By Tom Nagata
It was twilight and the distant ringing of a church bell came to me. For that magie [sic] moment all was calm and peaceful for me.
The illusion was broken as I gazed on the dirt road before me. There lay three rumpled bodies flecked with blood. They were men of the pioneer platoon of the 100th Infantry Battalion, who less than 24 hours ago had guided us to this spot designated as the line of departure.
This was January 26, 1944, in the vicinity of Cassino, Italy, and nicknamed Purple Heart Valley by the GI’s. The sound of the bell came from the Abbey of Monte Cassino.
My thoughts went back to the night of the 24th. In the darkness we had worked our way down to the flats. The jump-off time was near. Suddenly, I heard distant booming of the Artillery. Shells started to whistle past overhead and land with a flash and a roar among the hills nearby. More and more shells came in until there was a constant shower of sparks and explosion on the hills. Somebody mentioned that there were 500 artillery pieces lined up behind us.
As soon as the line of departure was passed, we were knee deep in mud in the flooded fields. Progress was slow as the mud sucked at our boots. Here was a ditch filled with water. Somehow we crossed over it. We re-grouped and went forward toward those hills. Abruptly, the shelling stopped. In the quiet that followed, we could hear the sound of running feet and muffled voices from the German positions ahead. We crossed a half dry ditch and pressed forward in pitch black darkness. As point man Richard Iriguchi took the lead, a ball of fire and explosion erupted beneath him. A surface mine had broken his ankle and filled his leg with shrapnel fragments. This was his third Purple Heart.
Suddenly, a German machine gun opened up on our left and raked the ditch behind us. Corporal Ed Yoshihara Yoshida, C Company’s first Silver Star Medal Winner groaned and his head slumped against his chest as he sat in the ditch. The head wound proved fatal and he died shortly after, despite our frantic efforts to apply first aid in the darkness.
There was a mine field of unknown depth ahead of us. The ditch behind us was zeroed in by flanking machine-gun fire from the semi-circular hill around us. It was then that S/Sgt Johnny Miyagawa rose to the occasion. Dropping his combat pack and grabbing his rifle and white tape marker he inched his way through the mine field and taped a safe path for us. We all went through the mine field to reach our objective, the Rapido River bank, and dug in for the night. Johnny received a Silver Star Medal for his heroic deed.
The next day, I witnessed an act of valor by an entire B Company when they dashed over to us in broad daylight through the mud and flooded ditch while receiving withering machine-gun fire from the German positions above us. A childhood friend of mine, Sueo Noda, gave his life for his country in this brave act of heroism along with other men that day.
We were then ordered to fix bayonets in preparation for our next attack. Orders then came to cancel that attack. The day passed and sometime during the night orders came for us to pull back as we were being relieved. On the way back buddies dragged Richard Iriguchi back with us broken ankle and all without benefit of a stretcher to cushion his wounded leg. We dug in behind the line of departure by the dirt road.
The twilight deepened to darkness and the Monastery Monte Cassino vanished in the distance and hid the crumpled bodies in front of us. The bell rang out it’s final note and all was quiet!
Then to France. The battle of Bruyeres and Biffontaine and the saga of the Texas “Lost Battalion”.
In January 1944 — Anzio. Then the break through to Rome. The ride through Rome which occured [sic] incidentally or coincidentally on the 100th 2nd anniversary of the day it had left home — Hawaii — June 5,1942! Casualties mounting.