Topaz: Internment Through Young Eyes


Photos courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, over 127,000 Japanese Americans were placed into government internment camps, due to a military exclusion order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Arrington wrote that the Executive Order 9066 was seen as a “military necessity” to remove all of the Japanese Americans, primarily from the coastal areas (California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska), to eliminate any danger during enemy attacks or raids along the coast. Arrington noted that Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt’s reasoning was that the bond between the Japanese (through culture, religion custom, race, etc.) were unparalleled; “A Jap is a Jap … it makes no difference whether he’s an American citizen or not; he is still Japanese.” (Arrington, 14) As a result, claims of communication between the coastal Japanese Americans and Japan grew largely in suspicion, though none of the claims were ever proven by reliable sources or evidence. (Arrington, 13)

The relocation of the Japanese Americans began as a voluntary process and nearly five thousand Japanese Americans obliged and moved without force. (Arrington, 15) However, as the speculation and fear grew larger that the Japanese Americans were a dangerous threat, the need for relocation spread among various states, including Utah, making the relocation mandatory on March 27, 1942. (Arrington, 16)

A total of 10 concentration camps were constructed after the relocation mandate was issued. The Central Utah Relocation Center was housed in Delta, Utah, also known as the “Jewel of the Desert.” The camp was located where Lake Bonneville once was in Millard County. The area was known as Sevier Desert on dated maps or as “Pahvant (abundance of water)” by the Paiute Indians; the camp’s name, Topaz, derived from the Topaz Mountains located near the center. (Arrington, 21) Arrington described Topaz as windy, which stirred up “a seldom interrupted whirl of dust. Another [detraction was] the non-absorbent soil, which, after a rain [storm], is a gummy muck, ideal as breeding ground for mosquitoes.” (Arrington, 22)

The Topaz Internment camp was constructed to comprise over 19,800 acres and “consisted of forty-two checker board blocks, of which thirty-four were living quarters or residential blocks.” (Arrington, 23) The blocks were built to accommodate 250 to 300 people and “had twelve single-story resident barracks buildings, a central mess or dining hall, recreation hall, a combination washroom-toilet/laundry building, outdoor clotheslines, and an office for the block manager,” wrote Arrington. (23) Among the many Japanese Americas transferred to Central Utah Relocation Center, and the nine other camps across the nation, many if not most of the internees were teenagers and children.

P1584 Willis Carl. BX 1, FLD #3. "Teens outside high school."

For many young people, the experience in the internment camps differed in perspective and experience than that of their parents or older Japanese Americans at the time. While camp life cast a cloud of uncertainty and worry for the future of older, parental figures, Japanese teens and children saw it differently. In fact, more often than not, many of them found ways to make the best of their situation. Many were able to meet and make new friends, attend school activities and be involved in sports. “Within the confines of the assembly centers, the Japanese Americans tried to create a community. They organized schools, camp newspapers, sports programs, and talent shows.” (Tunnell, Chilcoat, 11) Other than the fact that the teens were confined to the internment camps, their lives are very similar to the lives of many teenagers today.

P1584 Willis Carl. BX 1, FLD #4. "Five young men." David Hisato is on the far right.

In the letters written between teenage lovers David Hisato and Tamaki Yamate, the two hardly spoke of any extreme sufferings or turmoil from being in Topaz or, in Hisato’s case, working at the Roy Labor Camp near Ogden.

Hisato sometimes spoke of the lack of work in his letters, where he only worked six to nine hours a day and earnings were tough and the harsh weather often made his hands dry. At the other extreme, he wrote about working continuously for over 13 hours a day. (Letter, September 9, 1944)

But a majority of the letters Hisato wrote to Yamate described the events of his day and his unconditional affection for her. “As for girls, no worry sweet because I got my heart on and it’s you only darling. You know I have your picture right above my bed so before I go to sleep I can look at it. Some of the boys see your picture and think I’m pretty lucky.” (Letter, September 12, 1944)

Yamate wrote similar letters to Hisato. She described the upcoming parties and dances at the high school in Topaz.

Yamate also continually expressed her love for Hisato. In one letter she writes, “The days I spend with you, are the happiest days I have spent in my whole life. I know I’ll never know that happiness with anyone else.” (Letter, March 26, 1945)

PO 800 George Murarami Topaz, FLD #6. "7 young men."

