As the last trainload of internees from the Heart Mountain Confinement Site left in November of 1945, their lives would never be the same. So much had been taken from them, but they moved on. It was all they could do.

As retired longtime anchor of NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw spoke to the hundred of attendees at this year’s Heart Mountain Pilgrimage last weekend at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, he praised that willingness to keep walking, even after a tremendous wrong.

“You did not let that experience define your lives,” he said.

Brokaw attended to accept the LaDonna Zall Compassionate Witness Award, which honors people who can sympathise with someone who was wronged and becomes part of their mission.

Brokaw’s history with the center goes back to its founding, when he spoke at the opening ceremony. Now, eight years later, he was among other noted dignitaries such as Japanese ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama, retired congressman and former internee Rep. Norman Mineta and retired Sen. Al Simpson.

The ceremony opened with Nisei veterans and former camp Boy Scouts raising the American flag over the center. The national anthem was sung, resonating through the crowd as almost everyone joined in.

Members of the center’s board spoke to open the event, offering thanks to the local Wyoming supporters who helped to preserve the site and support its mission.

In accepting the award, Brokaw expressed his admiration for the families and surviving internees.

“America is an idea,” he said. “What gives that idea substance is all of you and how we treat each other.”

He illustrated that concept of the American identity with a little brass clicker, the type carried by allied paratroopers dropping into Normandy in 1944. The noisemakers were used to help troopers find each other in the dark.

“It wasn’t a question of identity in that moment,” he said. “No one said, ‘Oh, I’m an Italian-American,’ or ‘I’m a French-American.’ It was just, ‘I’m an American. I’m coming. Let’s win this damn war.’”

He condemned the continued proliferation of identity politics in American life.

“Race is not a measurement of worthiness,” he said.

Brokaw’s address was followed by joint remarks from Mineta and Simpson, who also spoke to the American identity.

“I cherish the word citizen,” Mineta said. “I can remember when the signs went up ordering the removal and you were either an alien or a non-alien. My own government would not even call me a citizen. I cherish that word.”

The opening ceremony concluded with a Zen blessing and most attendees headed for several school busses bound for important parts of the site, such as the memorial, hospital and newly-renovated barracks building. Brokaw sat down with Mineta and Simpson to film an interview, then took questions from the local press.

He said he first became more familiar with the camp when interviewing Mineta for “The Greatest Generation” book.

“I think this history is very important,” he said. “Generations coming up don’t have a full appreciation of what happened here.”

Despite debate about terminology by historians, Brokaw maintains Heart Mountain can most accurately be called a concentration camp. Against that stark backdrop, he praised the Japanese Americans of Heart Mountain and camps like it as a contrast to the political discourse of today.

“Today, people tend to lead with an open wound,” he said. “‘You can’t oppose me because I was treated poorly,’ is often people’s first argument. They never had to face anything like this.”

Still, as someone who has spent much time studying the history of this country, Brokaw said the country’s potential remains great, despite it’s dark moments.

“That is the genius of this nation,” he said. “It’s the best from the ground up, not the top down, and everyone has a voice.”

(5) comments


Anything that is associated with Tom Brokaw should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Gunrunner Auctions

Very poorly attended event and here's why: A very small amount of people in this area (they come and go) are with this site attempting to exert a large amount of historical revision on us locals and tourists. Anyone who has a good American in their family from the Greatest Generation who paid attention, let alone served in WWII knows the correct history. After Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (the day my Father signed up with the Marines to fight) it was found that there were Japanese who said they were legitimate citizens on the island, but in fact were spies who mapped out our Pearl Harbor ships arrangements, our big guns, our watches, etc. What's more: some of these Japanese "citizens" also harbored/hide/assisted Japanese pilots on the island as well.

This Cody group is also distorting the type of interment as well and often refer to the local facility as a "concentration camp". Nothing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. I talked with a man who knew well the Japanese boys in the camp and they were often allowed to attend movies in Powell and Cody, shop in various stores, etc.

One of my close friends went to the Heart Mountain camp and told some of the administrators there to stop referring to this camp as a "concentration camp" as his mother was in Auschwitz and witnessed daily killings, poor food and slave labor. He right said that the Cody facility bore NO resemblance whatsoever to a "concentration camp". Again: Horrible historical revision.

Additionally, some of these men in the Heart Mountain camp were asked to serve in the U.S. Military and they refused and were jailed. I'm not sure of the definition of "citizen" as used in the article above, but it seems very, very loose.

I found it telling that when my 94-year old father visited Cody he had no interest in visiting this camp, rather we went to the BBCOW instead. That says it all to me.


According to the National Parks Service, no Japanese Americans were ever convicted of spying for the Japanese government. Contrast that with the 18 Caucasian Americans who were convicted of spying for Japan. As someone who has family in Cody dating back to 1920, including an uncle who was killed on Wake island, an uncle who served with Merrill's Marauders, an uncle who had a Kamikaze plane hit the ship he was stationed on in the Navy, and a grandfather and another uncle who served in the Army Air Corp, I can confidently say I have ties to the "greatest generation": what you are saying is conjecture. From what I've researched myself, as well as what my grandfather who was rejected from the Army during WWII said is that the Japanese Americans located at the Heart Mountain center did not have nearly the privileges that you say they did. On the other hand, the German POW near Deaver allowed work and movie privileges. So American citizens who came from Japan were treated less well than our actual enemies? Or is it that because the U.S. had a fairly sizable Nazi party of our own in the 40's that we allowed literal fascists to gallivant our great state?

On the topic of what to refer to the Heart Mountain Center: that was a concentration camp. The 'concentration camps', as you call them, that the Nazis had in their controlled territories are more accurately referred to as DEATH camps. Concentration camps are meant to house prisoners, and it has more of a neutral connotation; while the Nazi death camps were technically called concentration camps, concentration camp can refer to any number of facilities where a prisoner is detained without trial, such as Guantanamo Bay. Death camps refer to that: death and genocide. Dachau and Auschwitz were crimes against humanity, but they were NOT concentration camps, seeing as how the goal was not containment but extermination.

The men who chose to not serve in the armed forces did so out of civil disobedience, something which is as American as apple pie (or did the Revolutionary War not set that example?) because they had their property, money, and rights as citizens revoked by a government the vast majority of Japanese-American citizens actually supported. To prove that point even further, the most highly decorated unit was the 442nd, a unit comprised ENTIRELY of Japanese-Americans. So how is this one of your points? Plenty of white people draft dodged in the Vietnam Conflict, because sometimes the government isn't the infallible source of information that some people think that it is. The members of the 442nd proved their worth as Americans even when their rights were revoked. As an example, if you visit the center, you'll learn that when they were on leave from Europe, they were not allowed to leave the Heart Mountain center.

To bring up late as well: if there were so many spies stationed in Hawaii, how come the Japanese didn't know that the majority of the Pacific fleet wasn't actually at Pearl Harbor?


The turnout was depressingly small in number ... pretty sure I know why


Has anyone (besides me) commenting even watched the Brokaw video and comments by the former Congressmen??? Doesn't sound like it.

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