This WWII historic site just became part of the national park system

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Camp Amache National Historic Site reminds visitors of the courage of unjustly confined Japanese Americans during World War II. After Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into the World War, the War Relocation Authority forcibly removed Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. The former windswept camp is now a shadow of what it was in 1942-1945. A rebuilt barracks, guard and water towers now mark the site, but most of it was razed after the war.

At its peak, the camp housed 7,310 Japanese Americans. It was the 10th largest city in Colorado, and two-thirds of its inhabitants were American citizens. (The law denied older Japanese the right to become citizens.) The constant wind of Amache calls out the names of those who have come unwillingly to this remote corner of Colorado. Their story is one of betrayal, courage and resilience despite adversity.

Photo credit: Roxie Yonkey

What is Amache National Historic Site

Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 just 2 months after Pearl Harbor, establishing the War Relocation Agency. Residents of the West Coast feared that Japanese Americans would become spies. Amache, officially known as Granada Relocation Center, was one of these 10 camps. The first inhabitants of the camp arrived in August 1942 and left for the last time in October 1945.

The camp was poorly 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 brick on the bare floor – and they didn’t reach the ceilings. The new arrivals had brought what they could take on the train. Each person received a cot, a thin mattress and two military blankets upon arrival. To achieve little privacy, those who had sheets or curtains hung them to separate their family’s space from the views of others. Each family received an allotment of 20 by 25 feet.

Additionally, the shelter offered little protection from the extreme Colorado weather. Temperatures ranged from 110 degrees in the summer to 22 below zero in the winter (Fahrenheit). And the winds blew dust and sand and snow into every corner.

Camp Amache Guard Tower
Guard tower at Camp Amache (Photo credit: National Park Service)

Voluntary prisoners despite the rejection of their country

In January 1943, the War Department formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. The members were all Japanese Americans. Despite the rejection of their country, 953 young people imprisoned volunteered for military service in the 442nd/100th, Military Intelligence Service, Women’s Army Corps, and Nurses’ Army Corps. This was 10% of those in the camp, the highest percentage of Japanese incarceration sites. Thirty-one Amache men sacrificed their lives. Amache held memorial services for them behind the four barbed wires 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 war.

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 Medalthe nation’s highest civilian honor, to the 443rd/100th and Military Intelligence.

Those who remained organized a democratic form of the government in their prison.

Amache National Historic Site marker.
Amache National Historic Site marker (Photo credit: Roxie Yonkey)

Be part of the national park system

The students of the Granada high school have decided to preserve Amache. Led by social studies professor John Hopper, students and the city of Granada created the Amache Preservation Society. Those who had been incarcerated and their descendants joined. The preservation society built a museum in Granada and successfully lobbied for National Historic Landmark status. Because they had preserved the camp, there was something left to protect.

The Colorado congressional delegation presented the Amache study law in 2018. It passed in 2019. Amache became a national historic site on March 18, 2022.

Preserving a dark part of American history helps prevent future returns to dark patterns.

Sunset over the Camp Amache road network.
Camp Amache road network (Photo credit: Roxie Yonkey)

How to Visit Amache National Historic Site

The road network of Amache remains and the foundations are also visible. The preservation society offers an online map and a guided tour. Cell phone service is spotty in the area. To download the map and audio tour in advance. The company offers guided tours, but call ahead. The museum is in the city of Granada, population 509. The camp is 1 mile west and 800 meters south of the museum.

The site offers little shade. For this reason, bring water, wear sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat. Beware of rattlesnakes. Shorty’s Café is Granada’s only restaurant, but Amache has a picnic table.

By design, all Japanese relocation centers were located away from populated areas. Amache, 4 hours southeast of Denver, is no exception. Lamar, Colorado, population 7,500, is the nearest population center. Stay at Lamar Third Street Nest Guest Housecaravanners can stay in Granada at end of line RV Park or at Lamar Sundance–High Plains RV park and cabins.

In your comfortable bed, remember the people trapped in Amache.

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