A native of Los Angeles, James Yamazaki earned a B.A. from UCLA in 1939 and an M.D. from Marquette University in 1943. He served as a medical officer in the U.S. Army from 1944 until 1946, and, while serving as the battalion surgeon at the Battle of the Bulge, was taken prisoner. As such, he experienced both combat and bombing by the Allies as they attacked German cities. His parents were sent to a relocation camp in Arkansas for Americans of Japanese descent whilst he and his brother were in the military.
Following the war and upon completion of his residency in pediatrics, Yamazaki was named to a team investigating the effects of radiation on the surviving children of Nagasaki and Hiroshima for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council. He was the physician in charge of the U.S. Nagasaki laboratory in Japan and was coauthor on the results of these studies.
Returning to the United States, Yamazaki became the third physician appointed to the new pediatric department at UCLA. Although he soon entered private practice, he maintained his close affiliation with UCLA as a clinical professor of pediatrics. Working with members of the Laboratory of Nuclear Medicine and Radiation Biology and the Brain Research Institute, he initiated an interdisciplinary study of the radiation effects on early development.
Given his unique background and perspective, Yamazaki was asked to serve on several committees for the American Academy of Pediatrics to study radiation and environmental hazards. He used this position to convey and publicize the severe implications of atomic warfare and radiation on children. Yamazaki has participated in numerous symposia and review panels on this topic, including ones sponsored by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the World Health Organization. He has been honored by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles with the Distinguished Service Award and by Marquette University Alumni Association with their Merit Award.
Yamazaki is the author of Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician’s Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands. Written with Louis Fleming, the book is now in its third printing. The book is an autobiography, a history and, importantly, a lesson about the special vulnerability of children to nuclear weapons.