Yoshisuke Jack Kunitomi
October 10, 1915 – January 20 2018
The long and wonderful life of Yoshisuke Jack Kunitomi has come to an end at an amazing 102 years of age. Our father passed away quietly of natural causes on January 20th. He was the son of Gonhichi and Komika Kunitomi, with seven siblings: Frank (Koichi), Choko, Kimbo (Kinya), Alan (Hideo), Sue (Sueko), Midori, Tetsuo, all of Los Angeles.
Dad’s life spanned an amazing era of American history. Born in 1915 he was a native Angeleno who ran the streets of Little Tokyo, and defended a swimmin’ hole at the L.A. River with his pals. He was a great athlete who batted for the cycle with the legendary Oliver teams. He lived next door to the historic Aoyama tree when it was a sapling. He and so many other Japanese kids in Little Tokyo attended Amelia St. School and Lincoln High School. He met a girl at a dance, and against all odds the downtown boy of a widowed mother married the uptown girl of his dreams, Masa Fujioka. The worst of times hit the community when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and he heard the announcement entering Gilmore Stadium. He left quickly and found “Little Tokyo was in chaos,” he recalled. Overnight the innocent, loyal community became the hated Japs and Dad was swept up with his wife following FDR’s infamous E.O. 9066. The newlyweds were incarcerated at Manzanar. When he was 28 and a father, his draft notice came to Heart Mountain where the young family now lived. From behind barbed wire dad answered the call to serve in the Military Intelligence Service. He went to the Philippines, then served in MacArthur’s headquarters in the Occupation of Japan. There he reunited with pals Jumbo Mochizuki and Kappo Kawamura, LA guys who got stuck when the war broke out. Dad took duffle bags of omiyage, gifts, including American goods via Jumbo who worked the black market, and visited needy relatives in Okayama.
After the war Dad was the epitome of quiet Nisei strength: he worked in produce at Grand Central, the sole provider for a large Baby Boom family, while he went to night school to obtain a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Education at USC. A jaw infection nearly killed him, he underwent cranial surgery and with mom’s help learned to speak again. He became a teacher at Cortez St. Elementary School and was employed by the LAUSD for 30 years. He retired in 1983 when Masa contracted ovarian cancer. During the two-year battle his quiet strength was an inspiration to the family. We saw him cry but once in our lives, when, finally, his beloved wife lay silent. It was a terrible blow, but Dad had lost the most of all. After a while he stepped outside again, and his new partner Thelma Jackson brought a smile back to his face. She too would leave his life after an accident. The Kunitomi kids rallied, and Dale, Kerry, Teeny, Darrell and Don would attend to his finances, feed him, keep his mind engaged and body exercised, and provide chauffer service for his remaining years. He visited the Greatest Generation’s WW II memorial in Washington, and received the Congressional Gold Medal. On an incredible day he was the Dodger’s Veteran of the Game, and we were thrilled to watch him shake hands with Orel Hershiser and Dave Roberts. A lifelong fan of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, we saw dad smiling like a kid again. Our father was a quiet American, the sort of regular, hard-working citizen who has always made this country great. He wasn’t bitter and simply never complained about things. His sons and daughters, and many nieces and nephews survive him.
The Kunitomi family deeply thanks everyone for their kind words, thoughts and prayers, and we thank his caregivers at Keiro/Sakura and Kei Ai. Service and reception will be held on Friday, February 2, 7:00 pm at Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90013; interment the next day at Evergreen Cemetery, 2:30 pm. Please consider a donation in his name to the JANM, LTHS, or GFBNEC. From all your kids, dad, we will love you forever.