Of Heroes: Past and Present

Author: Ben Tamashiro
Puka Puka Parades, May-June 1982, vol. 36 no. 3

Excerpt of an article written for the PPP’s 40th Anniversary issue. The excerpt summarizes various Veterans and their life experiences.

Heroes come in many a form, can come at you in any number of ways. I never fail to be enthralled, for instance, in reading Tennyson’s “The Charge Of The Light Brigade”; telling of that horrible dilemma of the 600 having to ride “half a league onward” into the face of cannons to the right, to the left and in front of them. The charge lasted twenty minutes; only 195 returned. Yet, when the remaining few were regrouped, a voice called out, “We are ready to go again!” That’s how I remember the Crimean War.

In our time, Cassino brings on the image of “Purple Heart Valley.” And Bruyeres shall forever be “The Lost Battalion”. Tough days? You bet!

Take the following, for instance. It comes from the Army’s publication, “The Mediterranean Theater Of Operations.” The battleground is Cassino, mid-February 1944. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the l4lst Infantry, 36th Division were down to 22 officers and 160 men. (The 1st of the l4lst was later to become “The Lost Battalion” at Bruyeres.) Then this:

The 34th Division had suffered equally. In the three weeks between the first attack to take the Italian barracks area and the final effort in the northeastern corner of Cassino, the 3d Battalion, 133d Infantry, had captured 122 prisoners but had lost 52 killed, 174 wounded and 23 missing in the rifle companies – 30 men remained in Company I, 70 in Company K, and 40 in Company L. The 100th Battalion, 133d Infantry, was in even worse condition. By the
night of 7 February, the total strength of the three rifle companies numbered 7 officers and 78 men. (Underscore added.)

Of such stuff are legends made. But there are other aspects in the fights for survival. “Chicken” Miyashiro (Charlie Chapter) tells of one in the Puka Puka Parade, Feb. ’79 issue. The scene of action is Bruyeres; “We had captured a lot of Germans, about 28 in all, and were taking them back. But you see, the interesting part is that we captured some German medics, see, and we treated them real good. What I mean is, I was the type that never killed prisoners, always took good care of them.” (Underscore added.)

Why, or how come? It was a sizeable group that was trying to reach the American lines, the 28 prisoners plus about a dozen Charlie Company men of whom five were litter cases, including Chicken. The prisoners were being used as litter bearers. But suddenly the tables were turned when the group ran into a German patrol. Now, Chicken and his group were the captives. Surprisingly, however, instead of making the Charlie Company men now carry their own litter cases, the German medics continued to do so until the group reached the German evac hospital.

On a much larger and higher plane, there is the case of the “Tiger of Malaya.” The majority of the journalists covering the trial of General Yamashita felt that he was being unfairly condemned. Justice Murphy, in his dissent against the charge of the military tribunal that Yamashita was a war criminal, probably said it best: “An uncurbed spirit of revenge and retribution, masked in formal legal procedures for purposes of dealing with a fallen commander, can do more lasting harm than all the atrocities giving rise to that spirit.” It was the first time in the history of the modern world that a military commander was being held criminally liable for acts committed by his troops.

General MacArthur could have lifted the American ethos above the hate and vindictiveness of the long war in the Pacific; he could have made of himself a greater hero than he already was. But he approved Yamashita’s execution.

The distance between actions like Chicken’s treatment of prisoners as human beings first, and MacArthur’s decision, is not so great as it may seem. For a country’s sense of honor and justice is perceived in just such deeds -and reflected in the response of others, like that of the German medics, who continued to carry the litter cases of Charlie Company.

The remark is often heard that the 100th is full of heroes: the 1,400 who sailed out of Honolulu harbor in June 1942, and the many, many more who came in as replacements. But forty years down the road and we have hardly begun to scratch the surface for them. There are a handful, though, whom we’ve written about in the Puka Puka Parade. These summaries may refresh your memories.

