The Key to a successful road trip to Arkansas is avoiding Memphis. I get it, I was raised in Tennessee, I love Memphis, it’s inspired some of the best songs in country music, don’t believe me, listen to this and tell me it’s not three kinds of awesome. I could listen to that song all day. So much history, so much music, so much barbeque, all in Memphis. Oh, and there’s Elvis. So yeah, Memphis is great unless you have to find the St Louis exit, on a pretty shitty road, and white-knuckle the next 20 miles because the whole thing is too much. On the way home there was something that I wanted to see, it would take me a couple hours out of my way, but that is road tripping is for, exploring – and it was a good way for me to avoid Memphis. So off to Rohwer Arkansas I went. Things did not go as planned.
Rohwer Arkansas was once home to one of the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII. In fact, George Takei spent a year there when he was a little boy. He talks about traveling to the swamps of Arkansas, and how remote it was, and he’s not kidding. It’s still remote, and it took me 4 hours to find the memorial. The sensible side of me said, “Marika get back on Prison Road, pick up a nice hitchhiker and settle down, you don’t really NEED to see this place.” But honestly, the truth is I did need to see it, even if I still don’t know why. Finally, after being told I was indeed on the right road, and it was just another 5 miles, I drove another 12 and there was a sign. I turned left, I crossed the abandoned railroad tracks that brought George Takei and 8,000 other Japanese Americans to the camp, and there was a memorial, down a gravel road and hidden in a clump of trees surrounded by a cotton field.
The only thing left is the cemetery for the people who died while being held there as well as two memorials made of concrete. the one on the left, with the eagle, was made by the people imprisoned there honoring all their dead. The other honors the men from the Rohwer camp that died while serving in the 442 infantry, the most decorated soldiers of WWII – they also had the highest casualty rate, and boy does that say something.
Rohwer is a sad place. It’s wrapped in a silent sorrow. What made it worse to me, is that there is this monument made to honor heroes that gave their lives, regardless of what was being done to their families, and the flag depicted on the obelisk isn’t even painted. It’s faded, much like our memory of this place.
Outside the cemetery, there is one more little headstone among the trees, I, of course, built a story around it. I just imagined a child wanting to honor his or her best friend and someone being kind enough to help them. It amazes me it is still there.
There are little kiosks set up around the memorial, and when you push a button Lt Sulu will tell you a little something about the camp. It’s a little weird having him explain it, considering that after being imprisoned here, he went on to serve on a spaceship with a crew made up of different races, alien and otherwise.
Afterward, Monte and I sat down on at the picnic table, and ate some kiwi and watermelon and enjoyed the shade and the stillness.
The camp closed on November 30, 1945. It was the last internment camp to close.