Keynote Address by Young O. Kim

Author: Young Oak Kim,
100th Infantry Battalion, Headquarters
Puka Puka Parades, July-August 1982, v.36 no. 3

Keynote address given by Young Oak Kim at the 40th Aniversary Banquet. He shares his experiences during World War II.

Tapa Towers
Saturday, July 3, 1982

The Program Committee requested that my topic be the wartime exploits of the 100th. The ultimate compliment must be when your wartime buddies ask you to tell war stories. I am honored and flattered that you are willing to listen to my version of how we won the war.

What I have to tell about our experiences will be as factual as my memory permits, but my judgments of these events will be tampered by my subsequent experience as a Battalion Commander during the Korean War and my years as a faculty member of Army Service Schools where time was available to read many studies, some classified. My comments will be limited to personally known facts which have been verified by others such as: then Major Casper (Jim) Clough, Colonel Gordon Singles, General Charles Pence and many others. In combat under great emotional stress, every participant has a different version of what occurred, and oddly enough every version is true.

In praising the 100th, I do not wish or desire to leave the impression that I endorse war in any form. With the nuclear threat that exists today, war is unthinkable. Support for a strong national defense posture only makes sense when it serves as a deterrent to war.

In my opinion and in the opinion of many others which included such high ranking officers as General Charles Ryder, the 34th Division Commander, and General Mark Clark, the 100th from sometime either just before or during the battle of Cassino in January 1944 till the fighting at Biffontaine in France in October 1944 was the best offensive Battalion in World War II. This time span takes in many units and could be challenged by many. It was my privilege recently to read only one entry in Reverend Higuchi’s World War II diary. In this entry, he is bemoaning the extremely heavy casualties taken by the 100th in Biffontaine and he concludes with this statement, “Maybe now the 100th will no longer be the miracle battalion and now be reduced to being just another great unit like the rest of the 442nd”.

These following comments are addressed to the non-combatant wives and others present. Unfortunately, among combat veterans, like those in this room, there is a great reluctance to talk about their true combat experiences. These are too painful to recall so true war stories are not even discussed among themselves, let alone, to a non-combatant who cannot even begin to remotely relate to such experiences. But there exists a special camaraderie among wartime friends who shared these dreadful experiences, and, so we gather together whenever possible, such as this gathering tonight. We talk about the odd and funny incidents and embellish them with every retelling. Because of this natural reluctance to talk about war, and, because war movies and stories glamourize [sic] war and give false impressions about war, studies have indicated every second or third generation of youth is ready to go to war again.

Front line combat conditions must be as close to hell as can be created. Continuous exposure to the elements alone makes life miserable. Even an ordinary pleasant day can become unbearable when hiking endless hours, carrying heavy weapons, ammunition and food with very little else. Extra items cannot be carried for personal comfort for it would make you too tired to fight and endangers your life and the life of your friends. But nice days are rare. It is too hot or too cold or too wet and all too often all of these in a 24-hour period. Sleep must be gotten whenever the situation permits which is not often. Food must be eaten also whenever possible. Lucky when conditions permit heating food for only too often there is very little food or water. Now add to this physical discomfort the constant fear of death or painful disabling wounds. In the Korean War, I witnessed many small units so paralyzed with fear that they were pinned to the ground as effectively as an entomologist pins dead bug to a board. They stay there, when staying there will only result in death. I never witnessed or heard of this happening in the 100th. Also picture if you can, close dear friends dying or seriously and painfully wounded and not being able to go to their assistance — what a helpless feeling. These deaths or wounds are often horrible: not as portrayed in movies. This grim picture gives you only a slight understanding of battle. Battles are often of short duration, but very violent. This is dictated by the amount of ammunition a soldier can carry. Contrary to this picture, are the peaceful conditions that prevail just before a big battle. There absolutely is no movement and no noise since neither side wants to reveal his positions or intentions. The silence is eerie. Then when the battle begins, the noise, exploding shells, confusion, dying and wounded and seemingly almost total chaos, is hell. Combat is not fun and games and glory.

Under these conditions, my earlier statement that the 100th was the greatest offensive combat battalion gains added significance.

What do I attribute for this greatness.

(1) First and foremost is because every soldier had a real purpose for fighting besides fighting for the United States against an evil government. They wanted to prove they were loyal Americans, and they and all their kin folks deserved to be treated accordingly.

(2) 2nd, they were upholding the honor of their family and the honor of the Japanese American community.

(3) 3rd, the unusual high intelligence of everyone regardless of rank, and no dilution of qualified personnel.

