Bushido Code of Ethics Places Honor Above All Else

Author: Renita Foster, Public Affairs Officer
Publisher: The Monmouth Message, 12/22/2006
Puka Puka Parades, February 2007

Part 8 of 9 articles featuring the experiences of Nisei soldiers during World War II and details how the nisei followed bushido and the way it defined their fighting for the US.

An exclusive enlisted Nisei military unit, the first of its kind, was activated on June 12, 1942. Called the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), it was comprised of 1,432 prewar draftees from the Hawaii Provisional Infantry Battalion. “We loved the idea,” said Goro Sumida, who served in the 100th as an Infantry Scout, “We were all Hawaiian boys who were good friends and couldn’t wait to show our stuff!”

Grandstand their “stuff’ was more like it. Armed with an extraordinary philosophy known as “Bushido” (way of the warrior), the 100th distinguished itself with phenomenal soldiering skills at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin and Camp Shelby, Mississippi. “Bushido is the very core of the Nisei,” explained Terry Shima, Executive Director of the Japanese American Veterans Association. “Bushido is the way they desired to serve America in Europe and Asia during World War II despite all the discrimination after Pearl Harbor.”

Bushido, a Samurai code that places honor above all else, consisted of at least five major principles governing behavior in life and was taught religiously to all Nisei children. A few of these principles are:

On – obligation, debt of gratitude. One should always pay back a debt to one’s country, organization, or person.

Giri – a sense of duty and honor, or duly and honor bound.

Gaman – internal fortitude. Troubles are to be kept to oneself. Do not show hurt.

Haji – shame. Do not bring shame to your family name. In war, fight for your country.

Be careful and try to return but die if you must.

Shinbo – endurance, perseverance, persistence. Success comes from shinbo.

Because of Bushido, Nisei children who pledged allegiance to the American flag did not think twice about fighting for it. To them, it was the natural thing to do. “Bushido also explains why the Nisei volunteered for dangerous missions in Asia under Merrill’s Marauders and the Office of Strategic Services,” continued Shima. “Many of them were convinced they would not come back alive, yet they offered to serve.”

Sumida and Robert Arakaki, who joined the 100th Infantry Battalion in Italy as a Replacement in 1944, declared it was the Bushido philosophy and training that made than exemplary soldiers and squelched any and all fears that come with combat. “For extra luck, I also carried an omamori. It was sort of a pouch with red beans that were supposed to sprout because of the moisture inside. The beans stood for good health and growth,” said Arakaki.

Two Nisei soldiers designed the 100th colors during basic training. The eagle’s breast featured a crest with an ape leaf, symbolizing the gift of life in the Hawaiian culture. A mahiole, or feathered helmet worn by Hawaiian chieftains, was added to remind them of their roots. The ribbon in the eagle’s beak bore the battalion motto, “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

To add to their outstanding basic training record, five Soldier’s medals were awarded to the 100th at Camp McCoy for “heroism while not in combat”. During training one day, several Nisei soldiers risked their lives to prevent the drowning of several local residents in a frozen lake.

After deploying in August 1943, the Nisei warriors fought in combat for the first time on September 2, 1943, near Salerno in Southern Italy. Although it suffered heavy casualties, the Battalion fought well, earning six Distinguished Service Crosses in its first eight weeks of combat.

Despite their superior fighting tactics and courageous spirit, casualties continued to be heavy. Within five months, the initial number of 1,432 Nisei soldiers had dwindled to 521. The “little iron men” of the 100th were now known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.”

Before the war was over, more than 33,000 Niseis had served in America’s greatest conflict. In November 2000, they were recognized by a grateful nation, which built the National Japanese American Memorial in patriotism in Washington D.C. located near the U.S. Capitol Building. “The contributions made by the Niseis in World War II settled once and for all the question of loyalty,” said Shima, “They set a precedent for those that followed them like in Korea where Niseis were now repairing cryptography machines. Later in Vietnam, Niseis were flying fighter planes and bombers.”

At 86-years-old, Goro Sumida is one of about 300 members left from the original 100th Battalion. A regular at the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Club in Honolulu, Hawaii, he still plays poker, his favorite card game learned during the war. “We only made $21 a month and by the time you finished paying for everything like haircuts you only had about $10 left. So we decided the best thing was gamble with it,” laughed Sumida.

Along with playing cards, Sumida and Arakaki, President of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans group, relive the “good old days”. Arakaki emphasizes how proud they all were to have their own Nisei unit and all that they accomplished. “It may not fit anymore, but I still have that uniform,” said Arakaki with a huge grin, “And Bushido still rules my life today – I’m not afraid of anything because that is the way I learned.”

The Bushido legacy thrives today in the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry (Army Reserve) – the only infantry unit in the U.S. Army Reserve – which combines the identities of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd RCT. Many of its soldiers are descendants of the two original Nisei units and it has been adopted by the 100th Infantry Battalion veterans. Based at Fort Shafter, Honolulu, Hawaii, the 100th Infantry Battalion has reservists from Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, and Saipan. Just over a year ago, they were activated and deployed to Iraq.

Smiling proudly, Arakaki says, “I think they live Bushido better than we did!”