| |

Heart Mountain Relocation Center

During our trip out west, we had a few days downtown in the town of Cody, WY.  While we were there, my wife and I took the morning to go to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, in Park County, just outside of Cody.

exterior Heart Mountain Relocation Center Visitor center
Visitor Center

While not an official NPS unit, this site is a National Historic Landmark, and tells the story of how over 120,000 people of Japanese descent, many of whom were American citizens, were forcible interned into camps shortly after the United States entered World War II.  This was done out of fear that they would support Japan in the war.  Oddly enough, people of German descent were not rounded up into camps with that same logic.  Heart mountain was one of 10 camps built shortly after the war and named after the heart shape mountain that looms over the site, it is one of only a few sites that retain some original structures.

1944 Camp map of Heart Mountain Relocation Center
Camp Map

We visited the site in the morning and spent a few hours walking through the very extensive visitor center.  They did a very good job of putting you in that time period and providing context to the decision that resulted in the imprisonment of a large portion of the population.  It is remarkable to see how easy it was to condone these actions, which tore people out of their homes, jobs and life’s and moved them to a strange place hundreds of miles from their homes.  

The exhibits provided many first-hand accounts of the challenges faced by the residents of Heart Mountain.  They also highlight the amazing resilience that was shown to forge something resembling a life in the situation they were in. 

In Jan 1944, the US government opened the draft to include the people in the camps.  Most who went into the armed services, were all placed in the same unit, the 442nd regimental combat unit.  It is notable that this unit became one of the most decorated units in American history, fighting across France and Italy.  Two of the soldiers that came from Heart Mountain were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be bestowed.

After we watched the informational video and walked through the exhibits, we went outside to see the site a little bit.  We drove up the road up the hill to where the internment camp was built, but while there were some structures, they were fairly spread out.  We drove up to the memorial parking lot and walked around a bit. 

The take-away I got from this visit and what I keep thinking about is taken from one of their exhibits, titled, “what would you do?”  It really illustrated the injustice and heart-breaking situation these people were placed under.  Sell all your property, pennies on the dollar or rely on strangers or neighbors to store your belongings and hope they don’t get stolen.  Go on this train, with only what you can carry and the clothes on your back.  Find out you did not have enough cold weather clothes for your family, since you had no idea where you were going.  Discover an entire family will stay in one room dorm/apartments, that were quickly assembled, poorly constructed and had no insulation.  What would you do?

I look forward to visiting the Manzanar National Historic Site in California at some point as well, to get a broader view of this strained period of our shared history.

Instagram Icon Black
Threads Icon Black
Delicate Arch on clear day blue sky

Check out original photos in the Roaming Monk gallery!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *