Today’s guest blog was submitted by Jack Withington, one of the participants in the “Sages of Petaluma” conversation group. Hopefully, other Sages will compose guest blogs that recall their memories of living, working, and growing up in “Our River Town.”

“Before Tom Yoneda reached the age of 5 years old, he was incarcerated, suffered from life threatening asthma, serious allergy conditions, and was the target of sinister and very real death threats. From this most unusual and dangerous childhood, Tom Yoneda went on to become the elected student body president of Petaluma high School for the fall of 1956. In addition to his popularity in school, he won many academic and athletic accolades. After high school, Tom attended Leland Stanford Junior University.

The son of Penngrove chicken ranchers, Tom’s father, Karl was Japanese, his mother, Elaine, was Jewish, the family moved to Penngrove after Karl’s military service in World War ll.  The Yoneda family, along with many Sonoma County residents of Japanese descent, was detained in pursuant to the 1942 Presidential Executive order 9066 issued after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Albeit, Tom was only one half Japanese and a toddler, there were no options.

Relocation to an internment camp was sudden and with little time to get their affairs in order, the families were herded into temporary quarters in empty fairgrounds and race track horse stalls throughout California before being dispersed to one of the ten preselected internment camps scattered throughout the western United States.

A desolate and barren landscape awaited the Yoneda family as they were unceremoniously unloaded behind the barbed wire and armed guard towers of Manzanar in the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains which, from the air, resembled the Nazi concentration camps of Europe.

Shortly after arriving at the high desert camp, Karl Yoneda volunteered to join the American military forces and was assigned to the top secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS) and received orders to report to Camp Savage, Minnesota for training eventually serving his country behind enemy lines.

Meanwhile, back at Manzanar, Elaine and little Tommy along with the families of other military volunteers received constant deaths threats from a pro-Japan element in the camp.  The shoddy construction of the internee’s quarters did little to protect Tommy from the dust, wind and cold that exacerbated his fragile medical state. The Yoneda family survived.

While a student at Stanford University, Tom visited Japan and was devastated by the damage caused by the war time atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. October 1961, he joined the pacifist Earle Reynolds family aboard the vessel  ”The Phoenix” and, as an atomic protest, sailed into the Russian “Nakhoda” test area within 12 miles of Russia. They were detained by Russian military officials.

In more recent history, Tom was presented a Congressional Gold Medal issued posthumously to his father, Karl, for his service in World War Two. Tom now retired, lives in Northern California.”


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