Author: Ichiro Okada, C Company
The Garden Island, 4/1/1981
Puka Puka Parades, May-June 1981, vol. 35 no. 3
Ichi Okada writes of visiting the Presidio War Museum in San Francisco for the opening of a mjaor exhibit of the exploits of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442RCT and the memories that it triggers. A reprint of an article from THE GARDEN ISLAND, April 1, 1981 issue written by Ichiro Okada, a 442nd veteran. Permission to reprint granted by I. Okada and Mrs. Jean Holmes, editor of THE GARDEN ISLAND.
We stood tall and proud as the Army Band and Color Guard, with our battle colors, played and marched in front of us in parade. Tears rolled down our cheeks as cannons boomed and rifles volleyed, saluting us. More tears were shed as the haunting sound of taps was played by two buglers. It reminded us of our comrades who shed their blood and died on the battlefields of Italy and France.
What was the occasion? We were here at the Presidio War Museum in San Francisco on March 7 for a reunion and opening of a major exhibit of the exploits of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
MIKE MASAOKA, the very first 442nd volunteer, recalled that 40 years ago at this very spot, the commander of the Western Defense Command – a man by the name of DeWitt – said that “A Jap is a Jap,” and the fact that he has a piece of paper saying that he is an American citizen doesn’t mean a damn.
Ichi Okada, manager of J. Okada Store in Waimea, was a lieutenant in the 442nd and was one of the 560 Nisei decorated with a Silver Star. When he is not minding the store, Ichi can sometimes be found shooting down white water river rapids on the Mainland with his wife Elsie.
In spite of the fact that the Army intelligence, the FBI, and the Navy intelligence declared that there wasn’t a single incident of espionage by a citizen or alien of Japanese ancestry anywhere in the U.S. or the then – Territory of Hawai’i, which had been under actual attack by the Japanese enemy; and in spite of the fact that Navy intelligence and the FBI had said that there was no need to remove the Japanese population … because of this one man, DeWitt, the Japanese of the West Coast were removed to American-style concentration camps.
Mike continued that there are two ways to look at this tragedy of evacuation: 1) To be bitter about democracy and the racial prejudice or 2) To think of this as a mistake, made in time of hysteria – a mistake that under the American system can be corrected.
MOST AMERICANS of Japanese ancestry had a positive kind of reaction to ghe greatest wartime mistake in the history of our country. From the Territory of Hawai’i and the 10 concentration camps in the continental U.S. came the demand to serve and die for our country. We realized then that we had to PURCHASE the right to survive in this country as a citizen, not only for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children.
This positive demand resulted in the announcement by president Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 1, 1943, to actively recruit and accept volunteers into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In the meantime, the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawai’i went on to North Africa and Italy, where they fought and bled and died and proved that Japanese Americans are loyal.
Those who volunteered from the concentration camps remember that it wasn’t so easy to volunteer to fight even for one’s own country. Why? Our friends told us “How can you fight and die for a country that put you behind barbed wire?”
WHAT DID WE DO? As General George Marshall said, “The 442nd RCT and the 100th Infantry Battalion have earned more decorations than any other unit in American history for its size and length of service.” Though we were segregated into an all-Japanese American unit, we were able to prove ourselves as a unit and as a group.
Here are some statistics: One Medal of Honor; 52 Distinguished Service Crosses (Many of these should have been Medals of Honor); 560 Silver Stars, 28 with a second Silver Star; 15 Soldier’s Medals; 4,000 Bronze Stars, with 1,200 Oak Leaf clusters; and 9,486 Purple Hearts in token of battle wounds. These individual medals for bravery in saving fellow American soldiers and not for killing Germans.
The unit piled up seven presidential Unit Citations, an unheard of number in any other fighting unit. On top of this, there were 18 decorations from grateful allied nations.
IN MOST UNITS, under Army regulations, not more than two of the same family can serve together; yet, because we were volunteering, we had close to 100 family units in the 442nd. Mike Masaoka’s family had five, the Jinkichi Okadas of Waimea had four. Numbers like this went on and on.
Mike continued, the glory of the 442nd is not so much that it was comprised of Japanese Americans, rather, it is a saga of a generation of immigrant peoples from Asia with a culture alien to the U.S. whose parents were denied citizenship by the land of their adoption, who purchased with their own blood, as the late General Joseph Stillwell put it, “The right to be accepted as Americans.”
