2019 / California state politician, Japanese American community leader, Mr. Paul Bannai passed at 99 year-old

Mr. Paul Bannai at the Fukushima Kenjinkai Summer Picnic in Torrance on July 31, 2016. (Cultural News Photo)

Mr. Paul Takeo Bannai, the first Japanese American elected to the California State Legislature, passed away at 99 years of age on September 14, 2019.

Mr. Bannai represented the 53rd Assembly District for four terms from 1972 through 1980.

Mr. Bannai was born in Colorado in 1920 to Japanese immigrants Sakui and Shino Bannai, and was incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II due to Executive Order 9066. He joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and trained with the 522nd Field Artillery, before being assigned to the U.S. Army Intelligence Service. He served in the South Pacific, including with the combined U.S. and Australian forces.

Upon returning to Los Angeles after WWII, Mr. Bannai served as a manager at the Downtown Los Angeles Flower Market. He also became heavily involved in the local Japanese American community, having worked at a Little Tokyo bank prior to the war. He regularly participated in community events as an organizer and MC, notably as a host during Nisei Week.  He went on to a career in real estate, insurance, and banking and was elected to the Gardena City Council.

In addition to serving four terms (1972-1980) in the California State Assembly, he was the first director of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a commission whose findings were key in awarding redress and reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII.

Mr. Bannai also served as Chief Memorial Affairs Director at the Veterans Administration and as a member of the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission.  He was the first Asian American appointee to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

He served as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, Japanese American National Museum, and was recognized with a Nisei Week Pioneer Award and as a Nisei Week Grand Marshall. From the government of Japan, he was a recipient of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays “for contributions to the social welfare and prosperity of Japanese Americans.”

Among his many veterans’ affairs-related activities, he was the Commander of Nisei Veterans Association of Southern California, and chaired Nisei Veterans’ reunions as well as the committee that produced the biography of Judge John Aiso.

He led and served on numerous civic and community boards, committees, and commissions such as Boy Scouts of America, North Gardena Faith United Methodist Church, Gardena Valley Lions Club. He enjoyed attending community events and gatherings such as the Fukushima Kenjinkai annual picnic up until his passing.

He is survived by children Don, Lorraine, and Kathryn; grandchildren Jared, Sean, Eliot, Dana, and Akira; sister Rose; brother Ted; and other relatives. He was predeceased in death by wife Hideko Bannai, Ph.D., and son-in-law Robert M. Miura, Ph.D.

His family will observe his passing with a private service and family gathering.

Per his family’s wishes, please send any gifts or remembrances to the Go For Broke National Education Center, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute.

A burial service for Mr. Bannai will be held at graveyard in the Los Angeles National Cemetery on October 25 at 2:00pm.

(Source: The Fukui Mortuary in Los Angeles)