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LITTLE TOKYO : Internment Barracks Will Be Exhibited

October 02, 1994|TOMMY LI

Two 1940s wooden barracks in Wyoming will be dismantled and brought to Los Angeles by midweek as part of an exhibit commemorating the wartime internment of Japanese Americans more than 50 years ago.

The 60- and 40-foot-long buildings were among those hastily constructed to house up to 10,000 Americans with Japanese ancestry at Heart Mountain Camp--one of 11 run by the government during World War II, said Chris Komai, spokesman for the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

Based on racial fears and anti-Asian sentiment, the U.S. government in February, 1942, ordered 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to evacuate their homes, give up their jobs and live in camps from California to Arkansas. The order became void in 1945 when the war ended.

Museum officials want to include one of the barracks from Park County, Wyo., in a Nov. 11 exhibit titled "America's Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience."

They plan to reassemble the building for public viewing on a parking lot across from the museum, Komai said.

The other wood-frame structure will be stored for future use in a permanent exhibit at a proposed 65,000-square-foot pavilion that would be built next door to the nonprofit museum.

Museum officials went to look for the tar-paper-covered barracks in Wyoming because at the other camp sites, "there aren't many original barracks still up after 50 years," Komai said.

"If you go up to Manzanar (Calif.), there's nothing there," he said. "The two buildings that we're bringing back have been changed the least."

Both barracks were relocated after World War II to nearby farms and ranches and converted into tool sheds. They were donated to the museum by landowners Rod Morrison and Tak Ogawa.

"Somebody needed to do something to recognize it before it went away," said Morrison, 38, whose barracks will be on display in November. It still contains old coal-burning stoves and old newspapers that former internees used to cover shelves.

"I'm a firm believer in lessons learned, and I hope we definitely use this . . . and stop being afraid of things we don't understand," said Morrison, a Wyoming native and an engineer for a Pasadena design and construction company.

Heart Mountain Camp has a strong local connection: 60% to 65% of Japanese Americans sent to the camp came from Southern California.

Some of those former internees, along with museum staff and other volunteers, left for Wyoming last week to help dismantle and prepare the wooden structures for transport. They were joined by four professional carpenters.

No cost has been determined for the project, which will be accomplished through volunteer and paid labor. The disassembled parts were to be loaded onto flatbed and enclosed trucks by today, Komai said.

They could return by Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.

"We're hopeful that they will hold up fine and that we will be able to bring them back intact," Komai said.

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