Editor’s Note: Nisei Impact is a youth storytelling project led by the Star-Advertiser and the nonprofit Nisei Veterans Legacy. Each day this week, we will publish a story, written by a high school student, about the nisei veterans in our families and communities.
Kenneth Yukio Fujimoto fought alongside members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, but his love and dedication to his family may be his greatest legacy.
Fujimoto’s son recalls that his father’s longtime friends from the 442nd often gathered around the family dinner table absorbed in deep conversation, telling their life stories and reminiscing about shared memories.
“People like Spark Matsunaga and Daniel Inouye used to come over sometimes just to hang out,” said Earl Fujimoto. “They were all great men, and my family and I could all tell how much it meant to my dad that he had people to share his experiences from the war with. It was an honor being able to know soldiers from the 442nd, including, of course, my dad.”
Fujimoto was born on Feb. 9, 1922, in Paauilo on Hawaii island. Joining the military at just 20 years old, he served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from 1943 to 1945 and became a sergeant for G Company’s 2nd Battalion, earning a Bronze Star for his heroic actions in combat.
His sister in-law, Marjorie Yonezaki, spoke of the nisei veterans’ modesty after the war, despite all of their great feats.
“They didn’t talk about all that they had accomplished, but they didn’t have to because we all knew that it was a proud moment for them to have had such an impact on all of our futures,” she said.
In Marjorie’s eyes the legacy that Fujimoto left with his loved ones was his bravery.
After he returned home from the war, Fujimoto started his new life, taking his passion and courage from his wartime experiences with him through his challenges.
“Even after the war they were still broke,” said Fujimoto’s sister-in-law, Mary Seichi. “I remember seeing them hunting for coins under tables … but they kept going and persevered to end up growing wonderful lives for themselves anyways,” and displaying the determination typical of nisei veterans.
In Seichi’s eyes, Fujimoto’s lasting legacy was his perseverance.
About two years after the war, using the GI Bill, Fujimoto attended Monroe College of Optometry to earn his O.D. (doctorate in optometry). He continued to study optometry at the American Optometric Center for the next year. His hard work paid off as he proceeded to become an optometrist with his own practice and later served as president of the Hawaii Optometry Association, the Hawaii State Board of Exam in Optometry and the Contact Lens Society of Hawaii.
Along with his well-earned career, Fujimoto went on to find love. In 1952 he married Katherine Seichi, and within 10 years they had five sons: Mark, Todd, David, Eric and Earl.
Fulfilling Fujimoto’s wishes of having his legacy and hard work carried on, when he died on Jan 30, 2000, his oldest living son, David, took over the family business, Fujimoto Eye Care.
Still, after all of these years since the war and his death, Fujimoto’s determination, passion, bravery, love and spirit will remain forever remembered.
Although he was a soldier, in his son Earl’s eyes, the lasting legacy Fujimoto left was the unconditional love he had for his family.
“After knowing him for a huge part of my life, and knowing all that he did before I was born,” said Earl Fujimoto, “I can easily say that I am proud to be his son.”
Marisa Fujimoto is a junior at Kalani High School. She is the granddaughter of Kenneth Yukio Fujimoto.