At 89 years old, Kazuto Shimizu is still an active member of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Club. He and his wife Lynn attend a line dancing class in the clubhouse every week. He also attends functions in Honolulu for Nisei veterans.
In 1943, when Kazuto was 19 years old, he volunteered for the Army and was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team which was training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 100th, already fighting in Italy, was experiencing high casualty rates. Kazuto was among the early group of soldiers who were transferred to the 100th as replacements.
This is my story – as of March 2014
My name is Kazuto Shimizu. At age 89 I am living a good and comfortable life with my wife, Lynn, in Arcadia, a retirement home located in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Why am I writing this story? It started on whim as a computer project with Ginger, my computer teacher. Whether I had a story or not was not an issue so here I go!
I was born and raised in Pahoa, a small plantation town about 20 miles south of Hilo, Hawaii. Our family of eight (grandpa Goroku, father Kazumi, mother Iyono, me Kazuto, brother Shigeru, brother Toshiki, sister Yukimi, and sister Kiyoko) lived in a home on a quarter acre lot with plenty of fruit trees and a vegetable garden. We were far from being wealthy, in fact rather poor but never hungry.
My grandfather was a carpenter working for the plantation (Olaa plantation as it was called then). My father was a part time sugar cane planter. He worked for the plantation when he was not tending his small sugar cane field.
All the homes in Pahoa were fitted with catchment tanks to collect rain water for all home water needs. And my grandfather built every one of them. I spent many hours watching grandpa shape bevel and dowel those 2 x 6 redwood planks to be fitted together to build the tank. No nail was used. Could I have figured out how grandpa did all this to take after him to become a carpenter?
As I grew up the 9th grade was the limit of schooling for most. My parents wanted more for me so they decided to raise chicken in our back yard to make some needed money. Grandpa built the chicken coop. Mom collected the eggs and prepared them for market. Father did the dirty work of keeping the coop clean. I am thankful for the chicken and eggs that gave me a high school education, but I was determined not to become a chicken farmer. The smell was too much.
On Dec 7, 1941 World War II started and I was a senior in Hilo High School. My schooling was cut short because transportation from Pahoa to Hilo became unavailable. The war changed many things; black out, martial law, gas ration, etc. But the war was far away and distant for my kid like mind to see.
Then changes started; army soldiers came to occupy places all over the island. Some were billeted in Pahoa School. The soldiers mingled with the civilians in town. Two soldiers started to come regularly to our home every evening, just to talk and exchange stories. They were curious about Hawaii. We told them that pineapple do not grow on trees. The only fruit that looked like a pineapple they saw on the island of Hawaii was what they saw on the lau hala tree. Also, bananas got yellow when ripe and its skin is not good for eating. Once they wanted to wash up so they were invited to use our “furo”. They did not know that the Japanese bathtub, “furo”, was used for one to soak in hot water after first washing clean out of the tub. Mom had to clean the soapy tub after they finished.
What we did not know was these soldiers were on their way to Guadalcanal. My brother wrote to me (I was away in Mississippi, training with the 442nd combat team) to tell me that one of the soldiers, wounded in battle, stopped by on his way home.
In early 1943 Japanese Americans were asked to volunteer for military service. The normal procedure was the draft but the Japanese Americans were denied the draft. Our country needed us and I decided to volunteer. My brother was receptive of my choice and said “good”. Father said in Japanese “if I want to go, go ahead”. Mom was very silent. She did not want me in harms way but was not going to stop me.
I remember this date, March 27, 1943, the day I was inducted into the army. The swearing-in ceremony for the Hawaii inductees was held in Hilo. Mom stood by me throughout the ceremony, reached for my hand as the army truck that carried me away started to move and waved me goodbye until we no longer could see each other. Unforgettable!
Next day we were in Honolulu and took part in a ceremony for volunteers held at the Iolani Palace grounds. Schofield Barracks was where we got outfitted, G.I. hair cut, etc. My memory fails me. I should have many to recall with the first group I was together with in the about two weeks in Schofield before being shipped out for real training.
But I do remember being invited to a home in Honolulu. This family, complete strangers, had more than twenty for dinner. Their name was Goto and I did not take down their address nor sent them a thank you note. I rue my immature negligence.
The longest trip in my young life continues on the troop ship to San Francisco, across the plains to Chicago and down to Mississippi. Camp Shelby to be exact. This was the beginning of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Basic military training started and my position here was in 1st platoon, F Company, 2nd battalion, 442nd RCT.
My training with the 442nd was rigorous and trying. Fighting the elements (extra high humidity, poison oak, chiggers) was unbelievable. But there were good times and we developed comradeship.
Our training core was made up mostly of haole (white) officers; non commissioned officers of Japanese descent already in the army as draftees, and ROTC graduate army officers among the Hawaii volunteers. The 442nd also had volunteers from the mainland. They acted a little strange and vice versa. They started to call us from Hawaii “buda heads” and we retaliated with “kotonks”. No real harm intended.
My infantry training developed my ability to go on 25-mile hikes. I did very well on the rifle range. I earned the expert rifleman rating, the highest rating. A scout was the position I trained in the rifle squad.
When the 442nd was in training there was another Army Unit composed of Japanese Americans, organized in Hawaii, fully trained and engaged in full combat in Italy. I was destined to become a member of this fighting unit. There was no fanfare when I left the 442nd to be transferred to the 100th. There was a notice posted on the company bulletin board listing those selected to go. I believe there were three names from F Company and I was one of them. When I left the company only one person came to see me off. Tadao Nakamura rushed back from training to say goodbye.
