Author: Americo Bugliani, Ph.D.
Puka Puka Parades, March 2009, 2/2009
February 2009 Press Release, Americo Bugliani reminisces and reunites with Paul Sakamoto
A Debt Of Gratitude – A Young Italian American Boy’s Experience With 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team By Americo Bugliani, Ph.D., Java Member (February 12,2009 Press Release)
My encounter with the Nisei soldiers bivouacked at Valdicastello as a 12-year-old boy remains forever etched in my heart. Although my father was American, I was born in Italy in the small Tuscan village of Strettoia in the municipality of Pietrasanta, which is in an area of the province of Lucca called Versilia. I was 11 years old in July 1944 when the Germans began building up fortifications in our vicinity. They were increasingly desperate and had laid waste to the entire region. The Allies arrived in Pietrasanta on September 19, 1944. We kids intermingled with American soldiers at the front, hoping that they would give us something. We were starving and had nothing. Late in the afternoon of April 3, 1945, a Nisei soldier gave me a few things. The following morning, just as they were preparing to leave to go into combat at the front, the same soldier gave me a few more things. I would learn later he was from Hilo, Hawaii.
Then he turned and went inside his pup tent. I was ready to leave when he called me back and gave me a tube of Colgate toothpaste, a toothbrush and his cap. It was his woolen Class A uniform hat with the infantry insignia—the two crossed rifles. Then he gave me a small photograph of himself sitting on a jeep and said: “My name is Paul Sakamoto,” with a warm smile. Those gestures, those fleeting acts of generosity and kindness had a tremendous impact on my life. I have never forgotten them. They were among the very few happy moments I had during the war. Later I realized that that young American soldier had given me nearly all of his possessions.
In 1954 I moved to the US. I arrived in New York City on May 29 and, on September 13, I was drafted and taken to Fort Dix, NJ to start my basic training in the US Army. I became an interpreter with clearance for Secret and Confidential assignments and served in Austria, Germany, and Italy. After my discharge, I began my professional life in the international travel industry while taking advantage of the G.I. Bill to go to school at night. I eventually got a Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and embarked on an academic career at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. In 1981 I left the university to go into business. It wasn’t until 1991 that I discovered and then joined the Chicago Nisei Post. I served as Second Vice-Commander, First Vice-Commander, Commander, and Historian. One of the greatest honors of my life was being made Commander of The American Legion Chicago Nisei Post 1183. The men who liberated me from the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists made me their Commander! Hard to believe, but true.
In the meantime, I often wondered about the fate of that young soldier named Paul Sakamoto. The name stuck in my mind because it’s a Japanese name, and with all those vowels, it’s similar to Italian. I still carried Paul Sakamoto’s photograph around after nearly 50 years. Finally, I said to myself that I had to see if I could find him. I began my search on the West Coast and then I extended it to Hawaii. Eventually, I discovered that he was a member of the Club 100 and lived in Hilo, the Big Island. I telephoned, and after nearly half a century I once again heard the voice of Paul Sakamoto. It did not matter to me that he could not specifically remember meeting me. I could understand why. He was such a wonderful, generous man. No matter where he went, in France or Italy, he was always surrounded by kids. Over the phone that first time, I asked him why he had given me his hat. “I felt that I didn’t need anything anymore,” he replied. “I thought I was gonna get killed that day.” In late 1994, I decided I would go to Hawaii to see Paul Sakamoto on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of our original encounter. We had a beautiful reunion in Hilo in early 1995. It was wonderful seeing him again and meeting his lovely wife Jane. Once again, Paul’s generosity was moving. He gave us a lot of things—all kinds of Hawaiian goodies and many fruits from his garden. Jane gave my wife two beautiful island necklaces. Thus ended my long quest to find one particular G.I. [Tech/5 Paul T. Sakamoto was drafted into the Army before the Pearl Harbor attack, served with the Hawaii Territorial Guard and later 100th Infantry Battalion, which trained in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. He survived the battle campaigns in Italy and France. After the war, he was a nursery specialist at Foster Gardens in Honolulu, and following his retirement settled in his native Hilo].