“Witness: The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” a documentary by KABC anchor/reporter David Ono, will air Sunday, June 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Channel 7.
Ono, who previously produced documentaries about the Nisei soldiers of World War II, traveled to the internment camp site just outside of Cody, Wyo., to get a sense of what life was like for the Japanese American detainees.
“It’s a stunning place,” he commented. “The land is rugged. The weather is brutal. But the mountain is a stunning and beautiful backdrop to what happened there …
“There is now a museum and interpretive center where the camp once stood. It’s a wonderful facility. It’s there because of a woman named Shirley Higuchi. Her mother was an inmate at the camp and dreamed of building a place that kept the memory of the camp alive. After her mother passed, Shirley took it upon herself to fulfill her mother’s dream.”
As most of the Heart Mountain internees were from Southern California, Ono found many people in Los Angeles with ties to the camp, including Judge Lance Ito, best known for the O.J. Simpson trial. His late father, James, served as assistant superintendent of agriculture at the camp and later taught agriculture in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I talk about the remarkable triumph and tragedy his family experienced as a result of this very difficult time in history,” Ono said. “It’s a story very few people know about.”
Ono tells the story of the Kito family, owners of Fugetsu-do, the 110-year-old manju shop in Little Tokyo.
“They even found a way to make mochi in camp, giving families a very much appreciated taste of home,” Ono said.
Another interviewee is The Rafu Shimpo’s own George Yoshinaga, writer of the “Horse’s Mouth” column.
Patti Hirahara’s photo collection is also featured. “Patti’s father and grandfather had a secret darkroom under their barracks,” Ono explained. “In the years they were imprisoned there, they took thousands of photos of camp life. Some of the people in those photos I got together with at JANM (Japanese American National Museum), where they shared their memories with me.”
Hirahara is still in the process of identifying all of the families in the photos.
UPDATE: For those who missed it (or want to see it again), the special can be viewed online at http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video. It is divided into four parts.
— J.K. YAMAMOTO