Author Sam Mihara Shares WWII Internment Camp Experience with ALMS Students

Author and former Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp prisoner Sam Mihara presented his story to Albert Leonard Middle School grade 8 students on March 5. The 91-year-old San Francisco native, a second-generation Japanese American (Nisei), detailed how armed military guards forced him at nine years old and his family to move to the Wyoming internment camp where they lived in a 20 by 20 square-foot room for three years during the second world war. They were among 120,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned at 10 U.S. camps.  

Mihara is one of the few remaining former prisoners who tours the US and around the world speaking about that dark time in American history. His story is both poignant and inspiring in that, after the war, his family returned to San Francisco to rebuild their lives. Mihara eventually attended U.C. Berkeley undergraduate and UCLA graduate schools, where he earned engineering degrees. He became a rocket scientist and joined the Boeing Company where he became an executive on space programs. 

Students were riveted by his first-hand historic recollections, lessons learned and implications around prejudice in society today. 

“Learning about new things is interesting but seeing someone who actually experienced it is amazing,” said student Hope Ziogas. “I loved hearing his point of view instead of just learning about this from the internet.”

Julia Nweke said she was greatly moved by the stories about the awful conditions in the camps and the fact that Mr. Mihara’s father went blind from glaucoma because the doctors in the camp were not equipped to treat it.

Noah Elzam appreciated Mr. Mihara’s honesty, saying “He shared that he was angry about what happened to him, but he refused to live his life hating the people responsible for it.”  

“The most incredible thing about Mr. Mihara’s story was his message about the importance of strength and resilience when facing such terrible adversity and injustice,” said David Luhman, the ALMS Humanities Chair.

“It was an absolute privilege to have him speak to our students and we can’t thank the ALMS PTA enough for providing the grant that funded this unique experience for our school,” he added.