Welcome to the Klamath Basin, the gateway to some of the most significant moments of WWII that occurred in the US homeland: Southern Oregon and nearby Northern California bore witness to some of the most pivotal, poignant, and significant events during this tumultuous period. We invite visitors to experience, learn, and remember the injustices perpetrated against Japanese-Americans, American children, and soldiers. Delve deep into these stories at National Park sites, memorials, and museums that help preserve and interpret some of American history's toughest and most important moments.
The Klamath region offers you the opportunity to explore many sites that preserve the memory of some of the Nation's darkest decisions and toughest moments, including locations where Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated after being uprooted from their homes and communities, the only location of WWII civilian casualties in the lower 48, and visitor centers and museums that help unravel the complicated story of WWII that occurred on American soil.
Tule Lake National Monument
Tule Lake Segregation Center stands as a beacon of resilience and remembrance of one of the darkest wartime decisions in American History. Following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order that forced the relocation of Japanese-Americans living in the western United States, the Tule Lake Segregation Center grew to become the largest of all sites where Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during World War II. By 1943, its role shifted as it was converted into a controversial high-security segregation center the camp became known for housing those Japanese-Americans who were unwilling to renounce their allegiance to their ancestral homeland, making it a focal point for the most challenging and contentious aspects of wartime segregation. The stories and struggles that unfolded within its barbed wire are a testament to the complexities of loyalty, identity, and resistance during a tumultuous time in American history.
"The people used this loyalty questionnaire as a form of protest. The people who gave the ‘wrong’ answer ended up segregated at Tule Lake. That protest is really the Japanese-American civil rights story. It’s a story that hasn’t really been told.” - Barbara Takei, Tule Lake Committee Officer
Now preserved as part of the National Park system, The Tule Lake National Monument Visitor Center is a portal to this complex history. Open during the summer months, the center offers guided tours of remaining structures, including the historical camp jail, allowing visitors to educate themselves about the daily lives and challenges faced by the people who were incarcerated here.
For a deeper understanding of the events and personal experiences of those interned, visitors are encouraged to engage with National Park Service (NPS) rangers on-site. These knowledgeable rangers provide invaluable insights, helping to interpret the history of the Tule Lake Segregation Center and narrate the poignant stories of the individuals who were forcibly relocated and interned here. Their expertise brings to life the complex tapestry of emotions, challenges, and resilience that defined this difficult chapter in American history that’s all the more important to learn about and remember.
"The memories of Tule Lake are both a nightmare and a life lesson. It's a reminder of the fragility of our rights and the importance of standing up for others." - Hiroshi Kashiwagi, formerly incarcerated at Tule Lake Segregation Center
Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds Museum
A short drive from the Tule Lake National Monument Visitor Center, the Tulelake Fairgrounds Museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to delve into the camp's history. Housing actual artifacts from the camps, including barracks and watch towers, the museum also preserves the records of the people who lived in the camp. It's not uncommon to encounter individuals making pilgrimages to view the records of their families or even themselves, a deeply emotional and significant experience that underscores the importance of preserving these tangible links to the past. For more information, visit the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds Museum page on the Tule Lake National Monument website at nps.gov.
“In camp, we had to be moved quietly because my father’s life was in danger. They were going after the JACL leaders or leaders, period, who were pro-American. So he got out quietly and then realized many years later from my uncle that we were still there, but we were protected by the military. They were out there protecting our barracks until we got out.” - Doris Kobayashi, incarcerated at Tule Lake Segregation Center with her family
The Tule Lake Segregation Center is not the only site that played a role in wartime segregation and incarceration: located about ten miles northwest of the Tule Lake National Monument Visitor Center, Camp Tulelake was associated with the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in 1943 when the United States judicial system refused to hold relocated individuals in Oregon jails. It later held Italian and German prisoners of war, brought in to address the farm labor shortages during the war. Visitors are encouraged to view the site, which is also part of the Tule Lake National Monument. To get there, drive 13 miles towards the Northwest along the edge of the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors can arrange a guided site tour through the National Parks Service website.
In addition to the internment of Japanese-Americans, the Klamath region also witnessed another significant event during the war that left a lasting impact on individual families and the community as a whole: the only wartime casualties that occurred on the American mainland.
