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Japanese-American member of Merrill's Marauders dies at 100

Apr. 25, 2014 - 06:51PM   |  
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Roy Matsumoto, who served with the famed Merrill’s Marauders during World War II and was later inducted into the “Ranger Hall of Fame,” has died at 100, according to his daughter Karen.

“ ‘Ranger’ ” Roy Matsumoto passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home on San Juan Island, Wash., surrounded by his loving family on the morning of April 21st, 2014,” Karen Matsumoto wrote in an obituary for her father. “He was less than 2 weeks short of his 101st birthday.”

Matsumoto was born in Los Angeles on May 1, 1913, and went to Japan at age 8 to be taught the Japanese language and customs by his grandparents, his daughter wrote. He returned to the U.S. when he was 17 and was interned along with 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent following Pearl Harbor.

He enlisted in the Army in the fall of 1942 while living in an internment camp and volunteered for a “hazardous mission,” his daughter wrote. He got his wish when he joined Merrill’s Marauders, a group of about 3,000 American GIs who operated deep behind Japanese lines in Burma.

The jungles and mountains of Burma presented arguably the most formidable terrain of the war, yet the Marauders marched more than 1,000 miles right through it, carrying all their supplies on their backs or on pack mules. They had no artillery or tanks and could be supplied only by airdrops.

Matsumoto was responsible for listening in on Japanese communications. During the siege of Nhpum Ga, he found out the Japanese were planning an attack, according to his citation for the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. That allowed the Marauders to prepare and repel the first Japanese attack, the citation says. Matsumoto then used his language skills to lure more Japanese troops into the kill zone.

“Sgt. Matsumoto stood up and exposed himself to enemy fire, while shouting ‘Charge’ in Japanese as if he were a Japanese officer,” Karen Matsumoto wrote. “Marauders opened fire, and the battalion was saved from certain annihilation with no casualties on our side.”

He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of fame in 1993 for his service during World War II; became a Distinguished Member of the 75th Ranger Regiment the following year; and was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in 1997, she wrote. He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011 with other WWII veterans of Japanese heritage.

Matsumoto was a “quiet, unassuming gentleman” who became used to dealing with prejudice, said Robert Passanisi, historian for the Merrill's Marauders Association.

“Back in the 70s, when he first attended one of the Merrill’s Marauders reunions with his wife and oldest daughter Karen, he didn’t know what an American of Japanese descent could expect,” Passanisi wrote in an email Thursday to Military Times. “He was overwhelmed with the attention, gratitude, and respect showered upon him. His daughter Karen was awed at the newly learned fact that her father was such a hero. She exclaimed: ‘He never said anything; I never knew any of this.’

“In any military campaign or action, many things, large of small, contribute to success or failure,” Passanisi said. “But Roy Matsumoto’s service with Merrill’s Marauders was the one thing that spelled the difference between success and failure. Every Marauder knows that if it wasn’t for Ranger Roy Matsumoto, fewer, if any, Marauders would have returned from North Burma.”

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