If the thunder rolls for a while
And the sky is clouded, bringing rain,
Then you will stay beside me.
Even when no thunder sounds
And no rain falls, if you but ask me,
Then I will stay beside you. *
Suddenly, it’s over. Quiet settles over the battlefield, and as the weight of the continuous days and nights of combat settles over the men, a deep, coma-like sleep overpowers everything. It is a sleep of weariness that not even hunger can disturb.
Even today, twenty years after the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), and seventeen since the end of World War II, it is not difficult to recall those episodes when a mere bundle of hay was something to be prized; at least, it provided some buffer between body and ground. And in this aftermath of war – this gray area of peace between wars – we strive to seek that buffer which will keep wars away from us forever. Having experienced it once, we do not wish to entertain the thought of having our children face the ordeal also. War, if it ever comes again, will probably be on a much grander and more horrible scale than ever before experienced by man. Even limited wars, in our nuclear age, portend horrors not imaginable. What is our design for living, through which we hope to exclude the negatives of war?
On that peaceful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, the men who were to comprise the 100th Infantry Battalion, stationed in the various Army encampments in the Islands, were thinking primarily in terms of their pending discharges from the Army after having served almost a year of their peacetime tenure as part of the first Federal draft. Then a year and nine months later, in the early morning of September 29, 1943, in the high ground above the little Italian town of Chiusano, about 40 miles east of Naples, the 100th Infantry Battalion came of age. Before the end of this day, the battalion was to bury its first dead and evacuate its first group of wounded.
The fact that most of its coastline is surrounded by water appears to be the only near similarity, geographically, between Italy and Hawaii. There, in the land of the lira and olives, grapes and the glory of the Roman Empire and the recent-age Mussolini, the men of the 100th first set their combat pace which was to carry forth the story of the Japanese-Americans of Hawaii through the battles of the Volturno, Cassino, Rome, the Arno, Bruyeres, Biffontaine and the Lost Battalion; then back to Italy and the battles off the Ligurian coast, and the final cleanup at the end of the war.
Through those two years since the Battalion left Staten Island in August 1943 to the end of the conflict in May 1945, the Battalion was under the cynosure of all who were concerned with the problem of what would happen to the men of the 100th under the pressure of war. While in training, the Battalion was exemplary in all of its field tests. However no one was sure as to how these Japanese-Americans would react under fire. True, its training results were par excellence, but…
As the colors, with the challenging motto “Remember Pearl Harbor” emblazoned thereon, were carried from battle to battle, a new chapter began to unfold in the history of the United States Army. The fires of Pearl Harbor had ignited the flame of courage and purpose which gave creation to the deeds of the 100th Infantry Battalion, and subsequently to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The Army was hard put to accept these soldiers of Japanese ancestry. The big question was that of loyalty – loyalty to whom? This question went begging until the battle reports started flowing in to Washington.
It seems ironical that the baptism of fire should have taken place twelve thousand miles from home, halfway around the other side of the world, when here was a war being fought right in its own backyard. The battles for the myriad of the Pacific islands were beginning to take shape and this is where the Battalion felt that it could best prove its worth.
But the Army thought differently and so it was that through “the soft underbelly of Europe” the 100th fought its way through the natural defensive barrier of mountain ranges which run down through the main part of the Italian “shoe”. The terrain was rugged, the winter was tough and the enemy tougher. But the training of the 100th back in the States had been absolute and the Battalion was dedicated to a cause. As it slogged its way through the mountains, peak by peak, in company with the rest of the 5th Army units, its casualties began to mount. But there was no time for meditation, much less for grief or sorrow. There was a job to be done.
If the boys at the front could take it, so could the home front. And the home front in Hawaii was no different from that of any other town or city in America. The daily routine consisted of scanning the casualty lists, listening to each radio commentary, waiting for that precious letter…wondering…worrying. But to offset this strain was the glory that must inevitably become a part of each battle, each war. And in the case of the 100th, that glory was perhaps of greater intensity than usual, but this was not a normal situation. And so the play of glory appeared justified, and with few exceptions, was accepted as a tribute to the history that was in the making.
The port city of Oran on the North African coast was the first stop after the Battalion left Staten Island in New York Harbor. Here, the Battalion became a part of the 34th “Red Bull” Division, taking the place of the l33rd Regiment’s second battalion. Then came Salerno but the debarkation was unopposed that morning of September 22, 1943. And several days later as the 100th moved into the chase of the retreating enemy, the following message was sent to all 5th Army units: “There has recently arrived in this theater a battalion of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. These troops take particular pride in their American origin. Your command should be so informed in order that during the stress and confusion of combat, cases of mistaken identity may be avoided.
There, in that brief message, was wrapped up all of the feelings and convictions of the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion. It also put the Battalion on notice that it would be closely watched and observed. The training period was over. Now was the time for deeds.
That the deeds did justice to the feelings is recorded in the impressive tabulation of unit and individual awards: 3 Presidential Unit Citations, 1 Congressional Medal of Honor, 24 Distinguished Service Cross, 147 Silver Star, and over 4,268 other individual awards (including 1,703 Purple Hearts).
However, all of these honors were gathered at a price … the price of death on the battlefield where 364 KIA’s lie buried in cemeteries all over the world, with one-half of them buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater. The price was exacting but the men of the 100th realized that their mission was to lead, to open a path for those to follow – but more so, to open a wedge to dispel the doubts of suspicion, discrimination, and distrust, and lend credo to the fact that men of differing races, creeds and religions could fight together, if necessary, to uphold what they believed to be right … the right to live in peace with their God and their fellow men.