During World War Two, Japan devised a strategy to launch incendiary balloons with the intent to cause widespread forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. These balloons, carried by the jet stream, were designed to traverse the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and reach the American mainland. The objective was twofold: to create panic among the American populace and to divert resources away from the war effort.
However, the U.S. government, in a bid to prevent widespread panic and maintain public morale, chose not to disclose the nature and extent of these attacks to the general public. This decision to maintain silence meant that most Americans remained oblivious to the potential threat hovering above their skies.
The gravity of this threat became heartbreakingly clear on a fateful day in May 1945. Near the town of Bly, Oregon, a balloon bomb detonated, taking the lives of six innocent individuals. Among the victims were Sunday school children and their teacher, who were on a recreational outing when tragedy struck. Their untimely deaths marked the only civilian war casualties on the US mainland soil.
“It mentioned that six people were killed and it listed the names. I saw these names and it shook me. My daughter was about the age of some of the victims.” - Yuzuru John Takeshita, formerly incarcerated at Tule Lake Segregation Center
For those interested in paying their respects and understanding the depth of this tragedy, a visit to the site in Bly, Oregon, is possible. Maintained by the United States Forest Service, a monument stands in memory of the victims, offering a somber reminder of the unexpected ways war can touch lives far from the battlefield.
Klamath County Museum
For visitors interested in understanding more about the intricate tapestry of WWII history, the Klamath County Museum located in Klamath Falls offers a deep and enriching dive, blending the somber realities of war with the enduring symbols of hope and peace.
At the forefront of the museum's exhibits are the remnants of the actual balloon bomb that exploded in 1945: this artifact is a tangible link to the tragic balloon bomb incident near Bly, Oregon, reminding visitors of the far-reaching impacts of global conflicts.
Beyond the war artifacts, the museum also celebrates symbols of peace and resilience. One of the most poignant displays features Japanese origami cranes. In Japanese culture, these cranes symbolize hope, peace, and healing. Their presence in the museum, juxtaposed against the backdrop of war relics, offers a powerful message about the human spirit's ability to seek peace even in the most challenging times.
The Klamath County Museum also provides insights into the broader war efforts, showcasing how the region played a strategic role during WWII. From photographs to personal narratives, the museum offers a comprehensive look into the lives of those who lived through the war, both on the battlefield and the home front.
A Space for RefLection and Reconciliation
These landmarks are more than just historical sites; they are spaces for deep reflection on our shared past. They offer a unique opportunity to hear and understand the voices of those who were incarcerated, allowing visitors to grasp the perspectives of those confined behind barbed wire and those observing from the outside. By doing so, they bridge the gap between different experiences, fostering a deeper understanding and paving the way for conciliation and reconciliation.
The significance of these sites extends to the broader Japanese-American community, highlighting the divisions between those who were incarcerated during WWII and those who weren't, and even among those who answered differently to the loyalty questionnaire. They also shed light on the contrasting actions of Americans during this period - those who took advantage of their incarcerated neighbors and those who stood in solidarity, safeguarding their lands and possessions.
These monuments provide tangible evidence and narrate the stories of our country's response to a challenging chapter of WWII. Engaging with these stories gives us a chance to address and heal the lingering wounds and divisions, emphasizing the importance of reconciliation as a crucial step forward.
We invite you to explore Klamath's WWII monuments to allow yourself to learn from the places, the people, and the firsthand accounts of those who experienced some of the war's most significant moments on American soil. These personal narratives, preserved at Tule Lake National Monument and amongst the WWII memorials and museums of the Klamath region, help impart a deeper understanding of these events' profound impact on individuals, families, and entire communities. We honor the memories of those who endured hardships and ensure that their stories continue to enlighten and inspire future generations.
For those looking to further deepen their understanding of this region’s depth of history, the nearby Lava Beds National Monument offers a rich tapestry of historical and interpretive programs, especially focusing on the Modoc War, during which the native Modoc People fought to hold off the United States cavalry from their ancestral homeland. Beyond the weight of history, the Lava Beds also offer a chance to explore the region's natural beauty, spectacular volcanic landscape, and more than 800 lava tubes to explore.