Post written by Sean Stanley, Intern at Go For Broke National Education Center
I am currently working on an interview with Mr. Roy Matsumoto, who served among the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma and Southeast Asia. Mr. Matsumoto’s story is a fascinating one; Roy was born in Los Angeles, later moving to Japan to attend school, before moving back to Long Beach and finding work as a grocer. Mr. Matsumoto was imprisoned at the outbreak of World War II and classified 4-C, or enemy alien, despite being a citizen of the United States. After spending some time in an internment camp, Mr. Matsumoto was able to utilize his knowledge of the Japanese language and was chosen to undertake a mission with the Merrill’s Marauders in Southeast Asia.
Roy became a master sergeant and served on the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon and as an interpreter throughout the Marauders’ campaign in Burma. What struck me throughout Mr. Matsumoto’s reflections was the enduring theme of loyalty to his county, despite the fact that discrimination was at its highest point against Japanese Americans in the States during World War II. Roy was also faced with the difficult task of fighting a war which pitted him against relatives and friends (his cousin and brother both served in the Japanese Army) and put his family in harms way (his extended family just escaped the bombing of Hiroshima). While critical of the treatment of fellow Japanese Americans during the war, Mr. Matsumoto never hesitated to help serve the country that was his home and he loved.
It may be hard to imagine having to face these types of situations, but the truth is Roy Matsumoto was not unique. There were thousands of Japanese Americans that experienced similar effects of discrimination and cultural allegiances that made the war era very difficult. In a quote from an earlier interview with Grant Hirabayashi, Japanese Americans, especially soldiers were “happy to be accepted for who they were” while serving in the military, giving them back a sense of pride and belonging through this trying time. Despite all of this, many Nisei soldiers served their country with the utmost respect and loyalty.
When we see and hear discrimination in history, I believe there is always an opportunity to learn and better ourselves as a society and these men’s stories can be used as tools for understanding the importance civil rights in our own modern society.