A group of Japanese American mothers from Watsonville, Calif., ages 74 to 92, stood and sang in a slight accent, “God bress America, rand of the free.” Oh it was very moving. I daresay there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.
DIANNE FEINSTEIN, charming mayor of San Francisco, welcomed us and said, “I think it is important that we all listen very carefully to what Mike has to say, because to forget the wartime evacuation of the Japanese is to permit the mistake to possibly be made again, and to remember is always to guard against making that same mistake.
“Everyone here is grateful that we live in a country such as America, a country that has the backbone and the fortitude to stand up and say, ‘Yes, we were wrong, and we will now redress our grievances’. I think that in itself is to sense the greatness of this nation.”
Spark Matsunaga, charter member of the 100th Battalion, and the junior U.S. senator from Hawai’i, was introduced. The introduction touched on his giving over 1,000 speeches to the people of the Midwest and the East, trying to convince Americans that Japanese Americans were loyal and that they deserved jobs. This was during the years 1944 to 1946.
SPARK REMINISCED that during his speaking tours he used to see nothing but white faces, till he came to a town in Minnesota, where he saw a Japanese face for the first time. He went up to the man, stuck out his hand and said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” The fellow looked up at Spark in all seriousness and said, “Oh, I am sorry, I am Dr. Tanaka.”
Spark further reminisced that during the welcome back ceremony at the White House for the 442nd and the 100th, President Truman said, “You fought not only the enemy, but prejudice, and you won.”
Dan Inouye, Mr. 442nd himself, and senior senator from Hawai’i said, “The 442nd had three different groups of volunteers: 1) The contingent from Hawai’i, 2)Those who demonstrated extraordinary loyalty and dedication to this country by volunteering from behind barbed wire, and 3) The non-Japanese–the officers of the regiment, who were all volunteers.
“THEY WERE ASKED if they would volunteer to serve with this strange outfit, and many of them decided to step forth, risk their careers, receive the ridicule of their fellow white officers, and volunteered to serve with us.
“It’s been said many times that soldiers alone do not win battles. You must have someone to lead them, someone to mold them into a fighting machine. Today, we have the sole surviving senior officer. I would like to introduce Col. Hanley.”
Dan also mentioned that the Army has selected the Lost Battalion Battle, in which we lost more men then the number of men we rescued, as one of the 10 most outstanding battles in the history of the U.S. Army.
AT THIS POINT, Mike Masaoka introduced the widow of the late Col. Charles Pence, our first regimental commander. He was a tough disciplinarian, and he loved us.
“I can never forget that after we had rescued the Lost Battalion, and after we had been decimated from 4,800 men to less than 300, the general of our division asked Col. Pence for a last charge from the 442nd against the enemy,” Mike said. “Col. Pence risked his entire military career when he stood up to the general and said, ‘No, my boys have had enough.”
I sobbed as I listened, and great tears rolled down my cheeks. Oh, how he must have loved us, and how he must have bled inside as he led us through the “valley of death.”
COL. YOUNG O. KIM, much decorated and fearless hero of the 100th Battalion, told the story of how our outfit came to be the elite of the 5th Army in Italy, and how the toughest mission became an ordinary job when we tackled it. Col. Kim told us this story:
On July 13, 1944, the 100th Battalion was pulled out from the 442nd and put to reserve behind the attacking 34th division in the campaign against the city of Leghorn, Italy. The orders were to be ready to move out at an hour’s notice. After the capture of Leghorn, orders came to the 100th to secure and guard Leghorn, and to allow no one to enter without orders.
The 100th deployed around Leghorn, with its main strength at the main highway and gate to the city. The reason for this order was that Gen. Mark Clark wanted to stop the looting and the wholesale stealing of property from a captured port.
A LONELY PRIVATE, no more than 5 feet tall, stood at his post. Along came a long line of army trucks and stopped in front of this private on guard. A colonel stepped out to him and said, “We are from the Engineer Corps. We are here to secure the port and make it ready for the ships to come in with the supplies. Let us through.”
So this conversation follows: “May I see your orders sir.” “I don’t have orders, I must get through.” “Colonel, nobody gets through without orders.” “ I can kill you right here and take my convoy through.”
