A Conversation with Sharon Wong and Tim Taira

Left to right: Mrs. Tim Taira, Mr. Tim Taira, Mrs. Sharon Wong, Mr. Wong

Left to right: Mrs. Tim Taira, Mr. Tim Taira, Mrs. Sharon Wong, Mr. Wong

On April 15, 2014, Tiffany Keb and Alyson Gill interviewed Sharon Wong, a former Jerome internee born in the Jerome hospital, and Mr. Tim Taira, a former Jerome and Rohwer internee whose father was a physician in the Rohwer hospital. We will be posting those interview on the website over the coming days. It was an honor to speak with them, and we look forward to continuing those conversations.

Solo Exhibition by Nancy Chikaraishi (Drury University)

10153923_739656492732316_1249161382_nNancy Chikaraishi, associate professor of Architecture at Drury University (Springfield, MO) will feature her artwork at the museum for three months beginning April 16th and ending July 16th. Her parents were internees at Rohwer. Her solo exposition features artwork of the Japanese American struggle in the Camps.

An interview with the artist is posted here.

Professional Development for Teachers Scheduled for June 30, 2014

The World War II Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee will conduct a Professional Development Workshop on Monday, June 30, 2014. The event will start at 9:00 a.m. In cooperation with McGehee Schools, participants will travel to the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center site for a more indepth understanding of the camp. For information, contact Susan Gallion,

Museum wins Cultural Heritage Award

1800191_709518529079446_389166911_nThe Museum was awarded the Cultural Heritage Award by Arkansas Delta Byways — an association of 15 Eastern Arkansas Counties. Congratulations! More than 2,100 visitors have registered as museum guests since last April. Jeff Owyoung & Mayor Jack May accepted the award. A group of about a dozen people from McGehee were there!

Lewis to receive Oakley Award

The Association for Gravestone Studies will present the Oakley Certificate of Merit Award to University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor of history Dr. Johanna Miller Lewis, along with three other Arkansans on Thursday.

Dr. Johanna Lewis, UALR

Lewis and the others will be honored at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Reception Room of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History at 503 E. Ninth St. in Little Rock.

The award is for work that fosters appreciation of the cultural significance of gravestones and burying grounds through study and preservation. The event is free and open to the public.

Lewis, who also serves as associate dean of the UALR Graduate School, began a project to stabilize and restore Rohwer cemetery markers at the former Japanese Internment Camp in Desha County upon receipt of a 2011 National Park Service grant.

She started working on the cemetery with architect John Greer in 2003 with another Park Service grant for $35,000.

UA-Fayetteville History Professor Kimball Erdman will also be recognized. Erdman worked with Lewis at the Rohwer Relocation Center Cemetery.

Erdman’s landscape architecture class prepared a Historic American Landscape Survey, including measured drawings, photography, and a written history of Rohwer.

Carla Hines Coleman and Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis, co-founders of Preservation of African American Cemeteries Inc., are the other two recipients. They worked with schools and other groups to identify, document, and conserve African-American cemeteries in the state.

Lewis and Erdman collaborated with Arkansas State University Heritage Sites program to use maps and research in their interpretation for site visitors and with the UALR’s Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies to prepare a laser 3-D scan of the site.

“This has very much been a team effort at UALR with Andrijana Vukovich and Dave Millay in Facilities Management and John Greer leading the way,” Lewis noted.

AGS is a non-profit organization based in Greenfield, Mass, with members from many countries who share interests in art, history, art history, genealogy, archaeology, anthropology, conservation, and material culture.

For the original news article, click here.



New Website Interprets Significance of World War II-era Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center


JONESBORO – Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center tells a heart-wrenching story about the plight of U.S. citizens who were forced to relocate to the Arkansas Delta during World War II.

A new website of the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites program makes the center and its educational mission even more accessible for those seeking to know more about its significance in American history.

The A-State Center for Digital Initiatives developed the website in collaboration with Dr. Ruth Hawkins, director of Heritage Sites, and her colleagues.

