SAN MATEO, Calif. — Ken Kenichiro Michael Yoshida, one of five World War II draft resisters from the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp, passed away on March 19, 2015 at his San Mateo, Calif. home. He was 91.
Yoshida was born in Tacoma, Wash. to Kohei and Sakiko Kimishima Yoshida, the second of seven children. Before the war, Yoshida’s father had been a well-respected judo instructor in the area. His reputation as a judo instructor spread to California, and around the time Yoshida was 8, the family moved to Guadalupe, Calif. in the Santa Maria Valley, 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 American concentration camps, the Yoshida family was first sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif. and then, to the Topaz camp in Utah.
When the controversial so-called “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.
While Ken tried to make the best of jail life, his brother Mac found jail life unbearable, and accepted a plea agreement whereby he would be released from jail 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 near Tucson, Ariz., where draft resisters from Poston (Colorado River) and Granada (Amache) were also sent. This was the same camp were civil rights icon Gordon Hirabayashi was sentenced to for challenging the constitutionality of the incarceration orders.
In 1999, the former prison camp site was rededicated as the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site in honor of its most famous prisoner, while also recognizing the “Tucsonian” resisters, as they became known to be.
Ironically, Ken found prison life in the Santa Catalina Mountains 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 in San Francisco, a temporary government housing facility much like the camp barracks. Soon after, Ken married his high school sweetheart Keiko “Kay” Takahashi, who predeceased him in 2009.