Heart Mountain Pilgrimage Features Tom Brokaw, Judge Ito

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Cabinet secretary Norman Mineta onstage after the showing of a documentary about the life and career of Mineta, who was incarcerated as a child at the Heart Mountain, Wyo., concentration camp.


HEART MOUNTAIN, Wyo. — Race “is not in any fashion in America a measure of worthiness,” former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw told attendees at the eighth annual Heart Mountain Pilgrimage on July 27. “We’re all the same.”

Brokaw received the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation’s LaDonna Zall Compassionate Witness Award, which goes to those who have provided exceptional service to the Heart Mountain community.

Zall is a Heart Mountain board member who lived as a child in nearby Ralston, Wyo., and watched the last train filled with incarcerees leave the camp on Nov. 10, 1945.

In an at-times tearful speech, Brokaw said Heart Mountain “was a concentration camp, nothing less,” as he waded into a debate that pervaded much of the three-day event 14 miles north of Cody, Wyo. A day earlier, former Cabinet secretary Norman Mineta, a former Heart Mountain prisoner, and former Sen. Alan Simpson said they leaned away from using that term because of the sensitivity surrounding the Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews in what were also known as concentration camps.

That was one of the few differences between the three men, who appeared in a piece by Brokaw on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

Dianne Fukami, the co-producer of a documentary about Mineta that showed Friday, also called Heart Mountain a concentration camp. “I didn’t want to go back to euphemisms” to explain what happened, she said.

Alan Simpson and Norman Mineta meet with former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw for an interview for a story that appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Brokaw said the “race card” is played too often in American politics as a means to divide us, which Mineta and Simpson echoed in their interview with Brokaw and their comments during a panel discussion on Friday,

Brokaw closed his speech with the story of former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, a Florida Democrat who was a paratrooper who jumped behind German lines on D-Day on June 6, 1944. Brokaw quoted Gibbons as saying he didn’t care about the ethnicity of his fellow paratroopers, who could tell friend from foe by using a clicker.

When they clicked back, Gibbons told Brokaw, “They didn’t say, ‘I’m an Italian American.’ … Those are the guys I’m going to fight with.”

Remembering James and Toshi Ito

Former Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lance Ito praised the work done by Heart Mountain farmers during the war. They included his father, James, who led the farming efforts at the camp, where he also met Toshi Nagamori, who would become his wife and Lance’s mother.

Former Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, whose parents met at Heart Mountain, gave the keynote address to the pilgrims Saturday, honoring the farmers who turned the dusty high-desert soil of the Big Horn Basin into rich farmland.

Those farmers were led by his father, James Ito, who used his skills developed at UC Berkeley to analyze the area’s soil and determine which crops could thrive when the farms finally received irrigation.

Ito showed a series of seven posters highlighting the work done by his father and the fellow farmers, who raised more than 1 million pounds of produce that they stored in a root cellar being restored by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

“You talk about organic farming,” Ito said. “They had to pick the bugs off the plants.”

Like Brokaw before him, Ito grew emotional talking about his parents and their fellow incarcerees, many of whom lost everything when they were forced to leave their homes and businesses on the West Coast.

“My parents never talked about [the incarceration],” he said. “Every now and then, they would say, ‘I knew him in camp.’ [Not] until I was in middle adulthood did I persuade my parents to tell me about it.”

Eventually, however, J