But this place still haunts.
Even when fall fades to winter, the wind blows here. It sighs.
This is not our first visit. Grav Weldon and I came here five and a half years ago to document the remnants of Rohwer, the last of the World War II Japanese-American internment camps closed. This place... matters.
The patch is tiny, and without interpretation it's not easy to picture the true extent of what Rohwer once was. Ten thousand acres of abandoned farmland purchased a decade earlier by the Farm Security Administration was allocated in 1942 to the War Relocation Authority, which then turned to the Army Corps of Engineers to drain the swampy fields and construct what would eventually become a village of 36 residential blocks bordered by barbed wire and railroad tracks on 500 acres at its heart.
Rohwer, like nearby Jerome and eight other such centers in six other states, would by September of 1942 take in thousands of Japanese-Americans who had been forcibly relocated there from California. For three years, it would be home to these families and individuals, in one of the saddest chapters of our American history.
Takei was just five years old when he and his family were brought here by train. The Takeis spent about a year here before being shipped to the Tule Lake Relocation Center in far northern California, but the time here made its impression.
Allegiance, a musical based on that period concerning the relocation of 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II to these camps (I hope to see it someday). And in 2013, he returned to the area, first for the dedication of the World War II Japanese-American Internment Museum in nearby McGehee...
and then for the dedication of the informational kiosks that now interpret the Rohwer site for all visitors.
I was stooped next to Grav when he took this image. It is most likely the most famous image he's ever taken... and it somehow captures that moment, the gravitas and beauty and sadness of a simple butterfly release.
The attention to Rohwer has increased over the years, with an exhibit and with Takei's speeches and the new museum at McGehee. But this place... this place still haunts.
However, instead of the pools of stagnant water and monuments in disrepair we encountered those many years ago, Rohwer's cemetery is now clean and restored. Through grants from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program, the cemetery and its stones have been stabilized, and the original monuments crafted by internees at the camp appear as they once did, with efforts made to recreate every detail. One more phase, to restore the original layout and plantings for the site, is planned.
The wind, it still blows this time of year and leaves the trees sighing against the silence. But Mr. Takei's voice shares the memories of what happened here, and what should never happen again.
Please, take a look through the photographs to see the improvements. And consider a trip to the southern end of the Arkansas Delta. Start at the World War II Japanese-American Internment Museum at McGehee and then venture northeast along Arkansas Highway 1 until you come to the Rohwer community.
For more information, visit the Rohwer Heritage Site website operated by Arkansas State University.