John Hopper got a job teaching history at Granada High on the day before school started eleven years ago. His predecessor had quit unexpectedly, leaving behind her students, her classroom and a single piece of yellow paper taped to the desk outlining her courses: world history, government, geography, U.S. history and civics. Hopper, who was 27 at the time, had a double degree in history and psychology from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a master's degree in secondary education from Adams State College in Alamosa -- and almost no teaching experience.
"As a young man coming out of college, it was an eye-opener," he says. "I spent that first year just keeping my head above water and a lot of late nights trying to stay ahead of the kids."
But Hopper already knew a lot about Granada. A native of Las Animas, about 45 minutes west on U.S. Highway 50, he'd grown up hearing about the town and its particular secret.
In 1942, on an expanse of gritty farmland southwest of town, the federal government had built an internment camp to house thousands of Japanese-Americans forcibly removed from their homes in California. Officially known as the Granada Relocation Center, the facility was also called Camp Amache, after the daughter of a nineteenth-century Cheyenne Indian chief. Camp Amache was one of ten relocation centers established during World War II in the rugged interior West, designed to detain more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans -- about two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.
Hopper's mother had worked with a former Camp Amache resident who stayed in Colorado after the center closed. "She knew about it, and about him being in the camp -- a lot of people didn't -- and she would relay the stories," he says. "So I was always interested in it. But it was a freak of nature for me to actually teach in Granada."
Marijuana Deals Near You
One afternoon, during his third week at the school, Hopper drove up the road leading to what was left of the camp and looked around. He didn't see much. Abandoned in October 1945, Camp Amache had been razed, its 550 buildings carted off to other military locations, sold to business enterprises and school districts, or simply demolished; nearly five decades later, the land looked almost as it had before the camp was built, a giant sandy rise covered with yucca, sagebrush and weeds. The only signs that this site had once held a bustling community were the cement foundations of the barracks, a few plumbing fixtures and the wind-blown trees, Chinese elms and cottonwoods, that the camp's residents had planted to provide some refuge from Granada's blistering summers and blustery winters.
Here was a piece of American history, as real as Gettysburg or the Alamo, but located in the back yard of a tiny town on the plains, only a mile from his school, utterly unexplored and almost entirely forgotten. "I looked at some of the really bright kids in my class and decided I needed to do something new and something different, and that I should use this opportunity," Hopper remembers. "Other history teachers would be frothing at the mouth to have something like this."
The next school year, Hopper secured permission from Granada High's principal to research the history of Camp Amache as a class project. The first assignment for Hopper's students was to track down former detainees now living in California and Colorado (about 2,000 had remained in this state) to get their views on the camp.
"I interviewed some local people who gave us quite a bit of information about where to find them," Hopper says, "and we went from there, trying to find the people who lived there. That was going to be the hardest thing. It was tooth and nail, scratching up this stuff."
But their timing couldn't have been better. As Hopper and his students were dusting off Camp Amache's story, the rest of the country was just beginning to face this part of its past -- a terrible and embarrassing chapter that had been hidden, kept out of the history books and ignored for almost five decades.
Although Japanese-American civic groups had been pressuring the federal government since the 1970s to make amends, it wasn't until 1988 that President Ronald Reagan offered the first apology to detainees in the form of the Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledged "the fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry." This act created the Office of Redress Administration to reimburse detainees and their families for lost jobs and belongings, and to attempt to repay them for stolen freedom; over the ten years it was open, the office paid out $1.6 billion in $20,000 chunks to 82,219 people.
The payments attracted a lot of attention, and in 1989, California enacted a controversial resolution calling on its schools to share the findings of President Jimmy Carter's Commission on Wartime Relocation, released in 1983, which condemned the creation of the camps. In 1992, Congress established the Manzanar National Historic Site in California; Manzanar had been one of the country's ten relocation centers.
