Topaz Resister Ken Yoshida Dies at 91

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By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

Ken Kenichiro Michael Yoshida, one of five World War II draft resisters from the Topaz (Central Utah) War Relocation Authority camp, passed away on March 19 at his San Mateo home. He was 91.

Yoshida was born in Tacoma, Wash., to Kohei and Sakiko Kimishima Yoshida, the second of seven children.

While visiting the Topaz concentration camp site in 2010, Ken Yoshida stands at the spot where his former barracks once stood during World War II. He was the oldest of three brothers who challenged the draft. (Photo courtesy of Martha Nakagawa)

While visiting the Topaz concentration camp site in 2010, Ken Yoshida stands at the spot where his former barracks once stood during World War II. He was the oldest of three brothers who challenged the draft. (Photo courtesy of Martha Nakagawa)

Before the war, Yoshida’s father had been a well-respected judo instructor, who had taught judo in the Tacoma area. The father’s reputation as a judo instructor spread to California, and around the time Yoshida was eight, the family moved to the Santa Maria Valley in California, where his father taught judo in the surrounding towns.

A year before the United States entered World War II, Yoshida’s father was offered a job teaching judo in Northern California, so the family moved to Redwood City.

As a result of the address change, the FBI was unable to locate and arrest Yoshida’s father when the FBI began rounding up martial arts instructors after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the government issued orders for all people of Japanese descent on the West Coast to enter U.S.-style concentration camps, the Yoshida family was first sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno and then to the Topaz camp in Utah.

When the controversial loyalty questionnaire was handed out in early 1943, Yoshida answered “yes” to Questions 27 and 28, but by then, his father had decided there was no future for his family in the U.S. and instructed his family to apply for either repatriation, in the case of his Issei wife, and expatriation by his American-born children.

Yoshida’s father, however, later withdrew the request for repatriation/expatriation, and the family was never sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center.

When Yoshida received his draft notice in camp, he decided to refuse serving in the U.S. military until his rights had been restored. He did not discuss his decision with his younger brothers, but two other draft-age brothers — Masamitsu “Mac” and Sakaye “Sock” — would also refuse to be drafted out of camp.

The three Yoshida brothers were arrested and sent to the Salt Lake City County Jail to await trial. Ken and Mac were arrested together and Sock was taken in four months later.

In an effort to make life better in jail, Yoshida fixed a broken washing machine in the jail basement and began washing the inmates’ blankets.

Yoshida also requested and was granted cleaning supplies and chemicals to rid the jail of pests.

While Yoshida tried to make the best of jail life, his brother Mac found jail life difficult. Mac accepted a plea agreement whereby he would be released if he “voluntarily” agreed to be inducted into the Army.

Ken and Sock would continue to fight the draft and were handed sentences of nine months in prison. They were shipped to the Catalina Honor Prison Camp in Tucson, Ariz., where draft resisters from Poston (Colorado River) and Amache (Granada) were also sent.

Ironically, Ken found prison life in Tucson to be better than camp life at Topaz. He felt the food was of better quality, and they were not constantly surrounded by dust and wind as they had been at Topaz.

By the time Ken was released from prison, the rest of his family had been released from Topaz and were living at Hunters Point, a temporary government housing facility in San Francisco much like the camp barracks.

When Ken received word that Mac had been discharged from the Army and was living in the San Francisco YMCA rather than joining the rest of the Yoshida family, Ken and his sister went to the YMCA to invite him back into the family.

Soon after, Ken married his high school sweetheart, Keiko “Kay” Takahashi. who predeceased him in 2009.

Private funeral services will be held per his wishes.

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