“Ruth asked us to work with the Heritage Sites team to create an online presence that gives visitors a better sense of what the relocation center was like,” explained Dr. Alyson Gill, director of CDI and associate professor of art history at A-State.

The website is a complement to interpretive exhibits installed by A-State’s Heritage Sites program and dedicated last spring.  Audio portions of the exhibits were narrated by George Takei, one of the center’s most famous former war-time residents.  Takei  is best known to his millions of fans for portraying Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the original “Star Trek” television series and “Star Trek” motion pictures.

“I remember going to school behind barbed wire fences,” Takei recalls in one of the recordings.    “We began every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance.  I could see the barbed wire fence and armed guards in towers from the school windows as I recited ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ ”

Takei also was present at a dedication ceremony for the exhibits, held in conjunction with the opening of the new World War II Japanese-American Internment Museum at McGehee.  Some of his dedicatory remarks are included on the web site, along with portions of his audio recordings and other elements from the exhibits.

“Rohwer is not an easy place to get to for many people,” Hawkins said.  “ We wanted to share this chapter in our nation’s history with a much broader audience by making some of the same information available via a robust web site.”

Gill said the CDI team that developed the website,, included an architectural illustration of part of the center, images from archives, as well as historical information.  They have worked closely with Hawkins and other researchers and historical authorities to model the Arkansas Heritage Sites.  The ongoing work by Heritage Sites and the Center for Digital Initiatives is supportive of the university’s mission to educate leaders, enhance intellectual growth and enrich lives.

“It is a privilege for us to work with the Heritage Sites,” Gill added.  “We will continue to add to the website in the coming months.”

For original article click here.

George Takei on CBS Sunday Morning

As a child, George Takei lived here at the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center. He recently returned with CBS Sunday Morning. Watch the segment.

George Takei at the Rohwer site discussing his time here as a child..

George Takei at the Rohwer site discussing his time here as a child.

For more on the segment, including photos and deleted scenes, visit the CBS Sunday Morning website here.

The Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center Is Dedicated in Arkansas

MCGEHEE, ARK. — Actor George Takei spoke quietly and thoughtfully as the Japanese American internment museum and the exhibit “Against Their Will: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas” were commemorated through two ceremonies in Desha County on April 16.

WWII Japanese American Internment Museum color

The museum is located at the McGehee’s historic train depot at 100 S. Railroad St. and will serve as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center. The dedication was sponsored by the McGehee Industrial Development Foundation, and the unveiling of outdoor exhibits developed through Arkansas State University at the Rohwer Relocation Center followed.

Both projects were initiated through grants from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Program at the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

“This is a very important time for America and this community,” said Takei, who portrayed Hikaru Sulu on the original “Star Trek” TV series and motion pictures. “This museum was built as a place where people could connect with each other. Today, it transports us in time and space to another time for America. It has resonances that are profoundly important.”

In 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government forced Japanese American citizens to leave the West Coast and imprisoned them for the duration of the war at 10 “relocation centers,” mostly in western states, with two in Arkansas — at Rohwer, just north of McGehee, and at Jerome, just south of McGehee. These were the temporary homes for more than 17,000 incarcerated Japanese Americans. Takei was interned as a young boy with his family at Rohwer.

“I was too innocent to understand what that experience meant,” continued Takei. “To my parents, it was intimidating and infuriating. I could see the barbed-wire fence outside my tarpaper-barracked schoolhouse window, as I would say, ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ My father said, ‘Our democracy is a people’s democracy and can be as good as people are or as fallible as people are.’”

The outdoor interpretive exhibits at the Rohwer site include a series of kiosks and wayside panels, with audio components narrated by Takei. Researched by students in the Heritage Studies Ph.D. Program at Arkansas State University and designed for the university by the 106 Group of Minneapolis/St. Paul, the exhibits provide a glimpse into the lives of Japanese Americans once interned there. The exhibits will be maintained by Desha County.