Later and eventually the 442nd and the 100th were fighting together in Italy. Whenever the 442nd was out of combat area I made it a point to visit F Company and wish Tadao well. Tadao was not there after the battle at “Hill 140”. It was a sad day for me.
The “first replacement”, as this first group of about 200 men from the 442nd was called, joined the 100th near the town of Benevento. The 100th Inf. Bn., attached to the 34th Div. was relieved and pulled out of the front line to a rest area near Benevento.
The 100th started fighting in Italy with a battalion strength of 1400 men was down to a little more than 300 men when we joined them. We were met with mixed feelings because some felt the 100th was below fighting strength and out of action. Meeting the replacements nixed such thoughts. I was assigned to 2nd squad, 1st platoon, C Company, 100th infantry battalion. The new replacement soldiers out numbered the old timers in our platoon.
This is not a history of the 100th, just my story, so I will concentrate this story on six replacement soldiers that joined this 2nd squad. They were: Tom Miyoken and Thomas Miyamoto, our two scouts; Edward Ogawa, Yoshio Tengwan and myself, the B.A.R. team; and Seichi Hoashi, rifleman.
The 100th moved into a new location called Anzio Beach-head located south of the city of Rome. The 100th was returning to full strength by additional replacement from the 442nd (second, third and fourth replacements, as they were called) and returning soldiers from hospital care. One of the returnees was Sgt Robert Takeo, our squad leader.
The Anzio Beach-head was a landing attempt by the Fifth army to cut off the road leading to Rome for the German defenders opposing the Fifth Army at Cassino. This attempt failed and German guns in an area about ten miles wide surrounded the beachhead. The 100th spent about two months just behind the front lines. These two months were mild, action wise, but many things happened. Artillery fire was constant, both ways. During daylight hours we made ourselves scarce so as not to become artillery targets. At night there were jeep patrols to check on guard out posts strategically placed around bridges, etc. These patrols were dangerous because the jeeps shared the road with tanks and trucks. Only those with good night vision were selected for these patrols. Once an enemy fighter plane came into our air space. Antiaircraft fire made me look up to see the aircraft. I jumped into my foxhole and looked up again. The enemy aircraft was trailing smoke and spinning in a dive, its pilot floating down in a parachute. A British Spitfire fighter had come from I don’t know where to engage and take down the enemy plane. My first witness to a dogfight and it lasted only about a minute.
Wartime activity in the beachhead was rather quiet. But things changed when offensive action started and the troops were breaking out of the beachhead. I started to see the ugly side of war. Tom Miyoken and I were detailed to bring back wounded soldiers from the front lines. The wounded soldier we were carrying died on us. After the detail Tom and I were slumped behind a house not saying a word. Masayoshi Kawamoto, our First Sergeant found and saw our plight (seeing our first dying soldier). His medicine was a scolding to wake up to reality. True, we would be seeing many more and real soon.
The 100th advanced forward. We moved through the town of Cisterna, the first town out of Anzio. I was awed by the total destruction of this town by artillery fire. I did not see a single intact wall.
The 100th was positioned behind the front line and within artillery fire. Nearby houses and other possible targets were being hit by artillery rounds regularly. I was lying down resting when something hit my chest. There was hot piece of metal on my chest. It was a spent shell fragment that did not harm me but hit me hard enough to bend the zipper tab of my jacket where it hit.
The 100th got orders to launch a frontal attack. It was going to be a day of reckoning for me and all the other inexperienced replacement soldiers. I would be lying to say I was not scared for my body was shaking at the thought of being in real battle next day.
June 2,1944 the 100th attacked in full force near Lanuvio, Italy, B company on the right, C company on the left and A company in reserve. We had four tanks supporting C Company.
How was I doing? I remember moving forward with no fear. Once the attack started I was all right. I remember vividly this starting position on the extreme left of the company. Lt. Sueoka on the front right and leading our 1st. platoon. Our supporting tanks were further to the right.
I must include Lt Sueoka in my story. He was assigned to our platoon just before the start of this offensive action. Lt Sueoka took the place of our two platoon leaders who were wounded by mortar fire the night before. The backside of Lt Sueoka was the first and last time I saw him. He was killed in action that day.
The attack progressed quickly and our squad was able to clear the enemy positions with no casualties. I had four prisoners, enemy soldiers so scared their faces resembled that of a dead person’s paler. Our military training did not show me what to do with prisoners. They were disarmed but here I made a mistake. I did not lead the prisoners all the way back to our friendly troops in the rear. In my anxiety to return to my fighting position in my squad I led them part way and let them go back on their own. For their safety I should have taken them all the way. This concern did not enter my mind until long after the battle. I regret.
The battle continued. My memory cannot piece them coherently for this writing. I do remember reaching the end of the vineyard through which we were advancing and I saw two tanks come out of some trees and bushes. I had a bead on the tank commander (maybe) that had his head poking out of the top of the tank. Someone to my right yelled, “don’t shoot that’s our tank”. Again, in my inexperience, I hesitated. The tanks fired. Two of our supporting tanks were hit and burning. The third got stuck in a ditch. The fourth disappeared. All of a sudden we lost tank support. The fighting did not continue into the night. The six of us in 2nd squad were lucky and survived. C company was not so lucky, losing about forty men that day.
