The Empty Chair and “Hold These Truths” Intertwine


The Empty Chair covered with 1000 cranes on the day of its dedication.

If you want to see how national and local events reflect each other, catch duel reflections of the Japanese incarceration during World WarII.

Greg Chaney’s documentary “The Empty Chair” and an acclaimed play titled “Hold These Truths” are coming to Juneau this November in back to back venues. Greg’s documentary will be shown at the Gold Town Theater on November 15th at 7:00 p.m. and “Hold These Truths” will be opening at the Perseverance Theater on the 18th at 7:30 p.m. and playing through December 4th. The Perseverance Theater asked Greg to join them in addressing this troubling event in U.S. history.


As quoted from the Perseverance Theater website:

“Gordon Hirabayashi, the son of Japanese immigrants, had just graduated from the University of Washington when he was ordered to report to internment camps outside Seattle. Gordon chose to fight U. S Government action rather than obey the order he felt was unlawful. His experience in the courts and camps of the time sparked his passion for the U.S. Constitution, and the courage of his convictions led him to the Supreme Court and a posthumous Medal of Freedom. The one man show stars Greg Watanobe and is his true story.”

Local Japanese who have been incarcerated or who have family members who were similarly treated have been invited to the play to share their experiences.

Catch both shows to see how one enlightens the other!

Quiet Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story


Karleen Grummett, the happy author of “Quiet Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story.”

Karleen Grummett’s new book, Quiet Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story, narrates the history of Japanese Americans in Juneau when it was a small, tightly-knit and remote community accessible only by water. It shows how they reacted to their forced removal from Juneau, how their spirit and resolve helped them live during imprisonment and how they renewed their lives following it. The story also describes how the community’s cross-cultural ties and friendships rallied support for their missing friends and led to a quest for justice more than 70 years later.

The publishing of this book was funded, in part, by a Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, together with funds raised by the Empty Chair Project.

Complimentary copies of the book will be given out at two celebratory book signings as gifts to the Juneau community which supported our efforts while supplies last. The initial signing will be during First Friday at the new Valley Branch Library from 5:30-7:00 p.m. on Friday, October 7th. The second will be the next day at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum from 10:30-Noon, Saturday, October 8th. Copies will be mailed to all schools, libraries and historical societies throughout Alaska and to family members affected by the incarceration itself plus other incarceration sites within our country. In Juneau, multiple copies will be given to fifth grade classrooms, as it has become part of their Social Studies curriculum. Additional copies will be placed in the libraries of Juneau’s high schools and added to the existing Empty Chair Collection.

We are so proud of Karleen and this wonderful book she has written that enlightens and adds to Alaskan history. In addition, her book encompasses all the varied achievements of the Empty Chair Project, personal stories, historical photographs and colorful pictures of artifacts and Fumi Matsumoto’s art.


The front and back covers of “Quiet Defiance:    Alaska’s Empty Chair Story.”

Here is a link to the article about Karleen’s book in the Juneau Empire:




Author! Author!

The Empty Chair Project, in conjunction with the National Park Service, is proud to announce the sponsorship of two best selling authors who will be in Juneau on May 5th and 6th. The first to arrive is Kirby Larson, the author of Dash, a winner of the Scott O’Dell award for historical fiction. She will be here to share this historical novel with  students at local grade schools on Thursday, May 5th. It’s a story about a Japanese-American girl who had to leave her adored dog Dash behind when her family was incarcerated in the Minidoka Relocation Center during WWII but is able to remain connected to Dash through the kindness of a friendly neighbor back home. It is inspired by a true story and reflects events that run parallel to those occurring in the Empty Chair, emphasizing friendship, family and the resilience of the human spirit.


Kirby Larson’s book “Dash” for young adults.

Kirby will be doing at book signing from 5:00-6:00 at the downtown Hearthside book store on Wednesday, May 5th. Here is a link to the interview with Kirby in the “Neighbors” section of the Juneau Empire on Sunday, May 1st.


Abby Olsen getting ready for Jamie Ford’s visit.

Next, Jamie Ford, the author of the celebrated book, Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, will be visiting a local high school on May 6th to talk about his novel which also explores similar themes. The book received numerous awards after being published in 2009. Among them was an award for best “Adult Fiction” book at the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature. It is set in the International District of Seattle, Washington, and focuses on Henry Lee, an intelligent 12-year-old Chinese American who has to grow up quickly during WWII hysteria. Seattle author Garth Stein commented, “A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war–not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the heart and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today’s world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And more importantly, it will make you feel.”

He will be doing a book talk and signing at the downtown Juneau Public Library from 4-6 on Saturday, May 7th.

Multiple copies of both Dash and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet were provided for the schools by the Empty Chair Project and the National Park Service.

Here is a link to an interview with Jamie in the Juneau Empire on Thursday, May 5th.


Nuts and Bolts

Within the Silence


On October 8th and 9th of 2015, the actress Ruth Coughlin from Living Voices arrived in Juneau to once again deliver her remarkable performance of “Within the Silence” to Juneau’s fifth graders and the general public. With the aid of a computer, screen and microphone she played the part of one of the characters in the pre-filmed story of a family being rounded up in Seattle and sent to Minidoka for incarceration. With expert timing, she fit her dialogue into what was occurring on the screen. Her first performance was the evening of October 8th at the University of Alaska Southeast. The next morning she performed at Auke Bay Elementary School with students from Glacier Valley, Mendenhall River and Riverbend in attendance. After lunch she moved on to Harborview Elementary School with students from Gastineau, Charter and Montisorri schools joining the group. After preplanning and preparation by our Educational Consultant, Steve McPhetres, Jackie Triplette from the Empty Chair Committee coordinated Ruth’s appearances in all three venues plus escorting her to dinner, picking up halibut and salmon from local fans and dropping Ruth by the Skater’s Cabin for pictures in front of the Mendenhall Glacier on the way to the airport. Jackie reports that “…the kids were absolutely remarkable…and patient…and attentive and asked questions.” And we report that Jackie also did a remarkable job and we thank her for her organizational skills and leadership. The performance was paid for by funds from the Empty Chair Project and the National Park Service in an effort to continue educating our youth about this period in our history. 


Ruth Coughlin performing “Within the Silence” at Auke Bay Elementary.

Discover Juneau Downtown Map

FullSizeRender (7)

The Empty Chair  is now listed in the Discover Juneau Downtown Map. You can find a copy at the Juneau Convention and Visitor’s Bureau building at the docks plus other areas throughout the city.

FullSizeRender (6)

The Empty Chair is listed as number 5 inside the brochure. Here is the text of the entry.


The Milepost


The Empty Chair site was listed in the 2015 edition of Alaska’s annual travel guide, The Milepost. The listing’s information about the site was located on page 655 among 25 attractions for the Juneau area. The editors had requested the information  from Karleen Grummett for their publication, so it’s nice to see that the memorial is officially cited in the guide for all who use it while traveling to Juneau and the rest of the state. The guide has been published annually since 1949 and is considered the travel “bible” for all Alaska visitors, both local and out-of-state.


Text of the listing.


Thank You!


Nancy DeCherney, Executive Director of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council informed us that the council has created a map of public art that can be used as an Art Walk of Juneau. The Empty Chair Memorial is included on the map.



The map!



We’re listed as Number 21 on the map.


They are also working to catalogue public art in Juneau as part of the Public Art Network and we will be listed in that publication as well. We are very grateful to Nancy and the council for these inclusions and also for their support in facilitating the work of the Empty Chair Project through donations of their time and services. Thanks once again for all you have done.

Day of Remembrance Gatherings


Anchorage, Alaska


Alice Tanaka Hikido and Mary Tanaka Abo.

