Spark Matsunaga

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Spark Matsunaga
Spark Matsunaga.jpg
United States Senator
from Hawaii
In office
January 3, 1977 – April 15, 1990
Preceded by Hiram Fong
Succeeded by Daniel Akaka
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1977
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Cec Heftel
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's At-large district
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born Spark Masayuki Matsunaga
(1916-10-08)October 8, 1916
Kukuiula, Territory of Hawaii, U.S.
Died April 15, 1990(1990-04-15) (aged 73)
Toronto, Canada
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Helene Matsunaga (1951–1990)
Children 5
Alma mater University of Hawaii, Manoa
Harvard University
Religion Roman Catholicism
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank US military captain's rank.gif Captain
Unit 442nd Regimental Combat Team
100th Infantry Battalion
Battles/wars World War II

Spark Masayuki Matsunaga (Japanese: 松永正幸, Matsunaga Masayuki; October 8, 1916 – April 15, 1990) was a United States Senator from Hawaii, serving from 1977 until his death in 1990. He was an American Democrat whose legislation in the United States Senate led to the creation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and The United States Institute of Peace.


Matsunaga grew up on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i and graduated from Kauai High School. He attended the University of Hawai'i and received his bachelor's degree in 1941. He became a United States Army Reservist in 1941, volunteered for active duty in July that year, and was twice wounded in battle while serving with the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. After his release from the Army as a Captain, Matsunaga entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1951. He served as a public prosecutor and private-practice attorney, and was a member of both the Hawaiian statehood delegation to Congress and the territorial legislature. 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 went on to serve in the United States Senate from 1977 until his death in 1990.

Matsunaga went to Toronto General Hospital for treatment and died in Toronto on April 15, 1990 at the age of 73 from prostate cancer.[1] His flag draped casket lay in state in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Honolulu.

Matsunaga was known for his sense of humor. One such 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."[2] Matsunaga became a well-known figure in Asia as the incident is often cited by Asian American and Asian media.[3]


In 1997, Matsunaga's widow donated his papers to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. 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.

Approximately 3000 books, journals, published reports, and state and federal government documents accompanied his papers. A few were kept with the papers and others were added to the collections of University of Hawaii at Manoa Library, other UH campuses, or academic institutions in the Pacific region.

The papers were processed by archivist Ellen Chapman and are available to researchers in the Archives & Manuscripts Department by appointment. A Finding Aid, which provides a timeline, series descriptions, and list of topics covered in the collection, is available at The Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga Papers web site.


Senator Matsunaga's greatest legacy is The United States Institute of Peace, an American non-partisan, independent, federal institution that provides analysis of and is involved in conflicts around the world. The United States Institute of Peace Act, passed in 1984, calls for the Institute to “serve the people and the Government through the widest possible range of education and training, basic and applied research opportunities, and peace information services on the means to promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence”.[1]

The Institute carries out this mission by operating programs in conflict zones, conducting research and analysis, operating a training academy and public education center , providing grants for research and fieldwork, convening conferences and workshops,[2] and building the academic and policy fields of international conflict management and peacebuilding.[3] On many of its projects, the Institute works in partnership with nongovernmental organizations, higher and secondary educational institutions, international organizations, local organizations, and U.S. government agencies, including the State Department and the Department of Defense.[4]

Also for 22 years Matsunaga presented legislation in Congress for the creation of the position of United States Poet Laureate. In 1985, legislation was finally passed authorizing the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.[4]

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.[5] Matsunaga's portrait currently appears on US Series I Bonds in the $10,000 denomination. There is also an elementary school in Germantown, Maryland, named after him.[6]

The VA Hospital in Honolulu is named Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center. 459 Patterson Road Honolulu, HI 96819 808-433-0600 | 800-214-1306


  1. ^ Spark M. Matsunaga Dies at 73; Senator Led Fight for Reparations.
  2. ^ SPARKY: Warrior, Peacemaker, Poet, Patriot. A Portrait of Senator Spark M. Matsunaga, by Richard Halloran. Honolulu: Matsunaga Charitable Foundation, 2002, 259 pp., paper
  3. ^ Committee of 100 and its relationship between China and Taiwan
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links[edit]

United States 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
Cec Heftel
Party political offices
Preceded by
Cec Heftel
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Hawaii
(Class 1)

1976, 1982, 1988
Succeeded by
Daniel Akaka
United States Senate
Preceded by
Hiram Fong
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Hawaii
Served alongside: Dan Inouye
Succeeded by
Daniel Akaka