Goro Sumida (Able Chapter). He was one of six brothers who served in the war. The seventh volunteered but the military said six was more than they could ask of any one family. Goro remembers his mother’s jet black hair having turned completely white by the time he came home from the war. Near Colli, in the dead of night, he had to freeze himself against a stone wall to escape detection when a German patrol came by. And for all the noise that the patrol was making, he wondered why his machine gunners had not opened up on the patrol. It couldn’t be that his men had been oblivious to the same loud noises that had alerted him; worse, could it have been that they were asleep at their posts? Next morning, he posed the questions to them. “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!”

Tamotsu Shimizu (Rural Chapter). The newly-organized 100th was about ready to leave Schofield, destination unknown. Tamotsu had just enough time to dash home to say goodbye to his father. The father told him that he wasn’t so much concerned that he might come home in a coffin as to be assured that he served his country well and did not bring shame to the family. Above Rome, he was waiting for orders so he could go home on rotation. He had been twice wounded and had enough points to qualify for leave. Then a call came in for litter bearers. Tamotsu told his sergeant, Bill Oya, that he wanted to volunteer as one last favor for the boys before he took off for home. So he went out with three others. The Germans had mined the body of the dead 100th soldier. When Tamotsu lifted up his end of the body to place it on the litter, he was almost blown to bits. In his grogginess, he wondered why he kept falling to his left. He didn’t realize that his right arm had been blown off; that his whole backside had been peppered with hundreds of steel fragments. His plans to return home were delayed a year. He finally made it and returned to the family home in Ewa Plantation in June 1945. Things were pretty much the same as when he had left the place three years ago, including the community furo (public bath house) which was a central gathering point for all at the end of a day’s work. But now, when he went there for his nightly bath, his father accompanied him so he could help scrub his son’s back. Imagine the pride that must have been the father’s as each evening he helped his son regain his strength amidst the company of treasured friends, who shared with him the affirmation that his son had fought well for his country.

Larry “Kodak” Kodama (Hawaii Chapter). Kodak was a scout for D Company. Pistol in hand, he was making a house-to-house search in Bruyeres. He kicked in a door and came face-to-face with a man in civvies. As he was about to pull the trigger, the man called out, “Komerad!” Then – “One Puka Puka!” Kodak could scarcely believe his ears. His trigger finger held. The man turned out to be a member of the French Underground attached to the 36th Division. He obviously knew about the 100th. The years go by. One day, Kodak was picking up luggage at the Hilo Airport for a group of visiting Frenchmen from Bruyeres. In the bustle of the airport, that former Underground member, Jean Drahon by name, and Kodak suddenly bumped into each other. Up to that stunning moment, the two were totally unaware of the presence of each other. The coming together was as unexpected and as dramatic as that kick in the door that October day thirty-two years earlier.

Masao Awakuni (Charlie Chapter). Best known as “tank buster” for having knocked off two German tanks, the first at Alife and the second at Cassino.
Did he feel brave? He’s talking about his first encounter. “To me, bravery is not the word. It’s the training. And especially the duty to perform -that’s what comes first. Duty – we have to show them that we are American citizens.” Was he scared? “We were so tense and scared. You blink your eyes and all of a sudden, it’s there in front of you.” So Masao fired his bazooka. And before he knew it, he had fired all the five rounds he had. When he realized what he had done, he became concerned because he had nothing left. Suppose another tank shows up? But the next encounter didn’t come till Cassino. He knocked off that one with one shot.

Kaoru Moto (Maui Chapter). The place was Castellina, below Leghorn. Charlie Company had been on the march practically all night in order to be at its assigned initial objective by morning. From there, Kaoru, the BAR man, moved up the hill before him. Almost immediately, he came upon a German machine gun nest. He blasted that out of action. Moving to his right, he saw another machine gun post below the hill. He blasted that out of action, too. But one of the enemy managed to get away and crawled halfway up the hill from where he took a potshot at Kaoru and hit him in the knee. Kaoru dressed his wound, then moved down the hill from where he knocked off a third enemy gun emplacement across the gully. Born on Maui, Kaoru has been tied to the sugarcane plantation all his life. He’s harbored some regrets about this restricted life. But as he so ably demonstrated that morning in Castellina, heroes also arise out of plantation camps. Meaning? That sometimes, it takes more than a hero to simply be what you are.

