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HAWAI‘I ISLAND FOOD BASKET COLLECTION
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Honor the Veteran's Service (November 2018)
Guest Speaker Dr. Peter Matsuura
Thank you for the honor of inviting me to speak this morning, but I am hardly qualified to recite “War Stories”, the rush of adrenaline in combat, of foxholes, of charging machine guns, of tanks airplanes or ships. Stories of Heroes. I am not one.
So, nervous and at a loss, I spent an afternoon walking thru the Veterans Cemetery visiting every grave asking those who had gone before what to say, how to tell their stories, how to recognize them on Veterans Day. I came across uncles, my brother in law, my parents’ friends, and my friends, fellow soldiers. Many of them relatives of yours. There is a high percentage of Japanese names but Hawaiian, Portuguese, Filipino Chinese and Caucasian. All races, a cross section of Hilo. A few children one infant 2 days old and many wives buried next to their soldier as well as many empty spaces, reserved and awaiting the day husband and wife are re-united.
The headstones record the name DOB, DOD, rank, branch of service, conflict they served in, religion, occasionally nicknames, unit served in especially 100th or 442 and awards. There is less uniformity for the wives on the markers, and some buried to the left, some buried to the right and even some on top of the soldier. If my wife dies first her head stone will read Wendy, Wife of Peter Matsuura. I am afraid to die first for then hers will read Wendy Alice, devoted mother, loyal daughter, dearly beloved, darling and most supportive wife of Pete Matsuura.
My heart was filled with awe, with respect with love that day and realized that I could not tell the entire story of Veterans as there are hundreds, thousands of stories, each rich with love, family, each story a strand woven into the fabric of our town, each one a voice singing in harmony.
Mine is a very humble tale. I am now a retired veteran, having served 30 years in the US Army, most in the HIARNG. I grew up here, left in 1976 graduating from Hilo High and returning in 1996 after completing orthopaedic training, sport medicine fellowship and a few years in academic and private practice at UC Irvine.
My father, the late Richard Matsuura grew up in Waialua and at age 10 on December 7, 1941 recalls airplanes with Rising Sun markings flying overhead. My mother, Ruth Hase Matsuura grew up in Hanford California on a farm in dusty San Joaquin Valley. A peaceful quiet life until on 1942 her family as well over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly evacuated from the West Coast and from Canada and imprisoned in concentration camps scattered thru desolate parts of the interior by the authority of Executive Order 9066.
She was an adolescent of about 13 when she remembers handsome young Nisei soldiers, likely of the 442 from nearby Camp Shelby brought over for a dinner and dance to Jerome or Rowher Internment Camp in Arkansas. In the early days there was a lot of friction between the Hawaii and mainland boys in training camp.
The local Hawaii boys thought the mainland boys were haoles with Japanese faces and nicknamed them Kotonks for the hollow sound their heads made when struck. The Kotonks viewed the locals as Polynesians with Japanese faces who made unintelligible sounds when speaking pidgin and called the Buta-Heads or pig headed. Sen Daniel Inouye was in that group and wrote of his impression driving into the Internment camp with strands of barbed wire angled inward, guard towers whose machine guns and searchlights all aimed inward and manned by soldiers wearing the same uniform the same US Army over their left breast.
Every Kotonk volunteered from the same situation, his family incarcerated, to fight and die for a country that had taken everything, homes ,livelyhoods, dignity, rights and freedom.
After the R and R festivies and being shown where to sleep, barracks, clean but worn linens, the Nisei boys realized there were no extra quarters for guests but that entire families had given up their rooms. The next morning the breaking sun found all the soldiers sleeping in backs of their deuce and a halfs. Senator Inouye says there was no more fighting after that, becoming one RCT consisting of men with Japanese faces and All American hearts.
In June of 1942, the 100th Infantry Battalion, an all volunteer, all Nisei unit was formed. They fought so well up the spine of Italy the Army decided they needed another so the 442, using mainland Nisei as well was formed. The boys of the 100th were proud of their wartime deeds and rightly requested and were granted the honor of keeping the name “One Puka Puka” and became the First Battallion of the 442nd . They were also designated “Separate” for no major Army command wanted Japs fighting with them.
Well, after helping clear Italy of the Nazis including breaking the impregnable Gothic Line the last Germany defensive barrier in the Italian Alps by scaling up the back side of cliffs in the dark and in silence to attack from the rear, a battle where a few Nisei boys slipped and fell to their deaths but never uttered a sound that would give away their position.
There is the legendary story of the battle for the Lost Battalion. It is a story told and retold and bears retelling. It is history, legends of veterans, our veterans. They shaped modern Hawaii. They gave us pride. Remember them.
In October 1944 the 36th Division out of Texas, the Red Bulls were ambushed and trapped in the mountains despite many efforts to rescue them. Finally after five days of brutal fighting in the Vosges Forest of Southern France the 100th/442 rescued the surviving 211 soldiers of the 36th but at a cost of over 800 casualties in one of the 10 greatest battles in US Army history. After the battle,their Commanding Officer ordered a formation to commemorate his victory and was outraged by the sparse attendance. Demanding all the Nisei be present to show him respect, the officer was informed “That’s all that is left, Sir”.
