'It was not easy,' recalls Japanese-American man placed in internment camps during World War II

Posted at 4:29 PM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 17:33:15-05

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- Sam Mihara was a child when he and his family were forced from their home in San Francisco to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, an internment camp. They were not the only ones - others who were Japanese-American, like him, were also relocated there and other camps shortly after the United States entered World War II.

"You had shacks that had no ceiling, and it was just very quickly put up,” Mihara remembered.

The only crime he and those sent to the camp committed – being of Japanese descent. They were relocated after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order allowing the military to relocate people.

"What if somebody forced you to leave your house, without explanation, without good reason?” Mihara said. “How would you feel?"

He virtually shared his experiences to a class of students from Indian River High School.

"I didn't realize the level of suffering that they experienced at the displacement and how it affected their culture,” Craig Blackman, the teacher, said.

The presentation was part of a larger project of Blackman’s where each year, students learn of a so-called "forgotten group" of people in history. He implemented this project in 2015, and Blackman said he appreciates it when his students connect and learn of this from a different generation.

“The purpose is to help them appreciate some of the sacrifices made by people that came before them,” Blackman explained.

The students and Mihara held the lecture through Zoom. Mihara broadcasted his lecture from California, where he shared more of these experiences.

"I remember my dog tag. It had my name and it had my prisoner [ID],” Mihara explained. “It was not an easy place to live in."

They did get released thanks to a civil rights attorney who sued the federal government when he met a woman placed in the camps. Mihara explained that the attorney’s case was that this woman, also Japanese-American, could not be a national threat because she did not visit Japan and was loyal to the United States.

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Soon after she was released, the rest of the prisoners were also released. They were not given official apologies until Ronald Reagan took office.

Mihara also spoke of when he received a letter from George H.W. Bush with a check for reparations.

"These might be your families; these might be your children. It could happen to anyone again,” Mihara said.