About two years ago while sitting in his kitchen, I heard my dad say, "I'd like to go to Manzanar one day." As a kid from age 8-11 he and his family were forcibly uprooted from Coastal Central California and sent to Arizona to live at Poston Internment Camp III Block 306. This was during World War II, and I'll spare you the historical details.
There are annual reunions at Manzanar attended by many, but Poston had their first in 2018. Unlike the endowments that Manzanar seems to have, Poston is much more modest. There is a monument and I've heard many say that it's all on an Indian Reservation and you're not allowed there. I pictured Natives with rifles in the backs of dusty Ford F150s protecting their land like the Incident at Oglala. Then I've heard that you can drive around, but there are some areas where you can't go. This makes better sense, but where can't you go? With the little information out there, going as a group with full access sounded best.
In 2019, I was featured on the Poston Preservation Website - they're the group who puts on the pilgrimage and I've kept in touch to make sure I could set up a trip for my parents. I filled out forms, paid, and made sure I got reservations to stay at the hotel and casino. My parents enjoy gambling, a lot. Yet, about a week ago, I asked my father if he was excited and he said, "not really." Then soon corrected himself, "yeah I am."
After arriving at the Blue River Resort and Casino in Parker, Arizona, we checked in at the "Showroom" which featured exhibits and tables of merchandise, pictures, books and information. It was a warm up for the next day.
20 minutes away from the hotel just off of Mohave Road is a 30 foot concrete monument. It's adjacent to the C.R.I.T. (Colorado River Indian Tribes) Fire station. Four buses with about 250 or more met there to hear speeches and performances.
Our next visit was to an area that was once Poston I. Camp II and III seem to be about 2 miles away from each other, both south respectively. There were many barracks which were retrofitted some time later and used as classrooms. They were in disrepair, broken down, and vandalized. A pile of ash sat where a to-be-restored original barrack was lit ablaze by "kids." The ruins of the auditorium looked original, especially with the exposed adobe bricks. My father had faint recollections of bricks being made. In the camps, his own father made $16 a month as a carpenter and chef and his mother worked as a homemaker and also made camouflage nets for the military.
The builders block reading "Poston Elementary School" still remains and tells a story of its own. I wonder if that was hidden from view and found by someone much later. I loved seeing this. "Built by the Japanese Residents of Poston." People took photos and circulated the area. My fathers interest here was at best moderate. I overheard an internee woman guided by her descendants say, "these buildings mean nothing to me. I was never here." Same with my father. He had never seen these buildings. Walking back to the bus, he mentioned how he wished he could see Camp III.
Our tour took us to an elementary school which was near the site of Camp II, where we ate lunch and sat through two discussions. The big group divided into different "seminars." One was about the construction of the monument. It was a tale about how a group of 60-70 year old JAs came up with the plan, how they sealed the land deal with C.R.I.T. with a handshake, and fabricated the forms offsite, and then poured the concrete in 110 degree heat in 1992.
Later that evening, a banquet featured Karen Korematsu, who spoke about her father's legacy, and the evening ended with a photoshoot featuring the internees themselves. It was here that my father briefly spoke to other internees, one of which was also in Camp III. I was amazed at how many internees were there. I assumed it was between 5-10, but it looked to be more like 30.
On the way back to Los Angeles, we stopped at Poston III. I think this was perhaps the most important stop of the trip for my father. We drove down Navajo Road which was paved, but caked with dirt and gravel. Passing through farmland, I didn't know where to stop. There were no barracks or buildings. There was a circular structure and some ruins, but it wasn't much. My father couldn't be sure that it was related to internment, but said it was possible since it was in the area of the "utilities." He asked if we could keep going straight. He used to fish in the Colorado River and had to walk there and back. He guesses it's four miles, and only once did he get a ride. The road got bumpier as we crossed a tiny bridge, then we made a turn and went straight again. He recalled a beach type of area, but when we reached the river it was more like a short drop off that reached the clear water. You could skid down in seconds. It's possible he walked a different line through a forest of mesquite trees which are now completely gone. He didn't recall any of the mountains which surrounds the area.
On the way back, he pointed out the land that was once the barracks. It was closer to corner of Navajo Road and Mojave Drive with about 100 yards to spare. Today it's all cotton fields.
After returning home, my father rated the trip an "8 or 9 out of 10" and said it was "excellent." I was pleasantly surprised. He soon followed up with, "I'd like to go to Manzanar one day."
Perhaps we'll try that next year.
Photos taken Oct 12 and 13th, 2019.
Bobby Nakamura Poston III Block 306 and Margie Nakamura
The Location of III is at the map link below: