Veterans, families remember fallen, missing soldiers

Army Pfc. Takeshi Sasaki never got a chance to have a family. He had dreams and aspirations. As the eldest of eight children, it was his duty and responsibility to provide his family with finances.

His life was cut short when he was declared missing in action on April 26, 1951. He was last seen alive on that April day while serving with his infantry division near Popsudong, South Korea.

“Being the oldest, my parents depended on him for income,” said 92-year-old Akiyo Sasaki Matsuyama, Sasaki’s last living sibling. “He worked for Grove Farm. At first, they wanted to draft him, but my parents needed him, so he got deferred. When things got rough, he had to go.”

Sasaki is one of five Kauai soldiers who are listed as missing in action. They all served and fought in the Korean War.

“Memorial Day is about that. Memorial Day is remembering the people who gave their lives for their country. We always try to include all deceased veterans and their families,” said Tony Elliott with the State Veterans’ Services on Kauai. “When you’re talking about veterans, you remember the ones who aren’t here. There’s a lot we don’t know. Every chance we get, we want to recognize these guys.”

Since World War II, approximately 82,547 soldiers have been officially listed as missing in action, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

For years, Matsuyama has tirelessly attempted to contact family members of the four missing soldiers, while researching information about her brother.

Though she has reached cousins and siblings, time has been the greatest enemy.

“We had to give up hope and accepted it. I feel for all the families because I’m one of them,” she said. “To this day, I hope something comes up.”

Elliot said the State VA is trying to get folks to at least be aware of the missing because they are from Kauai.

In 2008, 1st Sgt. Joseph Q. Smith of Kapaa presented Matsuyama a Purple Heart for her brother’s service to his country.

Matsuyama had mixed emotions when she received his posthumous award.

“I felt kind of sad and yet proud to serve the country, but he gave up his life,” she said.

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Smith — who served in the Marines for 24 years and fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — often remembers his fallen comrades.

On Oct. 30, 1965, his unit of 165 Marines were surrounded by the enemy on Hill 22 in Da Nang, Viet Nam.

“It was a trying situation for us, but we made it. We had 19 people wounded and 11 killed. There were hundreds of them coming from every which way,” said Smith, holding back tears. “I was in a foxhole, firing at them, and a bullet hit the rifle and ricocheted and came through my hand.”

Smith said he thanks God that he got to live, have a family and a life after the wars.

“I try to live and show people what Memorial Day is,” he said. “I go to Hanapepe Cemetery and I walk up and down and put a Marine Corps flag on every Marine Corps grave. I’ve done that for 18 years now.”

Smith wouldn’t be the man he is if it wasn’t for his brother, Harris, who passed away a couple of years ago.

“My brother was a Marine in World War II. He wouldn’t come home. He stayed over there. They stayed the whole damn war,” he said. “My brother has made me in my life. I was only 14 years old when he went into the Marine Corps in 1938. I memorialize him. He would never accept a medal because they wouldn’t give them to all the other people in his unit.”

Today, we remember all our veterans — past and present. And we remember those who are lost, but will never be forgotten.

As Matsuyama said, “I gave up, but I’m never going to forget and on Memorial Day I’ll remember.”

Kauai’s Missing in Action veterans:

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Sgt. Jose Balalong, U.S. Army — declared MIA on Nov 2, 1950. Balalong was born on Kauai in 1927. Assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, he was last seen alive on Nov. 2, 1950.

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Sgt. Sidney Kaui, U.S. Army — declared MIA on Dec 2, 1950. Kaui, who had been drafted out of the taro fields of Kauai and survived the Pacific battles of World War II, was in Japan planning to come home in November 1950. However, those plans were placed on hold when at age 26 he was transferred to Korea and assigned to Service Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Less than a month later, on Dec. 2, 1950, his unit was engaged against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces along the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. After intense fighting, his unit was forced to abandon their position, leaving behind their dead. Kaui was last seen alive on Dec. 2, 1950.

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Cpl. Mitsuyoshi Ishida, U.S. Army — declared MIA on Dec. 7, 1950. Ishida was born on Nov. 3, 1927, in Koloa. Assigned to K Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, he was last seen alive on Dec. 7, 1950. Reports that he was captured and held as a POW are, to date, unconfirmed.

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Pfc. Takeshi Sasaki, U.S. Army — declared MIA on April 26, 1951. Assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Sasaki was last seen alive on April 26, 1951. He was born on Sept. 2, 1925.

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Cpl. Muneo Yaka, U.S. Army — declared MIA on Oct. 15, 1952 Born in 1931, Yaka was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 31. Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, when he was last seen alive on Oct. 15, 1952.

Courtesy of State Veterans Affairs

“We had to give up hope and accepted it. I feel for all the families because I’m one of them. “To this day, I hope something comes up.”


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