Memorial Address By Chaplain Israel A. S. Yost
38th Annual Memorial Service, Sunday, September 25, 1983
An Attempt At Perspective
Dear comrades and friends:
When, thirty-six years ago I addressed you on the occasion of the annual memorial service, my topic had the title “Step Off the Road and Let the Dead Pass By.” At that time you and I were still young; the events of the war and its attendant circumstances were fresh in our minds. Now that many years have passed by we can look back and evaluate events in a more mature way. Therefore my theme is somewhat different; it has the title “An Attempt at Perspective.”
A man named Herbert Biblehimer, who lives in the coal-mining town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, sends his greetings to all the men of the 100th. I cannot imagine that any of you know him or have ever heard of him, but he knows about the 100th and the 442nd. I first met him this year, shortly after Easter, as I was visiting members of the tiny congregation I volunteered to shepherd for a few months. In the course of our get-to-know-each-other conversation, I discovered that he was a veteran who had served in Italy.
I said to him, “Then you probably have heard of the men I served with overseas. I was chaplain of the 100th Infantry and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.”
“Those Americans!” he blurted out. “They were the best soldiers in the Army, and they never got the credit they deserved!”
He had been a sergeant in the 473rd Infantry, a unit that was with us in the final stage of the war in Italy. He had served from the time of the initial landing at Salerno right up to the end of the war. His outfit was made up of former ack-ack (anti-aircraft) units. It was the 473rd that took the town of Massa on April 10, 1945, with the 100th and the 442nd committed nearby. He didn’t tell me much of this. I looked it up, because, frankly, I did not remember ever hearing of the 473rd. A few weeks ago I spoke with Herbert at church, and he said, “Don’t forget to give those men my greetings when you get to Hawaii. I was in Company I, second squad.”
I share this story with you for two reasons. First, it reminds us that in remote little places tucked away in the mountains and boondocks of the United States there are veterans whose faces light up when they hear someone mention the 100th, or the 442nd, or Americans of Japanese ancestry who served with Merrill’s Marauders, or in the Military Intelligence Service, or in the WACs, or as scattered individuals here and there in the service. In the words of my coal-cracker friend Herb, “They were the best soldiers in the Army, and they never got the credit they deserved!”
Today we are not the only ones who remember with appreciation and thanks what our honored dead of AJA units did for our country. We are but symbolic group representing all those Americans of good will who would, if they could, come to join us in keeping faith with these our comrades-in-arms with Japanese names.
Consider with me now a second reason for looking into the Biblehimer story. When Herbert told me the name of his outfit, I had no idea what sort of a unit it was or what it had accomplished in combat. I had to search for it in the printed records of the Fifth Army. He and his buddies had sweated and some had died throughout the two years of the Italian campaign, but not many Americans, not even veterans who served near them, remember their unit. How different was our experience! The eyes of the American press were upon us, and our deeds are still remembered. How many battalions or regiments gather each year on the anniversary of the loss of their first
comrade killed in action? How many chaplains get the opportunity to gather with their buddies for a 38th annual memorial service?
One Sunday as an illustration in a sermon at Shenandoah, PA., I related the story of Sadao Munemori and how his sacrifice was honored with the Medal of Honor. Immediately after worship I was told that the local American Legion Post was named for Marine Corporal Anthony P. Damato, who also had received the Medal of Honor posthumously in recognition of the way he had saved two buddies in the Pacific by covering with his own body a grenade thrown into their slit trench. During the week following, I received a card of appreciation from this hero’s sister who had heard of my sermon remarks through the community grapevine. When in response I visited her, she told me about her family, and I was struck by how similar her family’s experiences were to those of AJA families. Mother Damato had come to America from Italy as a young woman–from the Province of Salerno, of all places. She was already a widow at the time of her son’s death overseas. Since she had never learned to speak English, her Roman Catholic parish priest had to translate the medal-presentation speech into Italian for her. At the time, she did not know that an older son had been shot down during a bombing raid over Germany; he made his last flight as a volunteer since he had already flown his full quota. The body of her lieutenant son was never recovered; the body of her marine corporal son lies here in the Punchbowl. I promised the sister that I would place a floral decoration on Anthony’s grave when I got to Hawaii. As in the case of our Munemori, a ship was named after Corporal Damato.
