Private First Class
100th Battalion (Separate)
Matsusaburo Tanaka was born on May 19, 1919, in Seattle, Washington. He was the second son of Kichinosuke and Hichi Harue (Yokoyama) Tanaka, and was named for his paternal grandfather. He had two brothers, Bairoku James and Masahisa; and one sister, Chiyo.
His parents emigrated to Seattle in 1904 and 1914, respectively, from Ehime Prefecture, Japan. Father Kichinosuke arrived as a 25-year-old married man on the S.S. Manuka at Victoria, British Columbia, on June 7, 1904, enroute to Seattle. Brother Bairoku was born in 1903 in Yawatahama, Majiro, Ehime Prefecture and emigrated in 1920.
In 1918, the family lived at 11672 1st Avenue South and Kichinosuke was the proprietor of a restaurant. Two years later, they lived at 734 Washington Street and Kichinosuke worked as a butcher in a butcher shop. By 1930, the family lived at 127 9th Avenue South, and Kichinosuke and oldest son Bairoku were butchers at a meat market.
Matt, as he was known, graduated from Seattle’s Franklin High School in 1939.
On October 16 1940, he signed his draft registration card at Local Board No. 9, Field Artillery Armory, Seattle. He listed his mother as his point of contact and they lived with their family at 879 Corwin Place. Matt worked at the family business, Rainier Meat & Grocery, 1029 Jackson Street. He was 5’5-1/2” tall and weighed 140 pounds.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 11, 1942, at the Presidio of Monterey in California. His occupation was given as “Poultry farmer,” and he weighed 127 pounds. Tanaka was sent for training at Fort Ord, then stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, and Camp Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
In the spring of 1942, the Tanaka family was evacuated to the Puyallup WCCA Assembly Center located at the Puyallup Fair Grounds. On August 10, 1942, they were incarcerated in the Minidoka WRA Internment Camp, which was located at Hunt, Idaho, near Twin Falls, Idaho. His parents were released on July 10, 1945, to return to Seattle.
After the formation of the 442nd in February 1943, Pfc. Tanaka was sent to the 442nd RCT at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where he was assigned to I Company, 4th Platoon. Basic training was conducted from May 10 to August 23; then began unit, specialized, and combat training. Field training was from December 13 to 24; and “D” series maneuvers began on January 28, 1944, at DeSoto National Forest, thirty miles south of Camp Shelby.
Tanaka at Camp Shelby
In early 1944, when volunteers were requested for the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), already in combat in Italy and under-strength due to high casualties, Private Tanaka was among those 442nd men who volunteered.
While at camp, he became friends with Pfc. Henry (“Bruno”) Yamada of I Company, who later recalled:
Basic training was tough. The hikes and bivouac during summer and winter were rough, but they sure came in handy in combat. The “kotonks” had some different habits; but once you got to known them, they were terrific. I befriended a guy by the name of Matt Tanaka from Seattle. We trained and went on passes together. We both volunteered to be replacements for the 100th Battalion. He was chosen and I was left behind.
The exact date of Tanaka’s arrival in Italy is not known. There were three waves of 442nd replacements to the 100th. The first two waves arrived in Italy and were with the 100th in time to fight in its breakout from the Anzio beachhead on May 23. The third wave arrived at Anzio the following day. Matt was assigned to Company A.
After the breakout from Anzio, the 100th fought in the drive to Rome. They were ordered to stop just a few miles short and were sent in a truck convoy through the newly-liberated city on June 5 to Civitavecchia, about 60 miles north.
At the large bivouac area at Civitavecchia, the 100th met up with the just-arrived 442nd. . The 442nd was attached to the 34th Infantry Division, and the 100th Battalion attached to the 442nd, taking the place of the 1st Battalion that had remained at Camp Shelby.
Preparations to enter combat together were underway. Also at the bivouac, Matt met his good buddy from Camp Shelby, Bruno Yamada, and they had a chance to catch up. From June 11 to 21, the Combat Team brushed up on marksmanship and small-unit tactics, in addition to an arduous physical conditioning program that included long marches through the rocky terrain. The mountains were covered with stunted scrubby growth, which gave the enemy unlimited observation.
The 36th Infantry Division had been driving the Germans north at a fast pace, making the front constantly moving. For this reason their relief unit – the 34th Division with the 442nd and 100th – was a considerable distance from the lines.
On June 21 at 3:00 a.m., the 442nd was trucked to a new bivouac area near Grosseto, not closing in until just after midnight. Two days later, they moved again on June 24 to yet another new area at Gavarrano. The next day, June 25, a 15-mile march began at 9:45 a.m. and took them to a position just behind the front lines, closing in at 6:45 p.m. They were visited that evening by Major General Charles Ryder, commander of the 34th Division, with final instructions for the next day’s plan to relieve the frontline units: the 142nd Infantry Regiment and 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) entered the lines together in the pre-dawn hours on June 26, 1944, near Suvereto, in the Rome-Arno Campaign. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions pushed off a few hours later, but were stopped by 11:00 a.m. by heavy resistance. The 100th was sent into a gap at 11:30 a.m. to seize the high ground around Belvedere.
Pfc. Matsusaburo Tanaka was killed this day, June 26, 1944, the first day of battle. He was buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Tarquinia, about 99 miles south.
For his World War II service, Private First Class Tanaka was awarded the following: Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, and Combat Infantryman Badge. He was posthumously 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.
After the war, the US began to close many of the overseas military cemeteries. The next-of-kin of soldiers buried overseas were given the option of having their loved one reburied in one of the few cemeteries that would remain, or being returned home. The Tanaka family chose to have their son brought home.
Pfc. Tanaka’s remains were shipped home in a flag-draped casket in 1949. His wake service, with the Reverend T. Ichikawa officiating, was held at 8:00 p.m. on March 25, 1949, at the Tanaka family home, 879 Corwin Place in Seattle. The following day, a memorial service honored the twelve fallen Seattle soldiers at 1:00 p.m. at the Seattle Buddhist Temple. The speaker was Lt. Col. George H. Revelle, former staff officer for General Mark Clark, commander of the Fifth Army. There was an overflow crowd in attendance in the large auditorium. Each soldier had eight pallbearers. Tanaka’s were: Hiro Nishimura, Ted Kurimura, Saburo Ogishima (522nd Field Artillery, A Battery), Harry Kataoka, Ben Sugawara (L Company), Shigeo Watanabe, Akira Kato, and Grant Kitaoka. His eulogy was given by Hiro Nishimura and the Reverend T. Ishikawa offered a prayer and Sutra reading.
Pfc. Matsusaburo Tanaka was buried at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in the Soldiers Section. He was survived by his parents, brother Masahiro Tanaka, and sister Chiyeko Okano Shelton.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with assistance by the family in 2023.