Former Amache Resident Helps DU Students Search for Artifacts

Items Found Stir Memories For Man Who Lived In Internment Camp

Officially, it was called the Granada Relocation Center. But the 7,300 Japanese Americans who were forced to live there called it Amache.

All that remains of Amache, an internment camp that was once the state's 10th largest population center, are crumbling concrete foundations and a few artifacts buried in the soil.

"This bit of history should never be forgotten," said former internee Gary Ono while sifting through some of the soil.

The 68-year-old California resident said he doesn't remember much about the hardship he and his family faced while living in the camp because he was too young.

"I do remember a winter evening looking out the window of the barrack, seeing our little snowman that we made," Ono said.

Ono now lives in Los Angeles. He came back to Colorado this month with his grandson, Dante, to help a group of anthropology students from the University of Denver excavate part of the site.

"He's learning about the camp in many of the ways we are," said assistant professor Bonnie Clark. "Experiencing what it's like to be out here in the heat."

The DU students have recovered marbles, pieces of glass, nails and even part of a paperclip.

"It may have been lost by a teacher or a student," Clark said.

"We are finding that the internees went to great lengths to make things normal," the professor added. "They brought things like Japanese dishes that would make it possible to have a bowl of rice in a proper bowl, or tea in a proper bowl."

One of their most moving discoveries was found not in the soil, but on a raised concrete platform on block 9-L.

The weathered platform used to house a boiler. The boiler is long gone, but several signatures written into the concrete 60 some years ago remain.

"That's my father's famous signature," Ono said. "I can tell by that swirly S."

When asked how he felt seeing his father's handiwork all these years later, Ono said, "I was blown away."

Ono said that as a child, he spent most of his time playing.

"I even have a picture of myself flying a kite," he added.

Now, on this trip back, he's learning more about what life was like for the adults.

"The camp situation divided a lot of elderly against the younger generation," Ono told 7NEWS.

He said in Japanese families, the elderly ruled. But at Amache, the military personnel put the younger adults in charge.

He said some Amache residents had mixed feelings about young men from the camp being drafted into the army.

"People who are fresh from Japan, who still have family connections, they were torn," he said. "They still loved America, but they also loved family."

A total of 31 Amache residents were killed in action while serving in the 442 infantry regiment. They are honored at the camp cemetery, which is maintained by students from Granada High School.

The cemetery is the lone patch of green in an otherwise dusty landscape within the old camp borders.

"The generation who remembers camp, we're losing them," Clark said. "So that's why we're out here, and the things we find stir memories."

They've stirred memories for Mo Nishida. He was almost 9 years old when he lived in the camp.

"We were citizens. I was a citizen," Nishida said. "We were put here without due process. What the hell was that about?"

Anthropologist Bonnie Clark said it's question like that that make her students' work so important.

"This is a shared history that we have. We have to understand how precious civil rights really are, and how they need to be guarded," Clark said. "This is a place where that didn't happen."

Clark said efforts are under way to save the former camp and to restore part of it. She said some local farmers have even offered to donate barracks they obtained from Amache after the war.

Ono said it's nice to know that there are people who want to preserve that part of history.

He said it's been a great learning experience for him and his grandson.

"We got permission from the city of Granada to sleep on site on the Fourth of July," Ono said. "I thought that was ironic."

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