Over the next decade, a number of civic groups were organized to preserve the vestiges of the camps -- in addition to Manzanar and Camp Amache, eight more were scattered across Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming -- and to find ways to teach the public about their existence. Hopper and his students became part of this movement. Together with the Denver Central Optimist Club, which consists entirely of Japanese-Americans, and the Amache Historical Society, a California organization made up of former Camp Amache internees, they've worked to gather information about the camp and raise money to salvage its remains, which are threatened by time, weather and vandalism. Through their efforts, Camp Amache was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Recognition of the camps culminated in February 2000, when the U.S. Department of the Interior released Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese-American Relocation Sites, the result of a four-year study examining and cataloguing the "tangible remains currently left" at the Japanese-American internment sites. That same month, Vice President Al Gore announced that he would ask Congress for $4.8 million to help preserve the camps.
In January 2001, the Interior Department presented its Report to the President: Japanese-American Internment Sites Preservation, which included a recommendation that the National Park Service study Camp Amache and another relocation center, Tule Lake in California, and examine "the potential for partnerships between the agency and other interested parties, including federal, state and local entities."
The next month, Colorado Preservation Inc., a private nonprofit organization, named Camp Amache to its 2001 Most Endangered Places list. CPI has produced an annual list of the state's most endangered places since 1997; the designation is intended to help local preservation groups raise money and awareness.
Although Granada's residents had been relatively comfortable with Hopper's efforts, the state and national attention pried open a chapter of the town's history that had been closed decades earlier. It also stirred old resentments toward the federal government, which had condemned land in and around Granada to make room for the camp, displacing hundreds of people. The Town of Granada now owns several hundred acres where the heart of Camp Amache used to be, and its three drinking-water wells are located there, as are the town dump and a small fairground. Many locals, including Mayor Alan Pfeiffer, have no interest in relinquishing control of the site to anyone, let alone the federal government.
"I'm afraid if the National Park Service takes it over, they'll take it all over," Pfeiffer says. "They'll have these guys with little hats and badges come in, and we'd lose our access to the land and we'd lose our landfill. What the federal government wants, the federal government gets."
Pfeiffer doesn't believe Camp Amache is worth preserving. "I don't know much about the place, and I don't much care," he says. "Here's the best way to describe it: I had cousins who lived in New York, and I asked them once if they've been to the Statue of Liberty, and they said no. I asked them if they've been to Coney Island, and they said no. So I asked them why, and they said, 'Because we live here.' It's the same living in Granada. Anytime I want to, I can go see it. You see, I look at things not from the cultural standpoint, but from the commonsense one."
That standpoint makes a lot of people uncomfortable, including officials at CPI, which noted in a brochure describing 2001's endangered places that "Granada town leaders do not consider the site important. A portion along one side is used as the town dump, the memorial has been vandalized, and a horse pen was built."
"A lot of people were not real pleased that this site was getting a lot of attention. They don't like this period in history; they don't want to remember it," says Rachel Yank Simpson, who prepared that CPI list. "And there is a lot of resentment held over, even generations later. I think they are scared that the federal government is going to swoop down and take away their water -- they did that to the ranchers fifty years ago, swooped down and condemned their land -- and on the eastern plains, there is a lot of concern about 'federal' anything."
For Hopper, the national attention and CPI designation came as pleasant surprises. But he doesn't want to lose control of Camp Amache either; that's partly why he's working so hard to do his own restoration the right way.
"I'm sure there are people around here who are afraid that the federal government will take the land away," he says. "But that won't happen. That land up there is priceless for this city, and we can't lose it. I keep telling them if they play ball with the right people, they won't."
Lawrence McMillan was nine years old when the War Relocation Authority (WRA) told his family that they'd have to move out of their home. McMillan's father operated and maintained the irrigation equipment on the Koen Ranch, a sprawling sugar-beet operation, and like dozens of other men who worked for the American Crystal Sugar Company, which owned the ranch, he lived right on the property.
On February 19, 1942, two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the military to remove Japanese immigrants and anyone of Japanese descent, including citizens born in this country, from coastal areas in California, Oregon and Washington, as well as from parts of Arizona.
Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 declared: "I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such a place and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion."
A few weeks later Roosevelt created a new agency, the WRA, to carry out this order and build internment camps as far from major cities as possible.
Granada was one of those places.
"It's probably as far away from anywhere as they could get," McMillan says. Set amid the rolling hills of southeastern Colorado's desert prairie, Granada is bordered by the Arkansas River, the railroad tracks and hundreds of square miles of sagebrush and yucca plants. About halfway between the town of Lamar and the Kansas border, the settlement thrived in the 1800s and early 1900s because of its proximity to the Santa Fe Trail and its importance as the end of the line for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Today it's just a flash of color along highway 50.
