Poston, Arizona, during WWII

Today, Poston is a small agricultural community in the middle of the Colorado River Indian Reservation in western Arizona. On the south edge of town stands a tall monument to the people of Japanese ethnicity interned in the Poston Camps during WWII. Three camps were built on the reservation over the objections of the Tribal Council; at their peak, over 17,000 people were interned for no reason other than they or their ancestors had come from Japan.

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Plaque on the Memorial:

“This memorial is dedicated to all those men, women and children who suffered countless hardships and indignities at the hands of a nation misguided by wartime hysteria, racial prejudice and fear. 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.

This memorial monument is erected in cooperation with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, former internees of Poston, Veterans and Friends of the Fiftieth year observance of the evacuation and internment.

October 6, 1992″

Desert at Poston in 2020
1942 contruction of the Camp (National Archives, Fred Clark photographer)
June 1, 1942, from the top of the water tower looking southwest (National Archives, Fred Clark)
Opening day at the Community Store, 1942 (National Archives, Fred Clark)
September, 1945 (National Archives , Hikaru Iwasaki photographer)

One of the most haunting photos; Left to right: George, son of Hisa and Yasubei Hirano with a photograph of their other son, Shigera, who had enlisted October 22, 1941. (National Archives, unknown photographer).

George Hirano was among the 611 internees who enlisted from the camps. Twenty-four internees from Poston Camp lost their lives fighting for the U.S. in WWII.

THAT DAMNED FENCE

(anonymous poem circulated at the Poston Camp)

They’ve sunk the posts deep into the ground
They’ve strung out wires all the way around.
With machine gun nests just over there,
And sentries and soldiers everywhere.

We’re trapped like rats in a wired cage,
To fret and fume with impotent rage;
Yonder whispers the lure of the night,
But that DAMNED FENCE assails our sight.

We seek the softness of the midnight air,
But that DAMNED FENCE in the floodlight glare
Awakens unrest in our nocturnal quest,
And mockingly laughs with vicious jest.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do,
We feel terrible, lonesome, and blue:
That DAMNED FENCE is driving us crazy,
Destroying our youth and making us lazy.

Imprisoned in here for a long, long time,
We know we’re punished–though we’ve committed no crime,
Our thoughts are gloomy and enthusiasm damp,
To be locked up in a concentration camp.

Loyalty we know, and patriotism we feel,
To sacrifice our utmost was our ideal,
To fight for our country, and die, perhaps;
But we’re here because we happen to be Japs.

We all love life, and our country best,
Our misfortune to be here in the west,
To keep us penned behind that DAMNED FENCE,
Is someone’s notion of NATIONAL DEFENCE!

From the National Archives

September 1942 Desert Magazine, p5; from an article that tries to downplay the hardships faced by the internees.

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was the daughter of a “Japanese-American” who had served in Europe, while his wife and their parents had been interned. They were as American as any of us.

17 thoughts on “Poston, Arizona, during WWII

    1. Yes, it was terrible. Many were born in the US and yet we let fear take their freedom away.

      I’ve been to many forums on the Salton Sea; too many people think it is just a “local” problem. It didn’t have to get this bad. Now it would take more than just the State to save the Sea, but out politicians in D.C. would rather squabble than govern.

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  1. A sad commentary on a dark time on both sides of the U.S./Canada border. Not the first time mistrust resulted in persecution and obviously not the last. Hope all is well with you. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was “not quite a teenager”, my dad, by then a retired US Marine officer, took me to those places in the desert and told me this (the camps) was the result of “a well fed mass hysteria.”

    ..this coming from a man who saw combat on Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian, Tarawa and (after switching Marine Divisions) Iwo Jima….

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  3. Thank you for sharing the site. Manzanar was originally an agricultural colony built by George Chaffey (so were the Ontario (CA) & Etiwanda colonies. After the LA Aqueduct was built, draining the ground water from the area, it became a pretty bleak place, especially in winter. All of the internment camps were bleak.

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    1. Huell Howser produced a couple of episodes on Owens Lake and the L.A. Aqueduct:

      https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/tag/aqueduct/

      I really miss Huell Howser. He bequeathed his archives to Chapman University. Here is a link to his Salton Sea episodes.

      https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/tag/salton-sea/

      Salton Sea Mudpots:

      https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/2000/01/08/mudpots-californias-gold-2005/

      … and you might enjoy his day trip to Anza-Borrego:

      https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/2009/09/30/anza-borrego-road-trip-with-huell-howser-148/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not considered proper WordPress etiquette to post comments with two or more links. They are typically sent to your spam folder, but I thought you would really enjoy these programs. The park ranger at Anza-Borrego was incredibly interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My other grandpa — not the one who farmed in the Imperial Valley — was a school teacher. Some of his students were interred with their families. He advocated on their behalf, and kept in touch throughout his life. I have copies of correspondence with one student whose letters revealed an indomitable human spirit.

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