By Mark Davis
Powell Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Pilgrimage honors those who refuse to forget


August 3, 2023

POWELL — Tears were flowing as former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson for the first time walked through the shell that will soon house the Mineta-Simpson Institute at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center Saturday morning during the annual pilgrimage to the location of the former WWII internment camp.

“I had a lump in my throat like a hockey puck,” the 91-year-old said, still visibly moved by the experience.

He said that seeing for the first time the Institute’s floor plans — in part a tribute to his life-long friendship with Norman Mineta, a former incarceree at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp between Powell and Cody — was overwhelming.

Mineta and Simpson met when they were 10-year-olds. Simpson’s Boy Scout troop went to the camp to meet the Scouts inside the razor wire fences of the facility, of which Mineta was a member.

They became best friends — an odd couple of sorts, but ended up as “brothers.”

“My dad loved Al as his brother,” said David Mineta, Norman and (stepmother) Danealia’s son. “Not like his brother, but as his brother.”

The two somehow stayed out of trouble long enough to lead successful lives as politicians on the national level. A Democrat, Mineta served both Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush as Secretary of Transportation. Simpson, a staunch Republican, served three terms as U.S. Senator from Wyoming.

Simpson said he only held 15 press conferences in his 18 years of service; all concerning immigration. The lessons learned as a Scout and through his friendship with Mineta helped guide him in his career.

David Mineta said the two understood “how our worst, unchecked, racist and bigoted selves can influence policy and public discourse,” he said in introducing Simpson on Saturday to the crowd at this year’s pilgrimage.

“They understand how our worst selves now jeopardize our very democracy. Our country is in trouble, to be sure, where bigots and despots can masquerade as legitimate public servants on all levels of government. Yet Al and dad also understood how our best selves can help correct those same mistakes and maybe even prevent them from happening in the first place.”

The two were “brothers” for 80 years until Mineta died May 3, 2022 — prior to their families’ annual gathering for the pilgrimage to Heart Mountain. The institute named for the two men was announced during that year’s Pilgrimage, designed to “foster empathy, courage and cooperation in the next generation of leaders,” officials from the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center said in announcing the plans a year ago.

On either side of the institute, which is designed to replicate a mess hall at the camp (larger than the barracks), each man is honored with the timelines of their lives in service. At the end, both timelines intersect with each being honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. There, both medals will have a permanent home next to each other, Simpson said.

“They shared a common understanding of true patriotism. They both embraced an unshakable commitment to the Constitution of the United States, the rule of law, the principles of equality before the law, the sanctity of civil rights and human rights. They both espoused throughout their careers a firm belief that hatred in all its guises and in all its forms, was always poisonous,” said Douglas Nelson, vice chair of the nonprofit.

Research lab addition

The addition is being built simultaneously with the LaDonna Zall Research Lab. The construction budget for the new additions is $8.25 million. The Center has raised $7,955,000 toward the goal and is in the final push to find donations to cover the final $255,000.

“We are genuinely in the last mile of what was a daunting journey for fundraising,” Nelson said.

Zall was a former Powell resident, an educator and the Center’s first curator. She died in 2021.

“LaDonna was in many very real ways the essence and the soul of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation,” said Nelson, “and for me it’s hard, at least right now, to imagine this foundation without her.”

Zall spent decades working to make sure that the treatment of the American citizens incarcerated at the internment camp would never be forgotten.

“She was a local girl who remembered seeing the train leave for the last time from Heart Mountain. And she remembered that for the rest of her life and made sure that [the creation of the Interpretive Center] happened here,” said Aura Sunada Newlin, executive director of the Center.

Newlin announced the new LaDonna Zall Compassionate Witness Award Saturday, which will be awarded to people who did not have family members incarcerated at Heart Mountain, but who have made extraordinary gestures and sacrifices of their own in support of the Center and keeping the memories of the camp alive.

“She never flagged in her commitment to this organization. She was drawn to support this memorial and was a compassionate witness to what happened to the people here,” Nelson said.

The inaugural award was presented to Barbara Marshall-Williams, Robin Waller, Karen “Kiwi” Burch and the extended Albright/Marshall family.

When Executive Order 9066 forced Japanese Americans living in the Los Angeles neighborhood known as J-Flats from their homes and into incarceration camps, their African American neighbors came to their aid.

The family of Rufus and Crystal Marshall stored their neighbors’ belongings, protected their homes and brought them food during their incarceration at the Pomona Assembly Center. The Marshalls’ dedication meant that many of the neighborhood’s incarcerees had something to return to when they left camp.

The National WWII Museum estimates camp residents lost some $400 million in property during their incarceration. The National Park Service reports by war's end, the United States had incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans in government camps and facilities.

Lifetime achievement award

The Center also announced the establishment of the Douglas W. Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nelson first visited Heart Mountain in 1968 as a graduate student in history at the University of Wyoming. It was a visit that would shape his life in the course of scholarship on Japanese American incarceration, he said in his master's thesis on the history of the American concentration camp.

The first three to be presented the new award were Dr. Jeanette Misaka, Bacon Sakatani and judge Raymond Uno. Misaka is a professor at the University of Utah Department of Special Education.

“She has dedicated her life to human rights issues, supporting the Japanese American Citizens League, and serving many, many roles to benefit Utah as well as the Japanese American community,” said Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairman of the Center’s board of directors.

Sakatani is known as Mr. Heart Mountain. An entire room at the Center was dedicated to the former incarceree in 2011.

“He is the heart and the soul of Heart Mountain. That's why we call him the mayor. That's what we call Mr. Heart Mountain,” said David Mineta while presenting the award.

Uno is the first ethnic minority judge in Utah’s history, a civil rights and community advocate, a trailblazer and mentor to many. He was incarcerated at Heart Mountain as a child. Uno was unable to attend the pilgrimage.

This story was published on August 3, 2023.


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