Nisei ‘Purple Heart Battalion’ Earns Place in History

Author: anonymous
Publisher: VFW Magazine, March 2007
Puka Puka Parades, April 2007

Article in VFW magazine summarizing the history of the 100th Infantry Battalion after Pearl Harbor to present day

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, no unit in WWII had more to prove to a wary nation than the Nisei soldiers (second-generation Japanese-Americans) who made up the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). And of that group, the 100th Infantry Battalion has been regarded by some as among the greatest fighting units on the battlefields of Italy and France. In June 1942, the Hawaii Territorial Guard’s 298th and 299th infantry regiments were reformed into the first all-Nisei unit, the 100th Infantry Battalion. They chose as their motto “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

After training on the mainland, the 100th was sent to Oran, Algeria. By early September 1943, it was attached to the 133rd Regt., 34th Inf. Div. From there, 1,432 soldiers of the 100th landed at Salerno, Italy, on Sept. 22. Combat with the Germans came seven days later, along with the l00th’s first KIA, Sgt. Joe Takata. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the first of many to be awarded in the unit. The 100th helped push the Germans northward, fighting along the Volturno River to Monte Cassino and Anzio. Cassino was remembered as the toughest of all the battles in the Italian campaign. During freezing temperatures and rain, well-entrenched Germans, especially snipers, wreaked a deadly toll—48 KIA and 134 WIA.

By May 1944, the newly trained “Go For Broke” 442nd RCT had arrived in Naples, Italy. The 100th became its first battalion, though retaining its 100th designation. By then, nine months of heavy casualties had reduced the unit to 521 men, thus earning its famed nickname, “Purple Heart Battalion.”

By the end of September 1944, the 442nd was fighting in France in the Vosges Mountains near the towns of Bruyeres mid Biffontaine. After successful campaigns there, the 442nd’s next battle became its most famous—the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.” The 1st Bn., 141st Inf., 36th Inf. Div., had been surrounded near Biffontaine since Oct. 24. Hitler had sent orders to prevent any relief of the battalion despite attempts of the 141st Regiment’s other two battalions. On Oct. 31, after five bloody days and nights of continuous fighting in dense woods, the 442nd at last broke through to the “Lost Battalion.”

The 442nd was ordered back to Italy in March 1945. Its mission now was to help crack the German’s Gothic Line protecting the Po Valley. Employing a diversionary tactic, the 100th led a frontal charge against a well-fortified hill while the other battalions flanked the Germans. The battle lasted only 32 minutes. A massive U.S. offensive followed the breakthrough that eventually led to the end of the German army in Italy. By the war’s end, the 100th had earned eight Medals of Honor, 24 Distinguished Service Crosses, 147 Silver Stars, 1,703 Purple Hearts and three Presidential Unit Citations.

In 1947, the 100th was reactivated in Hawaii as an Organized Reserve unit. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, individual members were activated and attached to other units, but never served collectively as the 100th. During the Korean War, one member, Hiroshi Miyamura, received the Medal of Honor, and seven were killed. Nine members died in Vietnam.

In the mid-1950s, the battalion was uniquely authorized to wear its own patch, “Torch of Freedom.” It is the only battalion-sized Army unit allowed to do so today.

Preserving the Legacy: Since their first days of training in WWII, soldiers of the 100th had put aside $2 of each paycheck into a fund that, by the war’s end, had amassed to $50,000. In 1952, the 100th Infantry Battalion Association used the funds to build a clubhouse and an apartment complex in Honolulu. Today, by renting the apartments out, enough revenue is generated to cover all of the club’s operating expenses. Less than 500 members of the 100th are still living. Each September, near the date of its first KIA, the 100th along with other WWII Japanese-American veterans holds a memorial ceremony to remember those killed in the war.

The 100th maintains a strong bond to the current battalion and adopted the unit during its recent deployment to Iraq. Robert Arakaki, the 100th Association’s president, said his group was proud of the l00th’s service in Iraq. “They maintained our legacy,” he said. “And they did it from the heart” Sgt. Maj. Harold Estabrooks says he makes sure 100th soldiers stationed on Oahu contribute their time to activities at the clubhouse. “I want them to understand the heritage of the battalion,” he said.

That connection was most apparent during a funeral in December 2006 for Edward Harada, an original member of the 100th. Estabrooks’ soldiers provided the color guard and burial service. Harada’s son, Michael, who sits on the board of directors for the 100th Association, is determined to see that the l00th’s accomplishments are preserved. “It is fitting and proper that their descendants and America’s public remember what they stood for and did for their generation and all following generations,” he said. “It’s up to us to never forget their legacy.”