Memories: From Colli To Cassino

Memories: From Colli To Cassino By Saburo Nishime

It was evening when the 100th Infantry Battalion rode up to the town of Colli from our rest area below Hill 600 near Santa Maria Oliverto. Col. Marshall, the commanding officer of the 133rd Regiment, heartily welcomed Capt. Fukuda to Colli. Col. Marshall, known for his waxed spike mustache, was one who believed in the 100th Infantry Battalion.

The Battalion started up the hill and somewhere, part way up the hill, stopped for a few days’ rest and break. This was around Thanksgiving. During this break, the machine gun section of our second platoon happened to be in front of an Italian Farm House. It was not occupied at that time so it was a most welcome temporary shelter for our machine gun section because of the cold wet weather. This Farm House was mostly used by the Italian farmer when he worked his farm on this hill. Capt. Jack Mizuha came by and he approved our temporary occupation of the house, although everybody else was camped out in the cold wet weather.

For Thanksgiving, our Mess supposedly had a special treat for us, which was steak sandwich. As it turned out, the steak was too salty to be eaten. The story was that one of the Dog Co. cooks salted the uncooked steak. Later, another cook came by and, not knowing that the raw steak was already salted, added another dose of salt. That ruined the Thanksgiving dinner.

While we were still at the Farm House, one of the riflemen of F Co. came by on his way down to the medics in the rear. He had “accidentally” shot himself in his hand. When something like this kind of self-inflicted “accident” occurs from time to time, there is always the suspicion as to how that “accidental” wound came about.

Our machine gun section finally had to give up the comfort of the Farm House and move up to where our second platoon section was attached to Baker Company. While we were following along with B Co., we came across machine gun fire coming from the top of a steep hill. This machine gun, firing down upon us, temporarily held up our second platoon machine gun section and prevented us from following Baker Co. Capt Mizuha came upon us and asked if we could find this German target to shoot at. At Capt Mizuha’s suggestion, Bolo Masaki and I set up our machine gun behind a rock, which was barely big enough to cover our “okole.” Looking up through the short brushes covering the steep hillside, we couldn’t see anything to shoot at. The German machine gunner, sitting at the top of the hill, could look and fire directly at us. The Germans must have been wondering what we were trying to do down there. Seeing the impossibility of our machine gun position, Bolo and I pulled back to a safer location. Meanwhile, Capt Mizuha went forward; and the word soon came back that Capt. Mizuha had been hit by the same machine gun that was firing down at us. Capt Mizuha managed to walk back on his own; and as he passed us, he said “Carry on, men.” That was the last we saw of Capt. Mizuha in combat.

As soon as the German machine gun stopped firing, our second platoon machine gun section moved forward to catch up with Baker Co. When our section finally caught up with Baker Co., a few of the Baker Co. wounded had pulled back from the front line where it was engaging the enemy. One of the riflemen had the entire left side of his jacket torn up by a German automatic weapon. The rifleman managed to kill the enemy. As it was in a number of similar situations in the past, our machine guns could not be actively committed in the area where Baker Co. was in contact with the enemy. While with B Co. at Colli, our machine gun section was in a location along a stone wall; and the Baker Co. members came back to this area to take a break from the immediate front line.

When we first got to this area, we could look back and see the Germans high up on the hill. The enemy’s interest was not with us. Bolo and some others took their rifles and started shooting at the Germans in the distant hill locations. After a while, Bolo gave up firing, realizing that the rifle firing was ineffective. The Germans on top of the hill were concentrating on other units of the 100th Bn. who were attacking from the other side.

From our location, it was difficult to know how the front line ran. Way below us in the valley roadway, we could hear and see the German screaming meemies firing on the unit of the 133rd which was attacking up the valley toward Scapoli. One morning, a platoon sergeant from Baker Co. came back to this rear area to get some relief. He described fighting off a large German counter- attack. One of his riflemen moved up to the forward slope to get a better advantage and, with his automatic rifle, took on the counterattacking Germans and just mowed them down. The platoon sergeant continued to describe the battle and said, “You know it was our own supporting artillery shell, falling short, that finally killed the rifleman who had killed so many enemies.” The platoon sergeant went on to say that it was awfully lucky that his right flank held, beating back a large group of counterattacking Germans in that sector.

Mikio Hasemoto, KIA, and Allan Ohata, both of Baker Co., received their CMH for this action at Cerasuolo, Italy.

The area where Dog Second Platoon was located was fortunate that there was no artillery or mortar shelling. Nevertheless, there were other adverse elements we soldiers were up against. While in Italy, we always wore woolen clothing, summer and winter. We were issued a rubberized raincoat that kept sweating on the inside. Under that kind of condition, we were always wet inside when we wore the raincoat, so if it was not raining, we never wore the raincoat. The weather that winter was always wet and cold. Our leather shoes did not keep out the water in the cold weather. This resulted in a lot of us developing trench feet I kept a pair of change socks next to my body to keep them dry. Some of the guys who took their shoes off for relief, etc., often found that they could not get the shoes back on. I remember one case where the Medics had to come and pick up a rifleman whose feet were badly swollen. The Medic recognized the rifleman and announced to everyone around, “Hey, look who I picked up – Crapeater!” All old timers would know who Crapeater was. This was the longest period I went without a shave, sporting a growth of heavy black beard. One of our officers took one look at me and remarked, “You look worse than that Hitler man.” Too bad I don’t have any snapshot showing how I looked in all my bearded glory.

The others in our platoon’s machine gun section were with another company in a higher area of the Colli hills. The word that we got from those platoon members was that everything was a maze of confusion. The platoon section was led by a brand new lieutenant who never had previous combat experience. Not only the combat conditions but also the adverse Italian weather were just too much for this brand new officer. So we all presume that he took the best alternative – he “accidentally” shot himself in his leg. We never heard from this officer again. One unfortunate member of this machine gun section, Kiyoto Mori, took a direct hit from a mortar shell in his slit trench and was killed in action. Sometime later, I met up with Hisashi Kuwabe, who told me that his company had 21 KIA in the battle of Colli Hills.

Chaplain Yost was very much against bringing down the KIA members draped over the bodies of animals. So, always, a detail was organized to carry down all the 100th Inf. Bn. KIA members. Talking with Motoyoshi Tanaka, he said he was a member of a litter team in the hills of Colli and they carried the heaviest KIA member.

The French troops relieved the 34th Div. at Colli. A day before they took over, a representative of the French came by to look over the area they were to relieve the 100th Bn. He was shown a bouncing baby personnel mine that was sown in this area.

The 100th Bn. retired to an area near Alife for rest. I finally had a good chance to shave off my heavy black beard. Izuto Okamoto and I went on leave to a rest center in Naples. Izuto was suffering badly with trench feet and didn’t have any chance to look around and about the second day, he went on sick leave and never returned to Dog Co. While in the rest area, I had one chance to go on a trip and took the tour to Pompei. My main recollection of my Pompei visit was the red light quarters. By the size of the beds, the people of this period seemed to have been pretty small. In the red light brothel, there was a covered painting of a male which the guide did not show to the mixed group (men and women). I happened to have a chance to look at it.

The following day after Izuto reported to the Medics for his trench feet, I went to the Medics for the same problem. The doctor hospitalized me but after several days, my trench feet got better and they sent me to North Africa to a convalescent camp, which consisted of quonset huts. Capt Mizuha was still recuperating in that camp and he came over to see me. He commented, “Let’s go back and raise hell with the Germans.” I made it back but Capt. Mizuha went home and got a medical discharge. I never met him again.

Staying in the same quonset with me was Hideshi Niimi of Charlie Co. His comment about Colli was that the German snipers never miss. I also remember that Niimi received a Xmas package from his family in Hawaii containing pine nuts, which was supposed to be a delicacy in Hawaii. Today you don’t see pine nuts in the stores in Hawaii. There was a Mexican soldier in our hut and he commented that where he came from, they call it Indian nuts and the Indians harvest them to sell. I don’t remember Niimi sharing the pine nuts with us guys.

While convalescing in North Africa, Chicken Miyashiro was also there. In talking stories with him lately, I found out that we went back to Italy at the same time and rejoined the l00th Bn. at Cassino. Miyashiro received a field commission to 2nd lieutenant the moment he returned to Charlie Co.

From North Africa, we came back to Italy by ship or a large landing craft. Sailing through the narrow Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy, all the ships pass through slowly in single file. The Italians in small boats were all out in the strait with all kinds of goods for sale.

I reported back to Dog Co. and spent the first night with our mess personnel. They were located in front of a battery of 155 artillery cannons. Every time the 155s fired, man, it really shook me up. The following afternoon, I went forward and had my first glimpse of the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino. The Abbey on the top of the hill made a lasting impression on those who first witnessed it. Dog Co. was then located on the side of a steep hill. The town of Cassino was located up forward and below our location, and Monte Cassino was located up on a forward hill. My 2nd platoon was located on this forward hill, below the Abbey.

I stayed on with Dog Co. headquarters as a runner. Others assigned to this unit were Lt. Pluite, who was in command. He was in command of Dog Co. until the end of the war and beyond. Martin Tohara was the 1st Sergeant and Alikoki was the regular company runner. Most of the shelling directed at us at this location was the German screaming meemie rockets. They seemed to be coming from somewhere behind the Abbey. Due to the steepness of the hill, the screaming meemies always seemed to skim just over our heads and all hit the road at the bottom of the hill. Alikoki was dispatched back below the hill to pick up goods for Dog Co. At the bottom of the hill, he came across two soldiers who had just been killed while standing guard over their unit’s supplies.

Sgt. Harumi Mende came over one morning and informed us that the Abbey would be bombed. A squadron of B-25s came over and bombed the Abbey out of existence. Today, the Abbey has been rebuilt and is more beautiful than ever. I have my doubts that the Germans were even using the Abbey as charged by the Allies. Soon after the bombing, the British made an attack on the Cassino. The night the British were to attack, we were notified about the impending attack. The following morning, we found the whole area covered with smoke and the artillery was continuing to fire more smoke bombs. We received word that the British attack had failed and the smoke screen was covering the withdrawing British troops.

In the battle for Cassino, Masao Awakuni, one of the 100th Bn. bazooka specialists, knocked off his second tank with his bazooka. Awakuni is probably the only bazooka specialist in the U.S. Army to knock off two tanks with a bazooka. For the first tank Awakuni knocked out with his bazooka, he was awarded the Bronze Star. A Bronze Star for knocking out a tank with a bazooka? That’s asinine!! Among the old timers in the 100th Bn., Awakuni is the No. 1 hero and most deserving of a Congressional Medal of Honor. During the early years, the Club 100 asked Awakuni if he wanted the club to submit a request for an upgrade to CMH and he declined.

The remnants of the 100th Bn. finally pulled back from Cassino to a rest area near Alife. From there the Battalion moved to San Giorgio near Benevento; and here the Battalion received the first replacement from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.