America’s Concentration Camps

Heart Mountain

August 12, 1942 – November 10, 1945

“The camp barracks were put up in a real hurry so that between the rooms you had only this one wooden board, which had a lot of knot holes. You could hear everything going on all down the whole barrack—people arguing, talking, snoring, fighting. There was just no privacy at all.”
—Katsumi (Hirooka) Kunitsugu, REgenerations, Los Angeles, Vol. 2, p. 249

The site for the Heart Mountain camp was open sagebrush desert in northern Wyoming. The summer dust storms and below-freezing winters were a shock to the inmates, who were mostly from Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Like other camps, Heart Mountain’s 468 tarpaper barracks were surrounded by barbed wire fencing, its guard towers were manned by military police with machine guns, and high-beam searchlights swept over the camp at night. Initially, the federal government had intended the camps to be open-gated settlements, as the official term “Relocation Centers” implied. But western governors objected to the idea of Japanese Americans living freely in their states. Governor Neils Smith of Wyoming warned that there would be “Japs hanging from every pine tree.”


A group of parents at Heart Mountain recruited Art Okuno to be scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 343. With no school for nearly a year after the camp opened, and few other activities, “parents were worried about their kids running wild.” There were 13 Boy Scout Troops and one Girl Scout Troop at Heart Mountain. Scout groups from the nearby towns of Powell and Cody visited the camps for meetings and jamborees.

Draft Resistance

Takashi Hoshizaki had just turned eighteen when the Army reinstated the draft for the U.S.-born Nisei and began enlisting young men in the camps. He recalled that some inmates hoped to use “the draft problem” as a way to bring a civil rights case against incarceration to court. According to Hoshizaki, these groups gradually coalesced into what became known as the Fair Play Committee. It was the only organized draft resistance movement in the camps.

Hoshizaki attended one meeting, which was “virtually wall-to-wall people,” but he had already decided he wouldn’t serve. He objected for two reasons: incarceration, and the segregation of Nisei soldiers. He ignored the notice to report for his physical. “Maybe a week later, they appeared on the steps of the barrack and I was under arrest.”

While Heart Mountain had the highest rate of draft resistance among the camps, most of its inmates chose to accept the draft. More than 800 from Heart Mountain served in the military, joining the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The draft issue deeply divided inmates at Heart Mountain, as it did in the other camps. There were those, especially members of the Japanese American Citizens’ League, who thought that draft resistance only exacerbated anti-Japanese sentiment, and that the surest road to acceptance and restoration of civil rights was by serving in the Army and thus proving loyalty to the U.S. Each side believed that their actions represented true citizenship. Mits Koshiyama, another draft resister, believed that those who chose to serve “did what they thought was right and we did what we thought was right.”

Quote credits
Katsumi (Hirooka) Kunitsugu, REgenerations, Los Angeles, Vol. 2, p. 249.
Art Okuno, interview by Kirk Peterson, September 1, 2009, Manzanar National Historic Site Collection, Densho.
Takashi Hoshizaki, interview by Tom Ikeda and Jim Gatewood, July 28, 2010, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.
Mits Koshiyama, Conscience and the Constitution documentary.

Boy Scouts' drum and bugle corps, Heart Mountain.Enlarge
Boy Scouts' drum and bugle corps, Heart Mountain. Drawing from high school student Stanley Hayami's diary, Heart Mountain. Estelle Ishigo, Dust Storm, ca. 1943. Estelle Ishigo, Our Baggage Was Left in the Fields, ca. 1943. Mess hall, Heart Mountain.

Boy Scouts’ drum and bugle corps gathered around flagpole. Gift of Ike J. Hatchimonji (94.149.8).