Jack Yasuo Umezu, a decorated World War II paratrooper and humble barber who cut hair at his downtown Sacramento shop for more than half a century, died March 29 at 98.
A man of few possessions and simple pleasures, Mr. Umezu devoted himself to his family, community and country. He was also dedicated to his comfortable routine and regulars at Nisei Barber Shop, which he opened in 1952 and where he cut hair until turning the business at Fourth and O streets over to his grandson Cory about six years ago.
"No sir, not me," Mr. Umezu said at 86, when The Bee asked him about retiring in 2001. "Why retire? I got all kinds of customers. This is better than staying at home and fighting with my wife."
Besides genial charm, Mr. Umezu endured for almost a century with quiet strength, courage and faith in duty. He was the fifth of 10 children raised by Japanese immigrants who took their family back to their native Fukushima after he was born in 1914 in Broderick.
He completed high school in Japan and returned to the Sacramento area to work at an elder brother's farm in Loomis.
He joined the Army in November 1941 and parachuted with the 11th Airborne Division in World War II. While Japanese American relatives were interned in the United States and a brother who had stayed in Japan was serving in the Japanese military Mr. Umezu made 14 combat jumps in New Guinea and the Philippines and was an interpreter and interrogator for military intelligence. He was awarded the Bronze Star and discharged in 1945.
"He never talked about the war or what he did to get a medal," said his daughter Miki Morck. "He was very modest. He grew up during the Depression and was the most unmaterialistic person I ever knew. He only valued his family and his photos."
Mr. Umezu went to a San Francisco barber college on the GI Bill and settled in Sacramento in 1950. He opened Nisei Barber Shop in the Japantown neighborhood and served a vibrant community of second-generation Americans, including a rising politician named Robert Matsui.
He moved his shop a block away in 1963 as redevelopment forced out many Japanese American residents and merchants and other immigrant communities. He welcomed an influx of office workers and added fades and new hairstyles to his repertoire of flattops and crew cuts.
Mr. Umezu had four children during a 33-year marriage to his first wife, Shigeno, who died in 1979. He was predeceased by two children, Walter and Annie. A second marriage, to Kiyoko Lewis, ended with her death in 2007.
He was a longtime member of Veterans of Foreign War Post 8985 and All Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church of Elk Grove. He wrote senryu in Japanese poetry groups and shared news about relatives and events in Japan including the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster as a member of a Fukushima kenjinkai, a group of locals with roots in Fukushima.
Quiet and unassuming, Mr. Umezu earned a black belt in judo. Although formally educated in Japan, he completed adult classes in Sacramento, received a degree from Sacramento City College and studied at California State University, Sacramento.
"Any chance he would get, he would stress education," said his grandson Cory, who took over the barber shop. "He'd always give us cards at Christmas and birthdays, and he'd always write something about staying in school."
Jack Umezu Born: Dec. 5, 1914 Died: March 29, 2013 Survived by: Children, Albert of San Bernardino, and Miki Morck of Folsom; sister, Shizuko of Japan; seven grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren Services: Visitation, 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, and memorial, 2 p.m. Friday, at East Lawn Memorial Park Chapel, 4300 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.