Alice (Tanaka) Hikido and Mary (Tanaka) Abo joined Greg Chaney is Anchorage where they were invited to a showing of Greg’s film “The Empty Chair” in honor of the Day of Remembrance by the local Japanese American Citizen’s League. The following is her report on that event:

I left San Jose Thursday morning and Mary joined me on the leg from Seattle to Anchorage. After we had disembarked, we saw Greg Chaney who had just arrived from Juneau and also the JACL chairman, Susan Churchill. After Susan took us all to our motel to check in, she invited us all to dinner at her home and said that she had also invited a few others to meet us. Among the guests was Dr. Morgan Blanchard, an archaeologist who had been doing some research on Ft. Richardson. His research led him to the information that Ft. Richardson at one time was the site of an internment camp. He was intrigued by this and continued research and uncovered quite a bit of information of the internment of the Japanese at Ft. Richardson. When he learned about the Day of Remembrance program that the JACL was planning, he contacted Susan Churchill about a tour of Ft. Richardson. To make a long story short, a program was planned that was held at the Ft. on Thursday (early afternoon) at which time Mary and I participated and shared a little of our family experience and the Empty Chair story. Another participant was 21 year old, Patrick Dickerson Kiyoshi Regan who was severely disabled and communicated by blinking his eyes which activated a mechanical voice. He was able to tell the story of his mother’s father who was a Japanese American who was sent to an internment camp in Arizona. He was truly amazing and even though his disability limited him physically in a major way, he possessed a very sharp intellect. Later while talking with his parents, we learned that his father was Virginia Whitehead’s son! We always find a Juneau connection!

After we left Ft. Richardson we picked up a bite to eat because we needed to get over to the public radio station by 5:30 as they had provided their studio for the showing of Greg’s “Empty Chair.” As the studio was being set up for the program, a reception was held in a separate area and early arrivals were able to chat and talk with us. Mary and I were pleased to see Dean and Marianne Terencio who lived a short distance from our house. I had not seen either of them for about 60 years. At that time Dean was still a youngster! Also at the reception we met Buzz Femmer’s daughter who also now lives in Anchorage. Mr. Femmer is mentioned in the documentary as one of the persons who signed affidavits supporting our father, so I’m sure that was a pleasant surprise for her to see that on the screen. Harriet Miyasato Beleal from the Minidoka Pilgrimage was also there with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter! The program was soon to start so people started to move over to the studio. Susan said that about fifty people came to their program last year and they hoped that a few more would come this year. The public radio station was a sponsor this year and announced the program giving it free publicity. People kept coming and the room was packed! The staff had to scrounge around the building for additional chairs. I heard that the audience was about 130-140 people. It was a good thing the fire marshal didn’t come by. Susan welcomed everyone and said a few words about the significance of The Day of Remembrance. Next Ron Inouye, who was invited from Fairbanks, gave introductory remarks and then Greg had his chance to show “The Empty Chair.”

When it was over it got a very nice ovation from the audience and Mary, Greg and myself were invited up front for a Q and A time. There were very good questions that came from the audience. Even a small child in the front row, whose mother was signing to her deaf father, raised her hand to ask a question. A person asked Greg when it was going to be on PBS so that more people can see it. That was very validating for Greg! Mary answered one question about schools by telling the audience about the culture kits that had been assembled for schools which included an educational version of Greg’s documentary. I could see people nodding their heads while she talked. Later after the people were thanked for coming, many people came up to us and said how much they appreciated the documentary…and again there were Juneau connections. We were so pleased to meet one of Verne Metcalfe’s daughters and she was so happy to be able to talk to us about her dad and grandfather who also made the City Café a regular stop. Roberta Messerschmidt Spartz’s niece was also so pleasantly surprised to see Roberta in the documentary and was going to call her when she returned home. As you can gather, it was a great event…well beyond expectations of the planners.

Mary and Greg went back to the Churchill’s residence because Susan was going to take them later to the airport around 12 midnight to catch a plane back to Seattle as they had another showing on Saturday there. I was dropped off at the motel so that I could get a night’s rest before leaving in the morning.

