Memories: Return To Italy; On To Genoa; Homeward Bound
By Saburo Nishime
After leaving Menton, France, the 442nd returned to Italy. After being re-equipped, we moved to an assembly area north of Lucca. About this time, many of our NCOs qualified for rotation to stateside, including Doc Hosaka and Cherry Kunieda from our section. Lt. Yamamoto asked me to take charge of a section and promoted me to sergeant so that put me back with the machine gun section.
For the final offense on the Gothic Line, our Dog Co. machine gun platoon discarded the heavy machine guns and tripods and picked up the light machine guns, which the rifle company was using. This made more sense in view of the type of mountainous terrain the 100th Bn. would be fighting on.
While still at the assembly area, Seie Oshiro came by to pay me a visit. We were old friends since before the war. Seie had been reassigned to a rear support organization. Major Fukuda happened to come by and recognized Seie. At this time I remember Larry Sakoda was still with the 2nd Platoon. While he was cleaning the machine gun equipment, he received third degree burns to his arms and the medic hospitalized him; hence, Larry missed getting directly involved in the last Gothic Line drive.
On this last operation, our machine gun section was attached to Charlie Co. By this time, I hardly recognized anyone in Charlie Co. I remember seeing old timers like Lt. Hisanaga and Doc Kometani of the Medics, who greeted me “Hi, old timer!”
In the early morning hours, Charlie Co. moved into the attack on Georgia Hill. Our machine gun section initially got stranded as we followed Charlie Co. When we finally caught up with Charlie Co., the riflemen were confronted with several formidable enemy bunkers; and the Germans had buried wooden box mines around the bunkers. These box mines were hard to detect with a mine sweeper. I recall Capt McKenzie of Hq. Co. was in my slit trench; and as one of his runners came toward us with some information, he stepped on a box mine right in front of us. The resulting explosion nearly tore off his legs and he did not make it to the Aid Station because he had lost so much blood. When the injured runner was lying on the ground in front of us, Sakai Wakakuwa and Takeo Koyanagai from the 1st Platoon came rushing over from nowhere to be of assistance to the runner. Nothing could be done for him – this kind of situation called for the work of the Medics. We still don’t know what Wakakuwa and Koyanagi were doing in our area, away from their machine guns.
From our positions, we could see the riflemen just exchanging hand grenades with the Germans all day long. No direct assault was attempted on the bunkers. The 100th Inf. Bn. Command even asked for aircraft support; and a group of fighters came over and made a pass, firing at the bunkers at the top of Georgia Hill. We don’t think the aircraft supporting run was very effective. (In 1949, when I was staying in an Air Force BOQ in Japan, one of the officers mentioned that he was one of the fighter pilots who made that strafing run on the bunkers at the top of Georgia Hill.)
From our locations we could see the type of grenades the Germans were tossing at our troops. They were mostly concussion-type grenades which were called “potato mashers”. From all indications, they were not too effective in the open area. We saw one explode behind a rifleman’s “okole” and it seemed not to have affected the rifleman.
Charlie Co. tried to bypass the strong point by taking a route away and around the bunkers. Soon word came back that a section of Charlie Co. had run into a mine field and gave up trying that route. As mentioned previously, the above type of action continued all day. We settled in for the night.
On this drive, the 442nd Artillery support came from the 92nd Div. The black artillery coordinator for the 92nd, who was in the 100th Bn. area, decided to make it back to the rear area for the night. When he got there, it seemed he was instructed to return to where he was previously located.
Late that night, Capt. McKenzie woke us up and said that “The Germans might be planning a counter attack;” but eventually it did not occur. The following morning, we observed the riflemen really attacking the bunkers. The riflemen were moving slowly forward in a skirmish; then suddenly, the platoon leader moved in rapidly. We could not see exactly what transpired then. In short order, a bunch of German soldiers surrendered with their arms around their necks. From all indications, the riflemen were from Co. A.
It can be presumed that Sadao Munemori of Able Co. earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in this location on Georgia Hill. He was the only recipient of the CMH while the 100th/442nd was still in combat.
