When a battlefield commission was awarded in World War II, an enlisted soldier was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant because he had demonstrated leadership and there was a vacancy in the unit that needed to be filled. While there were other criteria such as appearing before a review board and scores on tests, the commanding officer could waive them at his discretion. In a combat zone, worthiness and necessity were the overriding considerations.
There were 30 enlisted men in the 100th Infantry Battalion who were awarded battlefield commissions. This was an impressive achievement for some of these men who had only attended school until the 8th grade. It was also indicative of the extensive training the men had experienced before leaving for Europe and of the battalion’s high casualty rate.
Because Army and government leaders initially did not know what to do with this segregated battalion of Japanese Americans, the 100th soldiers had been through more than 12 months of basic training and maneuvers – in Hawaii, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Louisiana. With an average age of 24 years, the enlisted men were older than the norm for infantry soldiers and on intelligence tests given by the Army, their average scores was just a few points below the minimum requirement for officers candidate school. In “Ambassadors In Arms,” Thomas Murphy noted that at Camp McCoy, at least two men were trained for every officer position. Enlisted men were invited to meetings of commissioned officers to give their input and relay information back to the rest of the men.
The 100th arrived in Italy with a contingent of about 1300 officers and enlisted men and entered into combat during the last week of September 1943. As casualties mounted, war correspondents began to refer to the 100th as the Purple Heart Battalion. When an officer was killed or wounded in combat, there was not a void of leadership – someone would take the lead. In her book, “Unlikely Liberators: the Men of the 100th and 442nd,” Masayo Duus wrote of a time during the Rescue of the Lost Battalion when the 100th’s commanding officer, Gordon Singles, assembled his company commanders – two second lieutenants and two sergeants.
Three of these officers were killed in action. Ross Fujitani, Tetsu Ebata and Masanao Otake. Considered one of the most promising young officers in the battalion, Otake had been wounded twice before he was killed in the Vosges Mountains of France.
List of Battlefield Commissioned Officers
2nd Lt. Tetsu Ebata (KIA)