When I returned I called Peter, who attended the San Francisco showing, to ask how that went. He said that the audience was about 50 people and that he and Greg’s mother, who was there, took a few questions at the end, but since Greg and Mary were skyped on a large screen, they were able to do most of the Q and A themselves. Mary will be able to fill you in on the Seattle program on Saturday and also the Taiko program where the banners were exhibited…whew…it was a full weekend!

Ah, but that wasn’t to be all. Rachel D’Oro, a reporter from the Associated Press interviewed Alice in an article which was picked up by the Associated Press and then by papers all across the United States. Here is a photo from that article and the accompanying text:

John Tanaka & family at Minidoka

In this 1945 photo, members of the Tanaka family stand together at the Minidoka Japanese internment camp in Jerome, Idaho, where they were held in forced incarceration during World War II. From left to right, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Mary Tanaka Abo in the foreground and behind her, Nobu Tanaka, John Tanaka in uniform and Shonosuke Tanaka.

  JOINT BASE ELEMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska–Alice Tanaka Hikido clearly remembers the bewilderment and sense of violation she felt 74 years ago when FBI agents riffled through her family’s Juneau home, then arrested her father before he was sent to Japanese internment camps, including a little-known camp in pre-statehood Alaska.

  The 83-year-old Campbell, Calif., woman recently attended a ceremony where participants unveiled a study of the short-lived internment camp at what is now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

  Archaeologists used old records to pinpoint the camp location in an area now partially covered by a parking lot.

  “As I look back, I had no idea as a child that the U.S. and Japan were having difficulties,” Hikido said.

  Hikido was interned at Idaho’s Minidoka camp with her mother, younger sister and two brothers a few months after her father’s arrest during one of the nation’s darkest chapters–the forced incarceration of tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry, including Americans, during World War II.

  Her father eventually joined his family in Idaho in 1944. They spent more than a year there together before the war ended and they returned to Juneau.

  Her father, Shonosuke Tanaka, was among 15 Japanese nationals and two German nationals rounded up in the territory of Alaska almost immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

  That number would grow to 104 foreign nationals, mostly Japanese, who were arrested in Alaska as alien enemies. An estimated 145 others also would be sent to internment camps outside the territory under Executive Order 9066, which launched the exile of about 120,000 Japanese-Americans.

  Before leaving Alaska, Tanaka and 16 other men were briefly housed at the Anchorage Army post formerly known as Fort Richardson.

  Archaeologists zeroed in on the site based on documents, including a map and two photographs, according to Morgan Blanchard, a local archaeologist who worked on the study.

  “Although it was known that this camp existed–it shows up on all the lists of camps that existed during the war–no information was available,” Blanchard said during a Feb. 19 Day of Remembrance ceremony at the base. “So we filled in a lot of blanks.”

  Researchers believe–but can’t say with certainty–that the 17 foreign nationals who were sent to the post were actually held at the camp constructed between February and June 1945.

  Today, Hikido sees the same distrust of some foreigners that her family experienced so many decades ago. “It’s incumbent upon citizens to be well-informed,” Hikido said. “If you’re well-informed then fear doesn’t overcome your better judgment.”

Seattle, Washington


Randy Wanamaker, Mary Abo, Connie Lundy and Greg Chaney.

Mary Abo and Greg Chaney attended the Asian American Film Festival in Seattle featuring the “Empty Chair” documentary amongst other entries and then went on to Seattle University to attend a fund raiser for Minidoka where the Empty Chair Banners were on display. They are replicas of the placards that were displayed at the Juneau-Douglas Museum. Mary gave a short speech in which she talked about the Alaskans incarcerated at Minidoka and briefly described the Empty Chair Memorial and the goals of the committee to educate the public and children of Juneau about this period of history and how it affected their city.