In the early 1940s, though, Granada was one of several Colorado towns linked in a sugar-beet farming network that included Bristol, Hartman and Holly (named for the sugar company, and the birthplace of former Governor Roy Romer). Trains loaded with sugar beets, as well as melons, alfalfa and wheat, left Granada every day during the harvest season. These same trains would later carry more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans into town.
In the spring of 1942, the WRA announced that it was condemning 10,500 acres around Granada, including the Koen Ranch, another sugar-beet plantation called the XY Ranch and sixteen smaller farms -- all land needed for Camp Amache. Some of the property owners tried to fight the condemnation in court; they lost. Although the owners were paid market value for their land, they were forced to leave farms that some had lived on for generations.
Their employees simply had to get out.
"The sugar company got paid," says McMillan, now 67. "We didn't. Fifty families lived on Koen Ranch. They moved us all out. In that way, we were kind of in the same predicament as the Japanese people were. There wasn't any place to live. We moved from a modern house with running water to one without."
The condemnation came only a few years after the end of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era that devastated farming communities throughout the Great Plains. Even so, McMillan says his friends and neighbors understood they had a duty to do what their country asked of them.
"Hell, you took it in stride," he says. "It was during the war."
McMillan's aunt, Bessie Tuck, also lived on the Koen Ranch, where her father raised sheep for the sugar company. She remembers things a little differently. After the families were kicked off, there was a lot of resentment, she says. "I think anyone would resent that."
Hopper hasn't had much luck getting in touch with people forced to sell their land. "They won't even talk about it," he says. "You can't blame them. A lot of them spent a lot of money in court to keep their land, and they still lost it. Then, after the camp was closed, the land was sold to the highest bidder. These are very patriotic people, and this is a very sore spot in our community."
The people who had to find new homes also had to find new jobs. Many of them went to work for the WRA, helping to build the camp. Construction began on June 12, 1942, with a crew of more than 1,000 workers. The $4.2 million project provided much-needed employment for men who weren't fighting in the war.
"This was a busy place when they started building," McMillan remembers. "It was a regular carnival around here, and they paid good wages." He has a pay stub from August 12, 1942, tacked to the wall of the barbershop he's owned for forty years. ("It's just called the Granada Barbershop, I guess," he says.) The pay stub was brought in by someone who had worked at Camp Amache; the job paid 62-and-a-half cents an hour.
Guarded by armed military police, the first trainload of detainees from assembly centers in Merced and Santa Anita, California, arrived at the depot on August 27, 1942. Hundreds of people from as far away as Pueblo and Colorado Springs came to Granada to watch. "It was quite a day," McMillan remembers. "We had never seen no Japanese people before."
By October, there were 7,318 people living at Camp Amache. Although it was the smallest of the country's relocation centers, it instantly became the tenth largest city in Colorado. More than 10,000 people would live at the camp over the three years it was open; 120 would die there.
The main section of the camp included 29 residential blocks, each with twelve 20-by-120-foot barracks, a laundry, bath and latrine building, and a mess hall.
Thomas Shigekuni's father mopped the mess hall in Block 12-G every night. "My father also made rice for his block, a hundred pounds a week," he says. Shigekuni, now a probate lawyer living in Torrance, California, who's on the board of the Amache Historical Society, was twelve years old when he, his two older brothers and his parents were moved from their home in the Los Angeles suburbs to Camp Amache. "Before, my parents had a wholesale and retail nursery business," he remembers. "All that disappeared overnight."
Although the detainees had to leave their jobs and businesses behind, they brought their skills with them, and Camp Amache soon boasted two silk-screening shops, a barbershop, a shoe-repair place, a newspaper and a dry goods store, as well as five churches and facilities for the Red Cross, the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. There was a state-of-the-art hospital, a large recreation center and a high school, which the detainees paid for themselves and which was the most expensive building ever constructed in Granada.
In many ways, Camp Amache was like any other town -- except that it was entirely surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and guarded by military police in six watchtowers.
