News / USA

Q&A with Don Sellers: ‘Honor and Sacrifice’

Roy Matsumoto was one of 14 Nisei to join a 2,700 man guerilla unit known as Merrill’s Marauders to reopen the Burma Road, a supply route for China, then an ally of the United States.
Roy Matsumoto was one of 14 Nisei to join a 2,700 man guerilla unit known as Merrill’s Marauders to reopen the Burma Road, a supply route for China, then an ally of the United States.
Ray Kouguell

Roy Matsumoto was a man with a secret. And it wasn’t until his daughter Karen was given a book in graduate school about the US Army unit called Merrill’s Marauders did the war story come out. She narrates the documentary about his life called Honor and Sacrifice.

Matsumoto was born in the Los Angeles area of California in 1913. He spent part of his childhood there and in Hiroshima where his family came from, sending him to their ancestral homeland to receive a Japanese education. Matsumoto returned to the United States where he graduated from high school.

In the aftermath of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he was one of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent forced to live in relocation camps by an executive order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt. Matsumoto was sent to one in Arkansas but volunteered to get out and recruited for military intelligence service because of his Japanese language skills.

Matsumoto was one of 14 Nisei to join a 2,700 man guerilla unit known as Merrill’s Marauders to reopen the Burma Road, a supply route for China, then an ally of the United States. Fighting rough terrain and disease in the Burmese jungle, the men’s survival depended on the Nisei’s language skills.

Matsumoto climbed a tree where he tapped into telephone lines to intercept Japanese communications which enabled the Americans to destroy a large ammunition dump. He later crept into “No Man’s Land” and overheard enemy plans for attack in a dialect he had learned as a grocery delivery boy back home in Los Angeles. The information allowed the Americans to move to higher ground and annihilate the enemy when Matsumoto yelled for the Japanese to charge.

After six months, only 200 of Merrill’s Marauders survived. Matsumoto earned a bronze star and Legion of Merit. He later was sent to China to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war and became a master sergeant during the allied occupation of Japan.

There are also a series of coincidences: survival of three brothers who fought for Japan, family who just missed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and all reuniting there after the war.

Don Sellers co-directed and wrote Honor and Sacrifice. VOA’s Ray Kouguell asked Sellers, who is based in Bainbridge Island, Washington, about how Matsumoto managed to carry his experiences around in silence and why his story is not better known.

Q&A with Don Sellers: ‘Honor and Sacrifice’
Q&A with Don Sellers: ‘Honor and Sacrifice’i
|| 0:00:00

SELLERS:  The only reason that I could figure that it’s not better known is because he was told in military intelligence that he was supposed to keep his work a secret for fifty years. And like many people of that generation he didn’t talk about what he did. But a lot of people in World War II and people who experienced that didn’t talk about what happened then. A lot of Japanese Americans didn’t talk about what happened, who experienced the different things that went on during that period of time.

KOUGUELL: Did Matsumoto, an American citizen, ever feel a dual loyalty since he spent much of his adolescence in Japan?

SELLERS: From what we understand and this was something that he did not talk about, he decided to be loyal to the United States. He cast his lot with the Americans, with the country of his birth. And a lot of the Nisei interpreters said the same thing, that they just never questioned it. They were with the Americans, they were with the country of their birth and that’s who they fought for.

KOUGUELL: Did he suffer any discrimination during his American military training or in Merrill’s Marauders?

SELLERS: There was discrimination that went on and it was - just for lack of a better term - it was natural. It was what happened in society at that time and so he was called derogatory things. He was even mentioned that way when the people who were calling him derogatory terms realized that he was saving their lives. He was instrumental to what they were doing.

KOUGUELL:  Were there any family strains years later or reconciliation between family members after fighting on opposite sides?

SELLERS: Karen, Roy’s daughter, talks about the fact that there [were] some real strains within the family, as one might expect with brothers fighting on both sides of the conflict. And after the war those strains continued to a certain extent and it took years for them to resolve themselves. And indeed, I don’t believe that they ever fully resolved themselves among Roy’s generation.

KOUGUELL: Did Matsumoto ever share with you, how difficult it was not to talk about his war experience with his family?

SELLERS: No, he never did and we tried very hard to get him to talk about a lot of different things. This is a film that talks about a story where people were very conflicted. He was fighting for his life with Americans who had locked him up and locked up other Japanese Americans in concentration camps. He was fighting with them in the middle of Burma against the Japanese, against his ancestral people and they were fighting for their lives. At the same time his family [was] living in their ancestral home of Hiroshima.

KOUGUELL:  What kind of reaction is his story getting from World War II veterans groups and Japanese American groups?

SELLERS: For Japanese American groups it’s just another chapter in the story of the Japanese American experience during WWII. There’s a lot of different chapters to that story. There are those who were in the concentration camps. There were those who volunteered to serve in the US military, many of them fought very bravely in Europe. And there were others who decided that what was happening was unconstitutional. For World War II veterans I think that they see it as just another indication of the service and the bravery that went on during WWII for the Americans. For those who served with Merrill’s Marauders, many of them have said that they owed their lives to the Nisei interpreters who were with them in the jungles of Burma.

KOUGUELL: Sellers’ documentary uses archival film and family photos, along with interviews including Matsumoto himself to make this a compelling piece of history. It is an account of pluck, luck, grit and boldness of a man who survived horrors that are often the price of patriotism. Honor and Sacrifice is the winner of several prestigious history and historical documentary awards. They are richly deserved.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs