Hiro Higuchi

When the 442nd completed its training and was shipped to Italy to join the 100th Battalion, Higuchi was given the rank of captain, working closely with the Nisei unit’s two other chaplains — Israel Yost, who was assigned to the 100th, and Masao Yamada with the 442nd’s 3rd Battalion.

The 100th/442nd suffered heavy casualties in Italy and France, which deeply affected Chaplain Higuchi. After the historic rescue in late October 1941 of the 36th Infantry Division’s 141st Regiment in the Vosges Mountains of northeastern France — often referred to as the “Lost Battalion” rescue — the 100th/442nd was down to less than one third of its authorized strength.

Higuchi himself endured heavy shelling and gunfire. In letters home to Hisako, he wrote about the senseless brutality he witnessed. He commented on how ironic it was to see ruthless SS (Shutzstaffel — Hitler’s private guard) killers who had murdered unarmed civilians without remorse suddenly cry for their mothers when captured or wounded.

Higuchi’s son Peter said his father was a changed man when he returned from the war two years later. “His hair had turned white, he smoked and he swore once in a while. He swore for about two years. I remember this because before the war, he never swore,” Peter said.

Higuchi, who earned a Legion of Merit award during the war, spent five years visiting the families of the men who had been killed in action, while also working to build up his Waipahu Church. By 1950, he was so troubled by the emotional demands of the job that he wondered if he should continue his life as a minister.

“It was as if he were [the biblical] Job,” daughter Jane recalled. “It was the testing time of his faith.” Then, on a cold winter’s day at Oberlin College, where Higuchi had returned to pursue his master’s degree in theology, he felt God speak to him and resolved to continue as a minister so he could help others.

Upon returning to Hawaii, he accepted a ministerial position at a small congregational church in Waimea on the island of Kauai. Higuchi was not especially excited about the job. Much to his surprise, however, the two years (1952-1954) that he and his family spent there were extremely fulfilling. As pastor, he not only doubled the church’s membership, but rallied the community to build a public swimming pool.

He then accepted an offer to become the pastor of Pearl City Community Church on Oahu. Higuchi’s ministerial work allowed him to not only preach from the pulpit, but to maintain his ties with his beloved 442nd veterans by enlisting their help to build new churches. The men would turn out on Sundays by their 442nd company and with donated supplies, a new church would go up in no time. Higuchi became so adept at building churches that the men began calling him “Colonel Superintendent.”

In the course of his career, he would build or renovate his churches in Manoa Valley, Pearl City, Waipahu and Waialua on Oahu, and in Lanai City on the island of Lanai.

In addition to his ministry work, Higuchi attended community meetings just about every night —participating in organizations such as the American Legion, U.S. Army Reserve, Lions Club, and the Hawaii State Board of Paroles and Pardons. Higuchi also served as the chaplain of Oahu Prison in 1955.

Even after retiring from active ministry, he served as an interim pastor at a number of churches, working with congregations of all income levels and ethnicities and oftentimes being called in to resolve disputes among the parishioners.

In his final days, Peter asked his father if he had any regrets in his life. “I should have become a minister sooner,” Higuchi replied.

Chaplain Hiro Higuchi died on November 10, 1981, and was laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl among his fellow 100th/442nd soldiers.

by Michael Markrich

Michael Markrich is a Honolulu-based researcher, writer and editor, who co-edited the memoirs of Chaplain Israel Yost with Yost’s eldest daughter, Monica. “Combat Chaplain: The Personal Story of the World War II Chaplain of the Japanese American 100th Battalion,” was published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2006.