University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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Alumna Donates Memorabilia
From Heart Mountain War Relocation Camp

 MAILED:  April 6, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — For more than 60 years a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumna, Clarice Chase Dunn ‘37, Madison, has preserved essays, letters, photographs and news articles about life at Heart Mountain School in Wyoming, where she taught English in 1942-43.

These sad keepsakes help tell the story of the more than 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated at relocation camps like Heart Mountain shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan in 1941. Because the camps were quickly abandoned after the war, their existence has been largely ignored and forgotten except by people who were a part of them.

Dunn, a retired Madison schoolteacher, recently gave her collection of memorabilia to UW-Eau Claire where they are housed in the Special Collections area of McIntyre Library.

Her Heart Mountain collection includes 11 books about the War Relocation Camps, including a copy of Ansel Adams’ “Born Free and Equal”; an autograph book from students to Dunn when she left Heart Mountain; a photo album of black and white images, clippings and farewell letters from her pupils; and a complete set of camp newspapers and other newsletters.

The material is available for students and others who want to study the human story of the Japanese American incarceration. In addition, Dunn established a bequest that will endow a scholarship for minorities or students with disabilities, a tribute to those she taught in the camps and throughout her life.

“Clarice’s gifts are a tribute to those people she taught in the camps and throughout her life. I can’t think of a better way to remember the past and touch the future,” said Carole Halberg, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

Halberg said Dunn hopes her memorabilia will help others know more about the human story of Heart Mountain.

“Just as other historic events are reduced to mere facts, the story of the Japanese American incarceration could be lost when those who were intimately involved pass on,” Halberg said. “Clarice doesn’t want that to happen. We are humbled by her story and thank her for this gift of history.”

After hearing that a memorial is being established near Cody, Wyo., in remembrance of the camps, Dunn wrote, “Of course, it’s important that the museum be established but buildings alone cannot convey the tragedy and heartbreak of the incarcerated. After 60 years there are not many internees left to tell the tale. I doubt that any Issei (first-generation immigrants) are still living, and they were the hardest hit — losing everything they had worked so hard for.”

Like many from her generation, Dunn wanted to get involved in the war effort after the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor. She had three years of teaching experience in Wisconsin and was working on her master’s degree at UW-Madison. She moved to Washington, D.C., and found a job in a settlement house. A friend then told her about the need for teachers in the WRA camps. She was hired on the spot.

“After the war started, I saw the terrible race hatred growing against the Japanese ... which even small American children were developing,” Dunn said in a Heart Mountain camp newsletter. “I knew it was happening all over the country. I knew the Nisei-American children would be hurt and become embittered by it — that it would damage their faith in people and in America. So when I learned about the WRA camps, I saw a chance to let these Nisei know that all Americans do not dislike them, that there is much love. So this is my small share to keep the brotherhood of man free from hatred.”

The camp was in a wide open gulch where American-born children were living in tar paper shacks surrounded by barbed wire, Dunn said.

“At first there were no desks and no textbooks,” Dunn said. “When I suggested that these kids are American citizens and if they didn’t feel a part of the country, we might have problems in the future, one fellow told me that this was different.”

Dunn taught English, social science and civics to high school-age students and an adult night course on cooperatives. The students were hungry for books so she managed to get 100 books from the Cody library over her signature.

“Up until that point I had always taught from a textbook,” Dunn said. “It changed my life and my career. I had them talk and write about their situation and how it was affecting them. We talked about the challenges to being accepted …Others were quite hopeful due to the Quakers’ help at the camp.”

“The freshmen mostly wrote about leaving friends and other aspects of their life,” Dunn said. “One boy couldn’t take his pony, and told about his Caucasian friend riding the pony alongside the train as it pulled away. The sophomores were more subdued. They wanted to know what they could do when they left the camp. We conducted mock job interviews and they wrote about their future job hopes. The juniors and seniors were concerned about the future. There was bitterness about the draft.”

Less than a year after arriving at Heart Mountain, Dunn had to leave because of chronic bronchitis, which was aggravated by the dust and the cold. After three hospitalizations, the camp doctor sent her home because he didn’t think he could get her through another winter.

She returned to Washington, D.C., and taught English to Russians on a Lend-Lease Mission and later worked with the USO in Texas. During the Korean War she was a program director at a service club in Yokahama, Japan, for Army Special Services.

Dunn taught for 35 years and became an accomplished writer and speaker, publishing hundreds of articles in magazines and newspapers and receiving many awards. In addition to teaching in high schools and junior college, she taught illiterate adults, foreign students and homebound children. Her work in special education included developing projects for the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Madison Association for Retarded Citizens.

But Dunn never forgot Heart Mountain.

“I met many beautiful people among the Japanese,” she said. “It changed my life and my career. A door was opened that I could never completely close.

“This time in our history is so little understood by most Americans. People need to know what really happened. If students are interested in this period of history, they will get the human feeling from the letters and photos.”

A page in her memory book contains a fragile, handwritten letter that speaks volumes: “To Miss Chase: for minds broadened, for memories unforgettable, for faith regained, for toleration, for understanding, we do extend most affectionate thanks and we will in the course of time think of you. Very sincerely yours, the Third Period Social Problems Class.”

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JW/JB


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Updated: April 5, 2004