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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Poston Memorial Monument at the Site of the Japanese Internment Camp in Poston, Arizona

Eric pulls off the road
near a ring of Palm

At the center is the Poston Memorial Monument erected on the site of the Poston Japanese Internment Camp in Poston.  Very little of the wooden structures remain, making the Memorial Monument all the more poignant.

Eric reads about the
Poston Memorial

Backing up a bit...  After Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on Sunday, December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of people from military areas, as deemed necessary.  Portions of the US West Coast was labeled a military zone and people of Japanese descent, most of them Americans, were deemed a security risk.  Japanese-American service men and women were removed from the military.  Japanese-American World War I veterans were forced to leave their homes.  In total, about 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans, an easily identifiable ethnic group, were stripped of their civil rights and removed from their homes on the US West Coast.  

Rounding up people labeled undesirable and a security threat must be done quickly, as not to allow time for escape.  No one had time to challenge the detainment program in the courts.  The internees took what they could carry with them, which wasn't much. First confined in stables and horse tracks,  Japanese detainees were then taken to hastily built internment camps. The more accurate term is concentration camp because the Japanese are an ethnic minority and their confinement was politically expedient.

The US government designated land on the Colorado River Indian Reservation to house a portion of this new population of political prisoners as our country focused on war against Japan.  Roads were built to in this desolate area.  The internment camp, military barracks and military support buildings changed this section of the Reservation forever. The Poston Internment Camp, eventually known as the Poston War Relocation Center, was actually three different camps, with tar paper barracks.  The concentration camp, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed sentries, housed 17,867 adults, including the elderly, and children. 

The US government hoped that the concentration camps would become self sustaining. Adults could work inside, and outside the camp for $12.00 to $19.00 per month.  Land was set aside for farming. Chickens were raised at Poston for meat and eggs.  Detainees who were doctors, nurses, dentists, etc., took care of the concentration camp's medical needs.  Families welcomed 662 babies in confinement and buried the 221 who died here. There was a shortage of qualified teachers to educate school age detainees.

Japanese internees at Poston
Internment Camp volunteered

to fight in World War II.

Many served with the 442nd Infantry Regiment.  Activated in February 1943, this regiment fought in Italy and Germany.  The men who fought in this regiment were highly decorated for their efforts in the European Theater of Operations.  

Manzanar Internment Camp is the most famous of the ten War Relocation Centers. Photographer Ansel Adams was invited to document the conditions of the camp in California desert in 1943. Ignoring instructions not to take photos of the guard towers and the soldiers standing on them with rifles, Adams set up shots that clearly showed that Japanese and Japanese-Americans were living in a concentration camp and not a resort. Born Free and Equal was published in 1944, and not well received during wartime.

George Takei, best known as Lieutenant Sulu from Star Trek TV: The Original Series and Star Trek films, grew up surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers.  From the age of four to eight, George lived with his family in the Rohwer Internment Camp in Arkansas and the Maximum Security Camp in Tule Lake, California.   

The Poston Memorial Monument,
dedicated in 1992, acknowledges
decisions made during World II.

World War II ended after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945.  The Memorial Monument acknowledges the hardships and indignities suffered by the 17,867 of Japanese internees who were held against their will in this concentration camp from May 8, 1942 to November 28, 1945.   

Japanese internees were released and many tried to return to their homes.  Some smaller towns and villages didn't want their former Japanese neighbors living among them. Signs were posted stating that The Japanese were not welcome.  This group scattered across the country.

Some detainees returned to their hometowns and found their houses occupied by strangers.  Japanese and Japanese-American owners had to evict the squatters before re-starting their lives.  Others experienced financial ruin during their time behind barbed wire and started to rebuild their lives in destitution.  

In 1948, the Federal government distributed $37 million in reparations to the 110,000 Japanese internees.  Each person who lost four years of their lives, and so much more, received $336.36.  Even in 1948 dollars, the reparation was meager. The Japanese-Americans community lobbied Congress for ten years and, in 1988 obtained an official apology and an additional $20,000.00 for the surviving internees.  
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.  In 1983, a government commission concluded that there was not a single documented ct of espionage or sabotage committed by a Japanese immigrant or Japanese-American on the West Coast.

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