Over the weekend, hundreds of Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II returned to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming -- many for the first time -- for a reunion and museum opening. Many of the men and women, now in their 70s, were young children when they were interned: A Japanese internment camp revisited.
Many of the returning internees were children when they arrived at Heart Mountain. The experience was an adventure. They remember the baseball diamonds that turned into ice-skating rinks in the winter, the swimming hole dug by their fathers, the chipmunks and rabbits they chased in the hills when they sneaked out of the camp.At the center of the story is a 81-year-old former internee named Bacon Sakatani, who became a driving force in organizing this reunion and the effort to archive and memorialize the internment. The article also features a neat little "cameo" from former congressman and secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.
They remember the fence posts with barbed wire that caged them, the machine gun mounts and the guards in the guard towers, vigilant day and night.
Heart Mountain was one of 10 internment camps around the country, 740 acres with rows upon rows of wood- and tar-paper-lined barracks in the Shoshone Valley. Thousands came from California.
In 1945, when the war ended and the families were released — to start again from nothing in most cases — the barracks, along with the government-issued beds and the coal-fired potbelly stoves, were sold and scattered across the farmland.
For more information about the new Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, check out the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation website here.