A National Historic Landmark, the Rohwer site today includes only the Japanese American cemetery and the remains of the camp’s hospital smokestack. Preservation work at the cemetery is expected to begin later this spring under the leadership of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Matching grant funds for the Rohwer exhibits were provided by Arkansas State University, with support from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Desha County and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Matching funds and support for the McGehee museum grant were provided by the McGehee Industrial Foundation, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Department of Rural Services, Clearwater Paper Corp. and the Joseph F. Wallace Trust.

The featured exhibit, created through the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Public History Program, is on loan from the Delta Cultural Center in Helena.

Why We Must Remember Rohwer (George Takei)

(This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.)

Last week, just before the attacks in Boston, I took a pilgrimage. I traveled to Arkansas to dedicate the Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee. The town lies between two places of great sadness: Jerome internment camp to the southwest, and Rohwer camp to the northeast. Over seventy years ago, my family and I were forced from our home in Los Angeles at gunpoint by U.S. soldiers and sent to Rohwer, all because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. I was just five years old, and would spend much of my childhood behind barbed wire in that camp and, later, another in California called Tule Lake. One hundred twenty thousand other Japanese Americans from the West Coast suffered a similar fate.

I was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony of the museum. A number of internees attended with their families, as well as about 500 people, primarily from Arkansas, along with historians from throughout the United States. After the dedication ceremony, we moved on to the actual Rohwer camp site about 20 minutes away.


george at commemoration

Almost nothing remains where the camp once stood. We went to dedicate a historic marker, along with half a dozen audio kiosks. It was admittedly poignant to hear my own voice narrating from those kiosks about the importance of each specific site, marking ground where we had been held against our will, without charge or trial, so long ago.


georgea look back in time

One of the audio kiosks is placed just about at the site of the crude barrack that housed my family and me — block 6, barrack 2, unit F. We were little more than numbers to our jailers, each of us given a tag to wear to camp like a piece of luggage. My tag was 12832-C.

I have memories of the nearby drainage ditch where I used to catch pollywogs that sprouted legs and eventually and magically turned into frogs. I remember the barbed wire fence nearby, beyond which lay pools of water with trees reaching out from them. We were in the swamps, you see: fetid, hot, mosquito-laden. We were isolated, far enough away from anywhere anyone would want to live.

Today, I recognize nothing. The swamp has been drained, the trees have all been chopped down. It is now just mile after mile of cotton fields. Everything I remember is gone.

The most moving of the sites is the cemetery. As a child, I never went there, yet that is the only thing that still stands from Rohwer Camp, except for a lone smokestack where the infirmary once operated. The memorial marker is a tall, crumbling concrete obelisk, in tribute to the young men who went from their barbed wire confinement to fight for America, perishing on bloody European battlefields. That day, I stood solemnly with surviving veterans who had served in the segregated all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in all the war.

We ended the ceremony with a release of butterflies. They symbolized beauty confined, first in cocoons, then in a box, but now released, free to go and be wherever they chose.


grav weldon butterfly shot

As I write this, once again the national dialogue turns to defining our enemies, the impulse to smear whole communities or people with the actions of others still too familiar and raw. Places like the museum and Rohwer camp exist to remind us of the dangers and fallibility of our democracy, which is only as strong as the adherence to our constitutional principles renders it. People like myself and those veterans lived through that failure, and we understand how quickly cherished liberties and freedom may slip away or disappear utterly.