What is the point of this second story from my native Pennsylvania? Simply this, hidden away in the remote areas of America, are families with foreign-born parents who mourn the loss of one or more members of the immediate family–mourn sons who gave their lives for their country. Any time any veterans’ group gathers for a memorial service, it should remember all the honored dead of our common fatherland. And always, we should be aware that the burden of war falls unevenly upon families. For the Damatos, two never returned. In contrast, although all three of the eligible males of my family were in uniform during World War II, all three of us got back safely. The Yost family may have been willing to bear its share of the awful cost of war, but we were spared any real sacrifice. You of the 100th and the 442nd realize how unevenly the circumstances of war treated you. But let us also be mindful of how, on a family basis all across America, the tragedy of men dying in combat has been unevenly borne.
However, you and l understand the historic difference between this particular memorial service held each year on a Sunday close to the date of Takata’s death and all the other memorial services held across our land. This is the annual memorial service of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the one unit with a special mark upon it from the very beginning. The mark was of suspicion as to loyalty, something more than just prejudice. The events that led to the formation of the 100th, and later the 442nd, should not have happened in our democracy. No group of Americans should have been burdened as were the men of the 100th along with their parents and families.
But I hasten to add, the uncalled-for suspicion worked out to be a golden opportunity for you of the 100th to prove your sterling worth as citizens. The cost for both Issei and Nisei was heavy, as the graves of comrades bear witness. It would be appropriate to spend all of our time today recalling the sacrifices represented by the grave-sites we decorate, but I’m sure the dead would want us to do other than that. I hope that what else I have to say will be in accord with what they would have me say.
In order to keep a proper perspective, it must be remembered that the AJA’s on the mainland, especially those on the West Coast, suffered much greater prejudice and suspicion than did those in the Islands. Since the time when I received, in May, the invitation to be with you for today’s occasion, I have studied the disgusting record of the relocation of Japanese-Americans and the administration of the ten camps where they were detained. I do not think that I could have endured such a situation if, because of my German antecedents, me and my family had been treated as were the Issei,
the Kibei, and the Sansei in the 1940’s. I therefore think it is remarkable to read in the book Years of Infamy, published in 1976, this statement: “It is unusual to find a former evacuee who has not forgiven the human weaknesses of his fellow white Americans.” Michiko Nishiura Weglyn wrote this; Michi was interned as a teenager in the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona.
These mainland immigrants and citizens did not initially have the opportunity for family members to enlist. By the time that opportunity came through the formation of the 442nd, family conditions in the camps had deteriorated, minds were confused, and for many the so-called opportunity seemed a bitter mockery. As an American I am ashamed of, and apologize to all the Nikkei, for the shabby treatment this group received at the hands of the people and the government of our common country. But I am thankful that the 100th was formed and given a chance to do something to alleviate the sorry plight of this ethnic group; the 100th rose to the occasion and set the record straight; it is not color, or race, or religion, or country of family origin that makes an American; it is the condition of one’s spirit–“Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart,” FDR’s belated words about Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Not all Americans were prejudiced against, or suspicious of the loyalty of, the Issei, the Nisei, the Kibei. In keeping with what I feel men like Shigeo Takata, Hideyuki Hayashida, Tetsu Ebata, and Kiichi Koda would have us do today, let us call to mind those who believed in the men of the 100th and of the 442nd and of the 1399th Construction Battalion, who believed in the women of Japanese ancestry in the WACs, who believed in the AJA’s in the interpreter’s group and in all those who finally got into uniform, and who likewise believed in their families. We of the 100th ought to have an honor roll listing the names of our friends, just as we have an honor roll of those who served in our unit. None of us needs to be reminded of the faith Farrant L. Turner had in all of you. And you, more quickly than I, can list the names of other caucasian officers of AJA units who helped to make the AJA record bright. Should not the name of Robert L. Shivers, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Hawaii, be on such an honor roll? What about Lt. General Charles D. Herron, in command of the Hawaiian Department of the Army prior to the war? And Hung Wai Ching, a citizen of Chinese ancestry? I can nominate many others on the basis of my reading, but you men are the ones who know who your friends were on the day of Pearl Harbor, and before, and after. Take a moment now as in silence we think of some of these:…teachers…government workers…friends…
On the mainland, too, there were some clear-headed and discerning Americans. Mark W. Clark, then a brigadier general on the Army General Staff, strongly opposed the mass evacuation of AJA’s from the West Coast, pointing out that there was no military necessity for it; later, as Fifth Army commander, he warmly welcomed the 100th and the 442nd to his command. Ralph Carr, the Governor of Colorado, showed his faith by his willingness to have Issei and Nisei from California relocate in his state rather than having them incarcerated in camps. He was the only Western governor who steadfastly offered his invitation; because of his stand in this matter he probably cut off his own political future. Wayne M. Collins, a San Francisco lawyer, beginning in 1944, fought in the courts for the rights of the evacuated Nikkei. “Before the whole regrettable episode became a closed chapter in 1968, Collins was to write and file some 10,000 affidavits in defense of, and in redefense of, his numerous clients, both in the United States and Japan.” So wrote Michi Weglyn. It is no wonder that on the opening page of her book she wrote: “DEDICATED TO WAYNE M. COLLINS Who Did More to Correct a Democracy’s Mistake Than Any Other Person.” Let some qualified person list for us those Americans who refused to sell out the less than three-tenths of one per cent of the American population who were in some way connected with Japan. From the perspective of history, we must feel sorry for those who showed their undemocratic spirit in the way they handled the crisis in 1941–and feel sorry most of all for those who were afraid to express their convictions in favor of an oppressed minority group.
