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Minidoka community reflects at first in-person pilgrimage since the pandemic

 Emily Teraoka stands in front of the Honor Roll at the Minidoka National Historic Site
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Emily Teraoka led an effort to update the Honor Roll at the Minidoka National Historic Site

More than 200 people gathered at the Minidoka National Historic Site this weekend for an annual pilgrimage. It’s an event to reflect on the incarceration of 13,000 Japanese Americans in southern Idaho during World War II .

The first pilgrimage was in 2003, two years after the site was designated a National Park Service Unit. This year's was the first in-person gathering held since the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Shigaki from Seattle was born at Minidoka. It was his 5th pilgrimage.

“Everyone says this is the best one we’ve ever been to," Shigaki said. "I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we haven’t been here for three years. And a lot of people are like me, and older than I am, and they know that this might be their last one.”

Survivors of Minidoka, their family members and others attended education and history discussions about Japanese American incarceration and its legacy.

The looming Lava Ridge Wind Project proposal featured prominently in conversations, a panel and reflections during the pilgrimage's closing ceremony.

Updating the Honor Roll

Visitors to the Minidoka National Historic Site are greeted by a three-paneled sign with a list of names. It’s called the Honor Roll and recognizes people from the incarceration camp who served in the military during World War II.

Several members of Keith Yamaguchi’s family were incarcerated at Minidoka. His dad, Shiro Robert Yamaguchi, served in the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion.

The Honor Roll there today is from 2011 and is a replica of one created by incarcerees during the war. By the time it was created, about 700 names of the roughly 1,000 veterans from Minidoka were inscribed.

But Yamaguchi's dad’s name wasn’t listed. That's likely because he was in the military beforehand.

For the past few years, Emily Teraoka has been leading a research effort to add more names to the Honor Roll. Teraoka is the lead interpretive ranger at the National Park Service site.

Community members sent in names and she looked through census and government records to confirm their identities and their service. Some files were lost in a fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in 1973.

Last week, the historic site unveiled new panels on the Honor Roll sign with 140 additional names.

“It’s very meaningful," Teraoka said, "especially for those families of the veterans, or the veterans themselves, to be recognized – not only as people who were incarcerated and suffered a great injustice, but also served their country in spite of it.”

Yamaguchi, who works with a Nisei veterans organization in Seattle, visited Minidoka over the weekend for the annual pilgrimage. He spotted his dad’s name on the Honor Roll.

“It gives it a special meaning," he said. "This is the first time it’s been there.”

The National Park Service hopes to keep adding more names of those who served as interpreters and nurses or in combat and intelligence.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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