(4) 4th, there was little previous military experience so we had no preconceived idea of how to fight World War II. We were not mentally set in concept to fight World War I.

(5) Finally, we had superb leadership at every level — from Squad Leader up. For example, recently in making a spot check of the Killed In Action list of the combined 100/442 for the Nisei Veterans Reunion Booklet, I happened to notice that of the many Haole officers all but three were members of the 100th. Only three names were unknown to me. Two of our officers were “C” Company Commanders – Kenneth Eaton and Harold Ethridge. Another interesting factor was that at all times Nisei Officers made up 50% of the 100th officer complement. Somehow all Nisei Infantry Officers who were graduates of the University of Hawaii ROTC Program were assigned to the 100th, except for Bert Nishimura who was the lone Nisei Line Officer still with the 442nd when they arrived overseas. All the others had already been sent to the 100th as replacements. At Cassino, all our Rifle Company Commanders were Nisei — Mits Fukuda, Sakae Takahashi and Richard Mizuta. Our Nisei officers never ordered their subordinates to attempt anything they themselves cound not or would not do, and, in excessively dangerous situations, they personally led their units.

Now to relate some of the specific exploits of the 100th and personal experiences. I will tell the truth as I knew it and name individuals after all these years. My first realization of what the 100th was doing as a unit was in the Battle of Cassino. Just prior to Cassino, I was assigned as the Battalion Intelligence Officer – a position for which I was woefully inadequately prepared.

This battle was a revelation. I witnessed for the first time clashes of will and very strong differences how a battle should be fought among higher commanders, and learned that tactical orders can be questioned and sometimes negotiated. Also, that some of the tactics and almost all employment of supporting weapons left much to be desired. On the night of our initial attack, a rolling artillery barrage, the type used in WW I, was used and it was totally ineffective.

During the first daylight hours, our battalion observation post started with 26 individuals including the artillery liaison team, communication people and the intelligence section. By nightfall only four of us were left. Major Clough, our Battalion Commander, and myself in one location and PFC Ginger Minami and PVT Irving Akahoshi in another location, 20 yards away. Everyone else was either dead or wounded.

That night Jim Clough was ordered by Colonel Marshall, the 133rd Regiment Commander, to commit “B” Company across the open flats at daybreak. Jim protested that this was a suicide mission. Lt. Colonel Moses, the 1st Battalion Commander, to our right had orders to also commit his reserve company. He, also, protested and said he would personally lead his company because he could not issue such an order without sharing their danger. However, if he survived, he would prefer court martial charges against Colonel Marshall. I cound [sic] not believe my ears. Here were three West Pointers at complete odds over battle orders. Jim continued to refuse to obey, so at midnight he was relieved of command. We both took this very hard, since this was Jim’s second loss of a Battalion Command. Jim had successfully led a battalion through the entire North African Campaign, but was unjustly relieved when all commanders from battalion up, including the division commander were relieved in the 1st Division because some troops tore up a city while on pass.

Major Dewey, the Regimental Operations Officer, upon arriving to take command and after making an assessment of the situation, called Colonel Marshall and told him that their earlier evaluation was wrong. Clough should be restored to command and the daylight attack called off. Marshall stuck to his orders. Dewey asked Mits Fukuda to come back and lead him across the flats for a personal reconnaissance. Jack Johnson accompanied them. The rest is history. Jack was killed and Dewey severely wounded. Jim Clough was again made the Battalion Commander. Lt. Colonel Moses was killed the next morning while leading his reserve company. Sakae Takahashi led “B” Company on that senseless assault across the flats.

In subsequent attacks further to the right, the 34th Division succeeded in crossing the Rapido River. Under the leadership of Jim Lovell who had rejoined us from the hospital and again later under Jim Clough, the 100th reached the walls of the castle below the monastery and 168 reached the monastery walls. This was the closest any allied units came to capturing these two key structures until these buildings were captured five months later despite many subsequent assaults. The 100th and the 168th did this without being permitted to either shell or bomb these defensive fortresses. Maybe we might have taken them if we could have shelled and bombed them. The 100th withdrew from the castle area with less than 15 to 20 men and one officer per rifle company.

While at Anzio, where we all had too much time on our hands, I decided to make a thorough record check of the men in my intelligence section. To my surprise, Ginger Minami the section leader had the Lowest IQ score of 127. This is astonishing when only a 110 was required to qualify for officer candidate school. His score placed him in the upper 107 of the population. I then had the next lowest score. Everyone else had a score of over 140 – placing them in either sub-genius or genius class. That quickly ended that project. I turned my attention to more important problems. How to harvest the ripe artichokes on the other side of the minefield, and how to coax a cow closer so that we could eat some fresh meat. By enlisting help from all that brain power we regularly ate fresh artichokes and fresh beef — a more rewarding project.

