From Kompan-Man to a DSC

Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, November – December 1979, vol. 33 no. 6

Interview with Kaoru Moto, a DSC medal recipient, 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company

Displayed within the very small home-made wooden case is a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) medal. There are other medals – the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge, Distinguished Service Unit Badge, Purple Heart, the Military Valor Cross (Italy); each crowding the other. Really, it is a case much too tiny for its purpose. Unpretentious, it hangs on the living room wall of Kaoru Koto’s home in Makawao; its very simpleness seeming to reflect something of the man.

The visit to Kaoru’s home had come at the close of a one-day trip I had taken to Maui recently to discuss his award of the DSC. The citation is reproduced at left. The interview was held in the office of Ronald Higashi’s shiatsu massage parlor in Wailuku.

There, in the morning when we first sat down to talk about his exploits, Kaoru expressed the feeling that others were more capable than he of telling the story – like Chicken Miyashiro, or Cream Hiramoto, or Ben Takayesu, or Warren Iwai, or any of the others who were there on July 7, 1944, in the vicinity of Castellina , Italy – because the action for which he had been awarded the medal was part of a larger fight, a fight in which Chicken, for instance, also received a DSC (see the February 1979 issue of the Parade for Chicken’s story).

He was somewhat concerned, too, that his remembrances might run counter to the recollections of others.

To which I countered that these interviews are meant to focus on individuals as much as on the battles; in that sense, every man in the 100th has a story to tell, medals or rank notwithstanding. And, furthermore, since relevancy is in the eye of the beholder, I suggested to Kaoru that at this point in time, thirty-five years after the battle, he tell it as best as he can remember it (and it is quite a recall, as you will see shortly).

Castellina is a small Italian town. It lies about 20 miles south of Leghorn and a few miles inland from the coast, the Ligurian Sea. The action took place shortly after the 100th had been attached to the 442nd, recently arrived in Italy. I take the opening scene from Thomas D. Murphy’s “Ambassadors In Arms”: “Singles (commander of the 100th) had orders to seize high ground northwest of Castellina, which the 168th Infantry (34th Division) had not been able to take. In a surprise assault, just before dawn, Company C’s 2d Platoon took a position overlooking the Castellina-Rosignano road. In this attack Lieutenant Takeichi Miyashiro led a squad against a farmhouse from which machine-gun fire had been harassing his platoon’s left flank.”

Murphy goes on to relate how the 2d Platoon took the farmhouse, then fought off the first German counterattack. The enemy counterattacked a second time; they were beaten off again by the sharp-shooting riflemen of the 2d Platoon. The Germans then directed their most feared weapon, the 88, against the farmhouse. As the walls of the farmhouse began crumbling from the direct hits of the 88s, the Germans moved in for a third try. But the determined bunch of BAR and riflemen of the 2d Platoon held their ground in the face of the fierce counterattack, and with machine guns posted outside the farmhouse, waited until they could practically see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Then they opened fire with a withering blast. At that, the Jerries gave up trying.

PFC Kaoru Moto was a BAR man in Johnny Miyagawa’s 3rd Squad. (The 1st Squad was led by Douglas Otani, the 2nd by Jack Gushiken.) While the big fight was swirling around him, Kaoru, the scout, cooly went about his duties, knocking off enemy machine gun nests and killing or capturing their crews, one by one. His story follows:

“We had to march all night. It was three or four o’clock in the morning (of the 7th). As we were coming up to our initial objective, I saw a small shack on the left and I wanted to check it but Lt. Miyashiro (Chicken) told me it was not necessary. But I went. There was nobody there.”

“Why did you insist on checking it?” I asked.

“I figured it might be an enemy outpost or something. . . . Then by morning, we reached the road which was our objective. But when we saw the hill in front of us, we said we might as well take the high ground. But in the meantime, I saw one guy lying down about halfway between the road and hill. So I said I’ll go check; maybe the guy still alive. But Chicken said don’t go; mine fields. Another said the guy ma-ke’ already.”

But Moto went to check anyway. The guy was dead and rigor mortis had set in. “The guy beginning to balloon up,” said Moto. “I don’t know whether he was German or Italian. And no mine fields.”

“What made you check it?”

“I wanted to make sure.”

Moto then picked his way to the high ground. “And when I look, I saw this house to my right, just the roof of the house. I did not know at the time that it was a two-story house.”

This was so because of the slope of the terrain, I presumed.

