A new generation of Japanese-Americans looked on the Topaz wartime internment camp Saturday as a "black mark on American history."
With shovels, pliers and speeches, members of the University of Utah Japanese-American Student Association and children of internees paid homage Saturday to those who lived in the camp between 1942 and 1946. The camp site is about 10 miles west of Delta.The students cleaned a monument, leveled a dirt parking lot and repaired a chain-link fence. They also walked through what is left of the mile-square camp that once included a city of 8,000 people, a hospital, two elementary schools and a high school.
"We must build on the mistakes of the past. This place is as noteworthy to the civil rights movement as are the lunch counters in Birmingham, Ala. This is a spot of earth that is a monument," Ken Verdoia told about 30 people who visited the site.
Verdoia produced a documentary about Topaz Camp for KUED that PBS will broadcast this summer.
"The greatest compensation we can give them is to never forget," Verdoia said.
For Kim Groenewold the visit to Topaz brought feelings of ambivalence. Her parents where among the camp's residents. About 110,000 Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II in 10 camps.
Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9006, clearing the way for legislation mandating the evacuation of all people of Japanese ancestry, aliens and citizens, from "military zones" on the West Coast.
Like many former internees, Groenewold's parents talk rarely of being forced to relocate to Utah. To them, the painful past seems best forgotten, while happy memories are recalled.
"My mother told me that she remembers the handicrafts. My grandfather made furniture out of apple crates, and they made jewelry out of shells. They were sometimes allowed to take trips into the mountains," she said.
She said, holding back tears, it is difficult for her to relate to the experience of her parents. They were forced to leave their home in California and were subject to racial slurs and stones as they boarded a train bound for Utah.
Driving past the Delta rail stop where internees boarded trucks to Topaz, she said she could only imagine how they must have felt.
"I hope eventually they do say something. That's a lot of pain to carry around," she said.
Frank Yoshimura, with the Japanese-American Citizen's League, was 19 years old when he moved with his family to Minidoka Camp near Hunt, Idaho. Visiting Topaz on Saturday reminded him of the dust that would sift through the floors of the roughly constructed barracks, the barbed wire and guard towers.
"The worst experience is to stand in one place and see a machine gun pointed at you," Yoshimura said. He directed the effort to build a monument at the Topaz Camp site in 1975.
Walking across the trenches, bits of metal piping and sagebrush that are now the only reminders of Topaz, Robert Tokita said members of the Japanese-American third and fourth generations don't consider what happened in the internment camps.
"Our generation doesn't know what happened. We need to pass the torch. We need to let them know what happened," he said.
Laurie Noda, an attorney with Utah's Public Service Commission, told the group to write President Reagan, urging him to sign into law a redress bill that would provide $20,000 to living camp survivors.
Her mother, then 9 years old, was interned in the Minidoka Camp.
Stephan Sugiyama, president of the student association, said he believes it is important that the nation remember this black mark in its history.
"For 150 years America had established freedoms, but 10 weeks after the war all of that went down the drain. America was not America anymore. The worst mistake is to repeat mistakes of past," Sugiyama said.