Requiem for a Hero
Hawaii Herald, 9/20/1985
By BEN H. TAMASHIRO
On foot and by truck, the men of the 100th had been steadily catching up to the enemy since that morning of Sept. 22, 1943, when they had scrambled down the troop transport rope ladder into landing barges and waded through the surf onto Italian soil. Now, a week later and the beach at Salerno a hundred miles behind them, the young, untested nisei boy from Hawaii had moved into position for their first battlefield encounter. The halted for the night behind the cover of a small hill, to rest and prepare to push out early the next morning.
Other than sporadic harassment by enemy planes, the beachhead area had been cleared of enemy action by the time of the 100th landed. But in the process of withdrawing into the foothills of the nearby Apennines mountain range, the enemy had blown up all bridges and laid a host of mines on roadways, hiding them on every conceivable pathway the pulled back from one foothill to the next. The rearguard of the enemy could have been anywhere- hiding in isolated farmhouses, firing from between groves of trees, or waiting just around the next turn in the road.
Part of Allan Ohata’s trail in history is wound up in this story of the boys from Hawaii fighting in a land half a world away from home, a trail that began in Hiroshima where his parents came from. It ends, his life of 59 years, in the National Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) where his headstone carries the legend that he was a member of that first all-nisei combat unit in the history of the United States Army, the 100th.
As the battalion halted for the night, the autumn rainy season began, of all nights. Foxholes were practically useless because they filled up with water almost as fast as they could be dug. It was still raining as the battalion moved out early the next morning, led by Company B. By 10 o’clock, though, it had stopped. As a platoon of B turned a bend in the road, enemy guns opened fire, and in the ensuing exchange with the enemy. Sgt. Joe Takata became the first man of the 100th to be killed in action (KIA).
There were other casualties that first day, but the 100th kept moving forward. Days turned into weeks of sluggling it out with the enemy. Place names came and went: Chiusano, Montefalcione, Caserta, the Volturno River, Alife, Venafro, and others. And there were countless hills, too, identified on maps only by numbers, such as Hill 841, indicating height over sea level. After two months of this torturous advance, town-by-town and hilltop- by-hilltop, until, at the end of November, both sides were at a standoff in the hills above Colli. The 100th had run into the Winter Line, the enemy’s main line of defense before the Liri Valley- and Cassino, the southern gateway to Rome.
Both sides fought for positions. In one such fight the men of Company A charged through grenade and mortar fire in a classic head-on encounter of men of wills, then had to fight off a counterattack. When the fight was over, more than two dozen of the enemy lay dead about the company sector.
Then it was B Company’s turn to feel the force of the enemy’s determined effort to break the 100th’s line. Sgt. Allan Ohata and the men in his platoon held their ground in the face of the enemy’s fire from rifles, grenades, automatic pistols and machine guns. At the end of the fight, the men from Hawaii counted 27 enemy dead about them. But the enemy wasn’t finished. They charged again, and again. The fight went on for hours. Finally, another two dozen or so of the enemy had paid the price. Ohata was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership and daring in the fight. Others were given similar recognition for their magnificent stand, their indominable spirit.
Allan was operating a surplus parts business in Honolulu with his younger brother, Donald, when he was inducted into the Army a month before Pearl Harbor. Thus he became one of the 1,300 young nisei boys who sailed out of Honolulu Harbor in June 1942 for ventures unknown. The group was subsequently organized into the 100th. “He never talked of his war days,” says his sister, Mildred Suzuki. “It was a closed topic to him. I’m sure if he were the talkative type, we could have heard some interesting stories about his experiences.” As for his DSC, “We didn’t even know about it,” says Mildred, “until the newspaper people came to our house (in Kalihi) to get some background stories about Allen. He had never told the family about being decorated with the medal.” And, she, adds, he showed them the medal only once. “Because I had insisted that the family see it as we didn’t know what it looked like.” And that was it.
Of the eight children born to Sakuhei and Kuma Hayashi Ohata, Allan was his mother’s favorite. Perhaps this was because although all the children helped out in their parents’ flower garden business, Allan was the only one who never grumbled about doing his chores. Even in those years when he was going through Kalakaua Intermediate, McKinley High, and attending the Kalihi Japanese school, he seemed determined to do the best at whatever chore was assigned to him. But his determination was always internalized- he said not a word as to whether or not he liked what he was doing; not a word or intimation of any kind that would compromise his inner thoughts; not a word about desire.
And so it went. Even when he was promoted to the rank of captain, Ohata never bothered to inform the family. But once, just once, a dream did give him away. One night, a short while after he had returned home from the war, he screamed out in his sleep, sharp and loud enough to bolt Mildred out of her bed.
“When I asked him about it the next morning he was embarrassed by it all.” But he did tell her that his dream was about the time on a mountaintop when, unexpectedly, he came face- to-face with a German soldier. Allan was just a split second faster on the gun than the other. “But he could never erase from his mind the look of surprise and fear on the enemy’s face as he went down.”
Just that once… all other facets of his life were like a closed book to the family. Once Mildred became so frustrated at not knowing what was happening to him she suggested that perhaps he could deliberately get himself hurt, just a wee bit of a hurt – just enough so he could be taken off of the frontlines. Maybe then the Army would even send him home for recuperation, and the family could talk to him.
“What an asinine suggestion he must have thought of it. He never even acknowledged receipt of that letter,” says Mildred.
In the postwar years, Ohata took advantage of the G.I. Bill and got an engineering degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, then went to work for Northrop Aircraft in Hawthorne, Calif., then Lockheed Missile and Space Co. in Sunnyvale. There, although befriended by several people, it was only after his death in 1977 that they found out Ohata had even been in the war.
And, keeping to himself even to the last, no one had any inkling that he was a desperately sick man when he had to take leaves of absence from his job. When by chance the family discovered that he was suffering from cancer of the colon, Ohata told them he was getting well and that the doctor had released him to return to work. He did return for about three months, but the disease was fast catching up with him so he decided to terminate his employment at Lockheed. “He suffered all alone.” ays Mildred. “Physically, mentally, spiritually. He refused to let his friends get in touch with the family, feeling that he might be a burden on them. His concern was always for others, even in time of need.”
Then one day, when a brother and sister dropped in on him, they were shocked at his physical condition. Unshaven, sunken eyes, drawn face, he was a far cry from the well-built, husky fellow he used to be. They nursed and fed him until he had strength enough to be able to fly home for treatment at Kaiser Hospital. But by then, even with the loving and understanding care extended by family, it was too late.
His mother had loved him because he was a religious lad. But in his time of need, he was incapable of letting others come into his life to help him. He did motion with his hand, though, on his deathbed, that we wanted to write something, but all he could do was place a few unintelligible scratches on paper. Says Mildred, “We continue to wonder what it could have been he wanted to say.”
Epilogue. To end a story like Allan Ohata’s moves me to consider a tanka from the “Kokinshu,” a translation from the anthology of Japanese poeyry titled, “From the Country of Eight Islands” by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson:
If there were no such thing as cherry blossoms in this world. in springtime how untroubled our hearts would be!
The lines lead me to contemplate the nature of particular people like Allan who give spirit to man but then, like cherry-blossoms falling silently to the ground, choose to live out their lives in anonymity.