Kiyoshi Masunaga was born May 22, 1917, in Hookena, Hawaii Island, T.H. He was one of nine children (four sons and five daughters) of Tsurumatsu and Yui (Nakayama) Masunaga. Tsurumatsu first arrived in Hawaii in 1890. He arrived again 1907 from Naura, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, and his wife Yui arrived 2 years later. Their two eldest children were born in Japan. The family were coffee farmers in South Kona.
In March 1934, Tsurumatsu filed a report with the Japanese Consulate General in Honolulu for his sons Kazuo, Kiyoshi, and Hachiro to lose their Japanese citizenship. The report was known as “loss of citizenship in order to complete the expatriation from Japan.” His eldest son, Tsuruki, was not included in this petition as he had died in 1922.
Masunaga signed his WWII Draft Registration card on October 26, 1940, for Local Board No. 5, American Factors Building, Kailua, Hawaii, T.H. At the time he was living with his parents in Kai Malino, employed as a paniolo (cowboy) by Mr. A. L. Greenwell at the Greenwell Ranch in Captain Cook, Hawaii. He was 5’5-1/2” and 150 lbs. and listed his father as his point of contact. He had graduated from Konawaena High School.
On November 11, 1941, Kiyoshi enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was 5’5” and 140 lbs. His civilian occupation was listed as “farm hand, animal and livestock. His induction ceremony was held at Kailua, Kona, and three days later Kiyoshi and 14 other men from South Kona (Local Draft Board No. 5) left for by boat from Hilo for Schofield Barracks on Oahu. He was initially assigned to the 299th Infantry Regiment, but after the Pearl Harbor attack December 7, 1941, all of the soldiers of Japanese ancestry were reassigned to a segregated unit subsequently called the “Hawaii Provisional Battalion”.
Under the cover of preparations for the Battle of Midway, the Hawaii Provisional Battalion embarked on the SS Maui, and a week later debarked at Oakland, Californiaon June 12, 1942, and sent by train to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. On this date the Provision Battalion was renamed the 100th Infantry Battalion (separate), a name that Kiyoshi and his fellow Nisei soldiers were destined to make legendary.
Following intensive combat training first at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and then at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, they left on August 11, 1943 for the 2-day train trip to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. On August 21 they boarded the troop ship SS James Parker and joined a convoy bound for the Mediterranean Theater. On the ship’s manifest Kiyoshi is listed as 2nd Platoon, Company F (his Army serial number was 30101764). (Note: some post war references list him as Company B.) Landing first at Oran, Algeria (North Africa), three weeks later the 100th was sent to the combat zone, landing on the beaches of Salerno September 22, 1943.
The 100th had been assigned to the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the 34th (“Red Bull”) Division. They began a series of battles as they marched north toward Rome. By December the Allied forces were attacking the German strong points of the Gustav Line in the mountains south of Rome. By early January the were nearing Monte Cassino. The 100th Battalion was attached to the First Special Service Force to attack and capture Monte Trocchio from the German army. During several days of intense fighting, Kiyoshi was serious wounded by artillery fire and died in a field hospital on January 9, 1944. He was taken to a Field Hospital where he died, and was buried at Marzanello-Nuovo U.S. Military Cemetery near Cervaro, Italy.
A memorial service was held for Kiyoshi Masunaga at the Central Kona Church on Sunday, February 27, 1944. On March 26, he was among 21 Hawaii island soldiers who had died recently in Italy and whose families were to receive their Purple Heart at a ceremony at the (former) Yamatoza Theater in Hilo.
In 1949 some of the U.S. Military Cemeteries in Italy were closed and families were given the choice of having their loved one reburied elsewhere in Italy or returned home. The Masunaga family decided he should come home. On April 21, 1949, Kiyoshi’s remains were among those of 134 war dead to arrive in Honolulu aboard the U.S. Army Transport ship Sergeant Jack Pendleton. There was a large ceremony at Pier 40-A to welcome them back home. The caskets were held at the U.S. Army Mausoleum until burial arrangements were finalized.
Kiyoshi was one of 20 reburials at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl on July 22, 1949. His tombstone was ordered by the U.S. Army from West Chelmsford, Massachusetts, on January 13, 1950. Kiyoshi’s grave is located in Section D, Row 180.
The medals Kiyoshi Masunaga earned for his service to the Nation in WWII are:
Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, American and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medals, and the World War II Victory Medal.