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Remembering Amache

Preserving the past to protect the future

Christian Burney
LA Junta Tribune

Thursday marked the 75th Anniversary of the closing of Amache, the site of a World War II-era Japanese-American interment camp located near Granda, Colo. The anniversary arrives as the Amache site is under review by the National Parks Service to possibly be designated as a National Park. Amache Preservation Society founder and Granada man John Hopper told the Tribune-Democrat that the potential designation is an exciting prospect to behold.

Thursday marked the 75th anniversary Amache, the site of the World War II internment camp located near Granada.

"We're excited if we become a national park," said Hopper. "The Japanese-American community that was at Amache is extremely thrilled as well. We've got so many structures now and it's a big site, so it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain."

Hopper said he hopes that, should Amache be designated a National Park, the designation will bolster funding for maintenance of the still expanding site.

The society recently reconstructed the barracks of the 12-H block building that stood at the site, said Hopper. It features a room Hopper called a "move-in room," which replicates the average room Japanese-Americans moved to once relocated to the internment camp. The move-in room features wood army cots and blankets, a pot belly stove, a pail, a brick-lined floor and one light in the middle of the room.

The move-in room isn't the only replicated or restored structure at Amache, though. A guard tower stands on its original foundation. The Amache Preservation Society also procured the original water tower that was installed at the site. Hopper said it was found 22 miles southeast of the location on a ranch. When the owner died, their family donated the water tower to the preservation society. Today, the water tower stands again on its original foundation.

The 11-F building, about 20' by 90' large, was found under another water tower, this time in Granada, and the preservation society was able to relocate it to its original foundation as well. Grants have funded these projects, said Hopper.

The Amache Preservation Society usually hosts a pilgrimage to the site every third Saturday of May, although this year the pilgrimage was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Japanese-Americans, family and people that wish to come visit the camp take part in the pilgrimage, said Hopper.

"This last one, we were going to have several 90-plus-year-olds and late 80-year-olds, so we were real excited, but then it got canceled, so ... It's a big deal. It's an all-day affair. Ceremonies at the cemetery and the monuments all the way to the school; we have a big luncheon. That night we go into more discussions over meals. It's a big deal."

Likewise, the preservation society won't be hosting any events for the 75th Anniversary in light of Covid. But, Hopper said, an individual from Pueblo whose father and grandfather were interned in the camp will visit the site as he does every year to fly donated American flags around an Amache monument.

"This camp closed on the 10th month, which is October," said Hopper. "The 15th day of the 15th hour exactly, so 10-15-15. He waits for Three o' Clock, which is the 15th hour, and he starts raising and lowering those flags, so that they've flown over Amache. Then we have a certificate for them. In the past, we sold them with a certificate. But I think this year what we'll do is get the certificate or a plaque made out of them, and give it to people that returned to the pilgrimage that were from Amache. He's going to do that Thursday for us."

Hopper founded the Amache Preservation Society in 1993. He lives and works in Granada as a high school history teacher. He said he wanted to "do something different," "living history," and turned to his high school students for support.

"I said, 'We've gotta' do Amache because it's on our doorstep,'" said Hopper. "'We need to.' I knew exactly who to interview."

Hopper grew up in Las Animas and his mother worked at the hospital with a Japanese-American man who had been interned at the camp. That man, Hopper said, could lead Hopper to many more people, addresses, names and sources.

"Once the Japanese-American community in Colorado to Chicago to Califronia to Seattle found out what we were doing, you know, it's like, look out. And they came in groves. In 1998 we had a huge reunion," said Hopper. "12 Greyhound buses full of people. Five hundred fifty people came back and had a big luncheon and ceremonies and stuff. And the Denver Optimist Club took us under their wing ... They're Friends of Amache now.

"They took us under their wing and some of those individuals still have us under their wing. Japanese-American people tell us, 'Hey, we'd like to see this,' and this is what we do. We work for them. In fact we're getting ready to restore a historical kiosk they had in the 1940s at Amache, that had all the Japanese-Americans that had volunteered to go fight in the military. This was small, small camps that had the highest volunteerism for the United States military. 7,500 people at one time in this facility and almost 1,000 volunteered to go fight."

Hopper said the preservation society is working on securing funding to rebuild the military volunteer kiosk. But, he said, another structure is another item to maintain. Could a National Park designation contribute to the preservation society's efforts? Hopper hopes so, but also expressed a bit of skepticism of the current economic environment and how much funding National Parks have right now.

"We keep busy," said Hopper. "Just know that we work for the Japanese-American community on trying to keep Amache alive. That's our big goal, so that it doesn't ever happen again."

Amache Internment Camp opened Aug. Aug. 27, 1942 and closed Oct. 15, 1945. The maximum population at Amache swelled at one point to 7,318. According to Amache.org, an online information resource on the historic site, despite a peak population of under 8,000, Amache was the 10th largest city in Colorado during World War II.