Early next morning Sgt Takeo with three men, including myself, went on a reconnaissance patrol to check whether the enemy returned to positions vacated the previous day. The enemy was gone. The advance continued. The enemy seemed to be retreating. Trees along the roadside wrapped with dynamite to be felled to slow our advance were left standing.
I believe it was June 5th(not sure of date) early morning when the Fifth Army with a long line of tanks supported by infantry, the 100th Bn., were on the road leading to Rome. Contact with the enemy came real soon. Enemy tank(s) fired and destroyed the lead tank. There were only four enemy tanks trying to slow us down. They were outnumbered but it took about two hours for our tanks to knock them out. The road to Rome was clear. We learned later that the German commander had declared Rome an open city and undefended.
There was no celebration for the 100th. We were picked up by trucks late afternoon to enter Rome. Next morning we were advancing towards the city of Civitavecchia. The enemy was retreating and they were gone when we reached the city.
(After the war in the year 1967 I had the opportunity to visit the battle site at Lanuvio, Italy and I wrote an article in the September 1967 issue of the Puka Puka Parade describing the battle as I remembered at that time).
Then the 100th went into rest area. This is when we met and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 1st Bn. Of the 442nd was left behind in Camp Shelby to become a training unit for anticipated replacement soldiers for the 442nd. The 100th Bn. filled the vacated space to become the 1st Bn. of the 442nd but retaining the name of the original100th Bn.. The combat team was attached to the 34th Division. The 100th’s original assignment in Italy was to the 34th Division so all these changes took place very smoothly. The 34th Division was one of the several American divisions assigned to the Fifth Army in Italy.
The 442nd went into its first battle at Belvedere, Italy. The 2nd and 3rd battalions led and the 100th followed in reserve. This first encounter was not easy for the 2nd and 3rd battalions for they were not battle tested and faced experienced enemy troops. They needed help and the 100th was called from reserve into action. B and A companies led and C company followed. The 100th made a flanking movement that surprised the enemy resulting in a complete route.
I recall as a C company soldier occupying a position on high ground looking down on the retreating enemy. Being on high ground was a tactical advantage not often experienced by the 100th in attacking mode. The defenders more often chose the higher ground. The enemy soldiers were open targets of rifle and machine gun fire. I saw aerial bursts (artillery shells exploding above the target to rain shrapnel down on the target) raising havoc on the retreating soldiers. I saw the aftermath of a tank hit by a tank destroying bazooka round with wrecked and burned bodies of the tank crew members blown out and strewed out of the tank. Not a pretty sight to remember.
“The war isn’t over, spread out” was the words of Chaplain Yost. Chaplain Yost was the Lutheran minister assigned to the 100th as their Chaplain. We were greeting the 442nd soldiers after the battle and he recognized the danger of bunching together and creating a target for enemy guns. The 100th soldiers have fond memories of Chaplain Yost.
The war was certainly not over. C company was in the center of the attacking force of the 442nd facing the next town, Sassetta. The battle was sporadic and the town was cleared of the enemy by that afternoon.
I recall watching an enemy soldier on a motorcycle trying to escape machine gun bullets and driving completely off the road. I also recall, like a dammed fool, going after one peach on a tree. Someone took a pot shot at me, I think…? The battle continues and as we approached the first house Yoshio Tengwan kicked in the entrance door to the house and I dashed in. I immediately saw two dark figures coming down a stairway. My training was to shoot without hesitation, but I hesitated. To my relief they were elderly man and women of the house.
Later in the day when things were quieting down I saw Tsugio Mizota feeling and looking at his chest. A stray bullet had hit him and that bullet was resting under his skin at his chest. I saw no blood and he wasn’t in pain. He bid us “goodbye and take care” as he walked back to the aid station. It seemed at that time that Mizota was slightly wounded but it wasn’t so. He was hospitalized and suffered for many years because that bullet had severely damaged his inside. I found this out after he was out of the hospital long after the war was over.
Lt Harold Ethridge was killed that day. I wrote about him after the war was over in the March 1955 issue of the Puka Puka Parade.
The 100th Bn. was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation of this combined action at Belvedere and Sassetta. This was a very high award given to a military unit.
The battles continued as the 34th division with the 442nd and the 100th advanced methodically, moving forward, engaging the enemy, getting short rest period, etc. But the morning of July 7th(approximate date) was different as the100th reached a high ground position near Castellina. We reached a strategic high ground position under cover of darkness to surprise the enemy. But the enemy was not ready to give up and counter-attacked several times to regain this high ground.
The 2nd squad, our squad, led by our squad leader, Robert Takeo, was positioned to defend the rear of our company. We faced machine gun positions that were vacated at night but were being reoccupied by the enemy soldiers and were starting to fire at us up on the hill. Sgt Takeo was firing back at the enemy from behind an olive tree. The machine gun found its mark and Sgt Takeo was mortally wounded. I saw Lt. Kazuma Hisanaga, our platoon leader, and Edward Ogawa pulling Takeo out of the danger area as machine gun bullets raked the ground below them. This valiant effort to save did not help and we lost one very good squad leader.
This battle at Castellina is not something I wish to recall. The 100th prevailed over snipers, machine guns, tanks, etc. The effort was good but casualties were high on both sides.
I believe it was the next day that Lt. Boon Takagi was transferred from the 442nd to become our company commander. Many in C Company never had a chance to meet him because he was killed that same day.
The war continued as the 442nd advanced all the way to the Arno River area. My story is not intended to be a war story but I will continue with bits of incidents that I recall.
One unfortunate incident was when C Company was called on to move in broad daylight, was observed by enemy guns, fired upon and suffered many casualties.
