By Megan NeunanJune 10, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 10, 2011) -- "As a boy, my dad always told me to take pride in my work, no matter what job I was givenm, and to always do the very best I could do," said Tech. Sgt. Shinyei "Rocky" Matayoshi.
The boy advised to do his best enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19, and his father's maxim was put to the test throwing hand grenades under intense enemy firepower to protect his platoon during combat in World War II.
Some 66 years later, during a ceremony June 7, 2011, in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, Matayoshi accepted America's gratitude for his service in the form of the Army Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action.
"I merely had a job to do, and I was just trying to do the best I could," Matayoshi said. "I didn't think of myself as a hero then, and even less so today."
The Distinguished Service Cross is the nation's second highest military honor for valor.
Matayoshi earned the DSC for his actions while serving as a platoon sergeant with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team, during combat operations against an armed enemy on Mount Belvedere, Italy, April 7, 1945.
As Matayoshi's platoon marched up the mountain, they were attacked by enemy fire. Matayoshi helped suppress the enemy fire with hand grenades and a machine gun -- he killed four enemy combatants and took one prisoner. He continued forward, leading an assault on the enemy.
His leadership resulted in destruction of three additional machine gun nests and the killing or wounding of 15 additional enemy soldiers.
Matayoshi's leadership and personal actions secured the key terrain which paved the way for the battalion's pursuit of the retreating enemy soldiers.
Matayoshi, a Japanese-American who lived with his family in Hawaii, joined the Army just after the FBI arrested and interned his father. After his basic training, but before shipping off to combat, the young Soldier paid a final visit to his father, who was being held at an internment camp for Japanese in Santa Fe, N.M.
"During my short visit," Matayoshi remembered, "my dad said to me, 'son, the United States considered me the enemy -- but you're an American. Promise me that you will make America proud of you, and promise me you will never bring shame to the family name.'"
Matayoshi will not call himself a hero, but the military leaders who gathered to honor him did not hold back their praise. They said they were impressed not only by his accomplishments as a noncommissioned officer in Italy, but also by his accomplishments as a family man in Chicago.
"What you did, Rocky, it wasn't only the valor on the battlefield. It wasn't only the defeat of the enemy. It was what you did when you came back to this country. And when you came back to this country, what you did is sitting right there next to you," said Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, referring to Matayoshi's two sons -- both doctors -- and to his grandson.
Westphal said Matayoshi embodied American values, and had lived up to his father's challenge.
"You worked hard," Westphal said. "You weren't impressed with yourself. You raised a family. That family is successful. That family is contributing as you contributed to our country in many ways."
The ceremony that began with the national anthem and a prayer, moved to a close with the apropos "Go for Broke" -- the official song of Matayoshi's unit. The song is named for the Hawaiian slang term that means to risk all for one great prize.
Matayoshi was one of the last to speak before the fighting song of his old unit was performed. He referred back to his father one last time.
"On this day, as an old man, I remember the promise I made to my dad a long time ago," Matayoshi said. "I've tried to keep that promise. That, along with the faith and trust of the men of the 442nd that served with me, is what this medal means to me."