“Yeah. I decide to check the house so I said to the others, ‘Follow me.’ The high ground was covered with thick bushes and I began checking them as I went along. Then I heard some voices. I saw this German helmet sticking out. So point blank I shot him dead. But I knew there must be another one around because I had heard the voices. I blasted the hole. Then the guy came out of the hole and cried out, ‘Komerad!’ I was going to shoot him.”

Having heard the blast from a BAR, Chicken had quickly come over to see what the shooting was all about. When he saw that Moto was about to shoot the German, he yelled out, “Don’t shoot’em. We need him (for interrogation). Then he barked at Moto: “What the hell you doing up here all by yourself?”

That’s when Moto discovered that he was alone, that the others had not been following him as he thought they were. “And I didn’t know that the hole was a machine gun nest. I took the machine gun and shoved the barrel into the mud so it would be of no use to others.”

“I presume it was a light machine gun for you to have been able to do that?”


“I guess you caught the machine gun crew by surprise?”

“Yeah. I think they just got up. That’s how I caught them by surprise,”

Moto then continued to move toward the house. Chicken had instructed him to cover the flank. “Actually, we were surrounded by the Germans,” Moto recalls.

“So I lay by the side of the house. Then down by the gully I saw this machine gun crew setting up a position by the roadside. So I blast them. I don’t know how many I killed or wounded, but I broke up the gun position anyway. And one guy jumped into the gully. He climbed up the slope, then shot at me.”

“How far away was he from you?” I asked.

“Oh, about two hundred yards. He hit me in the leg. I shot back at him but I don’t know whether I hit him.” Moto bandaged his own wound in the knee. Meanwhile, with the arrival of the other members of the platoon, he was relieved of his position. So he came down the slope. Lt. Kazuma Hisanaga’s 1st Platoon was now covering the lower area.

“I don’t know how long I stayed there (at the foot of the slope), lying down. Then I see three guys walking on the other side of the gully. They were carrying a machine gun. I looked closely to be sure they were not Americans. Then I blasted them. One took off down the road and I shot him. Then I started to move across the gully towards the others, telling them to surrender. One guy was moaning. The other shouted ‘Komerad!’ and started coming towards me and 1 was going to shoot him when Hisanaga yelled out, ‘Don’t shoot him!'”

“So you captured him.”

“Yeah. One guy. And the guy moaning, probably died.”

Kaoru had concluded his story of the fight. Told in a matter-of-fact way, and despite the passage of time, one could still feel the excitement of the morning’s encounters as he scouted and pursued the enemy: busting up three machine gun posts, killing enemy gunners and capturing others; being shot in the leg, dressing his wound and continuing on. The words in the citation sum it up best: Kaoru Moto had displayed “exceptional courage, initiative and determination” in destroying the enemy.

Later that month, the 100th was redesignated the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regiment, and was now officially a part of the regimental combat team. Two months later, the combat team was sent to Marseilles, France; from there, up the Rhone River valley into the northeast corner of France, and the battle of Bruyeres. Moto had by then accumulated enough points to be rotated home so he was kept out of the battle lines and assigned to kitchen and litter- bearer duty. After that battle, the combat team returned to southern France and then followed the long period of the “champagne campaign.”

In addition to long days and nights of mountain-top patrol duty, it was a period of crap games and poker, of vino and champagne; then more of the same. For Kaoru, the period was also a bitter-sweet time: of scrapes with and escapades from the MPs . . . and of everyone in the battalion, even up the commander, going out of their way to help him out of his brushes with the minions of the law. Without dwelling on the details, the reason that Kaoru felt driven to even touch upon this period was the feeling he wanted to convey – the spirit of comradeship which existed within the battalion . . . the concern of one for the other . . . all the way up the line. To Kaoru, therein lay the basic strength of the 100th. So out of the fun and misadventures of the champagne campaign came a renewed sense of love and kindredship for his fellow men.

Kaoru received his orders for Hawaii in January 1945. Since the 100th was still in France, he returned home by way of Paris and London. And on his last leg, in May while at Ft. Lewis, Washington, he ran into his platoon leader, Lt. Chicken Miyashiro; they had a happy reunion. (Chicken had been wounded in Bruyeres, was captured, then sent to a hospital in Germany. Subsequently, he was evacuated to a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland, then was freed when the Russians overran the country. He, like Moto, was making his way home to Hawaii.)

