Former internee triumphs over shadow of Heart Mountain camp

Posted 8/13/09

“Because of his service, he was able to get his citizenship and was a naturalized citizen in 1936,” Uno said during a telephone interview Tuesday.

But his service and his citizenship were forgotten in 1942 when Uno's family was …

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Former internee triumphs over shadow of Heart Mountain camp


Retired Judge Raymond Uno of Salt Lake City has a personal understanding of justice — and injustice. Uno's father was a Japanese immigrant who served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I.

“Because of his service, he was able to get his citizenship and was a naturalized citizen in 1936,” Uno said during a telephone interview Tuesday.

But his service and his citizenship were forgotten in 1942 when Uno's family was rounded up with other Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast and sent to relocation camps. The internment camps were built out of fear and reprisal in the months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

“When we were evacuated, we could only take with us what we could carry in our two hands and what we wore,” he said. “A lot of people lost their possessions, their homes and their businesses. Some sold them for whatever people would pay; some were given away.”

Uno, then 11 years old, his parents and his siblings were some of the 10,000 Japanese- Americans who were forced to live in the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp near present-day Ralston. It was there, less than a year later, that his father died of a heart attack. Uno was only 12 years old at the time.

“He died a veteran of the United States Army, and a prisoner of war of the United States government,” Uno said Tuesday.

Reflections on the past

Uno will return to what remains of the camp on Saturday — this time, not as an internee, but as a celebrated speaker for events marking progress on an interpretive learning center at the camp, and as a board member of the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation.

The foundation is working to ensure that injustices inflicted on Japanese-Americans during World War II never are repeated by preserving what remains of the camp and by completing an interpretive learning center there. The center will help preserve the camp's history and honor the Japanese-Americans who were interned there.

Uno said he still wonders whether his father might have lived longer under other circumstances. Perhaps he wouldn't have had his heart attack, or he might have survived it, if he'd been living in better conditions or had access to better medical care.

“I always think that, because of the war, and because of the camp, I lost my father,” Uno said.

Because of his past service to his country, Uno said his father was given a military funeral by American Legion posts in Powell and Heart Mountain.

“That was unusual, with him being in a military camp,” Uno said.

Military service

Despite uprooting Japanese-Americans from their homes and depriving them of their freedoms, the U.S. government continued to draft internees into military service — and many chose to answer that call.

“The 100th and the 142nd combat units came from those camps,” Uno said. “They became very well known in Europe and in the military as the most-decorated military unit in United States history. They earned 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, and they received up to 18,000 decorations for honor.

“They were known as the Purple Heart Battalion because of the number of casualties. I think that helped a lot because people realized that Japanese people were loyal (to the United States) and willing to give their lives for their country.”

During the war with Japan, many internees served as interpreters, translators and interrogators, he said.

Uno continued that military service tradition in 1948 at the age of 17 after graduating from high school in Ogden, Utah.

His family had lived in Ogden prior to moving to California, and returned there after the war to be near a relative.

After Uno joined the U.S. Army, “I went into the military intelligence language school and took Japanese. They shipped me over to Japan, and I served with counter intelligence in Japan.”

Thus, “I can give credit to the Army for teaching me my own language,” he said.

Uno's service came during the United States' occupation of Japan, and he helped with the effort to establish a democratic government there.

“It was very successful,” he said, transforming Japan into an “industrious, popular country” that was second only to the United States in economic power.

Uno said part of the reason for that success was due to the fact that Japanese-Americans who had been in the camps had learned to govern themselves.

“We had self government, our own schools, and we administered ourselves.”

The Korean War started during his years of service, and it took place in that part of the world, so Uno was classified as a Korean War veteran.

Uno becomes judge

When he returned to Ogden after his military service, Uno enrolled in Weber State College, and upon graduating from the junior college, he continued at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science, a master's in social work and a juris doctor in law.

After serving as a referee in juvenile court, where his decisions were referred to a juvenile court judge for approval, he went to work as a deputy county attorney for Salt Lake County, and later as assistant attorney general for the state of Utah.

After that, he went into private practice for seven years, then was appointed as the Salt Lake County judge.

“I was the first minority judge in the state of Utah,” he said.

That post led to his appointment later as judge for the Third District Court for the state of Utah, also in Salt Lake City.

Uno said he began to understand the injustices done to his family and other Japanese-Americans only after he attended college.

“When I was in high school, I didn't quite comprehend the deprivation of civil rights and the unconstitutional treatment of the Japanese in the war time,” he said. “Then I started learning all these things that happened, losing my father, and the hardship it created on my mother, raising three children.

“There were hard times when we were in the camp, and we were not able to be totally free. We were restricted in terms of many things we were able to do.”

‘Things started to change'

“Fortunately, (after the war) things started to change. It took a little while for the relationship between the United States and Japan to become one in which they mutually accepted each other, nations on a par, with the attitude in the United States changing from Japan being an enemy to an ally.”

Uno said Heart Mountain camp residents began an agricultural endeavor during World War II that benefited future generations of farmers after the camp closed.

“Heart Mountain was one of the camps in which we were able to produce our own agricultural products,” he said.

“After it closed, all of that land became very fertile agricultural land,” which was homesteaded by World War II veterans and their families.

“Because of the Japanese, a lot of whom were farmers from California, they were able to change it from land that was sagebrush and desert into a very fertile land.”

Heart Mountain events slated Saturday

The Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation has scheduled a special Heart Mountain Collection Day and Progress Party Saturday, Aug. 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The organization is inviting local residents and others to bring memorabilia to the site of the interpretive center southwest of Powell.

A Progress Party reception the Heart Mountain Relocation Center site will follow, featuring retired U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta and Milward Simpson, director of Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Mineta and Simpson became friends at Heart Mountain as Boy Scouts and served in Congress together more than 30 years later.

A dinner also will be take place Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Cody Holiday Inn. Dinner cost is $25. Reservations are required and may be made by contacting HMWF Treasurer Pat Wolfe at 754-2689 or by e-mail to