Jiro Yukimura dies at age 96

HANAMAULU — Jiro Yukimura could often be found in the water.

“He loved swimming. After work, we would go pick up our swimsuits and go swim — that was some of the first dates we had,” said his wife, Jennie Yukimura.

After the two married, Jiro Yukimura instilled his love for the ocean in his five children.

“Every Sunday after church, we would come home, take a nap and then go to Poipu Beach for the day,” said his daughter, Kauai County Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura. “Often, we’d coming home in the dark because we would have dinner there.”

Jiro Yukimura, a WWII veteran and former Family Court probation officer, died on April 6 at the Garden Isle Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. He was 96.

Jim Jung, who used to be a public defender, met Jiro Yukimura over 40 years ago when they shared an office space. Jung said his friend was a gentle soul who treated people with respect.

“He was one of the most patient guys I knew,” he said. “When other probation officers got impatient, they would yell and scream, but Jiro was kind, compassionate and understanding. When my clients would go to his office to get a pre-sentence report, I told them to cross their fingers and hope Jiro was assigned to them.”

Jung considers Yukimura to be one of the greats.

“He was easy-going, but was firm and had determination,” he said.

That determination came in handy when Yukimura, who also enjoyed spearfishing, came face-to-face with a shark while fishing.

“One day, he was snorkeling around, catching fish, and having a great time when he saw a large shark,” Jung said. “His instincts kicked in, and he went back to the shore, leaving his fish behind, figuring the shark would be more interested in the fish than him.”

But when he was on shore, Yukimura decided to go back into the water and retrieve his fish, Jung said.

“The shark was not going to steal his fish,” he said. “The shark must have seen his determination, and decided not to tangle with him, and he came home with a cooler full of fish.”

Jung said that story is one of his favorite memories of Yukimura, and when he tells it to people, they aren’t surprised.

“When people who know him hear that story, they say ‘That’s Jiro,’” he said.

Jennie Yukimura, who was married to Jiro for almost 68 years, said she and her husband did everything together.

“We traveled to Japan three or four times, went to Washington, D.C., Alaska and Seattle,” she said.

Of all the places she and Jiro traveled, her favorite was Washington state.

“That’s where my family is. I have children and grandchildren there,” she said.

Jiro Yukimura, a University of Hawaii graduate, served in World War II in the Military Intelligence Service.

But shortly after enlisting in 1941, Yukimura and other Japanese-American soldiers were dismissed because of their Japanese ancestry.

“That experience, of so many Japanese-American soldiers, cut deep,” said JoAnn Yukimura.

Two years later, Jiro Yukimura submitted volunteer papers to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Mississippi, an infantry regiment made up of Japanese-Americans, mostly from Hawaii.

“The loyalty and dedication of Hawaii Japanese– Americans was legendary,” said JoAnn Yukimura.

During his time with the regiment, Jiro Yukimura served as a Japanese translator. He was stationed in Sydney, Brisbane, Manila, Okinawa and Tokyo, translating Japanese documents left behind at camps, JoAnn Yukimura said.

“He was part of the press corp attached to Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur and part of the Military Intelligence Service of largely Japanese-Americans who became known as ‘America’s secret weapon’ in the Pacific Theater because their translations and interpretations of Japanese documents and communica- tions helped to win the war,” JoAnn Yukimura said.

Jiro Yukimura later witnessed the end of WWII onboard the USS Missouri.

After the war, Jiro Yukimura, like many other Japanese-American veterans, became involved in politics, JoAnn Yukimura said.

“They understood what they fought for,” she said. “My political involvement is because of my parents.”

Family memories

Another one of Jennie Yukimura’s fondest memories is camping at Haena every summer.

“We’ve been going camping at the YMCA campsite there for over 50 years,” she said.

What started as a family stay-cation quickly took a life of its own, JoAnn Yukimura said.

“It began with just the nuclear family, but now there’s three or more families that come, and it spans generations,” she said.

Jennie and Jiro Yukimura had their 50th wedding anniversary at the campsite, and their daughter, Kathy Fertello, was married there.

Mary Mulhall, a family friend, said she will remember Jiro Yukimura’s humor.

“He had a wonderful sense of humor. It’s hard to explain it, but I always wound up laughing when I was around him,” she said.

Jiro Yukimura also grew a large garden in his backyard, Mulhall said.

“They grow their own fruits, vegetables, and have a coffee tree,” she said. “They shared with everyone, and it was very island style.”

For JoAnn Yukimura, Jiro will be remembered simply as her dad.

“I was so lucky to have the dad that I had. He was always there for me. Not once did he treat me differently because I was a girl,” she said.

In addition to inspiring her to be involved in politics, Jiro Yukimura taught her values like honesty, respect for every person, caring about and contributing to the community, and love for learning, which she said helped her be the person she is today.

“He modeled for me how to be a good person and how to be a good citizen,” she said. “It is hard to say goodbye, but for his long and full life that touched many people, I can only be grateful.”

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