Media Resource

I Remember: Japanese Incarceration During WWII

“Congress recognizes that...a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of civilians during World War II....these actions were carried out without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." 

-- Excerpt from Public Law 100-383, Wartime Relocation of Civilians. 

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, many Americans and indeed the federal government characterized the Japanese and Japanese American populations as dangerous enemies. In response to this infamous day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. This reactionary law authorized the evacuation of people with Japanese ancestry from the west coast to military zones in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Imposing watch towers, rows of barracks, and barbed wire fences that separated Americans from seemingly desolate landscapes beyond characterized Japanese internment camps where more than 127,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned until 1945.  

This Media Resource introduces students to first-hand accounts of the history of Japanese American incarceration camps during WWII. Guiding questions, video interviews, and other digital materials offer insight into what life in a camp was like and prompts for further research on the lasting significance of this era of U.S. history. The full playlist of video interviews with Sam Mihara is also available at the NEH Youtube page.

Incarcerated at Heart Mountain

Incarceration camps incriminated the Issei and Nisei, or first- and second-generation Japanese Americans, of espionage on behalf of the Japanese Empire. To assess their loyalty to the United States, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) devised a questionnaire administered to adults in the camps to determine their allegiance to the United States. The final two questions caused the most confusion. Question 27 asked if Nisei men would serve in combat duty wherever ordered and others to serve in other ways, such as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. As a follow-up, Question 28 asked if they would swear allegiance to the United States and forsake any loyalty to the Emperor of Japan. As American citizens recently stripped of their civil rights, many responded to these questions: no, no. Labeled as “disloyal,” these resisters were mostly moved to Tule Lake and became known as the “No-Nos” for their peaceful act of protest. Another act of resistance, Kiyoshi Okamoto formed the “Fair Play Committee of One” at Heart Mountain in response to the WRA questionnaire in 1943.  

As a child, Sam Mihara was imprisoned along with his family at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. In his public speaking engagements and in the following oral history clips, Sam Mihara describes his school in the camp, his childhood friends, and where their imaginations could take them outside of the barracks. Mihara also touches on resistance within the camps and how we remember these historical events going forward. 

Guiding Questions:

  • How did the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans redefine citizenship and civil rights in the twentieth century?
  • What do we learn by speaking with people who lived during historic events and eras?
  • How do we incorporate oral histories into historical records?

Learning Objectives: 

  • Analyze oral histories for Sam Mihara’s perspectives on Heart Mountain. 

  • Examine primary and secondary sources on Japanese incarceration during World War II. 

  • Evaluate the legacy of incarcerating Americans during wartime. 

Sam Mihara's Story

I Remember...

The first video focuses on Sam Mihara's experiences as an incarceree during WWII and his reflections on what that time period meant for the country. His discussion focuses on the importance of remembering in order to prevent such events from ever happening again. 

  • What was the series of events that led to Sam's arrival at Heart Mountain?
  • What was life like for people incarcerated at Heart Mountain?

Why Here?: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

In this second video, Sam Mihara discusses what happened on December 7, 1941, and how this day set a series of actions in motion that led to him and his family being incarcerated at Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

Guiding Questions: 

  • Why was Heart Mountain, Wyoming chosen as a location for one of the incarceration camps built during WWII? 

  • Were incarceration camps truly in “desolate parts of the country interiors”? 

Living at Heart Mountain

In the third video, Sam Mihara explains what life was like for him, his family, and the thousands of people who were held in the camp between August 1942 and November 1945.

Guiding Questions: 

  • What was it like to live in the camp at Heart Mountain between 1942 to 1945? 
  • What did the United States government provide Japanese Americans in these incarceration camps? 

Learning at Heart Mountain

The fourth video focuses on education at the incarceration camps and Sam Mihara’s experience as a student while imprisoned at Heart Mountain.

Guiding Questions: 

  • What does Sam remember about the schools and teachers?

  • What was it like to go to school while imprisoned at Heart Mountain?

Growing at Heart Mountain

In the fifth video, Sam Mihara recalls what it was like to be a young kid and the importance of knowing your civil rights.

Guiding Questions: 

  • Why does Sam believe some people did not resist being moved and incarcerated during WWII?

  • What do you think about Sam’s points about knowing your civil rights?

Resisting at Heart Mountain

Video six covers what Sam Mihara witnessed unfold between Japanese Americans who refused to serve in the U.S. military and the U.S. government during WWII.

Guiding Questions: 

  • How did Japanese Americans come to be part of the U.S. military during WWII?
  • Why were some incarcerated Japanese Americans called “No-no Boys”?
  • What does it mean to be loyal to your country?

Remembering Heart Mountain

In the last video of the series, Sam Mihara provides an overview of how Heart Mountain was transformed from an incarceration camp into a site for educating the public about what happened during WWII.

Guiding Questions: 

  • How has Heart Mountain been transformed since the 1940s? 
  • Why is it important to never forget what happened at Heart Mountain and at other camps that were built around the country during WWII?
Related Resources

The following resources can be used to extend the study of Japanese Incarceration at Heart Mountain and other camps constructed across the United States during WWII. 

Heart Mountain Wyoming FoundationThe mission of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) is to "preserve and memorialize the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site" and "educate ducate the public about the history of the illegal imprisonment of Japanese Americans." Among the many resources provided by the HMWF is a downloadable roster of those incarcerated at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center. Below is a video for the book Setsuko's Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration (2020) about one family's history and connection to Heart Mountain.

The Fred T. Korematsu Institute: Fred Korematsu was arrested in 1942 for refusing to be transported to an incaceration camp during WWII. In the case of Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against Korematsu by upholding his arrest. The case was reopened nearly forty years later and he Korematsu Institute provides an array of materials for students to learn about Fred's life and what happened as a result of the 1983 appeal. Teh video below provides a brief overview of Fred Korematsu's life and his role as a civil rights leader in U.S. history.

National Park Service: The U.S. National Park Service offers a collection of resources about many of the incarceration sites used during WWII and their significance today. The NPS produced "Remembering Manzanar" about the incaceration camp built in Manzanar, CA.