The private drew a line with his foot, and said, “Colonel, you cross this line, you Make.” “Make? What is Make?” “Make means you’re dead. “We can take you; you are only one.” “You think me stupid? I am a combat soldier. You are now covered by many machine guns. Cross the line and you “Make!”
THUS, ONE SMALL private stopped the whole 5th Army convoy, here to do important business, just because a colonel did not have his orders. The repercussion of this went all the way to the top. The big boss himself, Gen. Mark Clark, came to Leghorn with his large following of newsmen and staff.
Hearing of what went on, Clark said, “Bring this private to me. I want to meet him.”
As the private came into his presence, Mark Clark, all 6 feet of him, put one arm around the private’s shoulder, turned around to the press, and said, “I commend this soldier to you. I personally selected the 100th to guard Leghorn because I knew my order would be obeyed and carried out. I can depend on the 100th to successfully carry out any mission. I have absolute faith in every soldier in the 100th. This private is an example of my trust.”
ERIC SAUL, curator of the War Museum, is the man responsible for putting together the 100th/442nd display. “During my interviews with you men,” he said, “I came across hundred of precious stories that should be put together in a book. Here are some of the stories.”
He told of Captain Henry Oyasato of F Company, arriving in Pisa with his men and causing quite a stir with the Italians when he said “We are going to fix that tower there so that it won’t lean so much and be a hazard to our troops.”
Saul also told of the story of a fort in Kansas, where 500 Nisei soldiers were one day, placed in a single barracks under lock and key and guarded by machine guns because President Roosevelt was coming for a visit.
WE WERE ASKED, “Did you know that the FBI was going through your mail and personal belongings during training?” There was still no trust even after we were in the Army.
Of course we laughed at the story of the Nisei who ran a restaurant in St. Louis. On Dec. 6, 1941, it was called Tokyo Restaurant. On Dec. 8, he changed the name to the All American Restaurant.
Spark told this story of his visit to see the Pope in Rome. He met this young Nisei soldier weighing over 200 pounds and over 5 feet 10. He had a jacket with the flaming torch and Spark had a jacket with the 34th division Red Bull patch. The soldier says, “Hey lieutenant, you from the One Puka Puka?”
SPARK SAID, “Yes, I’m from the 100th.” Then he said, “What island you from?” Spark said, “I was originally from Kaua’i, but now from Honolulu. What island you from?,” Spark asked.
“Oh me not from Hawai’i, me one kotonk from Chicago.”
So Spark said, “A kotonk from Chicago? how come you talk like a Buddahead?
“Oh, if I no talk like this,” the man replied, “I get dirty licking.”
Spark recalled another story when the 100th captured its first German prisoner. He suggested to the colonel that they send this prisoner back to the Germans with the message that Hirohito had double-crossed them.
SPARK TOLD of one of his proudest moments when a junior member of the House of Representatives approached him and said, “You were with the 100th Battalion. I was with the 456th Combat Intelligence Group, and I don’t have to take off my hat to anyone, but to you guys of the 100th and 442nd, I take off my hat.” “He bowed before me as if I were King Kamehameha,” Matsunaga related.
Dan Inouye recalled his company commander, Capt. Ensminger, a white officer from Honolulu, speaking in controlled anger, “We have received a notice from the state of Mississippi, that as long as the 442nd trains in Mississippi, it will conduct itself as WHITE soldiers.” The captain continued, “You are required to observe the laws and traditions of Mississippi as they relate to our relations.
“I know that you don’t like it. I don’t like it. That’s the way they do things around here. So while we are here, that’s the way its going to be. When you go into Hattiesburg, you will use the WHITE facilities.” He was choked with anger as he said it. “You have an additional battle to fight, to overcome discrimination thrown at you. What can you do about it? You can be the best damn soldiers this country has ever produced. The first battle will be a bloody one and a deadly one, and I expect you to fight this one with everything you’ve got.
IRONICALLY, Capt. Ensminger was the first casualty. He died on the first day.
Elsie says to me, “Ichi, I want to meet Dan and Spark.” I looked into her eyes and I see that she too is caught up in the charisma of these two men. The head table is surrounded by people, mostly children of veterans seeking their autographs. As Elsie and I make our way up to the dais and finally stand next to Dan, waiting, I look at the eager, adoring worshipful and silent faces just staring quietly and round-eyed into the faces of Dan and Spark, especially Dan, this giant of a hero, this Yankee Samurai, now a U.S. Senator.
