Death-dealing Encounters of a Personal Kind

Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, June 1978, vol. 32 no. 3

Continuation of an interview with Goro Sumida about the battle after Colli

The word war can conjure up many an image: soaring idealisms, grand illusions, hordes of people – or one man with a rifle.

The following is a continuation of Goro Sumida’s story begun in the April issue of the Parade. Goro has told us something of how he managed to survive the war without a scratch, of seeing buddies killed, of getting trench feet, and how it took the pull of a trigger to free a bayonet stuck in the back of an enemy soldier.

The story now takes an even more personal turn. He tells of his fears: not knowing what’s going on; thinking that his number must be up when he hears enemy movements just a few feet away from him, in the dark; wondering whether he’s still alive after being shelled at and covered with rocks. The battlefield is a place where survival often depends upon the development of one’s sensitivity to the sights, sounds and smells of battle; of reflex actions attuned to the chances of the battlefield. Goro plays it like that, to the hilt.

And the frontline soldier’s view of battle is normally confined only to that narrow skirmish in which he himself is involved in; unlike the view of commanders who perforce have to maneuver men to fit the order of battle – as, for example, in the description of the sweep of battle narrated by Thomas D. Murphy in his book, “Ambassadors In Arms”, beginning on page 152. This is how Murphy begins the story of that particular battle:

By 25 November, Thanksgiving Day, the 133d had moved from Scapoli to relieve the 504th Parachute Infantry in the hills about Colli at the extreme right flank of the Fifth Army line. After two weeks of steady rain the sky had cleared, and the ground was dry again. The days were not very cold, but water sometimes froze in the canteens at night, and the men of the 100th were still wearing summer uniforms over their winter underwear.”

Goro is about to describe a couple of skirmishes in this very battle, told in his own personal terms: his fears of what the blackness of the night might hold for him; being stuck against a stonewall and not being able to make a move; a concern that he might be forced to surrender. And you can dwell with him in his discovery of how come his platoon’s machine guns did not fire when they could have wiped out a German patrol. And more.

The publication ground rules are the same as for the first article. GS stands for Goro Sumida, BT for me, and asterisks represent certain names which understandably are kept out of this piece.

BT: Well, Goro, on the last tape you covered a lot of ground. Now, as I understand it, you would like to talk about the battle immediately following Colli, the battle which began on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, 1943. Alright, could you take it from there?

GS: Yeah, Well, in Colli, we moved up. A Company attacked Hill 841. Going over the ridge, A Company lost almost a platoon of men. It was the first time they found that the Germans they suck you in, they draw you in. They come out of the hole and they wave their hands. “Kamerad!” They give up, you know, they put their hands up. And the boys went over and try pick it up (German pistols, etc.) So the Germans they hit the ground and back of them they had machine guns, see. That’s how they caught the first platoon, when they think, “Oh! The Germans they give up!” So they try get’em. Since then, we never go out and get the Germans. We let them come to us. That’s where we first learned about the tactics the Germans use.

BT: So they put on a big bluff that first time!

GS: Yeah…. So I met Goro Moriguchi who was the platoon guide and he assigned us to protect our two machine guns. So on the right hand of the machine gun I had this person, Hifumi Yamada, a rifleman. I covered the left front side (like a forward listening post). So our machine gun was on the plateau, flat place. On the left used to get one gulch where there’s a stonewall going down, see. So, that night, they told us don’t advance, hold the position. So, well, I had to cover two machine guns so instead of digging in the hole, I lean against the stonewall because the hill was mostly rocky and no dirt, you know, and put couple rocks around me for protection. So, during the night – I wanted to sleep, was two in the morning – and anything in front of the stonewall was enemy.

BT: When you say in front of you, how far? Ten yards? Twenty-five?

GS: About fifty yards. All Germans, there. So that night, I just ready
to sleep, I put my rifle against the wall. I only had a raincoat and a hand grenade, and a cigarette in my hand.

Then I heard somebody walking, coming up, you know, walking like that, making noise. It was a German column. It’s a counterattack, see. And they came in the back of me!

So I got a cigarette in my mouth, see. It got so cold, you inhale, you grab the cigarette, warm your hands, see. The only thing was good I had a raincoat over my head and I was smoking and when I heard them, I thought was our reserve come up to relieve us. And I ask the person, “Are you B Company?” So I heard the guy, a German voice. So I shut up. I covered my cigarette.

