Author: Kimi Matsuda, A Company
Puka Puka Parades, July-September 1986, v.40 no. 3
Company A of the 100th Battalion toured the battle spots in Europe
Our tour began with some misgiving. Relatives urged many of us to cancel the trip because of possible terrorism. On board the plane Judge Ken Harada passed out little balls of sekihan, “for good luck.”
We landed in Rome and boarded our brand new Mercedes bus for Naples where we saw the first of the many squares of
Italy, Garibaldi Square – typically with a fountain and a huge statue. Naples is a busy port city, heavy criss-cross traffic. From near the massive Norman castle, Sam Inouye pointed out the red roofed Palace building where he had to strip down to get sprayed with DDT from head to toe. Some of the men tried to locate the hospital where they stayed. We drove to Salerno where the 100th first landed and went on the long Amalfi drive – a narrow, winding, high cliffside road which hugs the coastline with many blind curves, villages, lemon trees and olive groves.
Agostino, our guide, accompanied us to Pompei and the Isle of Capri. A spirited guide who sang to us in-between animated discourses, he brought the ruins back to life. We said goodbye to him in beautiful Capri with its awe inspiring high limestone buffs.
Next we drove through the town of Caserta. The men hardly recognized the place, “Used to be all olive trees.” Today, it is a bustling industrial city of 70,000. They vaguely remembered the palace building and kept looking for the hospital.
When we crossed the Volturno river, the men got very excited. They recalled that they had to cross it at night and time it perfectly because the artillery hit 100 yards ahead every 10 minutes to protect their advance. Sato remarked, “All I remember is hiking and hiking; criss-crossing back and forth.” Andy Urabe said they used sheep to walk ahead of them in the land-mined fields. Many sheep died. He also talked about Hill 600 where they started with 66 men and ended up with 11.
In the little town of Alife, the men immediately began walking into the center of town talking to the people. The townspeople brought out photographs showing how heavily damaged the town was during the war (mostly due to American bombs). The people were warm and friendly and wanted to wine and dine us, but our schedule was too tight. One woman in a small shop remembered how kind the GIs were. She was very thankful. Don and Andy said that this experience alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Next we drove up to Monte Cassino. From the top, there is clear visibility all around. Someone asked, “Who the damn fool told us to go up this hill?” Sato said, “It took me from 1943 to now to finally make it to the top of this hill.” On the way down, the men got off near an old castle and looked at a trail they remembered. Many bright poppies are blooming around them.
From Cassino we went to Nettuno. There are over 7,000 buried there. We laid a wreath at the statue and Jiro Matsui said a few words for us. The caretaker said that the townspeople take pride in the place and volunteer their labor to replant trees, etc.
In Rome we first went to the famous Tivoli Gardens with many ornate fountains which are still running today on natural pressure. Then came the Vatican. We were pushed through so fast we could hardly appreciate the treasures. But Michalengelo soared above the throng. His architecture of a portion of St. Peter’s is truly amazing – 4 pillars supporting the huge dome. The Colisuem [sic] was a grand sight – so many exits/entrances and room for 90,000 people. So much skill, knowledge and order those Romans possessed! But as Agostino said in Capri, “We Italians don’t like order; we would much rather make music and love.”
One of the highlights in Rome was the dinner at a restaurant in Caracala run by the Mafia and accompanied by live musicians who sang our favorites – Mama, Santa Lucia and Sorrento.
We returned to the route taken by the 100th. First the port city of Civitavecchia, then be stopped and walked around a lovely town called Grosseto. The men talked about Suvereto, Cecina and the rest camp at Vada and the hills from which they first saw Livorno. They recalled all the women coming to greet them with wine and flowers as they came out of the hills. As we drove into Livorno, Don Matsuda remembered the tree lined street and watching all the different units marching by including troops from India.
Andy Urabe told us a funny story about Livorno. He found a well and took off all his clothes and was soaping himself when the Germans started shelling. He had to run naked and full of soap to hide behind a stonewall. “First time the Germans caught me with my pants down.” After climbing the tower of Pisa, we crossed the Arno river into Florence, the most beautiful city we have seen so far. Our guide Santa says that Rome is fancy and baroque while Florence is medieval and reflects the renaissance. We were particularly impressed by the Gates of Paradise door of the Florence Cathedral. We visited St. Croce church where Michalengelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are buried.