The 100th/442nd went on to become the most decorated unit in the history of the US Army. A total of 18,143 decorations, 21 Medals of Honor, 559 Silver Stars, 4000 Bronze Stars 8 Presidential Unit Citations a Congressional Gold Medal and most telling 9486 Purple Hearts. A lot of numbers but look beyond the statistics.
Every award is a story of courage, of valor, of an act of bravery far beyond what any of us can imagine. The Purple Heart to awarded for an act of valor and for sustaining an injury during combat, or death. Think abut that 18,143 awards earned by men in a unit nobody wanted to be fighting with. Legendary deeds by legendary men, our Veterans. Remember them.
I’ll resume my story now, which pales in comparison. My name is Matsuura. I am an American soldier. Similar words were spoken by General Eric Shinseki, a Kauai boy on the occasion of his retirement address as the Chief of Staff of the Army, the highest rank possible. Another Veteran, another hero. His simple line speaks volumes, who I am, who I serve.
I volunteered not as a fighter in Combat Arms but in the Medical Corps at the urging of my chairman in Orthopaedics to use my training in orthopaedic trauma. Of course my initial reaction was No Way, but the visual image of a young Nisei boy lying mortally wounded in the Vosges Forest crying out “Otoo-San” Okaa-san, of young American teens dying in the rice paddies of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq, the mountains of Afghanistan asking buddies to “Tell my wife I love her” or to his sergeant “I’m sorry I let you down. Or prayers for mercy was enough to convince me. I determined that if young American men were going into harms way for me, I damn well will go too and back them up.
Well I got my wish, deploying 4 times, Germany Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004 Iraq was in flames, the battles of Najav, Fallujah brought casualties pouring in LRMC. I have seen what bullets RPGs, IEDs EFPs, explosives and white hot shrapnel does to the human body. Modern armor protects vital organs but leave extremities vulnerable. Aeromedical evacuation allows severely wounded boys barely clinging to life to be treated in the Golden Hour and given a chance to live. What I did was called damage control surgery. Stabilize fractures, clean out contamination, removed devitalized tissue, restore blood flow, preserve as much function as possible and then move them up the evac chain.
As I worked on them, these big muscular virile specimens of American manhood I tried not to think of what was in store for them. Many more painful operations, years of rehab, physical and psychological pain, family stress, not able to run, throw, surf, ski like before. No, my job was to get them home. But even having treated hundreds of broken bodies, not once did I see any broken spirits. To a man all they asked was “Doc, patch me up cause I gotta go back. My boys need me. The mission is not yet complete.”
These are men who volunteered for a cause, a country worth fighting for, worth getting injured for, worth dying for. Men to whom an injury means you did not die, that you are going home to see your family again that you are lucky. Men whose battle buddy is going home in a metal casket draped with a flag. Heroic men and women, veterans. Remember them.
I am so glad that wives and young children are buried next to the soldier, for they are also heroes, Too bad there is no Veterans Wife or Family Day. It takes much more strength to stay home, take care of the family, look brave and dread the knock on the door by the chaplain and beaureavement officer.
On my first deployment I remember my older son Andy about 8 clutching Wendy’s hand and even though surrounded by family, looking bewildered at my tasking him to be the man of the house. Daniel age 6, unsuccessfully fighting back tears as he gave me his best US Army salute goodbye. Later the boys wrote and said Dad its all worth it you can save one daddy to go home to his son.
I thank my wife Wendy for all the love and unwavering support thru the years. For never doubting the cause that compels us to leave home and family. Not easy holding up the home front. Each and every family of those who go to war has given up so much and every community like Hilo needs to be recognized for closing ranks in support.
In 1915, John McCrae a Canadian surgeon from Guelph Ontario, having survived hours of artillery barrages, shelled with a new German weapon, chlorine gas and losing his best friend penned these poignant words: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row, that mark our place…” I will say to you: “In Veterans cemetery, the lush grass grows between the headstones, row on row. In the rich red soil of Halai hill they sleep, Veterans of WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Cold War, Terror, Iraq, Afghanistan whose common thread is US, Army Navy Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard.”
But their story lies not there, six feet under but here and here. In me and you and our children. Yesterday, now and in future generations. Remember them. Honor them today Veterans Day every day. Ordinary men from towns all across America who did extraordinary things and paid an extraordinary price to guarantee what we have today, America, freedom.
One day, on that great parade ground in the sky, in formation, in uniform I can look my heroes straight in the eye when I render a crisp salute. Sitting at the banquet table with my father and forefathers I can hold my head high. All of us civilian and servicemen will take the torch, we will hold it high. We will never break the faith of those who have died. If we live the life they have paid for, as Americans, free, pono, righteous.
If we love and be loved, then you too can look the heroes straight in the eye so that they can sleep in peace under the green, green grass.
God Bless America. Thank You.