Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Heart Mountain Part 2

Well, now what? Here you are in a strange place, with nowhere to go. You can sit still and demand things, like more food, insulation for your room, your freedom, anything.  But this was the 40's. It's a time when people did things for themselves. Not like today when you demand from your leaders what you lack.

So everyone got together. Experts were sought out, and they found one. A recent college graduate who's major was agriculture. He examined the soil and told everyone what would grow in the fields. Because of the harsh climate, and the short time frame for farming, "new" methods were used to grow crops. Many crops were grown with caps to keep them from freezing until the weather permitted the plant to grow on their own. Once crops were establlished, food was no longer too scarce. They even dug a huge root cellar to store root vegetables for later use. They eventually even supplied other Internment camps with vegetables.

Others raised pigs, and chickens for their eggs and meat.

Some who were involved with Boy Scouts re-started their Troops inside the camps. Teachers got together with outside local teachers and taught school there. Doctors worked in the Infirmary or Hospital. Carpenters and wood workers started to fix-up the public areas to provide more privacy, and make things overall, more livable. Nothing like what they had before being sent there, but much better than when they arrived.

The people stuck there, under conditions they were not used to, started to "make" a life. Not a great life, but they worked with what they had.

Some conflicts grew because in Asian culture, the Parents or your elders, were the leaders and in charge.  But in this case, the elders were first generation Japanese immigrants, and the people in charge of the Internment Camps would not put them in leadership positions. They let only the adults who were born in the US to have leadership roles. Asians were also "family" oriented, and most did everything together, but once in the camps, children often played with other children, ate in the Mess Hall with their friends, got in trouble with their friends. The Family structure started to disintegrate.

Eventually things ran as smooth as it could and then the Draft aged men were asked to volunteer for military service. Some who wanted to prove that they were loyal Americans, signed up right away. Some were still angry at being incarcerated with essentially no rights, and demanded that they be let go, and have their civil rights restored BEFORE they volunteered for service. Eventually most joined the service or were drafted. Those who still protested, were jailed.

The 100th Battalion which were made up of mostly Japanese Americans from Hawaii, were already being used in Europe and were joined by the Interned Japanese Americans in the 442th Battalion. Together, they are the most decorated Battalions ever. The members of the 442th helped liberate the Jewish people still alive in Dachau, the infamous Nazi Death Camp.

But this is about the camps.  Life was going on. American citizens were still being held prisoners in camps.  Some were allowed to leave, but with stipulations. You could either go to College, or have proof of a job, BUT, East of the Rocky Mountains. And with  wartime prejudices, it was still difficult to get in a College or get a job.  But some did get out. Even though families usually stuck together, who could blame anyone for leaving?

When the war ended, the Internment camps were eventually shut down. No one was allowed to stay, even if you wanted to. And in Wyoming, where Heart Mountain was, the Governor would not allow anyone to stay in the State, everyone had to leave.

Most all of the Camps were torn down right after the last person left. At Heart Mountain, each Barrack was put up for Auction to anyone living there, and willing to physically remove the buildings. People who purchased a Barrack used hand saws to cut them down to a size that they could haul away on a flat bed truck, and then reassemble them on their own property. I understand that some are still standing on farms all around the towns of Cody and Powell, Wyoming.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Heart Mountain, Part One

First let me say that I was not incarcerated in Heart Mountain Internment Camp, my father was, and he didn't speak much of his time there. In fact, I can't say he talked much about his life before he went there, or after he left. This was common amongst most who were incarcerated in a Camp.

I also don't want to make it sound worse than or equal to the Death Camps of the Nazis, or even the POW Camps that Japan had. I am just writing about what I understand happened to some American citizens after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Some prior history. Some farmers on the West Coast were being out-done by their Japanese counterparts. Eventually, they lobbied to pass laws outlawing Aliens, mainly Asian immigrants, from owning land and property and/or leasing land. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and there was talk of removing the Japanese from the West Coast, some farmers lobbied extra hard to make it happen. Why? For the most part, they wanted their land. You see, back then, they didn't consider that the Japanese were better at farming, they believed their land was better for farming than the land they had for farming.

Another factor is that this period in time was just after the Great Depression was ending. People had worked hard for a long time for what little they had earned. Many people worked in manual labor jobs, earning little for food and/or rent. Owning anything meant you were successful in some ways.

Some things I will write about happened to other Japanese that were incarcerated, some to my father. And it is important to note, that there were 10 Internment Camps, and each person and each camp had different and similar experiences. In other words, what I write and books like Farewell to Manzanar are just some perspectives, not all.