Places like Rohwer matter, more than seventy years later. And so, we remember.

this place matters

George Takei Remarks at Grand Openings

The WWII Japanese American Internment Museum at McGehee and the interactive outdoor exhibits at the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center Cemetery both celebrated their Grand Opening on April 13, 2013. Actor George Takei, interned with his family at Rohwer, made remarks at both locations. The video above includes remarks at the museum, while the text below includes comments at the Rohwer site:

This is the third time that I’ve been back here since I left as a boy. The first time I came here with a lot of memories welling up in my mind, and trying to validate that. There were pools of water out here—barbed wire fence was right around here and there was a roadway and a ditch there, and I used to catch pollywogs in that ditch and watch them sprout legs and magically turn into frogs. And beyond the barbed wire fence there were pools of water and trees growing out of them. And so, in 2004, when I came back here, I wanted to remember whether those were real or not. When I got here, it was all gone. There was no swampy area at all. The land had been all drained, and the trees had been cut down and it was miles and miles of ripe cotton growing. It was cotton fields.

And the second time I came back was last year when I had the unique privilege of working with the Little Rock Symphony Orchestra, narrating a Schurenberg piece. And I wanted to spend that visit again to come back here to Rohwer. And I expected to see miles and miles of cotton fields, but they were all gone. It was just plain dirt, because it was wintertime—I think it was February. So, it was a totally different place from what I had expected to see.

And this third visit has been profoundly moving and heartwarming. All of you are here at this site, where I spent a small portion of my life. I’m 75 years old, and I was here when I was 5 and 6, so it’s just a very, very small portion of that 75 years—but it has been the most defining experience of my life. And it’s my incarceration here and in the other internment camp that has made me such an active participant in our democracy. And it is so gratifying to come back here and see all of you here who have worked to make this a hallowed ground for America—and certainly for me.

And the most important and moving piece of this land here is that cemetery. Because, in the middle of that cemetery is a crumbling monument which will very soon be restored. It’s a concrete monument that bears the names of a lot of Japanese-American men’s names. And it’s followed by the date and year that they passed, and the place where they died.

They were young men who went from imprisonment here, in this internment camp, to fight for this country: a country that was imprisoning us and taking all our rights away, including the word “citizen.” And now they wanted us to serve in the military. And they, indeed, did serve, with amazing, incredible heroism. They fought with unbelievable courage and, indeed, with incredible patriotism, and they sustained the highest combat casualty rate of any unit of its size. They fought in some of the most impossible battles.

The Gothic Line was one of the last strongholds of the Nazis. They were buried into this rock mountainside, and the Allied forces had been doing battle for a half a year—6 months. Many, many units had fought, and not removed the Nazi force.

The 442nd was called in to make that last push. It was an impregnable fortress, buried in that rocky mountainside. The 442nd had decided to do what was never done in any of the other assaults. The backside of that mountain was a sheer, rocky cliff—about a 400-foot drop. The Nazis didn’t expect an attack from that area. The men of the 442nd decided to do the impossible: to scale that sheer cliff, and attack from that side. And on a moonless night, in full combat gear, they began scaling that rocky cliff. And in the darkness, a few men lost their footing or their grip, and fell to their death in the ravine below. They all fell silently. Not a single man cried out. The others kept climbing. And at the first light of day, the men of the 442nd attacked.

They took the hill, and broke the Gothic Line. A six-month stalemate was broken by the men of the 442nd, in 32 minutes—an amazing achievement. A few of those men who perished in that battle are on that list here in the cemetery. They fought for their country with unbelievable heroism, and their patriotism was beyond American patriotism. They fought to prove they were Americans. They had to prove they’re Americans—and they didn’t just fight for mom’s apple pie, as almost all the others did. They fought to get ‘mom’ out of imprisonment. They are true, exemplary American heroes.

And I look forward to my fourth visit here, when I see that monument restored, as it should be. And that monument undisturbed, not only by the people of McGehee, or the people of Desha county, but all Americans. I hope that they travel from throughout this country here to Desha county to visit this cemetery and this monument, because it is a hallowed, American monument of American patriots.

So many people worked to make this happen—this actual site. I was told that the barrack that I lived in—block 6, barrack 2, unit M—was right around there, and they placed this platform here to signify that, and I feel very honored by that. We were near the barbed wire fence. I was here very briefly, just about a year, but my heart and my Americanism lies here. And I thank you all for what you’ve done to make this an important American landmark. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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