Heart Mountain Sentinel (newspaper)

Publication Name Heart Mountain Sentinel
Camp Heart Mountain
Start of Publication October 24, 1942
End of Publication July 28, 1945
Predecessor General Information Bulletin
Staff Members Editor-Bill Hosokawa, Haruo Imura, City Editor-Louise Suski, Sports Editor-Yas Nakanishi, Society Editor-Kara Matsushita, Columnists-Miwako Oanao, George Kinoshita, "Joe Nisei", Art Editor- Neil Fujita , Business Manager-Michi Onuma

The Heart Mountain Sentinel (October 24, 1942 to July 28, 1945) was an eight-page, weekly tabloid publication that was conceived for the purposes of "keeping the residents advised of WRA policies and of maintaining morale in the center." [1] Initially, information about camp life and policies were distributed in a series of general, typewritten bulletins numbered 1–28 that were disseminated from August 25, 1942 to October 20, 1942, before the familiar newspaper format was adopted. According to former editor Bill Hosokawa , the paper was named "The Sentinel" since the staff felt that the nearby geological landmark, Heart Mountain, stood like a sentinel over the camp dwellers and they wanted a guardian role for the newspaper. [2] The Sentinel's masthead was hand illustrated and designed by Neil Fujita, who later became a prominent graphic designer.

Background and Staffing

The War Relocation Authority camp newspapers kept incarcerated Nikkei informed of a variety of information, including administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other necessary information concerning daily life in the camps. (See Newspapers in camp .) Story coverage was comparable to what one might typically expect of a small town newspaper, with nearly identical coverage in all ten camps of social events, religious activities (both Buddhist and Christian), school activities and sports , crimes and accidents, in addition to regular posts concerning WRA rules and regulations. Nearly every paper included diagrams and maps of the camp layouts and geographical overviews to allow residents to get a bearing of their locations; payroll announcements, instructions on obtaining work leaves and classified ads for work opportunities; lost and found items; and some editorial column that was reflective of its Japanese American staff editor. Reporters and editors were classified as skilled and professional workers respectively and received monthly payments. The wage scale was set at $12 or $16 a month for assistants and reporters and $19 for top editors, although no labor was compulsory. All ten camps had both English and Japanese language newspapers. Despite its democratic appearance, the camp newspapers in reality were hardly a "free" press. All newspapers were subject to some sort of editorial interference, in some cases even overt censorship, and camp authority retained the power to "supervise" newspapers and even to suspend them in the event that they were judged to have disregarded certain responsibilities enumerated in WRA policy. [3]

Journalism historian John Stevens calls the Heart Mountain Sentinel "unchallenged among relocation center publications," praising the paper for its editorial integrity and independence. [4] A Japanese language supplement was initiated on October 3, 1942, with the general bulletins, and continued for the duration of the Sentinel's run. The Sentinel was staffed and edited by numerous professional Japanese American journalists, and overseen by WRA Reports Officer Bonnie Mechau (who was also a former newspaper man). For the first fifty-two issues (October 14, 1942–October 16,1943) Bill Hosokawa, a graduate from the University of Washington in journalism, was editor-in-chief of the Sentinel . Even after he moved to Iowa in 1943, he continued to contribute to the newspaper by writing a regular column titled "From the Outside."

Following Hosokawa's departure in 1943, the Sentinel was edited by another veteran newspaper writer, Haruo Imura, who had served as managing editor during Hosokawa's tenure. Prior to the war, Imura had worked for several Japanese American papers in San Francisco. The Sentinel's City Editor, Louise Suski, arrived at Heart Mountain with nearly two decades of experience as the English editor of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper in Los Angeles.

Coverage Highlights

The first incarnation of the newspaper was a mimeographed newsletter, notifying residents of simple things such as weather forecasts and where to go for medical services. Eventually, Hosokawa worked out a deal with Jack Richards, editor and general manager of another local weekly paper, the Cody Enterprise , who agreed to set the type, make up the pages and print up to six thousand copies per run on their equipment. Of each edition, as many as 4,500 were mailed out regularly from the camp post office to friends back on the West Coast, those who lived other camps, or those who had moved to the Midwest or East Coast. [5]

The earliest issues of the newspaper reflected the need to help readers cope with the circumstances of their new life in Wyoming. Topics included plans for opening schools for both children and adult education, opportunities for work as beet toppers in nearby Idaho, policies on clothing allowances as the temperatures were already rapidly dropping, as well as warnings not to take celotex and lumber beyond one's allotted amount, as many new residents were still living in unlined barracks. One of the first projects that the Sentinel took on in collaboration with the administration was to help distribute information on a comprehensive census of all residents, in accordance with WRA regulations requiring a survey at all ten camps. On November 21, 1942, the paper tackled its first controversy in a story covering a petition signed by almost 3,000 adult residents that was sent to project director Christopher E. Rachford, asking for the removal of barbed wire surrounding the camp.

