Kiyoshi Morimoto, known as Kiyo, served as a Tech Sergeant in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT. He was born on April 20, 1917, in Tyhee, Idaho, one of ten children born to Riyukichi and Shige (Uno) Morimoto. His parents arrived in the U.S. in 1899 and 1912 from Kinokawa and Nate-cho, respectively, villages in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, to work on the Pacific Railroad. They later settled in Tyhee to farm potatoes, sugar beets, wheat, and alfalfa.
According to his parents’ instructions, Kiyo quit school at the age of 15 to work on the family farm. That year the Tokyo Giants baseball team arrived in town to play the local Pocatello Indians. Afterwards, Kiyo got the signatures of all 19 Giants team members on his baseball. This began a lifelong love of baseball, particularly the Boston Red Sox. The now-varnished baseball is a Morimoto family treasure.
Five years later, he signed his WWII Draft Registration card on October 15, 1940, in nearby Pocatello. At the time he was 5’4”, 145 lbs., his father was listed as his point of contact and also his employer – he was a farm hand.
When he was 25 years old, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Morimoto and his brother Isao stayed up all that night talking about how they knew that people were going to blame Japanese Americans for the attack. Kiyo decided that he would enlist the following day to represent their family and their community. Asao (known as Ace) would stay back to manage the family farm as their father had died the previous year. He was the first of 94 volunteers who flooded southeast Idaho recruiting offices that day. Initially rejected by the recruiter, he notified the Bannock County Selective Service Board that he wished to volunteer for duty. A month later, on January 7, 1942, he was inducted into the U.S. Army in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Morimoto was assigned to Company F, trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and served in Italy, France, and Italy again. While in the 442nd he graduated from cook’s and baker’s school, and years later was proud to display the diploma in his office.
Kiyo Morimoto was awarded the Silver Star on August 30, 1945, in Italy, by Brigadier General J.E. Wood. The citation reads: “…Staff Sergeant Kiyoshi Morimoto….for gallantry in action while serving with Company F, 2d Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team, 92d Infantry Division, in action against the enemy on 20 April 1945, in Italy. The leading elements of a company, ordered to establish a roadblock on a hill, contacted the foe as they approached the foot of their objective. Staff Sergeant Morimoto’s platoon began to clear the left flank of the hill when it was fired upon by an enemy machine gun and pinned down. Staff Sergeant Morimoto immediately dashed thru the field of fire, drawing all enemy fire and thus enabling his men to see cover. For 30 minutes, he lay quietly until the foe was attracted by other troop movements. Then he slowly crawled to within 25 yards of the hostile emplacement and suddenly hurled a hand grenade. He charged the nest closely behind the grenade and, catching the foe by surprise, killed 4 and wounded 2. He then jumped into the next and swung the machine gun toward another hostile emplacement and wounded 2 more of the enemy. His bold actions enabled his platoon to complete its mission and exemplify the highest traditions of the American Soldier.” In addition to the Silver Star, Morimoto also received the Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Badge, and Combat Infantryman Badge. In later years, he never revealed to his family the nature of his battle injuries.
After the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, elements of the 442nd remained for several months of occupation in Italy. During this time Kiyo took voice lessons and seriously considered a career in opera – he was known for his “huge” tenor voice. In 1949 he won an audition in New York with La Scala Opera Company. He was told to return the following year, but he chose education instead. However, he later took private lessons and throughout his life he performed with small, local opera groups.
While still in Italy, Morimoto was also chosen by his captain to counsel the troops about their imminent return to the States. It was felt that Kiyo, a Master Sergeant at the time, had many good ideas despite his mere 9th grade education. He knew how to listen to people, and people listened to what he had to say. Kiyo led his first group counseling session, which, unbeknownst to him, would become his life’s work. He would eventually experience over 15,000 hours – 1.71 years – of counseling sessions.
After his return to the U.S., Morimoto was discharged from the U.S. Army on June 28, 1946. He passed the high school equivalency exam and then used his G.I. Bill benefits to attend college. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Idaho State College in 1950, then his Master’s degree in Sociology at Boston University in 1952. He was hired as a counselor by Harvard University in 1958. According to an article in the Harvard Gazette, he worked many odd jobs while a graduate student – including one as a railroad worker in Philadelphia and another as the butler/handyman for the president of Boston University. While in Boston, he met and married Francoise Robitaille, who had served as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during the war. She had graduated from Boston University’s School of Nursing and was a psychiatric nurse. They would have a family of one daughter and two sons.
Morimoto went on to earn his PhD in Mental Health Counseling from Harvard and teach in its School of Education for thirty years. During this time he was also Director of the Study Counsel at Harvard from 1958 to 1985, and a member of the original Advisory Committee of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.
Kiyo visited Italy 50 years after the war and reunited with people whose villages he and his troops had liberated. He also visited Japan and took soil from his parents’ graves in Idaho to sprinkle on his grandparents’ graves.
Kiyoshi Morimoto died on February 22, 2004, in Templeton, Massachusetts, and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Pocatello, Idaho. Additionally, some of his ashes were interred at his farm in Templeton. He was survived by his second wife, Lorinda Gannon Morimoto, and his three children and grandchildren. On February 1, 2008, Harvard University unveiled a portrait of him at Dunster House. He was – according to an article in the Harvard Gazette, “remembered as a widely respected counselor to generations of students. A thoughtful listener, he offered soft-spoken, helpful advice and guidance.”