New institute to be built at Heart Mountain Relocation Center

Posted at 12:54 PM, Jul 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 14:54:44-04

POWELL, Wyo. - A new $3 million grant will help build the Mineta-Simpson institute near Powell. It will be a place where people learn to understand each other where misunderstanding incarcerated thousands of innocent Americans 80 years ago.

In the fields below Heart Mountain between Cody and Powell, people come from all over the United States every summer to remember a shameful chapter in America’s history.

It is the site of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center site, where 14,000 Japanese Americans from California were incarcerated behind barbed wire and guard towers during World War II. They lost everything when they were taken from their homes and were forced to live in the cold barracks of Heart Mountain.

It was one of several “relocation centers” across the country. President Roosevelt signed the orders to create the centers after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

In 2002, former Japanese Boy Scout troop members returned to the site of the center for the first time since it opened. Then, former prisoners came back year after year in pilgrimages, and the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center was created.

It was visited by actor George Takei, who lived in camps in Arkansas and California.

“I was five years old at the time,” he said.

Later this month, there will be a groundbreaking for a new addition.

“We are naming this new venture in honor of Senator Alan Simpson and Secretary Mineta,” Interim Director of the Heart Mountain Foundation, Aura Sunada Newlin, said.

The two former lawmakers were lifelong friends. Mineta lived at the camp with his family. Simpson lived in Cody nearby. They met as boy scouts in 1943.

Simpson became a Republican Senator representing Wyoming. Mineta was a democratic member of the House of Representatives from Hawaii. In 2008, they reunited at a dedication ceremony at Heart Mountain, and returned each summer.

They won’t meet again this summer.

“We were really looking forward to having Norm out on site, like they’re here every year. But we lost Norm in May,” Newlin said.

Simpson is expected at the July 30 groundbreaking for a place that will help heal old wounds, and new ones.

“What happened during WWII to Japanese Americans is an example of how folks from across the aisle can now look back and say, ‘You know, we really should’nt have done that. This was not constitutional,” Newlin said.

While their families were imprisoned, many young Japanese patriots here volunteered to fight for their country in the War. Many died.

Newlin said her father was in a camp, and served in the military in WWII.

“My great uncle was serving while his family was still incarcerated here, and ironically he was one of the Japanese Americans who helped liberate a sub-camp of Dachau,” she said.