We moved up to an area not too far from where our machine gun section had been and when we got there, we ran into a barrage of German mortar shells. A member of Charlie Co. whom we called “Big Boy”, Kenji Nobori, called out to me to take care of one of my men who had taken a direct hit from the mortar shell in his slit trench. I checked my crew, and all were accounted for, and no way was I going back to look. “Big Boy” was right next to the KIA member, who was a rifleman of Charlie Co. Later it was confirmed by the KIA rifleman’s NCO. It is sad that these young kids just come into the unit and are KIA victims without anybody knowing who they were.
There was an abandoned German bunker nearby, and some of us got into the bunker to get away from the mortar shelling. Lt. Ikeda of Charlie Co., who was openly exposed during all this mortar shelling, could have had thoughts of not coming out of this alive. The lieutenant came by, had us move further into the bunker, and managed to crawl into the bunker with us guys.
Lt. Ikeda’s brother Kiyoshi was a member of our Dog Co. 2nd Platoon. Kiyoshi was a very active NCO in the 2nd Platoon at Camp McCoy and also at Camp Shelby. As for Lt. Ikeda, he must have been able to go back to his lovely wife.
There is a display on the 100th Inf. Bn. Vets bulletin board of memories and correspondence provided by a member of the family of Lt. Saburo Maehara of Charlie Co., who was KIA in Italy. Our machine gun section was with Charlie Co. in Italy on the final drive on the Gothic Line. The two officers in Charlie Co. at that time, as I remember, were Lt. Ikeda and Lt. Hisanaga. In talking with Warren Iwai, who was the First Sgt. of Charlie Co., he confirmed that Lt. Maehara was KIA the first day of the Charlie Co. attack on Georgia Hill.
The news reports, and by some members of the 442nd, claim that the attack on the Gothic Line overcame the German defenses in short order and Georgia Hill was secured in a few hours. This report seemed to have come about because the Italian partisans led the 2nd and 3rd Bns. and overcame their objective by surprise and secured it without casualties. It was not so with the 100th Bn. The 100th was given the task of taking on the strongest point on the Gothic Line. Here, the Germans were in well-defended dugout bunkers, and the area was strewn with wooden box mines which were hard to detect, even with our mine sweepers. It took two days before Georgia Hill was won over, with a number of wounded and KIA members. Our 2nd Platoon leader, Lt. “Capone” Satoru Inomoto, was wounded for the first time in combat.
From here on, I do not have an accurate recollection of the battles that followed. I can say it was far easier than the past battles. The Italian partisans served as guides throughout most of the ensuing skirmishes. They would lead and guide us to the location where the Germans were but as soon as the bullets started flying, they would quickly move out of the way of the skirmishes.
Climbing the hills around the town of Carrara, Italy, we saw firsthand how the Italians got out the world famous Carrara marble. They cut big oblong blocks of the marble rock off the surrounding mountains and slid the blocks down the hills to where the saws sliced them. When I returned to civilian life and was working, I came across a stone mason who had made trips to Italy to purchase the Carrara marble.
Advancing up the Italian peninsula, there were occasions when we would be in the country village areas. The village people would be out in the streets, bartering eggs and rice for our combat rations. We found out that rice was grown in the Po River Valley. The Italians watched how we cooked our rice and commented, ‘Toko aqua”, meaning not enough water. They cook rice the way the Japanese cook “okai”. One of our favorites was hot steaming rice with raw eggs on top.
Getting back to the light skirmishes which seemed to be the mode of the final battles with the Germans, guys were still getting wounded and the really unlucky ones would be KIA. One of the last KIAs in the 100th Bn. was Donald Okamoto of Baker Co. We immediately knew who he was because his brother Itsuto was a Dog Co. member.
I recall an occasion when our Dog Co. machine gun section was moving up a trail with Charlie Co. riflemen. We were told that the enemy was in sight. Then came orders to reverse and back out. Then came an urgent order to double time back down the trail. At the same time, the Germans let loose an artillery barrage that landed away from us, down the trail near a group of Italian farmhouses.
