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The Lessons of Heart Mountain

September 5th, 2017 by Park County Travel Council | Be the first to comment!

If you have a chance, I highly recommend tracking down a Today Show segment by Tom Brokaw about the Heart Mountain World War II Interpretive Center and the relationship between former congressman and cabinet member Norman Mineta and our own Alan Simpson, former U.S. Senator.

Please allow me to summarize.

This year we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed Feb. 19, 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This order resulted in more than 100,000 citizens of Japanese heritage being incarcerated in various prison camps throughout the West.

Located 14 miles northeast of Cody, Heart Mountain was home to some 14,000 people between August 1942 and November 1945.

Arriving primarily from California and Washington, these incarcerated Americans were clustered in small, rapidly built quarters after being forced from their homes. As a result, they lost their homes, jobs, businesses and most of their possessions. They came with only what they could carry, and they had no idea how long they would be confined. They lived their lives, created a community, established life-long friendships, and more than 800 of them joined the military and fought for the country that had stripped them of their freedom.

Among those citizens at Heart Mountain was a young Norman Mineta who joined the camp’s Boy Scout troop. At the same time, Alan Simpson was a member of the town’s troop which attended a jamboree at the camp. The two became friends, and they are still friends today after spending much of their careers crossing paths in Washington, D.C.

Exhibits depict the roundup and incarceration of Japanese-Americans.

Exhibits depict the roundup and incarceration of Japanese-Americans.

Through the years they have worked to remind us of the injustices that Japanese-Americans endured during WWII and to help pass the reparations bill President Reagan signed in 1988. In 2011 both gentlemen spoke, along with Senator Daniel Inouye, at the dedication of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center opened in 2011.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center opened in 2011.

Today the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center continues to tell the stories of the Americans who were incarcerated there through photographs, artifacts, oral histories and interactive exhibits. It is located on a National Historic Landmark site that also includes original camp structures, a war memorial built by incarcerees and an interpretive walking trail. The Center has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, 2012 Interior Exhibit Award, 2012 Excellence in Exhibition Award from the American Association of Museums.

Read and listen to what Tom Brokaw, Alan Simpson and Norman Mineta have to say. Their insights, experiences and perspectives are invaluable and relevant.

Until next week, I am lovin’ life – and the lessons I learned at Heart Mountain – in Cody, Wyo.

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