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Remembrance of SGT. John Hideo Matsumoto, WWII Nisei Aerial Gunner

24 Oct 2016 9:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Every once in a while we have the honor of guest writers for the RR. The following is an article written by Jane Matsumoto, daughter-in-law of John Matsumoto, one of the about 8 Nisei who served in the Army Air Force as gunners during WW II.  When she submitted the article around Mother’s Day, she wrote:

It is hard for me to know where the other gunners grew up, or if there is any history about them.  I have, however, read much about Ben Kuroki and have seen the documentary that was created.  Indeed, there is no doubt that he was a war hero; yet, being born and raised in Nebraska, his family were not interned.  They did not suffer the injustices as John's parents and other West Coast JAs did. I have tried to balance my remembrance of John without overtly pointing out such differentiators.  It was a blessing that John was able to see his family before he deployed; and returned alive to see them still, interned at Amache.

~ Jane Matsumoto

John and A-20

Mother’s Day 2016 was greeted with sunshine and a mild breeze over Marin County in the San Francisco bay area where I was visiting family recently. We opted for a brunch past Santa Rosa in a quaint town called Forestville and drove back through Sebastopol, hometown of John Hideo Matsumoto. John was born on December 21, 1919 in Penngrove, California, and raised in nearby Sebastopol where he received his draft notice on December 1, 1941. Thereafter, he promptly volunteered and enlisted with the US Army Air Corps. He was sent to Keesler Field, Biloxi, Mississippi on December 6, 1941 – a fateful day just before Pearl Harbor.

Taking off for mission

In 1942, he attended armament school at Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado and in September, embarked to Europe from Fort Dix, New Jersey. John sailed on the Queen Mary to Scotland and was sent to England for three months. In December 1942 he was assigned to Oran Air Force Base, North Africa, and volunteered for gunnery training and sent to an air base at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, Italy. He served as an aerial gunner with the 97th Squadron, 47th Bomb Group; 12th Air Force, US Army Air Corps. His missions were flown aboard a Douglas A-20 light attack bomber, a twin-engine aircraft with a crew of four that flew at an altitude of less than 10,000 feet. Their mission was to provide ground support and staffing missions. In 1943, John was assigned to an air base in Corsica, Italy, where A-20s flew night missions, looking for convoys and strafing troops and equipment. Enemy flak from M-88 anti-aircraft guns hit his aircraft many times.

In flight formation

In August 1943, after 50 combat missions and two years overseas, John was rotated back to the United States. Upon his return he visited his parents, sister and brother now interned at the Granada War Relocation Center (Amache) in Colorado. In 1945, John was discharged with a rank of Staff Sgt at Fort Logan, Colorado and soon married Akie Sakamoto whom he met while visiting family in Amache. Together, they raised three children - son Terry, born 1947 in Sebastopol; daughter Sharon, born 1950 in San Diego; and daughter Janet, born 1953 in Altadena, California. John passed away in November 2001, followed by his wife of 55 years, in July 2004.

Sent to John from family interned at Granada War Relocation Center _ Amache, Colorado

There is much that can be written about John’s military experiences, however, four notable side notes emerge:

1) While heading to Monterey for basic training, two Caucasian draftees talked John into joining the Air Corps. Ironically, John was the only one of the three to pass the required Air Corps physical examination; the other two failed.

2) During armament training at Lowry Field, John met another Nisei soldier from Seattle. They became fast friends. One day his friend was inexplicably discharged from the Air Corps. Inconsistent policies in early war years resulted in only a handful of aerial gunners; besides Ben Kuroki and John, it is very difficult to know the history of 7 other Nisei who presumably also served as gunners.

3) In 1943, John was granted a week’s furlough to visit parents in Merced Assembly Center before deployment. He was met at the Merced train station by MPs, who notified him that Japanese American soldiers were forbidden on the West Coast and to take the next train east. The next train was to arrive 30 hours later, so he was put up in a hotel. To his surprise, he was told at 8 am the following morning that he had 18 hours to visit with his parents. At 2 am the next morning, MPs escorted him to a train headed to Ogden, Utah.

4) In 1943 when John volunteered to train as a gunner, an officer said he would have to pass another physical for combat aircrew members. The examining physician found that John had flat feet – a justification for draft deferment. John replied, “So what, sir? I’m not going to fly on my feet!” He was accepted.

This Mother’s Day as we drove down Old Station Road in Sebastopol, we surmised where John’s family home likely stood – railroad tracks serve as a reliable landmark. The end of the road opens to famed Wild Horse Winery. We toasted to mothers and remembered John fondly, a true Nisei veteran who served America heroically as his family remained interned. We drove past Analy High School where John lettered in multiple varsity sports, and headed home to Marin.

It was a nice Mother’s Day. 

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