Where it Hurts and where it Heals

Medicine wheel 075The place where I made Jack sleep in a tent was about a mile and a half from a Japanese internment camp from World War II. Lightly advertised, the place, and if Rod our Air B&B host hadn’t said something about what it was, we might have misunderstood and dismissed the Heart Mountain Historic Site sign.

But he did, and we went. We are used to touring painful places in American history. We went to the Minuteman Missile site. I’ve backpacked through Dresden. Jack went to Vietnam. We get that the “never again” resolve coincides with tourism and there’s something a little too soothing, too white privilege in the mix. Sometimes I think that George Satanyana guy got it wrong. History doesn’t repeat itself when it’s forgotten, but when it’s spun into information overload that numbs and soothes. If you see it enough, you become inured.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

I don’t do politics publicly, so I’m only going to say that reading the information, written by people who were in the camp, was surreal in today’s American political climate of economic fear hidden behind anything we can think of to hide it behind. Creepy is a childish word. The edge of terror? Sick to the stomach? Too much drama. Surreal will have to do.

After we toured the Camp, we drove on to the Medicine Wheel in the pass off Highway 14a. The Medicine Wheel is still used, and  several signs at the beginning of the mile-and-a-half hike to it said, in essence, if someone of indigenous heritage is using the site, you’re going to wait, respectfully, without taking pictures. Accept this before you walk up there, because some of the prayers and ceremonies may take awhile.Medicine wheel 125

Medicine wheel 132 Medicine wheel 127 Medicine wheel 139No one was, so we walked widdershins around the circle, looking at objects left.

One place where the world hurts, one where it heals. Neither about white people like me. Except maybe that white people could have stopped one, and can honor the other. “The Courts Failed Us” interpretive sign was one of the most moving at the Camp. Another was the unexpected Dr. Seuss cartoon, anti-Japanese people. And how very reminiscent it is of certain attitudes in America today. At another site we visited more than a week ago, the Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace, I remembered “Ma” and her favorite saying “A body makes its own luck.” Do we make our own enemies? Or was that Pogo the cartoon possum comic strip right: the enemy is us.


Theodore Geisel's unexpected contribution to the cause

Theodore Geisel’s unexpected contribution to the cause

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One of several artworks on display in the textile storytelling exhibit, from local women who created story quilts based on the camp. All were from Wyoming. None of the camp residents were allowed to remain in Wyoming after the camp closed. Adults were given $25 (equals $330ish today) and a bus or train ticket to the destination of their choosing. Some went back to LA or the Pacific Northwest, where they found their stored items stolen or vandalized. Many went East for work. Medicine wheel 049

There was one white woman at Heart Mountain, Estelle. She was married to a man who had to report to the camp. Estelle made $19 per day sketching scenes for newspapers. After the camp closed the sketches that didn’t make the newspapers began to circulate.Medicine wheel 018

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The question of the century

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One of the stalls in the ladies’ bathroom was fitted with mirrors and a warning sign. It said this stall was set up so you could see what the camp bathrooms were like – the toilets and showers had no doors. Communal or not at all.

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One of the things the museum makes clear is that the Japanese Americans ordered to report were confused, angry, yet compliant. Among all the weird things – including that at least one person was shot and killed at Heart Mountain for getting too close to the barbed wire fence, and some children were arrested when their homemade sled went past it on a back road – were that boys who turned 18 in the camp were required to register for the draft. Some went into the Armed Forces. 68 refused unless granted their freedom first, and they went to federal prison for 3 years.

The camp organized things for the kids to do because family life was chaotic, family units not eating together in the mess halls, children running about bored getting into mischief. Community leaders set up Boy and Girl Scout troups, and every day the Boy Scouts raised and lowered the flag in the camp where they were held prisoner by order of the American government.

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Medicine wheel 114There were many prayers at the Medicine Wheel. I’m not a fey person, but you could feel some of them capturing bad, some of them releasing good. We’re all praying for something.

We Found Three WWII Letters in a Book…

In honor of the Independence Day holiday, we offer the text of three letters we found in an old book. They were written in 1944, 1945, and January 1946 by a soldier deployed to France.

June 2, 1944

Mari Darling –

Sorry I haven’t written sooner darling but no time. Was out on a problem last night so I have this morning off. I thought of you all the time I was out last night. Once as I was laying on the ground looking up at the moon through the pine trees I actually forgot where I was. I was thinking how nice it would be if we were together looking up there. Of course not in Louisiana but somewhere far away from everybody and everything. We’ll do that someday though, darling.

I heard from Mike recently and he’s getting ready to go over. He is now taking his basic training again and then he’ll be ready. Quite a few of the boys have shipped out of here lately to other branches of the service. I’m still hoping and praying to get back in the air corps. Three of my pal (sic) went to artillery last week and I tried to get on the list myself but no soap. Starting this Monday I’m going to go to radio school every morning. It’s only supposed to last three weeks but that’s better than nothing.

