Some Memories Of The War
by Tom Nagata, Maui Chapter
The men of the 100th Infantry Battalion gazed overhead at the mighty Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay as the S.S. Maui sailed into safe haven. The battalion had sailed out of Honolulu Harbor on June 5, 1942, under the command of Lt. Col. Farrant L. Turner about five days earlier. No blackouts here like in Hawaii. Beautiful sights of red cherry trees growing in the yards of private homes, as the troop train pulled out of Oakland headed east.
CAMP MCCOY, WISCONSIN
Sparta and LaCrosse were the favorite towns of the 100th men. Some over-drinking led to Col. Turner’s admonishment, “You can’t drink Wisconsin dry because they make the beer here”. Future Club 100 was born here, when Col Turner proposed that
men of the Battalion put away $2.00 each payday towards the purchase of a clubhouse after the war was over. First snowfall came in late September as the men moved into brand new steam-heated two story barracks. Judo practice continued in the snow, as news cameramen filmed future U.S. Senator Sparky Matsunaga throwing the men onto
the soft snow. Bing Crosby coming over the radio with White Christmas.
CAMP SHELBY, MISSISSIPPI
Col. Turner to the men of the 100th, “You can’t change the South overnight, this place is not like Hawaii”. No snow here in January, but the canteen water can freeze while overnight camping. Men enjoying the warmth of the pitch pine fire
when non-tactical at night, but have to wash their black sooted faces next morning. Frank Sinatra was a rising new singing star.
“Snakes Alive”! Land of the water moccasins and the deadly coral snake. Men of the 100th dearly loved to jump into a good swimming hole whenever there was a break in the maneuvers. The fastest way to empty the “ale swimming hole” was for
somebody to yell, “snakes”. A coral snake was found and killed one day, and men of the battalion gathered around to view this deadly snake. Later, heard rumors that
an enterprising fellow had skinned and dried this snake, and had been offered a handsome sum for the red, black and yellow banded skin. The 100th crossed into Texas and the wide open spaces. One morning, as the battalion was on approach march with the men strung out in the field, the point stopped for no apparent reason. It resumed its forward march after some time. As each man passed the spot where the point had halted, he could see a huge freshly killed rattlesnake coiled on the side of the trail, as though it was about to strike. The battalion took a break near a stream, amid some monstrous fallen trees. On closer examination, the logs turned out to be petrified.
One soldier was seen busily digging into an armadillo hole. Pretty soon, the animal came running out of the hole, and when last seen, was being chased by the digger with his trench shovel waving in the air.
CAMP SHELBY, MISSISSIPPI
Upon returning to Camp Shelby, members of the 100th were greeted by brothers, cousins and friends from the newly formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The final group of Japanese interpreters from the Battalion left for their school
in Minnesota, and the 100th began preparations to leave for European battlefronts. The ferry ride in New York Harbor with the view of the lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty in the distance was an unforgettable sight.
ORAN, NORTH AFRICA
September 2, 1943. The Atlantic trip for the 100th men was drawing to a close. The towering Rock of Gibraltar dominated the Straits, as the convoy glided into the calm Mediterranean Sea. As the ship, “James Parker”, neared Oran, many red
dots were seen above the harbor. Sailing closer, the red dots turned out to be the red fez caps worn by the natives, as they lined the walled terraced streets above to watch the ships landing. The Battalion made camp a few miles out of Oran. Guards had to be posted at night. Two NCO’s on guard detail one evening, sat and talked in low voices in the guard tent about their families, former occupation, sports such as baseball, etc. They met as strangers that night but parted as friends next day, destined never to see each other again, for on the first day of combat, September 29, 1943, in Italy, Sgt. Joe Takata, the NCO on guard detail
that night in Oran, wes[sic] killed in action, receiving postumously [sic] the Distinguished. Service Cross Medal for his courageous action.
VOLTURNO RIVER CROSSING
The retreating Germans had blown up the bridge over the Volturno River. The
100th sent a rifle squad across the river to scout for enemy movement, and to find a suitable crossing site. With the squad acting as guides, the Battalion crossed the river in the dark of night. Suddenly, a cry for help sounded in the dark as one soldier struggled in the swirling river current weighted down with his heavy equipment. As he was swept under, his buddy realizing his friend’s danger, went after him and after much effort dragged him back to safety. Corporal Miles Shiroma was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his heroic deed that night.
October 22, 1943. In the early morning darkness, the Battalion had moved quitely[sic] up to the line of departure. Ahead lay newly plowed fields of red dirt, sloping up to a low ridge dotted with shrubberies, and scattered olive trees. As the sun came up, scouts stepped forward into no-man’s land, followed by the rest of the men on combat readiness. Suddenly, enemy guns opened fire from the ridge ahead.
