Following in his grandfather’s footsteps

by | Sep 14, 2023 | News

Spc. Dwight Matsukawa knew that his grandfather served in the military, but he didn’t pay much attention to the details. All of that changed when Dwight graduated from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center with honors on Sept. 7.

“Spc. Matsukawa, the growth, mindset, grit and determination you demonstrated over the last 63 weeks, and the fact that you did it all humbly, confidently and to such an expert degree is awe-inspiring,” said DLIFLC Chief Military Language Instructor, Master Sgt. Andy Hernick.

“It was pretty hard,” admitted Matsukawa in an interview. “We had to get up at 4 a.m. for PT, then shower, eat and go to class, then to the gym, dinner and homework again,” he described.

“But my pronunciation was good from the start, and I knew I was going to be able to help my fellow classmates with tutoring.”

For Matsukawa, whose father is of Japanese descent and mother is from mainland China, the combination gave him a bit of an advantage, more culturally than linguistically. “I was very excited to be able to speak to my mother in Chinese,” he explained.

Spc. Dwight Matsukawa poses with his father David and mother Lilly in front of the Berlin Wall at DLIFLC.

Matsukawa’s grandfather volunteered to serve in the military right after the end of World War II, during a time when those who spoke even kitchen Japanese were encouraged to assist with the reconstruction of Japan. The Army Language School was created just weeks before Pearl Harbor, its creation hinging on the participation of second-generation Japanese Americans called Nisei. It is said that these Soldiers shortened the war by two years with their dedicated service.

A family photo of Spc. Dwight Matsukawa’s grandfather, Kihachi Matsukawa, with his spouse, in Japan.

“Dwight’s grandfather, volunteered after the war to join the military and ended up working in Japan for several years,” explained Dwight’s dad David Matsukawa. Records for Kihachi Matsukawa exist as having attended the Military Language School, a precursor of DLIFLC, but the exact dates are unknown.

As a fourth generation Japanese American with a Chinese background on his mother’s side, it is no wonder that Matsukawa feels at ease with the Chinese culture and subsequently spent much of his time bridging the gap for his classmates, jumping in when needed during immersions when students felt overwhelmed with the target language.

Matsukawa spent tens of hours helping his fellow students with their homework, volunteered for various extracurricular activities, and participated in an open house annual festivity called Language Day, by delivering a Dragon Dance performance for thousands of visitors.

“My instructors were great, and I really felt that I was growing and grasping the cultural background of the language,” he said.

Speaking about the future, Matsukawa said that he would like to return to DLIFLC for another Asian language, perhaps Koran or Japanese, to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Institute.

As of March 2022, DLIFLC was granted the authority to confer Bachelor of Arts degrees in seven foreign languages. Thus far, 100 BA degrees have been awarded to students who completed the advanced, intermediate or Defense Threat Reduction Agency programs.

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