The WRA made good use of the fields, ditches, buildings and pens already in place on the land. The detainees grew alfalfa, corn, onions, potatoes, grain, sorghum and table vegetables; they also raised hogs, chickens and cattle. Many had been farmers before their relocation, and they were able to coax celery, head lettuce, lima beans and other crops out of dry, sandy soil that the locals had thought would never support such plants.
Camp Amache residents were allowed to leave the compound to attend college and work at nearby jobs, but in order to get clearance, they had to fill out a loyalty questionnaire. The questions -- administered under oath -- included: Will you stay away from large groups of Japanese? Will you try to develop such American habits which will cause you to be accepted readily into American social groups? Are you willing to provide information on any subversive activity?
They were also allowed to shop outside of the camp, and they made full use of everything Granada had to offer. "The business owners here loved the Japanese, loved them to death," Hopper says. A lot of local merchants who had been struggling since the Depression thrived selling to the Japanese. "They pretty much saved them," Hopper adds.
But the Japanese were enterprising, too. They had fresh fish shipped in by rail every day, along with ice cream from Garden City, Kansas, and sake sent (illegally) from Portland, Oregon. "They had any kind of fish you wanted," Bessie Tuck remembers. She also recalls a Japanese "tea house," one with a bit of a shady reputation. "We didn't ever go in there," she says. "It was a funny place."
Leaving the camp had its hazards. Shigekuni recalls taking a trip to Lamar, about fifteen miles east of Granada. When he tried to board a return bus, the driver said, "Not you, you dirty Jap," and closed the door. "Those things I remember, and they seared in my memory," he says.
On December 17, 1944, Executive Order 9066 was repealed, and the detainees were allowed to return home. But because anti-Japanese feelings were still rampant and also because most of Camp Amache's residents no longer had homes to go back to, the entire camp stayed put. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered, ending the war. The military police pulled out of Camp Amache a few weeks later, but still many of the residents remained. Finally, on October 15, the last of the internees left on a train for Sacramento. The camp was officially closed on January 27, 1946.
"When they turned us loose, they gave us a train ticket, $25 apiece, and told us to start a new life," Shigekuni recalls. Since his family didn't have anything left in Los Angeles, they moved to a suburb of San Francisco, where Shigekuni's parents got jobs as domestic servants. "I was a servant for that summer, too, but I didn't like my role as an assistant to a domestic servant," he says, "so I told my parents that I was leaving." Shigekuni went on to graduate from the University of Southern California's law school in the early 1960s.
Of the 2,000 detainees who stayed in Colorado, many moved to Denver. (The Granada Fish Market, which operated for decades in downtown's Sakura Square, was started by former Camp Amache detainee Frank Torizawa.) A few opened businesses in Granada or took up farming nearby. McMillan remained friends with some of the camp's former residents, including one fellow who moved to Holly. "They were good people," he says. "No doubt about it." Tuck also kept in touch with some of the friends she'd made. "We still hear from them sometimes," she says. "They live in California now."
The Town of Granada bought the land where most of the camp's buildings had stood, about 600 acres, for $2,500, and converted the drinking-water wells that the internees had dug to its own use. The sewage-treatment area was turned into the town dump. The rest of the land was sold by the government, and most of it returned to farms and ranches.
Over the next couple of decades, kids turned the old camp into a hangout. On weekends they'd climb the hill and shoot rabbits, drink beer, dance, make out and sleep under the stars. In the late '60s, the Vista Nueva complex, which provided housing for migrant workers, was built where the hospital had been.
Otherwise, sagebrush, yucca and weeds reclaimed the sandhill, growing up and around the cement foundations, and sand swept over the remains of gardens and footpaths, forgotten children's toys and broken silverware, bitter memories and heartbreak.
In 1983, members of the Denver Central Optimist Club decided they wanted to erect a memorial to the 31 men who'd left Camp Amache to fight and die for the United States during the war. "At that time we were getting older, and we felt like we should honor the people who went out of the camp and got killed in Europe," says Jim Hada, who has been president of the club for nine years. "It's really important to Japanese people that you recognize the dead and not forget them."
Since the town owns the land where the Optimist Club wanted to erect the memorial, Hada and Sus Hidaka, another club member who has since died, went before the Granada Town Council for ask permission to build it. At that meeting, they got into a heated argument with councilmembers over the wording of the proposed memorial.
