Fukuda Commanded Troops and Respect

Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Star Bulletin, 03/19/1988
Puka Puka Parades, April-June 1988

Star Bulletin article about the life and death of Mitsuyoshi “Mits” Fukuda

PUKA is a Hawaiian word meaning opening or hole. And because the numerical designation of the 100th Infantry Battalion contains two zeros or pukas, it lovingly became known to its members and associates as the One-Puka-Puka Battalion.

Early this week, a revered member and one of its wartime commanders, Mitsuyoshi Fukuda, died here in Honolulu of a heart attack. He was 71, an unexpected death.

Fukuda was one of the original members of the 100th, the first all-Nisei combat unit in the history of the U.S. Army, organized at Schofield Barracks in June 1942; a band of 1,400 young men who were in the Army either through prewar enlistments in the Hawaii National Guard or had been called into the service prior to Pearl Harbor through the national draft.

But they were now like pariahs because of their Japanese ancestry and the attendant question of loyalty that swirled about them, especially at that point in history, six months after Pearl Harbor, when the battle of Midway was being fought.

Should the Japanese win, its next logical move would be to strike out at the islands themselves. And if that circumstance should come about, would these boys fight for the land of their ancestors or the country of their birth?

AS IT TURNED OUT, the Japanese were repulsed at Midway, even as the 100th was being shipped to the Mainland. After long months of training there, the unit was sent overseas and fought in Italy and France with great distinction. It became known as the “Purple Heart Battalion” for its courageous battles at Cassino and was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that rescued the “Lost Battalion” of the Texas 38th Infantry Division at Bruyeres, France. It is recognized as the most decorated unit for its size in army history.

And when Fukuda became its commander towards war’s end in 1945, he was the first Nisei in the history of the army to take command of a combat infantry battalion. Earlier, at Balonga [Bolonga], he headed a task force — Task Force Fukuda — to cut the road junction at a place called Aulla. It was the first time that a task force had been named for a Nisei.

Fukuda was born in Waialua at a time when the plantation workers were beginning to bestir themselves because of their low wages. The family was kicked out of the plantation for having joined the strike, which was then being staged by the Japanese workers against the plantation.

Fukuda was only 3, but he remembered the time because the family had to hike its way into Honolulu. His father was an immigrant from Japan who became a carpenter, his mother a picture bride who came to Hawaii about a year later. He was the eldest among three sisters and a brother.

At the University of Hawaii, where he majored in agriculture, he took ROTC but his reserve commission as a second lieutenant had to be held up until he had severed his dual citizenship which, until that moment, he was not aware of.

FUKUDA BEGAN his postwar career with Castle & Cooke as a personnel relations assistant and at the time of his retirement several years ago had risen to become vice president of industrial relations, probably the first Nisei to assume such responsibilities in one of the Big Five corporations.

He had a high regard for Alexander Budge, past president and chairman of the board of Castle & Cooke. Whereas Budge was “Alex” to most everyone, to Fukuda he was always “Mr. Budge.”

When the 100th Infantry Battalion left Honolulu Harbor in June 1942, no one knew its destination. A week later when it landed in Oakland, Fukuda got the surprise of his young life when, among other things, he saw white people doing stevedore work on the docks. In Hawaii, such work was mostly done by Japanese, Chinese or Filipino laborers; white people were in supervisory and management positions only. It created a lasting impression upon him. “This struck me as being different,” he told me in a recent discussion. “All through my visit through the United States, I was impressed by this difference. And when we returned to Hawaii, my conviction was that the local boys had performed very well overseas and now that we had come back to Hawaii, we should be able to hold our heads high and be assuming managerial and professional positions in Hawaii.”

Club 100 is the postwar organization of the veterans of the 100th. Fukuda served two terms as president and last year he led a large contingent of veterans on a sentimental visit to Camp McCoy, Wis., the first training camp of the 100th on the Mainland.

At the time of his death, he was chairman of the club’s long range planning committee working to incorporate the club into the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce’s proposed Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. And in an irony of sorts, the board of directors had only last month decided to honor him for his long years of service to the club.

In another irony, the family had just come together the past week preparatory to going to Kona to celebrate the yakudoshi, or 41st birthday, of Pat, the second son. He and his family had come from Seattle for this purpose. Jean, the youngest of four children, had also come from Seattle. David, the eldest, came from Maui. Richard, the third son, is here in Honolulu. They are now gathered for a sad farewell.

Fukuda’s wife, Toshiko, says that she and her husband were planning to visit Japan in May and Europe in September. The ironies keep piling up. Because of a need to catch up with his correspondence, he had recently bought a word processor. She’s the one who will now have to learn to use the machine so she can keep up with his trail in the One-Puka-Puka.