Amache (Granada), Colorado

 

From its opening in August 1942 to its closing in January 1946, the Amache relocation camp was the smallest of the ten centers but the tenth largest city in Colorado. Located in the southeastern corner of Colorado, near the town of Granada, the isolated region is arid and dusty but receives torrential snowstorms in winter and cool mountain breezes in summer. Amache housed 7,597 evacuees, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. They arrived from the Merced Assembly Center in central California and the Santa Anita Assembly Center in southern California.

Also known as the Granada Relocation Project, the compound comprised 160 acres, with a 10,000-acre farm used to raise livestock and grow a wide variety of produce. With its six octagonal sentry towers and jeep patrols around the perimeter, Amache resembled a prison from the outside, but upon completion it had 560 buildings with services essential to any small town, including administrative offices, police and fire departments, a 150-bed hospital, stores and a post office. Half of the people at Amache worked there, earning from $12.00 a month for entry level positions up to $19.00 a month for professionals. Amacheís specialty was their silkscreening shop that produced a quarter of a million posters for the Navy.

Project Director James G. Linley was a proponent of the internees and spoke out frequently on their behalf. The internees, with the exception of the Issei (first-generation Japanese), made up the campís governing body, and representatives were elected from each block to serve on the Block Managers Assembly. Five of these representatives were chosen to serve on an executive council with three WRA administrators. The council passed laws and regulations, in addition to the WRA regulations, and appointed the judicial and arbitration commissions. Moreover, the highly successful Amache Consumer Enterprises oversaw the campís retail stores and services. The public was allowed to come into the camp on weekends to trade at the coop, and gross sales brought in more than $40,000 per month.

The barracks at Amache were sturdier and slightly more attractive than those at the other camps. The foundations were made of concrete slab and brick, and used with fiber board or asbestos siding, the construction provided more protection from the cold weather and blowing sand. Amache had 30 residential blocks, and each one included twelve barracks used for living quarters, one for recreation, one for the mess hall, and a multiple-use building with laundry area, latrines and showers. Many blocks used their recreation barracks as community centers that housed groups such as the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, YMCA, nursery schools and churches.

About one-quarter of Amacheís population were school-age children. Classes were taught at several schools in the camp by both Caucasian and Japanese-American teachers in cooperation with the Colorado State Department of Education. The carefully planned high school, with its brand new auditorium/gymnasium, was the most expensive building in Prowers County at the time, much to the displeasure of local townspeople. There was also a wide variety of adult classes held at night in subjects such as typing, shorthand, English, dressmaking, drafting and the arts.

Life in the camp was bustling but the many inconveniences undermined the family structure. Privacy was nonexistent. Meals were a combination of American and Japanese dishes served cafeteria style that were generally unappetizing and made the traditional family mealtime a bygone practice. But there were some modern conveniences, such as the the water system installed for the camp, which was later used by the nearby town of Lamar. There was also a rich and varied recreation program that included movies, the theater, concerts, clubs and sports. The fine arts also flourished, showcasing the interneesí talents in wood carving, Japanese calligraphy and flower arranging.

The campís newspaper, the Granada Pioneer, published a popular coming strip called "Lilí Neebo" which was created by artist Chris Ishii, who had previously worked for Walt Disney. The cartoon character provided comic relief for readers by chronicling the life of a little Nisei boy living in camp. Ishii himself tried to join the U.S. Army twice before he was finally accepted and sworn in.

Nearly 10 percent of the people at Amache volunteered for military service Ė the highest percentage of all the camps. But some evacuees were outraged at the thought of serving an army that was holding them and their families as prisoners. In February 1944, they presented a petition that demanded, among other things, that the evacuees who were drafted for combat be distributed throughout the U.S. Army and not segregated into separate units. Despite the protests, 48 men reported for induction into the army when the first notices were served. In all, 953 Amacheans joined the armed forces; thirty-two became language instructors in Army intelligence, and in early 1943 they began serving in the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team and other units, as well as the Women's Army Corps and the Nurses Army Corps.

As the troops in Europe began to win worldwide acclaim, the soldiers who returned to Amache on leave were honored with great celebration. They would receive 38 combat pins and combat infantryman's badges for exemplary conduct under fire as well as various other medals and citations. Thirty-one of the Nisei soldiers from Amache lost their lives in World War II.

After the war, nearly 2,000 evacuees remained in Colorado or moved to other midwestern states, but most returned to California. Following closure of the camp, the agricultural lands reverted to private farming and ranching, and the camp buildings were demolished or sold to school districts, the town and the University of Denver. Today, aside from a small brick structure, the cemetery, a reservoir, and a water well and tank, all that remains are concrete building foundations and roads. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.

Amache Remembered

Dedicated to the thirty-one 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 here during this period of relocation, August 27, 1942 - October 14, 1945.

Inscription on the Amache relocation camp monument, sponsored by the Denver Central Optimist Club, 1983.

 

Bibliography

Burton, Jeffery F.; Farrell, Mary M.; Lord, Florence B.; Lord, Richard W. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, Publications in Anthropology 74, 1999.

Colorado State Archives, Department of Personnel and Administration website: http://www.archives.state.co.us/wwcod/granada.htm

Colorado State University, Japanese-American Internment website: http://holly.colostate.edu/~ichinose/amache.htm

Embrey, Sue Kunitomi, editor. The Lost Years: 1942- 46. Los Angeles: Manzanar Committee, 1972.

Governorís Council of Defense Collection. Amache. Amache, CO.: Granada Relocation Project, War Relocation Authority, RCC 1208, 1944.

Johnson, Melyn. Amache Digital Collections Website, "At Home in Amache," Denver: University of Colorado at Denver. http://carbon.cudenver.edu/public/library//archives/adc.html

Niiya, Brian. Japanese American History: An A to Z Reference, 1868 to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 1993.

8/18/02

Reprinted with permission from "Echoes of Silence:  The Untold Stories of the Nisei Soldiers Who Served in WWII" with thanks to the AJA WWII Memorial Alliance educational project who produced the CD.