Spokane County woman reflects on year spent teaching in Japanese internment camp

SPOKANE, Wash. — As World War II uprooted the lives of Japanese Americans to internment camps, a Spokane County woman was just beginning hers in the same place.

Seventy five years ago, Mildred Beitzel started her teaching career in Colorado at the Granada War Relocation Center, also known as Camp Amache.

She spent a year teaching young students and she never forgot the lessons she learned during her stay.

Beitzel’s teaching career spans decades. While the faces and names come and go, there is a group that will always stand out from the rest.

“Most of them arrived at night and they had flashlights and they were stumbling over the sagebrush and sand trying to get down into the camp,” she said.

Beitzel was 22 years old, engaged and fresh out of college when she stepped foot into Camp Amache, giving her an unconventional start to her teaching career.

Back then, she was known as Ms. King to her second grade class. All of them were Japanese-Americans. All of them were forced from their homes under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

“I just admire them with all of my heart,” Beitzel said. “They made the best of a terrible situation living out there in that sand.”

As their teacher, Beitzel was determined to provide a quality education.

“They were brilliant, had good minds, just excellent,” she remembered.

Conditions in camp were hard. In order to try to give them a happy childhood, Beitzel and her students put together spring plays to perform for their camp.

“I never had any problems ever with any one of my little ones,” she said. “Second graders are full of life.”

Beitzel even learned a few lessons of her own, like polite expressions to say “goodbye” in Japanese.

After one year, Beitzel said goodbye to her students and to life at Camp Amache. While the United States deemed Japanese-Americans, including her own students, as enemy aliens.

“I found no fault whatsoever. I have nothing but total admiration,” she said.

These are the lives she said she is privileged to have taught. In turn, giving her a teaching experience she has never had since.

RELATED: Long lost letters found in Spokane detail one Japanese American family’s struggle during WWII