Looking Back: Goro “Leighton” Sumida, A Soldier’s Soldier
Author: Joy Teraoka
Puka Puka Parades, April 2006, #06/03
Interview with Goro Sumida
Almost any day at the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Clubhouse, you will find GORO “LEIGHTON” SUMIDA holding court around the “square” table, talking story with the “boys.” Possibly, the table is laden with a variety of “ono” foods – chicken, stew, pupus, sushi and fresh caught fish – often brought by Goro. The flow of stories is an endless stream. Indeed, it has been suggested that Goro should write a book about his myriad life experiences. While listening to these stories, I felt Goro embodied the spirit of the soldiers of the 100th – courageous, daring, loyal, caring, generous with a sense of humor and a great deal of rascality.
For this interview, as I perused Goro’s high school album, paradoxically, I noted a photo showing a handsome young man impeccably attired in a suit holding a graduation diploma. Goro completed twelve years of study at one of Honolulu’s most prestigious Japanese language schools, Chuo Gakuen. In those days that was a noteworthy accomplishment. In his album, the photos were arranged with an artist’s eye for balance, composition and graphic designs. This artistic talent showed another surprising facet of his character. At Farrington High School, he and a couple of other students were asked to produce their graduating class diplomas using their beautifully handwritten calligraphy. An illustration done by Goro of the battles he fought as a member of the 100th appears on page 89 of Remembrances, 100th Infantry Battalion 50th Anniversary Celebration, 1942-1992.
Goro was born in Honolulu on March 19, 1920, the fifth son of CHIYOGORO and TOMO SUMIDA. As a young boy Chiyogoro came from Yamaguchi-Ken to join his older brothers who were in Hawaii. Interestingly, Tomo was born in Kauai in 1888, surely one of the earliest Nisei. The Sumida’s first-born was a daughter, who unfortunately died soon after her first birthday. The Sumida’s then had seven sons — HARRY, EDWARD, MAKOTO, RICHARD, Goro, HARUO and RAYMOND. His father managed “Sumida Camp” which was located directly across the Palama Settlement playing field. There Goro and his brothers were involved in all the sports — football, basketball, baseball, boxing, and swimming. With its facilities for all sports including a 25 foot swimming pool, Palama Field was an ideal place to raise these young athletes. They formed their own team calling themselves the “Sumida Express,” after their father’s trucking business which transported large items (toronko) to the ships coming and going in the direction of Japan. Palama Field attracted athletes from all over the city where they competed in many different sporting events. The Sumida boys took an active part in these tournaments.
As a young child, when Chinatown was struck with the bubonic plague, Goro came down with a fever of 105 degrees and almost died. But even then he was a “fighter” and against all odds, he survived. His mother often told Goro he was lucky to be alive. When Goro was about six years old he and his younger brother were sent to Japan to live with their grandparents for a year. During that time he also went to school and learned to speak Japanese. He is still comfortable with the language.
Of the seven boys in the Sumida family, six served in the military. The eldest son stayed back to help the family. Three were in the MIS and Korea, one was with the 1399, and one served in the China/Burma Theater. Goro was the only one with the 100th.
Asked how he got the name “Leighton,” Goro said that in Camp McCoy, Capt. JACK MIZUHA insisted all the boys have American names, and there Goro acquired the name “Leighton.” Orders were also given for the soldiers to burn or discard their
“omamori,” a sacred Japanese talisman to ward off evil and protect the wearer from harm. Goro refused to do this and secretly kept it in his wallet throughout the war. Miraculously, even under raining bullets and crossing fields of booby traps, Goro came out of the war unscathed and uninjured.
Although he could have been deferred from serving in the Army because he had an essential job with E. Black and Co., Goro volunteered for service on November 14, 1941 in the 298th National Guard unit for 18 months. However, when Japan bombed the Islands, those troops in the Guard were not released. They were compelled to serve throughout the war. Goro remained in the Army until August 1945.
At Camp McCoy he remembers the Hawaii boys astonished the Wisconsin WACs and nurses by playing football barefoot in the snow. The soldiers were impressed by the warmth and friendliness of the people in that State. By contrast, when the Nisei soldiers were transferred to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, the folks there were noticeably distant and the discrimination against the blacks shocked the Island boys.
From Co. E at Camp McCoy, Pfc. “Leighton” Sumida’s buddies were TAKETOSHI CHIGAWA, SABURO HASEGAWA, CHIKAMI “CHICKEN “ HIRAYAMA, YUTAKA INOUYE, and STANLEY TAKAHASHI. After Alife (Italy) E and F Companies were split up and their troops became replacements for the much decimated A, B, and C Companies. Taketoshi Chigawa went to C Co. as a platoon leader. Yutaka Inouye was wounded and Saburo Hasegawa , who lost his leg, was hospitalized. Three of them – Goro, Stanley Takahashi and Chikami Hirayama- went through the rest of the war together as members of A. Co.
To Goro, one of the toughest battles he recalls was at Colli when the 100th relieved the paratroopers who were unable to take the mountain. The 100th’s Companies, the 168th of the 34th Division and the 133rd were trying to take Hill 600 from the Germans. For eleven days the Germans had shelled the Allied troops day and night as they fought to defend their position. The 100th took three hills in three days, but the toll of deaths and casualties was enormous. Co. A lost 21 men. This is where SHIZUYA HAYASHI killed several Germans which resulted in his winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. Colli was also where the 100th won its first Presidential Citation.
Goro remembers grabbing eight bandoliers, maneuvering through “stock mines” and “bouncing babies” to deliver them to A Co. troops who were running out of ammunition. Going up the hill he saw one of the l00th’s men standing up dead behind a big rock. Another comrade was killed when shrapnel from an air burst went right through his helmet.
