OBITUARY: Tsuneishi, 89; Asian Authority at Library of Congress

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Warren Tsuneishi

Warren Tsuneishi, a veteran of the Military Intelligence Service and an authority on Asia who served as chief of the Asian Division at the Library of Congress in Washington, passed away on Jan. 29 in Baldwin Park. He was 89.

Tsuneishi served as curator of the East Asian Collection, Yale University Library, and then as chief of the Asian Division of the Library of Congress. He retired from the library in 1993. During his tenure, he was part of one of the first delegations to China after President Richard Nixon’s trip in 1972 ended years of isolation.

“He was in charge of collecting decades of books with China, since we had had no contact with China,” explained his son, Ken Tsuneishi.

Tsuneishi also spearheaded efforts to forge closer ties between libraries in the U.S. and Japan, organizing a series of five Japan-U.S. Conferences on Libraries from 1969-1992.

Tsuneishi was born on July 4, 1921, in Duarte, the third of six sons and three daughters of Satoru and Sho Murakami Tsuneishi, immigrants from Kochi Prefecture. He attended with his brothers and sisters a Saturday language school organized by Japanese families, mostly farmers, in the Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte area east of Los Angeles.

In his memoir, which is part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, Tsuneishi said he considered himself a “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and resisted pro-Japan messages that were part of the Japanese school curriculum.

He was in his third year at UC Berkeley, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Except for the eldest son, Hughes, already in the Army, the family was evacuated to Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.

Tsuneishi was able to leave camp to complete his education at Syracuse University because the chancellor, William P. Tolley, opened his university to evacuee students as did some other colleges. At the suggestion of brother Hughes, who was then a student at Camp Savage in Minnesota and later served with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), Tsuneishi volunteered for the MIS Language School upon graduation from Syracuse in August 1943.

While serving with the 306th Headquarters Intelligence Detachment, XXIV Corps, Tsuneishi translated secret Japanese orders that detailed attack plans, including the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945.

“I was involved in translating a top secret operational order laying out strategy for the defense of the island,” Tsuneishi wrote in his memoir. “Let the enemy land with their full forces and supplies with minimum resistance; take up dug- in defense lines on an escarpment bisecting the island; let the Imperial Navy kamikaze attack and destroy US Naval and supply ships; and then destroy the invading forces cut off from their supplies at leisure. It goes without saying that knowing the enemy intentions is half of the battle.”

He was awarded the Bronze Star by Lt. Gen. John Hodge, CG, XXW Corp, in a ceremony at the Chosun Hotel, Seoul. He was discharged in January 1946 with the rank of technical sergeant responsible to Lt. Benjamin Hazard as the NCO in charge of the 306th. Two other brothers were to serve in the Pacific as graduates of MISLS — Noel in the Philippines and Paul in occupied Japan — while sisters Florence and Frances served as civilian employees of ATIS in Tokyo.

Tsuneishi received his MA (1948) from the Department of Chinese and Japanese, and his MSLS (1950) from the Graduate Library School, both of Columbia University, and his PhD (1960) in political science from Yale University.

He was professionally active in the Association for Asian Studies, Association of Research Libraries, American Library Association, and International Association of Orientalist Librarians, which he served as president, 1983-1992. In addition to numerous articles in professional journals, his writings include “Japanese Political Style” (Harper & Row: 1966).

Tsuneishi was a member of the Japanese American Citizens League and Japanese American Veterans Association, serving as vice president and editing “MIS in the War Against Japan: Personal Experiences Related at the 1993 MIS Capital Reunion.”

A memorial service will take place this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Evergreen Baptist Church of San Gabriel Valley, 323 Workman Mill Rd., La Puente.

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  1. i was so sorry to learn of Dr. Tsuneishi’s death. He very generously shared his book and pictures of a friend of mine who was in his Intelligence Unit (originally in the 442nd Regt- the Go For Broke outfit who were at Camp Shelby, Mis, where I met him dancing at The USO club
    and corresponded with him through his training in Minnesota, his sertvice in Korea and Okinawa, after the war, up until his death in 1992) I want to honor Dr. Tsuneishi in the WWII Memorial online and asked him if he would allow me to but he never did grant me this. I will try to contact his widow for this privilege. His history has been a rich, rewarding story of bravery and accomplishments and I think of him as a true American hero. I am an 86 year old widow with lots of memories of “those days”.

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