Yukio Kawahara, 90, translator in war

June 02, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Yukio Kawahara, who because of his Japanese ancestry was interned briefly during World War II, then headed the Southeast Asia branch of Voice of America, died of a heart attack May 26 at his Timonium home. He was 90.

Born in San Francisco to Japanese immigrants, he attended public schools there and learned to speak English in addition to the Japanese spoken at home. His parents sent him to Waseda University in Tokyo, where he graduated in 1937.

Mr. Kawahara was studying accounting at the University of California, Berkeley when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the war.

He and other family members were required by Executive Order 9066 to report to a racetrack at Tanforan, Calif., that was pressed into service as a temporary center where Japanese-Americans were interned. Months earlier, he had wagered at that track.

Because he had language skills valuable to the United States, he volunteered to be part of a group that waged psychological warfare against Japan.

"His mother and a brother spent the war at a concentration camp," said his daughter Pamela Kawahara-Fischer, a Dulaney High School faculty member who uses her father's experience as she teaches history. "His mother was afraid for him to leave the camp and their community, but he felt it was important to serve his country."

Mr. Kawahara was assigned to Denver, but in making his way there, he was stopped and questioned by FBI agents, his daughter said.

A civilian employee of the Office of War Information, he became a part of what became known as the Nisei World War II Broadcasters. In addition to delivering messages to Japan on short-wave station KFEL, he was a translator for the U.S. war effort.

While he was broadcasting, his younger brother, Francis Kawahara, left the internment camp to enlist in the Army's Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought in Italy.

Immediately after the Japanese surrender in 1945, Mr. Kawahara was sent to inspect atomic bomb damage at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an analyst and translator for the Army.

"He spoke about the human devastation he saw," his daughter said, adding that her father often tried to bring food to the Japanese people he met there. He remained in Japan through the end of the next decade, much of the time as a press officer translating newspapers for the U.S. military.

"You have wisely used your valuable knowledge of Japanese psychology and of the Japanese language to the advancement of international relations," Air Force Lt. Gen. Elmer J. Rogers Jr. wrote in a 1959 letter of commendation for Mr. Kawahara.

That year, he accepted a post with Voice of America, part of the U.S. Information Agency. He became head of its Southeast Asia branch and recruited broadcasters from Burma and Thailand. In 1970, he headed the U.S. pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan.

He retired in 1980 and later moved to Timonium. In more recent years, he was frequently interviewed by Baltimore County middle school students doing oral history reports.

Mr. Kawahara was a gardener and kept a koi pond. He also enjoyed cooking and golf.

Services are private.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Michael Y. Kawahara of Wheaton; two other daughters, Karen L. Goins and Gennie M. True, both of Columbia; two brothers, Hideo Kawahara and Francis Kawahara, both of San Francisco; and 10 grandchildren. His wife of 49 years, the former Helen Kadowaki, died in 1996.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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