A sniper was spotted in an olive tree and was quickly cut down by accurate rifle fire. As machine-gun fire came from the shrubs ahead, Platoon Sgt. Louis Sakamoto rallied his men and charged up the hill. He was mortally wounded and died on the slopes.
High explosive cannon shells began falling on the men and one near-miss shell blew a soldier out of his foxhole. As the exposed figure lay unconscious on the ground,
Corporal Kentoku Nakasone darted out of his foxhole and carried his buddy to safety, as shells exploded around him. Meanwhile, on the right, enemy tank movement was spotted near the ridge. PFC Masao Awakuni crept up to the tank and blasted a bazooka rocket through the turret, destroying it with one shot. Sakamoto received postumously [sic] the Silver Star Medal, and Nakasone also the Silver Star and Awakuni the Bronze Star
Medal. Awakuni later won the Distinguished Service Cross Medal for destroying his second and larger tank under more difficult conditions during the battle for Cassino.
Shortly after the Alife-S.Angelo action, men of the 100th were on approach march. It was the first day of November, and the day was sunny and bright, with the frontlines ahead. Suddenly, enemy planes came roaring down on the men from the hills behind, strafing and bombing. As they flashed past with their black swastika crosses plainly visible, men rose up from the ditches and fired back at the enemy. The Battalion suffered casualties that day, both killed and wounded from an unexpected enemy action.
The Battalion had gone into action in the hills above Colli shortly before Thanksgiving. On the left flank, Corporal Wataru Nouchi had destroyed an enemy machine-gun nest with a well thrown fragmentation grenade and picked off two more enemy soldiers with his accurate rifle fire. He won the Silver Star for his courageous action. Litter bearers were not able to come up for the wounded so the remaining able-bodied men evacuated them at night, using improvised stretchers.
On the neighboring Mt. Pantano, there were lots of firing going on, and war correspondent Ernie Pyle was there to record in graphic detail the heroic actions of the 168th infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division. The 100th suffered severely from the wet and cold weather without proper winter uniforms, causing many to contract trench or frozen feet. However, men of the Battalion performed courageously all along the front and held on to their hard-won hills until they were relieved.
The rest camp for the men of the 34th Infantry Division was located in the Naples prison compound. The fortunate men on rest and recreation leave from the 100th were taken by army trucks to see the ruins of Pompeii, attended colorful Italian musicals at the La Scala Opera House, or drank vino in the many watering places of Naples. They gazed at the famous Isle of Capri in the distance, and bought
souvenirs to mail home to their families and friends. They were served roast turkey with trimmings on Thanksgiving Day. As they sat down to their Thanksgiving dinner, Col. Turner, who had left the 100th in late October, strode in. He was joyfully greeted by members of the Battalion, and his deep concern for the welfare of his
men from Hawaii showed in his moist eyes as he listened to the tales of combat and mounting casualties suffered by the 100th.
MAJO HILL MASS
The Battalion was up on the Mt. Majo Hill Mass since early January. Men dug foxholes between patches of snow, but they were now clothed in warm winter uniforms. Some took out their canteen cups and scooped the white snow, on which they sprinkled lemon powder, and crushed sugar cubes from their C rations, and ate shave ice.
The Rapido Plains stretched far below, and on the right stood Cassino, with Monastery Hill rising behind, topped with the high walled Monastery called the Abbey. This beautiful coral pink Abbey reminded the men of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
The men gazed upward as two planes circled high above the Rapido Plains. The distance was so great that the sound of engines, or machine-gun fire, did not reach the men. Finally, one plane started its death plunge toward the earth and disappeared. The other plane turned back toward Rome. Medium bombers passed high above no-man’s land in formation. German anti-aircraft guns opened fire on them as they entered enemy territory. Suddenly, one bomber lurched, and burst into a ball of orange flames. As the stricken plane started to fall, three white parachutes miraculously blossomed out and floated gently to earth, bur unfortunately, behind enemy lines.
The 100th made a night attack on one of the last two Majo Hill Mass. The men moved quietly up the snow covered slope and with guns blazing charged the remaining distance to the top. An officer could be heard in the dark shouting encouragement to his men. As the men reached the top, an enemy soldier had raised his hand shouting “kamarad”, and the firing stopped for a moment, but resumed firing after the fleeing Germans. The counter-attack hit the right flank of the Battalion. Men sat in the snow and fired into the darkness with rifles and rifle-grenades. The wounded were dragged to safety. A flash of mortar fire was seen down the hill behind enemy lines, and the shell exploded behind the just taken hill amidst a team of our litter bearers, inflicting heavy casualties. Two officers died on the slopes that night also.
