The Art of the Possible
Hawaii Herald, 8/15/1986
By BEN H. TAMASHIRO
To paraphrase Bismarck’s famous line about politics, war is the art of the possible. Such was the case when the infantrymen of the Antitank Company, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, became air-borne glider troops: the only such use of AJA troops in World War II; and assuredly, the first such deployment in U. S. Army history.
That was 42 years ago to this very day, August 15, when the Allies began the invasion of southern France from the Mediterranean. The combined naval task force shepherding the main landing force of the U.S. 3rd, 36th and 45th divisions to the beaches that morning including nine aircraft carriers, six battleships, 21 cruisers and 100 destroyers. There were 60,000 troops in the initial onrush. And in the air, over 9,000 parachute and glider troops landed around the area of Le Muy, an important road and rail junction 10 miles inland above Toulon, to wreak havoc upon enemy lines of communication and stave off attempts to break up the landings. It was a smaller version of the June 6 cross-channel Normandy invasion of western France.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team had arrived in the Italian theater in May. Shortly afterward, above Rome the battle-tested 100th Infantry Battalion was merged into the newly arrived unit and the Combat Team moved into battle headed northward after the enemy. It was at this point that the Antitank Company was pulled out under secret orders and sent back to Rome.
Though bivouaced near an airfield on the outskirts of the city, the men were nonetheless .. surprised to find themselves assigned to glider training. The company was later shifted to Groseto, a hundred miles above Rome. Attached to the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, it was only when the company’s American-made 57mm guns were exchanged for British 6-pounders that the scuttlebutt about a glider-troop mission began to turn into something real. “Both guns fired the same sized shells ” says Lizo Honma a member of the company. “But the American guns did not have the fittings with which they could be lashed down inside a glider. And they were much heavier than the British guns.”
This article focuses upon the company’s glider venture mainly through Lizo’s experience. His interests, however, extended beyond the battlefield for his heart had settled on the form of a beautiful mademoiselle. And, as if to lend emphasis to the art of the possible, the boy from Hawaii did return to France after the war to claim the hand of his wartime maiden.
But to get back to company activities at Grosseto two gliders were assigned to each quad one to carry the jeep and ammunition and the other to transport gun and crew, the pair to be towed by a C-47 plane. “The company was assigned a total of 44 gliders. We loaded them on the 14th, from the front end. Although the invasion started bright and early the next morning we did not take off till about midmorning. Our trip across the Ligurian Sea was uneventful, didn’t take long. There were no windows in the gliders so we could see out only through the pilot’s windshield. We reached Le Muy around noon.
“It is an area of vineyards and forests of pine trees. The landing was no piece of cake because though the area was supposed to have been cleared by the local partisans, we could see posts stuck in the open fields.”
These had been fashioned by the Germans from pine trees cut into 12-foot long spikes, one end filed into needle like points. They were then set in holes dug in the ground, designed to “impale paratroopers and gliders alike” (from “The Second D-Day” by Jacques Robichon).
Continues Lizo, “Because the landing-grounds were not as clear and open as the tow and, glider pilots had been led to expect, in the confusion many gliders were let go by the tow planes while the tandems were a thousand or more feet high in the air, leaving the glider pilots with the difficult job of maneuvering their loaded down gliders to a landing from way up above rather than from the normal release height of a hundred feet or so.
“The glider I was in landed OK but others took a beating. We had to lift the tail ends of these gliders so that the equipment and supplies could be slid out. Speaking for myself, I had no particular problems in the conversion from foot soldier to glider trooper but others say they want no part of this kind of experience.”
Nine men were injured in the landings but the others quickly regrouped and moved out to their designated battle positions. Contact was established with the beachhead forces the next day and soon the whole area was secured. With that, the company was relieved of its special mission assignment.
The uncommon role of the Antitank Company recalls to mind the question of whether the invasion was even necessary to begin with. When the American Fifth Army finally broke out of Anzio and Cassino in May, Gen. Alexander, the overall commander in Italy felt that he had the wherewithal to drive the Germans completely out of the country and perhaps even continue on into Austria. But the Americans won the argument for staying with the original plans which called for striking at the “underbelly” of Europe. And so the three American divisions (3rd, 36th and 45th) were pulled out of Italy to form the core of the invasion force, the withdrawal taking the steam out of Alexander’s objective.
The 442nd itself was subsequently pulled out of Italy and sent over to the Riviera. There, the Antitank Company rejoined its parent unit. But prior to the reunion, the Antitank Company was on patrol duty in the Maritime Alps, the border between France and Italy in the Mediterranean. One day in the high border town of Peira- Cava, his companion with him on patrol duty tripped a mine and in the resultant blast Lizo’s body was peppered with steel fragments. He was sent to the 43rd General Hospital in Avignon for treatment, staying there a month.
One of the French attendants working in the hospital was young Yvonne Devaux, a nurse’s aide. Born in the Vosges Mountain town of Roye near Belfort (near Bruyeres), she was working in a silk factory in Roye when the Germans conquered France in 1940. They occupied northern France but allowed the south to remain under Vichy government control. It was within that context that Yvonne fled south to Avignon to escape being recruited for labor within Germany, and into the life of Lizo Honma.
Says Lizo, “She treated me real nice. Besides, she was beautiful.” (To this Yvonne replies, “He was handsome, too.”) But when Lizo found out that the 442nd had arrived in the Riviera and was headed for the Vosges Mountains, duty called. And so one day he went AWOL. By then he was an ambulatory patient so he just walked out of the hospital, hopped on a supply train headed northward, rode it for two days, and then by sheer coincidence, reached Bruyeres at the very moment that the 442nd was moving into that town. So he was in with his buddies in the battle to liberate Bruyeres and the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.”
In time, the Combat Team returned to the Riviera, then to Italy for the war’s final push in the Po Valley. As for Lizo, he was discharged in January 1946 but reenlisted three months later. He served in Germany first, then got an assignment to France where he and Yvonne were married in a civil ceremony in Vitrolle Le Repos, a town near Marseilles.
His witness was the landlord of the hotel where he had reservations. Yvonne’s witnesses were a sister and a couple of other friends. Was she ever certain that Lizo would return for her? “I could only hope” is her reply.
Lizo retired three years ago as a State probation officer. He had gone to school in Chicago under the G. I. Bill and graduated with a degree in social work with a minor in history. He and Yvonne return frequently to Roye, to Lyon and Paris also, to visit family and others; stays that run into months. They have no children and live in Halawa Heights with its grand view of Pearl Harbor.
And his given name? It, too, seems to signify a mix of cultures, perhaps Japanese with … French? Italian? Hungarian? Any of which could be, but ’tis none of that. Rather, for his newborn son, the father had given him a samurai-sounding name …Raizo! They lived up in Volcano where the Cooke’s (of missionary stock) maintained a summer home. In time the young Raizo came to do chores around the Cooke’s home and then the problems began – they had difficulty pronouncing his name. To the father it was no big thing. Always aiming to please, with a stroke of his pen he slashed through the name on the birth certificate and wrote above it: Lizo. Thus it has been ever since …on school papers, induction records, company rosters and, of course, on that French marriage certificate. From the very beginning then, the art of the possible seems to have been a way of life for the lad from Volcano on the Big Island.