Isamu Sam Matsuura
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
2nd Battalion, E Company
Isamu Matsuura was born on August 20, 1920, in Seattle, Washington. He was the second child of Yoichi and Toyo (Nishimoto) Matsuura. Isamu’s siblings were: Setsuo James, Masako, Kenge, Joe, and Kiyoke.
Yoichi emigrated to Seattle from Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in 1898 at the age of 20. In December 1913, he returned to Japan, and while there he married Toyo Nishimoto. He returned to the US on the Awa Maru on September 5, 1915. Toyo arrived on the Chicago Maru on October 1, 1917, at the age of 27.
In March 1923, Isamu and his older brother Setsuo were sent by their parents to Japan. The boys lived with their maternal uncle, K. Nishimoto, in Mitamura, Wakata District, Hiroshima Prefecture. The following year, while the boys were in Japan, the family moved from Seattle to Potlatch, Idaho, where Yoichi was employed at the Washington, Idaho, and Montana Railway roundhouse. In 1928, he began operating a truck farm across the Palouse River from Potlatch, which he continued for 10 years. Three years later, Setsuo and Isamu returned to the US on the Shizuoka Maru on April 30, 1931, at the ages of 12 and 9 respectively.
In mid-1938, Yoichi was forced to give up his work due to ill health. He and his wife returned to Hiroshima Prefecture, where he owned property. They and their four youngest children left Potlatch on December 1, 1938, to depart from Seattle on the Hiyu Maru on December 5. The two oldest children, Setsuo and Isamu, remained in the area. Setsuo had been living for several years with railway agent William E. Hearn and his family in Potlatch. Setsuo, who spelled his surname Matsura, was a student at Potlatch High School and remained with the Hearns. Isamu was living in Spokane, Washington, with his uncle, Joe W. Okamoto.
The following year, Isamu applied for a U.S. passport, which was issued on October 13, 1939. He left on November 1 for Japan, and visited his family living in the village of Saijocho, Kamo District, Hiroshima Prefecture. After a few months, he sailed from Yokohama on February 13, 1940, on the Hikawa Maru andarrived back in Seattle on February 26, with the intent to return to his uncle’s house in Spokane. His occupation was listed as farmer. A month later, he was one of four gardeners boarding with Mr. I. Tanabe in Spokane. All the men worked on a truck farm.
Sam, as he was known, signed his draft registration card on February 15, 1942, Local Board No. 1, Spokane County. His point of contact was his uncle, Joe W. Okamoto of 307½ West 2nd Street, and his employer was his neighbor George J. Leibrecht of Garden Springs, Route 4, Spokane. At the time, Sam’s home address was Box 230, Route 4. He was 5’6” tall and weighed 138 pounds.
Sam enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 2, 1942, and it was reported in the Spokane-Review newspaper the next day that he was one of 18 men from the greater Spokane area recruited by the U.S. Army.
In 1943, Matsuura was among the mainland Nisei soldiers sent to Camp Shelby when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was organized in February. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, E Company. After a year of training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944. They shipped out on May 2 from nearby Hampton Roads in a convoy of over 100 ships bound for the Theater of Operations.
The 442nd arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28. The battalion spent a week at a staging area in nearby Bagnoli, before leaving on LSTs for Anzio on June 6, where they marched five miles to a bivouac area. From Anzio, the 442nd went to a large bivouac area at Civitavecchia, north of Rome, where they went through additional training and final preparations for going to the front lines. The 442nd entered combat on June 26 near Suvereto in the Rome-Arno Campaign.
Sam fought in all battles of the 442nd in the Rome-Arno Campaign. The Combat Team left for France on September 27. Once they arrived in Marseilles, they were in a bivouac area in nearby Septèmes until October 9, when they were transported north to participate in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.
In October-November 1944, the 442nd liberated the important rail and road junction of Bruyères, followed by Biffontaine and the famous “Rescue of the Lost Battalion” – the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry Regiment that had advanced beyond its support, become surrounded by the enemy, and was unable to extricate itself.
Following the Vosges, Pfc. Matsuura next participated with the 442nd during the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign in southern France from November 1944 to March 1945.
The 442nd returned to Italy on March 25, 1945, for the Po Valley Campaign, leading to the end of the war in May.
The Combat Team’s presence in Italy was a closely kept secret as their mission was to make a diversionary attack on the western anchor of the Germans’ Gothic Line, an elaborate system of fortifications hewn out of solid rock and reinforced with concrete. The enemy’s positions were built for all-around protection and observation. The objective of the attack was to draw off the German Army reserve forces from the center of the Gothic Line, weakening it in preparation for the main Allied attack. On March 28, the Combat Team left their Pisa staging area and moved to a bivouac at San Martino, near the walled city of Lucca. The move was made in absolute secrecy and under cover of darkness. While in bivouac, they went through more training – with the new replacements who had seen little or no combat practicing small-unit problems with their squads and platoons far into the night.
They entered battle on April 3, and engaged in hard-fought and hard-won successes as they pushed the enemy farther north. Not satisfied with the successes of the decoy attacks, the 442nd continue to aggressively attack and made a complete breakthrough of the western flank of the Gothic Line.
By April 20, the 442nd was in the vicinity of Mount Nebbione, the hub of enemy defenses. This was the last dominant position before the vital road center of Aulla. The following day, E Company was on the attack at Colle Musatello, an enemy-held ridge near San Terenzo. During this battle, platoon leader Lt. Daniel K. Inouye was wounded three times. Pfc. Sam Matsuura pulled him to safety after the third wounding left Inouye’s right arm shattered and nearly severed. By the end of the battle, 25 Germans had been killed.
Matsuura continued to serve through the end of the war in Italy, when the Germans surrendered on May 2, 1945, a week before the total surrender of Germany on May 8. Afterwards, he was there during the occupation for several months.
For his military service, Pfc. Isamu Matsuura was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge with one oak leaf cluster, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on October 5, 2010, along with the other veterans of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. This is the highest Congressional Civilian Medal.
On November 13, 1945, it was reported in the Spokane-Review that Pfc. Matsuura was home on furlough from the Army. He attended a candlelight memorial service at the Japanese Methodist Church on Grant Street for the 14 men of the 442nd who were killed in the war. He was one of 12 soldiers of the 442nd who were present at the service. Pfc. Matsuura was discharged from the Army five days later, on November 18.
After the war, Sam reenlisted in the U.S. Army on August 14, 1946. He was discharged on June 21, 1949.
Sam Matsuura married Kiyoko Uenishi, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Iwao Uenishi of California. They settled in the Los Angeles area and over the years raised a family of two daughters.
Matsuura was later a civilian employee with the U.S. Security Forces, based at Yokota Air Force Base near Tokyo. In early December 1959, he was invited to meet newly elected U.S. Congressman Daniel K. Inouye at the studio of Nippon Television (NTV) in Tokyo where Inouye was being interviewed. When the congressman saw his old platoon comrade, Sam Matsuura, their reunion was very emotional. Inouye introduced him to the audience as “the man who saved my life,” referring to the battle on April 21, 1945.
Kiyoko Matsuura died in January 1999. Isamu died on December 29, 2008, and was buried in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, next to his wife in Green Hills Memorial Park, Tranquility Terrace, Row 7, Plot 16. He was survived by two daughters, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
His brother Setsuo James Matsura served in 3rd Battalion, M Company, 442nd RCT.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022.