Camp Amache National Historic Site reminds visitors of the courage of Japanese Americans unjustly confined during World War II. After Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into World War, the War Relocation Authority forcibly removed the Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. The wind-swept former camp is now a pale shadow of its 1942-1945 self. A reconstructed barracks, guard, and water towers now mark the site, but most of it was leveled after the war.
At its peak, the camp housed 7,310 Japanese Americans. It was Colorado’s 10th largest city, and two-thirds of its inhabitants were American citizens. (The law denied the oldest Japanese the right to become citizens.) Amache’s constant wind calls the names of those who came unwillingly to this remote Colorado corner. Their story is one of betrayal, courage, and resilience despite adversity.
What Is The Amache National Historic Site
Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 just 2 months after Pearl Harbor, establishing the War Relocation Agency. People on the West Coast feared that the Japanese Americans would become spies. Amache, formally known as the Granada Relocation Center, was one of those 10 camps. The first camp inhabitants arrived in August 1942 and last left in October 1945.
The camp was ill-prepared for the first arrivals. They arrived in the dark, and some fell into open foundations. The barracks lacked running water, central heating, insulation, or furniture. The exterior walls rested on concrete. The interior walls were bricks on top of bare soil — and they didn’t reach the ceilings. The arrivals had brought what they could carry on the train. Each person received a cot, a thin mattress, and two army blankets when they arrived. To obtain scant privacy, those with sheets or curtains hung them to separate their family’s space from others’ views. Each family received a 20 by 25 foot allotment.
Moreover, the shelter offered little protection from the extremes of Colorado weather. Temperatures ranged from 110 degrees in the summer to 22 below zero in the winter (Fahrenheit). And the winds pushed dust, sand, and snow into every cranny.
The Incarcerees Volunteer Despite Their Country’s Rejection
In January 1943, the War Department formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. The members were all Japanese Americans. Despite their country’s rejection, 953 young incarcerees volunteered for military service in the 442nd/100th, the Military Intelligence Service, the Women’s Army Corps, and the Nurses Army Corps. That was 10 percent of those in the camp, the highest percentage of the Japanese incarceration sites. Thirty-one Amache men sacrificed their lives. Amache held memorial services for them behind the four strands of barbed wire surrounding the camp. A camp marker honors those who served and those who died.
The Japanese served as instructors in Army intelligence language schools and as interpreters in the Pacific Theater of the war.
The honored dead include Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Kiyoshi K. Muranga. On June 21, 2000, his brother received the medal from President Bill Clinton. In 2010, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, to the 443rd/100th and the Military Intelligence Service.
Those who remained organized a democratic form of government within their prison.
Becoming Part Of The National Park System
Students from Granada High School decided to preserve Amache. Led by social studies teacher John Hopper, the students and the Town of Granada created the Amache Preservation Society. Those who had been incarcerated and their descendants joined in. The preservation society built a museum in Granada and successfully lobbied for National Historic Landmark status. Because they had preserved the camp, something was left to protect.
Preserving a dark portion of American history helps prevent future returns to dark patterns.
How To Visit The Amache National Historic Site
Amache’s road network remains, and the foundations also are visible. The preservation society offers an online map and driving tour. Cell phone service is spotty in the area. Download the map and audio tour ahead of time. The society offers guided tours, but call ahead. The museum is in the Town of Granada, population 509. The camp is 1 mile west and a half-mile south of the museum.
The site offers little shade. Because of this, bring water, wear sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat. Beware of rattlesnakes. Shorty’s Café is Granada’s lone restaurant, but Amache does have a picnic table.
By design, all the Japanese relocation centers were far from populated areas. Amache, 4 hours southeast of Denver, is no exception. Lamar, Colorado, population 7,500, is the closest population center. Stay at Lamar’s Third Street Nest Bed & Breakfast, RVers can stay in Granada at the End of the Line RV Park or at Lamar’s Sundance – High Plains RV Park & Cabins.
In your comfortable bed, remember the people trapped at Amache.
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