Hisato and Yamate also wrote to their friends throughout the nation and received many letters in return. A close mutual friend, “Minzo” Askiyoski, wrote them both and his letters were similar to the letters exchanged between Hisato and Yamate. There was minimal discussion of specifics of camp life, but he emphasized social and personal events.

In one letter he asks Hisato to send him some good basketball shoes if he saw any. They also exchanged holiday cards and gifts through the mail. (Hisato & Yamate Collection)

P1584 Willis Carl. BX 1, FLD #4. "5 young kids."

However, students in an English class at Tule Lake Internment Center felt that camp life was harmful to young minds. “Since I’ve been to camp, I no longer feel that I am a part of the world,” Yukio Kumata wrote. “I feel like a dangerous enemy spy being held in prison. I take no interest in world events concerning America as I did at home. For a loyal American to be placed in a stuffy camp, I feel I am no part of America. I am inclined to feel bitter and sarcastic about the whole fair. But as I recall my faithful Caucasian friends at home, I realize that America is and will be for the rest of my life, home for me.” (Kumata Papers)

PO 800 George Murarami Topaz, FLD #6. "Three Varsity football players."

Many teenagers found camp life dull and repetitive, but seldom complained about living conditions. Another English student from Tule Lake Internment, Heidi Morioka, described camp as being unbearably hot some days and with the lack of trees on site, there was no place to cool off under. (Morioka Papers) Nearly all the teens were happy that the camp gave them the opportunity to meet other Japanese teens/children their age.

P1584 Willis Carl. BX 1, FLD #2. "Young girls doing homework."

But beyond making the best of their situation, there was much fear and worry in the lives of these young people. Although life at camp was relatively easy, the future was uncertain and fearful to some young people as well. “We all wonder what the future will be like,” wrote Rosie Ishibashi. “It has been said, ‘let us look to the future, rather than to the present.’ Yes, we all wonder what the future will be.” (Ishibashi)

PO 144 Japanese Relocation, WRA. BX 1, FLD 3. #41. "5th grade girls playing 'too deep.'"

The Japanese relocation was a defining time in American history. For several years, many Japanese Americans lived in barracks behind fences, unable to go out on their own without being supervised. But as the youth internees have displayed, many Japanese Americans complied with the U.S. government and did their best to assimilate and adapt to camps to keep their lives as normal as possible. The Japanese Americans were faithful U.S. citizens and were punished for something they did not do or want.

PO 144 Japanese Relocation, WRA. BX 1, FLD 3. "5th grade boys."

The relocation of Japanese Americans will always be significant in U.S. history. The gender, race, ethnicity, religion and color of a person’s skin do not determine their amount of loyalty or disloyalty to their country. After the recent September 11th incident, many Muslim Americans were threatened and scrutinized for an attack made by a terrorist in a Muslim country. Some Americans feared the Muslim Americans, weighing in the same accusations the Japanese Americans were accused of (sharing information and helping Japan) because “that’s who they originally are.” It’s important that these stereotypes are broken and that we as a nation do not segregate individuals based on the way they look or where they come from.

Tiffany Lieu, born and raised in Utah, began her college career at the University of Utah in August 2006. She is experienced in both print and broadcast journalism and has worked for the Daily Utah Chronicle, KTVX ABC 4 News, News 8 Texas, Lessons Magazine and KUTV CBS 2 News. Lieu loves being able to share her love of writing and communicating by helping others tell their stories. Lieu studied mass communication, with a focus in journalism and graduated with a bachelors of science in May 2010.


David Hisato and Tamaki Yamate, Hisato and Yamate Papers – Letters, MS 680, Boxes 1-5, 8, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Rosie Ishibashi, Japanese Relocation Papers, MS 144, Box 4, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Yukio Kumata, Japanese Relocation Papers, MS 144, Box 4, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Heidi Morioka, Japanese Relocation Papers, MS 144, Box 4, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Leonard J. Arrington. The Price of Prejudice: The Japanese-American Relocation Center in Utah during World War II. Logan: Utah State University, 1962.

Michael O. Tunnell and George W. Chilcoat. The Children of Topaz: The Story of a Japanese-American Internment Camp. New York: Holiday House, 1996.

