The Aloha Team

Many of the men in the 100th Battalion were well-known local baseball players, and those stationed on Oahu quickly formed a team with depth at all positions: Stanley Funai was behind the plate; John Yamada was at first; Masayoshi “Mushy” Miyagi was at second; Yozo Yamamoto was at third; Kenneth Kaneko, Al Nozaki, Joe Takata, and Hideo Yamashita were in the outfield; and Goro Moriguchi and Moichi Okazaki were on the mound. James Lovell, who was the football and baseball coach at McKinley High School in Honolulu, coached the team.

Several members of the team also played in the Hawaii Baseball League, the racialized semipro league that represented the best of local baseball. Each major ethnic group in the islands had its own team in that league: the Caucasians were the Wanderers; the Chinese fielded the Chinese Tigers; the Filipinos were the Filipinos; the Hawaiians were the Hawaiians; the Japanese played as the Asahi (rising sun); and the Portuguese were known as the Braves. Moriguchi, Takata, and Yamashita played for the Asahis. Moriguchi’s pitching skills were at their peak, and he and Yamashita were on the Asahi team that went 9-0 and won the league championship in 1938. Joe Takata joined the Asahis in 1939.

After Japan’s attack on Allied military installations throughout the Pacific on December 7 and 8, 1941, and until the threat of a Japanese invasion subsided, all Japanese Americans were under suspicion. On June 5, the 1,432 men of the newly organized Hawaii Provisional Infantry Battalion, most of them Japanese Americans who had been in the Hawaii National Guard, were ordered to leave the islands. Apparently, the War Department expected a Japanese invasion, and the last thing they wanted was 1,400 men with Japanese faces manning coastal defenses. The men were put aboard the USS Maui and reached Oakland, California, on June 12. Five days later, they arrived by train at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, where they underwent further training. They were now known as the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), and the designation “separate” reminds us that the military was still very much segregated.

The 100th Battalion participated in the life of nearby Wisconsin cities and towns, and within weeks of their arrival at Camp McCoy, the battalion was fielding teams in several sports. A contingent of bowlers competed against local teams at Play-Mor Alleys. A softball team was formed in late June, played the local teams, and won the Camp McCoy championship. Lieutenant Katsumi Kometani, a Honolulu dentist who served as the 100th’s morale officer, had been the franchise owner of the Asahi team before the war, and he took the lead in assembling a baseball team with Captain James Lovell. With the three former Asahi players as its core, Kometani and Lovell created a formidable team that included catcher Wataru Kaneshina; first basemen Yoshinao “Turtle” Omiya and John Yamada; second basemen Akira Akimoto, Tadao Honbo, Masayoshi “Mushy” Miyagi; shortstop Samuel Tomai; third baseman Yozo Yamamoto; outfielders Kenneth Kaneko, Al Nozaki, Joe Takata, and Hideo Yamashita; and pitchers Sadashi Matsunami, “Lefty” Mizusawa, Goro Moriguchi, and Shunji Suzuki.

The ballplayers from the 100th joined a Camp McCoy team that included Milton Bocek, who had played first base for the Chicago White Sox, and another player who had played in the outfield for San Diego in the Pacific Coast League. This mixed Camp McCoy team played five games in July and August, losing their first two games. In their first outing on July 7, they played the Lacrosse Blackhawks, who at the time were at the bottom of the Wisconsin State League; the Blackhawk pitcher held the McCoy team to two hits, and the Blackhawks won, 5-1. Representing the 100th were Joe Takata, Hideo Yamashita, Goro Moriguchi, and Fred Wada, who got one of McCoy’s two hits.

In the second game, on July 26, the mixed Camp McCoy team took on the Marshfield Bluejays, who then were at the top of the Wisconsin Valley League. Ken Kaneko played first base, Tadao Honbo was at second, Akira Akimoto was in the outfield, and Sadashi Matsunami pitched in relief. Marshfield used its ace, “Dutch” Lemmer, who, after a shaky first inning, settled down and held McCoy to three hits, giving Marshfield the win, 7-3. Despite the loss, a local sportswriter commended the Japanese Americans for their “creditable performance” and observed that “although their fielding was excellent, none of them seemed to be able to hit any too well.” The Camp McCoy team did not play again until August 2, when it lost to a Galesville City team, 6-3. The team’s first victory came a week later, on August 9, when they beat a team from Loyal, 6-3. “Lefty” Mizusawa was used in long relief and stymied the Loyal batters.

Although members of the 100th continued to play for Camp McCoy, they also formed their own team, the Aloha Team, which was presented as a “Hawaiian” team and was accompanied by a troupe of musicians who played Hawaiian songs before games and handed out leis. The Aloha Team played semipro and amateur teams all over Wisconsin and even made one foray into Minnesota. They compiled an impressive 6-4 record, beating teams from Viroqua, Cashton, Whitehall, Madison, Baraboo, and Greenwood in July, August, and early September. Nearly everywhere they played, local fans turned out, cheered when they made good plays, and concluded that the Japanese Americans played good ball. Some fans even expressed their approval by handing out $5 bills to Aloha Team members who made exceptional plays.

The Aloha Team’s most memorable games, however, were its losses—not because they lost, but because they lost to fine teams. Two losses were to a Wisconsin Rapids team that Aloha Team manager Ted Hirayama remembered as a “really good team.” In fact, Wisconsin Rapids was leading the Wisconsin County League when it played the Aloha Team on July 7. “Lefty” Mizusawa kept the game close for seven innings, scattering fourteen hits and striking out five batters. In the top of the eighth, the Aloha Team scored three runs and pulled ahead, 7-4, but Mizusawa’s reliever, Shunji Suzuki, gave up five runs in the bottom of the inning, and the Aloha Team lost, 9-7.

The Aloha Team got a second shot at Wisconsin Rapids on August 5. This time Kometani and Lovell played Sam Tomai at shortstop and Ken Kaneko in right field. Inexplicably, they chose not to start either of their aces, Mizusawa and Goro Moriguchi, but instead picked Shunji Suzuki, who gave up the winning runs in the first game. Wisconsin Rapids jumped on Suzuki early, scoring three runs in the first inning, while their pitchers not only held the Aloha Team to four hits but also silenced their big bats. In the end, Wisconsin Rapids prevailed, 3-2. The quality of the Wisconsin Rapids team was even more apparent a week and a half later when on successive evenings they twice beat the Green Bay Blue Jays, the leaders in the Wisconsin State League.