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Special Guest Lecture: Sam Mihara, from Internment Camp Prisoner to Rocket Scientist
In April, students in Ryan Rosso’s AP U.S. History class enjoyed a special visit from Sam Mihara. Mihara is a second-generation Japanese American whose family was sent to Heart Mountain, an internment camp in Wyoming, during World War II. After the war, Sam attended Lick Wilmerding High School in San Francisco and graduated from U.C. Berkeley and UCLA graduate school with engineering degrees. He became a rocket scientist with The Boeing Company, where he helped with the launching many satellites into orbit.
He is a member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, supporting the museum created in 2011 at the camp site in Wyoming. Mihara has presented his story at museums, universities, the Department of Justice and other venues across the nation. Through his presentation, “Memories of Heart Mountain, as Experienced by Former Prisoner Sam Mihara,” Sam helps to educate current and future leaders about the importance of ensuring the civil rights of citizens.
Mihara helped our students understand what happened to him and his family, why the camps were created and the important lessons about civil rights that he carried with him from this experience. Through a compelling presentation of photographs, including some by Dorothea Lange on loan from U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, Mihara’s difficult and rich story of incarceration offered our students a first-hand glimpse of one of the more difficult and shameful times in U.S. history.
Student Raigan Reeves shared, "I was very intrigued by the guest speaker, as I found his story to be very informative and extremely interesting. Sometimes history can seem surreal and disconnected because we weren't there to experience it ourselves, but it was so helpful to learn about a period in history from someone who experienced it firsthand."
As vividly as he showed the tragedy of the time, Mihara also showed students the resilience and redemption that’s possible in the midst of the unimaginable. Through stories of prisoners creating gardens, schools and even an ice skating rink at the camp, as well as through his and his friends' amazing lives and achievements years after they were released from the camp, Mihara left all of us with a sense of how much ability we have to not only endure and survive, but truly overcome life's deepest challenges.
Bennison Flores, another student in Rosso's class, reflected, "Being able to learn more about Japanese Internment Camps from a member of a fading group of people who experienced it personally has been life changing. I am honored that he shared his story with us, and will forever be grateful."