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Injustice Forever: The Story of Amache

The Japanese internment camp in southeastern Colorado will become the nation's newest national park. It's an effort to keep the story alive.

GRANADA, Colorado — When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt was pressured into signing Executive Order 9066. It called for Japanese Americans living on the west coast to be relocated to internment camps spread around the country. 

The one in southeastern Colorado was called Amache, named for the wife of John Prowers, an early rancher in the area. She was a member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe. For 3 years, More than 7 thousand people lived there in barracks, surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. They were prisoners. And for the most part, were also American Citizens. They did nothing wrong, but they were there because they looked like the enemy.

Credit: Gary Shapiro

The conditions at Amache were brutal. Hot and dry in the summer, very cold and snowy in the winter. But the internees made the best of a bad situation. They built furniture from scrap, planted gardens, started schools and constructed playgrounds. Some of the men played baseball. Some of the kids joined scout troops. Dentists brought pieces of equipment with them and opened offices. Doctors saw patients. More than 900 men and women joined the military and went off to fight for the country that put them and their families in a prison. 

Thirty-one of them were killed in action. When Amache finally closed in 1945, many of the families stayed in Colorado and started businesses, became farmers here, and were productive citizens in the state. One survivor told us, "It's something that made me better, not bitter".

Credit: Gary Shapiro

Today Amache is a wide open space just outside the town of Granada, Colorado. There are a couple of restored barracks, the original water tower, also restored, and a replica of a guard tower. 

For more than 20 years the site has been maintained by the Amache Preservation Society, made up of survivors and descendants, and run by John Hopper, an Administrator at Granada High School. Student volunteers have done most of the work at the site, including taking care of the cemetery. But that will soon change. 

A bill passed by Congress and signed by the President will make Amache the nation's newest national park. The Park Service will have a budget, take care of maintenance, and expand the mission of getting the story of Amache out there.

The Regional Director of NPS told us "They're famous for Yosemite or Yellowstone or some place like that, but increasingly our newest park units are telling the whole American Story, for better or worse." 

Amache is worse. What happened there is a story that runs completely contrary to U.S. foundations, protections, ideals and laws. It's a story that everyone should know, to keep it from happening again.   

Credit: Gary Shapiro

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