Memories of Minidoka
Japanese-Americans revisit southern Idaho's internment camp
Internees unload at the Minidoka detention camp near Twin Falls. At its peak, the camp held 9,397 people of Japanese ancestry and was the eighth largest city in Idaho. Photograph courtesy National Archives and Records Administration (# 210-CMA-R-4).
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The bus rocked across rutted dips as it worked its way through the sprawling, fertile farmland on the outskirts of Twin Falls, Idaho. The rich, irrigated greenery of this place stands in sharp contrast to the barren scrub desert Takeshi Yoshihara remembers from 67 years ago, when he and his family were taken from their Portland, Oregon, home by the U.S. government, put on a train, and brought here, the middle of nowhere.
“The land has turned so green. It is so different,” he said quietly as he gazed through the bus windows. “It looks beautiful, not what it was back then. It doesn’t yet bring back memories.”
Yoshihara, 78, and his 21-year-old grandson, Andrew, have joined more than 100 others from around the country on this annual pilgrimage to the former Minidoka World War II Japanese Internment Camp. Six decades ago, armed guards and barbed wire kept nearly 10,000 Japanese-Americans imprisoned here. Yoshihara lived in Minidoka with his parents and eight siblings for four years as a teen. From this internment, he grew up to become the first Japanese-American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a captain during the Vietnam War.
The pilgrimage is hosted each year by the Friends of Minidoka, an Idaho-based organization that supports education and research focusing on the Japanese-American internment experience and works to uphold the legacy of those who were incarcerated.
Yoshihara is joined on this day by 34 fellow former camp internees. Still more are friends and family. Some have come simply as a call to social justice and to learn more about what happened here more than six decades ago.
“At the Mercy of the Country”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing the forced removal and incarceration of more than 115,000 people of Japanese descent who lived in the Western United States. Two-thirds of them were Nisei, the American-born citizens of Japanese immigrants, known as Issei.
The evacuation happened quickly. Families took only what they could wear and carry. Most of what they left behind was sold, vandalized or stolen, and when they were released years later, they re-entered a society still seething with anger over the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
As Yoshihara said, “When my family left the camp, we literally had nowhere to go. We were at the mercy of the country.”
For Aya Uenishi Medrud, 84, the chaos began immediately after Pearl Harbor. FBI agents arrived at her home in Seattle in the middle of the night, handcuffed her father, accused him of being a “dangerous enemy alien,” and took him to a Department of Justice detention camp for suspected “troublemakers.” She was 16 years old.
She describes how the agents ransacked the entire house, including her bedroom, where they dumped her dresser drawers on the floor. As her father was led away, he told her it had become her responsibility to take care of the family. “I was just a girl,” she said.
In the days that followed, Medrud’s father’s assets were frozen. Without a second income to fall back on, her family was adrift. “We lost our property and our house. We had no money at all. We didn’t know where they took him,” she said. “I could not understand why this was happening to him. He was an accountant and a Buddhist and very non-violent. But I learned since then that it was probably because he also taught martial arts, and that was enough to consider him dangerous at the time.” >>>