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Proclamation remembers Idaho internment camp prisoners

February 18, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Monday issued a proclamation to recognize and remember the people of Japanese ancestry imprisoned at the Minidoka internment camp in south-central Idaho during WWII.

Little signed the proclamation in the governor’s ceremonial office in the Statehouse with a former prisoner from the Minidoka camp in the audience.

Ninety-three-old Sadami Tanabe lived at the camp in the 1940s after being relocated with his parents and three siblings from Oregon when he was 16. It was part of the federal government’s plan to remove people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.

“I was just a kid,” Tanabe said after the signing ceremony concluded. “I guess they had to do it — the evacuation. I don’t know the right or wrong on that issue. I was there for three years at Minidoka.”

Starting in 1942, when the U.S. was at war with Japan, around 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were ordered by the U.S. government into prison camps around the country. The camp in Idaho housed more than 9,000 people. It’s now the Minidoka National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service.

“The Japanese American community has been such an integral part of the state of Idaho for a long time,” Little said after signing the document and giving the pen to Tanabe. “We need to remind ourselves of a time when they were really resented, and bad things happened, and that’s why we do this.”

During his time at the Minidoka prison camp, Tanabe made model airplanes. Sometimes the model planes flew outside the barbed wire and guards allowed Tanabe to retrieve them.

Tanabe’s family lost most of their belongings and their orchard in Oregon while being held in Minidoka. After the war, Tanabe continued making model airplanes, and moved to the Midwest where he won competitions with them.

He returned to Boise in 1949 and eventually got a job with St. Alphonsus hospital in Boise as a janitor, but transitioned to biomedical equipment tech with his mechanical skills. He continued making model airplanes.

“It was a hard time trying to make a living,” said Tanabe, who attended the signing ceremony with his daughter. “Even here in Idaho after the war.”

The National Park Service has asked Tanabe to make a replica of model planes he made while being held in Minidoka. Officials say they would like to display the plane at the historic site’s visitor center that’s planned to have a grand opening this summer.

“It’s important we remember these things,” Little said. “Most people in Idaho think we’re exempt because of where we are — isolated. But we’re not, and this is a good example.”