I like Ben a lot. I met him seven or eight years ago at work. I admit Ben seemed old to me then. Since then I've gotten older, but to me, Ben seems if anything younger now. The thing that keeps Ben young is the reason I like him: he cares. He cares about the things that matter, but he doesn't seem to worry about things that don't matter. Do you know what Ben's job is? He's in charge of the Help Desk, which some days must seem like the "Complaint Department". If any department needs a person like Ben, it's this one.
When Ben was a boy, he lived at Hart Mountain, Wyoming, which is 13 miles northeast of Cody. Actually, Ben corrected me, it is "Heart". He continued,
"The geological feature, called Heart Mountain, was named after an early explorer, whose name was Hart, but over the years it became Heart. So Heart it shall remain, I guess. There is a bronze statue to the stalwart Mr. Hart at the entrance to the Billings, Montana airport. Why it is there, I never learned.
"Heart Mountain is the core of an extinct volcano, whose outer cone has long ago worn away, leaving only the inner 'plug' of basaltic rock which is more resistant to weathering. I climbed to the top twice during my tenure there. The first time was with the local Boy Scout troupe. We drove up near the base of the mountain and made camp for the night to prepare for our assault upon the summit the following day. My Dad gave me a big flashlight and instructed me to signal him at such-and-such an hour after dark. He would respond to my signal by switching off and on the yard light on the end of barracks building we lived in. I also had a pair of binoculars.
"Dad said that if he did not get my signal, he would assume something was wrong and would initiate a 'rescue' party at once.
"As the appointed hour approached, I made for a piece of high ground near our camp where I had a good view of the valley below. Scanning the valley with my binox, I wasn't sure I could see our house (there were more lights down there than I thought there would be). I didn't know how I could see Dad's return signal. And if I didn't see his return signal, I could assume maybe he didn't see my signal and carry through on his threat.
"Anyhow, I began slowly flashing a signal at the stroke of the hour and feverishly scanning the valley below for a reply. Much to my amazement, I saw his return signal, so, after a bit of this wig-wagging, and much relieved, I went back to camp and crawled into my sleeping bag for the night."
During Ben's time at Heart Mountain he learned the Japanese Americans had been rounded up, mostly from California, and sent there. (The Germans weren't the only ones who maintained concentration camps during World War II.) The facilities where Ben lived at Heart Mountain were the same ones where the Japanese were kept prisoner. This gave Ben a deep understanding of the hardship faced by the Japanese. It's snowy, windy, and bitter cold in the winter. Ben asked me if I could find some information on the Internet about Heart Mountain. A good search argument is "Heart and Mountain and Japanese." Here's what I came up with:
http://www.resisters.com/: The on-line news center and study guide for a forthcoming television documentary.
http://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/classroom/hm/index.htm: A study guide for grades 7-12 to help students "Evaluate the internment of Japanese American during the war and assess the implication for civil liberties." It includes original documents, including a Letter from Kenneth Kellar, Attorney at Law, to Nels Smith, Governor of Wyoming, March 4, 1942 urging the governor to lock up the Japanese even though many of them are citizens because they should have never been given citizenship in the first place, and because the Americans in Japan are no doubt getting worse treatment.
One of the best resources for photos is http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/CalHeritage/. Here are some tips for using it:
There are a lot -- thousands -- of great pictures that illustrate our history -- this is a terrific resource!
One very extensive (but somewhat out-of-date) resource is http://www.oz.net/~cyu/internment/main.html, which begins with these quotes:
...May it serve as a constant reminder of our past so that Americans in the future will never again be denied their constitutional rights and may the remembrance of that experience serve to advance the evolution of the human spirit...
- Plaque at the Poston Relocation Center
How could such a tragedy have occurred in a democratic society that prides itself on individual rights and freedoms?... I have brooded about this whole episode on and off for the past three decades...
- Milton S. Eisenhower, in The President Is Calling
In the entire course of the war, 10 people were convicted of spying for Japan, all of whom were Caucasian.
Thank you, Ben, for reminding me how it's possible for us to get so caught up in our troubles (like World War II in the 1940's, and like our high crime rate today) that we forget why we even have a Constitution of the United States of America. Let's learn from this lesson to never again trample on the civil liberties of American citizens.