Imagine now, you are 35 years old, an United States Citizen. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor.

If you teach Japanese language schools, are a Shinto or Buddhist priest, or others with like Japanese leadership roles, you are whisked away to jail. You have no contact with the outside world until the war is over. Eventually, only the Buddhist priests are released and sent to Internment camps.

Your home and the homes of other Japanese are searched with no warrants, by....... you don't know by who. You guess that they are FBI agents. If they find anything that makes you look suspicious, you are taken away to jail and interrogated. Maybe you are let go, maybe you end up with the priests.

You could be shunned by people who you once considered friends. Not all, just some. But you can't tell who is your real friend anymore.

Your assets are frozen, and you can't access your money. How do you buy food? Pay rent? You may have a business, but hardly anyone is buying from you anymore. You sell your belongings, but so do everyone else. You have going out of business sales. You end up getting pennies on the dollar for what you own.

The Government is talking about removing you from your home and putting you in special camps. Once you get the order to Evacuate, there is no one standing up for you. Today would be different, but here's no ACLU. No riots. Nothing. So you go quietly, or go to jail.

You pack your stuff, but they are allowing only what you can carry. And no radios, knives or cameras. Today, add no TV, cellphones, laptops or tablets, nothing that you can communicate with. Anything you own, you are selling or trying to get them in storage. But you have no money. The lucky have friends who say they will store things for them, or they are kept in the now empty Japanese churches and temples.

Do you have a pet? Sorry, no pets allowed. You have to give them away or something. Maybe your neighbor or friends will care for them.

You preliminarily get sent to Santa Anita where the horse stalls are white-washed in haphazard fashion, and you have to bunk there for a few days with thousands of others just like you. It stinks like horse crap.

Finally you are on a train to... where? They don't tell you. You'll find out when you get there.

You end up in Heart Mountain Camp.  It's in Northern Wyoming. The middle of BFE. The camp is set up like a Military base camp. At first, the Governor of Wyoming did not want any Japanese in Wyoming. He was prejudiced. But he relented, and Heart Mountain with it's about 650 buildings, and holding anywhere between 9-12,000 people, was built in about 2 months.

You and your family are given a room in a barrack. Barracks are 20 feet by 120 feet, separated into 6 "rooms." 2 each are 20 X 16, 20 X 20, and 20 X 24.Each has a separate entrance.Each has one ceiling light, one electrical outlet, and one pot-bellied stove for heating, not cooking. There are twins sized cots in some rooms, some get theirs later and have to sleep on the floor until they do. If you want privacy, you try to hang "curtains" to separate the open-concept room.

Each barrack was made in a few hours with "new" wood. The wood was both the inside and outside. What? If the wood was for the roof, one side was the ceiling, one side was the roof. One side was the outside wall, the other was the inside wall. Get the picture? This "new" wood also shrank when it dried out, leaving gaps in between the planks. Most of the outside of the buildings were covered in tar-paper and roofing shingles. I do remember my father saying they had to cut cans up to make patches to nail and cover holes in the buildings.

In another separate barrack is the Mess hall, and when it it time to eat, you line-up and wait your turn. It's wartime, so food is rationed. You might get a bowl of tomatoes and rice as your meal for a few days. You eat cafeteria style with large tables and benches to sit on. At first, soldiers are the cooks and they are handing you your rations. Food is rationed in equal amounts no matter how old or "big" you were.

Bathroom and showers are in another separate barrack. the toilets are lined up with no partitions. You are now sitting next to someone else who is trying to do number 2, just like you, and the other guy, and the other guy, and the other guy.......

Heart Mountain was different in one respect. All of the other camps had two fences surrounding them. Heart Mountain only had one. If you tried to leave, you were shot. I don't know how many Japanese were shot in the other camps, but none were shot at Heart Mountain.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just Driving By

I haven't written in a while, most of what's been happening has been "normal." Nothing to write home about.

I like to tell you things that happen out of dumb luck. Maybe it's fate, I don't know. You can decide.

In the early morning of Jan 23rd, we were awakened from sleep at around 3:30 am. We went to a call for "Difficult Respiration." This required that both the Paramedic Ambulance I was working on, and a Fire Engine, to respond to assist the patient. 

Sometimes I get asked why do you need the Fire Engine. Well, most Fire Departments across the country requires their Firefighters to be EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) trained. And on certain medical calls, 2 Paramedics are not enough personnel. For example, let's say you had a heart attack. Are 2 Paramedics enough? Well, it only takes 2 people to do CPR, right? Without going into more detail of why we need more people, think about this; If 2 Paramedics are doing CPR, who's going to drive you to the hospital? No one. You're gonna end up dying.

