Interned Japanese Americans saved Idaho crops during WWII labor shortage

Baggage belonging to evacuees from the assembly center at Puyallup, Washington, is sorted and trucked to owners in their barrack apartments at Minidoka Relocation Center in Eden, Idaho.


By MYCHEL MATTHEWS | The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho | Published: July 26, 2018

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (Tribune News Service) — In 1942, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast and hauled to 10 internment camps west of the Mississippi. Two-thirds of those incarcerated by the War Relocation Authority were American citizens.

A total of 13,000 — about the population of Twin Falls at the time — were held at the Minidoka Relocation Center, known to locals as the “Hunt Camp,” north of Eden.

Nearly 2,500 of those in the Hunt Camp worked in southern Idaho crops, mostly sugar beets and potatoes, during the labor shortage created by World War II. But the shortage continued as nearly 1,000 of the men and women in the camp left to serve in the U.S. military. Men served in battle; women served as translators.

A separate prisoner-of-war camp for German and Italian soldiers was constructed called “Camp Rupert” west of Paul. POWs were assigned to camps according to the local need for emergency labor.

Japanese Americans from the Hunt Camp worked alongside German and Italian POWs and Mexican farm laborers from the Bracero Program, according to “Surviving Minidoka, The Legacy of WWII Japanese American Incarceration,” edited by College of Southern Idaho historian Russ Tremayne.

When working in the fields, some from the Hunt Camp were housed by the Farm Security Administration at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Rupert and in El Milagro, a labor camp in Twin Falls, Tremayne said.

POWs held at Camp Rupert, however, were housed at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds in Filer when working in Twin Falls County.

Farmers applied to county extension agents for seasonal laborers and to the War Relocation Authority for year-round help, according to the April 6, 1944, edition of the Minidoka County News.

According to the National Park Service, a total of 10,000 babies were born in the 10 internment camps between 1942 and 1945; 489 babies were born at the Hunt Camp. The Hunt Camp’s hospital complex consisted of maternity, surgery and pediatrics wards, and a dental clinic, an optical clinic, a pharmacy and a morgue. Nearly 200 people died of natural causes at the camp.

©2018 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)
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