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Arriving at Heart Mountain in Wyoming
The drive east out of Cody to Heart Mountain is through the high desert. The weekend I visited, it was bitterly cold. The wind was blowing so hard that at one point I lost my footing and fell. But I was wearing a nice down coat, snow pants and boots, riding in a cozy warm SUV with heated seats.
That’s not how the Japanese arrived at Heart Mountain. They came by train. For three years, nearly 14,000 Japanese Americans endured here with only the clothes on their backs and “all they could carry.” They came from California and they weren’t wearing down or fleece.
From the outside, the visitors center is not impressive. In fact, it’s quite ugly and depressing. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
The black, barracks-style buildings reflect the design of the living quarters hastily assembled for those uprooted from their homes, businesses, communities and lives on America’s west coast. At the time, President Roosevelt and most Americans felt this was necessary for national security.
Heroes from Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming
So this museum is their story. It’s a first person narrative of what some have called legalized racism. Many of these individuals were first and second generation American citizens. However, they lost their rights to vote, to own property and all that is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
However, 800 men from Heart Mountain were drafted and served in combat in Europe. Two won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
This is not a pretty chapter of American history. I admit, I was disturbed as I left the visitor center and looked out over the landscape that had been almost as cruel to these individuals as their government.
Each year, nearly three million people visit nearby Yellowstone National Park. If you are one of them, make that drive east into Cody Wyoming and spend a few hours at Heart Mountain. It will be time well spent.
Note: Heart Mountain was one of ten Japanese internment campus during WWII. Here, our friend Debi Lander writes about her visit to Manazanar National Historic Site in California.
Learn More about Heart Mountain Internment Camp
A road trip to Algona Iowa will show you a different type of WWII camp, this one for German prisoners of war.