In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government incarcerated 110,000 Japanese Americans in interment camps. When the war ended and those Americans were allowed to go home, the thousands of barracks that they called home were left behind. The government sold them to any one who could move them, often for just a dollar a piece.
Around twenty years after three of the barracks had made the move nearly 80 miles east to Greybull, Wyoming, Iowa State University bought and repurposed them as a geological field site just a bit farther east. Carl Vondra, professor emeritus of geology at ISU and the namesake for the field site, said it was obvious from the start how shoddy the barracks were.
"The construction was very bad, there was no insulation, the buildings were covered with tar paper and tar paper roof. So in the summer they were very hot, and in the winter, not being insulated, they were very cold. There were so many mistakes made in the construction. The people that constructed these buildings had no experience as carpenters. They were just people that were brought into construct these as rapidly as possible with no experience."
Now, the Heart Mountain center is attempting to retrieve the barrack, so its visitors can understand what the Americans interred in the camp experienced.
On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Vondra. Brian Liesinger, Executive Director of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, and Neal Nakadate, whose family was in an internment camp, also joins the conversation.