Today, too, we should bring to mind many of the unsung heroes of the 100th, some who died overseas and also some who returned but have since died. Each of us has some very special persons to remember. When I name Katsumi Kometani, all of you join me in honoring his memory; he was, in truth, the morale officer of the One Puka Puka. For me, a special person was Sergeant (T3) Kiyoshi J. Shiramizu of the medics, who died of wounds in January of 1944. Jimmy was from California, one of the few Kotonks in the early 100th. I agreed with him when he complained to me that the Army was wrong in not allowing him to put a “B” on his dog tags to show he was Buddhist. I want likewise to briefly extol the memory of Captain John J. Dahl, long one of our battalion surgeons, whom, through close personal contact, I got to know as a dedicated worker for, and a friend of, the men of the 100th. Unfortunately he was one whose personal makeup often came across brusque and uncaring. I alone saw the tears he shed one night when he tried his best, but could not save the life of the Nisei he was treating at the battalion aid station. I hesitate to mention any of you who are still living, but some of you hold a special place in my heart as unsung heroes. The medals a soldier wears are given out through the mechanics of an army bureaucracy; even so, many are more than justified; but many are the heroes whom we know who have never received any outward tokens of their heroism! You and I have some buddies on whose shirts we have wanted to pin some medals. Well, right now, let’s pause a moment and in silence remember some of those who deserve such tokens . . . a private . . . a corporal . . . a sergeant . . . an officer . .
At this point two cautions ought to be expressed. The first is that in all I say today, I am not glorifying war. I repeat the words of Young O. Kim at last year’s anniversary banquet:”In praising the 100th, I do not wish or desire to leave the impression that I endorse war in any form.” The second caution is that in all I say with reference to the 100th, I have in the back of my mind the thought that much of it applies to the other units composed of AJA’s; and who knows how much of it also applies to some other American units about which none of us has any knowledge. I am honored to be remembered as the chaplain of the 100th, but I am also pleased that I was regimental chaplain of the 442nd. And I want to learn more about the Nisei and Issei who served in other units, some in World War I. And I want to become informed about the whole history of the Japanese immigration to the USA.
There is much good to be gained from a study of the Japanese in America. You have as much and more proud of in your background as I have to be proud of in my Palatinate-German background. If you haven’t yet written down your family history and your wartime experiences, or spoken them into cassettes, do it–soon. I am grateful for Daniel Inouye’s Journey to Washington, for Ben Tamashiro’s articles in Puka Puka Parade, for John A. Rademaker’s These Are Americans, for Roger Daniel’s Concentration Camps: North America, for Bill Hosokawa’s Nisei: the Quiet Americans, and especially for Thomas D. Murphy’s Ambassadors in Arms. America today needs some appreciation of the whole story of the Japanese in America just as forty years ago it needed publicity about the exploits of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).