Hada and Hidaka wanted the following inscription:
"This was the site of a mile-square camp built by the U.S. Government for the detention of 10,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, mostly Americans, who were forcibly brought to Amache in 1942 from California by armed U.S. troops. The camp was surrounded by barbed-wire fences with guard towers manned by armed troops with searchlights, and detainees were treated as prisoners of the U.S. Not one of the persons detained for up to three and a half years was charged with a crime or even with doing anything that might be harmful to the national security.
"In 1983, the U.S. Government Commission of Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians found that there was no military necessity for the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II and called their uprooting 'a grave injustice' fueled by war hysteria and racism.
"Despite the grave injustice, hundreds of young men volunteered from Amache for combat with the 442nd Infantry Regiment, and 31 were killed in action while their parents were still confined here.
"Camps such as Amache were officially referred to as war relocation centers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, five years before he authorized the creation of Amache, referred to such camps as concentration camps in a secret memo he sent to the chief of naval operations. The inmates referred to the camp as a jail, a stockade, a concentration camp, and even a prisoner-of-war camp. If Amache was resurrected today and you were suddenly rounded up by armed soldiers and confined here for no other reason than your ethnicity, what would you call Amache?"
Hada remembers that town council meeting well. "They objected to the wording calling it a 'concentration camp,'" he says. "They also objected to the idea that they were incarcerated involuntarily."
"This wasn't a concentration camp," says McMillan, who in 1983 was in his first term as mayor of Granada (he'd been on the town council for twenty years before that). "The Optimist Club wanted to put 'concentration camp' on it. We wouldn't go along with that. There was a big row over that."
After several months during which nobody would budge, the two sides eventually compromised on the following: "Amache Remembered: Dedicated to the 31 patriotic Japanese-Americans who volunteered from Amache and dutifully gave their lives in World War II, to the approximately 7,000 persons who were relocated at Amache and to the 120 who died during this period of relocation."
The monument was erected between what had been the camp cemetery and another memorial, installed by the internees around the time they left the camp. That marker, a large granite block encased in a small block house, is inscribed entirely in Japanese and commemorates the suffering of the internees.
But the camp wasn't all bad, McMillan insists. "When we were kids, we'd go up there to see movies because we didn't have anyplace to see movies in town," he remembers. "They had stuff up at that commissary that you couldn't buy at my aunt's grocery store."
"Some of the old people said they should have just moved Granada up there," Mayor Pfeiffer adds. "There was a post office and a hospital and a fire station and a high school that was nicer than the one in town."
Hopper laughs at these notions. "Yeah, it was the Granada Hilton," he says. "Some of the people say, 'They had it good up there.' Well, it depends on what you think 'good' is. If good is losing everything you have to come live on a sandhill surrounded by barbed wire, then, yes, they had it good. If being completely isolated, eating strange food that makes you sick is good, then, yes, they had it good. If being taken from the green valleys of California and being stuck up there is good, then, yes, they had it good."
A clean hospital didn't make up for lost dignity and lost careers, he points out. The freedom to shop didn't make up for being crammed into overcrowded barracks. And a movie theater didn't make up for having to sign loyalty agreements and watching those who refused to sign get shipped off to Tule Lake, the relocation camp specifically reserved for detainees the government deemed "disloyal." (One hundred twenty-five "disloyals" from Camp Amache were sent to Tule Lake.)
"Those people lost everything," Hopper continues. "People around here don't realize what they lost. People say to me, 'You gotta understand the times, son.' And I say, 'Do we understand the times now?' The old attitudes will be here until they die. What I'm doing is changing the attitudes of these kids."
But Hopper has learned to hold his tongue around people with the old attitudes. "I meet them halfway," he says.
So instead of using the term "concentration camp," he uses "relocation camp." And, although his students have received plaques and awards from groups like the Denver Central Optimist Club supporting their work, since some of these honors refer to Camp Amache as a "concentration camp," Hopper has hung them on the back wall of a little building at school where he stores all of his research and records. "People out here don't want it to sound like it was a German concentration camp," he says. "But I've looked up the definition of a concentration camp." And that definition is: "a camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined."
Concentration camp "is what my students call it when no one is around," Hopper adds.
