George Takei stands in front of the barrack at Heart Mountain.
POWELL, Wyo. — George Takei, an actor, activist, and social media star best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the acclaimed television and film series “Star Trek,” made what he called a “pilgrimage” to visit the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site in Powell, Wyo., on July 12.
“On our way here, I put myself in the shoes of the people who were being brought here just following Pearl Harbor,” Takei said. “And the landscape looked desolate and bleak. I cannot imagine how heartbroken they felt to be brought to a place like this from their homes in California or Washington. Just looking at the landscape was profoundly moving.”
George Takei with HMWF Executive Director Brian Liesinger.
Takei was one of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans removed from their homes and confined behind barbed wire during World War II. He and his family were held at Rohwer “War Relocation Center” in Arkansas and later transferred to Tule Lake in Northern California. He compared his recollections of incarceration, rekindled by the Heart Mountain visit.
“I wasn’t in this camp,” Takei noted. “But there is a lot that I recognized. I recognized the beds, I recognized the buildings… It was for me a very, very moving experience to visit Heart Mountain.”
The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center on the National Historic Landmark site preserves one of the ten confinement sites where Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated. On the high plains of northwest Wyoming, 14,025 people — two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens — were held in what was the third-largest community in Wyoming at the time. On the site today the Interpretive Center, military memorial, walking trails, and original structures are operated and cared for by the non-profit Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF).
George Takei and HMWF board member Sam Mihara discuss the map exhibit at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.
Takei recently starred in the award-winning Broadway musical “Allegiance,” which was set at Heart Mountain. The musical explores the draft resistance movement that was an essential part of the legacy of the camp, where 63 men were sent to federal prison for standing up to their own government.
That connection prompted Takei to make the trip to Heart Mountain accompanied by the writers and producers of “Allegiance,” as well as his husband, Brad. In addition, three HMWF board members, two of whom are former Heart Mountain incarcerees, were present to provide context.
One of the board members, Takashi Hoshizaki, was himself a resister, spending two years in federal penitentiary following his trial. Takei was impressed with the bravery Hoshizaki showed in the face of injustice. “You’re a hero,” he told him. “These men are heroes, my personal heroes,” Takei said, referring to the Heart Mountain resisters.
Brad and George Takei in the Heart Mountain theater with Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board member Takashi Hoshizaki.
Though he downplayed being called a hero, Hoshizaki said that resistance was “a means of bringing this to the forefront, in a court of law, what had happened to us.” He said that their statement to the U.S. government was to “give us our civil rights back, get our family back to where they came from, and we will gladly serve.”