In another section of this issue of the Parade is a review of O. A. Bushnell’s latest novel, “The Stone of Kannon.” It is a story of the Gannen Mono, the so- called “First Year” people who emigrated from Japan to Hawaii in 1868. It is a fictionalized version of the experiences of that first group: of Ishi, the central character, who was sent on to Maui to help clear land for more sugar cane fields; of the frustrations and hardships that those first immigrants had to endure in a place so far away from their native land; and how they nevertheless persevered and settled down to make Hawaii their home. I relate to the story of the Gannen Mono because Kaoru and I had a bit of discussion concerning his heritage, which is the heritage of all the boys of the 100th.

Kiyoshi Sagawa was the other BAR man in Kaoru’s squad and to the best of his recollection, the riflemen were Tadao Sato, Minoru Murakami, Yoshio Anzai, Johnny Odo and Yoshitaka Ushijitna. They, and others, were the force making up the 100th fighting machine. Moto muses: what made them tick? He offers no answers; he only points to the record. Since Moto himself is part of the record, it might be well to take a look at him. Let me start at the beginning.

I was reminded of Ishi as Kaoru told me of his father, Ryozo, who came to Hawaii from Hiroshima in 1888 (three years after the start of mass migrations to Hawaii, in 1885; there had been a complete halt to migrations after that first “illegal” voyage of the Gannen Mono in 1868.) Ryozo started work as a ditchman for Hawaii Commercial and Sugar Company (HC&S) and later became water luna. But he was diabetic and so was shifted to taking care of the Spreckesville ball park. Kaoru’s mother, Sugayo, also from Hiroshima, came to the Islands ten years later. Strong and healthy, she did all kinds of work on the plantation. After her marriage to Ryozo, she was also shifted to the ball park to work with him there. He died in 1945, she in 1967. Kaoru remembers people telling him how good a worker his mother was and he evidences great pride in her accomplishments as he speaks of her.

Ryozo and Sugayo Moto had three children. Fusayo died many years ago. Kaoru was the second. Mitsugi was drafted with Kaoru in the second draft of March 1941; he became a member of F and Headquarters companies of the 100th.

Kaoru has vivid recollections of Camp 1 in Sprecklesville. It used to be a camp for Japanese and Filipino workers, there being many such numbered camps around the plantation. But the camp where the Portuguese lived was more commonly known as the “codfish camp” than by its numerical designation! Kaoru was put to work on the plantation right after he finished his eighth grade. Soon, he was a “konpan-man” working 120 acres of cane fields in consort with five others (konpan meaning sharing). The days were ten hours long, 26 days a month. Pay was $1 to $1.25 per day, about $30 a month. He recalls that the rows of cane were only about 10 to 15 feet long then; today, the rows are as much as 200 feet long, enabling a man to hana-wai (irrigate) twice the acreage as was possible with the short rows. (Along with today’s conversion of furrow- irrigated lands to flat culture, by the installation of drip irrigation, the conversion from short to long rows was an important labor/cost reduction step, inasmuch as about half of Hawaii’s sugar cane lands must be irrigated.)

That is a brief chronology of Kaoru’s life up to his 24th year. His was the typical life of servitude on a sugar plantation, of having to follow in the footsteps of his parents.

Then came the war. Having ventured through half the world, returning with a fistful of medals to show for his worldly experiences, the prospect of picking up life where he had left it at the time of Pearl Harbor was unalluring. After his discharge in April 1945, he wandered, came to Honolulu to see whether he could settle there. But he returned to Maui and started working for Maui Soda & Ice Company as a bottle boy and doing other odd jobs. It was not a particularly auspicious period for Moto.

Friends of the family were much aware of Kaoru’s discontent and restlessness. They came to his aid. Through the system of matchmaking called shinpai, they found him a wife, a wonderful girl from Makawao. Violet Saito and Kaoru were married in March 1946. With her at his side, he returned to the plantation; not to the field but to the mill. He worked five years there as a bagasse man. He did other jobs and worked on night shifts and whatever else came his way. Then in October 1952, he was appointed caretaker of the Makawao Veterans Cemetery which today is the Maui Veterans Cemetery.

The caretaker job was the usual Monday-Friday affair, but with the imposition of an unequivocating requirement – that the flag must be raised at dawn, and lowered after 4:30 – come rain or shine, every day of the year. This meant that Kaoru had to raise and lower the flag on Saturdays and Sundays, on holidays, and yes, even on sick days and while on vacation! He therefore could not travel far away from his home in Makawao (he had moved there in 1952); the best he could do during his long 26-year tenure was to take some short trips to the other islands. The family would take over the flag raising chores on these trips. Out-of-state trips were verboten.

There were times when he’d go partying and, filled up with whiskey and drunk to his gills, suddenly, in the middle of the night, he’d remember the flag! In his half-stupor, he would get up from bed, drive down to the cemetery and in the dark lower the flag; only to be back a few hours later to raise it again!

