Academics and Research

Former WWII internee volunteers to help DU archaeologists

When Gary Ono heard that DU’s archaeology team welcomed volunteers for their dig at Camp Amache, he jumped at the opportunity. Sixty-three years ago, Ono was an inmate at the World War II internment camp in Southeastern Colorado.

“Although, I was only 3 to 5 years old in Amache, I feel the same mystical draw that I felt when I drove my wife, Carol, and children there in 1977,” Ono says.

This time, Ono will come with his 16-year-old grandson, Dante.

“Now, after 31 years, I have learned more about this part of Japanese-American and American history. I feel I will have a more educated eye to see, feel and explore Amache,” Ono says. “I hope Dante will feel the same.”

Ono and his grandson will spend about two weeks at the site, located near Granada, Colo.

Amache was one of 10 War Relocation Centers authorized by President Roosevelt to house nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans following the attack at Pearl Harbor.

At the time, Ono lived in San Francisco, where his maternal grandparents owned Benkyodo, a Japanese confectionary. After the attack, the government initially let families move out of the military sensitive area, known as Zone 1, to avoid evacuation to the war relocation centers.

“My grandfather invested in a farm in Cortez, California, where their oldest son, Hiroshi lived and farmed,” Ono says. “We all moved to the Cortez farm. But, as it turned out, the move was in vain because the U.S. military changed its mind.”

That’s when Ono and his family were put on a train to Amache. His memories from there are sparse.

“I remember walking across the open fields with an uncle toward the high school,” he says. “I also remember looking into a mess hall sink while an uncle of mine developed photographs in a tray.”

Years later, Ono would become a photographer himself as supervisor of media services for the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. He now volunteers as a photographer for the Japanese American National Museum.

He will help document the archaeological dig for DU and will be a resource for experts at the site, including Bonnie Clark, assistant professor of archaeology, who is leading the dig.

“Being joined at the site by Ono and his grandson will be a tremendous experience for me and for my students,” Clark says. “There is no richer perspective than from someone who was there.”

The Federal Communication Commission gave Ono’s father a Japanese-English language test at Camp Amache. He performed so well he was recruited by the British Political Warfare Mission to execute short wave broadcasts to Japan.

The job allowed his family to leave Camp Amache for Denver before the war was over in 1943. However, when Ono’s mother became ill, the children were sent back to Camp Amache to stay with relatives.

Before the war ended, Ono’s father was sent back to San Francisco to continue radio transmissions to Japan. The rest of the family was able to join him at the war’s end.

For more Ono family history, visit  The dig will be June 16–July 11. More information about Camp Amache and the DU dig can be found at:

Read about how DU opened doors to Japanese-Americans imprisoned during WWII.

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