Rangers today were thrilled by a surprise visit from Frank Yamani. Before World War II, Frank was a star gymnast at San Fernando High School, who had reason to hope for a successful future in gymnastics. Then, in spring of 1942, his senior year was interrupted when the US government forced him and his family from their home into years of incarceration at Manzanar.
The Yamani family was assigned to a barracks in Block 8. One day Frank had an idea to build a set of gymnastic rings and bars, not only so he could continue practicing his sport, but so that the younger people in Manzanar could have the opportunity to learn gymnastics and find a good way to pass the time behind barbed wire.
When you come to the Visitor Center at Manzanar National Historic Site, take a close look at the exhibit that Frank, now 94 years old, is standing next to in this photograph – the first exhibit you’ll see when you walk into the main part of the museum. Frank, at age 22, is the eighth person from the left in the back row. And if we hadn’t placed that black text box where it is, you would have seen the rings and bars Frank built for the people of his block, who all gathered for this Block 8 photograph by renowned photographer Toyo Miyatake.
This past August, Frank very generously recorded an oral history interview with Manzanar National Historic Site. When asked what he hopes people can learn about his experience at Manzanar, he said that he hopes “they take away all the bad memories we have in there. This is a place where we spent the best years in life . . . especially the young people that were there. The prime of their lives. Like me, just graduating, best time of your life.” Frank felt that those were years he could never get back, and that incarceration changed the course of his life forever.
After being released from Manzanar, Frank was hit with what he called a “double whammy” when he was drafted into the US Army. Frank is one of 1,025 Japanese American men and women who served their country during the World War II years, after being incarcerated in Manzanar, or with family members still behind barbed wire.