NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After Japan's naval and air forces attacked Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in December 1941, life for 7-year-old Lily Imahara and her family changed forever.
They were among hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans who were forcibly moved from their homes on the West Coast to internment camps by the U.S. government.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's February 1942 order gave the War Department the power to declare any part of the country a restricted military zone and exclude anyone from such an area. The next month, orders to move were posted for people of Japanese ancestry in Washington, Oregon, California and southern Arizona. More than 60 percent were American citizens.
What followed for the Imaharas — as well as Japanese-Americans who fought for the United States during World War II — is the focus of "From Barbed Wire to Battlefileds: Japanese American Experiences in World War II," an exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and on display through October at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Lily Imahara Metz, now 80, of Baton Rouge, often visits high schools in the Baton Rouge area to discuss her family's past and said the artifacts are must-see history.
"American people need to know," she said. "This is part of American history. You can't erase it. I know it's on the shameful side of history, but you can't ignore it."
Some show barbed wire encasing the camps and their guard towers. Others show the suitcases interned people brought to the camps — families were allowed only one. And then there are the images of Japanese Americans in U.S. military uniforms preparing for battle.
The Imaharas were housed at the Rohwer Relocation Center in Desha County, Ark. The camps were well-maintained and functioned much like small towns, said Walter Imahara, Metz's younger brother.