And that's what they call it when they go on the road with their old photographs and stories of Camp Amache to give presentations at high schools, colleges and other locations around the state.
Over the last decade, Hopper and his students have assembled a vast collection of information about Camp Amache. They have a list -- in English and in Japanese -- of everyone who spent time at the camp and in which block they lived; hundreds of photographs, donated by former residents and their families; and file cabinets full of correspondence, memorabilia, newspapers and recorded interviews with Camp Amache detainees and employees. There's the Kathy Odum Collection, which includes internee high-school student publications and a taped interview with Odum, who taught at the camp, and the Ernest Tigges Collection, which consists of personnel records collected by Tigges, the camp's farm superintendent, and an index of all staff and internees.
Hopper's students have also copied related materials owned by universities, libraries and other organizations, including the Auraria library, Colorado College's Tutt Library, the Colorado Historical Society, the Denver Public Library, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Northern Colorado.
In 1997, the class received a $2,500 grant from the Colorado Council on the Arts and formed the nonprofit Amache Preservation Society, which is made up entirely of students. That same year, they completed a wooden scale model of the camp. The next year, they helped to organize a gigantic reunion of former internees and their families, during which more than 500 people visited Camp Amache. "It was quite the sight in Granada," Hopper remembers.
The students publish a Camp Amache newsletter and brochures, sell T-shirts and hats, maintain a Web site and continue to explore the old camp. One of their most significant finds was the remains of a traditional Japanese water garden near one of the barracks. The garden was shaped like a figure eight and included two islands, an arched bridge and water lilies and other plants ordered through the Sears Roebuck catalogue. The man who built it had also installed a sophisticated drainage pipe, says Hopper, who spoke with the man's daughter.
At the bottom of the pond, the students found six or seven marbles. When Hopper asked the daughter about them, she said many of the children who lived in the camp hid their marbles because they were afraid they'd be confiscated.
The students' most controversial project involved the seventy or so wooden informational signs they installed around the site. Hopper wanted the wording to reflect the reality of life at Camp Amache; once again, town leaders disputed the semantics. Now the Amache Historical Society plans to "beef up the signs," Hopper says, paying for aluminum replacements that won't weather as quickly. "The descriptions will be more on the harsher side," he adds. "And since they're funding it, and since they were the ones who lived there, they have every right to change them."
"I wanted some real descriptions of what happened," Shigekuni explains. "But some of the residents don't want to hear that kind of thing. The people of Granada have a unique opportunity to bring people -- tourists -- to their town, but they don't understand that, and they are bickering about what it should be called. They should be thinking about the town. Numerous towns would like to have something like that. Someday, maybe their eyes will open."
Hopper's students also maintain the camp's cemetery. Over the past few years, they've installed benches, laid sod and planted about 200 trees -- blue spruce, piñon pine, Russian olive, cottonwood and crab apple. The cemetery, which originally held more than 120 graves, has only thirteen now, all of children; the other bodies were reinterred elsewhere. To protect the little area from vandalism and from cattle that graze nearby, the students encircled it with a chain-link fence surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.
Keeping the trees and the grass alive has been a major challenge, however, so the Denver Central Optimist Club, which paid for much of the beautification project, raised another $20,000 to run a water line from the city's system out to the cemetery, where a sprinkler system should be in place by the end of this year. Since Camp Amache is on the National Register of Historic Places, the club also subsidized a $1,500 study by Cuartelejo Historic Preservation Associates, an archaeological firm out of Las Animas, which was required by the federal government in order to determine where pipe could be laid without damaging any artifacts or any of the historical records that might remain on the site.
"We've accumulated money by garage sales and fundraising, we sponsored country-and-Western shows, and we begged different clubs and people," Hada says. Part of an international organization whose mission is to support youth, his club has about forty members; since 1983 they've made a pilgrimage to Camp Amache every year around Memorial Day. "It's a long way to drive," he adds. "But what we are doing has a lot of national significance, because no other camp is doing the work that we are doing. The club, to their credit, has taken on a big, big job.
"Our ultimate goal is to put a park out there for people to sit there and have lunch and think about whatever they want. In five or six years, after the trees grow up, it will look nice. We couldn't have done it without the school helping. I'm 76, and I'm the youngest one in the club. Without those kids, it wouldn't have happened."
