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Kauai native awarded Distinguished Service Cross

  • COURTESY: U.S. ARMY
    Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal (left), applauds Shinyei "Rocky" Matayoshi, for his extraordinary heroism in action, which led to him being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon Tuesday.
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A former Kauai resident whose father was sent to an internment camp at the start of World War II was awarded the nation’s second highest medal for valor for his combat heroism while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team 66 years ago.

Shinyei "Rocky" Matayoshi, 87, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross medal in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes Tuesday by Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal.

The award is for valorous actions taken on April 7, 1945,  in Italy when he led his platoon to assault and destroy three machine gun nests as they took Mt. Belvedere.

Terry Shima, executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association, said Matayoshi left the Italian front before the war ended and didn’t collect all the medals that he deserved. His initial Distinguished Service Cross citation was presumed lost in a fire in 1973 at the Army’s National Records facility. Shima, Matayoshi’s relative, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Cox, and other Nisei veterans persisted after the war to validate the citation, which was officially approved by the Army earlier this year.

Matayoshi was the platoon sergeant in 442nd RCT’s Company G, 2nd Battalion.

He was born in the sugar plantation town of Koloa on Kauai. He was a senior at Kauai High School when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. His father, Shinjiro who worked as a field laborer since he was 12, was arrested and sent to an internment camp in Santa Fe, N.M. He was the only person from Koloa to be arrested, Matayoshi said.

Hawaii U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono said Matayoshi volunteered to join the all Nisei Army unit in February 1942 to prove his loyalty and in hopes that his father would be released to take care of his six children. His father was never released until after the war.

"I volunteered hoping that they would send him home," Matayoshi told the Star-Advertiser. "I was youngster, just 19, trying to support my family.

"But they never did. They never gave a reason, the FBI, the government, even after the war, They never explained why they took him away."

Matayoshi said he still remembers what his father said when he visited him before Christmas in 1943 before going to Italy.

"Do the best that you can," the elder Matayoshi told his 19-year-old son, "no matter what you do. Promise that you will make America proud of you and not bring shame upon your family."

Matayoshi said he was "never interested in medals and I never pushed it. I never gave it a second thought."

He added: "I was just doing the best I could do."

From June 1944 Matayoshi participated in every campaign in Italy and France and reported for roll call every day except two when he was confined to the field hospital due to illness, the Army reported. Matayoshi also was awarded two Silver Star medals, two Bronze Star medals and a Purple Heart.

Hirono noted that this was the 29th Distinguished Service Medal award to the Army unit composed mainly of Japanese Americans, which holds the record of receiving the highest number of medals for a unit of it size. The unit received 7 Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, about 400 Silver Stars and over 4000 Purple Hearts for their service during World War II. 

After the war Matayoshi attended Wilson Community College in Chicago. He married Elsie Goya of Honolulu. After two years at Wilson, Matayoshi enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Technology, however, he had to leave that institution due to family financial needs. He worked at an auto body shop and part-time at a gas station in Chicago. Matayoshi has four children. 

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