Author: Israel A.S. Yost
Puka Puka Parades, September 1992
Copy of Memorial Address Israel Yost delivered on June 28, 1992 about the 100th Infantry Battalion
Survivors of the One Puka Puka, our families and friends, honored guests, and other participants in our proceedings:
Today we remember something that happened fifty years ago; the formation of a provisional battalion of the United States Army, composed entirely of men of Japanese ancestry. All of us here today have been affected in some way by this remarkable part of our nation’s military system. We have memories of these men; so many of them gave their lives in order that the battalion might prove the worth of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Before we consider anything else, let us pause in silence to remember those close to us who were killed in action or who died of wounds.
In like manner let us also remember those who survived the war but whose wounds changed their lives as civilians.
And let us also remember the next of kin of all who gave their lives for our sake.
Today we know that these heroes have not died in vain, for the accomplishments of the 100th Battalion have changed our country for good; we who live now are indebted to those who died.
Today let us also remember the many persons who did not die as soldiers but whose deed helped to make the Battalion record as we know it in history. In other words, let us remember all those who kept up the morale of the men in uniform: family, friends, government officials, Americans with ideals, American servicemen who were not of Japanese ancestry-indeed, a host of right-thinking men and women. And especially, let us remember today all those who had a part in the MAKING OF THE 100TH.
THE MAKING OF THE 100TH is the theme of today’s presentation.
From October 5, 1943 to August 15, 1945, I served as the chaplain of the One Puka Puka, observing daily the uniqueness of this outstanding combat unit. The only part of the 100th’s wartime experience I did not participate in was the initial battle of late September, 1943. Like the men of the battalion, I had come from North Africa to Salerno with the 34th Infantry Division, but with the combat engineers. I was re-assigned to the 100th because I had asked to work with infantry troops.
I could have been the loneliest person in the outfit: I was not a AJA, not from Hawaii, had never been associated with any of its officers or men in any school or church or organization. I was without infantry training, and my motive for military service was not the same as theirs. Furthermore, I had been transferred from a unit where there were Lutherans and Pennsylvanians with whom I had just begun a satisfying relationship. I came as a stranger to a group of men about whom I knew almost nothing. However, because of the fine qualities of the officers and men from day one, I was never lonely in the One Puka Puka. From the top officer to the shyest private I was quickly accepted as if I had grown up with them in the Islands. As time went on I realized that this was the very assignment
I would have chosen to take, had I been given the choice. The 100th was rightly name: one hundred is the perfect score.
What was there about the 100th that enabled it to establish such an exceptional record among fighting units? From my point of view I have been impressed by six favorable circumstances that combined to make the 100th unique in military history:
1. the Japanese heritage of its men
2. the Hawaiian setting of its formation
3. the American ideals of its wartime friends
4. the U. S. Army’s decisions
5. its magnificent personnel, officers and men
6. the hand of God.
First, now, we recall the Japanese heritage of the men of the 100th. Their parents deserve high praise for influencing the Nisei to accept the ideals of American. When people live close to the soil, they are not thinking warlike thoughts. They pass on to their children respect for their neighbors and thankfulness for the good earth. I, as a seventh generation German-American, am proud of my farmer ancestors, Peter and
Johannes, who in 1738 came to Pennsylvania. Men of the 100th must write about or talk into cassettes about their foreign-born parents and their concern about America even when they could not become citizens. Senator Inouye has done as much in his autogiography. [sic]
As educated persons we ought also be aware of that part of Japanese heritage that is much like what we call American. There were individuals in Japan who opposed the war. “The Case of General Yamashita” (a book review appearing in the Fall 1991 issue of Nikkei Heritage (National Japanese American Historical Society) contrasts the actions of an American general with those of a Japanese general, with the verdict of approval going to the enemy officer. Likewise, all Americans ought to know about Toyohiko Kagawa and his influence upon affairs in Japan.
We must remember that the 100th’s beginnings go back to the parents of those who made up our battalion. Good ancestors produce good descendants.
Next we recall the Hawaiian setting in which the 100th was formed. Even though the Issei on the mainland were like the Island Issei in their attitudes about America, the One Puka Puka could not have happened on the East Coast.
As an outsider among the Nisei I learned much more about Hawaii than I did about Japan. This was not because everyone was hiding his Japanese background–not at all, for I quickly learned that all were concerned about making a good record so that all Americans of Japanese Ancestry would be accepted as fully American. Rather it was because the Islander were in culture Hawaiian, as were the Caucasian officers; the songs, the leis, the tales about school, the Hawaiian pidgin, the rivalry among those of the several islands. In Hawaii the AJA’s found some acceptance; on the West Coast they found none. There were those in Hawaii who spoke up for the loyalty of Japanese Americans-even service in the military. Later on, on the mainlaand [sic] the Caucasian-Hawaiian officers saw to it that the Nisei were accepted as first-class Americans.
The third circumstance that made possible a 100th Battalion Separate was the presence at the right time and the right place of Americans who took seriously the ideals that make our country great; these persons believed in democracy even in a time of war.
