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Minidoka camp could benefit from federal funds

A $38 million grant program may revive the memory of World War II internment camps.

By Mead Gruver - The Associated Press
Edition Date: 09/20/07

The Japanese-Americans imprisoned at Heart Mountain, and dozens of similar internment camps during World War II, do not want their forced relocation to be forgotten.

On Tuesday they'll have an opportunity to share their thoughts on preserving the sites during a series of public hearings on a new $38 million federal grant program.

Idaho's Minidoka camp near Jerome and the Manzanar camp in California are the only two internment camp sites owned by the National Park Service.

There has been a need for the grant program, especially at sites not owned by the agency, said Greg Kendrick, partnership coordinator for the National Park Service in Denver, though the Idaho and California sites also will benefit from the grant.

"They're owned by nonprofits who are struggling to not only preserve the site, but struggling to provide better visitor education programs," Kendrick said.

"The purpose of the grant program is to find the resources for local community groups to determine how they want their story told, what kind of legacy they want to leave, and then come in and seek federal funding," said Gerald Yamada, national coordinator for the Japanese American National Heritage Coalition.

Last year, Yamada's group lobbied Congress to pass the grant program for the 10 major internment camps and 40 other sites related to Japanese relocation in 17 states. President Bush signed the bill in December, and Yamada expects Congress to approve funding next year.

Supporters said they hope the funds will be used for projects, both big and small, with the shared goals of raising awareness and preserving history.

"It could be an interpretive center. It could be a marker," said Yamada, who spent part of his childhood at two internment camps in southern Arkansas. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a multimillion-dollar project. It could be a plaque."

Grant money could help sites such as the Gila River Relocation Center just south of Phoenix or the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas.

"At each location, the stories are different," he said. "I keep saying that the only common bond that the internment camps have is Executive Order 9066, which established the internment camps."

The National Park Service is overseeing the public comment period, which continues until early November and includes 16 meetings in cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Little Rock, Ark. The first was scheduled for Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, serves on the Heart Mountain Advisory Board, along with Norman Mineta, the nation's longest-serving transportation secretary.

Both Boy Scouts, the two met while Mineta was interned at the camp as a child and Simpson visited with his troop. Simpson recalled being reluctant to make the trip to Heart Mountain.

"I said, ‘Well gosh, we don't want to go out there. They've got guard towers and searchlights and barbed wire, why would we want to go there?' " Simpson said. "They said, ‘These are kids just like you are.' "

Now, Simpson said he hopes artifacts from Heart Mountain will be displayed in a new interpretive center.