Spark Masayuki Matsunaga (October 8, 1916 – April 15, 1990) was an American politician who served as United States Senator for Hawaii from 1977 until his death in 1990. A member of the Democratic Party, Matsunaga introduced legislation in the Senate that led to the creation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and the United States Institute of Peace.
|United States Senator|
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
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1977
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Succeeded by||Cecil Heftel|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Hawaii's at-large district
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1971
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Succeeded by||Constituency abolished|
October 8, 1916
Kukuiula, Territory of Hawaii, U.S.
|Died||April 15, 1990 (aged 73)|
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Resting place||National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific|
Helene Matsunaga (m. 1951)
|Education||University of Hawaii, Manoa (BA)|
Harvard University (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Unit||442nd Regimental Combat Team|
100th Infantry Battalion
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Born in Kukuiula, a town in the Territory of Hawaii island of Kauai, Matsunaga graduated from Kauai High School. When he was eight, he was nicknamed Sparky after Spark Plug, a character in the comic strip Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. He attended the University of Hawai'i and received his bachelor's degree in 1941.
Matsunaga 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.
Matsunaga 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 was instrumental in the passage of the redress bill in 1988 for people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the United States during World War II. According to this article, "No worked harder to make redress a reality than Spark. After three intense years, he put together a solid bi-partisan coalition of 69 yes votes largely by himself. And so to him we owe Senate passage of S. 1009. The reason the bill received so much support was that nearly all of Sparky’s Senate colleagues just loved him. And if Sparky – the very spirit of Aloha — really wanted something, his colleagues were going to make it happen for him. I remember in particular a group of seven people – all guests of Spark – at lunch right in the middle of the august Senate dining room. All around us were men wearing expensively tailored suits and sporting $200 haircuts, but here we were: two huge Samoan guys in flowered shirts, a small Filipina woman, a nice Nisei couple, me, and the senator. Spark’s message: we are all Americans here. And Spark’s colleagues got the message and they loved and respected him for it."
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." Matsunaga became a well-known figure in Asia as the incident is often cited by Asian American and Asian media.
Matsunaga went to Toronto General Hospital for treatment and died in Toronto on April 15, 1990 at the age of 73 from prostate and bone cancer. 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 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".
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, and building the academic and policy fields of international conflict management and peacebuilding. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 http://www.hawaii.va.gov/
- "Sparky Matsunaga: From Kauai to Congress, He Served Hawaii and America". 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center. 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
- SPARKY: Warrior, Peacemaker, Poet, Patriot. A Portrait of Senator Spark M. Matsunaga, by Richard Halloran. Honolulu: Matsunaga Charitable Foundation, 2002, 259 pp., paper
- Committee of 100 and its relationship between China and Taiwan
- Spark M. Matsunaga Dies at 73; Senator Led Fight for Reparations.
- 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.
- United States Congress. "Spark Matsunaga (id: M000250)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Spark M. Matsunaga biography United States Institute of Peace.
- Spark M. Matsunaga's published biography Sparky: Warrior, Peacemaker, Poet, Patriot by Richard Halloran. ISBN 0-9720932-1-4.
- Spark Matsunaga at Find a Grave
- Appearances on C-SPAN
Biography on U.S. Congress House website
|U.S. House of Representatives|
|New constituency|| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's at-large congressional district
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st congressional district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Hawaii
1976, 1982, 1988
| U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Hawaii
Served alongside: Dan Inouye