Anyone who has read Ambassadors in Arms knows that the commanding officer of the battalion, Farrant L. Turner, understood his men, trusted them, and did all within his power to get for them their spot in history. He was ably supported by all his haole officers, not only those of the original unit but also those who came in as replacements. I suspect that if I had not fitted into his unit as a chaplain who accepted his boys, I would have been quickly replaced by someone else.
The unarmed men who left Hawaii on the Maui in June of 1942 did not know that there was a general in high places who had not succumbed to the idea that Japanese Americans were untrustworthy; this was Mark Clark who had advised against the removal of the Issei and Nisei from the West Coast and who would welcome them to fight under his command in Italy. Also, General Ryder of the 34th Division saw to it that the men of the 100th
had the opportunity to prove themselves in combat and he remained unchanging in his admiration of the One Puka Puka.
Had there not been those in positions of power willing to use the 100th in combat, there would not have been an opportunity for putting down the racist feelings some felt against AJA’s. On the honor roll of those who supported the 100th should also be inscribed the names of news reporters who broadcast the successes of our men.
The fourth circumstance at work in the making of the 100th was the Army of which our men were a part. Even when it decisions did not seem to make much sense, they seemed to work in favor of the success of the battalion.
No one seems to know just how to use the 1432 men brought from Hawaii to the Mainland, so they spent much more time being trained when other units of the Army, preparaing [sic] for winter combat as well as summer combat. There were two extra companies, making the battalion over strength. We had overqualified men because none of the AJAs were to be assigned to regular army units. Had it not been for the prompt action of Turner, the men would have been branded as second-class soldiers in the South. All of this was the result of the segregation of the Nisei by the Army as part of the government’s actions.
All that the Army did only served to prepare the 100th for its outstanding role after it was sent into combat. Everyone was well trained, knew well all others in platoon and company, and all felt they could trust their replacements (for the extra companies were so used later on). There was time to build up morale during the many months of training. Because of segregation the AJA’s could be identified, and this increased the desire on the part of all to prove once and for all that the Nisei were loyal citizens of the United States.
Here let me interject a special note. When I first joined the unit, I was made aware of one company commander who seemed gruff and complaining much of the time. To get to know him better I marched beside him as we advanced into fighting positions. I quickly learned why he was upset; he wanted to fight in the Pacific theater because if we did not fight against the Japanese, after the war some would say that AJA’s fought against Caucasians but would not fight against their own kind. We know that his fears were groundless, for today we know the story of the MIS who fought in the Pacific. We must make sure that their story is made known in the history books.
What if the Army in North Africa had assigned the 100th to patrol the supply rounte [sic] from Casablanca to Oran instead of using us as combat troops? (This is explained on page 121 of Ambassadors in Arms) What kind of a military record could have been made with such an assignment? What if the Army had assigned the 100th to anything less than use in the toughest of the battles of the campaigns in Italy and France? It was the Army through its generals who gave the One Puka Puka the opportunity to prove its worth. This was costly in terms of KISs and WIAs, but it was precisely what the men themselves wanted from the military.
The Army permitted the 100th to keep its special designation when it became a part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team–we were never its First Battalion in name even though we were in reality.
The Nisei was never given a choice as to how they would serve their country; Army service was the only field (apart from Intelligence) where they could serve. The 100th must acknowledge its debt to the United States Army even when its decisions wre made for the wrong reasons.
A truly important circumstance, the fifth in my outline, that made the 100th what it became was the abundance of magnificent individuals serving in its ranks, both Nisei and others. As we remember our comrades, I will name only one–the others shall remain anonymous–and he is—Captain Kometani. I call him the non-officer officer because he was as much an enlisted man as he was an officer. He was dentist, swimming coach, morale officer, a medic, and a litter-bearer. He was the first person of the
100th I met, and we became close friends, especially as we two carried the wounded to the forward aid station. In the book I typed up about my experience as the Chaplain of the 100th (written for my children) I included the following story:
Komi and I and a medic returning from rest camp walked toward the forward area to go to the forward aid station there. When we came to a section of the trail under observation by the enemy, we decided to cross the open spot individually so that we would attract less attention and not be fired at. I went first, got to the rendezvous, and waited for Komi; after an interval of time, he arrived. The two of us sat in a sheltered place and waited for the enlisted man to join us. After some time I became
alarmed because the medic did not catch up with us. Komi suggested that we wait a bit longer before checking to see if he might have been injured- we could not see far down the trail. After quite some time Komi said, “I don’t think he’s coming, Chaplain. I thought when we started out that he looked scared. I’m not surprised that he hasn’t come.”
“But that’s bad for him” I replied. “He can be court-martialed for not obeying orders, for not coming back into combat”.
“No, Chaplain, that won’t happen. When we get to the aid station I’ll phone back to the rear and have them reassign him to some duty back there. He’s been in combat too long as a company aid man. He just can’t take it any longer”
And that is just the way the matter was handled. No one was wiser except the three of us involved. The soldier had already given all he could for the war effort; he no longer had the spirit to keep on pushing himself. Those of us who were healthy and with high morale were able to carry on in his stead, just as he would have done for us had the circumstances been reversed.