Another incident was when First Platoon, our platoon, was spotted by the enemy as we advanced at the top of a ridge and was fired upon by either a tank or a self propelled gun. Of the several shells that were aimed at us, the one that hit directly in our midst did not explode. We, First platoon, were real lucky to escape from this mistake.
This next incident I write about is unique in that it went about so casually. In fact we were playing poker as we often do when we have a rest period. First Platoon of C Company was tasked to remove a pocket of resistance by about a dozen enemy soldiers in a farmhouse near by. How we got this information on the enemy, I don’t know. We were able to move on this information with complete surprise, killing or capturing the entire enemy without a single casualty on our side.
Infantry soldiers are foot soldiers and we are marching, mostly at night, in lousy weather, tired and sleepy. News articles written for home reading calls this advancing American troops. This American soldier continued marching off the road and straight into a ditch when the road turned to the right. I attest to the fact that one can fall asleep while walking.
The Army stopped its forward advance when we reached the Arno River. I recall that First Platoon of C Company was in “reserve” and positioned comfortably away from small arms fire. All we needed to do was stay out of sight and enjoy the fresh fruits, backyard vegetables, chickens running loose, anything the evacuating civilians left behind. We found a bagful of Italian coins buried in a backyard garden. These Italian coins were nearly valueless because the Italian Lira was very highly inflated. What did we do with them? We used the coins as poker chips and left them there when we moved out. This reserve duty was restful but I don’t think Chaplain Yost would have approved our not so nice behavior.
A hand grenade is an infantry weapon, very handy and easy to use. The soldier pulls a pin and the grenade explodes in five second after it is released from the handgrip. This soldier at an outpost along the Arno River defense line was calling me in a subdued and urgent sounding voice. I happened to be nearby. This soldier had a grenade with its pin removed and in a predicament, not knowing how to replace the pin to make the grenade inactive. The solution was simple. The firing mechanism could be unscrewed off the grenade. This soldier was happy I was nearby.
We advanced beyond the Arno River. The river crossing was unopposed and the enemy forces made token resistance, surrendering rather than standing firm. I do not remember the town name where the civilians were celebrating after the German soldiers departed. One of them showed his happiness by inviting four of us to lunch. We had rabbit stew prepared by his wife. We gave him the little ration that we had. I noted the meager supply of food he had to last through the fast approaching winter. He also had a three-year-old daughter. But this family of three was better off than many others caught in this war. I reflect in thankfulness that this ugliness didn’t reach the American home.
In October of 1944, the 442nd Combat team was transferred from the 34th Div. to the 36th Div. located and fighting in France.
October 14 was the day the battle started to take the French town of Bruyeres from the Germans. I recall noting that C Company was in full strength with a full complement of officers; a condition we did not have since the battle at Lanuvio. Included in this company strength were about twenty replacement soldiers joining us one or two days before the start of this battle. We heard their names called in introduction but did not have time to meet or talk to them.
The battle started at dawn. Our squad leader gave us the battle line up: Our squad, 2nd squad, was on the extreme right of the 100th Bn. No friendly troops would be near to our right. We were also told that we would passing near a German stronghold, a roadblock, that we would by-pass, not engage. 2nd squad advanced as planned, our squad leader up front with the rest of the squad stretched to the right on a slant. We were advancing in deep and darkened forest between large evergreen trees. I am describing all this in detail because battle plans do not always go as intended and the roadblock we were bypassing was directly in front. We were charging forward and I heard Yoshiwo Tengwan on my left shouting, “let’s go!” as he ran forward. At that moment I saw his steel helmet fly off backward and he flopped to the ground motionless. I immediately dropped behind a tree to take on the enemy behind the roadblock. The tree I was behind gave me some protection but a bullet shattered my backpack and canned ration that I carried. I fired at least ten well-aimed rounds at the enemy soldiers behind the roadblock. When I couldn’t see much movement behind the roadblock I quickly crawled back from the dangerous position behind the small tree to a much larger tree.
All this I described above happened in a moment. I was very lucky to have escaped unhurt. Now that I recall I was very much alone facing the roadblock because I did not hear any shot fired from my right.
Our squad leader, Masaru Yamashita, came back to locate his squad that was not following him. I told him there are a lot of German soldiers in front. My shattered backpack told him enough. I told no one else what happened. Masaru guided our squad to bypass the roadblock to rejoin the platoon to continue the forward advance. At this point our squad was missing one man. His name was Miyake, one of the replacement soldiers that just joined our squad. His body was found later.
As we moved forward our platoon was met by a clanking sound of a German tank creeping up to our position. The tank was awesome moving slowly with its large gun facing straight at us. I felt helpless against this monster. Then for some unknown reason this tank made a right turn towards our left. Joe Maeda, our anti tank bazooka man, aimed and fired his weapon. I saw all this because Joe was directly in front of me. I saw the bazooka shell hit the tank but did not explode and the tank escaped. We continued forward and held our position until the next day.
The following morning the First Platoon of C Company was tasked to attack and capture the next hill to our left. To reach this hill we had to cross an open field, (I believe it was a harvested wheat field). Our advance was to be cloaked with smoke cover. Battle plans do not always conform; the smoke cleared before we started and we had to charge across the field in clear view by the enemy. I could hear rifle fire against us but no machine gun. Luckily the machine gunners were not near their guns. We were charging against rifle fire, not machine guns. A lone German soldier placed in a vantage defensive position at the base of the hill surrendered as soon as we started coming toward him, lucky for us in more than one way.
