Topographical Changes to Cemetery

The topography of the cemetery at Amache has changed significantly since the first formal Pilgrimage to the area was organized by the Asian American Community Action Research Program (CARP) in 1976. CARP, a Yellow Power organization, was mostly comprised of former US concentration camp prisoners, community members and students attending the University of Colorado.

CU Professor Russell Endo wrote a successful grant to the Colorado Bi-Centennial Commission which funded the Amache Pilgrimage. The event was modeled on similar community efforts by the Manzanar Committee which organized the first acknowledged Pilgrimage in 1969 to that concentration camp near California’s Death Valley.

Prior to the Pilgrimage, CARP members reconnoitered the Amache area knowing that rattlesnakes and inclement weather could be part of the terrain greeting the Issei (first generation Japanese) and other pilgrims. Barbed-wire still enclosed the cemetery which was accessed through a cattle-guard that kept livestock from stepping on headstones while foraging in the scrub covered landscape. Dates on the headstones revealed the deaths of mainly elderly or young babies, one surviving just a day. In the southern corner of the dusty cemetery, inscribed wooden markers identified other burial sites. A small brick structure to the north housed a stone memorial left by prisoners to commemorate those who died in camp. It also held a number of thick wooden slabs on which the names of all who died at Amache had been carefully written in Japanese characters. The white painted door to the brick structure barely hung by its hinges, having been kicked-in by vandals. It was rumored that high school students would regularly use the cement slab foundations to dance and party, using battery powered radios for music.

Granada High School teacher John Hopper and his students with the Amache Preservation Society have transformed the cemetery by planting trees and grass and installing a drip-irrigation system to bring water to this part of the semi-arid countryside. Trees planted by prisoners at Amache and dependent on rainfall are dwarfed by the pine trees cared for by Granada students. A large area of green grass as well as seating greet current day pilgrims in the cemetery now enclosed by chain-link fencing. In 1983, a second memorial inscribed with US military casualties from Amache was erected at the cemetery by the Denver Central Optimists Club. The Optimists began their participation with the Pilgrimage after CARP was deemed too radical an entity for most in the community. The wooden markers once standing in the southern corner of the cemetery have succumbed to the elements.