George Yamane led fight to honor two nisei veterans

For several decades, many people clapped their hands for George Yamane.

They had to. No one could avoid slapping his or her hands together at family gatherings and Cub Scout campsites when he broke into his signature song, "If You're Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands)."

"He was an enthusiastic singer," said his oldest son, Curtis Yamane, who noted his father's singing career didn't stop with kids' songs.

Mr. Yamane sang "Tanko Bushi," a Japanese song, all the time, his son said. When karaoke became popular, he started a karaoke club at the Nisei Veteran's Committee, an organization for first-generation Japanese-American veterans of war, which he had served as commander.

Mr. Yamane, a retired civil engineer and Korean War veteran, died July 31 from complications of bladder cancer at Virginia Mason Medical Center. He was 79.

Mr. Yamane is best-known for starting a campaign to help two nisei veterans and Medal of Honor recipients — William Nakamura and James Okubo — receive recognition. In 2000, the federal courthouse in Seattle was named after Nakamura; earlier this year, a medical and dental complex at Fort Lewis was dedicated to Okubo.

Mr. Yamane was no stranger to honoring Japanese-American veterans. In 1983, his son Mark was killed in action on the island of Grenada. Mark Yamane was honored in a photo exhibit in the Nisei Memorial Hall in 1991.

Curtis Yamane said his father brought a sense of calm, warmth and humor after his son's death.

"When Mark died, he was a leader for the family," Curtis Yamane said. "He was strong in that way, even though it was very difficult for him."

Mr. Yamane had firsthand experience with war himself. He served in the Korean War in 1950 and also suffered from the effects of war when he lived in Japan during World War II.

Born in Tacoma on June 11, 1923, Mr. Yamane moved to Japan at age 13 to take care of his grandmother. He almost died from sickness because food and drugs were scarce during the war. His sister Nobuyo saved his life by traveling more than 24 hours by train to give him fresh eggs to eat, said Jeff Yamane, Mr. Yamane's second son.

He moved back to Washington in 1948 and settled in Seattle, where he met his wife, Charlotte, at a church function. They married in 1957 and had four sons.

Mr. Yamane faced discrimination when he moved back to the United States, Jeff Yamane said. But during a time when it was hard for Japanese Americans to find work, he was able to land a job at Shannon & Wilson, a civil-engineering firm.

Mr. Yamane worked as a geotechnical consultant who checked building foundations.

"If they're still standing, that means my dad did good," said Curtis Yamane, who said his father checked out places such as the West Seattle Bridge and the Bank of America Tower.

Mr. Yamane became vice president of the company and worked there until he retired in 1992.

He played a strong leadership role within the Japanese-American community.

"He did a lot of things for the community," said Henry Fukano, Mr. Yamane's golfing partner and friend. Fukano met Mr. Yamane many years ago when Fukano's son participated in Cub Scout Pack 53, which Mr. Yamane led.

He was an active member of the Japanese Baptist Church for many years and led the effort to build a new sanctuary in 1985. His motto was "God first, others second, myself last," Jeff Yamane said.

Besides his wife; sister Nobuyo, Yamaguchi-Ken, Japan; and sons Curtis and Jeff; Mr. Yamane is survived by another son, Craig; his brother Tonney; and five grandchildren.

Viewing will be at the Butterworth-Arthur Wright Funeral Home, 520 W. Raye St., today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The funeral will be tomorrow at the Japanese Baptist Church, 160 Broadway. Mr. Yamane will be buried at the Evergreen-Arthur Wright Cemetery in a private burial. Remembrances may be sent to the Japanese Baptist Church or the Nisei Veteran's Committee at 1212 S. King St.

Mydria Clark: 206-464-2550 or