One night the Germans came in from the l00th’s machine gunners’ side and killed their two guards. Goro was also stuck behind a stone wall, shielding himself from the Germans because he could not dig a fox hole in the solid rock below his feet. The Germans above rolled down their hand grenades from the edge of the hill. B Co. took a beating. For the whole battalion, Goro stated, “We had only one platoon reserve – 40 people for three companies – that is only one platoon for three companies.” From the time the action at Colli took place, Goro and his buddies hadn’t eaten for several days. No Medics were available because they were already taking some of the wounded back to the Aid Station five miles away.
WALTER C. GORA of Co. A had been lying down wounded since 5 a.m. with a raincoat covering his body when Goro and Chikami volunteered to take Gora down to the aid station. However, Gora was a tall, 188 pound Japanese-Hawaiian while Goro and Chikami weighed a mere 114 pounds each. Goro and Chikami cut down two branches and devised a litter with their jackets. But Gora was much too heavy and tall and his legs kept dangling and dragging on the ground. They recruited three more guys to help and the five of them maneuvered their way down the trail marked by a log which, unknown to them, held a mine. As they went down, someone tripped the wire which should have caused an explosion, obliterating them. Luckily, the mine was a dud, thus saving the rescuers and wounded from being blown to bits.
Upon reaching the bottom of the hill they couldn’t find the Medics so Goro and Chikami crawled forward attempting to find the Aid Station. Finally, Goro saw a soldier from D Co. with a machine gun, protecting B Co. When Goro asked where the forward Aid Station was, the fellow answered, “Right here.” Dr. KATSUMI KOMETANI and ROY HATAKENAKA were there. Dr. Kometani recognized his injured friend, Gora, so he and Hatakenaka relieved the group and joined Goro in carrying Gora another five miles to the Aid Station. At the Aid Station, Dr. RICHARD KAINUMA advised Goro not to return to his squad as nightfall was already upon them and it would be wiser to go back in the morning. However, because Goro didn’t return to his squad that night, he was reported missing in action from A Co. (Fortunately, Walter Gora survived the ordeal. After the war, he lived in San Francisco).
When Goro set out to return to his squad, two Germans had sneaked up on the 100th’s machine gun nest and shot at two of the 100th’s guards. One was killed but the other was able to throw a hand grenade at the Germans, forcing them to scuttle back. Goro had sheltered himself behind a stone wall but discovered that another German was only three feet away from him. When the grenade exploded, the German, who had been carrying a heavy machine gun, hit the ground for cover. Goro then tried to scale the wall, leaving his rifle behind but carrying two hand grenades. The German couldn’t distinguish whether Goro was friend or foe, and commanded him to “Stoppo.” In the darkness, Goro pretended he was urinating. The German then turned around and followed the rest of the retreating Germans.
Goro began his arduous climb back to his own lines. His own men had been alerted so anything moving in front of them was a target and he had to be careful not to be shot by his own buddies. When he reached the top, he decided to chance it by making his way through the barbed wire then rolling down the hill. Just in case there were Germans in the area, he was ready to throw his grenade. When Goro finally got to the top, he saw a helmet rise up. Goro was just about to throw his grenade but stopped short when he realized the soldier was one of the 100th’s men. The other fellow almost fainted from the shock of possibly being blasted. He was Cpl. YASUSHIUCHIMA, later killed when the 100th counterattacked with only three men and he caught the full burst from a machine gun. It took Goro four hours to return to his unit. Goro will never forget what Cpl. Uchima did at that time. He told Chikami Hirayama and Goro, “I’m the Corporal – you two follow after me.” Unfortunately, he was immediately the one who was cut down. Goro says he’ll always credit the boys sticking together with “plenty of guts.” Also, he’ll never forget his 1st Platoon, Co. A – all were Acting Squad Leaders and Assistant Squad Leaders, who without hesitation were able to take over whenever their own Commanding Officers were cut down.
Goro related that the “Arabs” (French Army, 2nd Moroccan Division, French Senegalese) were sent in to relieve the 100th. Goro said the “Arabs” fought with their knives instead of guns. They also brought billy goats and wine with them. If they ran out of rations, they killed a goat and drank the wine. A gory tale was that the Moroccans would sneak up to the German lines, cut off and collect the enemies’ ears to string around their necks because they were paid by the number of ears collected. This practice was brought to a halt because they couldn’t distinguish between the haole American and German soldiers.
Goro earned enough points to return home after the fighting in France ended for the 100th. He did not have to return to Italy for the last push. Boarding the S.S. Mariposa which had been converted into a troop transport ship, He and his other 100th companions landed in Boston’s Buzzard Bay. A terrible storm prevented the ship from docking in New York Harbor.
After the war Goro worked as a tradesman for various Federal and State agencies. He also served as groundskeeper for the State airport In October 1947, he married GLADYS TOYOKO MURAI. Their children are MARK, SIDNEY and BEVERLY. Goro has been widowed for 2-1/2 years.
Today this warrior keeps on going – not a sign of aging or retiring to a rocking chair. He still lives life to its fullest, enjoying the company of the “boys” of the 100th. Goro’s interests are wide and varied. He is the embodiment of Yang and Yin – a sportsman, a warrior, an artist and an orchid cultivator. That is what makes his colorful life full and interesting.
Although Goro holds court with his buddies at the l00th’s Clubhouse several times a week “talking story,” he has rarely talked to his own children about his war experiences. It is hoped that one day he will share these precious memories with them and his grandchildren. It will surely be a treasured legacy.