By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Roy Matsumoto, a Japanese American Nisei originally from California, went from the internment camps during WWII to honor on the battlefield, with the famous “Merrill’s Marauders” jungle warfare unit in Burma. A longtime resident of San Juan Island, Matsumoto died in April, just a month short of his 101st birthday.
“Honor & Sacrifice,” a documentary about Matsumoto’s life, directed by Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers, made the rounds on PBS channels recently. The documentary will be shown at the Bellevue Aki Matsuri Festival over Labor Day.
Matsumoto’s daughter Karen took some time from her teaching schedule recently to answer some questions over e-mail.
NWAW: What were your earliest impressions of your father, and how did your impressions change over time?
Karen Matsumoto: My earliest impressions of Roy were that he was just my “Dad,” and he was a very quiet, unassuming person. He had a love for fishing and nature, which was a great influence in my life.
NWAW: What are your favorite memories of you and your father together?
Matsumoto: Going fishing on the pier in Virginia Beach and in Berkeley. Going on a two-month cross-country trip from Virginia to California, car camping along the way, and visiting all the tourist spots across the United States! Visiting my family in Hiroshima and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Accompanying my father at various Merrill’s Marauders and other veterans events, as well as receiving the Congressional Gold Medal with other Nisei WWII veterans. The premiere screening of “Honor & Sacrifice!”
NWAW: What was your father’s attitude toward his wartime experiences, from the camps to his active duty? Was he forthcoming about those experiences, or did people have to draw him out?
Matsumoto: He never talked about his wartime experiences or the concentration camps until after the redress and apology by President Reagan in 1988. It was a watershed experience for him, and he really expressed a feeling of vindication. He still never talked much about his wartime experiences except with his Merrill’s Marauder buddies. He started talking in detail after his oral history with Densho (an oral history project concerning the internment camps), and after that, with the making of the film.
NWAW: Did you ever see him alongside the men he fought with?
Matsumoto: Yes! I attended several Merrill’s Marauders reunions, and he was the “hero of the day” at these events. Many of his fellow Marauders feel he was responsible for most of them surviving the war. It was pretty shocking for me the first time I heard this, as he never talked about his experiences with me. I had no idea of his bravery and exploits.
NWAW: How long had your father lived on San Juan Island? What led him to live there, and what were his favorite things about it?
Matsumoto: My parents moved to San Juan Island in 1997. He moved there to be near his grandchildren, but he also fell in love with the islands. It’s a beautiful place.
His house was on a beach, and he loved watching the ferry go by every day and seeing marine life, including orcas swim by his house! He walked the beach every day, picking up driftwood, and one of his hobbies was woodworking. He loved creating things from driftwood to give to his friends.
NWAW: What were the last days of your father’s remarkable life like?
Matsumoto: Easter marked the 70th anniversary of the siege of Nphum Ga, where they shouted commands in Japanese [to confuse the opposing Japanese troops], and one of his foxhole buddies from that day called him. He also had friends from the Nisei Veterans Committee in Seattle come visit, so he had a wonderful day. We celebrated with fried chicken. The Marauders were surrounded for a week or more, and they had no food or fresh water to drink. When the Japanese were defeated, due to my dad’s actions, they were air-dropped their first meal in days, and had fried chicken! He said it was the best meal he had in his life! We celebrate every Easter with fried chicken. He had a wonderful day, and passed away in his sleep the next morning.
I think he felt that through the film, he was able to tell the story of the MIS experience through his personal experiences, and was very pleased to be able to put a human face to war. It also enabled him to present both sides of the war, including the devastation of Hiroshima, the town where he grew up and loved.
He was in a home hospice since the beginning of April, and was able to look out the window at his beloved ocean view, and watch the hummingbirds at the feeders! He enjoyed life, his friends, and family, and he said he had no regrets when he passed away. (end)
For more information, visit http://stourwater.com/films/honor-sacrifice.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.