Maj. James Lovell

100th Battalion vet Leighton “Goro” Sumida says, “The Major was a real gutsy guy. But the thing I remember, too, is he always stood up for ‘da boys. On the Mainland, if the guys get into trouble with the haoles and they get locked up in jail li’dat, he would go down get his boys out. He stayed with ‘da Hawaii boys and backed them up 100 percent!

“On one occasion, I remember when our company, E Company, was moved up to take over A Company’s place because they got shot up. We had one of the boys in the cornfield, wounded on the leg… (Lovell) got good scolding from the Colonel because he went off the road and into the bushes to go get the person in the cornfield. He picked him up and carried him back. The Colonel said, “You’ve got no business going out there! Next time let the medics get him!’ But that was the Major-all the men respected him.”

In another encounter near Aliffe [Alife], Sumida described how Lovell could inspire his men simply by example. Sumida, serving as a scout, and a (BAR) rifleman came to a bridge. “That’s when we first heard that ‘Screaming Meemie’ rocket,” Sumida recalls. A soldier under the bridge got hit and killed, but the men on the bridge, miraculously, escaped unscathed. “We was all hugging the ground under the rocket barrage, but the Major-he behind the corner eating fruits and smoking his pipe. He look at us guys, and said, ‘What’s the matter, boy?’ We were kinda embarrassed.”

Soon after traversing the bridge, the men reached a graveyard. Again, the shelling caused the men to dive helter skelter. Sumida recounts with admiration how Maj. Lovell simply stepped forward, drew his pistol, started firing toward the point where mortar fire was originating, and led the charge up the hill.

Lovell paid for his courage, having been severely wounded several times. In fact, he was hit in action near Aliffe and was in the hospital when Col. Turner was relieved of his duty and sent home. In Lovell’s place, Maj. James Gillespie took command of the 100th. Lovell recalls that one of the metal fragments from a Screaming Meemie had severed an artery in his upper thigh. Doctors had to tie off the artery and hope that circulation would restore itself. He could have easily contracted gangrene and lost his leg if it had not.

Other men were quick to describe their first-hand experiences with Lovell. Warren Iwai recalls the action at the especially brutal fighting at Cassino, “I believe (Maj. Lovell) was our battalion commander at the time. This was our second attack at Cassino. We were attacking toward the castle. Our company (C Company) was leading this column in the attack. We were under the cover of smoke shots. I was the point at that time. As I approached towards the castle, I saw a silhouette of a soldier in front of me. I thought, ‘What the heck? Who’s this soldier in front of me?’ There’s not supposed to be anybody in front of me except for the enemy! As I approached him, it was Maj. Lovell… and he was our battalion commander! What army in the world would you find the battalion commander in front of the point man in the attack? Let me tell you, you won’t find anything like that in any other outfit, where you’ll find the battalion commander out front like that, worrying about his men…”

Mike Tokunaga concurs with Iwai, citing at least three occasions where he personally saw Lovell fighting on the frontline. “Maj. Lovell was supposed to be in the back, at battalion headquarters. But he was right up front, in front of the combat guys.

“(At Cassino), as he was crawling across a terrace, the German machine gun hit him. We thought he was dead, because after he was hit, he didn’t move. (But) I think what he did was make the Germans think he was dead because he was in a wide open area. I remember that after darkness fell, we had to go pick him up, and he was breathing!”

Lovell describes that incident at Cassino. “Our job was to go from the back of the town, around the town. The 168th was supposed to come into the abbey. They were supposed to jump off ahead of us. But when we jumped off at 6 o’clock, hell, I could hear the shooting so far back I knew they’d never get there. The other battalion was supposed to come in from town level, but I never heard them at all. We were the only guys who got through. I had about three boys with me. “I got hit right after noon. I was hit in the leg. I was on the ground and this fellow with a machine pistol up in the castle got me on the back of the legs and one in the back.”

This time the injuries were too severe for even Lovell to return. The bullet to his back was lodged about 1/8th of an inch from his spine and could have paralyzed him. The bullet to his leg had crushed his calf bone, and Lovell was sent home on Feb. 8, 1944. His combat record speaks for itself: Unit Citation, Purple Heart with Cluster, Bronze Star with Cluster, Silver Star, American, African, European and Asian Theatre Medals, Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and 10-year Continuing Service (Hawaii National Guard) Medal.

Lovell returned to Hawaii and settled into civilian life with his wife, the former Wilma Reiko (Odo), their two sons and a daughter. He worked in a number of administrative positions in the building industry and wood products supply business. He was active in the Republican Party and church affairs. Through it all, his commitment to and concern for the veterans did not wane.

According to Lovell, the Club 100 veterans club was formed in 1942, even before the men went into battle. Each soldier agreed to pay $2 from his monthly paycheck. That money was sent back to Hawaii, where Charles Hemenway deposited it into an account at Hawaiian Trust. Lovell believes the club had accumulated some $80,000 by war’s end.

Lovell served as president of the Club 100 after the veterans returned from war. Japanese language school properties, which had been seized by the Alien Property Custodian after the outbreak of war, were in danger of being permanently forfeited. In January 1945, a group led by Robert Murakami formed the Hawaii Veterans Memorial Fund to accept the return of assets frozen by the Alien Property Custodian.

The Veterans Memorial Fund, which also provided valuable scholarships and other services to veterans, arranged for the Club 100 to acquire the old Japanese YMBA property on Fort Street near Vineyard Boulevard. After less than a year, the club obtained permission to sell the property. Lovell took the income from that sale and bought three lots on Kamoku Street. He also served as the chairman of the building committee. The completed clubhouse was dedicated on the club’s 10th anniversary in 1952 and still serves as the club’s headquarters.

Reflecting back, Lovell summarizes, “The men did an outstanding job. Probably as good as any troops could possibly be. But it must be emphasized that they didn’t win the war. I think that most of them accepted their honors very humbly. And I think their strong desire to live up to their motto, ‘For Continuing Service,’ is reflected in their personal conduct and the way they’ve conducted themselves in civilian life.”

The respect between Lovell and the men of the 100th is mutual. At a recent visit to the Club 100, one veteran looked up just as this writer was about to leave and said, simply, “You won’t find a single man with anything bad to say about Jim Lovell…”

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.

Pages: 1 2