Another honor for San Juan Island war hero Roy Matsumoto

Top photo, retired Master Sgt. Roy Matsumoto rides in the 2005 Fourth of July Parade in Friday Harbor. Bottom photo, Matsumoto holds his medallion close to his Army Ranger and Merrill
Top photo, retired Master Sgt. Roy Matsumoto rides in the 2005 Fourth of July Parade in Friday Harbor. Bottom photo, Matsumoto holds his medallion close to his Army Ranger and Merrill's Marauders insignias on his coat.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Roy Matsumoto's eyes still mist when he remembers how he was sent to an internment camp in 1942 and branded "4-C," or enemy alien.

The 4-C classification was wounding, partly because Matsumoto loved the country of his birth, the U.S.; and partly because the family's history sounded like that of many Americans: Immigrant grandparents who lived and farmed here, an uncle who owned a neighborhood produce store, a childhood spent with siblings and cousins in Long Beach, Calif., graduation from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where Matsumoto ran 220 and swam for the Jackrabbits.

And so when given the chance, Matsumoto enlisted in the Army to prove his loyalty to the United States of America. And he became a hero, tapping into enemy communication lines and saving the lives of thousands of U.S. troops in Burma. In one battle, he barked contrary orders to Japanese enemy troops in their dialect, helping his own division take control and win the day.

Matsumoto spent a career in the Army, retiring as master sergeant.

The country never forgot Matsumoto's loyalty and how he risked his life for the U.S. His exploits, and those of Merrill's Marauders, have been chronicled in several books. In 1993, Matsumoto was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame and in 1997 into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was made an honorary Green Beret. Even today, in his 90s, the decorated war hero is a frequent guest at military and veterans events.

On Dec. 11, Matsumoto received his latest honor: He was presented with a special medallion in recognition of his service to his country.

Matsumoto was invited to the frocking, or promotion, ceremony for Brig. Gen. John D. Johnson at the I Corps Headquarters at Fort Lewis. Matsumoto had a reserved seat in front, next to Maj. Gen. Kobayashi. Johnson introduced Matsumoto to the audience, praised and thanked him for his service with Merrill's Marauders in World War II, and Matsumoto received an ovation from the audience.

Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, commanding general of I Corps and Fort Lewis, presented Matsumoto with the medallion, which reads on one side, "America's Corps / Awarded for Excellence," and on the other side, "Presented by the Commanding General & Command Sergeant Major / I Corps and Fort Lewis."

Today, Matsumoto, while retired, leads an active life on San Juan Island. He is active in several veterans organizations, is a Merrill's Marauders historian, and is active in the San Juan Lions Club, where he leads the collection of donated eyeglasses.

Matsumoto and his wife, Kimiko, live on San Juan Island. They have two daughters and several grandchildren.

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