Those of us who reached across first were firing at the enemy soldiers higher-up on the hill to help those still coming across the open field. Edward Ogawa went behind a bushy area to provide this protective fire. The small bush did not give him enough cover. I heard the thud of the bullet that hit him. He slumped forward beyond help.
Noriyoshi Masumoto was the only soldier that didn’t make it across. Lt. Kazuma Hisanaga’s quick action of rushing into the open field to pull Masumoto out of harm’s way was like the football player he was at Pomona College. Masumoto was shot through both legs but was smiling and was wishing us well as the medics took him out of action. (I met Masumoto, an engineering student at the University of Hawaii, taking wrestling on the side. He whispered to me not to tell about his leg wound.)
Bruyeres fell that afternoon. Our platoon continued pressing against pockets of resisting enemy. Two soldiers surrendered after a few rounds of rifle fire. These two were eager to surrender. They looked Polish in nationality, one about forty in age and other a teenager. My guess was they were a father son pair.
Next morning the 100th was advancing deep into a forest until we came to road fork. (I cannot describe the above accurately). The 100th stopped for a rest while the 1st platoon of C Company, led by Lt. Hisanaga, continued on as a combat patrol deep into enemy territory. During this patrol we surprised and captured a small work detail after a brief fight; destroyed an enemy “jeep” that passed nearby, killing its driver; evaded a large German patrol; and returned to our starting point. Our 100th Battalion was not there. What we didn’t know was that the 100th continued forward to attack and capture the town of Biffontaine. We transferred the prisoners we had to friendly troops nearby to try to rejoin the 100th. We couldn’t reach them before darkness fell and missed the fight the 100th had resisting the counter-attacking German tanks and infantry.
\The 442nd Combat Team was pulled back for a well-deserved two-day rest. Our first replacement six was down to four.
(After nearly 70 years I still recall the events of the one-week after October 14. If there is any inaccuracy in my story, it is because of my effort to forget. My wife does not relish war stories and that suits me fine. My parents and siblings did not hear me talking. This story and anything following is/was intended to be in secret.)
The two-day rest was short-lived because the 442nd was ordered back to the front lines very early next morning. We were awakened before daybreak. I almost missed marching out in the dark of night because I couldn’t get my shoes on. I had a condition called trench feet caused by exposure of the feet to wet and cold weather, resulting in throbbing pain and swelling of the feet. Almost all of us had this condition in varying degrees, and some needed medical help. I did not want to be left behind so I made a stronger effort to get my shoes on and succeeded and ran in pitch darkness to catch up and rejoin the march to the front line.
I learned later that the 442nd was called up from rest to come to the aid a battalion in the 36th Division that was cut off and surrounded by the Germans. The 36th division had three other regiments beside the 442nd. (“our’s not to reason why…”)
It took the 442nd seven days to reach the “Lost Battalion”. (History account sez six days and I may be wrong). Our platoon of about forty was down to fifteen on the seventh day. C Company lost all our officers. Our “first replacement six”, now four, survived the seven days. My story is not intended to account history, I repeat, and I am writing stories as I recall.
We reached the front at daybreak and many things were happening:
1. The 36th Division soldiers we were relieving walking back in hurried pace.
2. The 36th Division Commanding Officer and his aide, followed by the 442nd Commander were walking at the front line position.
3. Machine gun fire from our right indicated counter-attacking enemy from our right. I could see tracer bullets glancing off one of the supporting tanks among us. Our position on higher ground and larger number gave the counter-attack little chance of succeeding (my thoughts).
4. Lt. Okada came from, I don’t know where, and started firing from behind a tree. Machine gun bullets all around him answered him. Luckily the tree was large enough to protect him. (I met Lt Okada after the war and I asked him about his foolish action. His answer was that the General ordered him.)
5. One of the tanks behind us moved forward to start spraying the counter-attacking force with its forward machine gun. The tank was an open target for heavier enemy guns but it succeeded in repelling the enemy effort. (After the war I met Masaru Yamashita, our squad leader at that time, and commented about the support we got from that tank. The answer I got was a surprise. Masaru told me he tried but couldn’t get the tank to help so he jumped into the tank and got the tank to move forward while he fired its machine gun. (I can’t verify this story, I wrote only as I heard it.)
6. The above was the beginning of the first day. The advance continued and the enemy knew where we were coming from and where we were going, resulting in accurate artillery and mortar fire on us. The artillery shells would hit the trees above us to send deadly shrapnel’s down on us. Foxholes that normally protect us did not help against this danger from above, resulting in above normal casualties.
7. I was lucky in more ways than one. Besides dodging shrapnel, two anti personnel mines and a mortar shell did not explode. Explanations are needed. We were advancing through a minefield and the soldier to my right tripped an outstretched wire. He had pulled the pin off one of three grenades tied to a small tree near me. Those grenades should have exploded. Next I heard a popping sound. Another mine on my left was tripped. This mine is called a “bouncing betty” because it is designed to bounce up about six feet and explode sending shrapnel in all direction. I saw this cylindrical mine at about six feet up and not exploding. I cannot verify the close call with a mortar shell landing near me and not exploding. It was cold and raining and I didn’t see or hear a thing. The soldier that was behind me told me later that I had a close call.
8. Word got around that the aide following the commanding general was killed by machine gun fire that morning. Mike Tokunaga confirmed this to me when he told me that he peeked at the soldier’s dog tag that read “Sinclair Lewis Jr”.
