The Death of a Hero

This is How Sgt. Mizutari Fought and How He Died

Author: Staff Sgt. Howard I. Ogawa
Club 100 45th Anniversary Reunion, June 1987

Staff Sgt. Howard Ogawa reminisces about his friend in the MIS, Sgt. Mizutari and his role in WWII

Somewhere In The Philippines, (Dec 28) — Tonight as I sit here and type this story, my mind wanders back to the day of the New Britain invasion. I would like to tell a story about a friend of mine whom some of the readers may know very well. His name is Tech Sgt. Terry Mizutari, 24 years old, of Hilo, Hawaii, who was killed in action in New Guinea in June, 1944. I asked many of my buddies who subscribe to the Pacific Citizen whether his name was mentioned in the paper or not but no one seemed to know whether they had read anything about him or had seen his name mentioned. This is how he fought and how he died.

(Ed. Note: The death of Sgt. Mizutari was reported by the War Dept. and published in the Pacific Citizen. No details were available at the time, however, of the manner of his death in action. Sgt. Mizutari was one of the two “lonely sergeants” who wrote to the Pacific Citizen about a year ago asking for letters from girls at home. After their letter was published in the Pacific Citizen some 77 letters were received by the two sergeants until the time of Sgt. Mizutari’s heroic death in action.)

The story will go back a little more than a year ago today. It was on the night of December 14, 1943, when we both boarded a LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) in New Guinea. Before this the rain had been pouring steadily for three days and so we waited, sweating under our ponchos, with our blue barracks bags slung over our shoulders. At 1930 hours we finally boarded the LCM and steamed across the rough Coral Sea. The craft racked and tossed from side to side, but at the break of dawn on December 15th, we sighted the coast of New Britain in the far-off dark horizon. We saw assault troops in their rubber boats creeping stealthily toward the shore of Arawe and our escort vessels bombarding shore positions. They landed, then it was our turn.

We were in the bay, waiting for the convoy commander to give us a signal to head for the beach. We were waiting, when suddenly out of the clear blue sky appeared 15 to 20 Jap Zero fighters and dive bombers. We tried to take cover in the overcrowded craft, trying to cram our whole bodies under steel helmets. The roaring planes spit white and red tracers at us and our gunners on the LCM courageously and bravely tried to fight them off. Our gunners got one of them. Down he went, and in a few minutes he crashed into the sea. Then suddenly, the signal came for us to land. We hit the beach 50 yards from the shore, water deep to our waists. First man to get off the craft was Sgt. Mizutari. Off he went into the jungle, moving cautiously forward across the narrow beach, probing the tangled foliage for snipers and machine guns hidden behind coco log bunkers.

After we landed, for three consecutive days and nights the Japs came over to strafe and bomb us and each time Sgt. Mizutari from his shallow hard coral foxhole would look up and shake his fist at them. If he had only had a gun that would reach them. I am sure he would have been right behind it firing at them, without regard for his own life. On the fourth day after our landing, our CP (Command Post) moved to another area closer to the front lines, only 600 yards away.

Twice the enemy counterattacked during the night and broke through our main line of defense. Sgt. Mizutari was right there with the guards, with his carbine in his hands, waiting to take a crack at them. It was moonlight, and I could see his face, that grin, his lips moving now and then as he was saying, “Come on you fools. You started this, and I am going to finish it.” Before the Japanese could advance to our CP, they were stopped.

For two months after our amphibious landing, the Jap planes came over day and night. Did you see him hugging the ground each time they came over to bomb us? No, he was looking up from his foxhole, muttering “I will get you some day.” He would venture out to the adjacent islands with our intelligence officer, seeking information at times, coming back with a big smile on his face. I knew that he had successfully accomplished his mission. That guy had guts — guts that no one could match.

When things settled down, and there was no longer much to worry about air raids we both would lie awake late at night, talking about the folks back home. He would describe how poor his family was, during his childhood, and how he struggled and worked his way through school to get an education, so he would be able to amount to something in this country of ours where opportunity is plentiful. He was then at that time a Staff Sergeant, but he never wasted a cent. He sent home every penny he had, except for what he needed. He was very “OYA KOKO” to his mother and father and very kind to his brothers and sisters.

He was relieved from New Britain and went back to the rear echelon in Australia. Within two months time, he was right back up north again. While he was in Australia, he contracted malaria and was very sick. But before he fully recovered, he was right up in the front lines. Although I wasn’t with him at the time he was killed in action, I will write as I heard it from those who were up there with him at that time.

He was in charge of a group of men, relieving Sgt. Harry Fukuhara who was with us in New Britain, attached to a certain unit. It was somewhere around the first of June and the fighting was thick. The enemy counter attacking. Mortar and artillery shells were falling near the CP. The day he reached his unit for duty, that night the enemy counterattacked the CP perimeter. All hell cut loose. He didn’t even have time to dig a foxhole, for he was on duty the moment he got there.

At the time of the attack, he was in the office. Realizing the danger of his men, he ran out with his rifle in his hand, and took over behind a tree. This was the only shelter he had. With machine gun shells flying all around, and knowing that his men were in danger, he tried to save them somehow by shouting encouragement to them. Then a bullet, maybe meant for one of his men, got him through the heart. He was killed instantly without suffering, without pain. A brave and fearless soldier he was. I am glad that he died the way he wanted, for when we were together, he always had told me, “I want to die without feeling a bit of pain and not knowing what got me.” The counterattack was repulsed successfully. The G-2 Colonel came running to his side and picked him up in his arms. He called his name many times, but it was too late. The Colonel with tears in his eyes, carried him to his last resting place.

For his bravery and courage against the enemy, Sgt. Mizutari was awarded the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and a citation from the Commanding General of the unit to which he was attached. I have lost a comrade, a true and loyal friend, but I am proud to say that I had a friend like him. His memory will always lie deep in my heart forever. With him another comrade’s memory will also be in my heart. He is the late Sgt. Ken Omura from Seattle, Washington, who was killed in action in the Admiralties. Sgt. Omura and I came overseas together and were like brothers, for I had known him since the days at Ft. Lewis. I have lost two of the best comrades, but I know their spirit will carry on inside of me forever.