Lt. Hisanaga, bringing up the rear of Charlie Co., was wondering what all this backtracking was about so he went up forward to investigate. After some time, Charlie Co. moved forward following a different route. Eventually we found ourselves at the top of a ridge, with none of the enemy in sight.
Charlie Co. had most of their members back on the road. A section of riflemen and we machine gunners were sent to investigate a recessed area of the terrain to see if it had been cleared of the enemy. Getting over to the opposite side, we met up with the rest of Charlie Co. Lt Hisanaga was in charge, and he told us to get a good rest and we could forego guard duty for that night
Since the German opposition was now down to almost zero, Lt. Fukuda volunteered to lead a group of men that would be called “Task Force Fukuda”. This task force was comprised of members from the 100th, 2nd and 3rd Bns. At this stage of the campaign, with the Germans on the run, there was no reason to unnecessarily expose the troops.
By now, we were moving freely on wheels up the Italian peninsula. There was one confrontation with the enemy which the task force encountered. They looked like a formidable group of Germans but after a few exchange of talks, the Germans held up a white flag and surrendered.
It was now late April of 1945 and nearing the end of the war. We were near the city of Genoa, Italy. Our machine gun section was still attached to Charlie Co. We just happened to be sitting around taking it easy and relaxing when the pin came off from the grenade of one of the riflemen. He had no chance to get rid of the grenade and it exploded while still on his belt. The shrapnel from the exploding grenade wounded a number of the rifleman’s comrades. As far as I can determine, this unfortunate rifleman was the last one in the 100th Bn. to be killed in action.
By May 11, 1945, the war in Europe was officially over. About that time, Lt. Yamamoto came over and informed me that I had been selected to rotate back home to Hawaii. Others from Dog Co. who were due to rotate were: Charles Takashima, Takeo Koyanagi, Sakai Wakakuwa, Kiyoshi Izumi, Michiyuki (Kelly) Fujimoto, Jitsuo Saiki, Masaki Shiraki, and others I do not recall. The senior ranking NCO of this group was M/Sgt. Warren Iwai, who was from Charlie Co.
We returned from Europe on a liberty ship in a convoy with other ships. Several days out of Gibraltar, our ship left the convoy and turned around to go back to Gibraltar to repair a bad boiler. After sailing back a day, our ship turned around again, claiming they got the boiler repaired, so we came across the Atlantic alone, sailing into New York Harbor. Anyone who was on a military cross country train during the summer of 1945 will recall how miserable a trip it was. There was a warm breeze blowing; and even with the coach windows wide open, there was no relief. Smoke and soot from the coal- burning steam engine train added to the misery; and without bath facilities, we all ended up at Camp Beal in California in a horrible stinking mess.
On the train we met a number of ex-POWs returning with us. They described what POW life was like in Germany. Most of the comments came from Nagamine, who was an amateur boxer in Hawaii. I knew one of the ex-POWs, Yoichi Tamura, who came from my hometown on Kauai. Stanley Akita could have been in the same group.
Doc Hosaka and Cherry Kunieda, who had left Italy a month before us, were still at Camp Beal, waiting for transportation to Hawaii. Since we knew our stay would be long at Camp Beal, I had to find something to do. I had $400 saved and was able to draw it out at Camp Beal. I tried my hand at the crap games and luckily, I came out ahead and had some money when I got discharged.
During my stay at Camp Beal for about a month, many other members from the 100th arrived at the camp. Finally, the group left the camp and headed north to Fort Lawton in Washington State. It was so much cooler at Fort Lawton than at Camp Beal. We left Fort Lawton on a troop transport loaded with predominantly black troops. There was a strict no-gambling policy on this ship. Charles Takashima was bringing home his prized souvenir – a German P-38 pistol. When he checked his barracks bag one day, he was really disappointed to find the revolver missing. There was nothing he could do about the loss.
It took us more than a month to get back to Hawaii. Before being discharged, they let us have a one- month leave, which was a chance to visit home. My destination was Kauai. I was honorably discharged on Sept. 14, 1945, in Honolulu.