CAIRO – CASSINO
The 100th moved at night to occupied Cairo, with Cassino on the far left. A dead enemy soldier lay on the roadside, flattened by passing tanks. Next morning dawned bright and clear, as a U.S. Jeep with driver and passenger came up the road and stopped in front of a solitary but down the road. In seconds, enemy shells began falling near the Jeep. The men ran out of the hut, jumped on their car, and went full speed down the road. A short while later, a plane was seen circling way down the valley. Coming out of its circle, the black–crossed plane came roaring up the road and dropped a bomb on Cairo. There was a tremendous explosion as the bomb landed in a corral across the street, wiping out a team of mules. Had the bomb landed on this side of the street, the casualties among the men would have been heavy.
February 8, 1944. The Battalion had left Cairo for Cassino under cover of darkness. By daybreak, the men had reached the line of departure and waited. Soon, smoke shells landed in the gully ahead and provided protective cover as the 100th, under the command of Major James Lovell, moved quitely[sic] across the gully, up the terraced hillside and spilled over to the flats between clusters of houses on the left and Monastery Hill on the far right, with Cassino nestling at its base far below. Enemy fire erupted from the houses on the left, and with Major Lovell and Captain Richard Mizuta in the fore-front, engaged the enemy with accurate rifle fire. The Germans began withdrawing from their outflanked positions and ran behind the houses. Wounded enemy soldiers were heard calling loudly for help. A bazookaman spotted tank movements on the flats and drove them off with
his rocket near-misses. A rifle grenadier on watch in a forward position engaged the returning tank but the grenades exploded without damaging the tank, and he sought shelter behind a huge boulder as the tank fired round after round around the boulder.
A second bazookaman came forward to help, but was wounded when cannon fire from the tank made a direct hit on the boulder, causing it to roll over the bazooka. A third bazookaman came up to help. He was tank buster Masao Awakuni.
He moved to a higher, more exposed ground, and his first rocket blast, a near-miss, forced the tank into a more vulnerable position, which enabled Awakuni to work his way closer to the tank. Suddenly, enemy machine-gun fire came from the slopes of Monastery Hill on the right. The first burst wounded Major Lovell, and the second burst wounded the rifle grenadier. Sniper fire also joined the machine-gun fire as men of the 100th darted from cover to cover. Meantime, Awakuni fired two rockets at the tank, destroying it, and the tank crew abandoned the tank and fled behind the houses. Awakuni was wounded in the sniper fire.
Men on the left flank began working their way up the terraced hill toward the houses, but a hail of enemy grenades came tumbling down on them. Trench mortars could not be used due to the closeness of the men to the enemy. Sniper fire started from the houses on the left as a rifleman boldly carried his wounded buddy down the hill to safety. Although they had charmed lives, another rifleman in an exposed position was mortally wounded by sniper fire. A marker shell landed on the slopes of Monastery Hill near the enemy machine-gun nest. As high explosive shells began zeroing in on the position, two gunners jumped up and began running down the slope to the safety of a farmhouse below. The second gunner was blown to bits amid the exploding shells. That silenced the machine-gun and sniper fire for that day. A week later, the Abbey was destroyed by Allied bombers. Major James Lovell won the Silver Star Medal for his heroic action that day, and Awakuni received the DSC Medal.
ANZIO – ROME
German bombers attacked Nettuno harbor nightly. Colorful tracer bullets arching upward, with anti-aircraft shells exploding above in the dark sky. Patrols going out by day to feel out the enemy positions. The outstanding exploits of Captain Young O. Kim and PFC Irving M. Akahoshi in capturing two German soldiers in broad daylight by crawling across no-man’s land to enemy lines, and bringing them back alive. Both men winning the DSC Medal for their courageous action, with Captain Kim already the recipient of the Silver Star Medal, won during a previous campaign. The breakthrough from Anzio and the truck ride to Rome, declared an “open city”, with no military action by either side. After spending
the night in the outskirts of Rome, the Battalion moved out of the city by truck, at night, crossing the bridge over the Tiber River west to the port city of Civitavechia. Next day, they found the abandoned railway gun that had been pounding Nettuno harbor earlier. The muzzle was as large as our steel helmet.
As the men of the 100th made bivouac nearby, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team arrived, and the 100th Battalion was attached to the 442nd, and the start of a new campaign began.