Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, November – December 1979, vol. 33 no. 6
Interview with Kaoru Moto, a DSC medal recipient
“Although I had heard voices around, the machine gun nest had come upon me so sudden-like that when the German popped out of the hole revealing himself up to his waist, helmet on head, his back to me, I automatically pulled the trigger on my BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and shot him at point-blank range. I then grabbed him by the collar and yanked him out of the hole and saw that the bullets had gone through his neck and busted his jaw.”
Pfc. Kaoru Moto, 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 100th Infantry Battalion, was scouting the top of a ridge line along a rolling hillside near the town of Castellina, Italy, that early summer morning in 1944. Having signaled other members of the squad to follow him, he had assumed they were behind him so he was surprised when his platoon leader, Lt. Takeichi Miyashiro, called out, “Don’t shoot him. We need him for interrogation. What t’hell are you doing out here all by yourself?”
Only then did Moto realize he was alone. The blast from his BAR had brought Miyashiro running up to find out what the firing was all about.
“I knew there must be others, having heard the voices. Then another German stood up out of the hole. He was facing me. He threw up his hands and yelled out, ‘Komerad!’ I grabbed his light machine gun and shoved it barrel-first into the mud to prevent its further use. I was about to blast him, too, but the call from my platoon leader topped me.” Then, instead of getting a pat on the back for having knocked off an enemy gun nest, Moto was tongue-lashed for having taken off by himself.
But doing things his way seems to be in the nature of Moto. For instance, while in Kansas City on his way home from the war, he stopped at a bar for a drink. A sergeant sat on one of the bar stools, and when an Army colonel, his polished brass eagle insignia sparkling in the night light, stepped up to the bar, the sergeant jumped off his stool and
rendered a smart salute, the officer in turn returning the sergeant’s acknowledgment of rank
with a crisp salute in kind.
With that, the officer turned upon Moto. “Pfc., stand up and salute!” he commanded. Aware that there was no requirement for such an extended show of militarism in a public bar, Moto just looked at the officer and continued with his drink.
On a more intimate level, harking back to the days of having been born and raised in Camp 1 of the sugar plantation town of Sprecklesville on Maui, Moto tells of how he used to help with the family washing on weekends. The dirt, sweat and soot-stained working clothes were first boiled in a five-gallon can of water, the clothes left to bubble in the heavy soup of brown, lye-streaked chunks of laundry soap. It was a chore he did not relish. The result of the red canefield dirt all about them, even bed sheets first required boiling in the harsh and odorous soapy water. One day in a fit of rebellion he threw in extra chunks of soap in the hope of cutting down the time he had to stand over the backyard wood-burning stove, stirring the sheets around in the steamy can of water. But to his dismay, he discovered as he pulled them out of the
water that under the action of the stronger-than-usual detergent treatment, they had begun to fall
apart. The long tears and holes rendered them beyond any usefulness even as rag sheets. Moto
recalls getting a first-class scolding from his mother.
Moto’s father, Ryozo, had come to Hawaii from Hiroshima in 1888. That was only the third year since the start of the migrations from Japan, so Ryozo was in the vanguard of the mass of over 200,000 immigrants who eventually chose to make the long trip across the Pacific to Hawaii. He started work as a ditch man for Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company and later became a water luna. Because he was diabetic, he was later shifted to taking care of the plantation’s ballpark. Moto’s mother, Sugayo, also from Hiroshima, came to the Islands 10 years later. Strong and healthy, she did all kind of work on the plantation. After her marriage to Ryozo, she was also shifted to the ballpark to work with him. Moto recalls people telling him how good a worker his mother was and he reflect great pride in her accomplishment as he speak of her. She and Ryozo raised a family of three – Kaoru being the second, Fusayo the eldest, and Mitugi the youngest (who was also a member of the 100th, with Headquarters Company).
Talking of Camp 1 brings about vivid recollections of plantation life to Moto. It used to house Japanese and Filipino workers. There were about a dozen such numbered camps around the plantation, but the camp where the Portuguese people used to live was more commonly known as “Codfish Camp.”
Kaoru feel that his confinement and long servitude to plantation life are the result of his lack of education. Although he had wanted to continue with his education, at least through high school, he was put to work in the cane fields immediately upon completing grade school. He therefore railed against his parents when they found a way to send his sister, Fusayo, to Honolulu to attend the Hongwanji Japanese high school and sewing school.
Determined that his children would not be strapped in their endeavors for the lack of education, he has sent all five of them through the University of Hawaii-Manoa. The youngest is
currently finishing law school on the Mainland. As restless as the changes that were beginning to charge off every which way in the postwar period, Moto sought to abandon his plantation heritage. He came to Honolulu to see what he could find, but to his dismay discovered that he was unqualified for any meaningful job. Disconsolate, he returned to Maui, tried his hand at a menial job or two in Wailuku, then went back to the plantation, this time to work in the mill as a bagasse man rather than as a field hand .
Life, however, picked up somewhat upon his marriage, arranged by friend, to Violet Saito from Makawao, a little village situated on the lower slopes of Haleakala. He moved to Makawao and on the strength of his war record was appointed caretaker for the nearby Maui Veterans Cemetery, retiring in 1978 after having served 26 years in that position.
Evidence of his continuing postwar frustrations were his long bouts of drinking with friends. Often he’d go to bed drunk as hell but then would be awakened from his stupor by a trigger, a murmuring in his whiskey-soaked mind, that he had not lowered the cemetery flag at sundown. Now fully awake, he would drive to the cemetery and in the middle of the night lower the flag, only to return, sometimes only within the hour or two, to raise it again at sunup …
Dawn was just beginning to break that day on the 7th of July in 1944 when Charlie Company, after an all-night march, reached the little town of Castellina. Along with its neighboring village of Rosignano, it stood in the path of the 5th Army’s advance up the Ligurian coast (see map).
The Army’s report on the campaign to the Arno River tells of the fierce resistance put up by the enemy around the two towns inasmuch as they were the last favorable defensive terrain south of Leghorn. “The l35th and l68th Infantry Regiments
of the 34th Division began to advance across the flanking ridges,” reads the report, “and at the same time in the valley below, the 442nd Infantry attacked across a broader front.”
Capture of the two towns after about a week of intense fighting opened the way for the 5th Army to move toward the coast to Leghorn and north to the Arno River and Pisa, site of the famous Leaning Tower.
Moto was the scout leading his squad up onto the high ground around Castellina. Having come upon that first enemy machine gun nest and having killed the gunner and captured another of the enemy, he was then directed to cover the flank of a nearby farmhouse. Keeping his eyes peeled–“Actually, we were surrounded by the enemy,” he says-he saw a machine gun crew setting up a position down in the gully. He does not recall how many of the enemy there were in that group but he blasted them with his BAR and broke up that pack also. One of the enemies, however, escaped his fire, crept up the slope and from a distance fired at Moto, hitting him in the leg. Moto fired back at the lone gunman who disappeared. Then he sat back and bandaged his wound.
Nursing his injured left leg, he slowly worked his way down the slope to join the others in the platoon after being relieved of his position. Shortly, he spotted a group across the gully with a machine gun preparing to set it into place. He broke up that group with another blast from his BAR. One enemy soldier surrendered to him.
In all he had single-handedly destroyed three enemy gun concentrations and killed or captured a number of the enemy. For this effort he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), a medal second only to the nation’s highest, the Congressional Medal of Honor. The citation accompanying his award succinctly summed up the morning’s activity for Kaoru: “Private First Class Kaoru Moto’s exceptional courage, initiative and determination to destroy the enemy inspired confidence in his fellow soldiers, and his performance reflects the finest traditions of the Army of the United States.” .. .
When Moto came home from the war in April 1945, his father lay ill in Puunene Hospital. The most he had to say to his son about his homecoming was that he was glad. Hi mother was ebullient, weeping tears of joy and relief. In speaking of her, he recalls that she often talked to him about distinguishing oneself in life, of not being hesitant in taking credit for accomplishments, and making sure to leave a name behind; this unqualified self-conviction nurtured in the Japanese saying, “Tegara osele na wo nokose. ” To leave a name behind: in that challenge, perhaps, is to be seen part of his mother’s joyous tears for, besides the DSC for his singular performance at Castellina, Kaoru’s other medals include the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge, Distinguished Unit Badge, the Military Cross of Valor (Italy) and the Purple Heart. They tell of one man’s forceful participation in war. They can also be looked upon as a kind of tribute to the Ryozos and the Sugayos of the world who continue to trek their way to the horizons in a search to alter life for the better, for themselves as well as for those who follow them.