Juneau, Alaska

In Juneau, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum had on display at the Mendenhall Valley Library a portion of their 2014 exhibit “The Empty Chair: The Forced Removal and Relocation of Juneau’s Japanese, 1941-1951,” which was mounted in conjunction with the installation of the Empty Chair Memorial at Capital School Park. Their remembrance event was held on Friday, Feb. 19 with a showing of Greg Chaney’s documentary plus a selection of stories, images and objects from the Museum exhibit and the memorial dedication was shared in a slide-lecture format by Marjorie Hamburger.

Pt. Reyes, California

The week previous to The Day of Remembrance, Alice Hikido and Margie Shackelford were interviewed on radio station KWMR out of Pt. Reyes, California, by Susan Santiago on a program called “Pieces of Peace.” Alice talked about her families experiences during and after WWII and Margie covered the Empty Chair Project, emphasizing the community support that the project received. At the end they read the names of all those whose names are etched on the base of the memorial.

We have been successful in addressing a much wider audience then we ever thought possible and for that we are very grateful!

Greg Chaney

Here is a link to an interesting interview of Greg Chaney discussing his film “The Empty Chair” in the Juneau Empire.

In addition, Edward Yoshida has written a detailed and glowing review of Greg’s film in the Japanese American National Museum’s online journal, “Discover Nikkei: Japanese Migrants and Their Descendants”. He is particularly taken by the community’s response to the enforced imprisonment of the Juneau Japanese population and their support of those who returned to Juneau after the war. I encourage you to read it in total!


Japanese American National Museum

In addition to the other venues, Greg was invited to show his film at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles this spring. To our delight, the video David Albright created featuring his grandfather Walter Fukuyama’s visit to Juneau to attend the memorial ceremony was also screened. Afterwards, Mary Tanaka Abo, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Greg Chaney and David were available for a Q and A. Present in the audience were also members of the Empty Chair Committee: Margie Shackelford, Karleen Grummett and Roger Grummett. It was a very proud moment in time! 


The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California.



Greg and Alice celebrating the showing of the Empty Chair in such an impressive venue.



Mary Tanaka Abo, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Greg Chaney and David Albright responding to questions from the audience.



Four sisters happy to be a part of the celebration.



A World War II memorial dedicated to the famous 442 Japanese American unit that suffered so many losses during the war. It’s located near the museum. Notice their motto: “Go For Broke”.




Alice and Mary’s brother, John Tanaka, is listed on the memorial.



Alice’s husband, Katsumi Hikido, was also a member of this heroic unit.

We all had a memorable time celebrating together!










Steve McPhetres


Steve McPhetres and his wife, Jan, working in their beautiful garden in Juneau last spring.

It is with lingering sadness that I am compelled to share the loss of one of our committee members, Steve McPhetres. He passed away because of a fall he took while on a deer hunting trip outside Juneau last November. It is both a professional and personal loss.

Steve was our Educational Outreach Consultant for the Empty Chair Project and brought Juneau teachers, librarians, community members and museum staff together to plan Empty Chair educational activities. One of the most memorable was the Living Voices’ presentation of Within the Silence in 2014 and 2015, featuring actress Ruth Coughlin from Los Angeles, that first he and then Jackie Triplette facilitated. Also, he and his wife, Jan, were instrumental in bringing Julie Leary and Liz Miyamoto from Juneau to Bainbridge, Washington, to see how the Sakai Intermediate School integrated their Japanese community members WWII experiences into their curriculum. In this capacity, his leadership and commitment will be sorely missed.

But most of all, many of us on the committee have known Steve from childhood and will miss him on a very personal level for his ready smile, his kindness and his appreciation of the Juneau community that connected us all together with abiding warmth throughout our lives. We hope his wife, Jan, knows how much we mourn his loss and how he will always live on in our hearts and memories.



Greg Chaney on the Move Again

Anchorage Emtpy Chair Ad (973x1280)

The Empty Chair, a documentary created by filmmaker Greg Chaney, will be having a bit of an amazing run February 19th and 20th. The following four showings are in conjunction with the Day of Remembrance which honors the legacy of the 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in camps during World War II.

First there will be a showing in Anchorage, Alaska on February 19th sponsored by the Alaska Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Their flyer is quoted below:

The program will feature the acclaimed documentary film The Empty Chair, a story of Japanese and Japanese Americans living in Southeast Alaska prior to WWII, their internment during the war and return to Alaska, and the support they received from their Alaskan communities. The film features the Empty Chair Project undertaken by the community of Juneau, Alaska, to commemorate those of Japanese ancestry who were forced to leave Juneau when they were sent to internment camps, in particular, John Tanaka, who was to have been Juneau High School Class of 1942’s valedictorian, but was absent from the graduation ceremonies due to his internment. Speaking at the conclusion of the film will be filmmaker Greg Chaney and John’s sisters, Alice (Tanaka) Hikido and Mary (Tanaka) Abo who were interned at age 9 and 2 yeas old, respectively.

     Date: February 19, 2016

     Time: 7:00 PM

     Location:  Alaska Public Media News Room

                       3877 University Drive

                       Anchorage, Alaska

Then it will be shown at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival in Seattle, Washington on February 20th. Greg Chaney and Mary (Tanaka) Abo will also be attending this event.

     Date: February 20th

     Time: 12:00 noon…theater opens at 11:30

     Location:  Northwest Film Forum

                       1515 12th Avenue

                       Seattle, Washington

For further information go to the following link:

Next, it will be shown in San Francisco on February 20th by the Nichi Bei Foundation as part of their Films of Remembrance program.

     Date: February 20th

     Time: 4:30 p.m.

     Location: New People Cinema

                      1746 Post Street

                      San Francisco, California

Their link is at:

Also, on February 19th The Empty Chair will be shown at the new Valley Library in Juneau, Alaska.

     Date: February 19th

     Time: 5:30 p.m.

     Location: New Valley Library

                      Juneau, Alaska

A reception and discussion will follow the showing.

We are all so delighted that Greg’s documentary is reaching such a wide and diverse audience! Hope you’re able to attend one of these events if you’re in the neighborhood.

Minidoka Pilgrimage


2015 Minidoka Pilgrimage participants.

A contingent of past and present Alaskans arrived in Twin Falls, Idaho, on June 25th of this year to join fellow participants on an annual pilgrimage to the nearby Minidoka National Historic Site. We made this journey to ensure that the stories and memories of Alaskan internees would be shared and recorded for future generations. We also wished to honor the hardships those incarcerated had endured and to renew memories of those who had passed on.

Among the sagebrush and blowing dust of a desolate southern Idaho plain, the Minidoka internment site was established during World War II. After 70 years, there are fewer and fewer of the thousands of Japanese Americans removed from their homes during the war who are willing or even able to make a pilgrimage to this remote area. For many of us in the Alaskan group, this was the first time we had ever attended. However, Judy Geniac, the superintendent of this historical site, encouraged us to come because so little was known about those who were incarcerated from Alaska. She wanted our group to add to the storehouse of information located there. And so we came to share the stories of Alaskan internees.


Presenting for the Empty Chair Project were (left to right) Jeff Tanaka, Mary Tanaka Abo, Maya Abo Domingus, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Sam Kito, Harriet Miyasato Beleal and Margie Shackelford.

On the first full day of the pilgrimage several educational sessions were offered on different elements of the Japanese American incarceration. The Empty Chair Project was one of the presentations. On stage representing the group were Jeff Tanaka filming the event; Mary Tanaka Abo acting as moderator at the podium; Mary’s granddaughter Maya Abo Domingus handling the Power Point; and Alice Tanaka Hikido, Sam Kito, Harriet Miyasato Beleal and Margie Shackelford telling their respective stories. Mary, Alice, Sam, and Harriet reflected on personal memories of their family’s incarceration at Minidoka. Harriet’s daughter, Paulette Moreno, added to Harriet’s story with a photograph album detailing their family’s history and Margie spoke about the evolution of the Empty Chair Project, focusing on the myriad contributions of the Juneau community.