Over dinner, Mr. Oshiro made us laugh. He said he was so surprised to see so much flat land. He thought Italy was only hills and mountains. Andy told us stories of how they could hear the Anzio express (a big German gun on a rail car) and would rush from the 3rd floor down to the basement. He said the greenhorns stayed on the upper floors.
Oshiro asked me if I believed that he could sleep while walking. Pluto Arakaki added that every time they took a 10 minute break the guys would stand leaning against a tree and start snoring. Arakaki also recalled how they hadn’t bathed for 3 months and their mud-caked clothes could stand up on their own.
We drove through La Spezia where the Italian Navy is situated and to Genoa where we saw Christopher Columbus’ home. We passed through over a hundred tunnels and high bridges and through rich and fertile Po valley with fields of grain and rice .
Before Alessandria, Don pointed out Georgia Hill – what Richard Miyashiro called the Gothic Line. The 100th was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation and a Medal of Honor for the fighting here. It was in Alessandria that an airplane dropped leaflets announcing the German surrender in Italy.
On to Milan which is the second largest city in Italy with 2,000,000 people. It is of celtic origin so the people, buildings and lay-out look diffirent. At the Santa Maria Daligarzzi cathedral we saw The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was sad to see it in such bad shape.
We drove through Brescia, famous for arms production. Matsuda said that they processed German prisoners near here and confiscated watches, arms, etc. and huge stacks of newly printed money so everybody was rich and spent money freely.
In Venice we were impressed with St. Mark’s Cathedral which took 1,000 years to build after 500 years were spent building up the pile which served as the foundation. At the Palace of the Doges we saw a large mural by Titian and 3 paintings by Tintoretto. The absence of cars, the lapping water, all the boats, beautiful historical buildings, many shops and picturesque bridges make Venice romantic, but there is a persistent odor of oil mixed with debris. We backtracked across Italy on the autostrada to the Italian Riviera and the lovely town of Alassio, a clean resort town with elegant hotels, cabanas, outdoor bars/restaurants and many shops. We went on a scenic drive along the coast from the Italian to the French Riviera separated by high mountains. The Germans were on the Italian side and the 100th on the French side. Arakaki said it used to take them two hours to almost slide down to the town and four hours to hike back up. Only the mountains looked familiar to the men. All the cities look so different now with so many buildings and a thriving tourist trade. In Menton, Matsuda tried to locate where the 100th headquarters was. From Nice we drove up the mountain to Beausoleil overlooking Monte Carlo. The men looked for the Cheerio bar, Johnny bar and the little hotel they used to stay in vain. Some of the men had better luck playing the slot machines in the casino. Arakaki said he was so mad they wouldn’t let them into the Casino during the war, but now he was so glad to have won 500 francs on this tour. Matsuda said Monte Carlo was off limits to GIs.
We bypassed Aix where the 100th bivouacked and reached Switzerland in the afternoon. Our first view of the ice-capped Alps was breath-taking. We saw a fountain shooting 300 feet up in Lake Geneva. In Lucerne we took the tram up to Mt. Pilatus, 7,000 feet above sea level. At the top there was a brief thunderstorm, our first and only taste of bad weather.
Breakfast in Lucerne, lunch in Germany, and dinner in France, that’s how quick we changed money. We saw the Rhine Fall and the Black Forest. We stayed in La Bresse from where we could visit Biffontaine, Bruyeres and the Lost Battalion battle sight. It was an emotionally moving experience. When we drove through Biffontaine and into the hill near by, the mayor of the town caught up with us in his car. He was in work clothes and apologized for not welcoming us officially. According to the American Embassy, our trip was cancelled. He walked us into the woods to show us the remains of the foxholes. In Bruyeres the Vice Mayor and the Bruyeres-Hawaii committee welcomed us and took us to the monument honoring the 100th and 442. Two of our men, Hirayama and Hosaka, and two of theirs laid wreaths and taps was played. Later, at the City Hall, the Vice Mayor made a speech in which he said that they have vowed to teach every generation about the bravery and valor of the men of the 100th. He also looked under his table and said “See, no terrorists!” Ken Harada gave an impromptu reply, saying we also had to cancel our plans for presenting plaques on the advice the Embassy gave. Jiro proposed an “Aloha” toast to our hosts and we went next door to a restaurant for a great meal.
