Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, July-August 1982, v.36 no.3
Closing remarks given at the 40th Anniversary reunion. Ben Tamashiro describes why Tomosu Hirahara remains buried in France.
Club 100 Memorial Service Chairman, 40th Anniversary Reunion
Ala Moana Americana Hotel Sunday, July 4, 1982
As we come to the close of our 40th Anniversary, another milestone in the history of the 100th, may I take this opportunity to thank all of you, in behalf of the Club 100, for your participation in the festivities of the occasion. The anniversary could not have been possible without you.
Our thanks also go to the many friends who helped us, through their donations of time, goods, talent, wherewithal. They added much to the enjoyment and success of the celebration.
And last, but not least, to the many, many members who served on committees, spending untold hours putting this celebration together, and making it work … in behalf of your club, a great big Mahalo!
After a long series of injustices against them, the American colonists went to war against the British. And on this day 206 years ago – July 4, 1776 – the Second Continental Congress officially declared the independence of the United States of America. But the path to independence is strewn with the lives of patriots. Our time was 40 years ago.
Most of the boys killed in the war are buried in cemeteries near home but a few still lie overseas. One of them is S/Sgt. Tomosu Hirahara, Company B. He lies in France, in the Epinal National Memorial Cemetery, just outside Bruyeres. He was killed October 15, 1944; the first day of the battle for Bruyeres.
That was a little over two years after the 100th had left the states for oversea duty. Just before leaving, Tomosu had a chance to call his elder brother, Tom, who was in one of the military camps in the East. Tom caught a bus and arrived at Camp Kilmer as the men of the 100th were loading aboard trains for the ride to Brooklyn. Tomosu was at the head of his section going aboard when Tom came running up the station platform. Tomosu broke stride for just an instant. There was no time even for an embrace; just a handclasp. And as the hands let go, Tomosu called out, “I think this is the last time we’ll see each other alive.”
How is it that Tomosu still lies in Epinal? I myself asked the question when I visited the Epinal cemetery many years ago. But it was only recently that I came to understand the reason why.
Bruyeres is a small town up in the northeast corner of France, just this side of the German border. When France fell to the German onslaught in June 1940, it came under the absolute control of the invaders inasmuch as it was a strategic communications and transportation center. Four years later, another military force came to fight over the town – the 100/442.
In the forest above Bruyeres is an impressive memorial to the Nisei soldier. A modest one is set in the woods above Biffontaine where the “Lost Battalion” lay entrapped for a week until rescued by the 100/442. The memorials were erected by an appreciative people, in memory of the men who gave their lives fighting there.
But the memorials also stand for something else. After being under stern military control for long years, here came a bunch of loose and easy-going Americans, Nisei GIs, total strangers to the French, who carried no airs at being liberators or conquerors or rescuers. Their unadorned mannerisms and their attitude toward the people restored the people’s faith in humanity. They were once again masters of their own free will. That is the other side of those memorials.
And when they looked about them, they saw in Tomosu Hirahara’s grave another symbol of that transformation; a representation of all that was beautiful about how the Nisei helped them regain their sense of dignity.
So they asked Tomosu’s family if they would kindly leave him there with them; they would take good care of him. That request, however, nearly wrenched the Hirahara family in two; one group wanting to bring him home, the other wanting to accede to the wishes of the French people.
It was a time when the KIAs were being brought home to Hawaii. The side of the family arguing for Tomosu’s return was rightfully concerned that if he did not return with the rest, friends and others would think that there was something wrong about him. But within the family group, Tom had been closest to Tomosu. He adored his kid brother. He himself was ultimately to be assigned to the 100th, to the Medical Detachment. But by then, it was too late. Tomosu had been killed in action.
Now, that last handshake at the train station, and Tomosu’s parting words, were all that he had left. And when he came upon Tomosu’s grave in Epinal, somehow, his heart told him that this is where Tomosu himself would have chosen to be.
So there he lies . . . one grave, among the thousands of beautiful marble crosses row on row in Epinal cemetery . . serving as a kind of bridge between people halfway ‘round the world from each other.
Tomosu was the youngest in a large family of 10. His eldest sister, Mrs. Shizue Masutani, is here with us today. So is his brother, Ronald. And another sister, Mrs. Helen Morita, and her daughters, Mrs. Dale Evans and Mrs. Mamie Bradley and her husband. Tom, himself, passed away a few years ago. I would like to thank the family for permitting me to tell their story.
I bring you this account of Tomosu, just one of hundreds of such personal narratives needed to be told, because I feel that in time, the greater glory of the 100th may come to be – not the circumstances under which it was formed, or the heroisms and sacrifices of its members, or even the test of Americanism – but the fact that they were out to do a job the best way they knew how . . . and in the doing, reaffirmed a truth about independence, about themselves, about all of us: that under the skin, we are brothers all.
That is the significance of this 40th Anniversary.
Till we meet again, then – hopefully, at the Golden Anniversary – God bless you all.