Spark Matsunaga

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Spark Matsunaga
Matsunaga in 1986
United States Senator
from Hawaii
In office
January 3, 1977 – April 15, 1990
Preceded byHiram Fong
Succeeded byDaniel Akaka
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1977
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byCecil Heftel
ConstituencyAt-large (1963–1971)
1st district (1971–1977)
Personal details
Masayuki Matsunaga

(1916-10-08)October 8, 1916
Kukuiula, Territory of Hawaii, U.S.
DiedApril 15, 1990(1990-04-15) (aged 73)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeNational Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Political partyDemocratic
Helene Matsunaga
(m. 1951)
EducationUniversity of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1941–1945
Rank Captain
Unit442nd Regimental Combat Team
100th Infantry Battalion
Battles/warsWorld War II

Spark Masayuki Matsunaga (October 8, 1916 – April 15, 1990) was an American politician and attorney who served as United States Senator for Hawaii from 1977 until his death in 1990. Matsunaga also represented Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives and served in the Hawaii territorial house of representatives. A member of the Democratic Party, Matsunaga introduced legislation that led to the creation of the United States Institute of Peace and to reparations to Japanese-American World War II detainees.

Early life[edit]

Born Masayuki Matsunaga on October 8, 1916, the Territory of Hawaii island of Kauai, Spark Matsunaga was Japanese-American.[1] His parents had emigrated to the United States from Japan.[2] When he was eight, he was nicknamed Sparky after Spark Plug, a character in the comic strip Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.[3] He received a bachelor's degree with honors in education from the University of Hawaiʻi in 1941.[2]

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, the AJA (Americans of Japanese ancestry) soldiers in the Hawaii National Guard were reorganized into a new Army unit named the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion. On June 5, 1942, six months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a U.S. Army transport ship Maui, quietly departed Honolulu Harbor with the 1,432 men of the unit. On June 12, 1942, just before the Battalion arrived in Oakland, California, the unit learned that it had been redesignated the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), meaning they were a separate unit and not part of any regiment or military unit.[4] The men adopted “Remember Pearl Harbor” as their unit’s motto. The training record of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Sep) at Camp McCoy, plus the service of the Varsity Victory Volunteers[5] in Hawaiʻi, led the War Department to authorize the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) on February 1, 1943.[6] Matsunaga was twice wounded in battle in Italy during World War II.[1] He served with the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was released from the Army as a Captain.[7] Matsunaga graduated from Harvard Law School in 1951.[2]

Political career[edit]

Matsunaga as a U.S. Representative in 1972.

Matsunaga served as a prosecutor and was a member of the Hawaii territorial House of Representatives.[1]

After Daniel Inouye was elected to the Senate, Matsunaga succeeded him as the state's sole member of the House of Representatives. After Hawaii was split into districts for the 1970 elections, Matsunaga was elected for Hawaii's 1st congressional district, comprising Honolulu's inner ring, and held that seat until 1976. That year, with Hiram Fong retiring, Matsunaga defeated Hawaii's other House representative, Patsy Mink, for the Democratic Party nomination for Senator. Matsunaga then defeated former Republican governor William Quinn in the general election and went on to serve in the United States Senate from 1977 until his death in 1990.[7]

In 1984, following many years of effort from Matsunaga, Congress passed a bill creating the U.S. Institute for Peace.[1][2]

For 22 years, Matsunaga presented legislation in Congress for the creation of the position of United States Poet Laureate. In 1985, a bill was finally passed authorizing the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.[8]

Matsunaga was instrumental in the passage of a redress bill for people of Japanese descent who were detained in the United States during World War II. The $1.25 billion bill provided $20,000 to each detainee and also apologized to the detainees.[1][2]

Matsunaga was known for his sense of humor. One famous incident involved Matsunaga and then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig at a White House reception for Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki in 1981. Haig reportedly mistook Matsunaga for a member of the Japanese delegation and asked if he spoke English. Matsunaga replied, "Yes, Mr. Secretary, I do — and I had the honor of voting for your confirmation the other day."[9]

Personal life and death[edit]

Matsunaga was married to the former Helene Hatsumi Tokunaga and had three daughters and two sons.[1]

Matsunaga had prostate cancer at the end of his life; by January 1990, he announced that the cancer had spread to his bones. He later went to Toronto General Hospital for treatment, and died there on April 15, 1990, at the age of 73.[2] His flag-draped casket lay in state in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Honolulu.


In 1997, Matsunaga's widow donated his papers to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. There were approximately 1200 boxes of material including documents, photographs, videos, and memorabilia from his 28 years in Congress. Also in the papers are professional and personal materials from his pre-Congressional life; especially noteworthy are documents, letters, photographs, and memorabilia from his Army service in the 100th Infantry Battalion.[10]

A bronze statue honoring him is in the Spark M. Matsunaga International Children's Garden For Peace at the Storybook Theatre of Hawaii in his hometown of Hanapepe, Kauai.[11] As of 1999, Matsunaga's portrait appears on US Series I Bonds in the $10,000 denomination.[7] There is also an elementary school in Germantown, Maryland[7] and a hospital in Honolulu named after him.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Flint, Peter B. (April 16, 1990). "Spark M. Matsunaga Dies at 73; Senator Led Fight for Reparations". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Pearson, Richard (April 16, 1990). "Sen. Spark Matsunaga, Hawaii Democrat, Dies". Washington Post. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  3. ^ "Sparky Matsunaga: From Kauai to Congress, He Served Hawaii and America". 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center. 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans. Archived from the original on April 12, 2019. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d "Spark Matsunaga". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  8. ^ McGuire, William (1988). Poetry's Catbird Seat: The Consultantship in Poetry in the English language at the Library of Congress, 1937-1987 (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). ISBN 0-8444-0586-8.
  9. ^ Sparky: Warrior, Peacemaker, Poet, Patriot. A Portrait of Senator Spark M. Matsunaga, by Richard Halloran. Honolulu: Matsunaga Charitable Foundation, 2002, 259 pages, paper
  10. ^ The Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga Papers University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library
  11. ^ "Storybook Theatre on Kauai Exudes Historic Charm". Historic Hawaii Foundation. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  12. ^ "Spark M. Matsunaga Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center | VA Pacific Islands health care". Veterans Affairs. August 18, 2021. Retrieved September 30, 2021.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
New constituency Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's at-large congressional district

Constituency abolished
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Hawaii
(Class 1)

1976, 1982, 1988
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Hawaii
Served alongside: Dan Inouye
Succeeded by