Flanking the presenters were banners featuring the development of the Empty Chair Project and the stories of some of the Juneau families who were incarcerated during WWII. There were eight family banners and they were all displayed at the pilgrimage. They will be available for viewing on our website following this article. These memories were written by members of each family and amplified by personal pictures. The banners will travel to various sites under the auspices of the National Park Service and then be returned to Juneau next February for use in schools, libraries and museums.

Gracing the podium were 1,000 cranes used during Empty Chair events. Additionally, introduced from the  audience were Karleen Grummett and Betty Marriott. Karleen informed the audience that the dedication booklet she created for the Empty Chair Memorial, which contains a history of the Juneau Japanese population during the war years, was available to those interested. Betty told the stories and explained the symbolism of the over 3,000 cranes that were made in Juneau and many distant locations for use during the dedication ceremony and other events surrounding the Empty Chair Project.

Introducing the session was one short film titled In the Same Boat (available on this website) featuring Alice Hikido telling the Tanaka family’s incarceration story. Another titled The Empty Chair Project was used to close out the session and featured Walter Fukuyama’s trip to Juneau for the dedication ceremony. It was developed by his grandson David Albright who accompanied him to Juneau. You can access David’s video at

Finally, Harriet Miyasato Beleal was the recipient of a special acknowledgement from the National Park Service. Harriet’s father, George Miyasato Sr., was evacuated from Wrangell and incarcerated at Santa Fe right after Pearl Harbor occurred. His son, George Miyasato Jr., was also evacuated from Wrangell at a later date but interned at Minidoka. Harriet and her mother were left in Wrangell alone. Harriet never saw the subsequent letter of apology from President Bush because her father had passed away before reparations were given. However, George Jr. did receive reparations and the letter of apology. Judy Geniac, the site superintendent, presented Harriet with her own framed copy of the apology as well as an official letter from Judy acknowledging Harriet’s family’s ruptured Japanese/Tlingit lives when she and her mother were left in Wrangell on their own.


The Alaska Contingent: Mary Abo, Alice Hikido, Sam Kito, Paulette Moreno, Betty Marriott, Harriet Beleal, Margie Shackelford, Karleen Grummett and Joe Abo.

On the second day we took buses to visit the remains of the Minidoka site and went on a guided tour put together by members of the National Park Service. Looking out the windows of the bus, we could see fields of potatoes, sugar beets and wheat stretching out to meet the distant horizon as we made our way to the site. One of the riders on the bus mused out loud, “It didn’t look this green when we were sent here!” Irrigation had come to the desert of south central Idaho in the ensuing years.


Sign marking the entrance to Minidoka.

It was very hot! Even though we were visiting during the morning hours, the organizers were worried about heat stroke, so water and shade were being offered in abundance. We wondered what it would have been like to live in the uninsulated barracks in the summer time without air conditioning, not to mention the cold Idaho winters. It wouldn’t have been a very hospitable environment.

The first structure to grab our attention was the reconstructed guard tower near the entrance. It was a somber reminder of all we had come to reflect upon.


Reconstructed guard tower at Minidoka.

Traveling further on down the road our bus first visited an original warehouse where we disembarked and were given an overview by Judy Geniac, the park superintendent, so we could orient ourselves to landmarks at the location. Today the historical site is much smaller than what it once was but contains several buildings which have been restored or rebuilt over the years. Among them are a fire station, warehouse, barrack and cafeteria. A visitor’s center and baseball diamond are in the works.


The original warehouse.


The National Park Service orienting us to Minidoka and also telling us to drink LOTS of water!

Alice was delighted to speak with a caring teacher who taught school at Minidoka during the incarceration although she was never in her class. Later, she did run into one of her former classmates!


Alice Tanaka Hikido chatting with a visitor during the pilgrimage who was a teacher at Minidoka.