Then right after that I heard our guard on the left of me, had two guards, see, hollering, “Stop!” They halt the column and then told’m, “Advance to be recognized!” Soon they say that, I heard a machine pistol go. Then the one on the hill threw two grenades right at the Germans. Then naturally, when that hand grenade explode, the squad or combat patrol all hit the ground. The one close to me was only about, I say, from here to there, is about four feet. But see, I’m leaning against the stonewall and it was pitch black, no moon, so he couldn’t see me. But I could see him because I’m looking against the light, you know. Then I heard the leader, he talk in German. And he pull out, took his patrol with him. So I thought, gee! don’t tell me they ambush our two machine guns? They came from the machine gun area!

BT: Yeah. I was gonna ask you about that. How did they manage to get around the machine guns?

GS: You know how they got in? Like this – see, I show you how they got in.

(With his hands, Goro then tries to depict the scene.) (See line drawing for depiction of the situation.)

Sumida drawing
Sumida drawing

. Bn advance left to right; A Co. line in foreground, about 100 yards wide (not depicted – C Co. covering left flank, B Co. right flank)
. Terrain between stonewall and German line 50 yards
. Mountains in backdrop
1 A Co. machine guns set on ledge, w/riflemen protection; 10-ft drop to ravine
2 German patrol comes up ravine, under A Co. guns, thru break in stonewall; halted by A Co. guards who throw grenades 4
3 Goro leaning against stonewall
5 Patrol pulls back to own lines
6 Goro scales wall, intending to turn right to check on why machine gunners let patrol slip by, but German getaway man stands in way, so he turns left and crawls to top of hill 8
9 Returns to original spot to pick up rifle
6.10 Spots German officer, cuts him down
6.11 German with potato masher; Blue Konishi kills him with .45
6.12 Second German makes bee line for safety; Goro slams 5 shots into him
6.13 German defensive wires and mines still in place
BT: You mean they circled around to your left?
GS: Yeah. Right in front of the machine guns, they came in. They must have caught our machine gunners sleeping! That’s the first thought I had! But then the hand grenade went off. I know we had couple boys on the hill. So, then, gee! I couldn’t even get my gun out because, you know, it’s gonna make noise. So all I had in mind is should the German see me, I had to pull the hand grenade. That’s the only weapon I had, beside my bayonet. I would have to stab him with my bayonet or pull the hand grenade, throw, and try dive over the barbed wire fence. That’s the only way I could get away. Either that or I had to surrender.
BT: When you say a patrol, how many men?
GS: About twelve people. They all in the back already. That was the most scared night! I thought I was going to be a prisoner! So when the Germans pull out, I scale the wall, went over to the other side. So I was gonna crawl back and try see if the machine gunner was sleeping, or what happened to them. But between me and the machine gunner, there was one German standing, the getaway man, with a rifle

So I guess he saw me. So when I took one step, he told me, “Stoppo! Stoppo!” So I thought, “Oh! That’s it!” But I didn’t say nothing. I turned right around and make believe I was, you know, uh, just, taking a leak, eh?

So he’s looking in the dark. Then I guess he thought I was one of the German soldiers. So he moved back. Then I made one left swing, and head for my outfit, you know, the one on the hill. It took me from two to five in the morning to crawl about thirty yards going back to the top of the hill. They had orders anything in front of them is enemy so shoot, see.

So then, when I hit the top of the hill, just about daybreak, I had in mind it’s a German over there, I’m going to throw the hand grenade. I’m going to jump pass him and go down the hill. I had to take a chance on the mines. Then I saw one helmet coming out of the foxhole. So I look good. And it was Uchima, the corporal! And when he saw me right in front of him, he thought I was a German! We both happy seeing each other alive.

Right after that, I told him, “Hey! Wait little while, lemme go get my rifle. It’s against the wall.” I walked down the hill to the stonewall. Then, I look – our machine guns was intact yet! They was still over there! And then, so I thought, funny thing, how come they nevah fire? The Germans, you know, how they carry the ammo can, go ka-chunk! ka-chunk! Make all that noise. How come they nevah fire? They said, no, they knew I was in front and if they fire, they might shoot me! So they nevah fire?
GS: Then right after, I saw them, right opposite the stonewall, about twenty-five yards. I see a German, he’s an officer, he had a cigar in the mouth, and he motion to his two men to go forward. At first, I thought he was Captain Jack Mizuha, you know! Then I look good, it’s a German. So I pick up my rifle, I fire two rounds at the guy. He went down.

