McCoy memories: Hawaiian vets return to say thanks

Author: Barbara Rice
La Crosse Tribune, October-December 1987
Puka Puka Parades, October-December 1987, v.41 no.4

Newspaper article describing the vets visit 45 years later to Camp McCoy.

Forty-five years ago, a troop train loaded with American soldiers of Japanese descent arrived at what was then Camp McCoy.

Through the windows of the train the men got their first view of the post: rows of barbed wire fencing.

On Sunday, 40 of those World War II veterans, along with some wives and widows, came back. So did their memories.

The men were members of Company A of the 100th Infantry Battalion, a unit that had its roots in the Hawaiian National Guard and that went on to serve in Europe during the war. Conscripted as a result of the National Selective Service Act of 1940, these men were in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 that year.

For several months, the War Department in Hawaii wrestled with what came to be known as “the Japanese problem.” There were those, according to Mitsuyoshi Fukuda, a platoon leader in Company A and later company commander, who felt American soldiers of Japanese ancestry could not be trusted in Hawaii, “that some elements would commit sabotage.”

In June 1942, 1,300 of those troops were shipped from Hawaii to Oakland, Calif., and put aboard a troop train for an unrevealed destination.

“You can imagine that the boys were not very confident,” said Fukuda. “They had been shipped out under a cloud, questioning their patriotism. But we arrived quite sure that we would be demonstrating our patriotism.”

They did, serving with distinction with the 5th Army in the Italian campaign.

Sunday, the veterans photographed and shot videos of once-familiar terrain, noting that the firing ranges had barely changed.

However, Fukuda and his companions made it clear they were revisiting the area less to recall their military experiences and youthful social explorations than to express appreciation for the warm welcome they received 45 years ago.

They had left for the mainland under a shadow of suspicion, and with no knowledge of what was to happen to them. “The greatest part of the war,” said Fukuda, “was that the people of Wisconsin treated us like human beings. It restored our confidence.”

Fukuda said that although the Hawaiian troops later were transferred to Louisiana and Mississippi before going overseas, “our most pleasant visit was in Wisconsin.”

Sparta residents recalled opening their homes to the men of the 100th Infantry. Julia Middleman still corresponds with members of the 100th who were frequent dinner guests in her parents’ home.

Patricia Koji, Sparta, had a contact with the 100th of even greater impact. She married Kenneth Koji of Hilo, Hawaii.

As an expression of gratitude, members of Company A took part in a commemorative tree planting ceremony Sunday at the newly dedicated Constitution Park at Fort McCoy. It is not the first gesture of generosity demonstrated by the men of the 100th Infantry. In 1943, when Sparta was hit by a flood, the troops collected and sent money for flood relief. The city marked the gift with a plaque in its Memorial Park.

Today, the visiting Hawaiians were to meet with the mayors of Sparta, Tomah and La Crosse. The group then will travel to Washington, D.C., to take part in the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit on the World War II relocation of West Coast residents of Japanese descent.