Outstanding alumnus John Matsushima (B.S., ’43; M.S., ’45) recalls life in WWII-era Fort Collins

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

The college experience of a few Aggie students during WWII was uniquely challenging. John Matsushima and other Japanese American students faced a great deal of discrimination following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. John recounts just a few of those episodes in his autobiography, Broad Horizons I Fear No Boundaries, “to illustrate what can happen when hysterical impulses might end in unfortunate circumstances.”

Photo of John Matsushima
Colorado State University Animal Sciences Professor John Matsushima visits the JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding lot, October 16, 2012.

John was born at Mercy Hospital in Denver. His family owned a farm in Platteville where they raised vegetables and cattle. He was a member of 4-H and Future Farmers of America. When he came to the Colorado A&M campus, like many other farm boys at the time, he enrolled in the animal husbandry program. It was mandatory that all A&M male students take military science, and every Wednesday afternoon John participated in military drills.

After December 7, 1941, everything changed. Signs went up in local stores all over Fort Collins: “No Japs ̶ Stay Out.” John was unable to purchase shoes or get his current pair resoled. His only recourse was to cut cardboard for replacement insoles and glue used rubber tire tube on the bottoms. He referred to them as “flat tire shoes”; they were all he had for the next several years. He also was unable to purchase groceries, but a fellow member of the A&M Livestock Judging Team came to John’s apartment every Saturday evening, well after dark, to bring his groceries for the upcoming week.

Dr. Matsushima and his great granddaughter

Xenophobic behavior during WWII was not limited to businesses. Although John had higher grades than some members, an academic honorary denied him admission because of his last name. Several years after the end of the war, he received a membership certificate from that organization, along with an apology.

Despite the many challenges, John completed both a B.S. and M.S. degree at Colorado A&M, then went on to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. After several years on the faculty at the University of Nebraska, John accepted a job offer from his alma mater, where he continued his outstanding work. He received countless awards for his research and teaching as well as for his contribution to the beef cattle industry in the United States and abroad. One might deem it the perfect rebuke of those ugly signs in store windows that the National Western Stock Show named Dr. John Matsushima its 2013 “Citizen of the West.”