Author: Mike Tokunaga
Puka Puka Parades, December 1994
Mike Tokunaga and his wife visited Europe on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Biffontaine and Bruyeres and recounted their trip in the Charlie Chapter news.
Betty and I left for Europe on September 28, 1994 on a 23-day trip through Europe. It took us 23 hours including layovers from Honolulu-San Francisco-Chicago to Frankfurt. We went through
Heidelburg, Donauwoerth, Dachau and Munich. In Dachau we went through the concentration camp that the 522nd Field Artillery liberated. It was a huge concentration camp with a large
crematory where they cremated all the bodies. We went through Vienna, Austria; Venice, Italy and down to Rome.
From Rome we went to Monte Cassino. This trip brought back a lot of memories. I recalled Masao Awakuni knocking out his second German tank and being awarded the DSC. I also recalled Major Jimmy Lovell being hit in the open and being rescued by Gary Hisaoka, who was killed in action a few months later. It also reminded me of Shigeru Inouye who went to care for a wounded comrade and got hit himself. I recalled going up Castle Hill with 126 men and after 4 days of fierce fighting 23 of us walked, off the hill because they were going to bomb the monastery.
We then went to the Nettuno American Military Cemetery where 80 members of our tour had an emotional ceremony at the grave of Major Jack Johnson. After decorating his grave with a lot of flowers, Mrs. Ikuma, who was 84 years old, lead the group in the Lord’s Prayer and Aloha Oe. There was not a dry eye in the group. From there we went through Anzio. I was surprised at the number of farm houses that were built in 50 years.
Then we went through Florence-Pisa-Carrara-Menton and Nice. Menton was so built up with hotels and condominiums I could not recognize the place. The following day we went to L’Escarenne and Sospel where the 442nd men had very touching ceremonies at both places. In Sospel where the 442nd men were memorialized on a plaque on the school building because they were killed by artillery shells right on the school ground. A Frenchman even showed us some old pictures of men from Cannon Co.
From there we went to Monte Carlo for one hour and was fortunate to make about $200 because Richard Maeda from Kauai made about 10 passes.
From Nice we went to Grenoble where the 1976 Winter Olympics was held. From there we went to Lucerne, Switzerland and then to Bruyeres and Biffontaine. We first went to the monument in the area where the 100th and 442nd rescued the lost battalion of the 36th Division. The French people had arranged a very impressive ceremony. As we walked through the area we could still see many foxholes covered with pine leaves and weeds. That area made me recall how I half carried and dragged by Lt. Ichire Okada to safety because he was hit by a machine gun in his hand. The son of Sinclair Lewis was killed instantly by the same machine gun, but the General from the 36th Division took off like a scared rabbit. Before we got to the Lost Battalion area Mrs. Elsie Okada, Lt. Okada’s wife, told all the people in the bus that her husband told her that Mike Tokunaga had saved his life.
We then had a delicious lunch attended by about 600 people from the 100th and 442nd at Biffontaine. In Biffontaine the 2-story school house that Ben Takayesu and his men had occupied back in October 1944 was still there. Stanley Kimura said he was in the schoolhouse with Ben. The farm house that we were in was replaced by another building, but this is where I recalled the German tank had blown big holes in the school building and our farmhouse. When a German yelled at us to give up and surrender, as scared as I was, I was the guy who yelled back and said, “F —you, Come and get us.” This is the area where Lt. Takeichi Miyashiro, Stanley Akita, Oscar Miyashiro, Kaoru Yonezawa and others got captured by the Germans. From the luncheon we went to the Epinal American Military Cemetery. This is where I had made arrangements to meet Ellen Wachtershauser, the sister of Edward Ogawa, who was killed in the vicinity of Bruyeres. Edward was a good friend of Kazuto Shimizu. The people from our bus brought a lot of flowers and I gave Ellen a 100th Inf. Bn. cap and told her that Edward deserved the cap more than all of us because he made the supreme sacrifice.
As a finale we all sang Aloha Oe and again there was not a dry eye in the crowd. We also decorated and sang Aloha Oe at the grave of Yoshio Tengan, C. Co., from Lahaina, Maui. We also met Ellen’s sister, Mary Obata and her husband Roger from Canada, and we all had a good dinner with them that evening.
The next day we had the ceremonies at Bruyeres and the people of Bruyeres went all out and treated all of us like hereos [sic]. We had a parade through town and a very impressive ceremony in the town square where the World War I and II monument is located. Then we took a trip to the 100t/442nd monument in the forest where we fought. There we had another impressive ceremony. In Bruyeres I tried to locate the house where Lt. Masanao Otake was killed but I could not locate that particular house because there were about 200-225 new houses built around the area. Then the people of Bruyeres put on a luncheon for about 1500 people. I met some men who were from the 34th, 45th, 3rd and 36th divisions. At this time we wish to thank the people of Biffontaine and Bruyeres for making our trip such a memorable event in our lives.
From there we went to Paris, France and London, England and got home on October 21, 1994. We really enjoyed the entire trip and Betty and I wish to thank Tsuka Murakami, from Kauai, who was tour leader and Mark and Katarina Tinney who were our tour guides throughout the trip.