Motoshi James Tokunaga
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company
Toshio Tokunaga was the son of Naotaro and Kame (Minouru) Tokunaga of Kahului, who arrived from Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in December 1891 and June 1892, respectively. Toshio served during World War I from July 10, 1918, to July 11, 1919, as a Corporal in Headquarters Company, 1st Hawaiian Infantry. Toshio was buried in the Maui Veterans Cemetery in Makawao.
Motoshi James Tokunaga was born on January 25, 1922, in Kahului, Maui, Territory of Hawaii, to Toshio and Matsuno (Shoda) Tokunaga. His parents were born on Maui.
Matsuno Shoda, Motoshi’s mother, was born in Kihei, Maui, to Zensuke and Taka (Kubo) Shoda. They emigrated from the village of Kochi, Saiki District, Hiroshima Prefecture on June 29, 1896, on the Aikoku Maru.
There were six children born to Toshio and Matsuno Tokunaga: sons Motoshi James and George Naoichi; and daughters Tomiko, Aiko (died young), Kimie Rose, and Matsue Minnie.
Mother Matsuno visited Japan for three months in 1928 and took her three eldest children, Motoshi, Naoichi, and Tomiko, with her. In 1930, the family was living on Main Street in Wailuku and father Toshio was a taxi cab chauffeur. By 1940, they were at 42 Mamo Lane in Kahului and Toshio was the proprietor of his own taxi stand, Toshi Auto Service.
Motoshi attended St. Anthony School from the 4th to the 10th grades and then transferred to and graduated from Maui High School in Hamakuapoko.
On June 30, 1942, Motoshi signed his draft registration card at Local Board No. 2 in the Bank of Hawaii Building in Wailuku. He was living on Mamo Lane with his family and his father was his point of contact. He was employed by the U.S. Engineering Department (U.S.E.D.) at Maui Airport in Puunene. He was 5’8” tall and weighed 130 pounds.
When the call for Japanese American volunteers to serve in the U.S. Army was announced in early 1943, Motoshi volunteered on February 13. He had his physical examination in Makawao shortly thereafter. However, he was rejected as his position with the U.S.E.D. was considered “essential.” As Tokunaga later wrote:
While I was working for the U.S. Engineering Department Headquarters at Punahou School [in Honolulu], casualties of the 100th Infantry Battalion began returning home. Replacements were needed and I was scheduled to be drafted in September 1944. In June, I quit my job, returned to Maui, and asked to serve earlier.
Tokunaga enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 17, 1944. His occupation was “paymaster/payroll clerk and timekeeper.” He was sent to Camp Fanning, Texas, for basic training and assigned to the 442nd RCT. After the 17-week course, he and others were sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, for shipment on to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and on to the Theater of War. However, an outbreak of measles quarantined all the men. Finally, after everyone was cleared, they were sent to Camp Kilmer and on to LeHavre, France, in early 1945. From there, they were sent to Marseilles in “40×8” rail boxcars. At the time, the 442nd was at bivouac in nearby Septèmes preparing for shipment to Italy for fighting in the Po Valley Campaign. Tokunaga’s group of replacements was kept separate from the 442nd and shipped to a replacement depot in Pisa, Italy, where they were again quarantined for measles. Tokunaga was assigned as a replacement to 3rd Battalion, I Company.
By the time Tokunaga and his group of replacements finally were cleared, the war was over. When they caught up with the Combat Team, it was in tent bivouac at Ghedi Airfield, near Brescia, processing, searching, and guarding and prisoners of war from the German 14th Army.
Two weeks after the 442nd arrived at Ghedi on May 17, the first soldiers had accumulated enough “points” to return to the US – on the point system based on length of service, number of woundings, etc. A newly arrived replacement like Tokunaga, however, was not among that group.
The 442nd left Ghedi Airfield on June 14 and travelled 61 miles north to Lecco, near Lake Garlate. The RCT was soon designated to be transferred to the Pacific or Asiatic Theaters, and a full training program was begun to prepare for operations against Japan – where the war was still being fought. On July 7 to 10, the 442nd left Lecco and established bivouac in the vicinity of Livorno, Pisa, and Trombolo.
On July 25, they took over the duties of the POW Sub-Command. The unit was scattered throughout the area guarding German POW cages and military installations and supervising the utilization of POW work details. As the 442nd was later garrisoned in the Pisa/Livorno/Florence sector, one of Tokunaga’s duties was assisting the finance officer in distributing pay envelopes to soldiers on payday.
After serving in Italy during the occupation, Tokunaga returned to Hawaii. He was discharged from the U.S Army on November 19, 1946.
For his military service during World War II, Pfc. Motoshi Tokunaga was awarded the: Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze star, World War II Victory Medal, and Army of Occupation Medal. 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.
Motoshi married Edna Furuye Sato and over the years they raised a family of one daughter and two sons. He worked as a carpenter on Maui and Oahu, initially for building construction companies and, beginning in 1964, for the County of Maui. He later became a foreman, then a building inspector. In 1970, he transferred to the State of Hawaii Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS) in the same capacity as building inspector. In 1978, he was promoted to Building and Grounds Superintendent for Maui County, and he retired in 1985.
Tokunaga was active in the I Company Chapter, Maui 442nd Veterans Club and the Maui AJA Veterans Inc. In 1998, he was a co-recipient of the Maui AJA Veterans Distinguished Service Award.
Motoshi James Tokunaga died on May 26, 2016, at Hale Makua Kahului, and was buried in the Maui Veterans Cemetery in Makawao. His wife, Edna, had died the previous month on April 5. Survivors included their three children, two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2023.