Setting the Stage
The decision to send the 100th/442nd back to Italy to assist in the final drive to end the war in Italy was a carefully strategized decision that had been negotiated by General Mark Clark, commander of the 5th Army, and Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. By this time, other generals knew the combat record of the 100th, which had been in battle for 18 months, and the 442nd, which had nine months of combat experience under its belt. They also wanted the Nisei soldiers in their units.
The Gothic Line
In five months of fighting, the 5th Army had not been able to break through the Gothic Line, the last major German defensive line in Italy. To surprise the enemy, the three battalions of the 442nd were to create a diversion on the left flank of the planned offensive. They had to climb Georgia Hill at night for a dawn attack on that and several other fortified heights. The 100th attacked from the front, scaling a sheer cliff face in complete silence. Some soldiers recall seeing their comrades slip and fall, yet remain completely quiet in order to maintain the secret nature of the mission. As the 100th attacked from the front, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 442nd attacked the fortifications from the sides. The 100th/442nd was able to breach the formidable Gothic line in a little over 30 minutes while the main Allied forces started their assault further inland. Their actions earned the 100th its third Presidential Unit Citation, which was presented jointly to the 442nd for turning a diversionary measure into a decisive victory.
In the attack, Private First Class Sadao Munemori, a replacement who had volunteered from the Manzanar Relocation Center in California, was killed in action. He had taken charge of his squad after their leader was injured and had destroyed a machine gun nest with a grenade. When an enemy grenade bounced off his helmet, he covered it with his body to save his fellow soldiers. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor the following March.
Until the year 2000, Munemori was the only Nisei soldier to be awarded a Medal of Honor in World War II.
Assault on Aulla
As they retreated, the Germans had fallen back to Aulla, a strategically located town in the Tuscany region of Italy. This was the last major stand of the Germans in Italy, as nearly all of the remaining forces were trying to retreat through that area.
Task Force Fukuda, a special commando unit, was formed to crush the Germans in this area. As the 100th and 2nd Battalion cleared the surrounding hills, Task Force Fukuda, named for and led by Major Mitsuyoshi “Mits” Fukuda of the 100th, launched an attack to clear out the enemy at Mount Nebbione. Aided by 2nd Battalion of the 442nd, they captured Aulla on April 25. The 100th/442nd spent another week pursuing the enemy. By May 2, the war in Italy was over.
Major Fukuda was appointed the last commander of the 100th, becoming the first American of Japanese ancestry to command a battalion. He would later be promoted to executive officer of the 442nd RCT, another first in American military history.