Happy Memorial Day. Today we remember the 1.2 million soldiers who have died fighting for the United States, starting way back in 1775 with the American Revolution. May is also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The Asian Pacific American Heritage website features a wide range of information and digital records from the Library of Congress, National Archives and other institutions.
We are Japanese Americans and in honor of this month, today we will be discussing our 2012 visit to the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho.
When you drive up you can see a replica of the the Honor Roll, which lists all the men that served in the US military during World War II from Minidoka. Two of our great-uncles are listed on the Honor Roll, both part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and both receiving Purple Hearts for being wounded in battle.
“The 442nd… became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service.” –Densho Encyclopedia
The site is surrounded by lush farmland. A lot of the local farms harvest sugar beets, our grandma and her family helped during the harvest season while they were interned.
Before we arrived at Minidoka, our first stop was at the Hagerman Fossil Beds, 40 miles away, which had a small exhibit about the Minidoka National Historic Site.
We were happy to discover while writing this post that in 2017, they will begin construction of an official Minidoka NHS Visitor Center. We will have to visit again then.
But before we get into too many details, let’s talk a bit about our grandparents.
Both sets of our maternal great-grandparents immigrated to America from Japan in 1906. Our grandma’s parents settled near Portland, Oregon and our grandpa’s parents settled outside Salt Lake City, Utah. They both had large families and were farmers.
As you may recall from history class, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt ordered all people of Japanese descent who lived on the Pacific coast to be moved inland and interned in camps.
One of the ten camps was in Minidoka, Idaho, which is where our grandma and her family were held for nearly two years. Our grandpa’s family was not ordered to an internment camp because they lived further inland in Utah.
The Minidoka War Relocation Center became a National Historic Site in 1979. It is maintained by the National Park Service. Our grandma never had a desire to go back to see the camp after she left, but four years ago, after she passed away, we drove up to Minidoka to see where she was interned.
There was a walking path to tour the grounds, and although the buildings were all gone, there were a few concrete slabs left on the ground so you could visualize where some of the buildings were. There were no park rangers at the location but there were several informational plaques along the path to help tell the story of the location. They have made additions to the site since our visit in 2012, including a replica of the guard tower.
Grandma was very patriotic and was not angry or resentful about being interned. Maybe the two signs below offers some insight as to why.
It would have been a great experience to share with our grandma, but even without her it was definitely worth the drive to see the camp.