his July Tadashi Yoshii celebrated his 90th birthday. Joining him in for the festivities were his wife of 63 years, Lily, their three children, the children’s spouses, and their five grandchildren, now all adults too. To honor the milestone their grandfather’s birthday and learn more about Tad and Lily’s lives, two of the Yoshii granddaughters, Sachi Yoshii, 28, and Michi Yoshii, 26, decided to bring their grandparents into the StoryCorps booth in San Francisco for a couple of interviews.
Tadashi shared many of his favorite family memories with Michi and Sachi, including the birth of his first son, Kenny, and meeting his wife and their grandmother, Lily, at their church in Richmond, CA. Tadashi’s conversation with his granddaughters focused mostly on his experiences during World War II, a painful topic, and one about which neither he nor Lily had shared much with the family’s younger generations. Tadashi, or “Tad”, as his family calls him, was originally from Oakland, CA, where the Yoshiis were part of a large and vibrant Japanese American community. Growing up, he said, his parents tirelessly worked around the clock to run their family’s restaurant. The start of World War II changed everything. Tadashi was 20 years old when their family, along with thousands of other Japanese American families, was forced to leave their business and almost all of their possessions behind to be interned away from the West Coast, labeled as potential “domestic threats” in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attacks. In all, over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes during that time.
Tadashi described the holding station where they were first held – horse stables at a Central California racetrack – and remembered carrying his mother over a ditch to the horse stall they had to live in. Later, their family was moved to an internment camp in Topaz, UT. While at the camp, a period Tadashi did not want to speak much about, his older brother and role model, Kiyoshi, joined the US Army’s 442nd Combat Team , an all-Japanese American battalion recruited directly from the interment camps.
At the end of the war, returning back home to rebuild their lives brought huge challenges, but there was some silver lining to that time. It was after the war that Tad met Lily, his wife-to-be. He warmly described their courtship and marriage soon after, on Valentines Day no less! In her interview with Sachi, Lily described Tad when they met: the same cantankerous jokester he still is to this day. This year, the Yoshii’s celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. Lily and Tadashi both said they were happy to have finally shared with their granddaughters about their younger days – the painful and the joyful. Nothing made Tad happier, though, he said, than having their family all together in one place.