Heart Mountain rises in the background of this photograph taken at the memorial site of what was a Japanese internment camp near Powell, Wyoming. An estimated 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens were incarcerated behind barbed wire fences here and at several other locations in the west after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On February 19, 1942 Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt swept aside due process of Japanese Americans to protect against “espionage” and “sabotage.”
Overnight, life changed for about 14,000 internees who were loaded on trains and shipped to Heart Mountain. This guard tower is a silent reminder that these were prisoners of war, unable to go about life in any normal sense. They were able to carry few possessions and were mostly from coastal cities and poorly prepared for Wyoming winters.
Most of the dormitory-style buildings were removed over the years but this is one of the originals still standing.
Most of the residents at Heart Mountain were women, young children and the elderly. As this plaque points out, able bodied men went to fight for America in WWII.
The camp residents were industrious and farmed these fields to raise vegetables to feed their families. The low sheds in the background were for storage.
This lone building might have been a school house, as education was an important part of the daily life in the camps.
A tour of the visitors’ center is a must. A short film tells the story of the camp and murals and graphic displays line the walls. Many photographs have been preserved and while the residents of Heart Mountain suffered many indignities, they made the best of their circumstances. They appear to be in good health and the resolve to overcome their situation is clear in the faces on display.
In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to compensate every survivor with a tax-free check for $20,000 and a formal apology from the U.S. Government. Many internees lost their farms, homes and businesses and were forced to start life anew after the end of the war. They suffered hostility and discrimination in finding jobs and a new place to live.
These barracks were still in use nearby and relocated to the Heart Mountain camp. At the time of this photograph some stabilization had begun and renovation would follow in time for the 75th anniversary celebration in 2017. It is good to be reminded.