A former Kauai resident whose father was sent to an internment camp as "an enemy alien" 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, who lives in the Chicago area, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes on Tuesday by Army Undersecretary Joseph W. Westphal.
The award is for valorous actions taken in Italy on April 7, 1945, when Matayoshi led his platoon to assault and destroy three machine gun nests as they took Mount 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 he deserved. His initial Distinguished Service Cross citation was presumed lost in a fire in 1973 at the Army’s National Records facility. Shima, nisei veterans and a Matayoshi relative, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Cox, persisted after the war to validate the citation, officially approved by the Army earlier this year.
Matayoshi was the platoon sergeant in Company G, 2nd Battalion, according to U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono. He was born in the sugar plantation town of Koloa, Kauai, and was a senior at Kauai High School when the Japanese attacked in 1941.
His father, Shinjiro, who had worked as a field laborer since he was 12, was arrested and sent to an internment camp in Santa Fe, N.M. His father was the only person from Koloa to be arrested, Matayoshi told the Star-Advertiser.
Hirono said Matayoshi volunteered to join the all-nisei Army unit in February 1942 to demonstrate his loyalty and in hopes that his father would be released to take care of his six children. That did not happen until after the war.
Matayoshi said he still remembers what his father told him when he visited before Christmas 1943 before going to Italy.
"Do the best that you can," the elder Matayoshi told his 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."
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. He also was awarded two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
Hirono noted that this was the 29th Distinguished Service Medal award to the unit, made up mainly of Japanese-Americans, which holds the record of receiving the highest number of medals for a unit of its size.
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, but he had to leave 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.