Teacher makes sure dark time in U.S. his­tory is re­mem­bered

The Ja­panese-Amer­i­can in­tern­ment camp near Granada opened in 1942.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Simp­son

granada» For more than 20 years, John Hopper has worked qui­etly in a re­mote corner of south­east Colorado to help en­sure that the world doesn’t for­get.

Months af­ter Ja­pan’s Dec. 7, 1941, at­tack on Pearl Har­bor — which marks its 75th an­niver­sary this week — the on­set of World War II de­liv­ered about 7,500 Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans from the West Coast to a hastily as­sem­bled in­tern­ment camp be­side this ru­ral ham­let on U.S. 50.

The Granada War Re­lo­ca­tion Cen­ter, also known as Camp Amache, rep­re­sented the smallest of 10 fa­cil­i­ties built in re­sponse to fears that Ja­panese im­mi­grants, and their Amer­i­can-born rel­a­tives, might col­lab­o­rate with the enemy. It oc­cu­pied 1 square mile just south­west of town and op­er­ated for three years be­fore it was closed in 1945 and

dis­man­tled.

Soon af­ter be­ing hired as a so­cial stud­ies teacher at Granada High School, Hopper asked his su­per­in­ten­dent if any­one had in­cor­po­rated the camp into a “liv­ing his­tory” ac­tiv­ity.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that the younger gen­er­a­tion un­der­stands what hap­pened,” Hopper says of what’s now re­garded as a dark pe­riod of Amer­i­can his­tory, “so it doesn’t hap­pen again.”

Hav­ing grown up just an hour away, he was fa­mil­iar with the story — in fact, his mother had worked for a hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tor who was a for­mer pris­oner at the camp. And so Hopper and an­other teacher in 1993 launched a pro­gram to chal­lenge some of the school’s gifted stu­dents. What started as a fact-gath­er­ing ex­er­cise ex­panded into ef­forts to help take care of the grounds, par­tic­u­larly the camp’s ceme­tery, in prepa­ra­tion for a pil­grim­age of Amacheans and their rel­a­tives who re­turn to the site each May.

“When they saw that,” Hopper says of the vis­i­tors, “they started pump­ing more money into our or­ga­ni­za­tion, to ac­tu­ally make the ceme­tery look pre­sentable.”

Since then, the Amache Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety — a name coined by one of those stu­dents — has be­come a part of the cur­ricu­lum for se­lect sopho­mores, ju­niors and se­niors. Along the way, Hopper and his stu­dents helped pro­cure his­toric des­ig­na­tion and ob­tained grants to help re­store a site that had been re­duced to lit­tle more than the foun­da­tion out­lines where bar­racks and mess halls and other struc­tures used to stand.

With help from sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Amache His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and the Friends of Amache, Hopper and his stu­dents aided the cause of restor­ing el­e­ments of the camp that had all but dis­ap­peared — while also pre­serv­ing its story.

Early on, the stu­dents found a re­union reg­is­ter from the 50th an­niver­sary of Amache and sent ques­tion­naires to the ad­dresses on the list. One of the re­cip­i­ents tele­phoned to find out more about what the class was do­ing.

Word spread. Soon, for­mer pris­on­ers were con­tact­ing the group to of­fer their mem­o­ries and ob­ser­va­tions about the three years the camp was op­er­a­tional. Now, those re­mem­brances to­tal 32 hours of taped in­ter­views.

“When we first started, we didn’t know a whole lot of any­thing,” Hopper says. “But with per­sonal in­ter­views, we started to get the insights.”

And grad­u­ally, the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­gan to amass not only per­sonal sto­ries, but ar­ti­facts from that era. To­day, one of the largest pri­vate col­lec­tions on the sub­ject oc­cu­pies the old city hall build­ing in the mid­dle of town, with still more re­search ma­te­rial spilling over into an­other nearby struc­ture.

Stu­dents pitch in to main­tain what is now a full-fledged mu­seum. As Amache res­i­dents have aged or passed on, many fam­i­lies have do­nated items rang­ing from an orig­i­nal let­ter­man’s sweater from the Amache school, circa 1944, to the orig­i­nal text of a stu­dent’s 1943 com­mence­ment ad­dress, to the work of renowned painter Koichi Nomiyama, who taught art classes while de­tained at the camp.

Hopper keeps an eye on on­line auc­tions for items that may come up for sale and has pur­chased some at his own ex­pense — such as the wooden Army cot that was stan­dard is­sue at Amache.

But the heart of the project re­mains the story.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to pre­serve the his­tory,” says Tarin Kemp, a 16-year-old ju­nior at the high school. “If we don’t pre­serve the camp site and al­low peo­ple to come out and see what ac­tu­ally hap­pened, then there’s a good chance if some­thing cat­a­strophic like that would hap­pen again, his­tory could re­peat and we’d have wrong­ful im­pris­on­ment.”

Now, a bar­racks build­ing, a guard tower and the orig­i­nal wa­ter tower rise at the south­ern end of the site, while in­for­ma­tional signs through­out the acreage help vis­i­tors re-imag­ine the sprawl­ing, self-con­tained de­ten­tion camp. The stu­dents, usu­ally around 10 in any given year, reg­u­larly con­duct tours. Some have lived with host fam­i­lies and given pre­sen­ta­tions in Ja­pan, as well as all over Colorado, Kansas and Ok­la­homa.

“You can’t be­lieve how much re­search we’ve done on it,” Hopper says. “We in­vite peo­ple from Amache to our pre­sen­ta­tions to make sure we’re do­ing it cor­rectly. That gives us cred­i­bil­ity. Over the years, kids see how im­por­tant it is to get that in­for­ma­tion out to their peers, more than any­thing else.

“That’s our ul­ti­mate goal, to keep their mem­o­ries alive.”

All of them pitch in mow­ing the grounds, trim­ming trees and bushes around the ceme­tery, stain­ing the guard tower, main­tain­ing the grid of dirt roads that criss­cross the prop­erty. Even­tu­ally, Hopper hopes the camp site can be des­ig­nated a na­tional park.

Mean­while, the tra­di­tion of the Amache Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety has been handed down as class af­ter class of stu­dents has passed through Granada High School. Some find their in­volve­ment some­thing they’re re­luc­tant to leave be­hind.

“We have peo­ple who’ve been in the class four or five years past,” Kemp says, “and they still come back and help. I plan to do that, be­cause I think it’s im­por­tant.”

Tom Parker, Den­ver Post file

In 1942 dur­ing World War II, about 7,500 Ja­pane­seAmer­i­cans were held at an in­tern­ment camp near Granada, about 18 miles east of La­mar.

Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans board buses at the Granada rail­road sta­tion for trans­porta­tion to Camp Amache in 1942. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt au­tho­rized the forced re­lo­ca­tion, al­most ex­clu­sively from the West Coast. Camp Amache opened Aug. 27, 1942. Den­ver Post file

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