At barely 17, Edward Yoshikawa boarded a train without knowing the destination.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor had sparked a hysteria that forced his family and roughly 120,000 other Japanese-Americans into internment camps.
Three years later, a draft notice shipped him overseas to fight for a country that had imprisoned his own people.
“They were out to prove they were loyal citizens,” said Pearl, his wife of 71 years. “They fought together to save America.”
Yoshikawa, a decorated veteran from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Infantry Battalion, died April 7 at his Apple Valley home after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 94.
Born in Sacramento on Jan. 30, 1925, the son of Japanese immigrants spent his youth working in his parents’ small grocery store. Shortly after the United States entered World War II in 1941, the family sold their market for one-tenth of the cost and stashed their washing machine in a church basement across the street. Executive Order 9066 had authorized the transport and internment of people with Japanese ancestry all along the West Coast.
“Whatever we could carry was all we could take with us,” Yoshikawa recalled during a 2009 Densho documentary chronicling the lives of Japanese-American soldiers.
The clan of seven relatives eventually wound up at Tule Lake in California, where Yoshikawa was elected student body president of the work camp’s first high school graduating class.
Without money to pay for college, Yoshikawa was granted release in 1943 to find a job out East. He landed at the Bellefaire Jewish Orphan Home in Ohio, eventually saving enough as a maintenance assistance to pay for tuition at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
A draft notice arrived during his first semester of classes. Yoshikawa joined the 442nd Regiment with other U.S.-born Nisei — first-generation Americans whose parents were Japanese immigrants.
Just before his European deployment, he met Pearl on a blind date in New York City. Their long-distance courtship continued by mail while he was stationed in Italy, tasked with guarding prisoners of war. Yoshikawa volunteered to serve on the front lines, but was one of four soldiers randomly selected to stay back. Discharge papers arrived after V-E Day.
Yoshikawa returned to Sacramento to help his parents reopen the grocery store before settling with Pearl in Minneapolis. Northeastern states were largely unaware of Japanese evacuations, Pearl said, and residents didn’t appear to be as prejudiced.
“We always found that Minnesota was much more friendly and kind,” she said. Yoshikawa became an executive with Munsingwear, where he worked until his retirement in 2005.
The topic of his military service rarely came up in conversation, until 1988 when the U.S. Senate doled out redress payments to former internees. Friends and family noted that he never seemed resentful.
“He always said, ‘You could become bitter or you could become better,’ ” said his daughter, Joy Yoshikawa. “He always chose better.”
In his later years, he was known by parishioners at Powderhorn Park Baptist Church as the “Candyman,” because he regularly greeted children with handfuls of Tootsie rolls. Family members say the gregarious man loved to make people happy. “All he wanted to do was live for the Lord,” Pearl said.
In addition to his wife and daughter Joy, he is survived by children Candee Ploog and Lance Yoshikawa; five sisters, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.