The Rescue Mission Of The Lost Battalion

(The following speech was given by Kenneth K. Inada, K Co., 442nd RCT, on June 11,2005 at the 6th Anniversary of 100th/442nd/MIS Memorial. Inada is a retired professor of philosophy from State University of New York at Buffalo. His teaching career began at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1969. He now lives in Henderson, Nevada.)

In 1946, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team returned to the United States and President Harry Truman had a dress parade on the Capitol grounds to honor the unit. His immortal words at the parade were to the effect: “You fought not only the enemy but also discrimination and you won both.” Now, the concept of discrimination is difficult to define and describe, but even more difficult to handle is the elusive question, how can one overcome discrimination? I do not profess to have all the answers but all I can say is that under wartime situations we had opportunities to realize human conditions that transcend discriminations of whatever type. They were extremely challenging situations but we were rewarded and enriched by encountering them in ways that are simply unique.

For example, I could refer to the rescue mission of the lost battalion as a classic case of humanity in action. Indeed, I wrote a short essay on exactly the same wording, “Humanity in Action,” which was written in 1995, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II. This essay was later included as an article in a book published in 1998 entitled, Japanese Eyes American Heart. It was my maiden work on the war for, like many combat veterans, I lived a very low profile life especially by not talking about my war experiences, not even to my wife and son.

In the essay, I describe two anecdotes under battlefield conditions after we had liberated the French town of Bruyeres. The first anecdote relates on how we acted as real human beings by allowing a German soldier, a messenger innocently cycling in the middle of a monorail, to escape completely free despite the thunderous barrage of fire by a platoon less than fifty yards away. Our aim was, in essence, carelessly directed all around him and not seriously at him.

The second anecdote occurred two days later in the thick forest across the monorail. Halfway up the hill, after knocking out a machine gun nest, the squad was ready to advance when a wounded soldier began to cry out for help. Suddenly, a huge German sergeant came bounding down the hill, jumped into the machine gun nest, lifted the wounded comrade on his back and began to ascend the hill piggyback, one deliberate step at a time. The movement was pathetically slow but no one in the squad had any idea of destroying this easy moving target. We looked at each other in utter silence as real human beings.

In the two anecdotes, we became real human beings by naturally realizing the human condition, pure and simple. No words or actions are necessary. The enemy was no longer a mere object to contend with, a hostile outsider, but became instead a pure relational object, an insider, intimately in touch with all of us. Or more graphically, the moment of existence was a singular public territory belonging to all. It is a rare experience, to be sure, but the irony of it all is that such an experience results from intense and uncommon situations and in our case it was prompted by the tense and sharp battlefield conditions where discriminatory attitude and actions no longer intervened. It is difficult, if not impossible, to describe this experience in solely rational or logical terms. These unexplainable moments are the makings of the deep silence harbored by combat exposed veterans.

After about five days of fighting and routing the enemy from this part of the Vosges Mountains, the commander of the 336th Division, General Dahlquist, gave us a well-deserved ten day rest near the town of Belmont. Our lives quickly returned to normal routine and activities. But on the second day, we heard bad news that a battalion of the regiment that replaced us was cut off and surrounded by the enemy. And so, after only two days of rest, General Dahlquist ordered us back into the lush, unfriendly forest. It was October 26, 1944.

On this rescue mission, the 100th Battalion took up the right flank and the Third Battalion the left flank with the Second Battalion following in reserve. I was in K Company, 3rd Battalion, and our squad occupied the extreme left position where we had to be extremely cautious not to slip down into the precipitous hill. With this formation, the whole regiment engaged the enemy yard-by-yard on Oct. 27 and 28.

Artillery shells were screaming and bursting on both sides. Our small planes were dropping supplies to the besieged battalion but we heard that much of the drops ended up in enemy territory. On Oct. 27, I saw a German tank destroyed by our boys and lay crippled near the bend of the country road. On Oct. 28, as the sun was setting, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Pursall decided to send back a 12-men ration detail for food, water and ammunition. That evening at 8 p.m. sharp when darkness fell, the ration detail started off retracing the path we had covered during the day with Staff Sgt Shiro Kashino as the leader and I, assigned by him, to take up the rear position.

Sadly, no more than 200 yards from the frontlines, the detail was subjected to a sudden artillery barrage that rained down through the evergreens and lighted up the whole area. Eight men died in the blast and only four survived with wounds. As you can see, I was one of the survivors and a few years back I learned painfully that I have the dubious distinction of being the only living survivor of that blast When I regained my consciousness and waited for Norman Kimura, another wounded survivor of K Company, to bring back some sulfa powder for my wounds, I listened to a most haunting and agonizing cries for his mother by a dying soldier. He kept repeating in Japanese, “Okaasan, Okaasan…” His voice became weaker and weaker and finally trailed into nothingness. In retrospect, it was another instance of feeling the depths of the human condition.

Norman Kimura and I walked back to the country road and down to the battalion aid station where the surprised medics treated us and sent us on a jeep back further to the field hospital near Belmont where we had started. I had to be operated on that night because gangrene was already setting in and my left arm flesh was ripping through the bandages.

It was a day and half later, on Oct. 30, that the 442nd RCT will link up with the lost battalion after an alleged “banzai charge” up the hill. Of course, I missed the chance to greet my relieved fellow Texans and to share a pack of cigarettes.

When the Vosges Mountain campaign was over, General Dahlquist assembled the division to express his gratitude to the 442nd RCT. Before the ceremony began, he noticed the small representation by the 442nd unit and asked Lt. Col. Miller for the reason. Col. Miller, with a very heavy heart could only respond in effect, “Sir, that’s all that is left of the men.”

The rescue mission was costly in many respects but it was also the defining moment of the 442nd RCT. Indeed, military analysts have later graded the rescue mission as one of the top ten best land battles fought in World War II.

I want to end my talk with a footnote. About a year ago, I joined the K Company tour of the battle sites in Italy and France. As you probably know, there were only Christian chaplains in the 442nd RCT. And although there were a number of Christian nisei soldiers in our unit, the vast majority came from Buddhist families. In France, the tour concentrated on the grounds covered by the unit in saving the lost battalion. Our tour organizer, Andy Ono, on our last stop on the bus, led us to the approximate area where the “banzai charges” were made. He thoughtfully brought from Hawaii a small cast iron praying Buddhist monk about eight inches tall and had his son, Ian, find a secluded and secure spot under the evergreens to place the praying Buddhist monk. Sadaichi Kubota of I Company lit up a few sticks of incense and after I said a few words about Buddhism we all recited three times, “Namo Amida Buddha (Glory to the Infinite Buddha).” Then, Sadaichi stepped forward and looking down the precipitous hill, called out loud and clear to our long forgotten fallen heroes, “WE ARE ALL HERE!” It was a most fitting and meaningful closure of our battle sites tour.