There is no end to sad and tragic stories in the Arkansas Delta. Near the Louisiana border sits the small town of McGehee, Arkansas. A few miles north of the city is the site of the Rohwer Relocation Camp, one of several around the country where more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were taken after being removed from their homes following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Another camp existed to the south at Jerome, Arkansas.
All that remains today are a few markers gracing the flat, endless farmland. At the site of the Rohwer Camp stands a monument to all those who died during this period, including 30 American soldiers from that camp who were killed in World War Two. They were members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all Japanese unit of volunteers that operated in the European Theater becoming, for its size and length of service, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
Of the 110,000 Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents who were forcibly removed from their homes, 10,000 passed through Rohwer. The most famous was actor and activist George Takei who, in 2013, attended a dedication ceremony in McGehee for a museum dedicated to this chapter of American history. My family and I were fortunate enough to attend this moving event during which he described how, as a five-year old boy, he was forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning as he looked through the windows of a makeshift hut and saw the barbed-wire fences beyond.
In the 1960s, before entering the United States Navy, I worked for Babcock and Wilcox in their San Francisco office. I spent a week working in close quarters with an older man from San Jose, California. He told me about a neighbor of his who faced relocation with two children in college at Stanford. Both of his children faced relocation and internment as well. My friend began to cry as he recounted how his neighbor had quietly killed himself rather than face the shame.
Perhaps a small effort, such as a museum in the Arkansas Delta, will help lead our nation away from ever indulging in such practices again.