I haven’t been doing too much walking lately. We’ve been going on the range about four days each week and firing all sorts of courses. That’s not bad ’cause I usually go off in the woods and play. Of course the boys give me a “bad time” then.

Have been into town the last few weekends with some of the boys. Not much to do there bit it’s better than staying around camp. However this Sunday is a regular duty day for us so no time off at all during the weekend. Isn’t that nice of them. I’ll finish his letter tonight honey, I have to go eat chow now.

Oh yes before I leave I’m still waiting for that picture and also a letter. I’ve practically read the writing of (sic) the pages of your last letter. In fact I almost have it memorized by now.

Here I am back from chow and still living. Not much more news from here, darling, so I’ll sign off. Do write soon I love you and always will and will go nuts if I don’t see you again real soon. Be a “gooder” and say hello to everyone for me.

All my love always,


March 3, 1945 (letter has a photo of a young girl)

Just a short note to let you know that everything is ok. This letter has been sent by a friend of mine who is in the merchant marines and on the ship with me now. He is going to mail it form the states when he gets in. This is the only way I can avoid censorship.

I’m now in Le Havre, France. We haven’t left the ship yet but will tonight after dark We’re going to a camp about forty five miles from here where we’ll stay a while. We’ve been in the harbor here for two days and all’s well. Sorry I couldn’t even get to talk to you from Boston.

We left California exactly three weeks ago today so you see how fast we got to France.

We had plenty of protection all the way across. From what I’ve seen of this town from the ship it’s a wreck. All the docks shipyards buildings etc. are ruined. The people in most of these French towns in this vicinity are hostile to our troops. We aren’t allowed to go anywhere by ourselves. If we go to town we can’t eat or drink anything for fear of being poisoned. Great spot eh! I’ll write as often as possible darling try and write more often yourself ha ha. All my mail will be censored so don’t be surprised if you don’t get much information.

Tell the family you heard from me and keep an eye on the kids. Don’t worry about me darling I’ll be home soon. I love you with all my heart darling and always will. I’m thinking of you all the time and miss you terribly. Be good and take care.

All my love,


January 6, 1946

Reimes, France

Mari Darling,

Yes I’m still alive but have been traveling around France for the last few days trying to found out which outfit I’ve been transferred to. Have been down to Nice again for a rest. Ha ha. Arrived there on the 22nd and left the 2nd. I guess it was as good a place as any to spend the holidays over here. The Christmas I’m looking forward to is the next one when you and I can be together again.

It was nice and warm at Nice – of course nothing like Christmas but better than being up here. It’s a little chilly up in this part of the country now. I wouldn’t mind it though if I had my love to keep me warm.

I was expecting to be home in March ’till I saw the paper today. According to that I’ll be lucky to make it by June. Looks like I’m officially in the “close out force” now. One thing for sure, darling – I’ll be home by Christmas. Ha Ha. Isn’t that encouraging? At least I should hear from you by then.

This outfit I’m in now is just sitting around doing nothing so I can’t complain about that. Don’t know what they’ll have me doing yet. We’re living in barracks which were built for the French. They aren’t too bad but a little crowded at present. The chow here is the best I’ve had since I left the 86th last May. We are about eight miles from Reimes now and have to take a truck into Reimes to take showers.

At present there are about five big arguments going on here in the barracks. All about the same thing – the point system. Men with fifty points and above are supposedly frozen from one to three months. Also the paper said the men would no longer be discharged by the point system. They say that they can’t get replacements from the States fat enough. It looks like things are rough all over. What really burned most of the guys up today was Paterson’s statements. According to him he didn’t even know the point system stopped as of Sept. 2. He thought the men were still getting points added on to their score each month. How are the GIs supposed to know what’s going on when the Sec. of War doesn’t even know himself.

Now if you’d break down and write a letter maybe you could give me a better outlook on life. In fact I know you would Hope you stayed sober on New Years but I suppose there were plenty of bug times on the first peace time New Year in five years. I can remember way back when I used to spend New Years with you. How long ago was that fifty years? You know sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve been kept away from you for so long.

Well, Darling, guess I’d better knock off. Take care of yourself for me and stop over to see the family often. You know I love you terribly and miss you even more. The truth is I’ve loved you so long now that I can’t remember when I didn’t. That’s been quite some time when we used to play hide and seek at Derkams. I used to hide with you so I could maybe put my arm around you and no one would notice me. You probably don’t even remember that far back do you?

Good night, darling, drop me a line and let me know if you still love me. I keep telling myself you do but I’ve much rather hear it from you.

All my Love Always,