Kenneth K. Takemoto, 88

Kenneth K. Takemoto Dies; National Institutes of Health Virologist

Kenneth K. Takemoto published 104 scientific papers and wrote chapters in nine books. He served as a combat medic in Italy during World War II.
Kenneth K. Takemoto published 104 scientific papers and wrote chapters in nine books. He served as a combat medic in Italy during World War II. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009

Kenneth K. Takemoto, 88, a retired virologist at the National Institutes of Health who researched viruses associated with human cancers, died Feb. 27 at his home in Kensington. He had dementia.

Mr. Takemoto was a freshman at the University of Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was not interned, as was his wife-to-be, a Californian who was sent to an assembly center at the Santa Anita racetrack and then to a relocation camp in Jerome, Ark.

He was, however, classified as an "enemy alien" and discharged from the university's Reserve Officer Training Corps. He and other young Japanese Hawaiians eager to contribute to the war effort had to work for a year to prove their loyalty. Calling themselves the Varsity Victory Volunteers, Mr. Takemoto and his collegiate comrades built roads, ran barbed wire around the beaches and made portable iceboxes for troops in the field.

In 1943, the Army allowed the young Japanese Americans to volunteer. Mr. Takemoto served as a combat medic in Italy with the all-Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion, 42nd Regimental Combat Team. He received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. "He never got over the loss of his friends during the war," said his son, Paul Takemoto, who wrote about his parents' experiences during World War II in "Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years" (2006).

He moved to Washington in 1946 and enrolled at George Washington University on the G.I. Bill. He received three degrees from GWU -- his bachelor's degree in 1948, his master's in 1950 and his doctorate in 1953.

He accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at NIH, which led to a full-time job lasting 32 years. In conjunction with his virus research, he published 104 scientific papers and wrote chapters in nine books. He also taught at the NIH graduate school and the University of Hawaii and lectured at other universities and research laboratories, including Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins universities and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

He particularly enjoyed working with postdoctoral fellows and with exchange scientists from Japan who spent time at NIH. Toward the end of his career, he worked on the AIDS virus, which was still something of a mystery at the time.

He received the U.S. Public Health Service Commendation Medal in 1970 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1975. He retired in 1984.

He was born Kaname Takemoto, one of nine children, in rural Kapaa, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. He changed his name to Kenneth Kaname Takemoto in 1950. "No one could pronounce my name," he told his son.

Mr. Takemoto loved tennis, golf and fishing, especially surf-fishing for blues in the fall at Assateague Island. He kept a small, well-tended vegetable garden.

He was known for his sense of humor. He was reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences, his son recalled, "but if he beat a friend at tennis, you'd never hear the end of it."

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Alice Setsuko Imamoto Takemoto of Kensington; his son, of Kensington; a daughter, Ruth McInroy of Falls Church; and three grandchildren.

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