Heart Mountain center readies for opening

Posted 8/9/11

Inside, a crew from Split Rock Studios, a Minnesota firm specializing in producing museum exhibits, was hanging photographs and working to give the various exhibits an authentic appearance and feel. Life-size cutouts created from old photographs, …

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Heart Mountain center readies for opening


Grand opening of interpretive learning center set for next week

With its grand opening just days away, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center is rapidly approaching completion.

Last week, crews were working on the water system outside the building as Christy Fleming, manager of the site, and Steve Leger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, showed members of the media through the center, built on the site of the camp entrance and administration buildings.

Inside, a crew from Split Rock Studios, a Minnesota firm specializing in producing museum exhibits, was hanging photographs and working to give the various exhibits an authentic appearance and feel. Life-size cutouts created from old photographs, some of them taken more than 70 years ago, give life to the people who lived at the relocation center.

Water-stained walls and piles of dust in the corners of replicated barracks rooms recall the hasty construction and thin walls of the quarters that housed the internees. Many authentic artifacts from the camp, as well as other materials from the World War II era, will give the exhibits further authenticity.

The center will open officially with a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, and the foundation is preparing for nearly 1,000 former internees, their families, friends and supporters of the center.

Longtime U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a decorated World War II, veteran, will present the keynote address. Inouye will be introduced by former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson and former Congressman Norman Mineta, who became lifelong friends as Boy Scouts while Mineta’s family was interned at the camp.

Others who will participate in the grand opening are Tom Brokaw, former news anchor and current special correspondent for NBC; Los Angeles County Superior Judge Judge Lance Ito; Irene Hirano Inouye, president of the US-Japan Council; and Dr. Melba Vasquez, president of the American Psychological Association.

Brokaw, whose book “The Greatest Generation” describes the experiences of those who fought World War II, will speak at a Pilgrimage Dinner at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19.

Mineta, Ito, Hirano Inouye and Vasquez will participate in a panel discussion on various perspectives of the Japanese-American experience and its lessons for civil rights issues today during a grand opening banquet at 6 p.m. Saturday.

A visit to the center will begin with a short video, “All You Can Carry,” which opens with a wartime sequence of Japanese fighter planes. Visitors will hear internees who experienced the camp as teenagers and young adults talk of their reaction to Pearl Harbor and of their experiences as internees.

They will then travel through time, starting with a glimpse of the lives the internees lived before the war, and proceed through the angry reaction to Pearl Harbor, the evacuation to the camps and the day-to-day life at Heart Mountain.

Period pictures and artifacts from the era illustrate the social life, camp governance, schools and agricultural endeavors of the internees.

The military service of internees is noted, including the individual stories of Joe Hayashi and James Okubo. Joe Hayashi fought in Italy, giving his life for the American cause, and was awarded a Silver Star. Okubo also served in Italy and also won a Silver Star. Both decorations were upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor after a review of their records in 2000.

Another story highlights Clarence Uno, who served America in World War I and was granted citizenship in return. Despite his service and his active membership in the American Legion, he was interned, and died while in camp. Legion members from both Powell and Cody participated in his funeral

The story of those who refused to serve while their families were interned is also part of the exhibit, along with the stories of those who protested the loss of their civil rights in other ways.

The tour ends with the release of the internees and their repatriation to their West Coast homes. It touches on post-war accomplishments of the internees and subsequent reunions and activities.

Along the way, the issues of civil liberties and justice surrounding the historical incident are presented.

At the end of the tour, visitors can stop by the reflection room, where large windows offer a view of the area once occupied by the camp and Heart Mountain, to talk about what they have seen.

Other features of the center when it is complete will include a room for temporary exhibits, a gift and book store, a research room, an archives room and a conference room where the relocation and related issues can be studied. The research room is named for LaDonna Zall, a Powell resident who watched the last train of internees leave the relocation center and has worked hard to help establish the interpretive center.

The center will be open for tours following the grand opening ceremony on Saturday. For those who wish to see the center at a less crowded time, the center will be open with free admission until 8 p.m. Saturday, from 9-5 Sunday, Aug. 21 and Monday, Aug. 22 from 10-5.

Beginning Tuesday, Aug. 23, the center will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through mid-September. After that, Fleming said they will evaluate visitation to determine the center’s hours. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and no charge for children under 12.

The center is not affiliated with the National Park Service or any other federal entity, so passes issued by the Park Service are not valid for admission.