Roy Kobayashi


Cullum No. 23861-1962 | January 23, 1966 | Died in Vietnam.

Interred in National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Punchbowl, Honolulu, HI

Roy Shigeru Kobayashi was born in Honolulu, HI, in January 1940, the son of Norman Tsutomu and Ellen Tsuyako Kobayashi. Growing up in Hawaii, Roy was heavily influenced by the respect with which military service was viewed by the people of Hawaii and was well aware of the achievements of Japanese Americans serving in the Army during World War II. 

An older brother was in the ROTC program at the University of Hawaii. Roy also was interested in serving and joined the National Guard while in high school. Given a battery of tests as part of the enlistment process, he did so well he was encouraged to apply for West Point. Roy first learned of West Point while attending Aliiolani Elementary School from another pupil, Steve Warner. While at Kaimuki High School, Roy decided to apply and went through the selection process in the Territory of Hawaii, earning his appointment from the Territory’s delegate to the House of Representatives. Roy also was offered a scholarship to Stanford University, but he chose West Point. He and Steve Warner both arrived there in the summer of 1958 and joined the Class of 1962.

Roy achieved a minor degree of fame during Beast Barracks. The toes on his first issue pair of black shoes were soft instead of hard and could not hold a ‘spit shine’ for long. Beast squad leaders used him as an example for those who were struggling to learn the ‘spit shine’ process because he had to rebuild his base coat every night. Academics came easy to Roy. Actually, he excelled and was able to spend much of his study time coaching those having trouble. This still left plenty of time to pursue extracurricular activities, and he was active in several, including the Debate Council, English Literature Seminar, Math Forum, and French Club. While at the Academy, Roy kept up strong ties with his family. For example, in his first class year, he won an essay contest, but rather than using the prize money for himself, he gave it to his yearling brother so he could fly home for Christmas. At graduation, instead of buying a new car for himself, he bought one for his dad. An interesting coincidence, Roy’s younger brother Ted and Steve Warner’s brother Jeff, who also attended Aliiolani Elementary School, entered their Beast Barracks together as members of the Class of 1964.  

Following graduation, Roy attended Engineer Officer Basic Course at Fort Belvoir. A fellow student described him as an “intense little guy, vibrating with energy and always pulling more than his weight.” Airborne and Ranger Schools at Fort Benning were next. He completed two thirds of Ranger School but was medically disqualified from continuing because of frostbite that occurred at the end of the mountain phase.

After recuperating from frostbite, his first assignment began in March 1964 with the 600th Engineer Company in Korea. The unit’s mission was field level maintenance for Army engineer equipment in Korea. The company commander of the 600th was also the camp commander, and Roy served as maintenance platoon leader and executive officer, taking up each responsibility with his usual boundless energy and characteristic big grin. At the Founders Day dinner in Seoul, March 1965, the chief topic of conversation at the ’62 table was the buildup beginning in Vietnam; Roy quietly indicated that he had volunteered for assignment there.

The 588th Engineer Battalion at Fort Lee, VA, was his next assignment—but not for long.  

Most would accept a welcome stateside assignment after the rigors of an unaccompanied tour in Korea, but Roy had volunteered for the growing conflict in Vietnam. The 588th soon was alerted for deployment and left in October by ship, arriving in early November. Roy had been on staff but assumed command of A Company of the 588th in December. During the buildup period in mid 1965, Army Engineers carried out construction projects involving nearly every phase of engineering from combat to post. In mid-January, the 588th was repairing and building roads north of Saigon at Phu Loi, and A Company was ordered to seek new sites for laterite pits. Existing supplies were being consumed by ongoing operations. Laterite is a type of reddish clay soil formed in tropical regions by decomposition of underlying rocks and was used as paving material. Roy had accompanied the recon party and was returning to the laterite pit outside of Phu Loi when his Jeep was ambushed. Several days later, the 588th conducted a memorial service in his behalf.

News of Roy’s loss was a shock to all. Longtime friend Steve Warner tells how he first learned: “The most significant memory I have of Roy, and one I will never forget, occurred while headed for Vietnam in January 1966. I had flown from Travis AFB and landed in Honolulu. Walking into the terminal to change planes for the final leg, I spotted a Honolulu Advertiser newspaper stand and happened to see a picture of Roy in the lower right hand corner of the page one. I deposited my coin, removed the paper, and read the headline: Island Captain Killed in Action in Vietnam. I was crushed, by this news.”

His final resting place is on Oahu, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at “The Punchbowl,” not far from where he grew up. Roy had a cheerful outlook on life, unlimited energy, and an ability to get along with anyone. His tragic loss at the age of 26, especially on his birthday, not only saddened all who knew him but deprived the country of a dedicated and gifted leader who would have made definite contributions. Those of us fortunate enough to have known him continue to miss his friendly nature and ever present smile to this day. West Point can be proud of this son.

 —Authored by Peter Oldfield with the help of Roy’s family, classmates and friends

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s