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Utah ceremonies keep WWII Japanese American experience alive

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Alex Gonzalez

(Utah News Connection) Japanese Americans gather this weekend for memorial events at the World War II Topaz internment camp in Delta, and in Salt Lake City, to mark the 80th anniversary of a murder.

In 1943, James Wakasa was walking his dog inside the internment camp when an Army guard shot and killed him, alleging Wakasa was trying to escape.

Ann Tamaki Dion, a third generation Japanese American, a Topaz camp descendant and president of the group Friends of Topaz, a group which actively supports the Topaz Museum in Delta, said several of her family members lived or were born at the internment camp.

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"Yes it's a personal story, but it is an important story for all Americans," Dion explained. "Because we happened to be a targeted group in 1942. But this can certainly happen to any other group in the United States."

Dion added the event, which took Wakasa's life at age 63, symbolizes not only his tragic death, but the many injustices endured by Japanese Americans incarcerated during the war. Dion noted on Friday and Saturday, groups will commemorate his life and bring the community together, to continue to heal.

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According to Friends of Topaz, from 1942 to 1945, more than 11,000 people of Japanese descent were imprisoned at the Topaz camp, most of them American citizens. Today, although many have since passed away, friends and descendants will commemorate their survivors' experiences and stories, and reflect on the impact on generations who followed. 

"This is a trauma that has passed down, it's a history that we always shared within the family," Dion observed. "And to get a form of resolution and recognition in sharing the story, because it is very important."

Dion added some of those in attendance are survivors of other internment camps, as well as the people of Delta, whom she said "saw fit to help preserve" the stories of Topaz. Some of their stories are shared online at topazstories.com.

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PICT Visitors to Camp Amache

Visitors to Camp Amache

A related internment camp, Camp Amache in Prowers County, Colorado, was designated as a National Historic Site in 2022, and is managed by the National Park Service.