Kenji James Yaguchi
On April 28, 2020, Kenji James Yaguchi passed away at the age of 97. He died peacefully in his sleep and of natural causes at the Good Samaritan Society in Fairfield Glade, TN, where he and Kazuye, his wife of 71 years, resided the past 4 years. Kenji lived his long and memorable life with purpose and integrity. He was a gregarious, energetic, and accomplished man. He was also a loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and friend, and he will be greatly missed by many.
Kenji was born December 27, 1922 in Tacoma, WA, one of 6 children of Tsugio and Shigeru Yaguchi. Sadly, Shigeru died when Kenji was just 2 years old. His father Tsugio was remarried to Tamayo Fujioki, and in their blended family, Kenji was the fifth of 9 siblings. Kenji grew up on their family farm in Fife, WA, and through his eyes, life was good, even during the Great Depression. Their food was always plentiful, and despite the hard work, they had fun. At harvest time, Kenji and his siblings frequently sang in the fields together. As a young boy, Kenji raised rabbits. He started with a pair, and grew his colony to 75, feeding them alfalfa he collected that had fallen from passing railcars.
Kenji always had many interests. He began judo at age 8 and went on to earn a black belt as well as 3 state wrestling championships. He lettered 3 years in baseball and 4 years in football, despite weighing just 115 pounds. Kenji loved Boy Scouts and stayed involved with BSA his entire life. As a high school senior in 1941, Kenji was President of the Future Farmers of America, Student Body Vice President, and class Valedictorian. That was also the year Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into World War II. In the months that followed, Kenji and his family were interned at Camp Harmony in Puyallup, WA then moved to the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Hunt, Idaho. A wonderful family friend took care of their house and farm until they returned home after the war.
At the Minidoka Camp, Kenji volunteered as much as possible to stay busy. He hauled coal daily to each of the camp's many kitchens. He and a friend started a Boy Scout Troop and were Scoutmasters to 50 boys there. While camp security was strict, they permitted Kenji and the scout troop out on unsupervised fishing trips and other excursions. In February 1943, the U.S. Government offered military service to the young interned Japanese men and Kenji immediately volunteered.
A few months after Kenji enlisted, 3 of his brothers were drafted, and all four served in the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, composed entirely of Japanese Americans. The 442nd fought heroically in Italy, France, and Germany, suffering unprecedented casualties, and became the most highly decorated combat unit in U.S. Army history. Because Kenji had learned welding in high school, he was assigned to the Combat Engineer Company of the 442nd. They served on the front line, building makeshift roads and bridges and sweeping for enemy mines ahead of the infantry. He fought in 6 major European battles, was wounded in action twice, and was honorably discharged in December 1945. In addition to two Purple Hearts and numerous other medals and citations given to the 442nd, Kenji was awarded in 2010 the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation's highest civilian award.
After the war, Kenji returned home and met Kazuye Komatsu at a USO dance in Seattle, WA. Kazuye attended the Vogue Art School in Chicago and became a seamstress, while Kenji attended the University of Western States in Portland, where he graduated with a Doctor of Chiropractics degree. They were married in September 1948, and shortly thereafter, moved to Ontario, OR, where Kenji opened the Yaguchi Clinic and practiced Chiropractic Orthopedics for 37 years. Kenji and Kazuye raised four children there, Lynda, Tom, Terry, and Marlene. The Ontario area had attracted Kenji because of its reputation for fishing and hunting.
Throughout his adult life, Kenji was incredibly involved in the community. With Kazuy's unending support, Kenji maintained his busy medical clinic, was an avid outdoorsman, and became a civic leader in countless organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kiwanis, Japanese Methodist Church, Masonic Lodge, Shriners, Ontario Judo Club (founder), Ontario Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce, American Legion, Treasure Valley Community College (team doctor), Disabled American Veterans, the University of Western States, the OR State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, and what was then the OR State Commission of Ethnic Affairs. Kenji loved public service and was the definition of a tireless leader and civic father.
In retirement, he and Kazuye moved to the Portland area, where Kenji fished with friends, dabbled at woodworking, continued public service with several organizations, spoke in local high schools about the war and internment, and enjoyed a front row seat watching his grandchildren, and later, great-grandchildren grow and thrive.
Kenji is survived by his loving wife Kazuye; their children, Lynda Ward, Portland, OR, Tom Yaguchi, Ocean Shores, WA, and Marlene Hill, Fairfield Glade, TN; his sister, Sue Mitani, Jerome, ID; his grandchildren, Leslie Ward, Portland, OR, Kevin Yaguchi, Mendocino, CA, Lizz Wiker, Boston, MA, Shannon Ward, Chicago, Il, Colin Hill, Cookeville, TN, and Brian Yaguchi, Seattle, WA; his great-grandchildren Hudson Hill (6), Paige Hill (3), and Bennie Yaguchi (2); and by many other loving relatives. Kenji will be interred at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, OR, next to his late son Terry L. Yaguchi. A memorial service will be determined at a later date. Cards of condolence may be sent to Kazuye Yaguchi, 141 Pineridge Loop, Crossville, TN 38558.
It is hard to say goodbye to Kenji. He touched so many people during his life. We can never fully thank him for all his service and will carry his memory in our hearts forever. Rest in peace Kenji.