On my only trip to the rear near the beaches for a shower, I learned how concerned General Ryder was about the welfare of the men of the 100th. Some of our men were using concussion grenades which was forbidden, in a small stream trying to catch fish and eels. The noise attracted my attention so I headed in the direction of the explosions to see how many fish had been caught. Also, attracted by the noise was General Ryder who happened to be in the vicinity. He arrived on the scene from another direction just a few moments before me. Everyone suddenly became motionless. He ignored the illegal fishing and asked me what the vegetation was that some of the men were gathering. I explained watercress. He expressed his concern that Army Combat Rations did not provide fresh vegetables and seafood which the men must sorely miss. He then questioned me about the quality and quantity of the rice available and whether there was an adequate number of small size boots coming through normal supply channels. He had requested General Clark to send all small boots coming into Italy to the 100th and explained the entire 34 Division rice ration was being funneled to the 100th. He then stopped to talk to almost every man before wandering off. Everyone sighed with relief.

The Anzio Beachhead had two German defensive fortifications. One on the flat area where the opposing forces met and the second high up in the surrounding hills. The 34th, as one of the units committed on the front line, so only supported by fire, the breaching of the first defensive ring. The 34th was later committed to take the pass through the Albino Hills near Lunivio to permit the 1st Armored Division to make a dash for Rome. Two regiments of the 34th failed to take the pass. Late that same afternoon, General Ryder arrived at our headquarters and stated the pass must be captured the next day, and knew the 100th could. The next morning at 6:30 AM the 100th attacked and by 10:00 AM had almost captured the pass when we were halted in our tracks by heavy friendly artillery fire. What appeared to be another 100th victory suddenly turned into a 5 hour nightmare. Every half hour we were assured by higher Headquarters

that the guilty unit had been identified so it was safe to resume our attack, only to be fired on again. After 1:00 PM we refused to attack again. The guilty artillery unit was never found. Packed into the small Anzio Beachhead were 7 Divisions and over 1,000 Corps and Army artillery pieces. The pass was captured as dusk fell.

You probably wonder how one lone battalion of 1,000 men could succeed where two Regiments consisting of six battalions failed. First, at the most only four of the six battalions were probably committed to attack. General S.L.A. Marshall the brilliant Army Historian made many studies during WW II. One of his findings was that only 10 to 15 percent of the front line soldiers actually aimed their weapons at the enemy and fired. Many just fired into the air to later show that their weapons were used. The majority never fired their weapons were used. The majority never fired their weapons. Whereas, in the 100th over 90% of our men took aim and fired in the direction of the enemy.

So the 100th was easily the equivalent of 4 battalions based on Gen. Marshall’s finding. Not only did our men fire: They also relentlessly advanced towards our objective.

After joining up with the 442nd North of Rome, the 100th truly set records. On the first day of battle together, the 100th at Belvedere earned their 1st Presidential Unit citation. This is equivalent to a GI unit earning a DSC. Ordinarily a successful attacking unit is deemed to need a 3 to 1 numerical advantage. In this case the 100th was attacking a crack SS Motorized German Battalion. The 100th suffered 11 casualties – 4 dead and seven wounded while inflicting the following losses on the enemy.

178 killed 20 wounded 73 captured

Captured or destroyed were:
46 vehicles
5 tanks
3 artillery pieces
1 self-propelled Howitzer
2 anti-tank guns

In the Battle of Sassetta, the next day the 100th lost only two – Lt. Ethridge the “C” Company Commander, was killed and 1 wounded, while killing over 150 Germans.

The 100th went on to successfully capture every main objective of the 442nd until the fall of Leghorn, taking extremely low casualties. A remarkable record.

We had finally begun to learn to properly utilize and combine fire power and maneuver while taking full advantage of terrain and large numbers of general support artillery battalions. We no longer automatically put two companies forward attacking and one in reserve, and battalion no longer attached weapon sections to rifle companies. We changed our weapon mix and expanded our communication and vehicle capabilities. We developed a unique and very effective way to conduct a night attack. We knew at all times where our own soldiers were, so even in the dark all our weapons were directed at the enemy. I was never successful in selling this concept to the Army because it looked too complicated on paper. Anyhow, probably no other unit could have executed it.

