Heart Mountain High School senior Frank Hirahara took this shot of an older man looking down the road between the barracks in Lower 15, toward Heart Mountain, in 1944. (Photo courtesy of the George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, Washington State University MASC)

“Witness: The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” a documentary by KABC anchor/reporter David Ono, will air Sunday, June 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Channel 7.

Ono, who previously produced documentaries about the Nisei soldiers of World War II, traveled to the internment camp site just outside of Cody, Wyo., to get a sense of what life was like for the Japanese American detainees.

“It’s a stunning place,” he commented. “The land is rugged. The weather is brutal. But the mountain is a stunning and beautiful backdrop to what happened there …

“There is now a museum and interpretive center where the camp once stood. It’s a wonderful facility. It’s there because of a woman named Shirley Higuchi. Her mother was an inmate at the camp and dreamed of building a place that kept the memory of the camp alive. After her mother passed, Shirley took it upon herself to fulfill her mother’s dream.”

As most of the Heart Mountain internees were from Southern California, Ono found many people in Los Angeles with ties to the camp, including Judge Lance Ito, best known for the O.J. Simpson trial. His late father, James, served as assistant superintendent of agriculture at the camp and later taught agriculture in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“I talk about the remarkable triumph and tragedy his family experienced as a result of this very difficult time in history,” Ono said. “It’s a story very few people know about.”

Ono tells the story of the Kito family, owners of Fugetsu-do, the 110-year-old manju shop in Little Tokyo.

“They even found a way to make mochi in camp, giving families a very much appreciated taste of home,” Ono said.

Another interviewee is The Rafu Shimpo’s own George Yoshinaga, writer of the “Horse’s Mouth” column.

Patti Hirahara’s photo collection is also featured. “Patti’s father and grandfather had a secret darkroom under their barracks,” Ono explained. “In the years they were imprisoned there, they took thousands of photos of camp life. Some of the people in those photos I got together with at JANM (Japanese American National Museum), where they shared their memories with me.”

Hirahara is still in the process of identifying all of the families in the photos.

UPDATE: For those who missed it (or want to see it again), the special can be viewed online at http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video. It is divided into four parts.


George Hirahara in the photo darkroom that he single-handedly built under his barrack, Apartment 15-9-A, in Heart Mountain. He purchased his cameras and equipment from Sears Roebuck catalog’s mail-order. Hirahara and his son Frank processed and took over 2,000 photos in Heart Mountain from 1943 to 1945. (Photo courtesy of the George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, Washington State University MASC)

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  1. Beautifully done by David Ono. Beautifully shot. My wife and I cried toward the end. Although I’m an Italian immigrant and was not here then. I am so sorry what the American government, and specifically FDR did to the Japanese Americans. I wrote about the Japanese internment on my history blog in June 2011, called “The Rape of the Japanese Americans.” Shame on the US today for not teaching about this atrocity.

  2. “The Legacy of Heart Mountain” aired on 16 June 2013 at 11:30 am; Eye Witness New.
    Very informative for the younger generation.
    How can I obtain a copy of this news cast video (i.e., DVD) ?

  3. Kudos David Ono and to KABC 7. You have produced a very meaningful work that dealt poignantly with justice denied, an ugly and painful bit of American History, My History.
    Thank you very much.

    It was a gift to see this on Father’s Day, but too many fathers which were directly affected Issei, Nissei, and some Sansei have passed.

    I hope that you will now have the boldness and heart to replay this special documentary / report at a time when more will be able to enjoy and learn from this meaningful piece.

    thank you

  4. I am originally from Los Angeles, my father’s family was in Heart Mountain. I realize this is being shown locally in Los Angeles, but is there any way this might be available at some time (DVD)? We are in Sacramento, CA.

  5. As a former resident of Heart Mountain, I would very much like to purchase a copy of this DVD to show to my next gneration of nephews, neices and great neices. Please respond, Thank you.
    My mailing adress:

    Herb Umemooto
    23517 Ladeene Ave
    Torrance, Ca 90505