March 13, 2017
Note: Update to correct first name of President.
KOOSKIA – Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Americans were gripped with fear of another impending attack.
Seventy-five years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded by issuing Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. This authorized the deportation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans. Whether they were immigrant or American-born, individuals and families were taken to camps throughout the country.
Most maps and historical information of the Japanese internment camps refer to only 10 sites: Gila River, Ariz.; Granada, Colo.; Heart Mountain, Wyo.; Jerome, Ark.; Manzanar, Calif.; Minadoka, Idaho; Poston, Ariz.; Rohwer, Ark.; Topaz, Utah; and Tule Lake, Calif. These sites were managed by the War Relocation Agency (WRA). Densho, an organization dedicated to preserving history related to Japanese interments, refers to these as concentration camps.
It lists the Kooskia site as a Department of Justice (DOJ) Internment Camp, operational between May 1943 and May 1945. There are nine other DOJ camps listed at their website. It also names 17 temporary assembly centers, two citizen isolation centers, three U.S. federal prisons, which housed Japanese-Americans, 18 U.S. Army Internment camps, seven immigration detention stations and three “additional” facilities.
About 265 men were housed at Kooskia and had volunteered to be transferred to this location. The men were needed to build a stretch of U.S. Highway 12 from Missoula, Mont., to Lewiston, Idaho. Each were paid a wage for their services.
What has been lost, or more appropriately never fully recorded, are the personal stories of the men interned at the camp. Densho has recorded the memories of two individuals with connections to the Kooskia Internment Camp.
Stephen Fugita interviewed Tad Sato, formerly of Seattle, in August of 1998.
Tad explains how his father was transported from his home in Seattle to Missoula. He could not recall a date for this, but explains that his father, Kosaku Sato, volunteered to work at Kooskia. He also offered a description of the camp, as he had visited his father once while he was interned there.
“Well, it was camp-like ‘cause I went and visited there and, uh, they had a great big, like a barracks and had cots. And I kinda remember I think I saw double beds in a big room,” Tad recalled.
He went on to say cooks prepared meals for the internees, and he was impressed how well his father was fed.
“It was better food than we had on the railroad, I remember,” Tad said.
In the transcript, Fugita asks Tad what he recalls the Kooskia camp looking like.
“Well, I really can’t say much,” Tad said. “Like I remember one big room where the beds and stuff were. And I remember there was a dining place, ‘cause I remember having one meal. But other than that, not too much. There was, it was in a very isolated part of Idaho, on the Clearwater River. That was, I think it was east of Grangeville, I think it was.”
When asked if there was a fence or guards, Tad didn’t recall them but believed they had to have been there. Both were true and have been documented by the University of Idaho and the Idaho County Free Press.
Tad Sato passed away on March 26, 2013, and with his death are gone other stories of the Kooskia internment camp yet told.
The second interview was with Chiyoko Yano, whose husband was interned at Kooskia. She gives very little information about Isao Yano’s time at Kooskia other than his job.
“He was a truck driver,” she said. “He drove a truck backwards, he says, because there was no streets, no way to turn the truck if you went forward, then to come back out of there, you had to drive it backwards.”
Chiyoko died in San Francisco Dec. 27, 2010. Her husband, Isao, preceded her in death in 2001.
These stories bring to life a piece of the camp yet told, however many questions remain. They tell a fraction of the lives of the men housed in our county, during a tumultuous time in our history. A time when rationale was based on fear.
Resources: The collection of photos can be found online at www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/Kooskia/. All images are provided courtesy of University of Idaho and can be referred to by “PG 103, Kooskia Internment Camp Scrapbook, Special Collections and Archives, University of Idaho Library.” Densho’s online resource is available at http://www.densho.org/. Sato’s and Yano’s video recordings are available online at www.densho.org/archives/.
Laurie Chapman writes about the people, places and events bringing the prairie to life in the weekly blog, Prairie Pulse. If you have a suggestion, contact Laurie by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-983-1200.