Then, crawling in front of the machine gun, were the two Germans with potato mashers. And one was on the top, by the machine gun, already. So I yelling at the machine gunner, “Hey! German in front of you!” So naturally the German heard me yelling from the wall. He turned around, he looking at me, only about fifteen yards. I looking at him. And I get my rifle pointing straight for his head. But if I hit’em on the head, my bullet would go right through him and hit my rifleman in the back of him; the one guarding the machine gun. So I cannot shoot this guy!
So this Blue Konishi came out of the hole, he look, the German right in front of him, so he shot him with the .45, see. The second German, he covering the first, one. So when Blue shot the top one, this guy start getting panicky and he turn right around and start running. All open field, only short grasses, about two inches long. Before he reach the other end, I shot him on the back. Then one hand come out, grab his hand, and pull him over. Later on, Howard Miyake went recon the area. He found couple of the Germans, all dead.

GS: At the time I took the pot shot at the German running, the Germans must have observed the Ml (rifle) smoke. I leaned against the wall and fire, see. You know, the puff smoke come out? Then I never seen so many tank shells, they came point blank against the stonewall. And I’m behind the stonewall. Back of me the hill. So some shells go over me, and the rocks from the hills come down. So I was half covered with rock and I’m trying to see if I’m alright. Feel my head, this and that. Bum bye, I hear somebody say, “Hey! You alright?” At first, I could not talk because I’m full with rocks, you know, and then I’m trying to feel if I’m alive, eh?

BT: How many shots did you get off before they

GS: Rack me up? About five. Barn! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Rapid fire! The guy running. I know he’s dead because I shot all in the back, see. Fifty yards. You cannot miss the guy with dakine Ml. You know, German, is kinda big, eh?

BT: So in turn you got tank fire, machine gun, whatever.

GS: Yeah, Everything!

BT: Boy, you sure must have been a popular target!

GS: Whoaaa! I telling you! Boy! Everybody thought I was dead when they saw me covered up with all the rocks!
GS: ********** got killed, right outside the rocks. And here, Chicken Hirayama wanted to grab his leg, you know, bring’em back. He said he cannot even stick his hand out because the German firing the machine guns. And they only about fifty yards away, you know.

BT: They really had you guys covered!

GS: Yeah. So we cannot go forward. So we pull back to hill on left flank. And when Suehiro was firing his mortar, he used to jump in ****** foxhole, the bare hole. He fire his mortar, he run to the forward position, and he wanna see where his shell landed, see.
BT: Why was he doing that?
GS: Because he was the only mortar man left! So he had to run to the bare front hole and then observe, see?
BT: That’s quite a trick. How many yards was that?
GS: Oh, I’d say about ten yards. He’s only shooting about fifty yards,
shooting high. So the Germans spotted Suehiro running on the forward slope. He got hit.
BT: How long were you folks up there on the hill or knob?
GS: Oh, I say, when we finish over there, took over three weeks. Even
to get water, we had to go through the mine field, what you call this, stock mine? Something that is molded in concrete, a stake with concrete around it. You can see them all over the place, with trip wire. It has all kind of nail, triangle sheet metal, molded in concrete. So I know, this Kalihi boy, he caught one of’em.. Ooooh! The holes on his arms! Concrete, nail, galvanized iron, all flying. He caught one of’em.
BT: So then after three weeks, out there, what happened?
GS: Well, they got the Frenchmen relieve us, and we pull back. That outfit they come up with billy goats, you know. They get wine and kegs packed on both sides of the goat. So they use the goat for carrying their liquid supplies. Then, later on, for food, they kill the goat and they drink the wine,
BT: Good idea!
GS: And when they first came relieve us guys, they make a big bonfire. So everybody worry, because the artillery goin’ come in. But I think they put fear in the Germans already because they usually fight with knife, see
BT: When you say Frenchmen, you must mean the Moroccans?
GS: Yeah. That’s the one. They crawl and then while you sleeping, they tap your leg so when you get up they cut off your head, eh!
BT: Ugh! So now we are talking of the period about mid-December, then. Shortly before Christmas. And then the descent into the Liri Valley before Cassino.

This concludes Goro’s story, on tape. But he continued on through part of Cassino, then to Anzio and on up through the Italian peninsula with the 100/442. Then into France, to Bruyeres – his last battle. There were 45 guys who made up the original members of the 1st Platoons of A and E Companies. When the Bruyeres fight ended, the 100th had been in almost constant battle for a full year. And of the 45 originals of the 1st Platoons only two remained – Goro and Chicken Hirayama.

Goro’s story is in no way intended to glorify the man. Rather, he is the guinea pig, the first volunteer on the firing line, if you will, in my modest attempt to capture your stories. Words survive the centuries. Tell it now while you’re still able. In writing “Roots”, Alex Haley had to dig through several centuries of his past. Yours is the opportunity to leave something behind for your generations to come. In the telling, you will be helping to keep alive the spirit and the memories of what the 100th Infantry Battalion was all about.