The 442nd was detached from the 36th division and placed in defensive positions along the French/Italian border. We faced a German defense position with about a ten-mile no-mans-land. Except for patrols into no-mans-land, it was eat, sleep, and play cards. My weight went from 140 to 165. Things were not always quiet. There was some action when one patrol met and engaged an enemy patrol in the no-mans-land area. There were a few casualties on both sides and the enemy patrol was captured in its entirety. A British navy observation post was located on the heights just below my position, close enough that I could hear them giving radio instructions to a naval cruiser (British Naval I assume) in the Mediterranean Sea (we could see from our position) that came to fire its guns on German targets near the coast located by this observation post. The German coastal guns would return fire but couldn’t hit the fast moving ships. It was winter and of course we slept nights with our foxholes covered with snow.
In the spring the 442nd was transferred back to Italy and the Fifth Army. I heard General Mark Clark address the 100th and his Fifth Army battle offensive that will go forward in the middle of Italy and that the 442nd will attack on the West side about two weeks before the main offensive in the middle. The events that followed were as General Mark Clark said. The 442nd, attached to other units of the Fifth Army, attacked on the left side of the Italian boot ahead of the main offence against the Germans.
My memory fails me in trying to remember. There were many actions and casualties. Replacements refilled our lost ranks rather fast. Thomas Miyamoto was killed on the fist day of our (C Company) attack. He stepped on an anti-personnel mine. This loss reduced our first replacement six down to three of us. The three of us became the old timers of our platoon. Tom Miyoken and Seichi Hoashi moved to the first squad, Tom becoming its squad leader and Seichi his assistant. I became the squad leader of the second squad.
I will backtrack to the first day of the offensive. The 100th was attacking a line of hills and A Company was leading, starting a few hours before daybreak, reporting that the first hill was taken in less than an hour. C Company was called on to continue the advance and to take the second hill, passing on the left of A Company. But the first hill was not completely taken, and C Company was going directly into the German defense concentrated on the reverse side of the first hill. C Company was advancing in a straight line and the German defense was directly above us to our right and in front of us. Also it was just at daybreak and visibility was approaching. I was located about the middle of this C Company’s advancing column. The first squad ahead was already engaging the Germans. The first German soldier I encountered was directly above me to my right about ten feet away looking down and ready to throw a grenade. A soldier behind beat me to it as he shot this soldier before he could release the grenade in his hand. I watched, as this soldier froze stiff when shot and crumble down in this same frozen position not releasing the grenade in his hand. I write the above in detail because it is a picture etched in my mind…unforgettable.
The battle continued. Grenades virtually rained down on our column endlessly. I was lucky, most of the grenades exploded harmlessly above me or over and beyond me. Three grenades did land next to me but they did not explode. Seiji Adaniya explained to me how he shielded his face when he saw this grenade roll toward him, explode and toss him off his position and down the hill. He showed me the scars on his body (not his face) that looked like crawling worms. I met Seigi after his hospitalization. I witnessed the bravery of a medic. He crawled forward answering to the cry of help and he himself became a casualty. I never got his name. Another name I will mention: Satoru Okamura, our platoon sergeant. He was wounded several times previously and rejoined us just in time for this offensive. He was leading C Company’s advance and missing for a while. The battle came to something of a lull around noon and I was happy to see him come out from where he was holed or hiding. He was wounded and in a bloody mess, but survived. I met him after the war and asked him how he got wounded. He said he was charging forward, got shot and couldn’t get out. I asked him to come join the other veterans at our club house (will explain club house later). His answer was that his hearing was so bad he cannot. I understand very well why many veterans cannot or do not want to talk or be reminded. C Company pulled back into a defensive position for the night. My position was a vantage defensive position because I had a clear view so all of C Company up front moved behind me for the night. I could see the outline of enemy soldiers moving back into positions they left during the day. I did not fire at them so as not to give away our defensive position. Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night, though the Germans made no offensive move.
Early next morning B Company came up the hill from my left and directly in front me to engage the enemy. I had a front row view of a platoon of B Company exchanging small arms fire and cleaning out the remaining enemy troops on this hill. Soon the 100th Battalion was advancing to the next hill. Element of the 442nd had cleared/taken the hill further up front. Enemy resistance on the second hill was weak, though mortar shells did catch us in the open. The 442nd Regimental Combat team had broken through the German defenses and we were advancing.
We did go out on numerous patrols and night advances. On one combat patrol by the first platoon of C Company, the patrol was far into enemy territory and taking a short rest. The radioman that came along and was positioned in front of me started to dig a small hole in the ground. Asked what he was doing, his answer was he was burying the secret codebook he was carrying to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. The radioman feared a possibility of this patrol being captured and losing the codebook. I made no comment. It must have been no simple thing for a non-infantry to be roaming far into enemy territory.
The situation was that C Company was to advance down a hill and through a valley area. Enemy resistance was not expected but a patrol was sent ahead of the company to prevent any surprise. 2nd squad of first platoon was assigned the patrol duty and I was the squad leader. The patrol reached the bottom of the hill and formed a defensive position while we waited for the rest of the company to come down the hill. Then suddenly mortar shells started falling close to our position. I recognized immediately that these were not enemy shells; our own mortar squad must have spotted us and was mistaking us for enemy troops. I had a portable radio (walkie-talkie) to communicate but did not want to reveal our plight to the enemy that often listens to our radio communications. The solution was easy. I talked to my platoon leader over the walkie-talkie in mixed pidgin and Japanese language. Also prearranged code word “Honolulu” meant artillery. The message went something like this,”chiisai Honolulu ga abunai”, meaning the small artillery (mortar shells) is dangerous. Our platoon leader,Toshimi Sodetani, understood and the mortar shelling stopped. On our return trip (C Company decided not to move that day) the patrol passed through an opening in the forest that covered our movement. Realizing that the enemy observers could have spotted the patrol, I changed direction and sure enough enemy shells fell in the area the patrol would have been in. We returned with no casualty.
