Statement from the Topaz Museum Board

September 17, 2021

The photo of a Japanese American Citizens League monument that is located at the site was taken in the summer of 2020, Topaz Museum Board President Jane Beckwith said. The sign is less than a mile away from where the monument memorializing James Wakasa was buried. photo courtesy of Topaz Museum Board

In April 1943, James Wakasa was shot and killed by a military guard as he walked his dog inside the fence of the Topaz concentration camp. The guard was found not guilty in a court-martial-trial. Topaz prisoners erected a stone monument to memorialize Mr. Wakasa but it was subsequently ordered removed by the military. Its exact location had remained a mystery for nearly 80 years.

On July 4, 2021, unbeknownst to the Topaz Museum Board, archaeologists published an article detailing the specific location of the half-buried Wakasa Monument at Topaz, charting its precise location by reciting the number of feet from various reference points and including photos of the stone. In essence, this information detailed how to find the monument.

Fifteen days later, the Board was informed that the location of the stone had been disclosed to the public.

DEFACED — The yield, stop and guard tower signs located at the southeast and northwest corners of the former Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp were damaged in the summer of 2019, according to Topaz Museum Board President Jane Beckwith.  photos courtesy of Topaz Museum Board

This was alarming due to our signs being blown apart by bullets and blasted with shotgun shells, our markers spray painted by political messaging, campers wandering onto the site, and the recent bullet pocked destruction of another Japanese American monument with “KKK” spray painted on it.

We were saddled with a dilemma: Either ignore that the stone’s location was now public and hope that it would not be vandalized (damaged, sprayed with graffiti or pieces of it taken), or protect it by removing it immediately.

Because the Topaz Museum Board is the steward of the site, the Board removed the monument to protect and secure it within the Topaz Museum.

In our haste to protect the stone, we made a mistake in not notifying Topaz incarcerees, their descendants, and the broader Topaz community of our decision to move the monument quickly. We should have informed them and didn’t. We apologized before and do so here again. We will do better.

The Topaz Museum Board would like to make this right and include Topaz stakeholders in finding an appropriate way to display the Wakasa Monument and to honor the Topaz site where Mr. Wakasa was killed. This controversy over the removal of the monument is causing a chasm within our community at a time we should be united to protect democracy and promote our mission to educate people about the Japanese American incarceration and the preservation of the Topaz site.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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