However, the incident just related may be misinterpreted if the situation of the GI is emphasized instead of the compassion of Kometani. Let me relate a story about myself:
The day before Christmas of 1943 when the l00th was resting in tents, a message from the regimental colonel was relayed to me: I was to spend the day working as the graves registration officer. I had already planned the whole day with chores for observing Christmas. I told our Headquarter officers I would not obey the colonel because my duties as chaplain came first. I returned to my tent expecting to be disciplined Instead, our staff assigned a sergeant to take over my assignment so that I was free to work as I saw fit. In addition I was given orders to take several days on leave after Christmas at an officer’s rest camp in Naples. The colonel never learned how the One Puka Puka covered for their chaplain’s refusal to obey his command. When I was the one in trouble, compassion was shown for me. In the One Puka Puka we not only were good soldiers; we also were compassionate brothers, one to another.
I remember an AJA lieutenant who commanded a mortar platoon: he always carried the mortar base plate himself, although that was not his job. Then there was the soldier who told me he was so upset by the death of a friend at the hands of the Germans that he would no longer take prisoners. A day or two later I stepped out of the aid station to watch a file of prisoners of war coming under guard from the front. Their guard at the rear was the same soldier who had said “no more prisoners”. When he got
close to me he looked up and said quietly, “Chaplain, you can’t kick a man when he’s down.”
Not being careful one day, I set off an enemy mine. Although I was only scratched by a fragment, another GI was hurt more seriously. The next day the sergeant in charge of the mine platoon came to me quite perturbed. He said, “Chaplain, don’t ever again go into a mined area without me. If you want to pick up a dead buddy, that’s fine, BUT DON’T GO INTO A MINEFIELD
WITHOUT ME.” A short time later I had him check out a field where a dead enemy lay; his sweeper detected a mine close to the body. He saved me from death or serious injury.
The men of the 100th were magnificent individuals. We know that about the many who received medals for heroism, but we don’t know as much about others who in their own ways were also outstanding as soldiers and outstanding as concerned persons. What a group to work with!
I suspect that many of these men if asked why they were so “magnificent” would be bashful about such praise, and I suspect that many of them would point out that they had loved ones at home who faithfully wrote to them, sent packages to them, and, yes, prayed for them. Parents, sweethearts, wives members of their extended families, and good friends–a host of caring persons kept up their morale as month was succeeded by month and
war dragged on. In my own case, I counted on the almost daily letters from my wife–and I saved them up and got them home–I still have them. And there were others, too, who I knew were supportimg [sic] me and praying for me. When we remember today the heroes of the 100th we must also remember their support groups back home.
At this 50th Anniversary Reunion we should be aware of another group of magnificent persons within our ranks–the replacements from the 442nd’s First Battalion. If these officers and men had not fitted so well into the One Puka Puka, the story of the l00th after Cassino would not have been possible. We compliment these replacements for their part in our ongoing history.
Another special note: we must not forget our comrades who as prisoners of war were forced to live through seemingly endless days until the war ended.
There remains yet one other circumstance, the sixth, that played a part in the making of the 100th. It has to do with God.
I am a Christian, and as such I believe in a heavenly Father who is concerned about all his creation and especially about those made in his image. Furthermore, I am a Christian who has felt the call to become a preacher of his work and a pastor commissioned to work with his people. Early in my life as a pastor I was influenced by one Bible verse in particular, Romans 8:28–“And we know that all things work together for the good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” When I entered military service in 1943 it was that I might follow God’s call, do His will, and serve His people. I believe that I became chaplain of the 100th because God wanted me in this position and being chaplain would work for my good as well as the good of those I was to serve.
Looking back at history, Christians might well come to the conclusion that somehow the God who is, was concerned about the making of the 100th. For Christians do not believe that chance rules our lives but that God does. I am not talking about God being the God of the United States, or of the U. S. Army, or of an ethnic group. What I am saying is that the story of the ambassadors in arms has the marks of God’s intervention for good in our lives.
I know that my life, including the months I spent with the 100th–I know that my life has been in the hands of God. I would urge all Christians who have served in the 100th to consider that they, too, have been in the hand of God. Perhaps others of differing faith may also be able to see the supernatural in the record of the One Puka Puka.
When I had finished writing this address, I looked over its main points and discovered by speech can be summarized as an acrostic using the word HAWAII; the six favorable circumstances in the MAKING OF THE 100th were
H – The HAND of God
A – ANCESTORS from Japan
W – WARTIME FRIENDS with American ideals
A – ARMY input
I – The ISLAND setting
I – INDIVIDUALS with magnificent personalities
I cannot imagine that ever again will there be such a piece of history as that written by all the persons, military and civilian, who had a part in the saga of the 100th Infantry Battalion. I am thankful to God and to all of you for the opportunity to have been a part of it.