An unfortunate incident occurred near the end of the hostilities in Italy. The enemy was retreating and we were resting after a long march in the rain from early morning. Most of my squad was off their foot along side of the road. I was across the road being treated for rash caused by the long walk. All of a sudden a grenade carried by one of the soldiers exploded, killing the soldier and wounding others nearby, including Tom Miyoken. The medic helping me rushed over to help and I followed. Then the medic noticed blood trickling down from my forehead. I didn’t feel a thing but a small fragment must have hit my forehead. The field hospital was so busy trying to move forward and keep up with the advancing front at the same time treating the more seriously wounded the slightly wounded were “looked over” and sent to the hospital. A scab was all I had when I was examined two day later. This is when the German commander in Italy surrendered and the war in Italy was over. My only concern at that time was to return to my outfit. There was another soldier of the 442nd with the same thought. We looked at each other, saying not a word, packed our things, went out and hitched-hiked back to our outfit. Both of us were AWOL (absent without official leave) for a few hours.
The war in the Eastern front was ending with Germany surrendering but fighting was continuing in Okinawa. I was being interviewed for interpreter duties because I had Japanese language capabilities. I was ready to go but the interviewer looked at my record and commented about my long combat record. That ended the interview. WWII ended soon after. And the story of the six replacement soldiers ends with three left.
What did we do since the war was over? The army had to keep us busy so as not to let us get into trouble while we waited for transportation to deploy and take us home. The German Prisoners needed to be watched over while they also waited to be returned to their home. So there was guard duty, watch duty may be a better term. But there were pleasure trips to resort areas as San Pellegrino on Lake Como, shopping and touring to Switzerland and trips to Milan, Italy. The photo below are First platoon members enjoying lunch under the warm summer sun of Italy.
It was in December of 1945 when my turn to be shipped home came. It should have been a gala affair to be returning to America after three year of war. After 21 days of storm in the Atlantic Ocean in a so-called Liberty Ship that barely withstood the rough sea condition we made port. The only thing I remember about this first day home was the most delicious apple that came with the steak dinner served us that evening. I have no recollection of the port we came in or how we reached the West Coast from there. I must have gone cross-country by air because I recall a plane crash that took the lives of some 442nd men returning home. The last-leg trip home to Hawaii was on a troop ship. I was assigned to guard duty on the last night before we reached Hawaii, a reminder type assignment that we were not out of the Army. But everyone was in a festive mood. My duty as corporal-of-the-guard was to … don’t know. All was okay next morning when we reached Hawaii. My first feeling as I got off the ship was that Hawaii was hot, even in winter.
It was on December 24,1945 the day I was discharged and back to a civilian. But Tom Miyoken and I were both in full army uniform when we were walking on King Street in Honolulu that early evening of December 24th. Tom had invited me for dinner at his Uncle’s home in Honolulu and we were on the way. Someone cracked a firecracker behind us and tom and I dropped to the ground instinctively. The war was still behind us, literally. (Burning firecrackers before the new-year-celebration was a common thing to do in Hawaii). The sound we heard was exactly like the crack of a bullet hitting a tree branch nearby. No one that saw us on the ground laughed at our funny behavior.
That night was the last time Tom and I were together. We parted for home the next morning, Tom to Lahaina, Maui and I to Pahoa, Hawaii.
I came home unannounced but word got around fast and my father came home from work and walked pass me, not recognizing me in uniform. I tried to greet him in Japanese as I always conversed at home and but my Japanese words stumbled for three years of non-use. A little awkward but all that mattered was I was home.
A home coming party was made for me that evening. Neighbors and friends came to help prepare like everything was preplanned. Mom was a busybody and I could sense her relief in seeing me home. Other veterans came home to receive a home coming party, likewise.
Amidst all the merriment for the returning veterans, the mother of my closest classmate and friend came to me to ask me for help. She was in tears. Her predicament was that three of her five sons (The youngest was my friend and classmate). Her three older sons were in California when the war started and consequently sent to a relocation center. They reacted to this treatment by renouncing their citizenship, resulting in the oldest to be sent to Japan. The other two brothers were slated to follow but regretted their action and did not want to leave their home in America. I had no idea what to do but I had to do something to help. I wrote to the State Department but nothing happened. I wrote again stating my service with the 100th and the 442nd and added that I couldn’t predict my feeling had I been in a relocation center. This time I got a reply from the office of the Under-Secretary-of-State stating that no-one will be sent away against their will. This mother stopped crying when I gave her this letter. I was glad to be of help.
I drifted into civilian life with little preplanning. The G.I. Bill of Rights made it easy to continue my education and I graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree in civil engineering. Followed by a job at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. The Navy needed hard to find Naval Architects so they chose to hire a bunch of graduating University of Hawaii civil engineers and training them in house and sending them to University of California summer school classes in Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture. We attended UC Berkeley two summers at Naval Shipyard’s expense, resulting in a career at the shipyard.