Ken Kaneko (Baker Chapter), A basic doctrine of battle is the maintenance of contact with units on both flanks so that the whole front can move forward in concert, and to prevent breaks in the line. But, says Ken, because the men of the 100th always kept moving forward, pushing, goading units on the right and left to move up, they often found themselves at the point of the whole frontline, at the forefront of a battle. The risks were great, the odds against success chancy. But the aggressive tactics also paid off. Many a time, they were able to infiltrate and encircle the enemy, to hit him from the least expected quarter, his unguarded rear (somewhat in the manner that Yoshitsune surprised and routed the Taira in the battle of Ichi-no-tani in 1184). As for Ken himself, his pal Yozo Yamamoto says of him, “That buggah got guts!” Ken was one of a handful in the 100th to receive a battlefield commission.

Yoshinao “Turtle” Omiya (Dog Chapter). Like many another in the 100th, Turtle was a great ballplayer. He revels in McKinley high school’s sports grandslam of 1937-8 when the school took the championships in football, basketball, swimming, track and baseball; a feat never duplicated. Turtle was catcher/captain of that baseball team. When the 100th was in North Africa, he was one of three from the 100th ball team picked to play on the 34th Division team for the North African army baseball championship. Turtle slammed a triple driving in two runs which, as it turned out was enough to win the game inasmuch as the final score was 4-0. But that is in the past, a past that Turtle can re-live only in his mind. For he is blind, the only blind veteran in the 100th. The machine gun squad was marching up Hill 600; Turtle seventh or eighth in line. One of the men up front tripped a “bouncing baby” anti-personnel mine.

A wayward piece of steel flew past everyone in line and hit Turtle in his eye. He has tried hard to accommodate himself to his particular handicap; tried several things in the past to keep himself going. Disillusioned? What else! For one, he can’t follow a batted ball in flight any more. For a long while he held a passionate belief in God. In his fervid study of the Scriptures, he had visions of the words of the Lord coming to fulfillment in him. But when nothing happened, he concluded that God was not even listening to his prayers. And in those darker moments he had the temerity to call Him a hypocrite. Nevertheless, Turtle has kept up a cherry spirit. Despite his misfortune and unfulfilled expectations, he hasn’t given up. That is perhaps his greatest contribution to us.

Hershey Miyamura (S. California Chapter). Hershey comes from Gallup, N. Mexico; that’s where he is today. He came to the 100th (Dog Company) toward the end of the war, so he didn’t spend much time in Italy. Back home, he enlisted in the Reserve and was called up immediately upon outbreak of the Korean War. In April 1951, the 3d Division was guarding the northern approaches to Seoul. Hershey’s machine gun crew was set on a hilltop. One midnight, there was a sudden blast of bugles and other weird noises, the pitch-black night was burst open from the light of flares, and the communists came charging up the hill. Hershey’s men held their ground and fought back with everything they had, until they had no more. He told his men to go, to seek the safety of their own lines before they were overrun. He fought on alone to give his men time to escape. Then he came off the mountaintop, only to be captured. He spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. Hershey had lost his mother when he was a young lad; he had loved her very much and couldn’t understand why the Lord had taken her away from him. This bitterness against the Lord lingered in his heart all through his adult life. After his capture, he and the others were being marched northward to the POW camp. The long march began to take its toll. Tired, hungry, worn out from a wound in his leg, he was on the point of giving up when a North Korean mother, at her risk of life, reached out and gave him sustenance. “I came to believe in the Lord again,” says Hershey. He came home from the war to find that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallant stand that black night above Seoul.

William Terao (S. California Chapter). William was born in Stockton. At age 2, his father took him and the whole family back to Hiroshima. At 18, he pleaded with his father to let him return to the U.S.; reluctantly, the father let him go. That was the last he was to see of his father, and mother, too, because both perished in the atom bombing of Hiroshima. William’s brother was a Buddhist priest so he was interned for the duration while William came to Company B of the 100th, just before the 100/442 left Italy for Marseilles and the battle of Bruyeres. William was injured in that battle. After the war, the two brothers felt the need to do something in memory of their parents, not in retaliation but as a means or salvation. They started a Buddhist church in Spokane so they could help the many others in their same dilemma. William had no money but he had to get to Hiroshima somehow. So he reenlisted, became an interpreter in General MacArthur’s headquarters, and finally got to Hiroshima. “After the visit I felt a little better,” he said. Subsequently, he received his ordination as a Buddhist priest. But he has never forgiven himself for having left his parents when he was 18; for having thought only of himself when he pleaded with his father to let him return to America. But he feels that he has done some good in helping others through the teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. In the process, he has found peace for himself.

