In February 1942 in Portland, Ore., a knock came at the door and with less than a day’s notice American citizens of Japanese ancestry were escorted by soldiers away to nearby county fairgrounds to await a long train ride to a primitive internment camp in south-central Idaho.
Several thousand people of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes all over the Pacific Northwest to the Minidoka Japanese internment camp near Twin Falls. At the time, the internment camp was one of the largest cities in the state. The incarcerated stayed for three years until World War II was over.
This Friday, Japanese-Americans will return to the Minidoka National Historic Site for the 16th summer pilgrimage with former internees, their children, friends and history students. Some 250 people will gather for four days of dinners, ceremonies, speeches, discussions and tours of the remnants of the camp.
One attendee is Clark Kido of Idaho Falls. His parents both were interned at Minidoka.
“My father and his whole family of Gresham, Ore., were interned at Minidoka,” Kido said. “My mother’s family was out of Seattle. They were picked up and moved to the Puyallup fairgrounds about 30 miles away. That’s where they stayed for several months until the barracks were ready for occupancy.”
Kido said his parents were single, and had met prior to the internment and later married after the war and settled near Weiser.
“The idea (of the pilgrimage) is to share a lot of information across generations,” Kido said. “So it’s not the same people just talking to each other. It’s a lot of exchange of ideas and history and things like that. That’s really interesting.”
Hanako Wakatsuki, the chief of interpretation and education at Minidoka National Historic Site, said part of the pilgrimage will be held at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and part at the historic site.
“We get people coming in from all over the United States, sometimes we get people from abroad,” she said. “We are expecting about 40 survivors of the site to return this weekend.”
Wakatsuki said that although the pilgrimage is sold out, visitors are welcome to visit the historic site at other times. The site is open all week from sunrise to sunset for self-guided tours with the visitors center open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Guided tours are available at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment by calling 208-825-4169.
Kido said most survivors of the Minidoka internment camp are in their late 70s to early 90s.
“A person I hung around with (last year) was 91 years old,” he said. “He was a lot of fun to be around. He was pretty alert and had a lot of memories.”
Wakatsuki, who is of Japanese heritage, grew up in Boise. She didn’t learn about Minidoka until she went to college.
“My family was incarcerated during the war but it was in California,” she said. “So I knew about my family’s history but I never heard the history talked about in my (high school) classes. I assumed it was something obscure and small. When I was reintroduced to it in college I found out that Idaho had a site, I was like, ‘what? We need to talk more about this.’ This needs to be part of our national narrative. We can’t sweep it under the rug like it never happened.”