We get on scene and I go in first. I ask what's wrong, and the 35 yo woman tells me she has the flu. She is very hot with fever, and is coughing. As the Fire Engine crew comes in, I tell them she has the flu. Then I asked the woman if she could walk down her stairs to the gurney. She says that she's too weak.   One of the Firefighter rolls his eyes because it's flu season, and he's been as sick as this woman for over a week. But, he doesn't say a word, and doesn't complain. He waits patiently while we get the stair chair from the ambulance and he helps carry her down the stairs.

We get her in the gurney and load her into the ambulance. Both of us, the ambulance and Fire Engine, leave at the same time. We go to the hospital down the street, they head back to the Fire Station. The driver (Engineer) of the Fire Engine works at another station and is taking a different route back, one that is not usual. The route passes by a Psychiatric Board and Care, and no one purposely drives by it, because it may "remind" one of the residents that they could "get out of jail free" if they call 911 and go to the hospital. 

As they drive North on this Street, the Firefighter on the West side of the street notices what looks like a fire, one block West of where they were, near another Board and Care Apartment house. They were already wearing their Turnout pants, so they started putting on their Turnout coats They also started teasing the Firefighter, saying it was probably just a Christmas tree fire, and that it would be out by the time they got there. This time of year, people leave their dead and dried out Christmas trees outside by the curb, and with the light of a match, it can burn fast and be out in 2 -3 minutes.

They circle the block and see nothing on the East side front of the building. They turn right on the cross street, the building is on a corner, and see some light smoke in the rear of the building. They think it may be coming from the parking lot behind the building. As they get closer, it becomes more certain that the first floor, very rear apartment unit is on fire. 

They stop, and it happens to be right in front of the side entrance. The Captain gets on the radio to inform our dispatch of the fire, and to ask for a Second Alarm assignment. NO ONE called 911. The Engineer gets out and goes to hook up to the fire hydrant about 100 feet away. The Firefighters completely suit up, set up a hose line and start cutting the security door to get inside. The noise of the rotary saw may have waken up the residents, because some of them from the second floor started to open their windows to see what was going on. When the residents realized there was a fire, they started climbing out of their windows to jump.

As one Firefighter was cutting the gate open, the other yelled at everyone not to jump, and got a ladder out. He helped one person down, and by then, the hose was ready to go, and the gate was cut open.

The Engineer helped some of the others down, but his main duty was to the Firefighters who were going inside to fight the fire. The Engineer's job is to provide the Firefighters with water at the right pressure, so he had to be at the control panel.

The crew went in and quickly put out the bulk of the fire in the rear unit. The rear unit was next to the stairwell going to the second floor, and it too started to catch fire. So they started to advance their line up the stairwell.

In the meantime, it was chaos outside. More units came on scene to assist the first Fire Crew. One Fire crew was directed to put up ladders to help what seemed to be the whole apartment house wanting to jump out of their second floor apartment.

As the first crew put out the stairwell fire, they ended up on the second floor hallway which seemed to have lit up as soon as they got up there. The first crew then continued their fire fight and put out the second floor hallway fire. While the bulk of the fire was out, it was still hot and very smokey inside. 

At this time I had no idea what was going on, as I was at the hospital with the patient. As we were returning to our Fire Station, we were added as part of a third or maybe, fourth alarm.

While doing a search of the apartments, one Firefighter from the first crew came upon a man still in his bed, burned from heat and smoke inhalation. He took off his mask and put it over the man's face and others came to help him carry the man outside. 

Another ambulance took him away to the hospital while we were tending to another patient who was already outside and had jumped from her second floor apartment. She had smoke inhalation and a severely broken leg. 

After everything was over, we found out that the apartment was allegedly purposely set on fire by someone who allegedly had an argument with the man who was found in his bed.

The Fire Engine must have saw the initial set, and then fight the fire as the arsonist was lighting the rest of the building on fire. I bet the arsonist was incredulous, thinking, "How the heck did the Fire Dept get here so fast?"

Who knows how many people would have died or got injured at this fire if it had been burning for a while, AND THEN someone called 911. Who knows what would have happened during the extra time it would have taken for The Fire crew to wake up, go down to the Fire Engine, and then drive to the fire. This fire burned hot and fast due to it being arson and an accelerant was used. I'm sure there would have been more than one casualty. 

God looks out for the unfortunate amongst us.