Hank Umemoto will discuss and sign copies of his autobiography, “Manzanar to Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker” (Heyday Books), Friday to Sunday, Dec. 21-23 and 28-30, at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Manzanar National Historic Site.
In 1942, Umemoto, then 14 years old, gazed out a barrack window at Manzanar, saw the silhouette of Mount Whitney against an indigo sky, and vowed that one day he would climb to the top. Fifty-seven years and a lifetime of stories later, at the age of 71, he reached the summit.
Part memoir and part hiker’s diary, “Manzanar to Mount Whitney” gives and intimate, rollicking account of Japanese American life California before and after World War II. As he wanders through the mountains of the Inland Empire, Umemoto recalls pieces of his childhood on a grape vineyard in the Sacramento Valley, his time at Manzanar, where beauty and hope were maintained despite the odds, and his later career as proprietor of a printing firm — all with grace, honesty, and unfailing humor.
And all along, the peak of Mount Whitney casts its shadow, a symbol of freedom, beauty, and resilience.
Umemoto was born in 1928 to immigrant grape farmers in Florin, a rural community near Sacramento. After his release from camp, he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent the first three and a half years living on Skid Row. After finishing high school, he worked to support himself and his mother while attending Los Angeles City College.
During the Korean War, he served overseas in the Army with the 38th Military Intelligence Service. After his discharge, he attended Cal State Los Angeles using funds from the GI Bill, then married, raised a family, and worked in a variety of trades and businesses.
His jobs included gardener, owner of a jewelry store, owner of a mail-order business, and insurance agent with Cal Western Life. He eventually started a print shop and remained in the printing business for 32 years, until his retirement in his mid-70s. He now writes for enjoyment and regularly volunteers at Manzanar National Historic Site.
Manzanar is located on the west side of U.S. Highway 395, nine miles north of Lone Pine and six miles south of Independence. The 814-acre site is open every day from dawn to dusk. The Interpretive Center is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will be closed on Dec. 25.