Sadao Munemori (Company A). Sadao was born in Los Angeles. His father died in 1938 so was spared the humiliation of being herded into a wartime relocation center. But the rest of the family had to go. That was in March 1942. From Manzanar, Sadao volunteered for army service and came to the 100th at Anzio in May 1944. Eleven months later, at Seravezza in the Po Valley, as the 100th was on the attack, Sadao dodged through enemy fire and knocked off two enemy machine gun nests with grenades. He then withdrew to the safety of a shell crater occupied by two of his comrades. An enemy grenade came bouncing in. Instinctively, Sadao dived on the grenade and smothered the blast, saving the lives of his two comrades at the cost of his own. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, the Army named a troopship after him, the first such honor for a Japanese American. In July 1980, the Munemori family presented Sadao’s Medal of Honor to the Army Museum at Ft. DeRussy. One of the two sisters of Sadao making the presentation was Yaeko Yokoyama. She is the wife of Albert Yokoyama, Medics Chapter.

Andy Shishido of Maui was one of the two men in the shell crater
Sadao. When he read about the presentation in the papers, he flew to Honolulu to seek out the two sisters. They were strangers to him. Andy begged forgiveness of them – for the fact that it was only through Sadao’s sacrifice that he was alive today. The sisters replied that there was nothing to forgive; they were happy that Sadao had made it possible for him to live. At that, Andy said they had just lifted a cross he had been carrying for 35 years. He thanked them and went back to Maui. That cross was real, not just a figure of speech. Yaeko recently received a letter from the Shishido family. It said that Andy was always a fitful sleeper; nightmares not uncommon. But suddenly, after decades of restlessness, he was slumbering peacefully each night. They could not understand the abrupt change. For over a year they wondered. Until they happened to read about his visit to Yaeko and her sister in the Nov-Dec ’81 issue of the Parade. Then they knew. The letter was an expression of their thanks. The sum of it all The abbreviated accounts above are but representations of the two dozen or so interviews published to date in the Parade. They are meant to give
an idea of stories waiting to be told. Someday, a poet or two, or perhaps
a writer, with the necessary sensibilities for the issues of our time, may
come along and do for Hawaii what Britain’s poet laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, did for the Light Brigade. Tennyson’s concern was not so much with the charge itself as with the social implications of blind obedience of young men to military orders – “Theirs was not to make reply/Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die.” (The inane charge is laid to the petty conflict of egos of two officers.)

As for the run-down of the seven-hundred-year reign of the shogun… the process of Americanization of the nisei took place against the backdrop of the stories of those battles that are so much a part of the history of Japan. The gigantic images of heroes at bay, fighting off packs of charging and slashing swordsmen pitting samurai against samurai, fief against fief, daimyo against daimyo, shogun versus emperor… what imaginative young man could not but be thrilled and impressed by the sheer magnitude of such adventurism.

But always, above the clash of arms, are the high ideals and resolve of idealistic men. From them come such precepts as Duty, Honor, Country – words, for instance, which form the motto of the military academy at West Point. Upon them rest the mark of heroes, past and present.

One of the institutions pulling all of the past and the present together for us is our own Club 100. On that score, it is heartening to note that the club membership of 730 of last December compares with 575 a decade ago; an increase of over one-fourth, even as deaths claimed the lives of about half a hundred members during that time. Connect these numbers to the 1,432 who sailed out of Hawaii in June 1942 and to the many more from all over the mainland U.S.A. who came to the 100th through the end of the war – and it can be seen that there is still much potential in the life of the club.

So let us this day celebrate our 40th Anniversary, in high spirits, confident of the future; appreciative of the fact that we have been given the scope to add something of value to the times that have nurtured us.