We visited the Epinal Cemetery above the Moselle river in the foothills of the Vosges mountains. Use of the site was granted in perpetuity by the French government. There are 5,255 buried here. Harry Yamashita laid a potted plant with flowers at the grave of Tomosu Hirahara, a l00th Bn comrade from Honolulu. Workers were laying French and American flags at each gravesite.
In Paris, we went from Place de la Concorde with its 3,300 year old obelisk from Egypt, where the guillotine was placed during the revolution, to the Champs Elysee, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Then we toured Montmarte and saw all the artists in action .
At Calais we said goodbye to our courier, Herb Resch who took such good care of us and to the other Herb, our bus driver who never lost his cool no matter how narrow the streets and sharp the turns and boarded the Hovercraft for England.
The white cliffs of Dover were a welcome sight. David Weston, our guide, pointed out Dover Castle and the Roman lighthouse which is the oldest building in England. We passed Kent with many apple orchards, rolling hills and sheep. We visited the Tower of London and saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. David made history books come to life. We visited Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Berkeley Square, Haymarket, Drury Lane, etc. By Tuesday, May 27, we were happy to be heading home. At the party on our return I asked the men what was the most memorable part of the tour. Some off-the-cuff responses I got were:
R. Arakaki: “Biffontaine where I got hit; it was a shock to really see it; I didn’t realize how it really looked.”
S. Fukuyoshi: “Monte Cassino – my relative died just before and I was hit just before that. Coming from Maui I didn’t know anybody and everybody was so nice to us; it was the best trip.”
K. Harada: “The Vatican, Switzerland; the beauty of nature and the countryside of France … ”
T. Hayashi: “The Sorrento coast and Amalfi Drive was the most beautiful. Monte Carlo was the most disappointing; it has changed the most – all high rises.”
C. Hirayama: “Biffontaine – that’s where I got hit. The trees are bigger and all the fields are planted ; it’s so peaceful now.”
R. Hosaka: “Cassino – closest to our objective; and Biffontaine.”
S. Inouye : “Cassino because that’s as far as I went. It seemed much serener – totally different. I remembered Alfie too but it looked different .”
C. Kawamata: “Offhand I couldn’t say; it was my 2nd trip . I enjoyed everything”
D. Matsuda: “It was a pleasure to enjoy the museums and tourist sites instead of living only in the hills. And talking to people who remembered the war in Alife, Grosseto, Livorno and Bruyeres.”
J. Ma tsui: “The 2 cemeteries, Alife and Bruyeres; did not expect any response and they were so warm and friendly – there was no need to speak; just our presence was enough for them and we felt the same way. I used to feel that the French people are aloof unless you spoke French” .
S. Matsunami: “Monte Carlo – I told them there would be a park; nobody believed me but there it was. I spent 3 francs and got 300 francs back on the slot machine .”
R. Mitsunaga: “Biffontaine. But the thing that makes me feel good the most is to see all the wives enjoying the trip; watching them enjoying it so much made the trip so worthwhile.”
R. Miyashiro: “Wartime I was up in the hills. This time I realized how big and beautiful the country was.”
C. Morioka: “Most spectacular was Switzerland; riding the tram up Mt. Pilatus was quite an experience.”
T. Nishioka : “Anzio cemetery. It really impressed me – the ceremony and everything.”
S. Oshiro: “Monte Cassino – the trail never changed. It was the only place I recognized right off the bat. ” T. Tateishi: “Bruyeres – the hospitality and terrific reception.”
T. Sato: “Epinal cemetery – really touching to see how well the place is taken care of.” A. Urabe: “Livorno-that was my last battle – although it’s changed a lot.” H. Yamashita: “Alfie and the girls in Nice and Lucerne.” Mahalo to Mits Fukuda who first dreamed and planned the tour and to Chick Hirayama for seeing it through. He was always the first out of the bus to smooth our entry to all the hotels and the last to board to make sure no one was left behind. The group was so congenial we are already looking forward to our next A company tour.