Tom Tsunoda

Date of Birth

October 6, 1919

Date of Death

January 19, 2017

Tom Tsunoda was born and raised in Santa Barbara, growing up on the eastside near Franklin school. At that time there was a large Japanese American community in Santa Barbara, and the Tsunoda family were active members of the Santa Barbara Buddhist Church. Tom and his older brother Bori, loved to play in the youth baseball leagues organized by the church. As young boys they also picked oranges at Perry Ranch, a Fillmore property that their father and his partners had developed.

He was 22 when WWII broke out, and along with many persons of Japanese descent on the West Coast, he and his family were sent to an internment camp. Like many young men living in the camps, he was given the opportunity to serve in the US Armed Forces. He said yes to this opportunity. Whenever asked, he would explain that he volunteered because he wanted to be able to hold his head up high when the war ended. This decision by him and his contemporaries led to significant contributions to the Allied war effort and made it easier for succeeding generations of Japanese Americans. He served in the China-Burma-India theatre of operations as a linguist in the Military Intelligence Service. He was part of the Mars task force whose mission was to operate around and behind enemy lines, to cut off supplies and reinforcements, and to clear the Burma Road.

After his discharge from the Army, Tom met Florence Nakano. They had a long distance courtship as he was attending business college in Denver and she was attending college in California. They would see each other when she came home for vacation, playing tennis together and going out for beer afterwards. They married in 1951 and began their life together in Santa Barbara. Their devotion to each other throughout their lives was evident to everyone who knew them.

After some years working with his father as a gardener, he began working at the post office as a clerk. When he retired in 1978, he was the Officer in Charge for the Goleta Post Office. He was an active member of the Santa Barbara Buddhist Church and served as President of the church. Tom was also actively engaged in the operation of Perry Ranch. He had a large circle of Santa Barbara friends from childhood and was an avid golfer and pinochle player. He and Florence traveled widely after his retirement.

In December 2001, Florence suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and became severely disabled. He and various home caregivers took care of her until her death last year.

Tom was fortunate to have lived a long and happy life. He remained mentally sharp throughout. In old age his judgment remained as good as ever. He never pushed his advice on others; when requested it was always valued. His kind and gentle nature was supported by a keen and observant intelligence, which informed all his words and deeds.

Surviving Tom are his son, Stan, his daughter, Shirley, and his daughter in law, Henri. Tom is also survived by four grandchildren – Kate, Laura, Brandon, and Jason.

He requested that there be no memorial service for him. The family will honor this request but will organize a small remembrance with his extended family.


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