Glad to be Alive, but Sad for Lost Friends
Hawaii Herald, June 19, 1992
By: Lee Imada
Old soldiers rarely talk about their field of battle in vivid or descriptive terms.
There is the occasional comment about gunfire blowing the head off the guy nearby, or the sniper who stopped shooting after killing the four guys around him. And then there are the longer tales of valor by men who risked or gave their lives to save others or to complete a mission.
With the exception of the men of valor, the dead in these stories usually remain faceless, nameless and unlucky.
Those who have never been to war get the feeling that the battlefield is an indescribable pit of horror and carnage where luck plays as much a role in life and death as one’s actions and skills. Civilization ends, and chaos begins. Killing becomes legal and a matter of survival.
If not indescribable, the old soldier chooses not to return to the battlefield- even in words. To paint the battlefield in terms that others can understand would mean putting faces and names on the dead and recalling a time when it was okay to kill.
The passing of five decades doesn’t make the story any easier to tell, but Maui’s Tom Nagata of the 100th Battalion’s C Company, First Platoon, tried during an interview late last month at his home in Kahului.
Nagata, 77, saw action as a corporal and was with the 100th until he was wounded in Italy in the battle to wrest Cassino from the Germans. He received a Purple Heart for taking a bullet through the right arm during the battle for the mountain fortress. He lifted up his T-shirt to reveal the wound near his right armpit. There were scars from stitches a couple of inches long on both sides of his arm above the dark tan line of his shirt sleeve. Nagata says he’s taken it easy with the arm, but adds that it hasn’t been a major handicap.
The battle for Cassino was a difficult one for the 100th. The battalion lost 48 men; 134 were wounded. Nagata was hit while the 100th traversed hills and gullies near the town. He saw a German Mach IV tank coming up the ridge they were on. His attempt to destroy it with a rifle grenade failed. He took cover behind a rock as the tank began firing at him.
A bazooka man came to the area and fired two or three shots, knocking out the tank. That attracted the attention of German defenders, who began firing at their position below.
“The first burst hit someone in front me,” he said. “I turned to tell him (the bazooka guy) (to) watch out. The next time I turned around, the gun was firing right at me.”
The wound hurt for the first two minutes and then became a dull ache, Nagata said. He found cover behind a rock and stayed there until he could make his way safely down the ridge to a hospital.
Nagata says rocks turned out to be the “lucky thing” that save his life on several occasions. During one skirmish, Germans began firing at his platoon in a surprise encounter. Several other men around him fell, wounded. He took a bullet in his boot-the only part of his body exposed from behind a rock. Were it not for the rock, he would have been hit in the stomach, he says.
This old corporal’s memories of the war remain crisp. As names surface during the conversation, he follows with a recitation of their medals of valor-Silver Stars, Purple Hearts. He has memorized a lot of them.
Louis Kahaulelio Sakamoto of Waihee was one of the first Maui guys Nagata knew to be killed in action. Kealoha Sakamoto’s son was educated at Waihee School and was working as a greenskeeper for Maui County when he was inducted into the Army. Sakamoto was killed near Sant’ Angelo d’Alife, Italy on Oct. 23, 1943 at the age of 30. He was awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart, among other medals. He left behind a widow on Maui.
The 100th had suffered its first casualty in battle about a month earlier. But it wasn’t until that skirmish in October that Maui began registering casualties in large numbers. On that day, Company C took the lead with 2nd Platoon at the front. Sakamoto was a sergeant in the platoon; which was made up largely of Maui guys. Nagata said he knew Sakamoto, but not real well.
“He was a good senior league baseball player,” Nagata recalled.
A sniper in an olive tree cut Sakamoto down. From his position with 1st Platoon on the left flank, Nagata could see return fire in the tree. “Pretty soon, you could see the lifeless body (of the sniper) hanging from the tree,” he said.
“The day C Company hit the town,” Maui casualties began to mount, Nagata recalled.
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