After a late-summer visit to Yellowstone, we capped off our family trip in Cody Wyoming, for the express purpose of visiting Heart Mountain, where husband Irv — and many of the Japanese-Americans living in Santa Clara County — were held during WWII. The museum at Heart Mountain is fairly new, but rivals other Japanese-American museums, all well worth a visit.
The biggest and best museum that chronicles the experiences of the Japanese-Americans during WWII, and much more, is the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles. One can really get a feel of the confinement that the residents of the camp faced at Manzanar, where the National Historic Site complex includes rebuilds of the fence, a guard tower and many of the structures, in addition to the U.S. Ranger-staffed museum located in the same large building where the residents held dances. And we’re lucky to have the Japanese museum in San Jose, set to re-open soon. In addition to a sample barracks room and much detail about the 442nd and WWII camp experiences, San Jose and all the museums include the agricultural contributions, before and after WWII as well as during internment.
But the Heart Mountain visit was special. That’s where Irv spent his life from 2 to 5. When we visited, the staff there were so kind, getting their huge binders out that listed all the families and each family member that lived there and copying the Mitsunaga page for us.
Block 23 just happens to be where the Mitsunaga family lived, in 10B. The room looks big (24 x 20), until you consider there were no dividers within that space, and it held the parents, five children including a newborn, plus an uncle (one of the dad’s brothers).
Best part may be the meditation room that looks out on Heart Mountain. The outline of that mountain is seared in the memory of those who lived there.
Date of travel: early Sept, 2022.
If you are in Wyoming and near Cody or Powell, plan your day so you can spend several hours at the Heart Mountain museum. It’s worth the visit. Check the weather — hot in summer and cold in winter, just like it was for the internees.