Nor would it have happened without the cooperation of the city. Although the Optimist Club and the town council got off to a bad start in 1983, they've managed to work together since then.
"The townspeople in Granada are really, really common people, and it's a real pleasure to deal with people like that," Hada says. "They're honest and forthright, and they don't play games with you. Mayor Pfeiffer has always been really cooperative with us. He's well educated, but he's a hardhead. He don't stand for no foolishness. But he's relented somewhat, because he knows that if we put a park there it would mean tourist revenue for the city. And he's been very cooperative with us, because we don't ruffle his feathers."
"Tourism is fine," says Pfeiffer. "But why would anyone come here?"
Pfeiffer, now in his second term as mayor, wasn't born in Granada, but he's spent most of his life here. He owns the town's only liquor store -- one of only half a dozen businesses, including McMillan's barbershop, on the main street -- and lives in the house he built behind it. Many of his customers are migrant workers or immigrants from Mexico who pick onions and melons on the farms nearby; Pfeiffer speaks passable Spanish when it comes to selling bottles and cans, six-packs and twelve-packs. But since he doesn't see much business some days, he mostly sits in a giant room behind the store watching an enormous Magnavox television and making phone calls on town concerns.
Like Hopper, Pfeiffer studied history in college and went on to teach it, although not in Granada. "One of the rules is that you never teach in your own town," he says. Unlike Hopper, Pfeiffer has no interest in Camp Amache's history. "If somebody wants help up there, I'll help, but I have other priorities," he says. "I minored in history at the University of Southern Colorado, and I never once read about the Jap camp. The people in town, a lot of them call it 'the Jap camp.' Some maps still call the road that goes out there 'Jap Camp Road.'"
Pfeiffer was born in 1948, three years after the war ended. "My dad was in Pearl Harbor when it got hit," he says. "So he didn't have a good taste for the Japanese up to the day he died."
Although Pfeiffer makes a point of saying he hasn't been to Camp Amache since he was a teenager, he can describe the way it looks now and knows every detail about the water line and the plans to turn the cemetery into a park. "If they want to work toward it, that's fine, let's do it," he says. "But I'm going to play the devil's advocate. When you do a project, you've got to make sure everything's covered."
The Optimist Club's plans don't bother him. What concerns Pfeiffer is the prospect of the state or federal government getting involved in any aspect of Camp Amache. "What a lot of people fear is that the government would take it over and restrict it," he says. "That's why John [Hopper] and the others are working to make it into a shrine, or whatever you want to call it, themselves. I commend him on what he's done. What they are doing is appeasing the federal government."
Rachel Yank Simpson, who has since left CPI for the Colorado Historical Society, won't say how she first heard about Camp Amache's endangered state.
"We have sixty volunteers around the state, and they are our ears on the ground; they give us suggestions for nominations and leads in local communities," she says. "We don't reveal the source of each nomination directly, though, because that could get that person in trouble either professionally or within their community."
But it was probably the cows.
In his 2000 water-line study, Rich Carrillo, who runs Cuartelejo Historic Preservation Associates, noted that cattle posed a threat to the cemetery and possibly to other archaeological remains on the site. The Town of Granada leases the land to a rancher.
"One of the things I noticed was the little Oriental garden," Carrillo says, referring to the water garden that Hopper and his students had excavated. "It's already in bad condition, and if they've got cattle in there, well, that could damage it."
Since Carrillo is also on CPI's board of directors, it's likely that this information found its way into the hands of Simpson and also the Colorado Historical Society, which monitors sites on the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.
In an e-mail that's included in Report to the President: Japanese-American Internment Sites Preservation, Simpson wrote: "Colorado Preservation Inc. recently became deeply involved with preserving Camp Amache when it was nominated to our annual List of Colorado's Most Endangered Places...This designation means that CPI will act as the lead organization from a private, statewide perspective and provide the local preservation leaders with one year of intensive technical assistance and publicity throughout the Colorado preservation community."
That CPI had become the "lead organization" in the project comes as a surprise to Hopper, since no one in Granada has heard from CPI since it released its endangered-places list back in February.
