Actor makes return trek to WWII internment camp

Thursday, November 13, 2003

— A cypress root harvested from an Arkansas swamp 60 years ago is one of the few mementos Star Trek actor George Takei has from his childhood at a World War II internment camp.

The gnarled knee reminds him of a part of his past he had revisited only in his mind -- until this week.

As he traveled Sunday through this remote stretch of southeast Arkansas farmland, where he and more than 8,500 other Japanese-Americans lived during the war, Takei spoke of finding resilience in beauty.

"What (the root) symbolizes for me is that my parents were able to survive by finding and creating things that were beautiful," said Takei, who keeps the memento on his desk in his Los Angeles home.

Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series and in six Star Trek movies, was 4 when he, his parents and two siblings were ordered from their Los Angeles home and taken by railroad under armed guard to Arkansas after Pearl Harbor.

Six decades later, Takei drove alongside the same railroad tracks to visit the former Rohwer Relocation Center.

"My mother said the scariest part about that trip was the uncertainty," Takei said, glancing out a car window at the abandoned rail tracks that once led to the camp. "I remember my father telling us we were going on a long vacation to a place called Arkansas."

Takei, 64, returned in part to bring awareness to an effort to preserve the history of the Arkansas camps by the Little Rock-based Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Japanese-American National Museum. Takei is chairman of the museum board.

More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were sent from the West Coast and Hawaii to 10 internment camps. Eight were in the West; two Arkansas sites were the only ones in the South.