Tom Y. Fujimoto, who served his country as an Army translator and preserved his cultural heritage as a leader in Japanese American groups, died Feb. 11 of heart failure, his family said. He was 87.
A Sacramento native, Mr. Fujimoto was drafted while imprisoned with other Japanese Americans at Tule Lake internment camp during World War II. He served in the Military Intelligence Service, a unit of Japanese American soldiers who trained as linguists and were assigned to combat groups in the Pacific.
Deployed to the Philippines and Japan, he translated codes, interrogated prisoners of war and served as a liaison between U.S. military and Japanese officials to help rebuild the occupied country. In 2011, he was among 1,250 Japanese American veterans of the Military Intelligence Service, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in WWII.
Mr. Fujimoto was a former president of the Sacramento chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Military Intelligence Service Association of Northern California. He belonged to the Sacramento Regional Japanese American Historical Project and the National Japanese American Historical Society.
He also helped preserve the El Dorado County site of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony. Every spring for many years, he joined volunteers in clearing the outdoor historical marker where a group of Japanese immigrants arrived in 1869 with plans to build a community in Gold Hill near Coloma.
"These are the roots of the Japanese people here in the United States," he told The Bee in 1994.
Born Nov. 3, 1925, Mr. Fujimoto was a student at Lincoln High School when his family was interned at Tule Lake, where he graduated. He worked at the state Department of Water Resources for 41 years and retired in 1991 as assistant executive director of the California Water Commission.
Mr. Fujimoto was predeceased by his wife of 53 years, Aimie. He is survived by his children, Michael, Susan Young and Lori Kurosaka, all of Sacramento; sisters, Stella Otsuka of Westminster, and Teruko Uyeda of San Jose; and a granddaughter.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. today at Sacramento Buddhist Church, 2401 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Asian Community Center Nursing Home or Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation.