Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Spark M. Matsunaga Interview
Narrator: Spark M. Matsunaga
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: April 17, 1987
Densho ID: denshovh-mspark-01-0005

<Begin Segment 5>

LD: The 100th and all of you fellows, you yourself was put under suspicion, and at one point they took all your arms away. Can you talk to me about that?

SM: Yes. Well, as I said, I was in uniform and on active service prior to Pearl Harbor. And so were other men of Japanese ancestry, in fact, there were about 1,565 of us. And so long as invasion wasn't an imminent matter, they raised to questions of our loyalty. We were out in the dugouts, down in the beaches, and we were guarding airfields throughout the territory, it was Territory of Hawaii at that time. There was not a single question raised at that point. But when it became evident that invasion was a remote matter, Battle of Midway had turned things around, then all of a sudden the War Department issued an order for us of Japanese ancestry to turn in our arms. And what a sad day it was for me personally, because I was called into the office by Captain George T. Cooper, who happened to be then my company commander. And he said, "Sparky, I hate to do it, but here it is, War Department orders. I've got to ask you to turn in your arms." And I still get emotional about it when I think about that moment. So I had to unbuckle my sidearms and turn it over to him. And so were all the other men in the company and in other companies throughout the territory.

And then, on short notice, we were placed aboard the SS Maui. From Molokai we were shipped, we were sent over by interisland ship to Schofield Barracks, all of us were converged at Schofield Barracks from throughout the territory. And without even a chance to see our folks to say goodbye to them, we found ourselves aboard the SS Maui, a converted freighter, into a troop ship. And where we were going, we knew not. And we sailed and we landed in Oakland, California. From there we were sent all across the continent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. And when the train came to a screeching halt -- and this was a great treat for us because we hadn't, many of us, or most of us, had never ridden a train before. [Laughs] There being no real trains in Hawaii except for freight trains and sugar cane hauling trains. It was quite an experience for us. But when the train came to a screeching halt, the first thing we saw was a barbed wire fence. And so the skeptics said, "Well, here we go, concentration camp." But we learned that the barbed wire fence contained the two Japanese prisoners of war which our men had captured at Waimanalo Beach. And our first task was to guard -- the whole battalion, mind you -- to guard these two prisoners of war. With what? With wooden guns. We were given wooden guns, mind you. And we were veterans, now. We had... well, so many of us were expert riflemen, sharpshooters, etcetera. And we were doing daily routine drills, close order drills, right turn, left turn, about face, with wooden guns, that's what we were doing.

And then we signed a petition to the President of the United States. Every one of us in the battalion signed that petition to the President asking him to send us, to return our arms to us and send us against the Japanese to prove our loyalty. What we didn't know was that they were censoring our mail. After the war broke out, we had a censoring system, but the company commander was normally the highest censoring official. But our letters were being censored at high headquarters. And the letters which were coming in from our parents and letters which we were responding to our parents were being censored. And that is what I think could motivate it, from what I've been able to gather, the President to grant us our petition. Because in those letters, our parents had been writing to us, translating the Japanese proverb, you know, "Umi no oya yori sodate no oya." Meaning, "You owe your loyalty to the land of your adoption rather than to your land of birth." And so they themselves felt that they, although born in Japan, now resident in the United States, owed their loyalty to the land of their adoption, that is, the United States of America, rather than to the land of their birth, Japan. And this was being written by our parents to us. And then, in my case, for example, my father always used to say, "You are an American even more than we are. Because we cannot become naturalized citizens." Many Americans don't know that there was a law, an American law, which said that Orientals could not become naturalized citizens. The Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924 said if you were an Oriental, regardless of how much you wanted to become an American citizen, regardless of how long you lived in the United States, you could not become a naturalized American citizen. And our parents used to say, "Well, despite that law, we feel that at heart we are Americans, and that you, of course, were born an American. You owe your loyalty to America. Just remember that." And, well, this type of letter I think convinced the Military Intelligence people that we could be trusted, and recommended to the President that we be given back our arms and be trained for combat duty. And when Colonel Turner, the battalion commander, called an assembly of the battalion and announced that he had just received orders from Washington, the War Department, that our arms could be returned to us and that we would be trained for combat duty, boy, you should have seen the hats fly, the hands wave. Here were grown up men cheering and rejoicing. For what? To be given a chance to perhaps give up their lives even for their country. And whereas they could have had the opportunity to just stay back. Okay, if they don't trust us, we'll just stay here for the rest of the war. But no, we were begging to be sent to combat to prove our loyalty to our country. And that is the spirit I think which drove the 100th Battalion and the 442nd to such great heights in combat, to become the mostly highly decorated unit in the history of our country.


SM: Well, once the 100th Battalion proved itself in combat to such a degree that it was outstanding, the War Department decided to expand the battalion to a regiment perhaps, and to have recruits for replacement, and they called for volunteers. In ten days, three thousand had volunteered in Hawaii. And what was even more amazing was that a similar number or thereabouts volunteered from behind barbed wire fences, those who had been thrown into these American-style concentration camps volunteered to serve. And, of course, I think the circumstances were such that those who volunteered from behind these barbed wire fences had a greater emotional obstacle to overcome than those of us in Hawaii. I recall at a social function when I suggested to those who were present -- and this was part of my recruiting effort, too, that I was asked to do, to talk to Japanese Americans to volunteer for service either with the MIS or with the 100th/442nd. This was after I was assigned to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, with the MIS. And at one gathering, I talked about what a good thing it would be for those -- this was in the Chicago area after some of them had been relocated -- and so that we should make an effort to volunteer for service to prove our loyalty, even beyond any question. And there was a Dr. Tashiro there, and he told me about his own experience in one of the camps. He said his father and his son, his grandfather, grandson, were playing pitch-catch ball. And see, there was a regulation there in the camp that after six o'clock, you were not to be seen between the two barbed wire fences. And, of course, the inner fence had a gate through which you could go. So the grandfather missed the ball, the ball rolled between the two fences, and it was broad daylight still although it was after six o'clock, it was during the summer months. And the grandfather ran after the ball. And the guard at the tower yelled at him and says, "Get back." And the father, Tashiro's father, or the grandfather of the child, yelled back and said, "I'm just going after the ball," and he kept on going. And the machine was blasted, killed him right there on the spot. Just imagine what trauma the grandson had to go through, and just imagine what Dr. Tashiro... and he asked me, he said, "Sparky, if you were in my boots, could you volunteer?" he asked me? And I said no, I could not, I told him.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1987 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.