WWII 'loyalty hearing' courtroom to be dedicated

September 22, 2011 • State News

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A Fort Missoula courtroom that was used to hold “loyalty hearings” for more than 1,000 Japanese nationals living in the U.S. during World War II has been restored and will be dedicated this weekend.

The Post Headquarters Courtroom held hearings for the Japanese men taken from their homes in the months following America’s entry in the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The men, all resident aliens who could not become American citizens, were arrested by the FBI after they were identified as prominent Japanese leaders or potential security risks, [auth] according to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

The hearings began in January 1942, with the U.S. government figuring that if there was any kind of sabotage being planned, those would be the men who would influence it, Carol Van Valkenburg, a University of Montana journalism professor, said in a video posted on the museum’s website.

None was ever charged with an act of disloyalty but all were detained at Fort Missoula or in other camps for the war’s duration, according to the museum.

The Department of Immigration and Naturalization established four so-called “justice camps” after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Only plaques mark the existence of one camp in New Mexico and another in Texas, said Robert Brown, the museum’s executive director. The fourth, in Bismarck, N.D., is home to United Tribes Technical College.

“So they’re not really interpreting this story,” Brown said.

That leaves it up to Fort Missoula, which has been restoring the courtroom with funding from the National Park Service since Missoula County and the museum purchased the post headquarters from the U.S. Forest Service last year.

The Missoulian reports ( ) that a replica of the courtroom’s bench rises on the far end of the room. The knotty pine wall paneling has been restored. The ceiling tiles and lights reflect Army decor of the period, though no photos of the courtroom have been found.

The dedication Saturday at 1 p.m. at a statewide gathering of historians. Van Valkenburg, author of wrote “An Alien Place,” the only published study on the Fort Missoula detention camp, will speak along with University of Idaho research associate Priscilla Wegars, who researched a World War II internment camp near Kooskia, Idaho.

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