But the Optimist Club plans to take advantage of CPI's offer. "We are going to try to get some grant money to help us with the work we are doing down there because we've reached the limit of our resources," Hada says.
His club had better work quickly, however. Although CPI will always help a place that has been named to its most endangered list, Simpson says, "the current year's listed sites receive the bulk of the attention." And that next list is due out in early February 2002.
The federal effort to restore Camp Amache and other relocation centers may have run its course as well. The $4.8 million that Al Gore promised grew to $5.1 million, but the entire amount is going to build a visitors' center at the Manzanar National Historic Site. And the special study that was supposed to focus on partnerships between the National Park Service and either Camp Amache or Tule Lake lost its momentum when Minidoka, a relocation center in Idaho, became a national monument earlier this year.
"Looking at these internment camps is something we are doing in a very broad way," says Warren Brown, who heads the Park Service's Office of Park Planning and Special Studies. In fact, it is part of a larger federal program called "World War II on the Home Front" that is analyzing a variety of war-related sites in the U.S.; the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park, now located at a former shipyard and factory complex in Richmond, California, is another place that falls under the program.
"Eventually we'll get around to looking back at Granada," Brown says. But since the park service now has two internment-camp units, he adds, a partnership with Camp Amache is "unlikely."
Perhaps the only real chance for federal funding rests with Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who attended CPI's annual conference last winter when the 2001 Most Endangered Places list was announced; since then, he's spoken with both Hopper and Hada about Camp Amache. But while Patricia Holcomb, Simpson's replacement at CPI, says Campbell's office asked her to work on a report documenting local support for the camp preservation effort, the senator's spokeswoman downplays his involvement in securing financial support from Congress. "I'm not aware of any funding requests right now," she says. "However, I know there has been some discussion on the matter, and it is one of the things that is being talked about."
All of which means that the future of Camp Amache probably lies with the people most dedicated to preserving its past: John Hopper, his students and the Denver Central Optimist Club.
And that's just the way Hopper likes it. "If you get the feds involved, the Optimist Club is out, I'm out and the kids are out," he says. "We want the money, sure, but let us run it."
Someday, Hopper would like to see a visitors' center at the camp's front entrance; he'd also like to buy a couple of the original barracks that were used by the internees. A man who lives in Stonington, about sixty miles south of Granada, has at least two of the barracks, and although he's offered them to Hopper for free, it would cost about $5,000 to move them. "That's all you would want, I think," Hopper says. "That's about all we need to do now."
Before Hopper became a teacher at Granada High, he worked as a roofer. Those skills came in handy as he and his students spent countless hours this past spring and summer designing, building and painting a new roof for the little block house at the Camp Amache cemetery -- the one that covers the 1945 memorial to the former internees.
And it's not just any roof. "It's in the Shinto, or pagoda, style," Hopper says. "It's got the sway-style roof to it."
"We could have put a straight roof on it, but we wanted something with a little pizzazz," adds Hada, whose Optimist Club chose the design and color, red. "It's a traditional Japanese color."
During the school year, the students will lay cement for a pathway leading from the dirt parking lot into the cemetery; they'll also redesign their Web site, continue work on a journal of Amache recollections that they hope to get published and replant trees. "All of a sudden, I find myself plowing fields, planting trees, building roofs," Hopper says. "They got lucky that I know how to do some of it."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But Hopper recognizes that he got lucky, too. "You look across the United States, and this history has been hidden, in a sense," he says. "It's only in the last decade that we've really focused back on it. Even when the Japanese got their reparations, it wasn't that big a deal. Now it's a different story. All ten camps are trying to do something. I kind of fell into it at the right time. If this had been 25 years ago, I don't think much would have come of it. There wasn't that political sense of righteousness. I guess I won the lottery when I got hired."
And he just keeps winning.
When his students tore off the block house's dilapidated original roof, they found several enormous fossilized trilobites hidden underneath. "We don't know who built this, but whoever it was must have thought they were valuable and stuck them up there," Hopper says. "Maybe they thought somebody would come back and come across them someday. Some of us would say, 'Oh, another fossil,' and flip it to the side. But in the many years that I've dealt with the Japanese and Japanese-Americans, I've learned that they value a lot of things.
"They're very thorough, and they understand the importance of history. This place never stops surprising me."