POWELL, Wyo. — Six decades after leaving the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp as a 12-year-old, Sam Mihara took a tour through Yellowstone, and the tour bus stopped in Cody.
Mihara had bad memories of Cody. He had gone there with his father during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and had seen "No Japs Allowed" signs in store windows.
This time, though, he met LaDonna Zall of Powell, "the first Wyoming person I met after the war."
Through Zall, whose life-long interest in the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp was instrumental in establishing the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, Mihara took an interest in the camp he had experienced as a boy and "for 60 years didn't want anything to do with." That led him begin to collecting his memories of the camp.
But he didn't begin sharing those memories until he attended last summer's grand opening of the Center where Shirley Higuchi, president of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Board of Directors encouraged him to tell his story. He began preparing a program, digging through hundreds of photographs — including more than 1,000 images archived in a University of California library — and checking his memories against the memories of others he had known in camp.
Last week, Mihara presented that story to a full house at the Interpretive Learning Center.
Beginning with a photo of Japantown in San Francisco by legendary photographer Dorothea Lange, Mihara traced the path of Japanese Americans from their life on the West Coast before the war through the internment camps and back to the West Coast. In pictures of school children before the war, he pointed out friends. Pictures of the transportation to the camp included one of an elderly woman exiting the train on her husband's back because the train wouldn't accommodate her wheelchair, and an elderly man on a stretcher being passed through the window of the train car.
All the elements of the camp took their turn on the screen. Pictures of family life in the camps, schools, and recreation mixed with shots of the fire department, medical facilities and courts revealed the sense of community that developed in the camp.
The agriculture developed by the internees was featured in many of the pictures as Mihara related stories of the food at the camp, which was terrible at first. The food improved as interned farmers began to produce vegetables and the internees convinced the government to spend the food allotment, 38 cents per person per day, on rice instead of potatoes.
Pictures of the camp's medical services were accompanied by Mihara's stories of his own family. His father suffered from glaucoma, which had been under control prior to the internment. In camp, though, the medication wasn't available, so his father lost his sight. Mihara's grandfather died from colon cancer during the internment, and Mihara said hospital records indicated the only treatment he received was Pepto Bismol.
As a picture of his grandfather's funeral at the camp filled the screen, Mihara said he had recently met Don Easton of Powell. He learned that Easton's father, Powell's mortician at the time, had made the arrangements for the funeral, and Easton, a young man at the time, had assisted his father.
At the end of the presentation, Mihara showed photos he took last summer during the dedication of the Interpretive Learning Center, and he talked about the changes in people in years since the war.
"When I went to Cody, it was different from the past," Mihara said. "We were welcomed by the people."
He said people were helpful, citing Rowene Weems, who located a picture he had never seen, and the Albertson's store in Cody, which provided a fried chicken lunch for the group he traveled with.
Mihara said his recent experiences in Wyoming changed his attitude toward the camp.
"People can change," Mihara said. "I didn't know that, and I should have come back earlier."
Information from: Powell Tribune - Powell, http://www.powelltribune.com