San Diego couple who met in Japanese internment camp dies 9 days apart

Posted at 5:49 PM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 21:22:35-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) -- A San Diego couple who met at a Japanese internment camp during World War II, has died this month. The wife succumbed to effects from the coronavirus.

To Garrett Yamada, Elizabeth and Joseph were just mom and dad.

"My dad loved fish 'n chips and spam, and my mom was into sushi and fine dining," Yamada laughed.

But on May 11, Joseph Yamada died after a long battle with dementia. Nine days later, COVID-19 took Elizabeth. They were both 90 years old.

"I miss them, but I'm proud of the life they lived," Yamada said.

Through struggle and strife, the Yamadas became a prominent San Diego couple. Joseph was a world-renowned landscape architect whose projects included designs for Sea World, UC San Diego, and the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. Elizabeth was an English teacher who later became a partner at her husband's firm.

"They were a wonderful team together," Yamada said.

But their love story began behind bars at Poston Japanese Internment Camp in Arizona. Last May, Elizabeth Kikuchi-Yamada shared her story with 10News about her move to the camp as a 12-year-old girl. During her time there, she wrote letters to respected San Diego city librarian, Clara Breed.

Breed fought racial injustice by sending books, trinkets, and hope to children locked up in camp.

"Clara cared about helping young people know that there was freedom beyond imprisonment. Freedom of the mind to grow. Freedom of the heart to deepen," Elizabeth Yamada said in 2019.

It was a story she shared for decades until the virus suddenly took over.

"The tragedy with COVID is it separates you physically," her son said. "But her mind was sharp until the very end."

The Yamada's were born two days apart in 1930 and died nine days apart in 2020. They were a loving couple, inseparable, both in life and death.

"It was God's timing that they go close together," Garrett Yamada said.

Unfortunately, the Yamada family says they will not have a service due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.