By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Fusa Takahashi, the energetic co-leader of the Stamp Our Story campaign, passed away on Jan. 16 at her home in Granite Bay, Placer County. She was 94.
Daughter Diane Yuen explained that Takahashi, a big San Francisco 49ers fan, died shortly after watching her beloved team defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card game.
“We think it was the excitement and stress of the game. She spent all week anticipating it,” Yuen said.
Takahashi brought that enthusiasm to the 15-year quest for a postage stamp honoring the Japanese American soldiers of World War II. Speaking to The Rafu Shimpo last year, she said the stamp that depicts a soldier of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team carries an important message to future generations.
“I want to say … always be proud of your heritage and who you are and be proud that you’re Asian American,” Takahashi said.
Takahashi, alongside the late Chiz Ohira and Aiko Ogata King, founded the drive to recognize Nisei soldiers with a commemorative stamp in 2005. That dream finally became a reality in June 2021. The landmark commemorative postage stamp is the first in U.S. postal history to feature an Asian American soldier and the first to feature the history of the Japanese American concentration camps.
Takahashi traveled from her home to Little Tokyo to join in the first city of issue ceremony. At that time, she also placed floral wreaths at the Go For Broke Monument and the Japanese American War Memorial Court.
Granddaughter Kimi Thompson and other family members accompanied her. Thompson spoke for her grandmother at a ceremony at the Democracy Center, held with limited attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“The whole day was surreal. Grandma had worked for so long to make the stamp happen. I was so proud to see how many people came to support, speak and celebrate her accomplishment! Grandma always made a point to celebrate the people she loved, but this time we got to celebrate her,” Thompson said.
“As we grieve her passing alongside her family, we remember her kindness, leadership, and vision for the 15-year community movement that spread across the nation, and around the world, and led to the groundbreaking creation of the Go For Broke Soldiers Stamp last year,” said Wayne Osako, co-chair with Takahashi of the Stamp Our Story Committee.
Takahashi grew up on a farm in Cortez, Merced County, where she was a middle child of seven siblings. During World War II she was incarcerated at Amache in Colorado.
She met her husband Kaz Takahashi on a blind date in 1949 in San Francisco when he was studying to become a pharmacist. Kaz served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II.
The couple purchased a Larry’s Rexall drugstore in San Pablo. As they looked for a home to raise their family, they experienced housing discrimination. While her children were in grammar school, Takahashi helped to fight Proposition 14, a 1964 initiative that sought to nullify the 1963 Rumford Fair Housing Act, allowing property owners to openly discriminate based on race.
“They did not want Asians in the neighborhood where we wanted to buy. Mom was determined to move there anyway,” Yuen recalled. “She’s always had that sense of injustice. She felt passionate when things are wrong.”
Granddaughter Caitlin Takahashi said her grandmother encouraged her to become a doctor and that she kept her name to represent the family as Dr. Takahashi. She is in general surgery residency in Greenville, N.C.
“She was unapologetically vocal about her beliefs. Her activism and political beliefs have encouraged me to speak up for what is right and be more vocal. Her passing also encourages me to carry on her legacy in a way that supports the rights of others,” Takahashi said.
When Kaz passed away in 1977 at age 52, Takahashi took over the pharmacy, hiring a full-time pharmacist and running the store. She retired at 70, but became bored and worked for Rite Aid until finally retiring at 82.
The Nisei stamp campaign would eventually develop into a nationwide drive, but it started with a visit by two childhood friends, Takahashi and Ogata King, to the Japanese American National Museum.
“We saw this exhibit on the Nisei soldiers and what they accomplished in the fields of Europe and the Pacific. I felt we needed a broader audience to know what the soldiers did. Soldiers volunteered while they were behind barbed wire,” Takahashi recalled.
From that beginning, the women spread the word by circulating petitions, lobbying the U.S. Postal Service and members of Congress and drawing support from a broad network of friends and family from across the nation and in France, where villages were liberated from the Nazis by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
When the USPS announced the Go For Broke Forever postage stamp in November 2020, Takahashi was overjoyed.
“She was on Cloud 9, she was so happy. Every birthday and holiday, she said I would want the stamp to be a reality,” Yuen recalled.
Her passion also extended to the Niners. Yuen said her parents would go see the 49ers play in the early years at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. The family knew to schedule birthday parties so they wouldn’t interfere with games.
When the Niners face the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the NFC Championship game, they will be missing one of their biggest fans.
But amid the sadness, the family finds solace that she passed away as a happy fan.
“She died at 94, which transposed is 49,” Yuen said.