RAFU STAFF REPORTS
“He loved to talk to students,” said Andy Noguchi of fellow Florin Japanese American Citizens’ League member Bob Uyeyama. “He was a young kid when he was in camp and he’d always share with them the adventures, the mischief he would get into.”
It was during that very act of sharing, last Saturday during the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, that Uyeyama suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 75.
Noguchi said that Uyeyama was helping to lead a walking tour, sharing his boyhood memories with few students, then he collapsed.
“We were all standing near the foundation of the latrine building,” Noguchi explained. “He was telling how they’d be out there, late at night at the latrines, and they’d have their tops and they’d spin them on the concrete floor.”
Noguchi said Uyeyama was immediately aided by a nurse and a doctor who happened to be in the group, and they did their best to sustain him until an ambulance arrived.
Born April 9, 1935 in Sheldon, Calif., Uyeyama worked for 36 years in the Sacramento County Clerk’s Office and for the Superior Court. But he felt his true mission was sharing the lessons of internment, to ensure no other individuals would lose their freedom and rights in the future and therefore devoted much of his retired life to the education of young people.
As a boy, his parents and nine siblings were interned at Jerome and Rohwer in Arkansas for 3 years during World War II, an experience Noguchi said was an enormous shock for the family.
Despite their incarceration Uyeyama and his 7 brothers all served their country in the military, with Uyeyama joining the U.S. Air Force.
After retiring from his county job, Uyeyama volunteered as a docent for the California Museum of History, speaking to thousands of students about his experiences in internment camp.
“Bob volunteered so much time to reach out to students and young people over the years,” Noguchi said. “He literally talked to thousands of students.
“He could always really connect with the kids. Sometimes people would say, ‘Bob you shouldn’t tell kids about getting into trouble.’ During his talks, he would reminisce about his first brush with the law, when the military police came to his barracks he and 10 other kids had stolen the war coupons that they used. He was great about sharing these things.”
Noguchi added that Uyeyama also worked with the local VFW post, speaking with veterans about the military experiences of the Nisei.
As a treasurer and fundraising chair for the Florin JACL, Uyeyama was on the committee that organized the chapter’s yearly Manzanar trip, which is cosponsored by the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Among Uyeyama’s most cherished achievements were the hole-in-one he scored while golfing in 2007 and singing in a barbershop quartet with his brothers and in the church choir. A self-taught pianist and harmonica player, he would regularly entertain fellow travelers on the way to Manzanar.
“He’d lead the talent show on the bus,” Noguchi said. “His favorite song was ‘Don’t Fence Me In.’ He said that song really resonated with the internees. It was nice for the trip back and [last week]students sang it on the way back, to honor Bob.”
Funeral arrangements for Bob Uyeyama are pending in Sacramento. He is survived by his wife, Masako, son, Jason, sisters Ruth and Carol, and brothers Jack, Bill, Stan, David, Dan, and Pete. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Florin JACL Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 292634, Sacramento, CA 95829.