Internment Camp Survivor

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It was one of the dark moments in the nation's history---the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This week in Colorado Springs, one of the survivors from the camps spoke about his experiences, and about being betrayed by his own country.

December 7, 1941---the attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It would mean a dramatic change in the life of Bill Hosokawa. He was just 20-years-old at the time. "All of a sudden, my government says, ‘You are a Jap. We don't trust you.' Suddenly, we were the enemy." An enemy, as declared by Executive Order 9066 by then-President Frankin D. Roosevelt in 1942.

At the time, Hosokawa was living in Seattle with his wife and 2 year-old son. But soon, like 120,000 other Japanese Americans, they were forced to leave their homes and re-establish themselves in one of 10 internment camps in the United States.

They made the 900-mile journey from Seattle to Heart Mountain in Wyoming. "It was very difficult for the older people and people with families," says Hosokawa.

And as he remembers it, things didn't get easier for the internees. Camp life was bleak---remote---and under the constant surveillance of armed guards. Some people were detained as long as four years.

Japan surrendered in August of 1945 after the U.S. bombed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Americans celebrated, but Hosokawa says the Japanese Americans did not. Finally in 1946, the last of the internment camps were closed.

Hosokawa says the internees returned to their homes and tried to resume a “normal” life, but with a new set of challenges. "You had a job before the war. You came back and there was no job. You had a fruit stand before the war. Well, here are some people from Oklahoma running your fruit stand," he recalls. "There wasn't much time to look back and brood about the damn, dirty deal we had."

It wouldn't be until more than 40 years later that President Ronald Reagan would sign the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. That awarded internment survivors $20,000 each. But there was something more---what many Japanese Americans like Bill Hosokawa wanted most of all---an apology. "The apology is what counted. The President said, ‘We made a mistake and we're sorry.’ So what more can you expect?"

Historians say children made up half the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned at the camps. One third were American citizens.