From Many to the One

Mortar Leader to Brigadier General: An interview with Edward M. Yoshimasu, Dog Chapter

Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, September- October 1980, vol. 34 no.5

Interview with Edward Yoshimasu who was a mortar leader turned Brigadier General after World War II

“My training was in communications. I had taken the infantry communications course at Benning. I hadn’t the faintest idea about mortars.” So it was that when 2nd Lt, Edward Yoshimasu reported to Anzio in May 1944 on his first combat assignment, he of course could not be assigned to anything but a mortar platoon – of Company D, 100th Infantry Battalion. And rather fortuitously for the young lieutenant, for Company D, and the 100th – the Germans shortly pulled out of Anzio.

Men sometime march to a different kind of drum. Where the 1400 men who made up the original roster of the 100th spent over a year in training, Eddie Yoshimasu came in as a replacement and stepped into a job for which he had no training at all. But to his credit, he was aware of the one particular distinction which sets an artillery piece apart from the mortar: where the first is loaded from the rear, the mortar has to be loaded from the front – its shell dropped into the tube! From such revelations are generals sometimes molded…but that’s getting ahead of the story.

The main lesson that Yoshimasu had time to learn at Anzio was to keep his rear end in a foxhole, well covered and camouflaged, because the Jerries commanded all the high ground and so had an unobstructed telescopic view of everything that moved on the Anzio plains. He and Dennis Teraoka had arrived in Anzio by way of Naples and the Caserta replacement depot. One of the first familiar faces they ran into at Anzio was that of Henry Kawano who was the headquarters commandant. Eddie recalls Henry’s first words of advice to the two: “Hey! You two better dig in!” This was a forewarning of the big shells which came crashing indiscriminately into the Anzio plains area each night, fired from the German’s biggest piece of artillery, referred to by the Americans as “Anzio Annie.”

Eddie’s platoon leader was Bob Taira but under the circumstance, there was not much that Bob could do to teach mortars to Eddie. Circumstances do change, however; they did, dramatically, at Anzio. After having been stymied by the Germans at Cassino for five months, the Allies finally broke through the Gustav Line in mid- May. At that, the Germans at Anzio had to withdraw to escape entrapment. So before he knew what it was all about, Eddie, had found himself, along with the rest of the Allied troops, in hot pursuit of the retreating Germans – up the Appian Way, past Rome which had been declared an “open city” and on up northward. “We were not exposed to any combat requirements,” says Eddie. “It was mainly a matter of keeping in contact with the retreating enemy.” The 100th finally came to a halt about 40 miles above Rome, at Civitavecchia: to rest, recuperate, regroup; to be joined by the 442nd.

At Civitavecchia, the 100th was attached to the 442nd, the 442nd to the 34th Division. For the 100th, much of the time was spent in training the 442nd.

Said Eddie to Bob one day, “Say, Bob, when am I going to learn to be a section leader? What are my responsibilities?” Under ordinary circumstances, such poignant questions coming from an officer could have led to the questioner being hijacked out of a unit, if not out of the army. And Bob must have mused that if this were ancient Roman times, Eddie’s butt end would soon have found its way into the jaws end of an African lion in the daily high noon show at the Colosseum. But being good friends, as Brutus was to Caesar, Bob replied, “Come with me to the promontory, Eddie, and I’ll show you how to 2ero in on a target with a mortar.”

Bob then led Eddie to a high point of ground and said, “See that tree over there, Eddie? How far do you estimate it to be from the mortars positioned in the back of us?” Eddie looked at the tree, turned around to gauge the distance from him to his gun positions, squinted his eyes beyond the tree to the next high ground, drew in his breath, scratched his head – “Fifteen hundred yards!”

“Aw, come on, Eddie,” Bob smiled; the smile of experience. “Not that far. It’s only about eight hundred yards.”

“Okay! If you say so!” Eddie snatched up the field phone, called in the azimuth to his gun squad, and barked out his orders in the most professional sounding voice he could muster; “Eight hundred yards! One round! Smoke!”

Within seconds came a confirming voice over the wire from the gun crew: “On the way! One round! Smoke!” Almost simultaneously came the sound of the 81-mm shell leaving the mortar tube. Poing!

A few moments later, the high trajectory shell hit the ground and exploded with a bang! A cloud of white smoke began to drift across the line of sight of the two standing on the promontory. Fifteen hundred yards away, the tree continued to sway in the light breeze, unchoked by any stinking smoke, its roots undisturbed by any quake on the ground. For the shell had landed only a few hundred yards in front of the two. They were stunned.

Eddie looked at Bob but he had eyes only on that distant tree. Hand on hip, right hand slowly stroking his chin, his gaze followed the white cloud as it dissipated into the air. There were no words from Eddie, none necessary. For Bob seemed to be in meditation; contemplating, perhaps, the lions of the Colosseum.

The rest and training at Civitavecchia was followed by campaigns at Belvedere, Sassetta, Cecilia, the Amo River, Castellina, Leghorn, and more. “You know,” says Eddie, feet propped up on his desk in his 6th floor office in the Federal Building where the interview was being held, “I can recall only a few of the names of the towns and places we fought in or passed through. I just don’t remember.”

It’s a two-room office whose cabinets and racks are crammed with literature about U.S. savings bonds. His secretary occupies the outer room. The phone rings but he has told her to pick up all calls. The clattering of her typewriter comes through to us.

Does he recall anything of the Bruyeres fight, the fight to rescue the Lost Battalion? “All I remember is the pressure was on from 6th Army down to corps, to division (34th), to the 442nd, I remember Lt. Boodry (Bn S-3) getting killed.

And our OP was usually well dug in so we were not exposed to fire as were the infantry troops, except when we were in a fast moving attack situation. The front line troops would call us for fire support. We used sound-powered phones, unless I could observe … but the place was full of woods.”

Then followed the “champagne campaign” in southern France. Asked what he did there, Eddie replied, “We were waiting for replacements hut we didn’t know this, of course. The mission we had in Menton was a static defense of the French/Italian border, to keep the Germans from coming into France. We had our mortars set into positions to fire on likely areas, zeroed in so we could fire if we had to. But during the four-month southern France period, we really did not do much. Francis Takemoto was the liaison officer between the 100th and the 442nd (at Nice). I remember him going up and down in a Jeep.

“Then when we got movement orders (following March), we thought we were going home! But instead we landed back in Italy, in Livorno, for the last push up the Po. That’s when we met the battalion staffs of each battalion of the 92nd Division. In this last push we suffered casualties but the Germans were pulling back. There was not that kind of heavy fighting as far as supporting fire was concerned. We were always at an advantage, occupying the high grounds. We could always see them.

“At the beginning when we jumped off, the 442nd pulled a real tactical maneuver that really surprised the Germans. You see, the 100th and one other battalion occupied the points of contact. The reserve battalion went around and way up, perhaps 500 yards inside the point of contact. On the morning of the attack, these guys were way up there, back of the Germans. So when the two battalions attacked, the Germans were almost cut off. You know, in good military strategy or tactics, the major organization commander always has a reserve. But the regimental commander used all three of his battalions, in a classic maneuver that surprised the Germans.”

The Germans had built strong fortifications along the narrow Ligurian coastline. The 442nd was on the extreme left end of the 5th Army line along the Ligurian coast; its mission – break that line. Which it did. As the entire 5th Army line moved forward, prisoners were captured by the thousands. It signaled the end for the Germans. They surrendered in Italy on May 2, followed a week later by the entire German apparatus. The war in Europe had finally come to an end.

“So my experience with the 100th was not glamorous at all,” says Eddie. “But there were certain incidents, like that at Cremona (about 50 miles southeast of Milan). As I recall, my section had direct support of Company B. Cremona was at one end of a mountain range and there was a tall church tower which looked down into the mountain range. Every time an Allied unit made an attack through the valley up into the range, it would be driven back by the counterattacking Germans who occupied the mountain heights.

“So I got instructions from my company commander to zero in my mortars right in front of Company B which was deployed in the valley. I zeroed in to just about a hundred yards in front of our troops. I told my gunners to prepare for firing all the rounds they had so that when I gave the order, all guns could keep on firing, until I gave the order to stop. I don’t recall whether the counterattack was company-sized but there was quite a force trying to dislodge Company B. I called for fire. I don’t know how many rounds we fired. But in the course of the heavy firing, the base plates of the mortars began to sink into the ground, causing the tubes to come up. And I never realized this was happening. In the midst of the counterattack, I saw mortar shells landing right in B Company’s area. I figured they were German’s – but they were my rounds! When I realized this, I told my gunners to cease fire. By then, the troops were, almost in hand-to-hand combat. German potato-mashers would come flying into our foxholes. Our boys would jump out of the foxholes, wait for the grenade to explode, then jump back in! The counterattack was beaten back.”

Declared Eddie, “This was the one engagement in which I was personally involved, responsible.” And he almost got himself killed in the process because when all had quieted down, his driver and communications sergeant suggested that they go and look for souvenirs off the dead Germans. So the three went down and as they were searching the area, a machine gun suddenly opened fire on them from the church tower. They could see the puffs of dust kicked up by the bullets splattering around them. They pulled out fast. Eddie was later informed that if the machine gunner had elevated his trajectory by two clicks of his elevating mechanism, all three would have been cut in half.

With the end of the war, the 100th’s mission turned from kill to search. POWs by the thousands had to be searched, the POW compounds secured. One time, Eddie searched a German colonel who was carrying a Leica camera. The enemy officer informed Eddie that the Leica was the best camera in the world and suggested that Eddie keep it. He did, and used it to take pictures on his way home. It is still in his possession today but needs servicing. New York is the only place where that servicing can be done but he is hesitant about sending it there because the colonel’s initials are engraved on the camera. And someone in the New York office may be curious enough to attempt to establish original ownership through those initials.

Eddie himself had a large wad of money so when Mits Fukuda, the 100th commander, inquired as to whether he would like to go on a week’s R&R to Greece, he readily assented. But as he was prepared to go, he found out that he was eligible to return home. So although he had a pocketful of money waiting to be spent, he opted for home. By ship to Hampton Roads and by rail across country, he finally made it to the West Coast, to be told at the camp he was in that there could be a wait of as much as 90 days before ship space would be available in Hawaii. With Eddie in camp were Francis Takemoto, Bob Taira, Dennis Teraoka and some others. When the others decided to go to Chicago, Eddie did not go along; his mind was set on returning home as quickly as possible. He then heard from a kotonk second lieutenant that there was a nearby airfield from which planes flew regularly into Hickam Field. With the help of the lieutenant, Eddie cooked up a bogus air travel order and flew home in November. He was discharged the following January.


In 1947, Bob Stevenson who was commander of the 298th RCT of the Hawaii Army National Guard asked Eddie to help him reorganize the 298th. Eddie was then working in public relations for HSPA. His office was in the A&B building downtown. He had misgivings about returning to the military: “I had had it up to my ears!” So he pushed off all of Stevenson’s Invitations to join the Guard. However, Steve (as Eddie calls him) rightly guessed where Eddie’s real desires stood. So he baited him, with the offer of a staff position. At which Eddie snapped; “I don’t want any part of it. I want line duty; command of a rifle company.” Which is exactly what Steve had in mind for him. So Eddie got his rifle company – Company A, 1st Battalion. “It was the first company to be reorganized and was in good shape within a year,” he proudly recalls. With A Company under his belt, Eddie was off and running in his new military career which, in March 1972, led to his appointment as commander of the 29th Brigade, with the rank of brigadier general. In 1974, he became the Deputy Adjutant General of the Department of Defense, State of Hawaii, then retired on September 1, 1976, when his five-year term was up.

To this day, Eddie looks upon Steve (retired president of First Insurance Company of Hawaii) as his benefactor as far as his postwar military career is concerned.

Eddie stayed retired for two years, then took on his current job as Hawaii State Director of the U.S. Savings Bond Program. His job is mainly promotional – the sale of savings bonds among employees. Sales in Hawaii total about $32 million annually. His territory also covers Alaska. Why Alaska? Well, that’s another tale involving reorganization which we shall not go into here.

As for Dog Chapter activities, he is currently vice-president; was president last year. He recently chaired the island-wide 1980 Dog Chapter reunion held in Honolulu.

Vital Statistics

Eddie was born on Maui 64 years ago. He is a graduate of Maui High and the U. of Hawaii; was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1939. During his long military career, he attended all of the designated military schools. He is a member of the Hawaii Army Museum Society and the Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin.

He married Fusano (Fuzzy) Fujimoto of Kauai in 1946. They have one son, Leslie, 31; a grandson Troy, 3; are expecting another grandchild in December. Eddie’s wish is for a granddaughter.


The interview had ended, my tape recorder put away. But in the saying of the goodbye, Eddie spoke of “my most satisfying experience” – an incident which occurred in February 1975.

A local Chinese man, a captain in World War II, was dying of cancer in St. Francis Hospital. To his dying day, he had been waiting, all of 30 years, for the army to issue him his well-deserved WW II Victory Medal. For some unexplained beauracratic snafu, the medal had never come through. It was not even available for purchase through the PX system because it was not restruck after the war. The army had been queried, explanations offered, promises made – but no medal. Now, the former captain would have to go to his grave without it.

It was at this point that Brigadier General Yoshimasu heard of the sad plight of the dying veteran from Reverend Lawrence Takao, chaplain of the 29th Brigade (also chaplain of St. Francis Hospital). Turning to the general, the chaplain asked, “You wouldn’t by any chance have a Victory Medal, would you?” The general replied that he probably did but if he had one, he wouldn’t know where it could be. However, reading the chaplain’s mind, he called his wife at the Honolulu Advertiser. “Say, Fuzzy, do you know where my medals are kept at home?” “They’re in a cigar box,” said Fuzzy. “Do you know where the box is?” She did. “You do? Great!”

It was quitting time, Eddie told the chaplain to call him at home in an hour. He swung by the Advertiser to pick up Fuzzy and on the way home (Booth Road, Pauoa) briefed her on the story told him by Rev. Takao. At home, Fuzzy quickly located the cigar box. There, lying in its original case, was the Victory Medal, like brand new. About that time the phone rang. “Yes,” said Eddie to the chaplain, “I have the medal. What next?”

The chaplain told Eddie to bring the medal to the hospital right away. Eddie said he’d like to shower first but the chaplain told him to come over as he was, dressed in his uniform. So Eddie hurried to the hospital and was ushered into the dying man’s room where his family and relatives were gathered.

After the introductions, Eddie bent over the dying man and pinned the medal on the man’s hospital shirt. The color of the man’s face was turning dark; he could not speak; his hands lay lifeless at his side. But to Eddie, his eyes told him that he understood what was taking place – and this was all that mattered.

“The medal was of no use to me. I was happy that I could do this little bit for him.” Shortly after he returned home, Rev. Takao called to let him know that the veteran had just passed away.

In the march of life, we are the multitude. A few, like Edward Yoshimasu, lead. But at the moment that he gave up his own Victory Medal, he was not listening to the voices of the many whom he had been leading for a greater part of his life. He heard only the muted drum beat of that solitary figure who was about to fall out of line.

This past May, the State Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW presented Eddie with its VFW Patriotic Citizen Award for his deed in 1975. The award is dubbed “The Good Guy Award.” “And I feel good about it,” says Eddie. Weil he should be.