Disclaimer on this post. Some may say how does this relate to astronomy? Well, one, if you go to the bottom you'll find some links to some wonderful art done my internees in the Topaz Relocation Center Camp. One is of the moon over the camp. Stunning. Next, there are dark sites out past the site, and that is good. Last, sometimes in life, though we have a passion for astronomy, and this blog is dedicated to that, sometimes though the journey we are all intersects us with a harsh reality, that has a deep and abiding lesson. At those moments, stories like this are wonderful to share.
Well, I am in Delta, Utah today for a funeral of an extended family member. The weather is not conducive down here for observing tonight, lots of cloud. So after the funeral I drove out with my son to the site of the Topaz Relocation Center, about 15 miles west of Delta. There is BLM land to the west of the site, and it is a very dark site out there. Anyway, we got out to the site and there is a place where an American Flag is flown and there are two memorial plagues that are about 5 feet long each. The first recounts the exploits and sacrifices of those Japanese Americans who joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, that served with distinction in the European Theater of Operations in Italy, France and Europe. There were 21 Medal of Honors given to members of the unit, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses and many more. This made the unit one of the most decorated units in the ETO.
The next plague reviews the layout and life in the camp. I have images of the site but haven't uploaded them. It is quite easy to drive on the gravel roads that served as roads during the camp, but don't expect to see any buildings. All that is left is barb wire, tons of nails, lots of pottery and brick fragments, some areas that were gardens at one time. You can see treasures, we found two old coke/soda pop bottles out there and we saw some colored rocks and other items. It isn't moral or legal to remove the items so I photographed them and left them alone. The desert is reclaiming the area and that is quite evident.
As I walked on the cement foundations and was able to make out the rooms and to see the remnants of nails (from when they tore the buildings down after WWII), metal scraps and other items, it really hit me that the United States took 9000 Japanese Americans, most being U.S. citizens, and relocated them to an internment camp. There was an eerie silence that came upon me out there as I reflected upon what it must have been like to have been uprooted from one's home and relocated to such a camp. It is a testament to me of the importance of understanding, compassion and tolerance that must exist in order for freedom to truly flourish. I think this quote sums up my thoughts on visiting this site and why, for me, it was so important to experience:
Ultimately, the tragedy of Topaz is part of a circle of learning, an indelible part, however forgotten, of who we are today. 'This tells us that if we aren't protective of minority rights - the majority has to be protective of minority rights because the minority is not strong enough to do it for themselves - if this is a forgotten chapter in history then there is no way we can learn that lesson. That is why the Topaz museum is important.'
This is a sign for the gate entrance.
Sheetrock that is left over at the site.
If I remember correctly, this was a piece of barb wire and some other metal that is rusting.
Pipe footing for possible water hook up into the barracks? Total guess on my part. I will be researching to find out though.
A cement entrance pad to a barracks.
Two pieces of glass that were not the remnants of modern glass, but we believe these two samples came from the 1940's because of the writing on them, and their shape is small. Research or an expert could correct or provide insight.
This is my 16 year old son who is standing on the site or what is left of the Mountain View Elementary School.
This is the pumping house that pumped water to the camp. Also, the one fatality at the camp, 63 year old James Hatsuaki Wakasa was shot near this spot.
For many, I am sure they would have been bored out there. Not me. One of my bachelor degrees is in history and that is for a reason. I love history because it is the connection of the past to the present. I hope you enjoy the images, and here are some links where you can learn more about the site.
Topaz Relocation Center Museum
Topaz Internment Camp
Topaz, Utah's Internment Camp
One last item. If you want to see some incredible sketch work and art work look at the sketches and the art work done my those in the camps in the links below.
Art Work from Topaz 1
By the famous artist Chiura Obata. More of his art is in the Book Topaz Moon which is wonderful.
In conclusion, I have to state that it would be nice if the front entrance, a barrack and perhaps a guard tower was built on the site, along with a barb wire fence and a visitor center so that visitors could see what life was like here for the 9000 Japanese Americans, most who came from the San Francisco Bay Area with its cooling and smoothing breezes and fog (I grew up there) to the harsh environment of the desert because of their race. There is a lesson there today for us Americans. One that I fear we have forgotten and are perhaps doomed to repeat one day. If Germany who committed gross horrors in their concentration camp can confess to the errors of their ways, and bear the responsibility of those errors, then in the United States, we should be able to do the same. I guess it is whether we remember how we violated their civil rights in a time of war and hysteria that is the lesson we should all remember if we desire to be free.