From Francis Shinohara (B) (the third, but we hope not final, part)
The Champagne Campaign in France was time spent guarding the French-Italian border. A scary moment one evening was riding a quarter-ton truck on the mountain near Menton. The road seemed as high as the Pali Lookout and Jack Kuioka, our catcher on our baseball team, drove the truck without any lights. Those of us in the rear lived in posh hotels with comfy beds. Monte Carlo was off limits. I asked a Frenchman to buy poker chips from the casino for souvenirs. The Societe des Bains chips could be used as francs.
The forest in the Vosges Mountains in Southern France was dreary and miserable. In contrast, rest camp at Nice was heavenly. The train ride from Marseille to Nice was in a 40×8 box car along the Riviera Coast. This area resembled Hawaii for its tourism, palm trees and balmy climate. Nice was much fun with friendly mademoiselle and beaucoup night clubs and dance halls. We enjoyed listening to the French songs “Attendre” and a song that started out, “Je ses va, avek ma.”
A brave, young replacement sergeant, Tomosu Hirahara was killed in the forest near Biffontaine. Sergeant Tomosu was from the neighborhood where I grew up and the younger brother of a classmate. He is the only soldier from the 100th Battalion to be buried in France, in a cemetery near Epinal. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, his grave marker says “442nd” rather than 100th/442nd.)
“Marie, the dawn in breaking…” was played by an attendant in a hospital near Marseille. He played the song so often that his actions prompted a comment from one of the patients.
War permits unthinkable things to happen. There was a latrine built over a swiftly-moving stream at a replacement depot. We walked along the banks of the stream to the mess-hall for our breakfast. In the stream, flowing in the same direction, was the contents of the latrine.
Leaving Marseille in a jeep convoy, heading north and after a couple of days, Yasuyuki Kurokawa and I drove a jeep to the Third Army near Epinal. While walking in town, we heard a French band playing with much gusto: “I walk alone because to tell you the truth, I’ll be lonely. I don’t mind being lonely when my heart tells me you are lonely, too… ‘Til you’re walking beside me, I’ll walk alone.”
Reclassified for limited service, Sgt. Naoji Yamagata, and a few of us joined the veteran 239 Signal Operations Company. Another Buddahead (Japanese-American from Hawaii) and I obtained a weekend pass to a rest camp at Strasbourg, but we caught a train for Paris. The officer-in-charge eyed us suspiciously as we tagged along on the tail end of his group on a sightseeing tour. In the evening we went to see the Folies Bergere. Standing up high and in the back of the theater dimmed our artistic view of the show. Next morning, we saw people dining in quaint outdoor cafes as we walked along the Seine River toward the Eiffel Tower.
Leaving Paris with an expired pass was unfortunate. MPs stopped us at the train station and charged us with being AWOL. However, a sergeant met us on our return to the company and informed us that the report from the MPs had been taken care of. How wonderful it is to be in the right communication outfit and have a savior rescue us from our predicament!
It was wonderful and heroic for the 442nd Regiment through brutal fighting and suffering heavy casualties to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Division. The 1st Battalion was advancing toward historic St. Die when they were cut off three miles from the nearest friendly unit and surrounded for five days in the forest near Bruyeres, France.
Shortly after this dramatic rescue, the 442nd Regiment was recalled by the 5th Army in Italy. They were to be the secret weapon to break the stalemate in the Apennine Mountains of Northern Italy.
It happened because of war. My journey ended in the German cities of Mannheim and Heidelberg. Late spring in Mannheim was living in a comfortable basement of an apartment on the banks of the Neckar River flowing from Heidelberg. Couples among the bulrushes of the Neckar River upheld its name. Picking bing cherries off a tree outside the apartment complex was a first for me.
A jeep ride helping Pete, strongman from Utah, deliver a few sacks of mail from the Mannheim airport to the 7th Army headquarters in Heidelberg was an enjoyable task. Heidelberg is a college, castle and cultural city. For these reasons and similar to Kyoto in Japan, she was spared the devastating bombing that Mannheim and other industrial cities suffered.
The war with Germany ended and having accumulated enough points, I headed home for discharge. The flight from Paris to North Africa was in a B17 bomber. Sitting in the nose of the bomber and just below the pilot in the bombardier’s position permitted a panoramic view of the French and Spanish mountains.
The flight attendant of the B17 proved to be a slick con artist. After taking our picture beside the plane, he persuaded us to write our name and address. He then suggested that in return for our cigarettes and rations he would send the picture to us. We never received any picture.
The flight from North Africa to Florida included a stopover for lunch in the Madeira Islands. The highlight of the lunch was the astonishment of a flustered cafeteria worker as we stood in line for our meal. “You speak Portuguese!” he exclaimed incredulously, in the meantime giving Sadashi Matsunami an extra helping.
Haina ia mai, ana kapu ana. My story ends with a 442nd Regiment song:
“442nd Infantry, the boys from Hawaii Nei.
We’ll fight for you and the red, white and blue.
… fighting for Uncle Sam,
Go for Broke, we don’t give a damn.”
(Note: Francis used his writer’s license to contrast the Champagne Campaign with the fighting in the Vosges Forests. The chronological order of events was: Vosges Mountains, including Bruyeres, Biffontaine and Rescue of the Lost Battalion; the Champagne Campaign; return to Italy, and Po Valley Campaign and Gothic Line action. Before the 100th returned to Italy, Francis was reclassified for limited service and spent the remainder of the war in Mannheim and Heidelberg with the 239 Signal Operations Company.)