Akira "George" Yoshitake

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June 1929 - October 2013

Akira "George" Yoshitake, 84, died suddenly on Oct. 17, 2013, at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, due to complications from a stroke.

George was born in Los Angeles in 1929, the third eldest of five children of Japanese immigrants. As a 5-year-old boy, George was considered a piano prodigy who was able to correctly name a key upon hearing it played from another room.

His childhood was abruptly disrupted in 1942, after the U.S. entered World War II. George, along with his parents and siblings, were sent to the Rohwer, Ark., internment camp, along with thousands of Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals. Despite living an environment surrounded by barbed wire and few personal possessions, he managed to find simple pleasures in camp like snacking on baked yams and playing with friends. After the war, George returned to Los Angeles as a young teen.

He later served as a civilian photographer for the U.S. government, who shot the iconic "Ground Zero" photographs of five military men who did not wear any protective gear as they stood underneath an atomic nuclear blast in the Nevada desert in 1957. At the time, he was not aware of what his assignment would entail, until arriving at the test center that day. The New York Times and CBS News, as well as other publications, have since featured George regarding the government's atomic nuclear tests.

George lived in Montebello with his wife and three children until 1966, when he was transferred to Lompoc as assistant operations officer of the 1369 Audiovisual Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base. During his tenure, he received the Aerospace Audio-Visual Service (AAVS) Civilian of the Year award in 1971. He retired in 1985 after having served a long and distinguished career.

Bored with retirement and with playing golf every day, George joined the Lompoc Unified School District in 1987 as a school bus driver and was affectionately known as "Mr. Yosh." He later established a video production company in 1995 called Video Creations, in which he filmed events, weddings and Lompoc High School football games. After running the business for more than a decade, he sold it to take care of his ailing wife June, who passed away in 2011 after 53 years of marriage.

During his lifetime, George was known for his outgoing, upbeat and friendly personality, as well as his willingness to help others. He was also an active community member in Lompoc and Santa Maria, where he served as treasurer of the Santa Maria Japanese Community Center; a board member of the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ; and PTA board member of his children's schools.

He is survived by a brother, James Yoshitake of Montebello, CA; a sister, Yuri Imamura of Cupertino, CA; and three children, Steve Yoshitake (Cheryl) of Orcutt, CA; Dawn Kawamoto (Jon) of Albany, CA; and Glen Yoshitake (Lisa) of San Diego, CA; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ, 3346 Constellation Rd., in Lompoc.

Published in The Santa Barbara News-Press Online Edition from Oct. 22 to Oct. 26, 2013
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