A Colorful 50 Years Since War

This unique group of survivors continues to prove that “you only go when your time is up.” Eight members of the now-famous “Torpedo Gang” joined the 100th a few months after their Army transport ship, the Royal T. Frank, was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in January 1942 between Maui and Kohala. The Big Island boys were returning home after training at Schofield. (The story of the “Torpedo Gang” was detailed in the June 20, 1986 edition of The Hawaii Herald). The Big Island is still home to several of the “Torpedo Gang” members, including: Shigeru Ushijima, George Taketa, Tokimaru Takamoto, Yoshio Ogomori and Haruo Yamashita.

Except when prodded, most don’t like to say much in front of non-vets. James S. Maeda, an insurance executive and former counselor on veterans affairs, reluctantly talked about an incident in which he had heroically saved the life of a fellow soldier in a difficult situation. While slogging through knee-deep muck and mud in the battle for Cassino, Maeda stumbled across a fellow nisei soldier who had been badly wounded in the head. Maeda tried to help him, but the soldier kept begging, “Let me die.” Although he had no idea who the soldier was, he helped get the injured soldier to safety.

Months later, as Maeda himself lay recovering from a wound in a Denver hospital, he heard the incident being related by a nurse who said the person had no idea who his savior was. From subsequent conversations he learned the soldier’s name-Charles Shigeru Nakata.

Nakata eventually returned to Hawaii, earned a Ph.D. in botany, and married Maeda’s aunt’s sister. He retired from the University of Hawaii at Manoa as a plant physiologist. While working as a nurse at Kuakini Medical Center, Maeda’s daughter Lorri Taniguchi, discovered that one of the patients in her care was the same man her father had saved. Maeda and Nakata seem to share a karmic fate that continues to tie them to each other almost 50 years later.

“In those days we sure suffered a lot. But we had a job to do,” says Maeda. “There is no doubt in my mind that being in the war (and not knowing when we would die) made us grow up, fast.”

Most came home-some wounded, some aided by crutches-all eager to be discharged and to resume their lives like normal young men in their 20s.

And then, on April 1, 1946, tragedy struck Hilo. A killer tsunami hit the island. Motoyoshi “Moto” Tanaka still carries with him the nightmare of searching for his family and the horror of finding the bodies of his father, mother, niece and nephew in the debris. Nothing he had experienced on the battlefields of Europe could even come close to the paralyzing pain he felt at that moment.

The Cafe 100 was destroyed twice by tsunami-in 1946, and again in 1960. The Miyashiros relocated and restored the restaurant, which in the years that followed became one of Hilo’s most successful businesses. Richard and Evelyn’s daughters now run the enterprise with their mother, continuing to welcome, visiting veterans of 100th and their families from many places.

The men of the 100th remain active participants in a number of community projects. High school teachers often ask them to speak about their experiences. In their retirement many have turned to raising orchids and anthuriums. Some are still “scratch” golfers. Some are active in their respective Buddhist and Christian churches. One or two are now millionaires. But they’re really no different from the rest of their counterparts in Hawaii.

As the men from the Big Island prepare to journey to Honolulu for what some view as their “last big hurrah”-the grand 50th anniversary reunion-the “boys” are also making plans for their own special “post-reunion reunion” in Hilo. They’re looking forward to having their wartime spiritual advisor, Chaplain Israel Yost, join them for a reception at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. A visit to the veterans cemetery with the chaplain is also planned.

The widows of the soldiers have been invited to attend all of the events. For widows like Evelyn Miyashiro, it’ll be a time to remember the boys, “still so young”-just as they were captured on camera a half century ago.

This article appeared in the June 19, 1992 issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion. It has been reprinted courtesy of The Hawaii Herald, Hawaii’s Japanese American Journal and Robin Yamate Yee, daughter of the author.

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