(Damn, I forgot to take a picture of these faces looking at Dan. I was so emotionally involved myself, I completely forgot about picture taking. What a shot it would have been, with Dan in the left corner foreground and with the sea of faces in the background).
They know the story of Dan from listening to their parents, but let me relate the story to you who have not heard.
IT WAS THE ATTACK on Colle Musatello, in Italy. Dan’s platoon wiped out a German patrol and mortar observation post, and reached its objective, a bunker with three machine guns pinning them down.
Dan took out a grenade, but bam, he got hit in the stomach, a paralyzing, excruciating blow, which knocked him down. Somehow he got up, pulled the pin from the grenade, let go of the handle and counted three as he ran and threw the grenade into the bunker.
When the crew in the bunker staggered upright, Dan cut them down with his Tommy gun. His men ran up, and one of them said, “My God, Dan you’re bleeding from your stomach.” He had taken a shot in his gut and he was still full of fight.
CRISSCROSSING fire pinned his men down, but Dan lurched up the hill again and threw two more grenades into another machine gun nest. Then Dan fell. The pain was too much, his knees wouldn’t lock and he couldn’t stand. He pulled himself forward with one hand, and worked himself to the f lank. He pulled the pin out of his last grenade and drew his right arm back to throw it when a German grenade launcher smashed a grenade into his right elbow.
The grenade exploded and all but tore off his right arm. Dan looked at his right hand still clenching his own grenade and the safe handle by reflex action alone. As his men rose to help him, he yelled. “Go back.” He reached down with his good left hand, took the grenade out of his clenched right fist and threw it at the Germans.
Now, with all the pain shooting through his body, he stood up and with one hand controlling his Tommy gun he finished off the remaining Germans. But in the process, he took yet another shot, this time in his right leg, and he fell down the hill.
HIS MEN CAME running over to help him, but he yelled, “Get back up that hill! Nobody called off the war!” What extraordinary courage — courage beyond the call of duty. Our country should have awarded him the Medal of Honor instead of the Distinguished Service Cross.
Suddenly Dan noticed Elsie and me standing at his side. He stood up and faced us. I said, “Dan, this is my wife Elsie.” At this point Elsie slowly extended both arms and cradled Dan’s face gently and said “Dan, we are very proud of you.” She pulled him to her, and gently kissed him on his left cheek. It was a very tender, beautiful moment, and I felt especially glad for Elsie.
WE MOVED ON TO congratulate Spark. Spark, Elsie and I go way back to University Of Hawai’i days, when we boarded at the Okumura Dormitory and Spark and I served in the same ROTC company at the University. We both played vital roles in our company, receiving Best Company awards during my senior year. Elsie hugged him, and said, “You were wonderful, Spark.”
Spark smiled at Elsie, looked at me, extended his hand as we clasped, all he could say was “Ichi.” For Spark it was heartwarming to meet someone from back home.
On the van going from the hotel to the Presidio, one of the couples we met was none other than George Ozaki and his beautiful wife, Hattie. George kept all of us in stitches with his jokes. The guys continued telling war stories, and making fun of themselves.
BY THE TIME we reached the Presidio, the wives had heard enough to say, “We don’t see how we won the war with guys like you.”
We also met Mino Takashima and his charming wife Kisoe at the ceremony. Mino was formerly with K Company – 442nd, a tech sergeant and platoon leader who was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. The guys tell stories of his fearless leadership leading his men against great odds.
The surprise was meeting Robert Ouye , a Kekaha boy, now mayor of the city of Marina on the Monterey Peninsula in California, and his lovely wife Joan Yamasaki, also from Kekaha.
THE MUSEUM exhibits were excellent — sad and thrilling. Elsie, looking at the California evacuation pictures, shook with grief, and big tears rolled down her cheeks. “Ichi, look what they did to them. All I could do was nod my head, and wipe away my tears too. The pictures were stark, brutal, and degrading.
Elsie and I truly felt it was a rare and rewarding experience to have been there. It was good to hear all that praise of how loyal and brave we were. It was good to look back at a time when we walked tall and cocky and proud and with a bounce because we knew we were the elite. We knew we were something special. The elation at San Francisco was enough to give us “swell head.”
If you are ever in San Francisco, be sure to visit the museum. The downtown bus #45 takes you right into the Presidio and up to the museum at the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Funston Avenue.