University of Utah 1944 NCAA Basketball Championship


This is the story of the 1944 University of Utah basketball team and the effect that it had on the state of Utah.

It was December 1943 and Vadal Peterson was the head coach of the University of Utah basketball team. He had assembled his team of “blitz kids” and was preparing for another season. There was only one problem; they did not have anyone to play. At the time, it was in the middle of World War II, and many colleges and universities were having a hard time fielding teams in any sport. The University of Utah’s own newspaper, The Utah Chronicle, reported on December 30, 1943, that “Utah [was] the only school left which [was] trying to run off an athletic schedule.” In the same article the Chronicle also reported that “Colorado U, Utah State, Wyoming, and Colorado State have all given up the ghost because of the manpower shortage.” This “manpower shortage” most likely had to do with many of the young men in the army. To make things worse, the conference that the Utes were in would not allow the basketball team to play more games. Later the conference allowed the team to play more games. Also the quality of the opponents was not what they were used to. In Continuum: The Magazine of The University of Utah, an article written by Chad Nielsen states that the Utes played teams such as “Colorado College, Bushnell Hospital, and the Wendover Bombing Quintet” (Nielsen, 9). Even though the Utes had trouble finding teams to play they were able to win 18 games and were invited to play in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).

This is a post regular season tournament that teams have to be invited to participate in. There is also another post-regular season tournament, the NCAA tournament. Back then the NIT was the better of the two. Any college that won the NIT was considered the national champion. Kentucky was Utah’s first opponent. This was on the big stage: Madison Square Garden. Utah was the heavy underdog in this game, and lost 46 to 38. On March 21, 1944, The Ogden Standard Examiner reported that “the Kentucky – Utah game brought the Madison Square Garden crowd of 16,273 to its feet time and again as the teams swapped the lead 10 times.” It was not in Utah’s fate to win this game, even though it was close. The team did not know it yet but the Utes had greater things to accomplish.

The Utes thought their season was over and with all the turmoil were pleased with what they had accomplished. A few days after that loss coach Vadal Peterson received a telegram from the NCAA with surprising and good news. The NCAA was in need of another team because of a tragic event that had happened. Players on the University of Arkansas basketball team had been on the bad end of a car accident. On March 22, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that “Arkansas, cochampions of the Southwest conference, originally was chosen but was forced to drop out following an automobile accident … in which a coaching aide was killed and two players seriously injured.” It was said that the athletic director and two starters on the basketball team had been hit by another car while trying to change a flat tire. (Nielsen) Not wanting to play, Arkansas backed out of the tournament. The Utes had originally planned on playing only in the NCAA tournament but decided to play in the NIT when they got the invitation.

After Arkansas decided not to play The Salt Lake Tribune reported on March 22 that “Graduate Manager Keith Brown called Professor Walter A. Kerr, chairman of the University of Utah athletic council, about 1:30 a.m. about the invitation to the NCAA tournament and Professor Kerr was telephoning members of the athletic council most of the night to get a vote on the tourney. The council was unanimously in favor.” Later, the players were called to see if they wanted to play. Of course the whole team wanted to play. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Brown as saying that “the boys felt like they could have won the game with Kentucky, and they figure that if they win out at the Kansas City meet and get another chance at Madison Square Garden they can really do themselves proud. That’s their goal.” This gave Utah a chance that no one had ever been given before. This was the first time that any university had participated in both the National Invitational Tournament and the NCAA Tournament in the same year.

Before the Utes could get back to the Garden they had to go through Kansas City. Two wins and they were going to be back where they had lost less than two weeks earlier. They were able to beat Missouri and then Iowa to advance to the NCAA title game back in New York City. Yet again the Utes were the heavy underdog in facing Dartmouth. On March 28, 1944, the day of the game, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah was facing “a heavily favored Dartmouth quintet for the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.” The Ogden Standard Examiner noted that the Utes were 8-point underdogs. Even though the media thought it wasn’t likely that the Utes would win, everyone back home in Utah was ready to support the team to victory.

