War Department Announces 100th Infantry Unit Comes Through “With Colors Flying” in First Test in Italy; Visit to Battalion Described.
Washington — American soldiers of Japanese descent now fighting in the battle lines along the road to Rome came through their first test under Nazi fire with flying colors, according to reports to the War Department from Fifth Army Headquarters in Italy.
In the first engagement, the American-Japanese were under fire four days and had a chance to answer the Germans’ fire for two of those. They were given the lead of a veteran American division that glorified itself in the mountains of Tunisia.
A United States Army Officer visited the 100th Infantry Battalion’s bivouac area spread out on both sides of the historic, but then muddy and cratered, Appian Way, found the encampment “typically doughboy” in its layout. A shattered, one-story cement storehouse was the command post. Pup tents disappeared in all directions under grape vines and apple trees.
Rich, dark soil of the floor of the valley on which they are living was rain-soaked by three days’ continuous showers and had turned to a sticky, oozing mud. This, they had matted with straw to make beds for sleeping. In it they had discovered hard ridges which had been patted into runways for walking.
At their camp, the officer reported, “you find yourself in the midst of your own family. These American doughboys” give a visitor that feeling of being on an even keel. All them were born and brought up in Hawaii. Their parents are Japanese.
“These soldiers are as far away from the stereotyped picture of the evil-doing sons of Japan as the all- American boy is from a headhunter. It’s in their faces. They obviously believe in what they’re doing, and look calmly secure because of it. They are in the habit of enjoying life like any good American. They like the world they live in.”
In the words of the commander of the forces of which the American soldiers of Japanese descent are a part: “They don’t ask for anything. We don’t give them anything that isn’t given to all the other units in our command. They’re fighting with the rest of us, taking their regular turn.”
The outfit’s first action was fought by a company commanded by Captain Taro Suzuki, of Honolulu, veteran of 16 years in the army, 13 of which were served in the Reserve. “It was our own fight,” Captain Suzuki said. “The company had to sink or swim by itself. We had walked by blown out bridges that stopped heavy artillery from being brought up behind us and then worked our way down a winding road. The bends cut us off from view of our own supporting infantry.
“Our leading scouts rounded a bend and three German machine guns opened up. There was nothing to do but go to work on them alone because nobody to the rear could see to fire the heavy stuff. One platoon went out to the right, one straight ahead, and a squad went off to the left. Trouble was, every time a man would stick his hand up to take a look, machine gun bullets cut right close by.
“As if we didn’t have trouble enough, the Germans broke everything loose on us — machine guns, mortars, rifles and heavy artillery.
“Back where our support was they could see the smoke from the big guns the Germans were firing at us, but it didn’t do us any good. They didn’t know where we were so didn’t dare fire. Finally, we spotted orange flashes. They were only pinpointed and lasted a split second, but it was enough to know they were guns firing.
“You know what stopped all that Nazi wrath? Our little 60mm mortars. We got them on there and they went right in. Boy, it felt good to see them dropping.
“The machine gunners pulled out after the big guns quit and our rifle men started making rapid headway on them.” This was the first action of the American-Japanese. Their march began at 5:30 in the morning, the fight lasted until nearly noon, and the company still was pushing ahead in the afternoon.
Captain Suzuki found that artillery shells bursting when they hit trees overhead were the worst part of the fighting. “The most amazing thing,” he said, “was the sight of my heavy mortar men. You know, at the beginning, they had nothing to do. One time when I was running by them on a checkup tour, I saw them sitting on the side of a hill. Know what they were doing? There’s I heavy mortar fire falling all around and there they sit, I laughing away and eating apples.”
Hero of the first show was a Sergeant from Oahu. I
“We want him to get one of the highest awards,” a high-ranking officer said. “He led the squad that Captain Suzuki sent out to the left after one of those machine guns.
“’It’s the first time,’ the Sergeant said, ‘so I’m going first.’ In the infantry, the first scout is usually a private. When a shell got him, he hung on long enough to tell the man taking over command all he knew about German gun positions.”
“I saw a private, George S. Zakimi, of Hakalau, dress two wounded men and then quietly sit down and treat himself,” said Lieutenant Ernest Tanaka, of Wailua, Oahu. “He wouldn’t go to the rear, so I had to order him back. He was up front again in an hour, and is hale and hearty now. Another man who was slightly wounded is Private First Class Shizuo Takeshige, of Honolulu, who had a shell go off practically in his face. It cut the flash hider off his automatic rifle.”
Takeshige, who received treatment, said “Everything’s fine now. I got some particles in my face, but they were small ones. Two days after the fight my foot was terrifically sore. I took off my shoe and found a fragment there.”
Division officers point to an artillery barrage the force went through as proving their worth as soldiers. Major James Lovell, of Hastings, Nebraska, and Honolulu, was in charge. “It was at night,” he said, “and it was raining. The mud had begun to get thick, which proved a lucky break for us. I think some of those shells just plowed on into the softness and never did explode. There were shells going over and shells going short and a good many coming right into the middle of us, but the men stuck it out as though they were used to having dynamite explode in the middle of themselves every day in the week.”
Although all of the enlisted men and many of the officers are Hawaiian-born and bred, some of the officers call the U.S.A. their home. Roster of the company that took the brunt of the first action reads like the League of Nations. Captain Suzuki and Lieutenant Tanaka are of Japanese descent. Then there’s Lieutenant Paul E. Froning, German descent, of New Breman, Ohio; Lieutenant Roy Peterson, Swedish descent, of East Orange, New Jersey; Lieutenant Young Ok Kim, Korean descent, of Los Angeles, California; Lieutenant Andrew Krivi, Czechoslovakian descent, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Lieutenant Rosco Marzano, of Italian extraction of Honolulu.
The outfit has scored a few firsts since getting to the battle zone. Staff Sergeant Edward Kiota, of Honolulu, and Sergeant Daniel Wada, of Kauai, led a squad which captured the first prisoner of the Italian campaign taken by the force’s division. Division officers reported that the force led the way when the first contact was made with the Germans in Italy.
Sergeant Yutaka Nezu, of Waimanalo, Oahu, took a squad into a deserted town to bring out 22 Yank paratroopers cut off behind German lines for 16 days. First German was seen by Private First Class Sakae Tanigawa of Honolulu.
“I saw two at the same time,” Tanigawa said, “and, unfortunately, one of them was already to fire.”
When Tanigawa flashed back the signal and guns started chattering, the outfit was actually in combat.
“There are some things,” said the Chief of Staff of the division, “that nobody can learn any other way than in battle. These men have been in battle and they’re good. We like them.”
The commanding officer of the American-Japanese agrees.
“We’ve had our baptism of fire and we have not been found wanting. We don’t say we have done anything remarkable.”