Jap-Americans On Firing Line

Jap-Americans On Firing Line by Relman Morin (The Associated Press) with the American Fifth Army in Italy, October 10 (Delayed)

The following article ran in the October 14, 1943 edition of the New Orleans States newspaper.

This army rang with praises today for the “guinea pigs from Pearl Harbor” – a unit of American infantry composed almost entirely of men of Japanese descent

It was the first such unit to go overseas and now has returned from its first active combat along the Volturno front.

Officers who witnessed the action were unrestrained in their admiration. They declared they never saw any troops handle themselves better in their first trial under fire.

The unit was in the line four days during the heaviest fighting through the mountains north of Benevento. It accomplished every assigned mission and took every objective, including one small but heavily defended village.

The men fought their way through a powerful concentration of German artillery fire and had what they called “duck soup,” clearing mazes of machine gun nests which the Germans always leave behind when they are forced to abandon a position.

Every one of the enlisted men is from the Hawaiian Islands. They average five-feet-four but their officers declare they can outmarch and outwork most ordinary troops. Only a few of their junior officers and their commanding officers are not of Japanese descent.

Guinea Pig Unit

Their motto is “Remember Pearl Harbor”, and they refer to themselves as guinea pigs – test unit. They probably are a criterion for the loyalty of all Americans of Japanese blood.

So they went into their initial combat with some special feelings. They had something special to fight for.

Captain Taro Suzuki of Honolulu, one of their commanders, said, “It was entirely our own fight as things worked out.

“We passed blown bridges where artillery support couldn’t follow and went down a curving road that cut us off from view of our own infantry. We ran into the fire of three machine gun nests first and took care of them.

“That kind of fighting is duck soup for these boys. They’re just naturally good at approaching a position – quietly and without showing themselves.”

Suzuki has been in the American army 16 years, 13 as a reservist and three as a regular.

Brave and Cool

Another of the guinea pigs’ officers who led them into action described them as not only brave and cool under fire but even cheerful. One mortar group that had been unable to advance owing to demolitions was kept under prolonged fire from German artillery without being able to reply.

“All they could do was sit there with shells blasting all around them. I went back to make a quick check of their situation and found them sitting around in an orchard eating apples and telling jokes. The whole bunch was laughing as though this was a picnic.”

One private pleaded to lead a group assigned to knock out a machine gun nest. A sergeant usually leads but this soldier begged so hard they let him go ahead in the assault

He is dead now.

“A shell burst right beside him and gave him a terrible wound in the head,” a young lieutenant said, “but before he died he somehow managed to retain consciousness long enough to give us complete information about the location of the nest – and we got it for him.”

Everybody is kidding Private First Class Shizuo Takeshige of Honolulu about being a “tenderfoot.” It seems the islanders, who even play football without shoes, are proud of the toughness of their feet.

Private Takeshige absorbed a lot of shrapnel from a German mortar shell. They dug it out of his back, arms and legs. Then he insisted on returning to action. However, one foot kept hurting him.

He couldn’t believe he was footsore. He removed his shoes and found another chunk of shrapnel imbedded in the tough skin of the ball of his foot.

One of the medical attendants of the unit, Private George Sakimi of Hakalau, and two soldiers were wounded by the same shell burst. Sakimi got to his feet first, stumbled to the other two, dressed their wounds and then was dressing his own when he fainted.

He refused to go to the rear until the commander made it an order. A few hours later he was back with the troops.

The “guinea pigs” passed their tests with the highest marks the army can give, their officers said.