Living History: Remembering Camp Harmony

Meeting Elsie Taniguchi, whose family was interned at Camp Harmony in 1942.

More than 1 million people attend the Washington State Fair every fall. Thousands of those fairgoers enter or exit through the Gold Gate, or main entrance. They’re welcomed by a large water fountain and the sites and sounds of a Puyallup tradition.

If you look for it, near the Gold Gate sits a sculpture that serves as the “Harmony” monument, dedicated in 1983.

Seventy-three years ago the fairgrounds served as the location for the Puyallup Assembly Center, a temporary facility used in the system of internment camps that held more than 7,000 evicted Japanese Americans as a result of Executive Order 9066.

Japanese American residents living in Western Washington and Alaska were relocated to what was dubbed “Camp Harmony,” before being transferred to camps in Idaho, California, Wyoming and Arkansas.

The Camp Harmony Committee’s mission is to preserve and educate the public on the history of Camp Harmony. Committee members include local citizens who were interned, or whose parents were interned.

The committee educated the public at a Puyallup Library event as part of the library’s Festival of Books. With the theme WWII: Memories of Valor, the library has scheduled numerous events to revisit the history of the war.

At the Camp Harmony presentation, an audience of all ages heard first-hand accounts of life behind barbed wire, just a few streets down from the fairgrounds where it took place.

Elsie Taniguchi shared her experience of growing up on a farm in Fife and being transported on a bus to the fairgrounds, where her family was interned. The Taniguchis were lucky in that they had Caucasian friends who harvested their farm during their internment and were able to pay the taxes. The Taniguchis had a home to return to upon release.

Another gentleman in attendance grew up on a farm in Fresno before his family was interned when he was 12. They did not return to the farm.

Another gentleman was 15 when his family was transferred to three different camps. He went on to serve in military intelligence for the U.S.

One of the Festival of Books events includes an artist in residence.

I’m grateful for the Camp Harmony Committee, who keeps the memory of the past alive. The committee is busy planning several projects for 2017 to observe the 75th year of Camp Harmony.

The Camp Harmony presentation is just one of several events happening this month at the library. Visit the library’s website for a full list of events.


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