At this point, I must digress a bit to say something about the MIS’ers, especially since so many of them were Kibei. In his 1979 book Yankee Samurai, Joseph D. Harrington, after extolling the record of the 100th and the 442nd in Europe, wrote: “Until now, less than half of the Japanese-American story has gotten told. A grudging Pentagon kept details of the rest secret for 30 years. But, across the world from Europe, nearly 5,000 Nisei served their country as translators, interpreters, interrogators and cave-flushers. Plus, when occasion arose, combat infantrymen. To this date, hardly any Americans even know they were there. These ‘Yankee Samurai’ displayed the bravery of Japan’s ancient warriors, plus the ingenuity of America’s pioneers, in getting their jobs done.” If any of you have not yet read Yankee Samurai, read it soon. In Persona: Justice Denied, the Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Interment of Civilians, published by the U. S. Government Printing Office in December of last year, we are reminded that “General Willoughby, MacArthur’s chief of
intelligence, has said that the work of the Nisei MIS shortened the Pacific War by two years.”
History can quickly forget its heroes, even our heroes. For example, few today have ever heard that 29,000 Negroes served in the Union Navy during the Civil War, making up one fourth of the total number of men with the fleet–four of these Blacks won the Navy Medal of Honor. A second example of forgetful history is the inaccurate account of the 100th Battalion in Frank F. Chuman’s The Bamboo People: The Law and Japanese Americans. This otherwise worthwhile book is marred by the AJA author’s lack of information about the way it really was with the 100th and the 442nd. Even within the membership of our own group, we must make sure the facts are known in order that they may be fully appreciated.
Let me share one last perception about the 100th.It was more than patriotism that gave to AJA soldiers the will to carry on–“Carry on,” the dying words of Sergeant Takata. Inside each coping individual was a personal force that made him fit into his spot in his unit and which the spirit of that unit kept aflame.
Senator Inouye in his autobiography recounts how his father sent him away as a soldier with an explanation of the Japanese concept of on. I quote the senator who is quoting his father: “On is at the very heart of Japanese culture. On requires that when one man is aided by another, he incurs a debt that is never cancelled, one that must be repaid at every opportunity without stint or reservation.” The implication was that America had given much to the Inouye family; now was the time for Dan to repay the debt. Apparently it was on that kept the young infantryman going, no matter what.
For me, it was my religious faith. As a Christian I felt it was my duty to volunteer for service as a chaplain as a way of sharing the burdens of the young men leaving my parish. Once in the military, it was my Christian faith that prompted me to seek out the area of greatest need. I realized that it was the combat infantry chaplain most of all who could be close to the men most often in danger. When the opportunity came in North Africa for me to request the type of service I wanted, I spoke up for assignment to an infantry battalion. As a result, I was sent to the 34th Division, temporarily with its combat engineers until an infantry battalion needed a chaplain. Since Chaplain (Major) Eels, who served briefly with the 100th overseas, was too high in rank for the position, he was transferred out and I was transferred in. That’s how you men got me. I knew nothing about the 100th, AJA’s, or Japan. But I had a flame within me, and you men kept it burning.
It seems to me that in life when the proper circumstance meets the proper inward spirit of a person, the two combine to effect something worthwhile. You men and officers of the 100th had the inner spirit, and the proper circumstance came along. For some it meant death on the battlefield; for others, life with maimed bodies; for others, return to a somewhat normal life again. Today we who got back alive pause to pay tribute to those who gave their lives, for country and principles, yes–but essentially for us, their buddies. As we pay them tribute, we remind ourselves that we still have things to do. We must still have the inward flame burning steadily to motivate us so that, when the proper circumstance comes along, once again we will recognize the particular tasks we have to perform. Hopefully the experience of this hour will somehow strengthen us for the amount of living we still have ahead of us.
From the perspective of forty years we now look back and see
How the war brought many, many tragedies into
Many, many families, across our Land.
We see the massive tragedy, underserved and unwarranted, That came upon the AJA`s.
we see, also, individuals rising from the crowd to counteract
The un-American spirit of those who compounded that tragedy.
We see, first the 100th, and then the 442nd, seizing the opportunity To write a record in blood for the sake of their own people,
And for the correction of democracy’s off-course drift.
We see, in a background indistinct for reasons of military intelligence, AJA’s working without fanfare to get done the job which only they, Because of their American and Japanese heritages, could do.
And we see, the faint, but everywhere-present, figures of the dead, Reminding us to keep the faith with them and with ourselves.
We may, if we want, focus on details in the picture and see
Acts of heroism, day-in-and-day-out sacrifices, unconquered faith,
And at times, even, instances of humor.
I give you this haiku on perspective:
We can see our real selves
Life’s other-peopled events.
We have helped to make the 100th what it is, and the 100th has helped to make us what we are.
Peace be with you, my dear comrades and friends.