Club 100’s Wives and Widows
The Gentle Wind Beneath the Wings of the 100th Vets
By: Gwen Battad
They know almost every war story by heart and can probably tell you what’s going on with every chapter and its members. They take part in every celebration and reunion, but stay behind the scenes, making sure everything goes off without a hitch. They are the wives and widows of the members of the l00th Infantry Battalion.
Before the war, many Japanese Americans settled in various parts of the Mainland. Some lived with friends or family, while others began new lives. It was while on the Mainland that many of the women met their future husbands.
Aki Nosaka met her husband Raymond in New York City. He was on-leave from training at Camp McCoy. Toshiko Fukuda met her husband, the late Capt. Mitsuyoshi “Mits” Fukuda, early in the war. Others, like Helen Nikaido, met her husband Kenji after the war ended. The three, who represent only a fraction of the many women involved in Club 100 activities, gathered recently at the clubhouse on Kamoku Street to reflect on their lives as 100th Battalion wives.
According to Fukuda, treatment of Japanese Americans varied from city to city during the war. For example, the people in Milwaukee, where she lived after moving first to Hattiesburg, Miss. to be near Mits, were nice.
“The Germans remembered how they were discriminated against during WWI, so they were very sensitive to the way Japanese Americans may feel. I felt they went out of their way not to make you feel different. I don’t recall any incident where people looked down on me,” Fukuda said.
The scene was different in California, where Nosaka was raised in West Covina, just outside of Los Angeles. She says Japanese Americans were discriminated against. And in Hawaii, even with a more diverse ethnic community, prejudice against the Japanese was evident. “When we caught the bus, non-Japanese would cause us ‘Japs,’” Nikaido said, adding that she felt prejudice even among some non-whites.”
“In Chicago, the Chinese could see that we weren’t Chinese, so they would kinda stare. And being from Hawaii, we would stare right back at them,” recalled Fukuda.
“Being brought up in California, there was so much prejudice, being called a ‘Jap,’” Nosaka recalled. “So where you (Fukuda) walked with your head up, I walked with my head down to avoid it,” Nosaka said. Fukuda attributed that confidence to Hawaii’s large Japanese population while she was growing up.
“I remember one time after the war — we went back to Europe, and on the way back we stopped in LaCrosse, Wisconsin,” recalled Nikaido. “We stayed with George Keifer.” A long-time resident of LaCrosse, Keifer had befriended many of the 100th boys while they were in training at Camp McCoy. “He took us out to lunch one day and we were in this restaurant. Since we were Orientals, they kinda looked at us in a prejudiced way. George Keifer was very outspoken, and he talked out loud about the 100th. Then the attitude changed and they smiled at us. It’s something I can never forget,” Nikaido related.
During the war, the wives kept busy with work — or in Fukuda’s case, taking care of her new baby.
“We got married right after the war started, so when the boys were in Hattiesburg, a group of wives joined them there. By the time they went overseas, I was pregnant with my first child; he (son David) arrived when the boys were in Cassino. We had friends in Milwaukee, so I decided to have the baby there.
“Some wives worked in Washington, D.C., and some went to an area where they could continue their post-graduate work. But we couldn’t return to Hawaii because this was a war zone, so anyone considered non-productive to the war effort could not come to Hawaii. So we had to wait out the war on the Mainland,” Fukuda said.
When the war broke out, Aki Nosaka and her sister had taken up their uncle’s offer to work with him in New York City. When Executive Order 9066 was issued in February 1942, the sisters hurriedly moved east. Their parents, however, were interned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The sisters had hoped to set up a home for their parents and then sponsor them out of camp. Nosaka says it took more than a year to bring them to New York, where they stayed with other families who had similarly been interned.
In the meantime, she and her sister and other Japanese American women became friends with soldiers in the 100th and later the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who were visiting New York City on passes. “We’d make them a home-cooked meal, or go bowling-things like that,” said Nosaka. When the boys went back to camp, they told everyone and word got around. “After awhile, our apartment felt like a USO,” Nosaka said with a laugh.