In the meantime I met and married a sweet little girl, Lynn Tokie Nagaishi, on June 13, 1953 to become my lifetime love and companion. Lynn has been good to me all these 60 years. Our life together started after my graduation and that was about the time I joined the 100th Battalion Veterans Club. I waited until I got a job to join this club that I should have joined sooner but couldn’t afford the small club dues.
The Club 100th Veterans was an organization planned for during wartime and each member of the 100th was contributing two dollars towards a club when we returned to Hawaii. How did we know we were coming home?
The veterans did return, mostly to Hawaii and concentrated in Honolulu. Therefore the Club 100th Veterans Club was organized and headquartered in Honolulu with a dues setup to cover club expenses, hence I “rejoined” this club of ours when I was able. The “Club” was structured to suit the veterans by geographical location of the veterans. Hence, we had “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”,”HQ/Medics” chapters in Honolulu; and Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, Los Angeles and Rural chapters away from Honolulu by geography. In this arrangement I became a member of C chapter, club 100th Veterans Club.
I went into great details to explain the Cub 100th”s organization because the remainder of my life centered around its activities. The officers of the club and representative of each chapter met monthly to orderly coordinate our social activities. The club members met annually in a reunion like gathering and of course their wives followed. It was fun going to the different Islands and Los Angeles and meeting old buddies. The club made a vacation tour of Japan and also to Europe.
The trip to Japan was a story by itself. The exchange rate was 360 yen to a dollar and great shopping. Japan was recovering from the war but had much to offer in a beautiful country full of traditions and beautiful sceneries. The Japanese people treated us very well. Many of us have good memories of this trip. The trip to Europe was also memorable in that we visited all the major capital cities in Europe. Also the veterans got to see some of the battle sites in Europe where they were involved in. I was able to locate and revisit the area near Lanuvio, Italy where my first battle with the 100th battalion took place. I wrote about this battle in earlier pages of this story.
Baseball: The 100th battalion had a baseball team while in the army and in training. So naturally, the returning veteran started a softball league competing among the various chapters in Oahu. The games were played on Sundays at Ala Moana Park. The games were fun with the cheering family and veterans getting to know each other better. After the games I often went for a swim (the beach was along side the park) and Lynn was handy to be around to be watching my clothes.
Golfing: The Club 100th Golf played on Sundays. Softball faded away. I joined this club. Golfing was an all day outing on Sundays and we even travelled to the outer islands for variety.
In retrospect I felt the veterans were selfish because their wives were often unable to join the men. Lynn and some other wives were smart enough to take advantage of these “home alone” times to have their luncheon meetings. Name a good restaurant in Honolulu and they’ve been there.
Poker: I enjoyed these “friendly” card games and the yard work suffered. I must have tested Lynn’s patience.
The Plant Club: This club was mostly in orchid culture. I joined this club to try my hand at orchid growing. Some of our members were very knowledgeable in orchids and we got good tips at our monthly meetings. My backyard collection of orchids were fairing nicely. But Lynn could not stand the smell of insecticides I used to control the bugs that came on the plants. I tried spraying the plants while she was out of the house but the smell lingered too long. Without spraying my collection fizzled and so went my orchid venture. I must thank Lynn’s sensitive nose because every one of the insecticides I have been using were found to be toxic and banned for use by hobbyist like me.
Ballroom Dancing: The Club 100th Dance Club started when George Yamada and his wife (dance instructors) offered free lessons to Cub 100th members. The timing of this offer must have been just right for the turnout for the first lesson filled the large hall at our clubhouse. Waltz, fox trot, Latin dance steps, all became familiar movements but not without some miss-steps. Nothing good comes without effort. It took me about a year of struggle for me to become comfortable leading a lady other than Lynn on the dance floor. Dancing started to become a fun thing and Lynn and I were dancing like crazy people, taking dance lessons and going social dancing at weekends. Social dancing was fun and we made many friends. The craziness waned as we aged but we continued the dance movements in the form of line dancing. Line dancing, I’ll describe as ballroom dancing without partners (no stepping on toes). Lynn and I are still line dancing this late age for continued enjoyment and at the same time getting our needed exercise.
Craft Class, Karaoke Class, and Crotchet Class: The Club 100th clubhouse was suited to hold small group classes. The ladies of our club (0ur wives) weren’t dormant while their husbands enjoyed their golf games, etc. These classes gave the ladies an outlet to get to know each other as they shared their talents. I liked Japanese song and men weren’t excluded so I joined the karaoke class to learn some. This class had a very good teacher, Aiko Sensei, a former recording artist from Japan, teaching us at once a week sessions. Each class member will sing one song of their choice each session and the teacher will guide the singer through its timing and melody, and will tell us when our choice does not match our voice range. Her emphasis was in correct timing and melody and this suited me fine because my voice was lousy. Some of our class members had very good singing voice and I enjoyed listening to them.
Aiko Sensei had other classes through the week and she held recital performances every two years by her students. Never in my life did I imagine myself singing in front of a live audience of about 800 people. That’s what happened every two years. Lynn was in the audience and gave me praise for my effort. The classes did me good in learning new songs and in overall enjoyment.
Lynn and I spent most of our married life in Honolulu, more exact in Manoa Valley area of Honolulu.
My story should end here as I am in my fifteenth year in Arcadia, a retirement home in Honolulu, living in comfort with my wife. Most of this writing came out in many pages about my three years in the Army. Lynn, you did not hear it but you can read some of my stories of the three years that that changed my life. And I thank you for the sixty years and more.
The day will come when there will be no more wars. THE END.