Written by Amy Cole
Southeast Colorado is the site of the Amache Japanese Internment Camp that was built and operated during World War II. Shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the American declaration of war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the exclusion and forced relocation of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans. More than 7,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to Amache, where they lived and worked until it closed in 1945.
Amache is now a National Historic Landmark and numerous organizations including the Amache Historical Society, Amache Preservation Society, Colorado Preservation, Inc., Friends of Amache, the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation are working to interpret the site for visitors to tell the story of Japanese American internment.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation was the recipient of a 2010 grant from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program to design reconstruction plans for a guard tower, one of the defining features of the Amache landscape during World War II that was removed when the camp closed. Colorado Preservation, Inc. received a similar grant to do plans to reconstruct the water tower, which could be seen for miles around the site.
Last month, while collecting the remaining water tank materials from a farm where they had been in use since the end of World War II, a fabulous discovery was made. In a refuse pile in the farmer’s field nearly all of the missing parts of the water tower, including the wooden “legs”, more than 300 fastening pieces like bolts and plates, the original platform on which the water tower sat, and the platform and pieces of a guard tower were located.
It was believed that all of these materials had been lost at the time the camp was abandoned in 1947, but for more than 60 years these pieces remained in a farm field just waiting to be rediscovered. The recently-discovered materials will be used to assist with reconstruction of both towers so that visitors to the Amache site can better understand and appreciate the internee experience.
Amy Cole is the senior program officer and regional attorney for the National Trust’s Mountains/Plains Office.