Next we visited a barrack in the process of restoration. Each 400 sq. ft. room contained a bare light bulb, a stove and cots for each member of the family.


A barrack in the process of restoration on the left. On the right you can see a restored cafeteria.


This picture was taken inside the barrack being restored. Two families would live in this space. One between the red rope and the door and the other just beyond the door. In the area where we were standing to take the picture, the third family would live. No kitchen or bathroom facilities were provided. Those facilities were communal.

Then, we visited the cafeteria next door, still under reconstruction, the scene of all meals and gatherings for one block of barracks.


Inside the cafeteria which is also in the process of being restored.


Four friends visiting the cafeteria at Minidoka, happy to be together no matter what the circumstances. They are Marsha Bennett, Alice Hikido, Karleen Grummett and Margie Shackelford.


Joe, Margie and Mary outside the cafeteria.

Mary Tanaka Abo and Sam Kito were interviewed about their experiences as children at Minidoka while wandering the Minidoka site with Tom Banse from Northwest Public Radio. The link to an article titled “Passing On Legacies On Pilgrimage To World War II Internment Camp in Idaho” and a recording of portions of the interviews with Sam and Mary is at: .


An overview of the cafeteria and the barrack.


Those in our group who were bused to each site and were actually incarcerated at Minidoka. Alice is fourth from the left. Behind her in the blue t-shirt is the artist Roger Shimomura. I’m sorry I can’t identify any of the others. There were additional groups who did a walking tour.

One other location that captured our imaginations….the baseball field. It reminded us of the book Baseball Saved Us.


You can barely make out the outlines of the bases just beyond the sagebrush. There is an effort afoot to completely restore it and actually play games here!

The last and most impressive site was the Honor Roll Memorial honoring those from Minidoka who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. What a conflicting decision that must have been…incarcerated by your country yet deciding to fight for it.

Honor Roll Memorial

We thanked Judy for facilitating our visit to the Minidoka site and for being so instrumental in helping us spread the story of the Alaskan internees by inviting us to share their stories at this Minidoka Pilgrimage.


Karleen Grummett wearing her name tag accompanied by Judy Geniac, Superintendent of the Minidoka National Historic Site.

Upon our return to Twin Falls, we met in private discussion circles to reflect on our experiences. It was here that many people revealed their own personal stories, sometimes with tears or anger and sometimes even with laughter. Our group ran the gamut of emotions. However emotional, there was a shared comfort for many Japanese internees in just being together reflecting on a shared experience as well as conveying their experiences to children and grandchildren. For those of us who were not Japanese, it was simply the honor of sharing such a personally painful story with our friends.

The last day there was a closing ceremony at the memorial and participants hung their name tags, replicas of the tags worn by those incarcerated, after writing private messages on the back. As you can imagine, it was a very moving moment. However, there were many of those moments at the pilgrimage — moments when tears flowed, moments when you couldn’t speak, moments when a flash of anger or humiliation punctuated the conversation, moments when you felt grateful just to be there.

When asked about her impressions after the pilgrimage was over, Mary Abo responded, “It was good to be around the people who experienced the incarceration together. It’s a strange feeling. I’m also grateful that my daughter and two grandchildren could share my past, which is now part of theirs.”

Sam Kito said, “But you can’t rewrite history. You live history the way the cards are dealt to you and then make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Mary Abo’s nephew, Jeff Tanaka, put it most poetically in the piece he wrote below. (The phrase “nidoto nai yoni” means “Let it not happen again.”)

let it not happen

(for that which remains unresolved)

nidoto nai yoni

you incarcerate me.

would you do it again.

nidoto nai yoni

you take my culture.

would you do it again.

nidoto nai yoni

you kill my language.

is it still dead.

nidoto nai yoni

you break me from my god.

how will i return.

nidoto nai yoni

you speak for me.

will you ever learn.

nidoto nai yoni

i speak for myself.

nidoto nai yoni

Jeff’s additional observations, insights and pictures can be viewed at the following website: