In the Spirit of the One Puka Puka

Interview with Mitsuyoshi Fukuda, Able Chapter; former commander, 100th Infantry Battalion

Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, November – December 1980, vol. 34 no. 6

Part One of an Interview with Mitsuyoshi Fukua and his memories of war.

“I was kicked out of Dog Company because I got into a squabble with the commanding officer, and either I face courts-martial or get transferred. So I got transferred.”

It was Christmas time and everyone’s mind was on the traditional merrymaking and good cheer but for the young lieutenant who was in the proverbial dog house for having rebelled against his commanding officer’s holiday proposals.

It was the first Christmas in the snow for most of the men of the 100th, their faces upturned to the sky, mouths ajar and tongues stuck out to feel and taste the first of the new falling snow. It was the time of glorious fun: of trying a hand at skating or simply cavorting bare feet in the fluffy cold, or tramping back to the barracks in the freezing night with overcoat pockets stuffed with bottles of beer from the PX.

“The CO had come in as a second lieutenant, an old time Schofield Barracks sergeant and because of his long service and his reserve commission, he was sent to OCS at Fort Benning and came to the 100th as a second lieutenant. Then a month later, because he was overage in grade, he moved up to first lieutenant, then to captain and took over as commander of Dog Company. As soon as he took over the command, he started changing things around and I did not see eye to eye with many of the policies he instituted.”

Small in stature and aloof by temperament, the CO’s mannerisms were suggestive of a bantam cock, king in his own backyard. His demeanor was that of a martinet out to ram into the boys from Hawaii a thing or two about training and discipline. The men, in turn, harbored a certain resentment against him for his rapid rise from “horse blanket” to CO. The buildup of mutual antagonism ultimately led to problems – in communications, for one. There would be little said between he and his officers, for instance, while they were together in the company orderly room. Whatever he had to say he would scribble on a piece of paper which the clerk would pass to the officer concerned. The officer would scribble his reply on that same piece of paper and give it to the clerk who would then return it to the CO. The situation was comic, if not tragic.

“The one I remember was Christmas. He wanted to restrict the men over the holidays and not give them passes to go out to town. And there was something about the Christmas party and allocation of food and drinks and I felt that the men should have a better break than that.” So it was that Lt. Mitsuyoshi Fukuda found himself transferred to Charlie Company at about the time that the 100th was winding up its training in Camp McCoy.

The citation of the above incident is in no way meant to make a distinction between local and haole officers or any other group. It was just one of those things that happened. “I can recall people like George Grandstaff who was highly respected. And he’s a California man. We had a platoon leader called Kay; he was highly respected. On the other hand, there were some local officers who were not very well liked or respected,”

The battalion moved South in early January to begin many months of training in divisional and corps maneuvers. Following that, it entrained for Camp Kilmer in late August, then sailed out of New York for Oran, North Africa. Then it was that short hop to Salerno, Italy. The training days were over. It was for keeps now.

In the early days of combat, Fukuda was platoon leader in Company E, then became company commander of Able in December. He had moved rapidly up the promotion ladder and when he became Executive Officer of the 100th in May 1944 and received his gold leaf, he was reported to be the first Nisei to become a field grade officer in a line outfit. A little over a year later, immediately after the end of the European war, Fukuda took command of the 100th, replacing Lt. Col. Jack Conley who was promoted to regimental executive officer of the 442nd. He became the twelfth battalion commander since Lt. Col. Farrant Turner first took over the newly-organized unit in June 1942.

With the surrender of Japan to the Allies in mid-August 1945, World War II had finally run its course. In early October, Fukuda was transferred to the headquarters of the 4422nd Regimental Combat Team. An October 3 entry in the daily journal of the 100th reads as follows: “Have just learned that Major Fukuda is to go to Regt Hq as Ex O, The boys don’t feel too happy about losing him but he does remain with outfit in higher Hq.” Then by the end of the month, Fukuda was gone, having finally left the outfit he had served so well.

In between, Mits Fukuda had earned the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and the Silver Star. The Silver Star was awarded Fukuda for his leadership in the battle for Belvedere in June 1944. And in April of the following year, near Bologna, Fukuda took command of a task force – Task Force Fukuda – to cut the road junction at Aulla. At the approach of the Americans, the Germans withdrew and TF Fukuda entered the city to the happy welcome of civilians offering flowers and wine. It was the first time that a task force had been named for an AJA commander.

For one who had been kicked out of his company at the start, Major Fukuda had come a long way. And if all this sound a bit melodramatic, not in keeping with his character as the boys know him, that is not necessarily the fault of the writer. Because that is the way it happened.

The beginning

“My father was an immigrant from Japan, had gone to Waialua Plantation and was a carpenter there. My mother was a picture bride and came to Hawaii about a year later. I was born in Waialua in January 1917. About three years later, there was a strike among the Japanese laborers at Waialua against the plantation and my family was forced to move out so we hitch-hiked our way to Honolulu. First we moved to Manoa and my dad got a job as a lumber mill operator. I went to Manoa School. Then we moved down to Moiliili and I went to Kuhio School and finished up my grammar school and intermediate school at Washington Intermediate, from there to McKinley High School. Then to the University of Hawaii.

“I was one of five children in the family. I have three sisters and a brother, all still living. One sister is on Maui. The rest of us are here in Honolulu. I’m the eldest in the family. My mother was a housewife.

“I guess my father wanted me to go to college but I didn’t realize it until I was a senior in high school. At that point I was taking business courses and just prior to my senior year, he suggested that I think about college. Then I had to change my major so I took all the math and science so that I could get into college. I thought I’d get into engineering but because I started too late I just did not have enough math credits so I had to settle for an agricultural major. I got my degree in agriculture and then found there were no jobs so I went back to school for my fifth year and got a teaching certificate in vocational agriculture. That is the job I had when I went out to Kona to teach at Konawaena High School.”

Introduction to the military

In college, Mits decided to take ROTC, then went into advanced ROTC to get his reserve commission. But just about the time he was to receive his second lieutenant’s bars, he discovered that he had a dual citizenship so his commission had to wait until he completed the process of severing his Japanese citizenship.

On December 7, 1941, he called KMC for instructions and was told to report to the 299th Hawaii National Guard at Hilo Airport for assignment. There he stayed for about three months guarding the airport. Armament included some 60-mm mortars and three 37-mm field guns. Individuals were armed with the Springfield 03 rifles.

Ultimately Mits ended up at South Point with a platoon. “One day we heard that all the Japanese members of the 299th were going to be sent to Schofield Barracks. This was the point at which we wondered whether we were going to be shut off from the war and placed in a situation where we were going to be watched or guarded. It was a discouraging, disappointing feeling,”

At Schofield, Nisei soldiers from the 298th as well as the 299th were placed in a provisional battalion, the 100th Infantry. “Not all was black at this point because we still were in uniform, we were not shunted off in a corner. And I was also given a promotion to first lieutenant. So it seemed that I was still in the military stream.”

There were, of course, lots of questions as to what was going to happen but “I think the feeling was not one of complete discouragement because we still had hopes that we would be in the military swing of things. And the fact that we were kept busy organizing and getting ready for overseas movement and making new friends took some C of the worrying time away from us.” The men had been assembled from all the islands during the last week of May. It was a fast-paced operation; the populace was not told of the organization actions taking place at Schofield. Moreover, everyone’s attention was riveted on the battle of Midway then reaching a climax. When the 1400 men of the provisional battalion left Honolulu Harbor on June 5, 1942, there was not even time for goodbyes.

Perhaps this was just as well because about the only thing the men could cling to as they sailed away were bits and pieces of the heroic virtues of faith and hope. They had no guns, they did not know where they were bound for, or what was in store for them. That being the case – hell! roll the dice, shoot the works and go for broke. No alohas needed, no tears, no goodbyes. Take the morrow as it comes.

A peek into tomorrow

They proceeded to do just that. Moving out into an uncertain future, they kept their eyes and heart; and minds wide open. Observes Mits: “After a week or so on the high seas, we landed in Oakland. One of the first impressions I got as a local Hawaii man is that in Hawaii most of the working people were either Japanese or Chinese or Filipino and all the white people were supervisors and management people. This is the concept that we had as we grew up. We got to Oakland and we looked at the people working on the waterfront and we saw white faces doing longshore work. This struck me as being different. 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.”

To the question of whether the change in the social climate in Hawaii after the war, and particularly the remaking of the political structure, had been forseen back then – “I don’t think so. Looking back, maybe we think that, but actually while I was overseas, we were not so much thinking as to what was going to happen but what was happening at the particular moment, in training or combat. We were thinking of showing the people that we could fight as well as anybody else, that we were as loyal as anyone else.”

Giving further thought to the question, Mits continued, “Ten years down the road – what we would be doing as civilians – I don’t think that discussions took place. If it did, it wasn’t such a serious discussion at that point. As we look back, we might say that that was in the back of our minds. But the changing of the political and social structure wasn’t in the back of my mind,” In other words, Mits had no delusions of grandeur as to what the fighting was all about. He was simply out to do a good job.

That he did is probably summed up best in this entry in the 100th daily journal of October 19, 1945. Earlier, on the 3rd, he had been transferred to the 442nd regimental headquarters; now he was leaving the outfit after almost four years of wartime service. The entry reads: “Major Fukuda came around today to say goodbye to the boys; he’s leaving by jeep this AM for Naples. Hope that we can keep the outfit as he’d like to see it. The last officer of the original outfit takes with him the deepest admiration and respect of the men and officers of the 100th,”

Of ordinary guys and ordinary things

When the 100th landed in Salerno in September 1943, Fukuda was with E Company which, along with F Company, was assigned as reserves. “We didn’t do much of anything, we stayed there for about two months and didn’t enter combat till October.” As for his first impressions about combat, “We lived in constant fear that a shell would land on us or we’d get hit by a rifle bullet. And you developed a whole set of rituals. One of the things I remember is putting on my right shoe first. And carrying the same things in the same pocket. I carried a tobacco pouch and a pipe with me and I’m not a smoker. But I was given the pouch and pipe – I don’t know by whom – but I considered this to be a lucky omen. I also carried a Bible in my jacket all the way through, but I don’t read the Bible.”

How come the beliefs in such rituals and superstitions? “Well, as an example, we were on Hill 1017 – I don’t recall the name of the nearby town – and one of the platoon messengers had a watch that he regarded in the same way as I regarded my pipe and pouch. On this particular occasion, the platoon leader asked the messenger if he could borrow his watch because he didn’t have a watch and he had to set up guard posts for the night and he needed a watch to be able to change the guards at the appointed times. The messenger was very reluctant to loan his watch but he finally agreed. The next morning the messenger was dead in his foxhole. An artillery shell had landed right on him. Now when you hear stories like that, you begin to get a deeper belief that you’d better hold on to whatever you’ve got and not change.”

Mits then talked about the way the guys went about doing whatever needed to be done. “Everybody was doing his duty and they seemed to be ordinary everyday actions on their part but later on, when you put it all together, each action was outstanding. I remember little things that the boys did for me that will remain in my memory forever. I had a messenger who would dig a foxhole for me – because I would be pooped and lying on the ground – and he’d wake me up after the foxhole was dug and tell me to roll over, and I’d roll over into the hole. There was another guy who would carry an extra blanket and when we got into the hills where it was snowing, he’d pull out the extra blanket and give it to me. Little things like that. At that point you’re very grateful but you don’t put much stock in it. I had a sergeant who carried a great big pack on his pack on his back containing mostly food stuff and when we got into an area where we could pull out a stove, he’d cook rice and call me over and I’d enjoy rice with him. As I look back these are important things but at that point they were ordinary things. In combat itself, these guys were just outstanding because … I guess it’s a feeling of not letting down your friends; that we were in this together and we were going to get out together so that everything was not so much an individual effort as doing his part of the overall duty. So that when you look back at one guy whose action may have been outstanding, it really boils down to the fact that he didn’t want to let his pals down. So he’d go forward and perform his duty . . . and each action was outstanding.”

Mits is not much of a guy for ceremonious fanfare. A point illustrating this characteristic is that when he was asked for pictures to embellish this article, he said he did not have any pictures. Rather unusual. But, in speaking of the boys who served under him, all who made up the 100th, he is quite lyrical; he can’t say enough about them. In fact, his emotions seem to get in the way of his narration at times. And the reader may detect in the above paragraphs an inclination to make a point over again.

“I guess when you talk of outstanding bravery or guys with no thought of getting hurt themselves, this guy Young Kim, to me, is a prime example of that. Anytime there was a dangerous mission to be accomplished or going out to get some prisoners, Young Kim is the guy who went out and got the prisoners. I can’t picture myself volunteering for that kind of job but he did it time after time. And then he would have two or three guys he depended on who would be willing to do this, so he had outstanding people in that regard. I had some platoon leaders and officers who were outstanding in that regard.

When the time came, each guy did his part. Looked like a minor part but it took a lot of guts and a lot of feeling for the rest of us for them to be doing this. Because there was no such thing as shirking, refusing to do it. Why? Because the rest of us were doing it. We were all part of a team. And if we were told to go forward, we’d go forward.”