The day of the game arrived and the Utes were ready to play. This was the most important game of their lives and everyone knew it. Madison Square Garden was over capacity with 17,990 people in attendance. Dartmouth and Utah played a thrilling game that saw the Utes win 42 to 40. On March 29, The Deseret News reported “Utah … upset mighty Dartmouth, 42 to 40, to win the NCAA title in an exciting extra period game before 17,990 at the Garden last night.” The Utes had beaten the odds. But this was not the end.

The next night in a charity event the University of Utah played St. John’s University. St. John’s was the winner of the NIT. This game was the unofficial, or mythical as they called it then, national championship. Another rousing crowd of 18,125 filled the Garden to see these two Cinderella teams battle for the title of National Champion. On March 31, The Ogden Standard Examiner reported that Utah “ruled today as mythical basketball champion of the nation by virtue of a 43-36 victory over St. Johnson’s last night.” Now with this title of National Champions there was a big party waiting for the team back in Utah.

People in Utah were very excited to greet these “blitz kids” as the team traveled back home. Many events were set up to celebrate this championship. On April 4, The Deseret News had a whole page honoring the team by saying, “all Utah and especially hosts in Salt Lake City pay homage today to a most amazing squad of young basketball stars, winner of the highest collegiate honor available in the hoop sport.” Right as the team got home there were fans waiting for them. The Utah Chronicle reported on April 4 “the blaring of the band, cheers of fans, the honking of automobiles, began the festivities which will honor the national basketball champions during the coming week.” There was a parade and a rally on the university campus that day as well. But while all of this was going on there was one player who had an effect on the team that will never be forgotten by those players.

A Japanese-American University of Utah basketball player, Wat Miska, was born and raised in Ogden, Utah. At this time in his life the U.S. was at war with Japan and many Japanese American people were being taken and put into internment camps. Because he was from Utah he and his family were not in the internment zone and were not forced to go to the camps. But it was not pleasant to be of Japanese descent at this time. Nielsen wrote, “Misaka was denied service at restaurants and avoided on the street, even after leading Weber Junior College to two Championships.” (Nielsen, 9) He even experienced terrible things during games. Nielsen said that “at road games, spectators threatened Misaka from the stands, shouting for the ‘dirty Jap’ to go home. Nielsen also stated “through it all, Misaka somehow still believed in America. And he poured his heart into playing basketball, like his teammates.” Wat has said that he didn’t think of himself as being different from his teammates.” (Nielsen, 9) Later he served in World War II in Japan and came back to play on the Utah basketball team and helped the team win the NIT. Nielsen noted that later in the summer of 1947 the New York Knicks drafted him to play basketball in the National Basketball League, which later became the NBA. Also Wat Misaka was the first non-white person to be drafted by any professional basketball team. In 1999 Wat Misaka was inducted in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. (Nielsen, 10)

This story of the Utah “blitz kids” is a forgotten story that needs to be remembered and is important to Utah communication history because all that was in the news at the time was the war. This story was big. It was a way that people in this state could rally together during a hard time. It gave them comfort and an opportunity to think about something other than the war. Although the war was still bigger, this was news enough to help Utahns forget about the war for a few exciting weeks.

Kit Chipman is a sophomore at The University of Utah. He is a mass communication major.


“City Honors Victorious Hoop Team,” The Utah Chronicle, April 4, 1944.

Rulon Rasmussen, “Utes Face Lean Year With Few Games Scheduled,” The Utah Chronicle, December 30, 1943.

“‘U’ Wins In Overtime,” The Deseret News, March 29, 1944.

“Welcome Utah’s ‘Blitz Kids’ Basketball Champions of the U.S.A.,” The Deseret News, April 4, 1944.

“Utes To Play In NCAA Tourney,” The Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 1944.

Glen Perkins, “Arnold Ferrin Stars as the Utes Lose in Famous Garden,” Ogden Standard Examiner, March 21, 1944.

Jack Coddy, “Indians and Utes in Cage Treat,” The Ogden Standard Examiner, March 21, 1944.

Joe James Custer, “Utah’s Cinderella Kids Take National NCAA Title in Overtime in New York Garden,” Ogden Standard Examiner, March 29, 1944.

Joe James Custer, “Indians Provide New Story Book Finish in Sports,” Ogden Standard Examiner, March 31, 1944.

Chad Nielsen, “That’s Just How It Was,” Continuum: The Magazine of the University of Utah (Spring 2010): 8-10.