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August 18, 2011 9:28 am

EDITORIAL: A part of Park County’s history

Written by Don Amend

Fifteen years ago, a group of determined individuals formed the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

Their intent was to preserve the site of the World War II era Heart Mountain Relocation Camp. They wanted to establish an educational facility where visitors could learn about the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war and where researchers could study the political, civil rights and racial discrimination issues surrounding the relocation.

Since then, the foundation has restored an honor roll listing the names of more than 800 men and women from the camp who served in the military during the war, including two who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

They have built a walking tour where visitors can learn about the camp and the activities that took place there, and, four years ago, they succeeded in having the site designated as a National Historical Landmark.

This weekend, they will celebrate the grand opening of the next part of their dream, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, where period photographs and artifacts combine with narrative signs to tell the story of the Heart Mountain camp, whose more than 10,000 residents made it the third largest city in the state and nearly doubled the population of Park County.

This weekend’s events will draw a large number of people, including a number of former internees, some of them in their 90s, to Park County.

In addition, it will bring NBC journalist Tom Brokaw, author of “The Greatest Generation,” who will speak at a dinner Friday evening, and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a decorated veteran of World War II, who will speak at the dedication ceremony. Former Wyoming Sen. Al Simpson and former Rep. Norman Mineta, an internee at the camp, will participate as well.

Along with Simpson, a number of other local people have been part of the effort to make the center a reality. Dave Reetz, John Collins and Pat Wolfe are former board members, and LaDonna Zall, who took interest in the camp as she watched it close as a child, has served as acting curator, docent and custodian of artifacts awaiting the completion of the center.

There is no unity of opinion among Americans about the necessity of camps such as Heart Mountain during the war or the execution of the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans. To some, it was an injustice; to others a legitimate action in time of war. To still others, it is simply a painful memory. That range of opinion is no doubt reflected in Powell and Park County as well.

Whatever our individual opinions, though, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center highlights a significant part of Park County’s history. And because it does, the center is an important addition to the Powell and Cody communities and is worthy of celebrating this week.

We urge Powell residents to make those traveling here for the dedication welcome, and we hope many local residents will attend the grand opening Saturday at 10 a.m.

Most of all, we urge everyone to make a visit to the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center. It’s a bit of our community history, and we believe just about everyone will learn something he or she didn’t know about that dark time of war and disruption that shook the world 70 years ago.

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