The former Boeing rocket scientist is recognized for his contributions as a public speaker on the incarceration experience during World War II.
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — The National Council for History Education has named Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board member Sam Mihara as this year’s winner of the Paul A. Gagnon Prize.
The annual award is given to an individual or group that has made a significant contribution to history education. Mihara received the award for his lectures about his imprisonment as a child living at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming during World War II. From 1942-45, some 14,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated there.
Mihara began making speaking presentations after he received a call in 2011 from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which had received a request from the Department of Justice to have a former resident of the prison camp give a talk at a conference it was holding.
Now retired from the Boeing Co., where he worked as a rocket scientist, Mihara was inspired to start speaking about his experiences, and he quickly put together a presentation that consisted of both family photos and professional images (among them, photos by Dorothea Lange).
The presentation was a resounding success, and as a result, Mihara was referred to many other DOJ offices; soon, he was giving lectures in schools, universities and various government offices around the U.S.
In the last five years, Mihara has spoken to more than 50,000 students and teachers throughout the United States. In his “Memories of Heart Mountain” presentation, he discusses the experiences of the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the American concentration camps and how the lessons learned from this bleak period in U.S. history can be applied to help solve today’s issues, such as the treatment of Muslim Americans and Central American immigrants. Mihara is the first Japanese American to receive the award.
“I feel truly honored and humbled to receive the prestigious Paul A. Gagnon award,” Mihara said. “The importance of history education cannot be overstated. Through education about the Japanese American imprisonment, we can help to ensure that such civil rights violations never happen again. The students of today have the opportunity to learn historical precedents that serve as guidelines for better solutions in the future.”
The award ceremony will be held on April 20 in San Antonio, Texas, at this year’s national NCHE conference.
For more information about NCHE and the Paul A. Gagnon Prize, visit www.nche.net. Schools and organizations interested in hearing Mihara’s presentation can contact him at his website, www.sammihara.com.