Rescue of “the Lost Battalion”

Denied any extended rest, the 100th/442nd was ordered back into combat by General Dahlquist. He had earlier ignored his advisors and ordered the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry of the 36th Division to pursue German forces deep into the forest without support on their flanks and out of range of artillery support. In no time, 275 soldiers were surrounded by German troops. When two rescue efforts failed, Dahlquist again ignored his advisors and sent the 100th/442nd in to rescue the “Lost Battalion.”

The 141st had withstood several assaults by the enemy, but the men were low on food and ammunition and needed medical help for their wounded. Fighting deep in the forests under horrific conditions, the 100th/442nd finally reached and rescued the Lost Battalion on October 30. In five days of continuous fighting, the 100th/442nd suffered nearly 350 casualties, including 54 killed in action and almost 300 injured to rescue the remaining 211 Lost Battalion soldiers. History would remember the heroic effort; the Lost Battalion rescue is listed in U.S. Army annals as one of the ten most significant battles of World War II.

At full strength, the 100th/442nd numbered about 4,000 men. Masayo Duus, in her book “Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd,” included the following on the regiment’s status after the Lost Battalion rescue:  “When the 442nd (including the 100th) had entered the Vosges a month or so before, its strength was 2,934 men.  Of those 161 had died in battle, 42 were missing, and about 2,000 were wounded (882 of them with serious wounds).  Of the dead, 13 were medics.  The regiment had dwindled to less than a third of its authorized strength.”

But there would be no time to mourn their dead. Despite its depleted ranks and the exhaustion of those still barely standing, the men were ordered to continue marching along the ridges to another town. More men would be lost to sickness and trench foot.

On November 9, the 100th/442nd was finally relieved. The 100th Battalion soldiers were sent to the snow-covered Maritime Alps, which bordered France and Italy.

For their actions in the Vosges Mountains, the 100th later received its second Presidential Unit Citation. Presidential Unit Citations were also awarded to the 442nd’s 2nd and 3rd Battalions, the 232rd Engineer Combat Company, and F and L Companies. Recommendations for the Congressional Medal of Honor were submitted to recognize five soldiers for their heroic actions in the Vosges campaign. All were denied. Four were downgraded to Distinguished Service Crosses and one to a grade lower, the Silver Star.

On November 12 in Bruyeres, General Dahlquist called for a full review of the 100th/442nd to thank them for their efforts. Seeing so few men, he asked his officers for an explanation and was told these soldiers were the only ones left.

In her 1994 book, “Honor By Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific,” author Lyn Crost, who had covered the 100th/442nd as a war correspondent for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, quoted from a speech that retired Colonel Young Oak Kim had delivered to an audience of Japanese American veterans four decades after the war:

“My memories of France still show the bitterness burnt deeply into my soul. Later, Colonel Gordon Singles (commander of the 100th Battalion), while filling a Brigadier General’s position at Fort Bragg, refused to publicly shake General Dahlquist’s hand at a full dress review…. Years later after he retired, General Pence (commander of the 442nd Regiment) could not mention Dahlquist’s name without his voice shaking with anger.”

The Champagne Campaign

After the Vosges campaign, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 442nd RCT joined the 100th in southern France. Replacements arrived to replenish their ranks. From mid-November 1944 through March 23, 1945, they patrolled the French Maritime Alps in what the men dubbed the “Champagne Campaign,” because they were able to spend their leaves in towns along the French Riveria.

Although this was a welcome change from the Vosges Mountains, duty in the Alps was not without danger.  Skirmishes from enemy patrols occurred regularly and sniper fire meant that even the most peaceful day could end abruptly. During this period, the men were able to take leave on the nearby French Riviera.

In March, the 100th/442nd — minus the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, which had been assigned to join allied forces in Germany — was ordered back to Italy with the 92nd Division. The final push lay ahead.