Pilgrimage History

Pilgrimage History
The first formal Pilgrimage to Amache took place in 1976. CU Professor Russell Endo wrote a successful grant to the Colorado Bi-Centennial Commission that funded the Pilgrimage. The effort was modeled after southern California’s Manzanar Committee which, in 1969, pioneered the first recorded Pilgrimage to that concentration camp located near Death Valley.

Asians belonging to Asian American Community Action Research Program (CARP) as well as Colorado University students organized that first day-long Amache Pilgrimage in 1976. Arriving at midday, the cemetery site was cleaned, flowers were laid at the stone memorial left by inmates which is still housed in the small brick structure located northwest of the headstones. Before heading back to Denver, a potluck lunch was shared in the front yard of the Masunaga family who lived in the nearby town of Granada.

CARP reconnoitered the camp site beforehand, knowing that rattlesnakes and inclement weather were part of the landscape the Issei (first-generation Japanese) would find on their return to Amache. Barbed wire still enclosed the cemetery, accessible through a cattle guard which kept foraging livestock from stepping on grave markers. Wooden planks carefully inscribed in Japanese with the names of those who died in camp were kept from the elements in the same brick building that housed the stone memorial. A hike through Amache revealed barrack foundations, cement slabs from laundry facilities and showers, and base anchors for the guard towers that had ringed the camp. The heat and strong wind that stirred up dust and sand reminded former prisoners of their years spent behind barbed-wire on the plains of Colorado.

CARP’s attempt at landmark status for Amache failed for being too early and because the group was perceived as a radical “Yellow Power” movement organization by the Japanese American community. In 1983, the Denver Central Optimist Club began their Pilgrimages to Amache. The mostly Nisei (second-generation Japanese) Optimists worked in conjunction with Granada High School teacher John Hopper and his students to transform the Amache cemetery site with trees, grass and a drip-line irrigation system. A second memorial was erected at the cemetery and is dedicated to those from Amache who died in military service.  In 1994, Amache achieved historical landmark status through the US National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Friends of Amache serves as the umbrella organization for several groups that continue organizing the Amache Pilgrimage and also work on historical restoration of the WWII camp site. These groups include the Amache Preservation Society, the Amache Club and the Amache Historical Society.

The annual Amache Pilgrimage takes place in May on the Saturday before Memorial Day weekend, following much the same program established in 1976.