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WWII Internees Visit Camp Monument in Idaho

July 09, 2006|From the Associated Press

HUNT, Idaho — Tomi Okano was 6 years old in 1942 when she and her family were forced by the federal government to leave their Oregon home to live in a World War II detention camp for Japanese Americans.

More than 60 years later, she has one vivid memory of this place in the southern Idaho desert.

"I remember the fence," Okano said Saturday as she walked past the remnants of an entry checkpoint to the former 33,000-acre Minidoka Relocation Center compound. "I remember thinking, 'If I could just go over that fence and over those mountains, there would be the ocean and I would be home.' "

Okano, of Seattle, was one of about 100 former internees and their families who made a pilgrimage from Seattle and Portland, Ore., to the Idaho camp now designated the Minidoka Internment National Monument.

The National Park Service hosted the visit to discuss its plans to develop a 73-acre parcel set aside in 2001 by President Clinton to be an educational exhibit focusing on civil rights and the wartime experience of Japanese Americans.

Minidoka was one of 10 detention camps operated between 1942 and 1946 in the Western U.S. and Arkansas. The camps held thousands of West Coast residents who had at least one-sixteenth Japanese ancestry.

The forced removal of Japanese Americans was ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt two months after Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, only a handful of original Minidoka structures remain.

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