Written by Sheri Freemuth
The wind often hides the quiet of south central Idaho, just as the broad expanse of irrigated crops can mask the rugged lava rock and sagebrush land. The passage of time has also obscured evidence of four years of incarceration for over 10,000 Japanese Americans at the Minidoka Relocation Center, or Hunt Camp, now known as the Minidoka National Historic Site.
But this Independence Day weekend there was no rustle of wind or hissing of pivot sprinklers to distract the participants in the 9th annual Minidoka pilgrimage. As in years past, pilgrims saw the dark lava stones near the banks of the Northside Canal, the old entrance road and the ruins of the historic waiting room. For the first time, pilgrims saw other traces of the camp delicately revealed by the National Park Service (NPS), along with new interpretive signs along a 1.6 mile walking trail. These signs were a reminder to those who bore witness (and there were some original incarcerees among the pilgrims), and offered fresh insights to visitors who do not recall World War II nor the many painful sacrifices it entailed.
The most striking addition to the site, the focus of the Sunday morning ceremony, is a large triptych sign bearing the names of all who served in the military during World War II from the Minidoka Relocation Center. Made possible by the diligence of the Friends of Minidoka and a grant from the NPS, it is a replica of the Honor Roll initially erected by camp incarcerees in a personal and deliberate display of patriotism.
With the installation it is also possible to see the outline of the original Victory Garden, whose design is attributed to Fujitara Kubota, who was incarcerated at Minidoka with his family (the mastery of Kubota can be seen today in the public Kubota Garden in Seattle). At Minidoka, only the embedded lava rock that lines a "V" shaped pathway and outcroppings of carefully placed boulders are hints of what the original garden may have included.
The three large buses of this year's participants in the pilgrimage, many coming from Washington's Puget Sound area, were joined by local friends and partners to acknowledge the dedication of those that work tirelessly to preserve and enhance the Minidoka National Historic Site. I was pleased to be a part of the group gathered on Sunday and honored to work for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has endeavored to ensure a bright future for this historic site, one that it richly deserves.
Most of all, though, the Sunday morning ceremony honored the bravery of those who served in World War II, particularly the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit in the US Army. Comprised solely of Japanese Americans, this unit became the most highly-decorated regiment in the history of the United States Armed Forces for their size and length of service. Minidoka provided 25 percent of the volunteers that served in the unit.
The testimony, the tears and the laughter of Sunday morning were captured best by Brooks Andrews, retired pastor and son of Seattle Pastor Emory "Andy" Andrews, who left Seattle for Idaho when his congregation, the Japanese Baptist Church, was uprooted to Minidoka. Brooks provided the invocation saying:
"We gather today to remember, honor and pay tribute....to the dedication and integrity of our young Nisei and the greatness that came, not from worldly assessment, but from an uncommon greatness that came from the quietness and serenity of the soul."
Sheri Freemuth is a Program Officer for the Western Office. She resides in Boise, Idaho.