Historical Museum at Fort Missoula Awarded $533,000 Grant to Preserve, Interpret Japanese American Confinement Sites

The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is honored to receive a 2021 Japanese American Confinement Sites grant worth $533,000.  

An effort of the National Parks Service, the program recognizes the Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities and honors their rich heritage dating back thousands of years, their contributions that shaped the history of the United States, and the ways in which moments in history dramatically influenced their lives. 

The funds will help restore and reconstruct two original World War II Alien Detention Center barracks at the Historical Museum for the purpose of creating an immersive interpretive space and state-of-the-art collections storage. The grant will improve the museum’s ability to serve our community, increase tourism and honor the 2,200 men of Japanese and Italian descent who were wrongly imprisoned at Fort Missoula during the war. 

“Our selection for this grant will allow Missoula County and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula to increase our efforts to preserve and interpret the most intact internment or incarceration camp in the United States,” Historical Museum of Fort Missoula Executive Director Matt Lautzenheiser said.  “As our country continues to grapple with issues of social justice, it’s important for museums and cultural institutions to remain beacons of truth and places where our community can reflect on our history, both good and bad, and learn important lessons from the past.” 

Nationwide, Japanese American Confinement Sites grants will fund 22 preservation, restoration and education projects that will help tell the story of the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, who the U.S. government imprisoned following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

More than 1,000 Japanese men, all resident aliens barred by law from American citizenship, were held at Fort Missoula and subjected to loyalty hearings. None were ever charged with any act of disloyalty, but all remained in custody at Fort Missoula or other camps for the duration of the war.  

“History matters, and unless we understand the past — even when painful — we do a grave disservice to those who lived through that history and to current and future generations who must learn to do better,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “To that end, we must never forget the story of the Fort Missoula Internment Camp, and we are honored to receive this grant to do just that. A big shout out to Missoula County grants staff and the staff of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula for making this a reality and putting Missoula County on the map.” 

Fort Missoula is currently the largest intact World War II internment site in the country, with most major buildings of the era still in use, including the Post Headquarters with its courtroom, the hospital, commissary, officer and staff housing, barracks and other support structures. The museum has an exhibit on internment housed in an original barrack and a new exhibit in the Heath Gallery of the Main Museum building titled “Looking Like the Enemy: Issei Internment at Fort Missoula.  HMFM also hosts regular public programs and events on the site’s internment history.  

Projects associated with the 10 War Relocation Authority centers established in 1942 and the more than 40 additional confinement sites are eligible for Japanese Confinement Sites grants. The program’s mission is to teach future generations about the injustices of the World War II confinement of Japanese Americans and to inspire a commitment to equal justice under the law. The National Park Service awards grants to successful project proposals based on a competitive process, and applicants must match the grant award with $1 in non-federal funds or “in-kind” contributions for every $2 they receive in federal money.