In fact, it was at a party given by one of her friends that she met her husband. He had gotten Aki and her sister’s names mixed up and invited the wrong sister out on a date.
According to Fukuda, most of the wives who lived in the same areas shared apartments or houses. The groups rarely exceeded three or four. Fukuda shared an apartment with her friend from Hawaii, Emi Abe, whose husband Yaso Abe was in the 442nd.
When the men returned from the war, their relationship with their wives didn’t seem strained from the effects of the war. To some extent, Aki and Raymond Nosaka were still on their honeymoon. “We’d only met six months and then gotten married. Whatever he was what I accepted him to be,” she said.
“Looking back, I was probably so tied up with looking after this young child, that if he had changed, I was insensitive to it,” Fukuda said.
Although their husbands never talked about the war, their wives were very perceptive. They picked up little bits and pieces when the men got together for parties or reunions, said Fukuda.
“We heard these stories over and over again and (wondered) how could they repeat these stories with such gusto, because we heard it 25 times already. But they tell it with so much detail as if it were the first time they ever talked about it.
“Now I wish I (had) listened to the stories more closely,” said Fukuda. “After 50 years, I finally have things in perspective – the chronology of what happened, where they were. So now if I were to hear the stories again, I’d listen with a completely different attitude,” Fukuda said.
“They were really close,” noted Nikaido, whose husband Kenji passed away in February. Hearing stories now about the men’s exploits in basic training at Camp McCoy and on the battlefield makes her sad sometimes. Fukuda thinks she’s heard just about every story that’s been told and variations of the same incidents. So there’s nothing startling new, she says. “It will be interesting if there’s something new that I haven’t heard about,” she said.
Fukuda was among a small group of veterans and their families who traveled to Cassino two years ago to attend dedication ceremonies for a monument built in honor of the 100th. In April she got a second look at the area where so many men in the l00th were killed when she joined a tour led by KGMB-TV newscaster Bob Jones for a documentary he was producing.
“It was a very moving experience,” she said. “Before going to Cassino, I started reading with more concentration and purpose, the books and articles on the l00th. And that’s when I appreciated all these stories I’ve heard over the years.
“I wished I had listened a little more carefully while Mits was still living. Then I would have grilled him about all the stories that the other boys were saying and place them in the proper place. But I didn’t have that proper orientation at that time.”
The wives and widows of the Club 100 members say they, as individuals, feel a sense of belonging to the organization that was and is so much a part of their husbands’ lives.
“Club 100 meant a lot to my husband, so whenever he went to any function, he would take me. That’s how I got interested, too. Since he was really behind it, I helped out whenever I could,” said Nikaido.
“We feel like we’re members. We know most of the boys and feel we have to know what they know,” said Fukuda.
Nosaka, who retired several years ago from Straub Hospital, works with her husband, running the Club 100 office on a day-to-day basis. She began helping out a year ago, intending to do it for only six months. But six months has turned into a year. “They’re looking for help so we can ‘re-retire,’” she laughed. Nikaido writes the “Dog (D) Chapter” column for Club l00’s monthly newsletter, “Puka Puka Parade.” Her column consists of the activities and goings-on of the families and members of “D” Chapter.
Other Club 100 wives help out around the clubhouse, cooking lunch for picnics and meetings, and breakfasts whenever chapter meetings are held in the morning. They also participate in the various classes and activities, such as dancing, ukulele, karaoke singing, crafts, bonsai and orchid raising.
All three women agree that the many friendships they have made is their satisfaction in being so active in the club. “There are no ulterior motives in these friendships, other than we’ve known each other for a long time. It’s like a big extended family,” Fukuda said.
“It’s a different kind of group,” explained Nikaido. “These are people who fought together, slept together, ate together. So it’s a different kind of group. I help out whenever I can. When they’re happy, I have the satisfaction that they appreciate what I do.”
This article appeared in the June 19, 1992 issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion. It has been reprinted courtesy of The Hawaii Herald, Hawaii’s Japanese American Journal.