Some years ago, a woman passer-by felt compassion for the flag flapping and tossing in the wind and the rain of the day so she untied the halyard and lowered the flag. Another passer-by noticed the absence of the flag and complained to Mayor Elmer Cravalho who in turn called Kaoru for an explanation. “What am I to do?” pleaded Kaoru after he had explained the circumstance to the mayor. “Use your own judgment from here on in,’ was the mayor’s insipid reply.

Koaru had kept his GI uniform after his discharge from the army. He wore it whenever there’d be a burial service for a veteran. Until one day he was asked why he was not keeping up with the changing times; his uniform was so outdated! Maui County does not provide him with a uniform allowance, and that’s why, was his retort. The question raised other sore points with Moto. He had a very meager car allowance. And his job description was wholly inadequate: the flag requirement was not a written provision, nor was the requirement that he present the flag to widows or next-of-kin. There were other deficiencies. Also, he felt deeply the imposition placed upon his family that they substitute for him in the flag requirement, during his absence.

Over the years, he had been trying to have these shortcomings corrected but no one seemed to care; the cavalier attitude of the county to his pleadings made him feel that the county was taking unfair advantage of him. Take the hassle over the uniform, for instance. Even the VA counselor tried but couldn’t get him a new uniform. Finally, a friend from the U.S. Army Reserve made him a donation of a new and current uniform.

Kaoru retired last December after 26 years and 3 months on the job. If nothing else, the retirement was a relief from the frustrations of the job. But then he discovered that he had nothing to do; the dilemma of many retirees. He has been in the doldrums ever since. But this does not mean that he is completely lost.

For, throughout the years, Kaoru has maintained an active interest in community affairs, and in sports, boxing in particular. He was the assistant coach of Johnny Miyagawa’s Sprecklesville boxing club for a number of years and was coach of the Makawao Community Association boxing club for four years during which time the club captured a Maui championship and one of its lads went on to become a Territorial champion. Then, he was a referee for the Maui Boxing Association for ten years, from 1952 to 1962.

Kaoru was also active in UPW affairs, having been a representative for his district and having attended state conventions in that capacity. As for the Club 100, he was president of the Maui Chapter for two years and has held other offices; he regularly attends chapter meetings.

Kaoru has been a member of the Paia Mantokuji (Soto) Mission for 16 years, having served the mission in many officer capacities and contributing his share to its many projects. The mission completed a new and elaborate minister’s residence this past April. Previously, repairs had been completed to the main temple building, a new columbarium had been built, and repairs had been effected to the kitchen. Currently, he is winding up his sixth year as president of the mission and only recently attended the state convention held in Waipahu.

Despite all that which has passed, Kaoru feels that his life could have been much more. At which I turned again to the migration of the Gannen Mono to Hawaii, and those who followed; that if there is any meaning to stories like “The Stone of Kannon,” it is that one need not be a captive of one’s dis- illusionments.

Of his five children, for instance, his major concern at present is to see to it that the two youngest are given full support on their way through the University of Hawaii: Brian, a junior, majoring in business administration and Eric, the youngest, a sophomore, whose bent also seems to be in business. And filial concerns for the first three also predominate his thoughts: for Carol, the eldest, employed in a law firm in Honolulu; Buster, on Molokai, working in an accounting office; and Marilyn (married) who is working as a student specialist in the school of medicine at the UH.

There are other kinds of concerns also. In the front yard of the Moto home is a large rose apple tree, a species getting to be scarce in Hawaii. The tree is loaded with the fragrant and delicious fruit but bugs have been getting to them even before they fall to the ground. Kaoru wondered out loud to me that he should be doing something to get rid of the bugs.

And one of his thoughts in retirement is that of a long-delayed vacation.

Like many other 100th veteran, Kaoru is entering into the retirement phase of life. As for the years up to now, he harbors a sense of disappointment that he only is what he is. This self-reproachment need not be. For, as with his own heritage, that which he is should surely make those who follow in his footsteps stand tall . . .

Roots in Japan, birth and upbringing in the soil of Hawaii, and blood spilled in the mud of Europe; a heart anchored in the church, a sense of moral responsibility to the community, and faithful servitude to his job; parental concern for offsprings, things to look forward to in retirement, and bugs on a rose apple tree . . .

Unpretentitious though these acts may seem, like that all too-small medals case hanging on the wall of his home in Makawao, they nevertheless draw the shape of one man’s life – a life that has much more to be lived.