Thomas Kiyoshi Tsubota, Tech Sergeant, 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and Military Intelligence Service
Thomas Kiyoshi Tsubota was born on January 14, 1915, in Honolulu, T.H. He was one of three sons (one daughter died in infancy) of Itaro and Chika Tsubota. They had arrived from Hiroshima Prefecture in 1908. His father Itaro was a cook in the home of Lewis C. King at Piikoi and Lunalilo Streets. Itaro died when Kiyoshi was 13 years old.
As a young man, he attended Japanese Language School and was later sent by his family to further his education in Japan. He studied in Hiroshima and then attended and graduated from Waseda University and Meiji University in Tokyo with a degree in Economics. From available records, it appears that he made numerous trips to and from Japan and Hawaii over the course of his education. He arrived back in Hawaii from Yokohama the final time at the age of 26 on Friday February 28, 1941, on the ship Asama Maru.
Just three days later, on Monday, March 3, 1941, Tsubota signed his WWII Draft Registration card, Local Board No. 4, at 1083 S. Beretania Street. He was living with his family at 1215 S. Beretania; his older brother James [Hajime] Tsubota was his point of contact; and he was 5’5”, 135 lbs. As he had just returned from university in Japan, he was not employed. He may have held a job shortly afterwards with Bishop National Bank, as his name appears on their Honor Roll of employees granted a leave of absence while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during the War. Brother James was employed by Bishop Trust Company.
Tsubota was among 104 AJA men to be honored at a farewell ceremony given by the United Japanese Society at the Kokusai Theater on Sunday morning, June 22. They were scheduled for induction into the U.S. Army eight days later. Each man was introduced and given a lei. Mayor Lester Petrie was among the guest speakers. Afterwards, the Nippon Orchestra entertained and movies were shown. The event was open to the public and each attendee was given an American flag.
He was one of the 290 men inducted into the U.S. Army on June 30, 1941. After basic training at Schofield, Private Tsubota was assigned to Company G, 298th Infantry Regiment, Hawaii National Guard, stationed at Schofield Barracks.
Tsubota was a Corporal detailed to guard duty at Bellows Field in Waimanalo on the windward side of Oahu. On December 7, 1941, “Kewpie,” as he was known to his fellow soldiers, saw smoke from the Japanese attack on Kaneohe Air Base. He and his fellow guard captured the lone survivor of the 2-man Japanese midget submarine that wrecked on the beach. He therefore earned the honor of being the first U.S. soldier to capture and interrogate a Japanese soldier.
Soon afterwards, he and his fellow guardsmen were recalled to Schofield Barracks and assigned to the Provisional Infantry Battalion of Nisei soldiers. On June 5, 1942, they were sent to the mainland on the USAT Maui, given the name 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for basic training.
While at Camp McCoy, Tsubota was chosen for the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). The end of November 1942 he was sent first to Camp Savage, Minnesota, and then in December to Camp Snelling, Minnesota, for military language training at the U.S. Army MISLS. He wanted to remain in the 100th, but was transferred with 67 others to the MIS nonetheless.
In August 1943, Tsubota was in the MIS and was asked to volunteer, which he did, for a secret and dangerous mission. He was assigned to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) that became known as Merrill’s Marauders. Their exploits in the China-Burma-India Theater are legendary. Thomas was one of 14 Nisei soldiers in the unit, who served as Japanese language interpreters as well as combat soldiers. He arrived in India in September 1943 and was assigned to 3rd Battalion, Orange Combat Team. He remained with the unit until it was disbanded in August 1944. He was then sent to hospitals in India and later Palm Springs, California, to be treated for chronic malaria contracted while in Burma.
For his military service during World War II, Thomas Tsubota was awarded the following decorations: Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Distinguished Unit Citation, which was upgraded in 1966 to the Presidential Unit Citation.
On April 3, 1942, he married Miyako Ishibashi, and they raised a family of three children. He was employed by USARPAC (U.S. Army Pacific) and later worked in the Contract and Disposal Unit for USNS (U.S. Navy Ships). They lived in Moiliili and later in Kaimuki.
Kewpie was an active member of the 100th Infantry Battalion’s veterans club, called Club 100. For Baker Company’s 1981 publication, The Boys of Company B, he was on the Steering Committee and his wife had furnished them with her detailed scrapbook of wartime newspaper clippings. At the Baker Chapter Christmas Party in 2010, Kewpie entertained everyone with his ukulele and singing – at the age of 96!
Thomas K. Tsubota died in Honolulu on February 14, 2017, at the age of 102. He was inurned with his wife (who predeceased him) in the Columbarium at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Section C12-T, Row 300, Site 341.
To read his story, visit:
To watch his oral history interview from June 16, 2000, visit:
To read about Merrill’s Marauders, visit:
MERRILL’S MARAUDERS “PASS IN REVIEW”