The Aloha Team

The Aloha Team got a chance to play the Green Bay team on September 2, and this was the biggest game of their short season. The Blue Jays had been at the top of the Wisconsin State League for the entire summer and led the league in batting and fielding. They also had just played the Milwaukee Brewers and put up a good fight before losing, 10-7. As expected, both teams played their best lineups. Although Green Bay used the players that had kept them at the top of the state league, they saved their best pitchers for the play-off series scheduled to begin the following day. Kometani and Lovell also made changes in their lineup, starting those who had not played much. As usual, Joe Takata was in center field, “Mushy” Miyagi at second, and Wataru Kaneshina behind the plate, but Ronald Hamamura was at shortstop and John Yamada at first base. Wisely, they picked “Lefty” Mizusawa to start on the mound, but Kometani warned the southpaw that he would be yanked the moment he began to falter.

Kometani’s strategy worked. The Aloha Team went ahead in the top of the first inning, with Mizusawa holding Green Bay to two hits for five innings. In the seventh, the Blue Jays first tied the score and then went ahead, 3-1. In the eighth, “Mushy” Miyagi walked and later scored on “Turtle” Omiya’s single, closing the gap to 3-2. In the bottom of the eighth, Goro Moriguchi relieved Mizusawa and kept the Blue Jays from scoring more runs. And in the ninth, with two outs, the Aloha Team had a chance to win: Joe Takata singled, and both Fred Wada and Miyagi walked, loading the bases. Hideo Yamashita who had singled in his last at bat, was up next, but Mits Omori, a lefty, was put in to pinch-hit for him. The Green Bay pitcher had trouble pitching to left-handed batters. After being ahead of the count, 3-0, Omori struck out, giving the Blue Jays the victory.

Even in defeat, however, the Aloha Team won the respect of the Green Bay fans, who cheered when they made good plays. The next day, the Green Bay Press Gazette described the game as “a neat exhibition of base running, spectacular fielding, and good old-fashioned baseball” and commended the ballplayers from the 100th for their “speed and finesse on the field.” This was high praise from a town that took sports very seriously. The Green Bay team went on to beat Appleton in the first round of the Wisconsin State League play-offs but lost to Sheboygan in the second.

In January 1943 the 100th Battalion left Camp McCoy and moved south to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for more training. At Camp Shelby the men of the 100th continued to show their athletic prowess. Their basketball team won the 86th Division championship, and their boxers won the post championship. In the spring, the Aloha Team began to practice again. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Aloha Team traveled to Denson, Arkansas, to play at the Jerome “Relocation Center,” one of ten concentration camps where Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans from the West Coast and Hawai’i were incarcerated during the war. Most of Camp Jerome’s population were so-called enemy aliens, as well as Japanese Americans considered suspicious or dangerous. Jerome also housed a sizable contingent from Hawai’i, many of whom had been arrested the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. The internees from Hawai’i at Jerome fielded and supported athletic teams for camp leagues and were looking forward to the Aloha Team’s visit.

Writing about the upcoming game between the Aloha Team and Jerome’s Center All-Stars, a reporter for the camp newspaper promised “plenty of fireworks.” The games more than lived up to their advance billing. The Aloha Team played the All-Stars’ first team on Saturday, July 3, before a crowd of 3500. With Goro Moriguchi on the mound, the Aloha Team gradually built up their lead and were ahead 6-1, until the bottom of the ninth. The Center All-Stars then filled the bases twice on Aloha Team errors. More errors and two timely hits allowed the All-Stars to score six runs and win the opener, 7-6.

On Sunday morning, the Aloha Team played the All-Stars’ second team. Moichi Okazaki and Paul Froning, an officer who had joined the 100th in March, held the Jerome team to five hits, and the Aloha Team won, 14-2. The afternoon game turned out to be a slugfest: the All-Stars’ first team scored five runs in the first inning and nine in the fifth, and although Joe Takata blasted a fastball farther than anyone could remember a ball’s being hit at the Camp Jerome diamond, the Center All-Stars prevailed, 14-10.

Five weeks later, on August 11, the 100th Battalion left Camp Shelby and boarded a troopship bound for North Africa. After landing at Oran on September 2, the 100th Battalion was attached to the 34th “Red Bull” Division and replaced the Second Battalion of the 133rd Regiment, which had been transferred to Algiers. When the 133rd learned that the 100th had some good ballplayers, they quickly recruited them to play for their team in an interregiment game against the 168th, which already had beaten the 133rd once. The Aloha Team sent a pitcher, Paul Froning; a catcher, Hideo Yamashita; a first baseman, Yoshinao “Turtle” Omiya; and an outfielder, Joe Takata. The rematch for was for regimental bragging rights, and apparently a lot of money was riding on the game.

The game began well for the 133rd, with Froning’s fastball frustrating the 168th’s hitters. Then, toward the end of the game, with the 133rd’s leadoff hitter on second base and Yamashita on first, Omiya hit a double that drove in two runs and clinched the victory. A few days later, the Aloha Team played the 133rd and shut them out, 26-0. It would be their last game.

The 100th left Oran on September 19. Three days later, the men went ashore at Salerno on the southwestern coast of Italy as part of a larger Fifth Army invasion force. On the morning of September 29, as advance elements of the 100th approached the town of Chiusano, they suffered their first fatality—Joe Takata, the star of the Aloha Team. In November Yoshinao “Turtle” Omiya, whose double brought in the winning runs in the 133rd-168th game, was wounded and permanently blinded by an exploding mine.

By the time the 100th reached Rome, nearly nine months later, six more Aloha Team members had been killed in action and several more wounded.

-by Samuel Yamashita

Samuel Hideo Yamashita, the eldest son of Aloha Team member Hideo Yamashita, is the Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History at Pomona College in Claremont, California.