In late August, the 442nd, minus the 100th, went to Florence with II Corps, while the 100th was assigned to the IV Corps. In spearheading the IV Corps crossing of the Arno River just East of Pisa, the 100th faked the German out of their socks and crossed literally unopposed. It was the craziest river crossing to witness – everywhere were discarded brand new, just issued, gas masks that were so poorly designed that to wear it endangered a soldier’s life. The 100th soldiers were decked out in colorful Italian sport shirts, worn Hawaiian style, with numerous colorful summer parasols waving in the bright early morning sunlight. These items were just liberated the night before from abandoned factories that were in the middle of No Man’s Land.

The fighting in Northern France was radically different. It was cold and it rained constantly. This was the coldest winter in Europe in 40 years. The hills were covered with a thick pine forest and the ground was covered with heavy under brush. Visibility was limited to 10 to 15 feet. We were subjected to constant artillery shelling which burst at tree top level, raining down shrapnel. German MG positions were impossible to locate. Thus we integrated tanks into our attack.

Of even greater concern for the 100th from a command point of view, a view shared by Colonel Pence, the Regimental Commander, were the totally wrong information and crazy orders issued by General Dahlquist, the 36th Division Commander. A condition made worse, because, he never believed anything we told him to the contrary. He was personally a brave man but a dangerously ambitious man who sought personal glory and who cared very little for subordinates’ lives. Much of the tremendous losses suffered by the entire 442nd can be attributed to his poor leadership. He violated every principle leadership and tactics.

In making final preparations for the last successful assault on Hill “A”, we cut off all communications to everyone at higher Headquarters to avoid talking to Dahlquist. Hill “A” had to fall before Bruyeres could be liberated. General Dahlquist insisted there was only a token number of Germans defending Hill “A” and only our timid assaults prevented its capture. We knew better from previous ordered unsuccessful attempts. When the hill was taken over 100 Germans were captured and over 100 automatic taken. These weapons were delivered to the 36th Division Headquarters. A wasted gesture. We suffered only two wounded attacking in our own way on our own time schedule.

That night while sheltered in Bruyeres after being promised two days rest, we were ordered at midnight to attack Hill “C” at 9:00 the next morning. We planned and worked at a feverish pace till 0900. Five minutes before 9 o’clock the Germans attacked the 100th’s positions from where our own attack was to be launched. This required major last minute changes, but the attack against Hill “C” began on time. Five minutes after 9:00 the enemy positions on Hill “C” were breached and 50 Germans were captured and the hill from where we launched the attack was abandoned to the Germans. The 100th completed the taking of Hill. “C”. All this brilliant effort was negated when we were ordered against our wishes to leave Hill “C” later that afternoon by Dahlquist. Hill “C” had to be retaken by the 3rd Division at great costs.

The capture of Biffontaine, 7 miles behind the German lines two days later placed the 100th in an untenable position. The 100th was forced to abandon the commanding heights it captured 5 miles behind the German lines and capture Biffontaine over our vigorous objections. This put us beyond the range of friendly artillery support and also beyond range of all radio communications

for a worthless tactical objective. The attack was finally made on Biffontaine after receiving several promises from Dahlquist. None of which materialized. We later had to fight our way back from Biffontaine. We took heavy casualties because in one day of fighting we were extremely low on ammunition and in 3 days of fighting were without food and desperately needed medical supplies. We went into Biffontaine as the best unit in Europe, and came out with only one officer per rifle company and very depleted ranks.

In my opinion, a Lost Battalion was inevitable from the way Dahlquist was operating, and, of course it happened. The 100th/442nd had to rescue the lst Battalion, 141st Regiment while suffering four times the number of casualties than the number of men we rescued.

My memories of France still show the bitterness burnt deeply into my soul. Later, Gordon Singles, while filling a Brigadier General’s position at Fort Bragg, refused to publicly shake General Dahlquist’s hand at a full dress review in the presence of the entire III Corps. Dahlquist was then a visiting 4-star General. He preferred remaining a Colonel than to shake Dalquist’s hand even though he asked forgiveness. Years later after he retired, General Pence could not mention Dahlquist’s name without his voice shaking with anger.

You men did not know of these command differences and performed unbelieveably in the face of the determined enemy at Cassino, Anzio and in France. There was never a question of whether the 100th could take an objective. There was only the question of how soon was its capture needed. The more time available to the 100th meant fewer casualties among our own men.

I salute those veterans who are here. You have every reason to be proud of yourselves. I hope these grim stories from the past spur you in your twilight years to cherish friendships made then and also cause you to remember all those promises made to our lost comrades and to ourselves over 35 years ago of how we were going to improve the quality of life for our community. We owe them all this.

Thank you for having the courtesy of listening attentively to my war stories.