FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A Tulare woman is saying she will never forget her experience at the Fresno Fairgrounds in 1942. 

One week from Sunday will mark 81 years since President Frank Roosevelt signed Executive order 9066 forcing hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans into internment camps during WWII.

When people walk into the Fresno Fairgrounds they think of the food, the rides the entertainment but, for thousands of Japanese-Americans in the Central Valley, this is the place they were forced to live after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“They were prisons, I mean what else can you call them? There were guards out there,” said Frankie Wilkinson, a Japanese American who was forced to live at the Fresno Fair Grounds.

She was just eight years old when the U.S. government decided that Japanese-Americans had to be separated from the general public after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“When they said Pearl Harbor was bombed I had no conception of what was going on. I was thinking where’s Pearl Harbor? Who are the Japs? Really, a harbor made of pearls,” she said.

The family of 11 gathered what they could and traveled from Tulare to the Fresno Fairgrounds to join 5,000 other Japanese Americans at the temporary internment camp.

“A friend of my fathers… told us to take more than just a suitcase… Carry other things like a small washtub, a mop, and a broom and iron things you’d need for a house they did not provide,” said Wilkinson.

Once they arrived at the camp they were forced to live in the field where horse races now take place.

While many struggled, Wilkinson says it was her father who got her family and others through the tough times.

“In Fresno at the camp they told him he was gonna be the head chef for the block and he was told you either cook for them or they will die,” she said.

They were transferred to a camp in Arkansas where they lived for more than a year.

After they were released from the camp they eventually made it back home to Tulare.

Although, the trip back home didn’t come with a warm welcome.

Wilkinson said her parents told her “just suck it up don’t complain we’re doing this for our country you don’t complain about it they’re doing it for a reason.”

Her family and 5,000 others now have their names carved into a memorial that still stands at the fairgrounds.