The Sentinel also succeeded in its news reporting that reached beyond the camp perimeters. Mainstream newspapers across the country only encouraged racial prejudices against Japanese Americans, and the Heart Mountain paper tried to refute the misinformation through editorials, articles from other news feeds, and letters sent to the editors. When the camp's former assistant project steward Earl Best went to the Denver Post in April 1943 complaining that the "Japs in the camps are being pampered and they're wasting their food," the Post ran a series of six articles on the conditions at Heart Mountain, determined to prove that the inmates were being petted and pampered with good food and feather beds. The story of "coddling" at the WRA camps was picked up in nearly every one of the ten camp newspapers, but the Sentinel staff responded with their own reporting, countering every allegation. [6]

Controversy and Accommodation

The paper did avoid controversial stories that occurred in the camp, which leads to the question of censorship or administration pressure. A strike by work crews for better wages and gloves and clothes was not mentioned, nor was a later protest by hospital workers. [7] Even when the Sentinel did cover more controversial stories, it has been criticized as invariably taking the side of the administration, avoiding certain controversies and toeing an accommodationist line with others. [8] For example, when mess hall workers struck in early 1943, a Sentinel editorial from January 9th, "To Strike Or Not To Strike" pronounced "talk of strikes and walk-outs for such reasons while all of us are working together within the center is irresponsible and immature..." Hosokawa defended the editorial positions as a forum for a variety of opinions, writing that "Editorial integrity was a very important element in the abnormal atmosphere of the WRA camps where there was strong and growing resentment against the injustice of evacuation and imprisonment. The reality was that The Sentinel could not have served its constituency for long if it bowed to the demands of every vocal minority element..." [9] In November, 1942 an editorial ran that protested the ban on Issei from serving on the camp's self-governing charter commission, and in January, 1943, the Sentinel challenged WRA regulations restricting the operation of community co-op stores. [10] Other important stories that the Sentinel did cover included community protests such as shortages of food and fuel, protests and reports of violence.

When the primarily Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawai'i was formed in June 1942 and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of mainland Nisei was activated on February,1, 1943 the Sentinel devoted considerable space to stories about the Japanese American war heroes. After a full year of publication, the Sentinel began to shift its attention to the successes of resettled camp inmates and news of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). The paper heralded the reclassification and drafting of Nisei as "great news" early in 1944, mirroring the accommodationist line that being allowed to join the military was an unbeatable opportunity for Japanese Americans to prove their loyalty. [11]

Examples of where the Sentinel' s sympathies lay are evident in its ongoing editorial rebuttal of Heart Mountain's draft resistance movement, the largest group amongst the ten WRA camps who protested the Nisei military draft. In a series of articles that appeared in response to the protest at Heart Mountain that appeared in Spring and Summer 1944, the Sentinel variously labeled the resisters "stubborn and intensely bitter," "deluded youths," and "warp-minded members" who made "wild-eyed statements" and "lacked both physical and moral courage." Following the arrest, trial and sentencing of sixty-three resisters who had organized under the name "The Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee ," the Sentinel published another editorial entitled "Years of Uselessness" on July 1, 1944 which further defined the paper's political views by stating, "Loyal Japanese Americans as a whole condemn the Fair Play Committee and the action of the 63 defendants as being as serious an attack on the integrity of all nisei as the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor."

By January 1945, resettlement of Heart Mountain population accelerated once the Japanese Americans were allowed to return to the West Coast. In July 1945, it was announced that Heart Mountain would close permanently on November 15, and the paper urged all residents to take action in determining their future moves. The board of trustees determined on July 14, 1945 that the Sentinel would fold by the end of the month, as the population rapidly declined. As the center prepared for its closing date, the Heart Mountain Sentinel published its final issue on July 28, 1945, under the headline "Wyoming's Most Militant, Youngest Paper ' Folds" So Staff Can Relocate." During its thirty-four months of existence, only one staff member remained throughout the Sentinel's entire run; editor Haruo Imura, who resigned that same day.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Hosokawa, Bill. "The Sentinel Story." Peace & Change 23.2 (April 1998): 135-47. Also in Remembering Heart Mountain: Essays on Japanese American Internment in Wyoming . Ed. and contribution by Mike Mackey. Powell, Wyoming: Western History Publications, 1998. 63-73.

Kessler, Lauren. "Fettered Freedoms: The Journalism of World War II Japanese Internment Camps." Journalism History 15.2-3 (Summer/Autumn 1988): 60-69.

Mizuno, Takeya. "The Creation of the 'Free' Press in Japanese American Camps: The War Relocation Authority's Planning and Making of the Camp Newspaper Policy." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78 (Autumn 2001): 503-518.


  1. War Relocation Authority, "War Relocation Authority Administrative Manual," Chapter 20, Part 10, paragraph 6.
  2. Bill Hosokawa, "The Sentinel Story," Peace & Change 23.2 (April 1998): 135-47.
  3. Takeya Mizuno, "The Creation of the 'Free Press' in Japanese American Camps" Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78.3 (2001), 514.
  4. John Stevens, "Behind Barbed Wire: Freedom of the Press in World War II Japanese Center," Journalism Quarterly 48 (Summer 1971), 284.
  5. Kelly Yamanouchi, "Watchdog Under the Watchtower," April 9, 2001.
  6. Yamanouchi, "Watchdog"
  7. Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps, North America: Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War II (Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1981), 118.
  8. Lauren Kessler, "Fettered Freedoms: The Journalism of World War II Japanese Internment Camps, " Journalism History 15.2-3 (Summer/Autumn 1988).
  9. Hosokawa, "The Sentinel Story," 145.
  10. Hosokawa, "The Sentinel Story," 145.
  11. Kessler, "Fettered Freedoms."

Last updated March 11, 2024, 11:16 p.m..