake WRA Camp.

This is a 1942 technical drawing for the design of the Guard Towers at Tule Lake.

[Source: the National Archives]

Tower Designs 1943 NA

Tule Lake started out with 6 of these towers.  When the Camp was turned into a maximum security prison camp for people who were supposedly disloyal to the United States, the number of guard towers increased to 28.

Remnant of Guard Tower

This is a remnant of one of those 28 towers.  I found it in the Camp Motor Pool area, behind the Caltrans Maintenance yard. Oh, what range of emotions just the sight of such a tower must set in motion.  There was surely mix of veterans and rookies who manned these towers as armed guards. For most people in the Camp, the towers were stern reminders that this was a prison Camp.  For some of the kids in the Camp, the towers represented a chance for high stakes playfulness…

“…they had a main fence here, they had a little fence, a warning fence, and what we used to do is a bunch of us guys go there, the guard towers every three hundred feet, so that’s we used to do. Run up by that warning fence, we’d stand there and the MP would get excited, then we’d give him a one-finger salute and we’d walk… [laughs]. But the best thing is that, we used to, another thing, we used to go over there and jump on the other side, “We’re just going to the other side of that fence,” because it’s low, you could jump over there. We’d go over there, and boy, the MP get by, and pretty soon we’d see the dust flying and we knew a jeep or somebody coming with a jeep, so we’d just go on the other side, and once we got on the other side, we scattered. Hell, they didn’t know who in the hell we were. We all look alike, so they didn’t know. But if you’re incarcerated, you do anything to get after the authority as per se.”

Taketora Jim Tanaka, age 16 in Tule Lake

The worst remnant involves a desecration.  It is a mystery that I have been unable to fully resolve.


This photo was taken near the Southwest corner of the Camp. It is where the Camp cemetery was.  What remains is an area that was obviously excavated…  Barbara Takei and Judy Tachibana have written the most accessible book about Tule Lake, entitled “Tule Lake Revisited: a brief history and guide to the Tule Lake Concentration Camp Site.”  The authors suggest that the former cemetery was dug up with bulldozers (human remains and all) and used as fill for construction projects elsewhere in the area [Tule Lake Revisited, p. 40].  Most of the 10 WRA Camps have small cemeteries with monuments to those who died in captivity.  Here there is nothing.  What exactly happened?  Where was the construction site to which the earth and remains were taken?  Who decided to do this?  What local or federal government official allowed this to happen or approved the action? What dark motivation drove this act of desecration?  These questions cry out for an answer.

The Newell Homstead Market is out of business. It is a sprawling, old building on State Highway 139, in front of where the Tule Lake Camp Hospital was. What is not apparent is that this old building served as the Recreation Center for Tule Lake Camp staff.

Rec Center 02

Rec Center 01

Prisoners at the Tule Lake Camp built the rock fire place that fronts the building.

So, most of the mysteries are solved.  One requires some more answers.  All of the remnants lead to more questions: What will become of this area?  With so much undeveloped land around the former site of the Tule Lake Camp, and with so many remnants in place or close by, how much historical restoration of the Camp will the National Park Service be able to accomplish with its limited budget?

There is one more stop on my visit to the Tule Lake WRA Camp.  Next time, we’ll look at the Stockade and the Jail that were a central part of the conversion of Tule Lake from a “Normal” WRA Camp into the maximum security prison camp for the the WRA Camp system.

Thanks for joining me on my journey.  I sincerely hope that it has been worthwhile.  I deeply appreciate your coming along for the ride.

Grace and peace to you,


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